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Archive for the ‘green policy’ Category

In The New York Times on Monday, I write about how opponents of Proposition 23, the California ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, are outspending the oil industry interests backing the initiative:

At the start of the campaign for California’s Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, opponents darkly warned that the Texas oil companies backing the initiative would spend as much as $50 million to win the election.

But with three weeks until Election Day, it is the No on 23 coalition of environmentalists, investors and Silicon Valley technology companies that is raking in the cash, taking in nearly twice as much money as the Yes on 23 campaign.

As of Monday, the No on 23 forces had raised $16.3 million to the Yes campaign’s $8.9 million, according to California Secretary of State records. Over the past two weeks, nearly $7 million has flowed into No campaign coffers while contributions to the Yes effort had fallen off dramatically.

With the failure of federal climate change legislation, considerable national attention is focused on Proposition 23, which marks the first time a global warming law has been put before voters.

Representatives from the Yes campaign did not return a request for comment. But Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the main No campaign, said he still expects the oil and petrochemical interests that account for 97 percent of the Yes contributions to “drop a nuclear bomb” in the coming weeks.

“You don’t launch this kind of campaign without knowing from the get-go what you’re going to spend,” said Mr. Maviglio, a longtime Democratic operative in California. “Did we catch them off guard on how much the business community in the state would spend to defend the law? Yes. But they’re still going to blitz us.”

A few hours after the interview with Mr. Maviglio on Friday, the Yes campaign reported its first sizable donation since Sept. 13, with Marathon Petroleum of Findlay, Ohio, contributing $500,000.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Proposition 23 would suspend the law, known as A.B. 32, until the state unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, something that has happened only three times in the past 40 years

A recent Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll showed voters evenly split over Proposition 23, with 21 percent undecided. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday found the ballot initiative losing 49 percent to 37 percent.

Campaign finance records show that the No campaign has attracted big donations from Silicon Valley venture capitalists, New York hedge fund managers, national environmental groups and green technology executives.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed (on right in above photo), didn’t just agree to have solar panels installed on the presidential mansion; he helped put them in. Nasheed scrambled up to the roof this week, screwdriver in hand, and joined the crew from California’s Sungevity, which installed the 11.5-kilowatt photovoltaic array.

(Don’t expect to see Barack Obama in a hard hat any time soon, even though his administration just gave the OK to the solarization of the White House.)

The Maldives, of course, is the poster country for global warming. The Indian Ocean archipelago rests, on average, fewer than five feet above sea level and the nation of some 305,000 people would be rendered uninhabitable by rising waters.

“For the Maldives, climate change is a real challenge,” said Nasheed on a conference call Wednesday. “It’s not a problem in the future, it’s a problem we face every day.”

“We have 16 islands that have serious erosion problems,” he added. “We’ve had to relocate people from one island to another. We also have severe saltwater contamination. We have a serious food security issue.”

Sungevity and Bill McKibben’s 350.org were behind the campaign to put solar on the U.S. White House. The Maldives rooftop installation is part of this Sunday’s 10/10/10 “Global Work Party,” another McKibben initiative to get people to take action against climate change.

Nasheed, 43, has shown himself adept at focusing media attention on the impact of global warming on the world’s low-lying island nations — last October, he and his cabinet donned scuba gear to hold an underwater meeting.

But putting solar panels on the presidential home is not so much a PR stunt as part of the nation’s aggressive efforts to wean itself from the imported oil it relies on to generate electricity.

In January, Nasheed pledged to the United Nations that the Maldives would go carbon neutral by 2020. Making good on his pledge won’t turn back the rising tide, but Nasheed said the Maldives can show other island nations that it is possible to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. “If it can work here in the Maldives it can work anywhere with 300,000 people,” he said. “We’re going to see a very big technology shift. There’s going to be another industrial revolution. If you’re not clever enough to embrace the future, you cannot be a world leader.”

According to an official in the president’s office, the Maldives total electricity demand is 200 megawatts.

A Finnish company, WinWind, has proposed building a 25-megawatt wind farm on the Maldives’ Gaaf Alif atoll, while Indian wind turbine maker Suzlon is investigating the feasibility of constructing a 15-megawatt wind farm on the Addu atoll. Japan has provided financial assistance for a project to install a megawatt’s worth of rooftop arrays on schools and government buildings in Male, the country’s capital.

International donors, meanwhile, have promised $30 million for renewable projects. Scotland and the Maldives have signed an agreement to investigate the potential for developing wave and tidal power in the archipelago, according to the president’s office.

To provide electricity when there’s no wind or sun, the Maldives is considering biomass power plants that would run on coconut husks. Outlying islands, however, would probably have to continue burning oil until the price of batteries used to store renewable energy became affordable.

LG, the Korean company, donated the panels for the presidential solar array and the inverters were contributed by the German company Kaco. Sungevity used satellite images and its proprietary software to size and design the solar system at its Oakland, Calif., headquarters, then flew a crew to the Maldives to install it.

“We’re averting about 200 tons of C02 from the system and there’s a 27 percent return on investment,” said Danny Kennedy, Sungevity’s co-founder and a former Greenpeace activist, who traveled to the Maldives for the installation. “President Nasheed is demonstrating this is a wise and affordable investment.”

Or as Nasheed put it, “For us, it is an issue of life or death. We have been living in the middle of the Indian Ocean and have a written history that goes back 1,000 years. We cannot relocate.”

“We have to take direct action,” he continued. “As the president, it’s difficult for me to talk like this. This has to involve a fair amount of direct action on the streets.”

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photo: Todd Woody

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday gave the green light to the first two big solar power plants to be built on federal land in the California desert, promising more approvals of solar projects in the coming weeks.

The granting of leases to Tessera Solar’s massive 709-megawatt Imperial Valley Solar Project and to a smaller 45-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built by Chevron come four years after the solar land rush began in the Mojave Desert.

With nearly 200 applications filed on hundreds of thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, the federal government soon became overwhelmed trying to weed out viable projects from speculators. Environmentalists, meanwhile, grew alarmed at the potential impact of such huge industrial projects on a plethora of imperiled wildlife, as well as on water supplies and desert vistas.

The Obama administration beefed up BLM staff devoted to solar projects and began collaborating with California agencies to streamline the approval process.

“Today’s projects are proof that we can cut red tape without cutting corners,” Salazar said Tuesday during a press conference.

The looming expiration of federal tax incentives for large renewable energy projects also lit a fire under state and federal regulators to license power plants so that developers could begin construction by the end of the year.

For instance, since Aug. 25, the California Energy Commission has licensed six solar thermal power plants that would cover some 39 square miles of desert land and generate 2,829 megawatts. That’s nearly six times as much solar capacity as was installed in the United States last year.

“I am excited to join Secretary Salazar today in announcing the first solar projects to ever get permits on federal land, both of which will be located in the Golden State,”  California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Today’s announcement only further cements California’s national leadership in renewable energy development.”

Some environmental groups initially raised concerns about the Imperial Valley project, which will place 19,000, 38-foot by 40-foot Stirling solar dishes on 6,400 acres of desert land near the Mexican border east of San Diego. Of particular concern was the project’s impact on the flat-tailed horn lizard and the Peninsular bighorn sheep. A Native American tribe, meanwhile, objected to the power plant’s presence on their ancestral lands.

But Johanna Wald, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the developer’s willingness to shrink the project to mitigate degradation of wildlife habitat and to minimize its water consumption won over her group and other environmentalists.

“The company sat down with NRDC and our conservation partners and agreed to a number of important measures that were above and beyond the requirements that were imposed by the state and federal regulators,” Wald said in an interview.

Nevertheless, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Native Americans have continued to object to the Imperial Valley solar farm.

Wald singled out the much smaller Chevron project as one where developers’ selection of a site near transmission lines and away from protected wildlife paid off in the unanimous support from major environmental groups.

“Chevron,” she said, “is a project we all would agree was smart from the start.”

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In The New York Times on Tuesday, I write about an IBM pilot project in Dubuque, Iowa, to install smart water meters in 311 homes to give residents’ real-time information on their water consumption:

While some California cities move to ban smart electricity meters over fears about their impact on human health, residents of Dubuque, Iowa, are embracing smart water meters.

Like smart electricity meters, smart water meters measure consumption and wirelessly transmit the data to utilities. In Dubuque, 311 households have volunteered to have smart water meters installed as part of a pilot project between the city and I.B.M. to see if giving residents information on their water use in real time will prompt them to conserve. The project is also designed to help city officials spot and repair leaks in the water system as they happen.

“The more frequently water use is monitored, the more quickly things like leaks can be detected and addressed,” Milind Naphade, program director for I.B.M.’s smarter city services, said in an e-mail. “Also, we’ll be able to better identify trends and patterns over time more quickly with this frequency.”

Many water bills are issued quarterly, so residents may not notice a spike in consumption as a result of leaks or other problems for months. The smart meters in Dubuque, on the other hand, will transmit data on a home’s water use to I.B.M. computers every 15 minutes.

Residents can go to a Web site to monitor their water use.

“Water isn’t generally seen as something of value — even though water managers in 36 states expect to face water shortages in the next few years,” Mr. Naphade wrote. “By providing this level of detailed information to program participants, we can help them really understand where their water is going, and where they can make changes in terms of how and when they use water to reduce the overall amount they’re using on a daily basis.”

Cutting water use also saves the city energy costs as less electricity is needed for pumping, city officials noted.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

When Silicon Valley’s elite gathered at Google’s headquarters in August to rally opposition to Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, one speaker darkly warned that the Texas oil companies backing the initiative would spend as much as $50 million to ensure its passage.

As it turns out, the No on 23 campaign is outspending the Texans. Big time. Case in point: Over the past few days, the No forces have collected $5 million from venture capitalists, New York financiers, renewable energy companies, and other deep-pocketed backers, according to California Secretary of State records.

The Yes campaign, meanwhile, has received only a single $10,000 donation over the past week, from a Houston company that provides services to the oil and petrochemical industries. The last big contribution to the Yes coffers was a $100,000 donation made on Sept. 13.

Of course, Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero and the billionaire Koch brothers, who earlier contributed $1 million to the Yes effort, could drop $10 million on the campaign tomorrow. But there appears to be a fundraising enthusiasm gap between the campaigns during the home stretch sprint to Election Day.

Take a look at the growing roster of No partisans willing to put their money where their mouths are — not to mention their self-interest.

Ann Doerr, the wife of leading Silicon Valley capitalist John Doerr, gave $1 million to the No campaign on Thursday while her husband contributed $500,000 (in addition to the half million dollars he previously donated). Thomas Steyer, founder of the Farallon Capital Management hedge fund and co-chair of the No on 23 effort, put another $2.5 million into the campaign. San Francisco venture capitalist Paul Klingenstein contributed $100,0000.

On the other coast, New York hedge fund manager Julian Robertson of Tiger Management kicked in half a million dollars on Thursday.

Renewable energy companies stepped to the plate as well. The U.S. division of Spanish wind giant Iberdrola Renewables gave $25,000; Santa Monica-based Solar Reserve, a developer of solar power plants, pitched in $50,000; and Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg contributed $10,000.

The Consumers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and Working Assets also gave a collective $100,000 over the past week.

With absentee voting beginning in California today, expect to see that cash put to work influencing those who plan to vote early.

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photo: Todd Woody

In The New York Times on Friday, I write about a report showing venture capital investment in green technology companies nose-dived in the third quarter of 2010, with California taking a big hit:

Has the green tech recovery stalled?

Global venture capital investment in green technology companies fell 30 percent, to $1.53 billion, in the third quarter of 2010, according to a preliminary report issued Friday by the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco-based research and consulting firm.

The amount invested in North America, Europe, China, India and Israel in the third quarter is also 11 percent below the year-ago quarter, when investment tanked amid the recession.

The numbers are striking, given that investment in green-tech startups soared in the first half of this year, surpassing records set in 2008 at the height of the clean technology boom.

“Much like we see globally, I think businesses and investors are grappling a little bit with a recovery that hasn’t yet taken off, and I think people are trying to figure out how quickly will the growth occur,” Sheeraz Haji, president of the Cleantech Group, said during a conference call Friday. “I think we’re seeing a little bit of the same in clean tech.”

California, an epicenter of green technology innovation, suffered a precipitous decline, with investment falling 61 percent.

Mr. Haji questioned whether uncertainty over the fate of California’s global warming law, known as A.B. 32, played a role in the falloff in investment. A measure on the November ballot, Proposition 23, would suspend A.B. 32 until the state unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.

“We can’t help but wonder that uncertainty around Prop 23 has impacted that,” he said, cautioning that it is difficult to draw hard conclusions based on one quarter’s data. “

The global warming law requires California to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Mr. Haji noted that venture investment soared after the law’s enactment in 2006 as investors poured money into solar startups and companies developing energy efficiency services and electric cars.

Even so, investors put $452 million into California companies in the third quarter, versus $126 million for second-place Texas.

While the rest of North America experienced a rise in investment in the third quarter, California’s poor performance led to a 42 percent decline for the region as a whole.

Not so with Asia. For instance, investment in China jumped to $153 million in the third quarter from $30 million in the second quarter of 2010.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Todd Woody

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

While efforts to pass federal climate change legislation have stalled and a fight rages in California to overturn its global warming law at the ballot box, Golden State regulators have been licensing massive desert solar power plant projects at a breakneck pace in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, for instance, the California Energy Commissioned approved two solar projects that would generate nearly 1,000 megawatts of electricity, the 250-megawatt Genesis Solar Energy Project and the 709-megawatt Imperial Valley Solar Project.

Since Aug. 25, the energy commission has licensed six solar thermal power plants that would cover some 39 square miles of desert land and generate 2,829 megawatts. That’s nearly six times as much solar capacity that was installed in the United States last year, mostly from rooftop solar panels.

“Consider how important it is that California move aggressively toward renewables and how important these pioneering projects are,” said Jeffrey Byron, a member of the California Energy Commission, said at a hearing Wednesday.

Regulators and developers are racing to put shovels to ground before the end of the year when federal incentives for large renewable energy projects expire, which could threaten the financial viability of some of the solar projects.

The Genesis project, to be built by Florida-based energy giant NextEra Energy Resources (formerly called FPL), will build long rows of parabolic troughs in the Riverside County desert that will focus sun on liquid-filled tubes suspended over the mirrors to create steam that will drive an electricity-generating turbine. It’s an older solar technology that was first deployed in the 1980s in California.

Tessera Solar’s  Imperial Valley project, on the other hand, will be the first big test of Stirling dish technology. Resembling a giant mirrored satellite receiver, the 38-foot-high, 40-foot-wide, solar dish focuses the sun’s rays on a Stirling engine, heating hydrogen gas to drive pistons that generate 25-kilowatts of electricity. Some 29,000 of Tessera’s Suncatchers will be installed on more 6,400 acres of desert land near the Mexican border about 100 miles east of San Diego.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week signed into law what is thought to be the nation’s first energy storage legislation. The bill, AB 2514 could result in regulations requiring the state’s utilities to store a certain percentage of electricity generated in energy storage systems such as batteries, compressed air or flywheels.

Energy storage is considered crucial for the mass deployment of solar power plants, wind farms and other sources of intermittent renewable energy, as well to build out the smart grid.

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