Monday, 30 June 2008

U.S. Government Freezes Solar Energy Projects

Excerpts from Friday's New York Times article...

“The problem is that this is a very young industry, and the majority of us that are involved are young, struggling, hungry companies,” said Lee Wallach of Solel, a solar power company based in California that has filed numerous applications to build on public land and was considering filing more in the next two years. “This is a setback.”

Craig Cox, the executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a renewable energy trade group, said he worried that the freeze would “throw a monkey wrench” into the solar energy industry at precisely the wrong time.

Galvanized by the national demand for clean energy development, solar companies have filed more than 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management since 2005. They center on the companies’ desires to lease public land to build solar plants and then sell the energy to utilities.

According to the bureau, the applications, which cover more than one million acres, are for projects that have the potential to power more than 20 million homes.

Read the rest of the New York Times article

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Tipping Point for Mass Transportation?

New York Times's piece today on high gas prices bringing more people than ever to mass transit systems connects with something I noticed in an Obama speech from May 3, 2008 (below). This is a speech given in Indianapolis, the home of the Indy 500 and much more than a stones throw from the "latte-sipping elites" of the West coast. And yet, if you skip ahead to around 18:44 into the speech, you will see this mid-western audience stand up and applaud as loudly as they did during the entire address for mass transit!

That's right. They’re not cheering for cheaper gas, more tax cuts, or bringing back blue collar jobs (although this would undoubtedly result from such a massive investment in the US transport infrastructure) -- these people are jumping to their feet to applaud on the idea that America should build the kind of fast, efficient national rail system that has become a badge of honor for not only Japan and Europe, but also for China, India, and the Middle East.

In case you have problems with the video, at around 18:44 Obama proclaims, "...We can invest in mass transit and Amtrak and create high speed rail lines all across America that help us conserve energy once and for all." After this the crowd cheers so loudly that he has to pause until they quiet down so that he can move on to the issue of renewable energy and re-tooling American factories.

Friday, 2 May 2008

US Car Buyers Moving to Smaller Cars

Is it really possible that Americans are getting out of their gas guzzling SUVs and trucks? The New York Times today reports that 1/5 of all new cars sold in America in April were in the compact and sub-compact categories -- an occurrence that has US auto industry insiders shocked and making rather grand proclamations. Perhaps it won't be true much longer that Americans drive the most and with the most fuel-inefficient cars? It seems to me that if Toyota or GM could have gotten their plugin electric hybrids (PHEVs) out by the 2009 model year, they would be posting growth not losses.

If you are living in America and think the auto industry is working hard to get you fuel-efficient vehicles as fast as they can, think again. This is UK auto site AutoTrader describing one of Toyota's newest European hybrids: "A finished prototype was unveiled at Geneva, just six months after the original iQ was shown at the 2007 Frankfurt show. And it'll be on sale before the end of the year, said Toyota Motor Europe senior vice-president Andrea Formica."

The tiny four-seat iQ will get 31 miles per litre which amounts to 117 mpg (US gallons). That's right. From concept car to the dealership in little more than one year, delivered at the end of 2008. Toyota is planning to roll out the first Prius to achieve this fuel economy for Americans in 2010 and that assumes no delays.

Also worth reading...
EU 'should ban inefficient cars' (BBC News)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Monday, 21 April 2008

Food crisis threatens security, says UN chief

Picture (above) of Mexican food shortage protesters from Treehugger's October 2007 coverage.

Excerpts from the Guardian article from today...

The UN secretary general issued a gloomy warning yesterday that the deepening global food crisis, in which rapidly rising prices have triggered riots and threatened hunger in dozens of countries, could have grave implications for international security, economic growth and social progress.

The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by an average of 83% in the past three years, and warns that at least 100 million people could be tipped into poverty as a result. A range of factors has been blamed, including poor harvests, partly due to climate change, rising oil prices, steep growth in demand from China and India, and the dash to produce biofuels for motoring at the expense of food crops.

"One thing is certain," [UN Secretary general] Ban [Ki-Moon] said. "The world has consumed more than it has produced" over the last three years.

Food riots have broken out in at least a dozen countries, most notably in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Yemen and Mexico. Pakistan has reintroduced rationing, while Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil. Indonesia has increased public food subsidies, while India has banned the export of rice, except the high-quality basmati variety.

Earlier this month, Haiti's parliament dismissed the prime minister, and cut the price of rice, in an attempt to defuse widespread anger at food price hikes that led to days of protests and looting in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The UN food agency has warned that it will need to make "heartbreaking" choices about which countries should receive its emergency aid, unless governments donate more money to buy increasingly expensive food.
British PM Gordon Brown is calling for immediate action on the part of the UK and US to support UN food aid programmes, but I can't see how he'll get President Bush to do anything resembling anything. Brown is going to need more than angry people and possible mass starvation to activate this criminally negligent President.

Coverage of the issue by today...
``Biofuels is making the world face a lot of difficulty,'' Qatari Energy Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said yesterday in Rome. ``It's created a food shortage. Sometimes I ask myself `what is more important, driving or eating?' I can't stop eating.''

A new World Bank report states that ``almost all of the increase in global maize production from 2004 to 2007 (the period when grain prices rose sharply) went for biofuels production in the U.S.'' Go back and read that sentence a second time. It is stunning.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Monbiot on the Biofuels Disaster

Picture (above) borrowed from The Telegraph's article on a surge in Brazilian deforestation in 2007.

George Monbiot, environmental guru and columnist at The Guardian, offers perhaps the most succinct argument against biofuels (in any form) that I have read. I highly recommend that anyone interested in the subject go and read his 12 February article: HERE.

He also has more recently written an excellent piece on the horrifying thought process (or lack thereof) behind the planning of Britain's first coal-fired power plant in 20 years: HERE. If you're too busy/lazy to go and read his article, I will help you out... THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL. Any fruit from this tree will fall far to late to be of use in averting the worst effects of global climate change. We need to focus on electrics and renewable power.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Leaders Realizing the Biofuels Mess We're In?

UK newspaper The Guardian is reporting (here) that Britain's Chancellor Darling has awoken to the dire consequences of expanding biofuels development...

'This is an urgent problem,' said Darling, who was speaking in Washington at a meeting of G7 leaders. 'People across the world will say, "Why didn't you see this coming?" when it is staring us in the face. We have got to take action.'

He added: 'It would be a profound mistake if we get into a situation where we are growing corn that is essential for feeding people and converting it into fuel. That is not sustainable.'

The move to re-examine links between food shortages and global biofuel policies comes as riots have gripped many of the world's poorest nations. Demonstrators have protested, with increasing violence, about the soaring prices of wheat, rice, soya and other staples.
As the article goes on to point out, the US is currently in a political cycle where biofuels are seen as an important part of the climate change solution, pushed even recently by senators with a strong interest in averting climate change. These include US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Baraba Boxer and both Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama (policy sheet) and Hillary Clinton (policy sheet).

So US part of the solution to the biofuels problem might also give us a real indication of which candidate is likely to be the most effective on climate change. Namely, which presidential hopeful will wake up and address the environmental disaster that is biofuels first? Or will Barbara Boxer and the senate committee she chairs be the first to come around? Will any American political leader be smart or strong enough to change their position on biofuels?

Who is Chancellor Darling?
The position of Chancellor of the Exchequer (or Chancellor for short) in the UK is equivalent to the US Secretary of the Treasury, overseeing HM Treasury with responsibilities for all economic and financial matters in the UK. Alistair Darling was appointed to the post in June 2007 and has had a rough start, bailing out Northern Rock just three months later, and then dealing with the child benefit data scandal less than one month after that. Suffice it to say, he has not been a hugely popular figure, so his awakening on biofuels may be the first positive thing many have heard from him since he became Chancellor. Hopefully he can follow through.