Thursday, April 30, 2009

CARB: "Whoops, our bad."

A corollary to the famous H.L. Mencken quote, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," is: "Nobody ever went broke overestimating the power of the ethanol lobby!"

As the dust begins to settle from CARB's decision last week to approve the low carbon fuel standard, the agency has annonced that it might want to take a mulligan and rethink at least part of that decision.

Writing in Capitol Weekly, John Howard reports:

"A critical piece of California’s new law cutting carbon emissions from transportation fuels is getting a another look, with state air-quality regulators likely to vote by December on the issue known as “indirect land use.”

The months of new study follows complaints from ethanol producers and others who said the new rule unfairly targeted farmers who grow fuel crops."

By way of background and explanation, Howard also notes:

"Last week, California’s Air Resources Board approved the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or LCFS, which is intended to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions by 10 percent from gasoline, diesel and other fuels by 2010. The regulation, the first of its kind in the world to combat greenhouse gases, would remove some 16 million metric tons of carbon from the air during the next 11 years, according to the board staff.

The new rule is intended consider the “carbon intensity” of fuels not only at combustion, but in the manufacture and distribution of the fuels, including gasoline, diesel, biofuels such as ethanol, and others. The regulation takes a “cradle-to-grave” approach to fuels, and it is this approach that has sparked complaints from ethanol producers, because it counts carbon emission used along the entire chain of ethanol production."

Between this about-face, and Sen. Specter's decision to switch parties based on polling data, a guy could start to get cynical about the legislative process in this country...

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leading By Example

Slow progress on renewable energy in emerging markets has long been an impediment to advancing a global renewable energy agenda.

Recall, that one of the knee-jerk excuses for the U.S. decision to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol was that exemptions given to other industrialized countries (China) were allowing continued pollution and Kyoto would only handcuff the U.S. economically without achieving the desired effect of the treaty.

While that line of argument certainly has some merit, it also has more than its share of detractors who have bludgeoned, pilloried, stomped and spit upon, and ultimately discarded it, and the discussion need not be resurrected here. However, the point remains that establishing clean, renewable energy in emerging markets remains an important global priority.

Earlier this week, a new annual conference convened in San Francisco that seeks to prmote renewable energy to developing nations, share ideas and actually demonstrate to delegates some of the successes we have had in California.

According to David Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"The Renewable Energy in Emerging Markets conference brought together representatives of 35 countries to explore delivering solar, wind, hydropower and alternative fuels to their people. The delegates met with American government officials and discussed ways to finance renewable power projects during the global recession.

On Monday, before the conference started, they toured a Solano County wind farm, an Oakland biodiesel refinery and a San Anselmo school powered by the sun, meeting local green tech entrepreneurs in the process."

While the conference is about providing the motivation and the tools that will allow smaller, less developed countries to set up their own clean energy infrastructure, it isn't too much of a stretch to see this as a business development exercise for American contractors and companies either... call it a win-win, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That's "The San Francisco Way"...

Playing a tough Irish beat cop in the movie "The Untouchables," actor Sean Connery utters the now famous line about taking down mobster Al Capone, "That's the Chicago way."

Well, just like the feds put away Capone by filing charges completely unrelated to murder and bootlegging, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is taking a similar strategy in his quest to shutter the last big power plant in the City by the Bay.

The 40 year old plant, which is owned by Mirant, prominently and defiantly belches smoke into the air from its massive smokestack, and uses millions of gallons of bay water every day as a coolant. The ramifications of the smokestack are obvious, and environmentalists contend that the heated water discharge is killing fish, so you can imagine how popular this facility is in San Francisco.

But Herrera can't seem to lay a glove on Mirant for any of the usual transgressions that would typically doom a power plant in the Bay Area, so he filed a lawsuit alleging that five vacant buildngs on the property have not been seismically retrofitted, in accordance with a 1992 city ordinance.

Sounding like a straight-out-of-central-casting agenda-driven prosecutor, the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Herrera as saying, "To the list of corporate lawlessness that includes polluting our air, ground and water, we can now add Mirant's defiant refusal to address the safety risks to its own employees," Herrera said in a statement. "

Herrera isn't going to score many points for objectivity, but for creativity, he gets an "A".

San Francisco aims to close Mirant power plant [San Francisco Chronicle]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Smart Grid: The Path Forward

Faced with the daunting task of taking "Smart Grid" from the propaganda stage to the implementation stage, the experts are talking, and the "optimism" hardly seems to be the word of the day.

The Los Angeles Times quotes a senior consultant to the Departments of Energy and Commerce who will be responsible for some of the pilot projects that will determine if a naitonal smart grid rollout is even feasible. He notes that three big issues dog the future of Smart Grid:

1. Money. President Obama has promised more than $4 billion in federal Monopoly Money but the actual price tag of a national rollout is $165 billion. Calling it a "challenge," the consultant states that private investment in smart gird technology by utilities will be required to make this a reality.

2. Standards. "And one of the biggest challenges in rolling out a smart grid, energy experts say, is getting hundreds of industries, from power generators to appliance and auto manufacturers, to agree on a set of standards -- some already developed, many not ready yet." He continues, ""It will be a mess" [he] says, if auto manufacturers each come up with a unique standard for how plug-in hybrid technology will communicate with the smart grid. To avoid that scenario, the electric utility industry is working with automotive engineers to develop plug-in standards."

3. Time. "If you look at how vast the grid is, all the way from generator to consumer, to bring together a communication fabric so that information can be exchanged will take four to five years, easy"...

As always, the devil is in the details...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Living Off the Grid

An email about AB 212 has been festering in the inbox for a few days now, so Friday is probably as good a time to bring it up as any... 

Rep. Lori Saldana's bill to mandate "zero energy" new homes in California is making its way through the Assembly.  The Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on it earlier this month. 

Essentially the bill seeks to require that all new home construction after January 1, 2020 be "zero net energy," which the bill defines thusly:

"... a building that implements a combination of building energy efficiency design features and onsite or near-site clean distributed generation that results in no net purchases from the electricity or gas grid on an annual basis and produces enough electricity to offset the energy use attributable to an onsite use of purchased natural gas.”

What is interesting about the bill is that the text also allows for the CEC to override the January 1, 2020 date and pick a start date “on which photovoltaic technology is cost effective.”
 So despite all of the talk about wind and geothermal that peppers the text of the bill, this is really about solar.  

The list of supporters and detractors splits along ideological and business lines just as you would expect it would. 

In other news, CARB voted overwhelming (9-1) to adopt the LCFS yesterday-- no surprise there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Texas-Sized Solar Initiative

The Texas State Senate has passed a bill that would mandate a 60% increase in renewable energy (ex-wind) and establish a $500 million/5 year rebate program for solar installation in the state. Whether this will give our friends in Sacramento any new ideas, remains to be seen, but a closer look at the Texas initiative is probably worth a minute of your time.

The "$500 million rebate" program will be financed by electric bill fees-- presumably on all ratepyers-- which essentially makes this a "tax" on anyone who doesn't take the bait and install solar.

The basic idea is to generate solar energy that can be sold back to utilities, but at what rate remains a mystery.

According to Russell Gold in the Wall Street Journal:

"Jim Marston, head of the Texas chapter of Environmental Defense, said he expects the rebates would bring Texas about 250 to 500 megawatts of solar-power generation, which now costs more than other electricity sources but is being buoyed by government support and falling manufacturing costs. That is roughly equivalent to the output from a natural-gas power plant."


"One potential drawback is the price at which homeowners would be able sell their excess solar power to utilities -- an important factor in calculating how long it takes to recover the cost of installing solar panels. The bill requires that utilities purchase surpluses at a "fair market price," which can be 20% less than the going rate for retail electricity."

A de facto tax to spur green energy that appears to be light on details certainly sounds like somethng California could enthusiastically get behind...

Texas Moves to Foster Solar Power [Wall Street Journal]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CARB Takes Up Low Carbon Fuel Tomorrow

CARB takes up the low carbon fuel standard tomorrow and stakeholders are circling the wagons.

The Mercury News ran a pretty good summary piece yesterday that recaps the highlights and lowlights of the proposed measure.

One of the primary sticking points remains the evaluation and assessment of the cumulative carbon footprint of a given fuel (i.e., the carbon impact from production to delivery to use of the fuel itself). As noted in an earlier post, the ethanol community is fit to be tied over this, and the Merc notes that:

"The Air Resources Board is not just targeting the emissions of the fuel once it is burned in a vehicle. It also wants to account for all carbon emissions related to the production of the fuel.
For example, refineries could choose to stop buying a heavy crude oil extracted from Canadian oil sands, which takes more energy to convert into gasoline. But accounting for emissions during the entire production cycle of a fuel also would discourage certain fuels from being used in California.

Corn-based ethanol, for example, burns cleanly in a car engine. But making it can take a heavy toll on the environment: Massive tracts of land must be cleared, which requires fuel-powered tractors, then coal- or natural gas-fired plants convert the corn into fuel and petroleum is used to transport the end product to distant markets.

The air board also wants to hold ethanol producers accountable for actions taken in other countries. "

In addition to ethanol, petroleum interests oppose the LCFS as well. The Merc points out that:

"More than 100 scientists—including those from the National Academy of Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories and a host of universities—petitioned the California Air Resources Board to rethink its position.

They said regulators are acting prematurely because scientists remain divided over how best to calculate carbon emissions tied to biofuels. They also criticized the board for penalizing biofuels by not applying the same standard to oil and natural gas production, although the air board does factor in the emissions tied to drilling, transporting and refining oil and gas. "

This promises to be a regulatory melee, with special interests, regulators, and scientists (some legitimately independent... some not so much) trading body blows. While you can decide for yourself if the LCFS is great policy, it certainly will be great political theater.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Not Nice To Mess With Mother Nature...

Recently we posted about PG&E's deal with Solaren that contemplated a space-based solar array beaming energy down to receivers in Fresno. Any time we get to type the words "death ray" into a post, it becomes an instant favorite, but the story gets better...

Thanks to the intrepid reporters at, we found a piece about the project which reveals that the Solaren project is about more than just solar power. It is also designed to alter weather. As in, "kill hurricanes."

The following excerpt is from the Wired write-up (via slashdot):

"By heating up the upper and middle levels of an infant hurricane, they say they could disrupt the flows of air that power the enormous storms. Air warmed by tropical waters flows up through a hurricane and is vented through the eye into the upper atmosphere. Theoretically, you could heat up the top of the storm and lower the pressure differential between layers, resulting in a weaker storm.

Attempts at weather modification have taken many forms over the decades from cloud seeding to the strange fans that vineyards use for hyperlocal weather modding. Some analysts have even speculated that geoengineering techniques could allow countries to weaponize the climate by subtly turning an enemy country's bre into a desert, for example. Hurricanes have also been a target of dozens of plans to alter their courses or slow their winds."

Consider us officially freaked out.

Hurricane-Killing, Space-Based Power Plant [, via]

Monday, April 20, 2009

From Russia, To Mexico, To California...

Tree Hugger had a post last week in which it mused about the "Pickens Plan" becoming the "Putin Plan." Appropriately titled, "From Russia, With LNG," it notes that Gazprom is set to begin exporting LNG to Shell's LNG facility in Mexico, whence it will be pumped into Southern California.

This seems like a "win-win," as it gives California access to LNG and maintains an unobstructed view for Malibu celebrities.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal today notes that "natural-gas prices have drifted to levels last seen in 2002."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Freeman Moves to L.A. City Hall

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that David Freeman, the former LA DWP boss and the environmental conscience of the Port of Los Angeles, is set to be named Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, with responsibility for pushing Mayor Antonio "Call Me Governor" Villaraigosa's aggressive environmental agenda. 

The Times notes:

"Viewed by activists as an elder statesman on green issues, Freeman will focus primarily on the mayor's clean-air and water conservation measures, as well as the effort to resurrect a solar energy plan that was narrowly defeated in last month's election."

In his State of the City address this week, Villaraigosa announced a commitment to creating "green collar jobs" and a Clean Tech Corridor in Los Angeles. The Mayor also was the driving force behind the recently defeated Measure B solar initiative in Los Angeles.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Quantum Leap In Politicizing Offshore Drilling

With Ken Salazar's "To Drill or Not To Drill... That is the Question" tour coming to California, the Mercury News has an oped by Jack Stewart, President of the California Manufacturers and Technology Assocition that makes the case for offshore drilling.

Stewart takes a page from President's Obama's playbook and throws out a couple of completely unverifiable numbers that sound great: 23,000 jobs would be created by offshore drilling and $420 billion would be generated. 

But the real pull quote is:

"Many industry jobs would be high-paying and technically intensive, and the money generated through royalty payments, taxes and revenues could help fund schools, roads, hospitals and the essential safety nets so many Californians rely upon. Payments received through expanded exploration would also help to fight the state's budget deficit, which is expected to swell to $15 billion over the next 18 months. Increased oil and natural gas exploration is the right remedy at the right time, for the right reasons."

Hard to believe that an issue like offshore drilling has turned into a propaganda war....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dissing California?

In college football, Californians have long lamented what has come to be known as the "East Coast Bias"-- an alleged predisposition among sportswriters to rate East Coast teams and players more favorably (that California fans attribute to unawareness born of the fact that many East Coasters won't stay up late to watch West Coast sports on a regular basis). Apparently "East Coast Bias" extends to the energy sector as well.

The New York Times yesterday ran a piece that downplayed California's commendable record on energy conservation. Specifically, it reported in detail on a study Cynthia Mitchell of the consulting firm Energy Economics, that concluded that California's efforts to promote conservation are-- at best-- only a small part of the reason our state's per capita energy consumption has

According to the report, the following factors are more responsible for the trend than any systemic efforts to promote conservation:

- Higher prices-- California's electricity price increases have significantly outpaced the rest of the country

- Climate-- California's mild climate requires less air conditioning use (I don't get that one)

- Housing density-- Simply put, more people per house creates consumption efficiencies

- Conservation is cool-- Conservation is part of the whole California ethos

- Economy-- Because California is such an expensive place to do business, many energy-intesive companies (such as manufacturers) have fled the state

The study does pay lip service to utilities' efforts to promote conservation, but almost as an afterthought.

Closing with a dose of reality, though, the article ends with this gem:

"Despite the leveling off of the average person’s usage, California’s overall electricity consumption has risen about 2 percent annually in recent decades. In the battle against climate change, she writes, California’s lessons are therefore “limited at best.”"

Bottom line: there may certainly be some validity to the conclusions drawn by the study, but California's record on energy consumption and conservation is something to be commended and the state should be given its due.

Deciphering California’s Efficiency Successes [New York Times]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Far Out Idea For Solar

Lately we've been posting about the ironic conflict between conservationists and solar power advocates who want to use large tracts of land for solar farms. We've long discussed the perennial opposition to solar projects by environmentalists who fight the construction of new transmission lines. Now, one company has a solution to both problems-- put solar arrays in space.

According to David Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Sometime before 2016, Solaren Corp. plans to launch the world's first orbiting solar farm. Unfurled in space, the panels would bask in near-constant sunshine and provide a steady flow of electricity day and night. Receivers on the ground would take the energy - transmitted through a beam of electromagnetic waves - and feed it into California's power grid."

The receiving station would be in Fresno.

Anticipating a potential line of opposition to the project, the Chronicle write-up includes a bolded sub-title that reads "Not a Laser Death Ray." It's probably not unreasonable to have a visceral reaction to the idea of a concentrated electromagnetic ray being beamed at Fresno, so this will present something of a public relations problem for Solaren.

Additionally, with the problem of "space junk" getting more and more press, you have to ask yourself if putting a massive solar array into orbit is a good idea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cap & Trade... and so much more

In the latest in a long list of "survey pieces" about the difficultines of implementing renewable energy mandates, the Wall Street Journal editorializes against (actually "eviscerates") Henry Waxman's new Cap and Trade bill.

Essentially calling the bill a trojan horse because it stops short of laying out any specifics about how the carbon tax will be levied or the proceeds spent, the Journal notes that a good portion of the bill's 648 page draft discussion text is dedicated to a stelath RPS mandate.

Buried in the bill is a list of new regulations on household consumer electricity use and a requirement for 25% renewables by 2012.  The Journal uses this as a jumping off point to reprise all of the arguments against an RPS:

"Right off, the bill mandates that 25% of U.S. electricity come from wind, solar, geothermal or biomass by 2025. Sorry, nuclear doesn't count. This kind of renewable portfolio standard directly contradicts the putative flexibility of cap and trade, which is supposed to allow businesses to reduce CO2 how and where it is least expensive. But Democrats aren't about to let the details of their own policies stand in the way of magical thinking.

Despite political favoritism and billions in subsidies, wind still only accounts for about 1% of U.S. net electric generation, and solar all of one-hundredth of 1%. So now the liberal solution is simply to force people to buy them, a la the ethanol mandate. Yet it will be difficult for renewables to ever reach 25%, given their inherent limitations (intermittency) and, ironically, green opposition (no new power lines). That won't stop Congress from punishing utilities that fail to meet an impossible goal."

The arguments are nothing new and neither is the proposal-- just another battle in the ongoing war... 

Henry Waxman Has a Plan . . . [Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Global Warming No Pleasure Cruise, No Trip to the Beach

We have to hand it to Energy Secretary Steven Chu... he tells it like it is. Many would call his propensity for eye-opening commentary "indelicate" or "undiplomatic," probably just as many see him as "plain-spoken" and "refreshingly candid." As a follow-up to his referring a couple of weeks ago to a carbon tarriff as a "weapon" to be used against the United States' trading partners, yesterday he called the threat of global warming the "Titanic."

The Los Angeles Times chose another word to describe global warming: "Australia."

The Times has a piece on what the future of global warming will look like: the Australian Outback, replete with wildfires, heat waves, species extinctions, and mosquito borne illnesses. Not pretty.

One thing is for sure, if ethanol is part of the solution to curbing carbon emissions and preventing Sacramento from turning into Mugwump Flats, Australia, then the solution is about to get a smidge harder because Pacific Ethanol appears to be about to bite the dust.

The company has been struggling big time and the Sacramento Bee reports it just fired its CFO. It can't be good when you fire the guy whose job it is to go out and put together financing for the company.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Will Smart Grid Be a Safe Grid?

With news of the nation's electricity grid being hacked and riddled with viruses that unleash serious damage at any time, people are already asking the question of what this means for smart grid.

Smart grid technology is commonly thought to resemble something like the Internet, but now it seems likely that more people will begin to advocate for a more secure, proprietary system.

While that might quiet some of the concern over cyber sabotage, no system is wholly immune to innovative hackers. Furthermore, a proprietary architecture would no doubt wrankle the spear-throwing-chorus of corporate detractors who see hidden, monopolistic profit motives behind any proprietary arrangement, thereby creating a whole new political headache.

The Wall Street Journal's "Environmenal Capital" blog takes up the question:

"The big question is whether the move to a smart grid would increase the country’s vulnerability to such attacks, or serve as the best form of defense.

The Center for American Progress, in its latest study on the electricity transmission system, said the smart grid was the solution—not the problem—because it would represent the chance to finally upgrade vulnerable old, jury-rigged technology currently cobbled together in the electric grid. Greater regulation and government oversight could also push through costlier but more effective security technologies that might otherwise not pass muster with the market, the report said.

Maybe so—but that still leaves open the question of how the new smart grid should be designed. Should it have open standards, like the Internet Protocol, understood by everyone from hackers to software developers? Or should the smart grid rely on a closed, closely-held, standard specially-created by companies building smart grid gear? "

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Back In Character

Things appear to be getting back to normal in Santa Barbara where the newly consituted count Board of Supervisors has reiterated its opposition to offshore drilling. Recall that last year, with the apparent consent of the supes, a Texas company cut a deal with environmental groups to drill at Tranquillon Ridge.

State regulators utltimately killed the project but it sent ripples through the local Democratic party and put Santa Barbara-- the very cradle of eco-consciousness-- in the odd position of being lumped in with the "drill baby drill" crowd.

After the November elections, seats changed hands and the Board is once again back on the environmental straight and narrow.

Steve Chawkins, writing in the Los Angeles Times describes the situation:

"But now the board's majority has shifted from Republican to Democratic, the Obama administration has taken over in Washington, and the price of crude oil has plunged from nearly $150 a barrel last summer to about $52 a barrel on Monday. With an Interior Department hearing on offshore drilling planned next week in San Francisco, the supervisors are to consider a resolution urging a ban on new offshore drilling.

"It's definitely a reversal," said Supervisor Janet Wolf. "It became politically charged to point to our county as a place that was willing to take another look at offshore drilling. Now we're saying no, that's not the case.""

On a somewhat related note, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is conducting a series of public meetings around the country to discuss the issue of offshore drilling, got crushed in Atlantic City, NJ yesterday by drilling opponents.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing? The Beef With Smart Grids

Business Week's Heather Green takes a fresh look at smart grids through prism of the Stimulus Bill. Like a lot of the projects contemplated by government spending spree, stimulus cash for smart grid technology comes with strings attached.

Most significantly, utilities have to commit to flex-pricing-- raising and lowering the cost of power with demand. That has consumer groups girding for battle.

Green reports:

"But there's a hitch. From California to Colorado to Maine, consumer groups are expressing concerns about these efforts. In particular, they're leery of giving utilities the ability to change electricity prices on the fly, jacking rates up on hot summer days, for instance. Most utilities are prohibited from using variable prices now, but the flexibility to raise rates for a community as demand rises is essential for utilities to get the full benefit of new technology. Consumer groups worry these so-called smart-grid technologies are just another way for utilities to make extra money off consumers. "It's the biggest hype since electric [deregulation] and has the same amount of factual basis," says Barbara Alexander, a consultant for several state consumer advocates.

Battles are likely to break out across the country in the months to come. Utilities are stepping up their lobbying of state regulatory commissions to get support for flexible pricing and technology investments so they can claim their slice of the $4.5 billion in matching funds from the stimulus package. "

And if you're in the market for a quick, concise primer on what exactly the ubiquitous "Smart Grid" terminology actually entails, Green offers this helpful summary:

"A range of technologies is used to create smart grids. Sensors on long-distance transmission lines help pinpoint network problems, while monitoring systems can let homeowners with solar panels sell back electricity to a utility when prices are high. At the heart of the debate are so-called smart meters, which would be installed on people's homes in place of the old models. They can relay information about electricity use and price to consumers and let utilities collect usage data wirelessly without trucks or meter readers."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Clean Energy: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Clean energy, fueled by Obama-inspired media hype, continues to be regarded the next (current?) "big thing," but a snapshot of the industry today tells a different sotry: renewables are the stuff of which bridge loans were made. Russell Gold reports in the Wall Street Journal that renewable energy has fallen into something of a hole-- a funding hole.

Private investment, curbed by the ongoing economic downturn, has all but dried up and the much-anticipated, passionately longed for and promised stimulus cash has yet to arrive. Gold notes:

"Investments by venture capitalists in early-stage companies also plunged 48% to $1 billion in the first quarter, according to Cleantech Group LLC. "There may be some good companies that might not get funded, but that doesn't mean they won't get funded six months from now or 12 months from now," says Cleantech research director Brian Fan. "For the industry as a whole, this is a pause."

Companies that were able to secure financing before last summer are in the best position to survive until government stimulus money becomes available, say industry executives."

What makes this situation more than simply a waiting game and actually somwhat problematic is that much of the federal stimulus cash is contingent on private co-financing and Gold paints a bleak picture of the capital markets' current ability to fund-- and dispositon toward-- clean energy ventures.

The Journal write-up points to the recent Solyndra deal (see earlier post) as an example of this catch-22. That DOE loan is contingent on $100 million in privae financing. Who knows when, whence, or if that cash is coming?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Here I Come to Save The Daaaaay!!!"

Last week we posted about the frequent confrontations between renewable power interests and conservationists when it comes to finding acreage that is suitable for siting solar power arrays and other renewable infrastructure. Well today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a third party has swooped in to save the day and provide a solution to these recurring conflicts.

Just who is said "third party"? Who else?.... Google. (With help from Audoban and NRDC).

Google has created an overlay on its Google Earth application to indicate all environmentally sensitive areas and areas off limits to development. Now, with the click of a mouse, anyone interested in identifying potential sites for renewable energy development can tell if they are going to have a problem and--theoretically-- head off any unpleasant confrontation with environmental and/or conservation groups.

The Chronicle reports:

"A new mapping tool on Google Earth shows renewable-power developers where they can - and can't - build. Working on grants from Google's philanthropic arm, the National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council pulled together maps of endangered species habitats, national parks and other forms of protected land and loaded all that data into Google Earth.

Zoom in on the Mojave Desert, a favorite spot for solar power projects, and you can see every bit of land that is off-limits to developers. The no-go zones appear as brightly colored shapes superimposed on maps and aerial photographs. The new tool, called the Path to Green Energy, went live Wednesday, and anyone can use it."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More! More!! More!!!!

With Congress continuing to spend money like drunken sailors, Pleasanton-area Rep. Jerry McNerney sees an opportunity to advance his passionate alternative energy agenda.

McNerney waded into the legislative fray with three new bills, two of which call for utilities to prepare for technology that reguates electricity usage by appliances, and for public untility commissions to come up with plans for fee-based charging stations for PHEV's. Neither seems terribly unreasonable.

The Contra Costa Times reports that McNerney's other bill, which could be enormously expensive, "seeks $100 million for the creation of college and career school training programs in "green energy" jobs." Before you cringe, the cash would come out of federal coffers in the form of a DOE grant.

One school of thought understandably holds that, with the Obama budget tripling the national deficit in ten years, there comes a time when you have to simply wave the white flag and capitulate. If the money is going to roll off of federal printing presses, better for California to fight for a share of that cash than watch it disappear down a black hole in another state.

The competing school of thought-- what I'll call the "Sanford School" (after South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford who told Washington to keep its stimulus cash) points out that any new program like the one contemplated by McNerney's "Green Act" will be impossible to kill once it is enactd, making it yet another unfunded mandate. (In fairness, the Green Act contemplates a federal program and not a state program, so this is not a California issue, per se, but it does raise the question of where the money comes from after the DOE grant runs out?)

Draw your own conclusions, but the Contra Costa Times has the story: