Environment Forum

Ex-GOP diplomacy machine talking green

Unfairly or not, any discussion of the Republican party’s environmental record by clean energy advocates often includes a mention of the White House solar panels ditched under Ronald Reagan. Green-minded members of the Grand Old Party, on the other hand, would rather point to the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. Either way, in what’s clearly a sign of the times, renewables featured high on the minds of three former GOP secretaries of state who popped up at various energy conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week (One can only assume the timing was a coincidence).

George Schultz, who served under Reagan, probably surprised at least a few people when he counted himself as among those EV1 owners still regretting GM’s controversial scrapping of the electric car earlier this decade.  A Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow for the past two decades, Schultz had enjoyed driving it around campus. “I could even drive it up to San Francisco. I couldn’t go too many other places, but it’s a very useful car,” he said. “I was sorry to see that car taken off the market, it worked just fine.” Speaking at a meeting of energy economists last week alongside Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Schultz went on to join the oil company CEO in endorsing a carbon tax as more efficient than the cap-and-trade system favored by Congress.

On Monday, Condoleezza Rice also favored a carbon tax when she addressed the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford, where she too is a professor and Hoover fellow, while stressing the importance of not picking winners in the push for greener energy. “At this stage, we need to have an open field for all renewable alternatives to change the energy mix,” she said.

Just down the road in Palo Alto the next day, the secretary of state under George Bush Sr., James Baker, ranked climate change alongside nuclear proliferation, the economy and wars as a leading global threat. “I’m not going to talk about the science of it, ’cause I don’t understand it,” he told a meeting on clean energy arranged by law firm Baker Botts. Yet he felt, as an outdoorsman, that good stewardship of the planet was vital, even if he saw the current climate change bill in Congress as flawed. He suggested it should be passed, but left unsigned by the president until big developing countries like China and India made similar moves against carbon, holding the bill back as a bargaining chip. “That’s Negotiation 101,” he later told Reuters.

Photo credits: Above: General Motors publicity photo of the EV1 passenger car. Below: REUTERS/Ron Sachs/Handout (Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to supporters of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, in this handout image from May 3, 2009)

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

That will be $115 bln for clean energy, please

Yikes. Seems it ain’t easy, or at least ain’t cheap, being green.

It will cost California some $115 billion for (pretty much) hitting 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. That’s more than twice the price tag of sticking with a goal of 20 percent. The difference, according to a long-delayed report issued today by the state’s Public Utilities Commission is due to the speed of building fast. There are all sorts of other problems outlined in exquisite detail. It’s all quite handy for those trying to get a sense of just what needs to be done to go green. A lot, it seems.

When Kennedy announced the moon shot, was there this type of gnashing of teeth? Maybe no one ran the numbers ahead of time!

Pic of Mr. It’s Not Easy Being Green by Mike Segar/Reuters

Google Green Energy Czar geeks out on solar thermal

Google Green Energy Czar (real title) Bill Weihl sat down with Reuters to talk about Renewable Energy Less Than Coal – the company’s plan to make affordable clean energy. Google started off trying to green up its own computer operations and then launched this save-the-world effort, which includes some investment in renewable energy startups and the work by a Google team.

Weihl describes that work in the video below, saying that the chances of successfully creating clean energy at less than coal prices – or about 3 cents per kilowatt — had risen from long shot to roughly even odds in about three years’ time.

This is an overview of Google efforts (that’s me asking questions):

And here is Weihl giving a bit more detail of solar thermal work for you wonks (like me):

Wacky windmill forces California highway shutdown

Turns out birds aren’t the only ones with a reason to steer clear of wind farms.

This past weekend, a wind turbine spinning out of control forced California police to shut down a stretch of highway because of concerns that it could break into large, heavy, and very fast-moving pieces.

California Highway Patrol officers late on Sunday morning noticed that a roughly 125-foot tall turbine on a ridge near the desert town of Tehachapi was spinning much faster than any of the others at the Tehachapi farm.

Seeking sentiment on drilling, Salazar gets an earful

There is no doubt that Californians made themselves clear on Thursday when they gathered to tell U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that they had had enough of offshore oil drilling and were ready to turn their attention to solar, wind and other renewables.

“I think the verdict today is very clear, that drilling is inappropriate,” said Leah Zimmerman, who attended the meeting dressed in a polar bear suit.

“California is well-known for being an innovative state. Why not take advantage of that rather than trying to dampen it?” asked Craig Cadwallader of the Surfrider Foundation, a group dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches.

Going closer to the sun for solar power

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.

Do green jobs cannibalize other jobs?

President Obama has promised to help create millions of new green jobs, saying that doing so will spur the U.S. economy toward recovery — and has held out Spain as having “surged ahead” of the rest of the world by investing in renewable energy.

But a new study of Spain’s renewable energy initiatives has found that creating green jobs actually destroys jobs in other sectors — and  most of the time doesn’t lead to permanent employment.

The study, which was directed by an economics professor at Juan Carlos University of Madrid, found that every green job created by the Spanish government destroyed an average of 2.2 other jobs, and that only 1 in 10 were permanent.

Feinstein wants her desert and solar, too

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is fuming over a federal plan to use some Mojave desert lands to develop solar power plants and wind farms.

In a letter to Dept. of the InteriorSecretary Ken Salazar, Feinstein said she planned to introduce legislation that would protect the former railroad lands, thereby preventing the federal government from leasing them to renewable energy project developers. The 600,000 acres in question were acquired by and donated to the government’s Bureau of Land Management between 1999 and 2004 for the purpose of conservation.

“I have been informed that the BLM now considers these areas open for all types of use except mining.  This is unacceptable!” Feinstein wrote in a March 3 letter made public last week.

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

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