Friday, January 30, 2009

Tesla Backing Away From San Jose Production Facility

Prospects for the proposed Tesla manufacturing plant in San Jose-- and the estimated 500 jobs it would create-- are dimming.

The stylish and expensive electric car company has enjoyed enormous buzz, starting with its $100,000+ roadster that is manufactured at a Lotus plant in England, but its failre to get $100 million in venture capital financing pretty much killed all hopes for the new San Jose production facility.

Tranquillon Ridge, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Back in April we posted about the unusual deal Houston Based Plains Energy cut with environmental interests in Santa Barbara to start new offshore oil drilling in exchange for onshore acreage and a promise to end drilling early. It seemed too good to be true and we noted in that post that:

"Before any oil can start flowing, however, the application has to be approved by the usual gaggle of regulators: the county, the State Lands Commission, the Coastal Commission, and the Department of Interior."

Well yesterday the State Lands Commission stayed in character and nixed the deal. The Commissions sentiments were summed up nicely by the Los Angeles Times:

"Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, one of three members of the lands panel, said allowing any new drilling in state waters would suggest the state welcomes offshore drilling and send a come-hither message to other oil companies. His view was echoed by legislators from coastal districts, including Assemblyman Pedro Nava, who represents Santa Barbara."

The Times has the story:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

California Bucking the Solar Trend

Last week we posted about the effect the recession is having on the solar industry. Perhaps we spoke too soon, because now we have to amend that observation to note that the solar industry in California is still doing just fine-- by 2008 numbers anyway.

The Los Angeles Times reports today that Californians installed 158 megawatts of solar capacity in 2008-- double the amount in 2007.

The Times notes that:

"Residential demand appears to be hanging tough in the face of the shaky economy. December saw the largest volume of homeowner rebate requests since the state launched the California Solar Initiative program two years ago."

It is widely accepted that state rebates are the primary driver for this amped up solar acitvity, but one has to wonder what the future holds for economic incentives coming out of Sacramento these days?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tallying Green Energy Jobs

How legitimate are the job creation claims made green energy advocates? President Obama has said repeatedly that his agenda will create 3 million jobs, although skeptics have been quick to point out that it is a number that is difficult to verify.

The San Jose Mercury News is out with a piece that cites data from the 2009 California Green Innovation Index. The report notes that, from 2005-2007, California added green jobs at a faster rate than "non-green jobs"-- 10% versus 1%. (It should be noted, however, that the 10% figure relates to a green workforce of 105,000 jobs, and the 1% figure relates to a "non-green" workforce of 18 million, so the actual numbers still demonstrate an enormous disparity.)

The key to determining green jobs is in the definition. According to the report, "Green jobs are defined as ones that provide products and services leveraging renewable energy resources, reducing pollution, conserving energy and natural resources, and repurposing waste. In 2007, about 9,000 California businesses had employees working in green jobs. "

For more highlights of the report:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Where's Our Waiver????!

President Obama continues to ease gradually into his new job, this morning delivering a rehash of his campaign speech about the need to end our reliance on foreign oil and change the way we make cars. He came a little closer to actually doing something today in a move that is particularly relevant to California.

Obama signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to look into granting California its emissions waiver. This kind of formalizes what we already knew a couple of weeks ago, but hardly qualifies as definitive action.

According to the Washington Post:

"In executive orders he signed today, Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate automobile tailpipe emissions linked to global warming, and he ordered the Transportation Department to issue guidelines to ensure that the nation's auto fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, if not earlier. "

He also did a little more back-pedaling on the ambitious energy agenda he touted during the campaign. The Post reported:

"He said he could not promise a "quick fix" for the nation's dependence on foreign oil, but he pledged to "commit ourselves to the steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit" of energy independence. "

The election was about talk, the Presidency is about action. We support you, Mr. President, but let's get to work!!!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sunrise Powerlink Back In the News

Last month we noted that the PUC's approval of Sunrise Powerlink was sure to be appealed. We were not disappointed. Yesterday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the California Supreme Court seeking to overturn the PUC's approval and grant a new hearing on the controversial transmission line.

The CBD's argument is twofold: the PUC didn't take steps to ensure that the line will be used principally to transmit renewable energy and the failure to consider alternate footprints endangers environmentally sensistive land.

This ratepayer-financed $19 billion, 123 mile project... will never end.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not Your Father's Electric Car

Move over PHEV's... say hello to Zap!
Santa Rosa-based Zap makes all electric, two seater, freeway-capable cars, and it has plans to debut a 5 passenger electric van called the Shuttle.

The car, known as the "golf cart"-- er, ah, I mean, known as the "Alias," costs around $35k and has a 216 volt motor, lithium-ion batteries, and a regenerative braking system.

The company also makes a line of electric cars that top out around 40 mph. These go for under $15k.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Economy Clouds Solar's Prospects

Is solar the new ethanol? Some would argue that the parallels are eerily similar when you consider that, despite government subsidies, the solar industry is finding it tough sledding...

Today's San Francisco Chronicle dives into the impact that the worsening economy is having on the solar industry. Despite the implicit (explicit?) backing of the federal goverment and President Obama's unequivocal seal of approval, solar is not immune to the the lack of financing for new deals that other industries are experiencing:

"Last year, Congress enriched and extended a 30 percent federal tax credit on solar installations. California, which adds another 15 to 20 percent in incentives on top of that, has seen solar installations soar, according to California Public Utilities Commission analyst Molly Tirpak Sterkel.

"We have continued to see strong, in fact record, installations in California despite the economic conditions, and we are optimistic that it will continue in 2009," she said. But industry sources say the nationwide market, while still growing, is growing slower."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is CARB Putting the Brakes on Hybrid Coversions?

At its meeting this week CARB is expected to adopt new regulations that could make it tough to do business for a lot companies that specialize in converting traditional hybrid vehicles to plug-in-hybrid vehicles. At issue are emissions relating to cold-start and gasoline evaporation, and CARB wants more tests before it blesses the retrofits which typically cost between $7,000-$10,000.

According to

"Air resources board engineers are recommending that plug-in hybrids undergo extensive cold-start emissions and gasoline-evaporation testing. According to agency documents, the tests could cost between $20,000 and $125,000 depending on the number of vehicles that CARB requests be tested by each company. The board's staff also wants to require the new companies to provide consumers with warranties for the changes they make to hybrids for up to ten years or 150,000 miles—despite the willingness of consumers to pay for conversions without the warranty."

The post notes further:

"As currently constructed, hybrids rely on the gasoline engine running for emissions-reducing components, such as the catalytic converter, to fully clean up the tailpipe emissions and burn off vapors from unused gasoline in the tank."

Hybrid Conversions []

Friday, January 16, 2009

Economics Trumps Green Energy and LNG

The Los Angeles Times observes that the details of the Obama stimulus plan are decidedly light on green infrastructure-- the edifice upon which any real green energy program necessarily has to be built. It comes down to short-term versus long-term stimulus.

While there is broad consensus that investment in green energy- and the infrastructure required to support it-- will be a long-term economic shot in the arm, it will take time to design, plan and build the infrastructure, making it impractical as a short-term stimulant. And short-term is clearly the order of the day.

The Times has the story:

In other news, citing "changing market conditions" (that we posted on the other day), Woodside has scrappend its proposed LNG facility off the coast of Los Angeles. has that story:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New EPA Head to Take a Fresh Look State CO2 Waivers

According to, Barak Obama's new EPA head, Lisa Jackson, made clear in her Senate confimation yesterday that state CO2 waivers are back on the table:

"Jackson, formerly New Jersey's top environmental regulator, pledged in a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that she would "immediately revisit" whether to allow states to set their own CO2 emissions limits on automobiles.

The CO2 tailpipe standards at issue were set by California in 2004 and subsequently adopted by 18 other states. They are more stringent than the tightened Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards approved by Congress in December 2007. Federal courts rejected auto industry challenges against the tougher state standards, but Bush's EPA rode to the rescue by denying California (and by extension its partner states) a federal waiver needed to implement the rules. Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, will have the power to immediately take an obstructionist EPA off the road. This could have a significant impact on technology development, given that minimal innovation is required to meet the tightened CAFE standards."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Lots going on in Cal-Energy world today:

There are multiple reports about one of the the unintended consequences of the solar boom: toxic waste. It seems that people are starting to wise up to the fact that fossile fuels used to create and transport solar panels are problematic... and the toxic material used to make the panels will be even more problematic once the panels have outlived their usefulness and are discarded.

The Los Angeles Times, among others, has that story:

Power plants along California's coast that kill "billions of fish" will no longer be cool under the Obama administration.... the San Francisco Chronicle has that story:

And, the looming natural gas shortage that we thought made the LNG plant off the coast in Ventura County such a good idea? Well, a new report says that never happened-- oops, our bad. But, we still have nothing but contempt for wealthy, NIMBY movie stars who wrap their own personal comforts and privileges in the cloak of environmentalism. The Venutra Star has the story about the report on natural gas surpluses....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Whole Lotta Green in Stanford's New Energy Instiute

Stanford announced a new $100 million alternative energy think to be funded by three major gifts.

Stanford Alum and oil and gas mogul Jay Precourt made the lead gift ($50 million) and the institute will be named in his honor: the "Precourt Insitute for Energy Efficiency."

Also poinying up was Farallon Capital founder Thomas Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor ($40 million); thier gift will get them naming rights on a renewable energy center within the instiute to be named the "TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy."

The third gift which, if my math is right, was $10 million was apparently anonymous because the identity of the donor is conspicuously absent from David Baker's write-up in the Chronicle.

According to the Chronicle:
"The new Precourt Institute for Energy will bring together Stanford researchers from various departments who already are developing better solar cells or new ways to make fuel. The financing, most of it from three alumni, also will allow the school to tackle more projects, hire more faculty and train more students interested in the field. ... The institute also will strengthen the Bay Area's lead in the race to develop sources of power that won't contribute to global warming."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Secreatary-Designate Chu, Meet Congress...

Last week we linked to a blog post questioning the ability of the admittedly brilliant scientist Steven Chu, to manage the cuthroat bureacracy of the Energy Department. In today's Wall Street Journal, Stephen Power offers a glimpse of Chu's on-the-joh training-- before he even takes office.

Chu had a meet and greet with the formidable Illinois congressional delegation, which was pushing for a piece of the money pie to fund a coal plant in the Land of Lincoln. Chu had previsously indicated that expansion of coal energy was his bete noir, but politics demanded that he take this meeting.

It's a telling look into what his job is going to be like and it only reinforces the notion that perhaps this man's talents are going to be stymied by inside the beltway politics.

Politics Tests Energy Goals [Wall Street Journal]

Friday, January 09, 2009

King Rex Slams Cap & Trade

In a recent Washington speech, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson slammed any proposed carbon cap and trade system as an ineffective, complex, and sure-to-become quasi-corrupt bureacracy akin to today's Wall Street. That isn't all that surprising.

What is surprising is tht Rex said that a carbon emissions tax-- along the lines of what Al Gore has proposed-- would be an acceptable solution. Stop the presses!

Has Tillerson had some epiphany on climate change (which he has long claimed to be a non-issue) or is this a cagey way for the biggest corporation in the world to further cement its overwhelming market share by overwhelming compeitors with a tax that Exxon can easily absorb but many companies could not?

Call me cyncial...

The Wall Street Journal has the story.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Barack Pounds the Table On Renewables

Doubling renewable energy production within three years and building a smart grid led Barack Obama's wish list that he outlined in a pep rally speech from Virginia today. But analysts are throwing cold water on the ambitious agenda, predicting that it will run into the economic brick wall thrown up by the current recession.

Obama acknowledged that drastic times call for drastic measures and his speech was designed to persuade Ameria (and more importantly Congress) to just trust him, but it remains to be seen if the political will to do so is actually there.

Reuters has the story.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Green as Green Can Be

In Folsom, SMUD has unveiled what is being called one of the greenest houses in America. The house, which received Platinum LEED certification, was subsidized by SMUD and built by a local builder.

In addition to all of the standard renewable bells and whistles like solar arrays, the Sacramento Bee is reporting: "Inside the home are recycled glass countertops and oak cabinets from sustainable forests. Thicker support beams allow less wood and more space for the newest style of insulation, the spray-in or blow-in cellulose and foams that better keep out heat and cold."

It is estimated that monthly energy bills for the 1,940 square foot craftsman house will be around $24, compared to $140 for a similar house built to current new home standards. A buyer is under contract for $625,000.

Conspicuously absent from the article is the cost of actually building this house. You have to wonder how cost efficient and commercially viable similar undertakings would actually be.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Hitting Californians Where it Hurts

California is considering regulations that could incite civil unrest. Next to the automobile and the cell phone, televisions represent perhaps Califonians' most beloved possessions (at least in Southern California!). Now the state is talking about banning LCD and Plasma flat screen TV's -oh the humanity!!!

According to a post on climate ark:

"The most power-hungry flat screen LCD and plasma TVs could effectively be banned across California from 2011 under new regulations proposed yesterday.The California Energy Commission, which manages the state's energy policy, said it was working on new standards for TV sets designed to cut energy consumption across the state by the equivalent of the energy use of 86,400 homes.The commission is likely to target the most power-hungry widescreen plasma sets, which can consume up to three times more energy than traditional cathode ray machines.It said that a second wave of more demanding standards would then be introduced from 2013, which could target Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) TVs that use 43 per cent more electricity than traditional models."

When the government wanted people to drive a Prius or install solar, they used tax incentives to push their point. This move to outlaw flat screen TV's seems out of character and, dare I say, ill fated...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Is Chu the Guy for Energy?

Like a bear emerging from hibernation, we're back from the holidaze (easily 5 lbs. heavier-- add one more resolution to the list).

The bloggers at Hillbuzz turn their rapier rhetoric on Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary designate. In a rather blunt segue from Meg Whitman's gubernatorial prospects, they speculate that Arnold would have made a better choice for Energy, because Chu is an academic and a nice guy, not a hardened manager.

They argue-- and it's tough to disagree-- that huge pile of money that will be managed by the Energy Secretary-- and the nefarious group of supplicants who will line up for a piece of it-- requires something akin to a warden, not an astrophyscist. But they are more eloquent than we could ever be:

"Schwarzenegger, or even better still, Ed Rendell, is what’s needed at Energy. We just don’t believe Chu will cut it, and are afraid of how Energy’s share of the trillion in infrastructure spending will be managed with a brilliant physicist at the helm — who is certainly smart and by all accounts a very nice man, but very smart and very nice in the same mold as all of the academics and professors we’ve known in our lives.

Physics won’t hold union leaders or corrupt local politicians by the ankles and shake them silly until they let go of the loot they dream of snagging from that enormous spending bill Obama’s promised to sign. Lectures belong in classrooms, and big thinkers are certainly desired in government…if they really can, indeed, crack a few skulls when need be as well."

Sounds pretty spot on...