>>Economic chaos may delay carbon-reduction plans
November 25, 2008, 6:18 pm
Filed under: Climate science, Policy

Yesterday’s New York Times contained a sobering assessment by Elizabeth Rosenthal on the impact of global economic turmoil on any progress toward a low-carbon energy future.

While Western governments seem determined to adopt meaningful carbon caps, she points out, several significant renewable-energy projects have already been stalled by the recent drop in the price of oil. One example: On Nov. 12, T. Boone Pickens announced he’s putting his West Texas wind farm project on hold until energy prices rebound.

Serious recessions have usually suppressed energy use. This time around, the serious slow-down in Chinese industrial production will forestall the construction of new coal plants there, while reduced driving worldwide should cut carbon emissions temporarily.

Nonetheless, according to Dr. James Hansen and his research team, the carbon clock is at midnight.


>>Obama moves green agenda forward
November 24, 2008, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Policy

The weekend saw plenty of frightening economic news, but the president-elect dropped an early Christmas gift on renewable energy.

On Saturday, Barack Obama outlined an economic stimulus package that will invest billions to rebuild roads, bridges and schools — and to develop renewable energy. The projects are intended to save and create 2.5 million jobs over the next two years. He was expected to provide more details on Monday when he presents his team of economic officials and advisers.

What this means for renewables is that important government investments will be moved up for congressional action in January and treated as part of the administration’s first-priority efforts, rather than proposed later as a separate energy-policy package.

See part of the press conference here.

>>Bay Area cities earmark $1bn to be EV capital of U.S.
November 21, 2008, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Policy, Transport

Press release, 11/20/08: Today, Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums announced a nine-step policy plan for transforming the Bay Area into the “Electric Vehicle (EV) Capital of the U.S.” In conjunction with the news, Better Place, a global electric transportation company, announced that it would enter the U.S. market with California as its first state, beginning in the Bay Area.

“Our aim is to make the Bay Area — and eventually California — the electric vehicle capital of the U.S.,” said

Nissan Rogue electric car

Nissan Rogue electric car

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Commercial availability of electric cars is targeted to begin in 2012, and Better Place estimates its network investment in the Bay Area will total $1 billion when the system is fully deployed. The three Mayors said they welcomed Better Place’s announcement and anticipate many other EV companies will focus on the Bay Area as a top-priority market.

“In these times, it is critical that we identify solutions to address both our economic and environmental challenges,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. “Promoting the use of electric vehicles will help forward our nation’s goals to achieve energy independence, to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to boost the economy by providing jobs in an emerging manufacturing sector.”

Joined by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special advisor David Crane, the Mayors announced that they would take unprecedented action beginning in December to work with the region’s cities, counties, regional governmental organizations and private sector partners to position the region’s economic and environmental future around electric transportation.

“California is already a world leader in fighting global warming and promoting renewable energy,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “This type of public-private partnership is exactly what I envisioned when we created the first ever low carbon fuel standard and when the state enacted the zero emissions vehicle program.This partnership is proof that by working together, we can achieve our goals of creating a healthier planet while boosting our economy at the same time.”

The Mayors announced policies that they will advance, beginning in December:

  • Expedited permitting and installation of electric vehicle charging outlets at homes, business, parking lots, and other buildings throughout the Bay Area;
  • Incentives for employers to install EV charging systems in their workplace and provide similar incentives to parking facilities and other locations where EV charging stations can be installed;
  • Harmonize local regulations and standards across the region that govern EV infrastructure to achieve regulatory consistency for EV companies as well as expanded range for EV consumers;
  • Establish common government programs that promote the purchase of EVs;
  • Link EV programs and infrastructure to regional transit and air quality programs;
  • Establish programs for aggressive pooled-purchase orders for EVs in municipal, state government and private sector fleets and future commitment of purchasing preference for EV vehicles;
  • Expedited permitting and approval for facilities that provide extended-range driving capability for EVs in the region through battery exchange locations or fast-charging;
  • Identify and secure suitable standard (110V) electric outlets for charging low voltage EVs in every government building in 2009; and
  • Identify roll-out plan for placement of 220V EV charging equipment throughout each city including city
    parking lots and curbside parking.

The Mayors said they will work with other cities throughout the region, regional government organizations such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Association of Bay Area Governments, as well as many private sector partners, including the members of the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Also see this AP story.

>>SUV to FFFPHEV: A bronx cheer for detroit
November 18, 2008, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Policy, Transport

With its request for another $25 billion bail-out, on top of the $25 billion they’ve already been promised to help with small-engine retooling, Detroit’s travails have turned into a black comedy. We’re asking the big car companies to improve CAFE standards and make plug-in hybrid vehicles. The infuriating thing is that they already build efficient small cars for sale in Europe, Brazil, Korea and China. Why not build those cars here? They want us to pay the costs of conversion, up front, because they don’t believe people will buy small cars. Right now they’re justified in believing that we won’t buy cars at all, at least not from Detroit.

In December, 1941, Detroit had just introduced the 1942 model cars. After Pearl Harbor the government asked them to build tanks, and then airplanes. They did it with enthusiasm and efficiency. The difference is that they had a qualified buyer: the government.

So here’s an idea. Let’s offer Detroit the $25 billion. For that price tag, we’ll expect the factories to replace the entire federal fleet — tanks, trucks, postal vans, limousines, Forest Service jeeps — with flex-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Last year, the feds operated some 642,000 vehicles. Subtract the 8,800 Abrams battle tanks, which would soak up the whole budget by themselves, and add a few hundred thousand vehicles for state and municipal fleets to round the production up to 1 million vehicles.  So $25 billion would replace the whole fleet for an average of $25,000 per. Not a bad wholesale price, especially when you figure in the fuel savings and then balance the cost of a Forest Service fire truck against a cheap sedan. A big chunk of the cost could be covered by selling off the old fleet to equatorial countries where palm-tree mechanics will happily convert them all to run on sugar ethanol.

The flex-fuel requirement is important. It means that a gasoline engine would also accept ethanol or methanol, a diesel would also accept jet fuel or vegetable oil, and a natural gas engine would also run on propane or methane. It means that every fuel source has market competition, and a fleet operator can look further afield for low bids.

A federal flex-fuel plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle is a FFFPHEV.  I can’t wait to hear a senator pronounce that. And a five-year replacement plan for flex-fuel plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle replacement plan is a FYRPFFFPHEV.

Below, an electric postal van from Baker Electromotive of Rome, N.Y.


>>Renewable industries offer to-do list for incoming politicos
November 13, 2008, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Policy

Renewable industry execs are putting together wish-lists for quick government action after Democrats take over Congress and the White House in January.

According to Matt Nauman, writing in the San Jose Mercury-News, SunPower VP Julie Blunden has asked Barack Obama to put PV panels on the White House roof. The symbolism would be strong for solar advocates, who recall the day Ronald Reagan had Jimmie Carter’s solar array torn down.

And Washington-based advocacy organizations released the following joint statement:

The leaders of the American Wind Energy Association, Geothermal Energy Association, National Hydropower Association and Solar Energy Industries Association today released the following statement:

The fast-growing renewable energy sector is poised to help lead the U.S. economic recovery with millions of new jobs and billions of private investment dollars. However, the new Administration and Congress need to take action to ensure that the renewable industries’ growth continues, given the current economic realities.

President-elect Obama has made a commitment to key policies that will spur substantial growth in America’s clean renewable energy industries and create millions of new jobs.  Building upon these key policies, the renewable energy industries’ top priorities for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress include:

  • Immediate Action: Adjust renewable energy tax credit policies so incentives work as intended given current economic conditions.

  • 111th Congress:
  • Adopt a national renewable electricity (portfolio) standard to ensure that at least 10 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. is derived from renewable energy sources by 2012, and at least 25 percent by 2025;
  • Approve a minimum five-year extension of the federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) and additional funding for the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) program;
  • Issue an Executive Order expanding federal procurement of renewable energy generation to meet the government’s substantial energy supply needs;
  • Launch a major initiative to support investment in our nation’s interstate electrical grid infrastructure and smart-grid technology to deliver green energy from areas with renewable resources to population centers and to support distributed power generation;
  • Invest $30 billion in 2009 for financing options that support new project development and installations for all renewable energy technologies as part of the Administration’s commitment to investment of $150 billion over the next ten years in clean energy technologies;
  • Adopt a cap-and-trade regime to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that rewards production of clean renewable energy.

If the Administration and Congress can quickly implement these policies, renewable energy growth will help turn around the economic decline while at the same time addressing some of our most pressing national security and environmental problems.  Expansion of renewable energy production will mean billions of dollars in economic growth, millions of new jobs, enhanced energy security as we increase domestic energy production, and critically important progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Randall Swisher, Executive Director, American Wind Energy Association,, 202.383.2508
  • Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association,, 202.454.5261
  • Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director, National Hydropower Association,, 202.682.1700
  • Rhone Resch, President, Solar Energy Industries Association,, 202.682.0556

>>Gore’s 5-point plan
November 10, 2008, 5:04 am
Filed under: Policy

Al Gore ran an op-ed in The New York Times on Sunday, outlining a 5-point energy-economy recovery plan for the new Obama administration.  It’s worth a read.

Briefly, Gore calls for:

1. Large-scale investment in Southwestern utility-scale solar plants, Great Plains windfarms and Mountain State geothermal plants.

2. Deployment of a unified national smart grid, using high-voltage underground lines.

3. Help for the auto industry — start-ups as well as the Big Three — to convert quickly to production of PHEVs.

4. A program to retrofit building with energy-efficient insulation and windows, coupled with help for mortgage holders.

5. A price on carbon emissions.

Here in Boulder County, we’re doing our share. We passed our Proposition 1A, putting the county into the business of loaning money for rooftop solar installations.

And Yamavolt, the electric road racer, is tidied up and back on commuting duty. Looks good enough now that I think I’ll start showing it off at renewable energy functions.


>>Berkeley, Boulder move forward with PV finance plans
November 5, 2008, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Policy, Utilities

In Boulder, Colo., voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 1A, establishing a county-wide program to finance rooftop photovoltaic installations. The program, based on a similar program approved a year ago by the Berkeley City Council in California, will lend a homeowner the funds to build a solar system, then recoup the investment over 20 years with a surcharge on the home’s property tax.

The Boulder measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin, and will be implemented during 2009.

Meanwhile, the Berkeley FIRST program launches . . . today, Nov. 5.  See details here.