Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A green future for Long Beach

Daniel Brezenoff

Here in the midst of our municipal elections, the time is perfect to talk about the future of Long Beach. On behalf of the thousands of Long Beach citizens concerned about economic and environmental issues, from tourism to pollution to gasoline prices, I am proposing a 10-year plan to transform this city into an international model of sustainable urban living for the 21st Century.

Imagine every city vehicle and building powered by clean, renewable resources. Imagine if, instead of faceless shopping malls identical to those in every major American city, developers were encouraged to create sustainable shopping and living centers that added energy to the power grid rather than depleting it. Imagine a public transportation so reliable and extensive, and a bicycling and walking infrastructure that so ably met the needs of cyclists and pedestrians that owning a car would be a luxury, rather than a near necessity. Imagine tourists flocking to Long Beach to see a solar-powered city, clean beaches, public gardens rivaling any in the world, and a healthy citizenry breathing clean air, eating locally grown produce and smiling with pride at our historic achievements.

All this and more is not only possible, but within reach. All it takes is imaginative, committed leadership and a slight shift in priorities. It is time to think past quarterly and annual financial reports and instead make the needs of future generations paramount. It is time to make Long Beach the world's greenest city, an example for all the world's urban centers to emulate.

Why Long Beach? Why not? We have access to sunshine and open space needed to utilize solar and windpower. We have a generally flat landscape, which makes bicycling and other forms of alternative transportation feasible. And we have an often struggling economy and, with the departure or downsizing of many local industries, an identity gap that needs to be filled. Sustainable economics would mean increased revenue for local businesses and for the city. Residents would save money on energy costs at every level, and that money would be diverted to the local economy. Tourism would increase. Green planning, which increases community cohesion through better use of space and an improved quality of life, could lead to a significant decrease in crime.

The oil economy is ultimately doomed. Increasing populations combined


with rising economic expectations and consumption are a disastrous recipe. Leadership at the federal and state levels is unreliable at best, reactionary at worst. Long Beach is big enough to tap the resources needed for a conversion to sustainable energy and transportation, and to gain international notoriety in doing so, but small enough to make such a conversion logistically realistic and meaningful citywide.

Just what does it mean to green a city this size? In addition to improved public transportation using clean energy, it means public and private gardens, including food-producing ones. It means commercial centers powered by renewable resources, and manufacturing and selling green technology from organic food and locally produced clothing to energy-saving light bulbs and hybrid cars, and everything in between. It means conservation of water and electricity in every school and every home, without having to sacrifice quality of life. It means offering tax breaks to home and business owners who stop using the electrical grid and start contributing to it through solar energy. It means more parks and fewer cars. It means setting an example as Seattle and Portland, for example, have done of what is possible with vision, planning, and commitment.

Eventually, every city in the world will have to go green or perish. Long Beach can wait until gas prices are at seven bucks a gallon and our water is so dirty no one can swim or fish in it (if we havent passed that point already), or we can lead the way. I call upon our city council, and particularly the newly elected or reelected members, to begin a serious study of the myriad ways Long Beach can become the greenest, cleanest, healthiest and most economically sustainable city in the world.

Daniel Brezenoff is a social worker and teacher in Long Beach, and a member of the California Green Party and the Long Beach Greens.

Nelson warns of energy crisis

WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., warned of a coming oil crisis and urged dramatic steps, including conservation to help Americans face energy problems.

in his most recent State of the Union speech, U.S. President George W. Bush said the United State is addicted to oil, but Nelson said the president hasn't come up with the tough policy changes needed to make a real difference.

Nelson, delivering the Democrats' radio address Saturday, said the first step is to confront some powerful interests, including the oil lobby. He said the use of hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels would help, as would tapping into technology to set mileage standards at 40 miles to the gallon for passenger cars.

He warned that an energy crisis could be set off by a terrorist attack, foreign government action such as Venezuela cutting off oil supplies, or a natural disaster that hit oil producing areas.

Whatever the cause, the crisis is coming, Nelson said. And so America must act now, before soaring prices and a dependence on foreign oil puts a choke-hold on our economy and military.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sustainable Energy Forum 2006

The following 3-day conference on Peak Oil and the Environment will be held in Washington, DC from May 7th through the 9th. Information can be found at:


Radical Politics After the Peak

Source: Falls Church News-Press
[Apr 21, 2006]

There is little doubt the effects of peak oil will someday soon radically change the political landscape in America—and nearly everywhere else for that matter. It is still a little too early to say when oil depletion will start appearing in political equations. If we have a particularly bad summer as some suggest, then "gas prices" could feature prominently in our November 2006 mid-term elections. If predictions of peaking within the next couple of years are correct, then energy policy likely will be a major factor in the 2008 presidential election. If peaking slips a bit then it is almost certain that the 2012 and 2016 elections will be fought over nothing else.

From the vantage of April 2006, it would be folly to speculate on the details of elections taking place months or years from now. A new "Peak Oil Party" could emerge to lead us out of the darkness (literally) or the same old Republicans and Democrats, retooled for the post-oil era, could compete for our votes. America could emerge from a decade or two of converting to new lifestyles as a new and stronger democracy, or the demise of the oil age could be too much of a strain for our current political arrangements. However, there is a lot of recorded history around for insight and human nature being human nature, a few general observations might be in order.

One of the most disturbing things I have read recently pointed out how hard it is for people to radically change a way of life. The writer noted how in 1860 when the South was threatened by abolition, an entire generation picked up arms and marched off to endure terrible sufferings in order to protect a way of life from which few benefited directly.

Equally disturbing is how a significant portion the German middle class embraced the Nazi Party after their economic well-being was wiped out by hyperinflation.

Given the love affair that Americans, and everybody else in the world that can afford one, have with cars, giving them up is going to be the collective trauma of a lifetime. Polls tell us a vast majority of car owners say they will drive to their last dollar or until there simply is no choice.

From a political point of view, such a strong emotional and lifestyle attachment is fertile ground for demagoguery. The Congress already has summoned the oil executives to lecture them before the cameras about high gasoline prices. Various states have passed anti-price gouging bills to make it look as if they are doing something. The administration has declared an "Advanced Energy Initiative" which throws a few million dollars at a problem that will require trillions. The trivial increases in CAFÉ standards for SUVs will someday appear as laughable as battling an ocean with a sword.

We are starting to see scattered instances of peak oil tax demagoguery. At a time when government should be rapidly increasing energy taxes to slow consumption, some politicians are calling for the elimination of gas taxes so their hard-working constituents can afford to drive as they wish. At a time when gasoline prices will soon be thought of in round dollars —$3, $4, $5 gas— rather than cents, eliminating a few pennies of tax will soon be recognized as pointless.

The ultimate absurdity will be the price cap. If anyone wants to bring transportation in a country to a complete halt, simply decree that motor fuel can't be sold for more than "X." Osama Bin Laden couldn't come up with a better idea if he tried.

As some point however, the silly season will end, the body politic will come to recognize that hearings, tax cuts, price caps, and drilling in national parks are not the remedy for peak oil. Whenever that day comes, congressmen, legislators and governments will start look for real solutions: massive conservation and a transition to sustainable fuels and lifestyles. The real question then is whether this will happen soon enough to avoid causing damage that will set the transition back many years and increase the hardships. Will an administration —the current, the next or the one after that— have a change of heart mid-term, or will an election have to be fought over remedies for peak oil first?

Any poll taken today will show Americans are worried about "dependence on foreign oil" but are not yet ready for hardships, such as serious reductions in driving to achieve this goal. For an administration committed to not rocking the boat while tossing in a sea of other troubles, it probably will take a mega-development in the oil production world that quickly spikes gasoline prices into the $6-$7 range to force a change.

The bellwether for change will be the imposition of a strictly enforced nationwide 55 mph speed limit. Until such an inexpensive and effective oil conservation measure is passed, our politicians are still listening to the call of a bygone age rather than preparing us for the next.

Before the oil age comes to a complete close, let's hope someone rehabilitates Jimmy Carter as one of the most prescient Presidents ever to hold the office. Congress might even rename an airport for him— just before it is shut down forever.

Climate Change Will Be Significant but Not Extreme, Study Predicts

Source: Washington Post
[Apr 21, 2006]

Earth will experience significant climate change in the coming century as a result of greenhouse gas buildups, but the more extreme estimates of global warming generated by some studies are unlikely to occur, according to newly published research.

"This still commits us to quite a bit of climate change, but it leaves the door open to avoiding the largest and most devastating consequences," said Gabriele C. Hegerl, a Duke University climate expert who led the study.

The new work extends a difficult line of research that uses historical climate data and computer models to predict the impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which are increasing as a result of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels.

Specifically, the research aims to refine a value known as "climate sensitivity," which is defined as the global average temperature change that can be expected to occur in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels.

Climate scientists from around the world have for more than a decade concurred that climate sensitivity's most likely value is in the range of about 2.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. But because many factors can affect global temperatures in poorly understood ways -- including the extent to which the oceans have tempered climate trends -- scientists have not been able to rule out more extreme calculations suggesting a warm-up of 16 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

Moreover, most of the modeling done to date has been based on data gathered over just the past century, a period that has experienced a potentially confounding increase in aerosols that can blunt temperature buildups by reflecting incoming radiation from the sun.

The new work, described in today's issue of the journal Nature, reaches back 700 years. It recalculates the relationship between atmospheric composition and climate, taking into account the climate-affecting impacts of sun-blocking volcanic eruptions; carbon dioxide levels derived from air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice; and temperature data derived from tree rings.

The result: Climate sensitivity almost certainly falls within the more conventional range of current predictions, with only a 5 percent chance that it will exceed 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This is the first use of several different independent data sets to come up with a constraint on climate sensitivity," said Reto Knutti of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "It's a very solid piece of science."

James E. Hansen, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the results were consistent with his estimate, derived differently, of about 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even a few degrees increase can have significant environmental and economic impacts, but by downgrading the worst-case scenarios the new work may convince governments that it is not too late to take action, Hegerl said. Models suggest that carbon dioxide levels could reach double the pre-industrial levels between 2050 and 2100. Peak temperatures would occur decades later, as the planet's climate system settled into a new balance.

Figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week showed that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.7 percent in 2004, the most recent year for which data have been compiled. The U.S. release -- equivalent to 6.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide -- amounts to about one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Business Has No Choice But to Manage Climate Change Options

Source: The Age/Australia
[Apr 21, 2006]

DEALING with climate change risks extends beyond corporate social responsibility. The potential for impact on corporate performance dictates that it can be identified as a financial risk and investors should be more attuned to how companies prepare to manage it, and where climate change presents opportunities for growth.

Superannuation trustees and others who are substantial holders of assets have a compelling reason, and the influence, to move climate change up the risk agenda. They should consider it within their duty of care to their beneficiaries to understand and address climate risk.

Climate risk distinguishes itself through its potentially widespread impact on companies, sectors and economies.

The agriculture, water, real estate and forestry sectors are more susceptible to climate change. But effects of climate change will not be contained to those sectors directly affected.

As governments increase efforts to mitigate climate change, the impact of these policies will be felt by businesses, in particular in the energy and automotive industries, potentially affecting profits and competition.

A practical framework for assessing the impact of climate change on the long-term performance of a company is to consider physical, competitive and regulatory risks.

Physical risks are the easiest to identify. This is the damage caused by floods, storms and rising seas. Sectors such as insurance, tourism and agriculture are particularly vulnerable.

Wider-reaching will be the impact of regulatory risks. Legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, will have the greatest effect on sectors with high emissions — oil, gas and electricity. Legislation could relate to the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union's emissions trading scheme and the NSW greenhouse gas abatement scheme.

There is an element of the unknown with regulatory risks because the laws and schemes designed to abate greenhouse gases are untested. For multinational companies there is the added burden of varied and conflicting laws across different operational regions.

But it's not all bad news for companies or investors — the challenges of climate change also present new opportunities. Companies that take early, positive action may secure a competitive advantage over others in their sector. By using energy-efficient technology companies can cut costs and greenhouse gas emission. Companies with good environmental policies stand to gain in terms of stronger relationships with authorities and local communities and enhanced reputation.

Most investors can make risk assessment, and there are options with varying levels of effort required. Superannuation trustees and investment managers have the ability to become active owners and put climate change risks firmly on the agenda. They have the power to encourage engagement with companies and other shareholders. They can take positive action such as encouraging the sell side to produce better research on responsible investment issues by allocating a proportion of broker fees.

Trustees can develop policies such as proxy voting guidelines that reflect an active approach towards climate change and related risks and select investment managers on the basis of their ability to incorporate these issues into their culture.

There are investment options that specifically incorporate climate change. These might include funds that invest in energy-efficient buildings, new markets such as emission trading or renewable energy companies. Equity and fixed-interest funds that actively consider environmental impacts are other options.

Climate change action is needed, and is happening now — investors who don't recognise this are putting themselves at increased risk.

Geoff Stewart is a senior associate at Mercer Investment Consulting, and is the specialist for Australasia for responsible investment.

Plug-It-In, Plug-It-In

Source: Autoweek
[Apr 21, 2006]

Top politicians from President George W. Bush to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have thrown their weight behind a hybrid variant dubbed the “plug-in hybrid.”

Hatch suggests a plug-in hybrid that burns ethanol could be the “silver bullet” that frees America from dependency on foreign oil. The president’s recent visit to a plant that produces lithium-ion batteries needed for plug-ins—close on the heels of his assertion the country is addicted to oil—was seen as an endorsement of that approach.

Unlike dual-mode hybrids on the road today, plug-in hybrids recharge by plugging into the electric grid. As with the electric vehicles automakers offered in California in the ’90s, such hybrids need more powerful, larger batteries than today’s dual-mode hybrids but don’t suffer the range deficit that killed the battery-only vehicles in the marketplace.

Some proponents have converted Toyota Priuses and other hybrids into plug-ins and boast that such cars go 100 miles or more on a gallon of fuel. Of course this disregards any fuel used to generate the electricity drawn from the grid to recharge the batteries, typically overnight.

Automotive supplier Johnson Controls is edging into the hybrid business by developing lithium-ion batteries that hold promise to store more energy but weigh less than nickel-metal-hydride batteries now used in hybrids.

“We feel that lithium-ion technology is the horse that we want to ride,” Mike Andrew, Johnson Controls’ chief of program management, told the trade journal Automotive News.

Automakers remain cautious. Car companies promote today’s hybrids as vehicles that don’t have to be plugged in. Toyota and Honda, the two biggest hybrid makers, say plug-in technology faces big hurdles. Not only do plug-ins need to accommodate bigger battery packs, but the deep-discharge/recharge process reduces battery life. Honda is not working on such a vehicle, spokes-man Sage Marie says. DaimlerChrysler, however, is producing a small test fleet of Sprinter commercial vans with plug-in hybrid power.

Getting Serious About Energy

Source: Townhall.com
[Apr 21, 2006]

While going through boxes during a move some years ago, I found Esso gasoline receipts from the '60s (Esso subsequently became Exxon in the United States). I showed them to my children and they were stunned. The price for a fill-up then was $3. Today, the price of gasoline has shot past $3 a gallon and some petroleum analysts predict prices equaling Europe's of $4 or more per gallon by summer 2007. That would mean a cost of $80 to fill a 20-gallon tank.

No study or special commission is needed to understand the root cause of growing energy costs. We've known it for years. Demand fuels cost. While there have been numerous efforts to curb demand or seek alternative energy sources since the 1973 Arab oil boycott, which began the escalation of gas prices, none has taken hold because the price always fell back to acceptable levels. From solar power, to windmills, to today's hybrid cars, nothing seems to have caught on sufficiently to force us to change our oil consuming ways.

Here's something that will: an enemy.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced a goal of putting an American on the moon by the end of the decade. That goal was achieved eight years later. What drove America was the "space race" with the Soviet Union. Communism was evil and we could not afford to allow the Soviets to get to the moon before we did. There were military concerns about what the Soviets might do with a base on the moon, but pride and prestige were also important factors.

It is going to take an enemy to break our oil addiction. The perfect enemy is the oil-producing states with a track record for funding terrorism and whose brand of religion produces young fanatics determined to destroy the West.

If we can get to the moon, virtually from scratch and in just eight years, we can become independent of the mullahs, ayatollahs, sheiks, imams and whackos like the president of Iran and assorted other world criminals who hate us and want to destroy us. This will call for strong leadership from President Bush and future presidents, regardless of party.

Various congressional investigations and reporting have revealed that the United States is subsidizing its own destruction because some of the biggest oil-producing states underwrite terrorism.

One of many excellent books on the subject is "Terror, Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks" by economist Loretta Napoleoni. Napoleoni follows the money earned from the sale of oil and shows how it ends up funding terrorism and terrorist centers. Recipients of some of the money include mosques and Islamic schools in America, at least some of which are now, or can be expected to teach, incite, train and equip jihadists to again do unto us what they did on 9/11, and what they carry out regularly in Israel and Iraq.

Napoleoni writes of "The role of Islamic banks" in channeling oil profits and how these banks are "not limited to countries where banking systems did not, or no longer, exist. Their links with armed groups and state-shells also provided a direct and secure channel into traditional economies." She quotes a "retired Russian banker" who told her, "(Islamic banks) are tapped into sophisticated money systems, from which money can be directed to finance terror activity worldwide or to profit in the capitalist world. Correspondent banks, for example, can help hide funds. Banks use them in countries that have no branches."

Americans have always responded to major threats and challenges. Properly framed, they could be made to understand this threat as the greatest challenge the nation has ever faced. To become energy independent and no longer rely on foreign oil would be like depriving Dracula of his blood supply: he would shrivel up and die.

If we are unwilling to "pay any price (and) bear any burden," to again invoke JFK, we will sell our enemies the rope they will use to hang us (to invoke Lenin). Oil independence might also have the virtue of being easier and less costly than going to the moon.

We'll need a slogan. Neil Armstrong's first words on the moon were "That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind." How about this one for Energy Independence Day: "Let 'em Eat Sand."

Biodiesel Suffers Image Setback

Source: Seattle Times
[Apr 21, 2006]

It's an industry praised by environmentalists and heavily funded by state lawmakers. But it turns out that the promise of locally produced biodiesel also comes with the potential for pollution — and one of the state's first large-scale refineries is already running into trouble.

The state Department of Ecology has warned the operators of a biodiesel-crushing plant in Creston, Lincoln County, a small town near Spokane, that the company has committed an "egregious" violation of state air-quality laws by emitting toxic methanol vapors without a permit.

State investigators also say they have found spills of vegetable oil or biodiesel at the site. Now they are demanding that the owners of the company, Air Energy, show that they can properly handle the plant's industrial waste.

The situation has prompted the plant's landlord, a public-development agency in Lincoln County, to order an immediate halt to biodiesel production, saying it has serious concerns about contamination at the site.

And it comes just as biodiesel backers in the state are trying to show they can create a clean and profitable new industry.

As many as 10 biodiesel plants are being planned around Eastern Washington, including an unrelated project being pursued by the former leaders of Seattle's failed monorail project. And the state has offered million of dollars to jump-start the fledgling industry.

"We've got to be squeaky-clean; we've got to do it right, and we've got to be very, very transparent," said Jim Armstrong, the director of communications for the Spokane County Conservation District who has been a leading promoter of biodiesel.

"We can't build an industry on not getting permits."

John Graff, one of Air Energy's co-founders, could not be reached for comment. An investor, Gary Trautman, who runs a Moses Lake-based insurance company, declined comment, saying he didn't know the details of the operation. Biodiesel, used as a substitute for regular diesel fuel, is made by mixing vegetable oil or fat — often soybean oil — with methanol and a caustic chemical such as lye. In Creston, and many other operations, water is used to remove glycerin, methanol and other chemicals, creating wastewater that must be disposed of.

But Air Energy never got a state permit to release methanol vapor generated during the refining, according to a letter to Graff from an Ecology Department air-quality manager, Gregory Flibbert, who inspected the plant last week.

Because Air Energy has already been told it needs a permit, it was "egregious" that it has been operating without one, Flibbert wrote to Graff.

The state plans to issue a formal notice of violation, said Ecology Department spokeswoman Jani Gilbert.

Also last week, a team of Ecology Department investigators found oil or grease spills on the ground at the factory, around its equipment, and in a dry well fed by factory drains, said Gilbert.

The department is asking the company to clean up the spills and show that it has a way to handle industrial wastewater. If the company doesn't cooperate, then "we would have to consider other enforcement options," said Gilbert.

Meanwhile, the alleged pollution at the plant is just the latest chapter in a yearlong feud between Graff and the Northwest Lincoln County Regional Public Development Authority, the agency that paid for the building where Air Energy is operating. The agency has been trying to evict Graff and his businesses, and the legal dispute is in arbitration.

After the latest inspections, the development agency said it never officially sanctioned a biodiesel refinery there in the first place. The facility had been set up to be an animal-feed factory.

Sweden Goes Green While Nordics Mull Energy Future

Source: Reuters
[Apr 21, 2006]

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Twenty years after Sweden alerted the world to the meltdown at Chernobyl, it aims to phase out nuclear power and end dependency on fossil fuels, putting the country in the vanguard of green energy policy.

With soaring oil prices, rising demand, uncertain supply and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, energy is in focus and the European Union is calling for coordinated policy.

But the Nordic region -- united by history, a shared concern for the environment and a harsh climate which puts heavy demand on power -- is divided on energy, not least nuclear power.

When a reactor at a nuclear plant in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl exploded in 1986 and spewed radioactivity across Europe, the Nordic region was on the front-line: its pristine lakes and forests were polluted and Arctic reindeer meat and lichen contaminated.

Long before radiation on a Swedish power worker's shoes alerted the world to history's worst nuclear accident, Sweden had voted to get rid of atomic energy, in a 1980 referendum.

It now aims to break with fossil fuels by 2020, when it also wants greenhouse gas emissions, blamed by many for global warming, cut by 25 percent against 1990 levels.

"We have to transform into a non-oil economy," said Stefan Edman, who heads the Swedish government's oil dependency panel. "We have very high ambitions, although I don't think it is realistic that not a drop of oil will be used in 2020."

Sweden has already cut oil use in home heating by 70 percent in the last 20 years and has kept consumption flat in industry since 1994, despite a 70 percent increase in production.

The big challenge will be to do something about oil used in the transport sector, where it accounts for 98 percent of energy used, said Professor Christian Azar at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, also on the oil panel.

"If we could achieve a 50 percent reduction, that would be an enormous achievement."

While worries about oil prices and supply and climate change are major drivers, the government also hopes that environmental technology will be a money-spinner for Swedish companies.

"Sweden has a chance to be an international model and a successful actor in export markets for alternative solutions," said Mona Sahlin, minister for sustainable development.

"The aim is to break dependence on fossil fuels by 2020. By then, no home will need oil for heating. By then, no motorist will be obliged to use petrol as the sole option available. By then, there will be better alternatives to oil."

Sweden produces around 35 percent of its energy from oil and with nuclear power on the way out, finding alternative power sources is a priority.


In Finland, however, nuclear power is seen as part of the future and its fifth atomic power plant -- the first built in Europe for more than a decade -- is due to come online in 2009.

"The main reason was increasing demand for energy," said Anneli Nikula, spokesman for private power generation firm Teollisuuden Voima, which owns the new power plant.

Finland does not want to rely on neighbors Russia, Sweden and Norway for power and has many old fossil fuel plants which have to be replaced in order to meet climate change goals.

"Cutting down carbon dioxide emissions has sparked debate on nuclear energy in many European countries," said Nikula. "The second coming of nuclear energy is true."

In Norway and Denmark, atomic power has never been an option.

In the 1970s, when other Western nations were building nuclear plants, Norway started developing the vast oil and gas reserves that make it the world's third biggest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.

But the fact that hydropower dams still generate almost all the nation's electricity has dampened environmental concerns.

Controversy surrounds opening up new areas of the Arctic for oil exploration, and using natural gas to supplement hydropower to meet growing demand. But opposition to nuclear power is so entrenched that the center-left government did not even mention it when outlining its policies on taking office in October.

"Nuclear power is not an option for Norway," Oil and Energy Minister Odd Roger Enoksen told Reuters.

Denmark -- home to Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine maker -- hopes use of sustainable sources such as wind and biofuels will reach 36 percent by 2025, from 25 percent in 2003.

It also uses oil and gas from its North Sea fields and the government's 20-year energy plan emphasises keeping that industry competitive.

Iceland also aims to become the world's first oil-free nation, setting its sights on 2050, by shifting cars, buses, trucks and ships over to non-polluting hydrogen.

By then, in theory, the only oil used on the volcanic North Atlantic island would be in planes. About 70 percent of energy needs are already met by geothermal or hydropower -- only the transport sector is still hooked on oil.

For all these countries, the speed of change will depend on the price of oil. As Azar at Chalmers University put it: "The political momentum will drop as fast as the oil price."

Teeny Reactor Pumps Out Biodiesel

Associated Press 16:57 PM Apr, 19, 2006

PORTLAND, Oregon -- A tiny chemical reactor that can convert vegetable oil directly into biodiesel could help farmers turn some of their crops into homegrown fuel to operate agricultural equipment instead of relying on costly imported oil.

"This is all about producing energy in such a way that it liberates people," said Goran Jovanovic, a chemical engineering professor at Oregon State University who developed the microreactor.

The device -- about the size of a credit card -- pumps vegetable oil and alcohol through tiny parallel channels, each smaller than a human hair, to convert the oil into biodiesel almost instantly.

By comparison, it takes more than a day to produce biodiesel with current technology.

Conventional production involves dissolving a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide, in alcohol, then stirring it into vegetable oil in large vats for about two hours. The mixture then has to sit for 12 to 24 hours while a slow chemical reaction forms biodiesel along with glycerin, a byproduct.

The glycerin is separated and can be used to make other products, such as soaps, but it still contains the chemical catalyst, which must be neutralized and removed using hydrochloric acid, a long and costly process.

The microreactor under development by the university and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute eliminates the mixing, the standing time and maybe even the need for a catalyst.

"If we're successful with this, nobody will ever make biodiesel any other way," Jovanovic said.

The device is small, but it can be stacked in banks to increase production levels to the volume required for commercial use, he said.

Biodiesel production on the farm also could reduce distribution costs by eliminating the need for tanker truck fuel delivery, part of the growing effort to meet fuel demand locally -- instead of relying on distant refineries and tanker transport.

"Distributed energy production means you can use local resources -- farmers can produce all the energy they need from what they grow on their own farms," Jovanovic said.

Rising concerns

Sunday, April 23, 2006

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Melting glaciers and ice sheets near the north and south poles are raising sea levels and the danger of storm and flood damage along Maine's coast, according to researchers and state officials.

"What feels like a big storm, and the property damage associated with it, will be coming more often," said Stephen Dickson, state marine geologist at the Maine Geological Survey. "There will be a lot more vulnerable coastal property."

The heightened concern follows recent reports, including one from a University of Maine researcher, that faraway glaciers and ice sheets are melting into the world's oceans much faster than anticipated.

Predictions that the oceans will rise as much as 2 feet by the year 2100 now appear to be too conservative, those researchers say. Some now suggest that a rise of 3 feet or more is likely within this century, more than enough to inundate parts of Maine's coast and intensify the economic and ecological damage of storms.

Dickson and others are working to create complex maps of Maine's coast to help predict where the worst damage would occur. And, he said, Maine's beach development rules may have to be adjusted.

Maine's rules are already among the nation's most stringent and have just gone through a lengthy review. But they assume the worst-case scenario would be only a 2-foot sea-level rise in the next 100 years. That now seems conservative, Dickson said.

The latest science has direct implications in places like Old Orchard Beach, a resort community with homes, condos, hotels, shops and an amusement park all within a few feet of maximum sea level.

Wes Hurst is one Old Orchard resident who has been following the reports of melting glaciers with one eye out his front window.

"We're interested in it because we're right here," he said, standing outside his cottage just across the sand dune from the gently breaking waves.

Hurst is not panicking, however, and no one in his neighborhood is selling. In fact, property values seem to keep going up, with tiny one-story cottages now worth nearly half a million dollars, he said.

The dune has protected his house so far, he said, although a storm surge once reached the end of Tunis Street just outside the house. "I figure this place has been here over 100 years," he said. And, despite the bleak news he's heard about Greenland and Antarctica, Hurst is still confident that rising sea levels won't be a problem here for another two or three generations.


Maine actually has been feeling the impact of a more gradual sea-level rise for decades.

The level of the ocean off Portland has risen nearly a foot in the last 100 years due to thermal expansion - warmer water takes up more space than colder water - and the gradual melting of ice sheets and glaciers. The impact is clear every time a fall or winter storm erodes Higgins Beach in Scarborough or undermines beachfront homes in Camp Ellis in Saco.

The financial implications of sea-level rise also are already clear. The federal government is planning to spend $25 million in the next few years to create a breakwater to protect Camp Ellis from storm erosion, said Joe Kelley, a coastal geologist at the University of Maine. "We're already paying," he said.

Kelley knows firsthand the potential costs for all taxpayers, not just those with coastal properties. He is heading back to New Orleans later this month as part of a scientific panel providing advice about the reconstruction on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

If the latest predictions prove true, the price may soon rise a lot higher.

Researchers now say the rate of melting near the north and south poles is accelerating as pollutants such as carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere and trap the Earth's heat, a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. The melting, in turn, appears to be contributing to the warming by providing more surface area that absorbs sunlight.

"There've been at least seven papers in the last three months that show, in one aspect or another, the change is happening faster than predicted," Dickson said.

Dickson said he has not yet calculated an acceleration of sea-level rise at the Portland tide gauge. It has been detected in other parts of the world, and Maine's measurements historically correspond to the global average.

One of the scientists trying to warn the world's coastal regions is Gordon Hamilton, associate professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute.

Hamilton went to southeast Greenland last summer to document the migration and melting of large glaciers and was shocked at the change from just two years before. Some of the glaciers, which move toward the ocean like giant conveyer belts of ice, had sped up from a little under 4 miles per year in 2003 to almost 9 miles per year in 2005. Others had shrunk or retreated - because of melting and the calving of icebergs - by as much as 3 miles in one year.

"Everybody's sitting up and taking notice because nobody knew these things could happen this fast," Hamilton said. The implications are huge because the ice in Greenland alone, if it all were to melt, would raise sea levels by more than 20 feet, he said.

Other scientists have reported similar findings in Antarctica, where there is far more ice.

Hamilton, who travels around the world talking about his findings, said the impacts will be especially disastrous and rapid in places such as the South Pacific. "Whole nations will just disappear in the next couple of decades if nothing changes," he said.

Even in Maine, he said, the implications are severe. "Nearly the whole coastline is impacted in some way" if sea levels rise 3 feet. And, he said, "the geography of the coast and the geography of wealth in Maine kind of collide south of Portland, and that's the area most suceptible."

Maine's renowned rocky coastline does provide protection lacking in other coastal states, notably Florida and Lousiana. Those rocky headlands make up nearly half of the state's long coastline, according to Dickson. About the same amount of shoreline is made up of more vulnerable bluffs, such as the mud and cobble surrounding bays. And the remaining 2 percent of the Maine coast, the area most vulnerable, is sandy beach, he said.

Scientists are still years away, at least, from predicting exactly what will happen where, Dickson said.

Aside from all the uncertainty about how fast and how far the ocean level will rise, it's difficult to predict how the coastlines will react. Storms and erosion will reshape the coastline even as the water rises, sparing some areas and destroying others.


A sea-level rise of 2 or 3 feet or more would destroy or transform important coastal habitats, including marshes and estuaries that support fisheries. And, because the coast is so intensely developed and populated, the economic costs would be huge.

The Maine Geological Survey recently mapped what a 2-foot or 3-foot sea-level rise would mean for Drakes Island, a beachfront community in Wells. It shows that, at the highest possible tide, much of the community and the causeway linking it to the mainland would be flooded. Those homes that might still be dry would be vulnerable to even smaller storms.

A 1995 report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows some possible outcomes for Old Orchard Beach and Camp Ellis in Saco.

At Camp Ellis, a 3-foot rise could flood 334 structures on 133 acres, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage, the report says.

The same rise could put Old Orchard's Palace Playland and the town's oceanfront neighborhoods, condos and hotels directly in the surf, the analysis showed.

The map doesn't seem to worry Tim Swenson, who is building a $20 million condo and retail project next to the beach in the potential flood zone identified a decade ago.

Swenson said the beach there has been stable, even growing in recent years, as sand moves in from other parts of the bay. He also said his building features about $1 million of defensive technology, including an elevated slab that will allow storm surges to flow underneath without harming the structure.

"This is the most advanced building in Maine next to the ocean," Swenson said. "This will stand the test of time."

Dickson said property owners typically don't think 100 years ahead, though he routinely urges them to build higher.

"People are more worried about next year's nor'easters," he said. "But the reason it's important is that future nor'easters might be coming in at a higher level."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:


Green Certified Inns

By TUX TURKEL, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

CAPE ELIZABETH — Thoughts of nature can come easily to guests at The Inn by the Sea, as they gaze across gardens and a salt marsh to the sparkling waters of Kettle Cove. Nature also comes to mind - although it's less obvious - by noticing the recycling bin under the sink, high-efficiency light bulbs in the fixtures and cards that invite guests to forgo fresh towels every day. Other strategies to conserve energy and be kind to the environment are in play around the inn. No disposable kitchenware. A preference for locally purchased food. Chemical free, native landscaping. Water-saving toilets and showers.

Taken together, these and other measures place The Inn by the Sea among the first 10 hotels to qualify for Maine's new Green Lodging Certification Program.

Becoming certified gives innkeepers a flag-style logo to display and some bragging rights. But owners say it can do more.

Green lodging can save money. The Inn by the Sea has cut its electric bill by $8,000 a year, and is still in the process of changing out wasteful, incandescent light bulbs.

Going green also can make money. More travelers these days are seeking hotels that have earned a green designation. Maine, those in the industry say, is well positioned to take advantage of this niche, because the state attracts people looking to enjoy nature.

In time, lodging owners hope, tourists will look for Maine's green lodging logo when they choose their destination. The Inn by the Sea is displaying the logo on its Web site home page, next to its AAA four diamonds rating.

"Not only are we helping the environment, we're helping the bottom line," said Rauni Kew, the inn's marketing director.

Green lodging certification isn't a new idea. A handful of Maine inns, including The Inn by the Sea, The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport and the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, belong to the Texas-based Green Hotels Association. But Maine's program is aimed at establishing a state brand for businesses that take extra steps to be good stewards, according to Peter Cooke, who manages the pollution prevention program at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Similar "Environmental Leader" designations exist for gas stations that have replaced underground tanks and companies that are reducing air emissions associated with climate change.

"With tourism being the largest industry in the state, we decided our program could help reduce its environmental impact," he said.

Cooke is modeling the "Environmental Leader: Hospitality" certification after similar ones in Vermont and Nova Scotia. It was launched last November at a meeting of the Maine Innkeepers Association.

Ten hoteliers have made the grade and 14 more are awaiting certification. Three dozen have signed up for an upcoming green lodging workshop, run by the innkeepers group. Cooke said his larger goal is to expand certification to nature-based enterprises, such as sporting camps and kayak touring companies, and to document the program's performance.

"It's really starting to take off," Cooke said.

To win the free certification, hotels have to conduct a self-audit on their environmental and energy practices.

The survey covers areas including kitchen and housekeeping, landscaping, guest rooms and administrative offices. Participants gain points for meeting various standards. For instance: They can gain 10 points by using green-certified cleaning materials; five points for using timers and sensors for parking lot lights. They must accumulate 100 points to be certified for two years.

Participants must boost their score to 130 points to maintain the certification after that. Otherwise, staying in the program costs $100 a year.

Accumulating points shouldn't be a problem at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell.

Hotels that buy zero-emission electricity, or generate their own power with wind or sunshine, can earn from 20 to 50 points. Maple Hill Farm recently installed a 10-kilowatt wind turbine. The $70,000 system provides roughly one-third of the electricity needs for the small inn and conference center.

"We did it in part to educate people and to minimize the impact from our facility," said Scott Cowger.

Cowger, a retiring state legislator with a strong interest in environmental issues, said some customers value the inn's environmental commitment, which includes preserving 130 acres of farm and forest land. A couple of visitors have come specifically to see the wind turbine, he said.

But Cowger also said he must be mindful of balancing environmental goals with the overall experience of his guests. For example: The inn changes sheets only every three days, but provides new towels daily.

"This is the non-green me," he said. "I just think a guest on vacation wants to have a fresh, clean towel."

Those considerations also are at play at The Inn by the Sea.

Hotels can earn 10 points for using refillable soap and shampoo dispensers in bathrooms. But inns with four-diamond AAA designation must provide individually-wrapped care products, so that's what is resting on the bathtub ledge.

"It's finding the right balance between business, the guest experience and helping the environment," Kew said.

The Inn by the Sea is taking steps beyond increasing efficiency and reducing pollution, by making a sustained effort to engage and educate its guests.

The inn sponsors an annual Earth Day beach cleanup - held Saturday - which culminates with an ice cream sundae social. It conducts weekly garden tours for guests and their families that focus on indigenous plants and plantings favored by wildlife, such as milkweed for monarch butterflies and bayberry for birds. The tours also forge a solid business connection - area garden clubs sometimes have lunch at the inn.

The inn's philosophy attracts repeat customers such as Forrest Mayo of Philadelphia. He and his wife visit two or three times a year, and have participated in past Earth Day cleanups.

Mayo has fished, hunted and camped since he was a child. He gravitates to places that offer outdoor-oriented activities, he said, and tries to stay at destinations that promote a cleaner environment.

"Unfortunately you don't find too many," he said. "But we look for inns like that to give our business."

A sense that Maine can attract more visitors like Forrest Mayo has prompted the 600-member Maine Innkeepers Association to organize its first green lodging seminar. It will take place Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

"My sense is people have a lot of interest in this but aren't sure how to go about it," said Greg Dugal, the group's executive director.

As competition in the travel industry has become more intense, Maine's hospitality sector is working on new ways to grow nature-based tourism. Green lodging, Dugal said, fits with the overall strategy.

"You have to have an angle these days to survive as a destination, and that's what Maine is," he said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:


Toyota Ratchets Up Plug-In Prius Talk

23 April 2006

By Jack Rosebro

In an interview published in the UK’s The Guardian, Toyota executive Shinichi Abe has been quoted as confirming that Toyota is working on plug-in hybrids, and as asserting that the next-generation Prius will have an all-electric range of about nine miles, or 14.5 kilometers.

According to The Guardian, Abe, who heads Toyota’s hybrid development program, further commented that future Toyota hybrids will be able to operate as mobile generators, and that the company is interested in the addition of electrical charging outlets to traditional gas stations as a step towards a petroleum-free future.

The comments are but the latest in a series of indicators that Toyota is increasingly interested in talking about—and working toward—a plug-in future for its hybrids.

Another UK publication, the Auto Express, recently published an article (earlier post) which included a Toyota engineer’s assertion that the next Prius, due in late 2007 as a 2008 model, is being designed with a fuel consumption target of 94 miles per gallon (US), or 2.5 l/100km.

And earlier this year, when asked by Green Car Congress if the hybrid Camry’s introduction now paves the way for a redesign of the Prius with even more radical technologies (earlier post), Dave Hermance of Toyota replied, “Absolutely.” Hermance made his comment at the third annual SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Hybrid Symposium in San Diego in February.

Last year, Toyota exhibited a concept home in Japan (earlier post) that included a plug-in Prius. Designed in cooperation with Toyota’s home-building division, Toyota Home K.K., the Toyota Dream House Papi was touted as an environmentally friendly, energy-saving intelligent house that could interact with other Toyota technologies. The house was designed to be able to use the Prius as its sole energy source for up to 36 hours in emergencies, and to recharge the Prius when needed. At the time, Toyota said that it expected such technologies to be in use by 2010.

In February 2005, Toyota announced plans to lease a modified Prius capable of providing 3 kW at 120 volts to a rural electric cooperative in Oklahoma for field and market testing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hybrid cars are so last century

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Today's fuel efficiency trivia question: When was the first gas-electric hybrid car produced?

If you guessed something like 1983, you're wrong. Try much earlier.

On display at an exhibit opening Saturday at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will be a 1917 Woods Dual Power, which had a gasoline engine coupled with an electric motor-generator, just like modern hybrid cars. Unlike the Toyota Prius, however, the Woods Dual Power was a marketing flop. Production ceased after just two years.

The name of the exhibit is "Alternative Power: Propulsion after Petroleum." It covers the history of automotive power from 1866 to the present, including steam, electric, hydrogen, solar and jet-powered vehicles. It even includes one 1938 car that was modified to run on coal gas.

"Experimentation and discovery of new technologies is what really drives the auto industry and a walk through this exhibit is an entertaining trip from the past into our future beyond petroleum," said Dick Messer, director of the museum, in a statement.

In the earliest days of automobiles, all forms of power were equally "alternative." Steam power was the favored choice of driving enthusiasts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the book "Wheels for the World" by Douglas Brinkley, a history of the Ford Motor Company. Steam-powered cars were the fastest machines on the roads, such as they were, in those days.

Electric cars, clean and quiet but slow, were popular with the more practical-minded. They were seen as women's cars, appropriate for running errands around town.

Gasoline-powered cars were least popular of the three types at the turn of the last century. They were dirty, noisy and full of shakes and rattles. (The point of the early hybrid cars -- experts cite examples as early as 1903 -- was to combine the electric car's smoothness and ease of starting with the longer range and higher speed of gasoline-powered cars.)

Even after gasoline engines had improved enough to gain wide acceptance, engineers kept up experiments with other types of power. The 1938 Citroen 11 in the Petersen exhibit was fitted with a coal gas generator so that it could be driven despite World War II gasoline shortages in Europe. The fender-mounted generator produced a combustible gas by partially burning wood or coal.

The exhibit also includes General Motors' single-seat 1954 XP-21 Firebird, an experimental turbine-powered car that looks very much like a jet fighter plane.

Turbine cars used small jet engines to spin turbines that, in turn, powered the cars' wheels. One of the great promises of turbine power was that jet engines could run on a variety of different fuels including gasoline, diesel and kerosene.

In 1963, Chrysler, the company that took turbine power most seriously, built about 50 copper-colored turbine cars which they lent out to selected families for real-world use. One of those cars is in the Petersen exhibit.

"Chrysler, in the years right after World War II, was very serious about trying to make the gas turbine practical and economically viable," said Bob Casey, transportation curator for the Henry Ford Museum and Deerfield Village.

At the time, Chrysler's plan was to produce 500 turbine-powered 1966 Dodge Chargers that would be sold to the public, said Todd Lassa who wrote about the turbine cars for the current issue of Motor Trend Classic magazine. Those cars never appeared.

Ultimately, decades of turbine car experimentation led nowhere. They got no better fuel mileage than traditional gasoline engines and they had trouble meeting new emissions requirements, Lassa said.

Car companies have, most recently, turned to hydrogen as a promising "fuel of the future." In a move reminiscent of Chrysler giving turbine cars to American families, Honda has put its hydrogen fuel cell-powered FCX, one of which is in the exhibit, in the hands of real customers. Other companies have fuel cell-powered trucks in fleet use.

The fate of hydrogen fuel cells remains to be seen as more attention is given to the problem of extracting the hydrogen from sources such as hydrocarbon fuels.

"Engineering is not an easy business because for every advantage you have to look at disadvantages with the technology," said Lassa.

World's First EMISSIONS FREE Hybrid Taxicabs

SACRAMENTO, CA - April 21st, 2006 - Paratransit, Inc., a nonprofit public benefit corporation that provides transportation services for elderly and disabled people, and Hybrid Technologies, Inc., emerging leaders in the development and marketing of lithium-powered products worldwide, are pleased to announce that they have entered into a joint venture agreement to determine the utility of lithium powered vehicles produced by Hybrid Technologies for taxicabs and vehicles that are fully accessible to disabled passengers.

Vehicles selected by Paratransit for use as a taxicab are full lithium, ion powered Hybrid PT Cruisers. The world's first lithium powered taxi service will support the growing demand for clean and accessible taxicabs. Hybrid Technologies contracted with Paratransit, Inc. to produce a PT Cruiser, developed by Hybrid Technologies for government fleet replacement and large public sector organizations globally. These vehicles will be the first used commercially as taxicabs.

Paratransit and Hybrid technologies also will conduct a demonstration project regarding a full lithium ion powered Daimler Chrysler family van. The addition of the larger town and country model was based on current market data and the desire to transport disabled people using emission-free vehicles. This part of the joint venture will result in the first full lithium, ion powered Hybrid vehicle that is fully accessible to people that use wheelchairs.

The vehicles will operate in the Sacramento, California area and will be used in the daily operations of Paratransit, Inc. The new Green Accessible Lithium Taxi Program is a joint effort by Hybrid Technologies and Paratransit, Inc. Hybrid Technologies will be manufacturing the newly acquired vehicles and developing its newest vehicle offering, the fully accessible clean air van, at their facility in Mooresville, North Carolina.

These vehicles have no greenhouse gas emissions while operating, have a range of 150 miles per battery and can be fully charged in 5-6 hours using a conventional 110 volt current. "This is an opportunity to continue the excellent transportation service we provide for elderly and disabled people in the Sacramento area, while making a difference in air quality", said Paratransit Associate Director and ECOS member Mary Steinert.

Holly Roseberry, Hybrid's CEO, stated "We at Hybrid Technologies salute Paratransit for their forward thinking business model and their commitment to community service. We look forward to a bright future with them."

Bill Durant, Executive Director of Paratransit, Inc., stated: "As one of the leading and largest transportation providers of the Sacramento Region, we are proud to be working with Hybrid Technologies as we look to the future of public transportation.

The ability to simply 'plug in' these vehicles, as well as the functionality of their design, has encouraged our agency to make the move to 'green technology'."

The launch of the new lithium taxi service will be held in Sacramento, California with local, state and federal dignitaries in attendance. The event will mark a major advancement in fully electric service vehicles and is expected to be of significant interest to California State officials.

For additional information, please contact:

Mary Steinert
Associate Director, Paratransit, Inc.,
Telephone: (916) 429-2009, Ext. 306, Fax:(916) 429-2409
Email: MaryS@paratransit.org

Hybrid Technologies Public Relations
Telephone: (704) 800-1986
Fax: (702) 926-9508
Email: rgriffiths@hybridtechnologies.com

More Folks Enjoying Hummers

Posted on Wired Autopia:

Though I personally cringe every time I see a Hummer pass by, apparently the massive machines are growing in popularity.

Hummer sales grew by 202 percent in 2005, but GM would need to make a few hundred thousand more to cut into their staggering losses, which totaled $323 million during the first quarter of 2006.

One GM board member thinks the company should dump the vehicles, but that seems unlikely. Hummers seem to viscerally push people into one of two camps: they are the symbol of American individuality and status, so let them loose, or they are the rich folks' way of giving the finger to environment, and GM should be boycotted.

While Hummers' fuel economy is anemic, before you cast aspersions on these monstrosities, remember that their are SUVs from LandRover, Mercedes, Infiniti and Lexus that actually get worse gas mileage.

Message from Felix Kramer (CalCars.org)

The following was sent to the CalCar's mailing list this morning.

1. We're through Day One of our conversion of a Prius at Maker Faire
in San Diego -- come see us today!

We're documenting the event with a video team and lots of cameras.
Here's the first glimpse, from Jerry Pohorsky, EEA PHEV SIG Chairman
Great shots, mostly taken late on the day, don't give a sense of the
thousands of people walking by who have been asking questions, watching our work, and cheering us on. See initial text report, task list, etc. at
and technical documents at
Wish us luck on Day 2 -- including, we hope the famous "smoke test:" what happens when you turn it on for the first time.

2. Our BETTAH animation won first Prize in the "other" category in
the Palo Alto Greenlight film festival yesterday.
Other entrants can be seen (for now) at the San Jose Mercury News:

3. Pres. Bush visited the California Fuel Cell Partnership on Earth
Day; readers of tea leaves can compare this statement to others and
see the lowered expectations and lengthening timetables for hydrogen cars, and the concern among hydrogen fuel-cell advocates about how the combination of plug-in hybrids plus ethanol affects their case.
From a news roundup listing the funding proposals for the fiscal
years beginning October, we can see that hydrogen funding continues
to dominate.
hydrogen fuel cells: $289M, up from $53M
solar:: $148M, up from $65M
cellulosic ethanol: $150M, up from $59M
wind: $44M, up from $39M
plug-in hybrids: not mentioned, but I believe the relevant number is $31M.


I believe that today's children will one day take a driver's test in
a hydrogen-powered, pollution-free car. That's the goal of the United States. And it's a big goal, but it's an attainable goal. All you got to do is look at the progress that has been made thus far. In 2003, I pledged that we would spend $1.2 billion over five years for hydrogen research and development, and we're on track to meet that goal.

One of the reasons I have come here is because I want the American
people to understand that their tax dollars are yielding important
results, that we are making progress, that the idea of having a
hydrogen-powered automobile is not a foolish dream. It's a reality
that is going to come to be. The funding is getting results. Since
2003, researchers have used federal funding to double the lifetime of the hydrogen fuel cell stacks that power cars. In order for this to work there has to be longevity -- you just can't be changing your
fuel cell stacks all the time. There has to be durability in order
for this to be a product that people will want to buy.

We've cut the cost of manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells in half.
That's pretty rapid progress when you think the funding started in
2003, and the cost of the fuel cells have been reduced in half. And
that is important. In order for this to become a part of life, these
fuel cells have to be affordable. People have got to be able to buy
them in order for them to be able to function properly. And we're
making progress. We're heading for a hydrocarbon economy -- from a hydrocarbon economy to a hydrogen economy. And that's a very positive development.

There's another positive development taking place in America today,
and that's the advent of the hybrid vehicle. And it's a good way to
reduce our oil consumption right now. Hybrid vehicles have both a
gasoline-powered engine and an electric battery, and they travel
about twice as far on a gallon of fuel as gasoline-only vehicles. We
can affect our dependence on oil by encouraging people to purchase
hybrid vehicles. And that's why the federal government passed a law
that says you get a tax credit of up to $3,400 for a hybrid vehicle
purchase. In other words, we're trying to make it worthwhile for you
to go out and purchase a hybrid vehicle through the use of a tax credit.

What's really going to be interesting, however, is what's called
plug-in hybrid vehicles. And we're spending $31 million annually to
speed up research into these battery technologies. And what this
means is, is that we're trying to develop a battery that will power
your vehicle, where you plug it in at night and you drive the first
40 miles on electricity alone. Now, think about what that means for
big cities. A lot of people don't drive more than 40 miles a day in
big cities. So all of a sudden you've now -- we're developing a
technology that says you'll drive by the use of electricity, and you
won't use gasoline at all.

And one way to affect consumption is to speed up the development of these plug-in hybrids, and we're doing just that at the federal
level. It's a promising technology that will help people change the
way they drive. It'll be a transition to the hydrogen fuel cell batteries.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about ethanol. I'm a big
proponent of ethanol. I like the idea of America's farmers being able to grow fuel. I like the idea of people saying, my corn crop is up and, therefore, we're less dependent on oil from somewhere. And
that's what we're beginning to do. We're beginning to change driving
habits of the American people by changing the fuel mix in their cars. Any vehicle can use ethanol with a concentration of less than 10 percent. With minor modifications, cars and trucks can become what's called flex-fuel vehicles that run on a fuel blend called E-85, which is a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

And there are a lot of E-85 fueling stations now, particularly in the Midwest where they grow a lot of corn. But the idea is to be able to use your money to figure out how to use other materials to be able to manufacture ethanol. And we're close to some interesting
breakthroughs; we're close to breakthroughs to be able to make
ethanol from wood chips and stalks and switch grass, and other
natural materials. And it makes a lot of sense if we're trying to get off oil, and it makes sense to use taxpayers' money to research ways to use switch grass, for example, to become a fuel for your
automobile. I think it does.

Catherine [Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the CFCP]
reminded me, however, in my discussions with her that switch grass
can also be used to manufacture hydrogen. She wanted me to make sure -- (laughter) -- that in my description of what is possible in the
United States that we -- make sure one technology does not pirate
money for another technology. And it's not going to happen. What's
going to happen is we'll have research on all fronts to achieve a
grand national objective. And there's no doubt in my mind we'll be
able to achieve this objective.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Driving Toward Energy Independence

By David Morris, AlterNet
Posted on April 21, 2006,

I imagine driving a car without consuming
petroleum, or generating pollution, or making
noise. Imagine getting the equivalent of 100 to
150 miles per gallon. Imagine that every time you
drove, you pumped money into the local economy,
rather than sending it to distant shores. Imagine
that this car was not only ideal personal
transportation but also a driving force, quite
literally, for transforming both agriculture and
electric-power generation in ways that benefited
farmers and urban dwellers alike.

Farfetched dreams? Not at all. All of the
necessary technologies have been developed and
road-tested in the battery-powered car, the
hybrid gas-electric car, the flexible-fuel car.
All that's needed is to combine these approaches
in a single vehicle that merges their advantages
and eliminates their shortcomings.

The hybrid car, introduced in the United States
only in 2000, is already a bestseller. More than
200,000 hybrid cars ply U.S. roads. But they
suffer one major limitation: They can't go more
than a mile or two on electricity alone. (Indeed,
GM and Honda hybrids can't go anywhere without
the gasoline engine running.) This makes them
glorified gasoline-powered vehicles, with an
electric motor assist. But a Toyota Prius or a
Ford Escape can be fitted with an expanded
battery pack, rechargeable from a household
outlet, that would let it travel 20 to 50 miles
between chargings. That is farther than many Americans drive every day.

Driving on electric power has many benefits.
Electric vehicles, or EVs, are quiet and
nonpolluting. Even taking into account increased
power plant emissions, EVs still produce less
pollution than gasoline- powered vehicles. And
EVs are remarkably efficient, achieving the
equivalent of over 100 miles per gallon -- twice
the mileage of the best existing hybrid.

Of course, the Achilles heel of the EV has been
the cost and performance limitations of its
batteries; sooner or later, most motorists want
to go more than 50 miles without stopping to recharge.

A plug-in hybrid overcomes that limitation by
having a backup engine -- but instead of the
gasoline engines used today, it could easily be a
flexible-fuel engine of the type now powering
more than 4 million vehicles on U.S. roads. These
engines operate on any combination of ethanol and
gasoline, and the additional cost to manufacture one has fallen to about $100.

But ethanol derived from corn or other biomass
also has its Achilles heel. Current U.S. gasoline
and diesel consumption is far too high to replace
with plant-derived fuels. Planting all available
agricultural acres in the country with
fast-growing trees or switchgrass could generate
only enough fuel to displace about 25 percent of current vehicle consumption.

Plug-in hybrids, however, overcome this biomass
limitation by using electric power to reduce fuel
consumption by as much as 85 percent. This lets
biofuels become primary fuels rather than minor additives.

With the introduction of plug-ins, the
transportation and electricity sectors begin to
merge. Utilities would probably offer EV owners
the option of recharging their batteries at a
lower cost at night, when demand is low. No new power plants would be needed.

Indeed, widespread use of plug-in hybrids could
address the principal disadvantage of wind
turbines to generate electricity -- the absence,
so far, of an efficient way to store the power
until it is needed. Wind is an intermittent power
source, making voltage only when the turbines are
spinning. But utilities need to dispatch
electricity when their customers demand it.

The batteries in thousands of plug-in hybrids,
connected to the grid through two-way household
outlets, could bridge this gap between generation
and delivery. Indeed, some studies estimate
utilities might pay EV owners $1,000 to $2,000 a
year for using their batteries to help balance
and stabilize the grid. (That's in addition to
saving perhaps $600 a year at the gas pump.)

One can even imagine tens of thousands of very
small wind turbines sprouting up at homes across
the country, built primarily to fuel vehicles.
Consider the arithmetic: Today, owners of large
wind turbines get paid about 4 cents per
kilowatt-hour (kWh) when they send the
electricity over the grid to distant buyers. A
farmer making wind power for his own use
displaces retail electricity priced at 5 to 8
cents per kWh. But if that electricity is used in
a plug-in hybrid, displacing gasoline, it is worth about 32 cents per kWh.

How futuristic are plug-in, flexible-fuel
vehicles? Ford has introduced the first flex-fuel
hybrid. Daimler Chrysler has about 100 plug-in
vehicles on the road. Most interesting, perhaps,
is the recent announcement by several companies
of a plug-in conversion kit for Prius and Escape
owners. One Canadian company has informed me that
an order of 1,000 kits would cut the price in
half (to between $4,000 and $5,000). At such a
price, payback could come in less than seven
years. And the costs will undoubtedly continue to decline.

The state of Minnesota, to use one example, has
several advantages that could make it a leader in
advancing these vehicles: An established ethanol
industry, abundant wind power, plenty of gas
stations selling E85 (half the national total, in
fact), a top-notch automotive engineering program
at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Not to
mention the Ford Motor Co.'s St. Paul plant, now
facing an uncertain future; it once made an
all-electric pickup truck, as well as a flex-fuel
pickup. In the future, it could make plug-in,
flex-fuel hybrids on assembly lines powered by its own hydroelectric turbines.

A bill that begins to put in place a plug-in,
flexible-fuel strategy is on the floor of the
Minnesota State Senate and is wending its way
through the Minnesota House. In five committees
there has not been a single negative vote in
either the Republican-controlled House or the
Democrat-controlled Senate. We hope such
unanimity sends American car companies a message.

David Morris is co-founder and vice president of
the Institute for Local Self Reliance in
Minneapolis, Minn., and director of its New Rules
project. He is the author of the report, A Better
Way To Get There From Here (PDF). © 2006
Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/34753/

Better mileage standards imperative for Earth Day

Better mileage standards imperative for Earth Day: "MAINE VOICES: Sen. Olympia Snowe
Better mileage standards imperative for Earth Day

Copyright � 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

About the Author
Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.

The cost of gasoline these days is something I hear a lot about across the state of Maine. Prices close to $3 per gallon are hitting families and businesses dramatically, forcing many to cut back on vacations or raise the cost of basic goods sold at the local grocery store.

Unfortunately, we have summer's traditionally higher gas prices to anticipate.

It is indeed true that our nation is addicted to oil. Yet the average fuel economy of cars and trucks is lower than it was 20 years ago - helping to push U.S. oil dependence to an all-time high.

We now rely on imports for 60 percent of our oil and, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States sends nearly $500,000 to other countries every minute of every day just to keep our oil flowing.

On this Earth Day weekend, I believe it is essential that we remember that being strong environmental stewards of our natural resources makes good economic sense. Finding ways to be more efficient saves money for people in Maine and across the country.

That is why I believe the federal government once and for all must dramatically increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy of our nation's automobiles to lessen the burden of our dangerous dependency on oil imports from volatile regions of the world and to ease consumers' pain at the pump.

Unfortunately, recent proposals by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration provide only minuscule improvements in the fuel economy of SUVs and minivans and do little to help reduce gas prices.

These NHTSA standards would require SUV, pickup and minivan fuel economy increases of a mere 1.8 mpg by 2011. These are paltry improvements that amount to little more than lip service to an issue that deserves serious consideration.

I believe we must do more to increase these CAFE standards and that it can be done without stifling consumers' ability to choose what they drive.

Amazingly, even a modest increase of only 5 miles per gallon in the fuel efficiency of our automotive fleet would save approximately 23 billion gallons of gasoline each year, reducing oil imports by an estimated 14 percent.

A fleet-wide increase of 10 miles per gallon would save 38 billion gallons, cutting oil imports by almost one-fifth. For years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and I have fought to close the "SUV loophole," a provision in law that requires SUVs, minivans, and pickups to achieve a mere 21.3 mpg fuel economy standard, while cars must achieve 27.5 mpg.

We remain committed to moving beyond just closing this loophole to more broadly make our cars and trucks even more fuel-efficient.

Ending our dangerous dependency on oil also demands a national commitment to fostering alternative fuels. Using some Maine's most abundant resources as alternatives to oil could very well be the economic future of our state.

Our forest products industry is in the process of being transformed. With $1 million in funding I helped secure for the Maine Forest Bioproducts Research and Development Initiative, our state is on the front lines developing biofuels and fuel additives. Many of our farmers even rotate their potato crops with canola to produce biodiesel.

Providing incentives to spur the development and use of renewable energy resources like biodiesel, biomass, wind, geothermal and solar power is essential to their long-term viability. That is why I fought to ensure that the first-ever tax incentives for biomass were included in last year's energy bill.

The legislation, now law, also provides a refundable tax credit of 50 cents per gallon for biodiesel and $1 per gallon for agri-biodiesel made from vegetable oils.

Rewarding our farmers, businesses and consumers for being more efficient with the limited resources we have and for developing the resources of the future should be a national priority.

For Maine and America, environmentalism is not just a moral imperative of leaving a more prosperous and healthy planet for our children. It is also critical to the economic well-being of our nation.

On Earth Day, we must remember that lessening our addiction to oil and pursuing alternative energy sources will only make our country stronger.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Planning and Conservation League 2006 Legislative Symposium on Climate Change


The PCL is hosting a day long conference on Climate Change in Sacramento, CA on Saturday, April 29, 2006. The web page for this conference can be found at:


As a side note, Felix Kramer will be there with his Plug-In Prius.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Wind Power Contract Secured for Prince Edward Island

With construction of the $18 million, 9-megawatt (MW) Norway Wind Park expected to begin this year and commissioned in the spring of 2007, Ventus Energy signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with PEI Energy Corp. to sell wind power.
Inside Renewable Energy - Podcast
"Private sector investments like these show the confidence that the private sector has in the growth potential for our economy, particularly in renewable energy. I look forward to this development and the positive spin-offs it will bring to our community."

-- Gail Shea, Transportation and Public Works Minister, PEI

The Ventus Energy Norway Wind Park is to be built on the northwest tip of PEI, south of the Atlantic Wind Test Site at North Cape. The price for the 20-year term of this PPA is set at the feed-in tariff price established by the Government of PEI of $0.0775 per kilowatt hour (kWh).

A 12-month formal wind assessments study is completed and an environmental assessment study is well under way, expected to be completed this summer. Dr. Marina Silva and her team at the University of Prince Edward Island are completing the environmental work. The formal public meeting was held in June 2005 and terms of an interconnection agreement with Maritime Electric Corporation Limited are being finalized.

"We are delighted to make this announcement at this time. All of the hard work of the many talented people at Ventus Energy is beginning to pay off," said John Douglas, Ventus Energy's Chief Executive Officer. "The Norway Wind Park represents a substantial milestone in the development of Ventus Energy as an independent power producer. The Government of PEI has shown tremendous leadership in the renewable energy sector. We firmly believe that a fixed price tariff is the way to build a sustainable renewable energy industry in PEI," Douglas added.

"This investment by Ventus Energy is a great step forward for renewable energy development in West Prince," said Gail Shea, Transportation and Public Works Minister. "Private sector investments like these show the confidence that the private sector has in the growth potential for our economy, particularly in renewable energy. I look forward to this development and the positive spin-offs it will bring to our community," said Shea.

The 9 MW Norway Wind Park will generate an estimated 31,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per year of green power -- enough to power almost 5,000 PEI homes and displace the equivalent of nearly 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Ventus Energy is developing more than 5,000 MW of potential wind power projects on 25 sites in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. It has secured the rights to more than 17 million acres of land to conduct this wind energy development. Formal wind studies, interconnection and environmental assessments and other permitting activities are well underway at all sites. Ventus believes that this portfolio represents the largest portfolio of potential wind energy projects in Canada.

Zero Energy Home Project Offers Data for Green Building Industry

The Borrego Springs Zero Energy Demonstration Project consists of four demonstration homes in an extreme desert climate, all of which use a combination of the latest efficient, affordable and innovative zero energy technologies for the purpose of studying their energy efficiency and affordability over the course of one year.
Inside Renewable Energy - Podcast
"Over the next twelve months, we are confident that the data collected will validate the effectiveness and affordability of the many innovative products utilized in the construction of these demonstration homes."

-- Rob Hammon, PhD, project energy consultant and principal of ConSol

Designed with a goal of 90% energy reduction, the homes are equipped with zero energy technologies such as state-of-the-art wall, cooling and solar electric systems. The data gleaned from the project after one year will be made available to builders, manufacturers and municipalities throughout the U.S.

"Innovation is a cornerstone of the green building industry and we believe that by sharing the data from the Borrego Springs, California, project that we can help reduce the time it takes to make new zero energy technologies economically viable for builders," said John Suppes, founder and president of Clarum Homes, and developer of the program.

"With President Bush's recently announced Advanced Energy Initiative, it's important now, more than ever, for the industry to come together to drive the adoption of new energy efficient building products," Suppes added.

As part of the Borrego Springs Zero Energy Demonstration Project, the demonstration homes have been built with three different types of wall systems -- Styrofoam T-MASS, Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) and High Efficiency 24" o.c. Optimum Value Engineered (OVE) Wood Framing.

In addition to the three wall systems, the homes, which share the same floor plan, were equipped with three different cooling systems: two of the homes feature Speakman 2 stage evaporate coolers; the third home has a Freus water cooled condenser and AC; and the fourth home features a Lennox 20.5 SEER AC. All of the homes feature 3.2 kW Kyocera photovoltaic solar systems and exterior shade screens.

"Over the next twelve months, we are confident that the data collected will validate the effectiveness and affordability of the many innovative products utilized in the construction of these demonstration homes," stated Rob Hammon, PhD, project energy consultant and principal of ConSol.

"The test data will be of benefit not only for Zero Energy Home development in extreme desert temperatures like Borrego Springs, but also in more moderate climates around the United States," said Hammon.

Clarum Homes, a zero energy home developer based in California, developed the innovative program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Building America Program, ConSol, and Davis Energy Group. ConSol serves as the team leader of the Building Industry Research Alliance (BIRA) for the Department of Energy's Building America program. The BIRA, the Davis Energy Group (DEG) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will work closely with Clarum and ConSol to evaluate the performance of each of the homes to identify the most cost effective energy features.

A special preview tour of the project site for local and regional officials and media will take place on Tuesday, April 25, 2006, in Borrego Springs, California. To read more about the tour, the project or its goals for the demonstration homes, visit the website below.

Geopolitics and the Energy of Transportation Collide at PGRE&F

At last week's all-renewables trade show and conference, Power-Gen Renewable Energy & Fuels (PGRE&F), some gradual shifts in the renewable energy industry came into sharper focus for attendees and exhibitors. Some key takeaways included the rising use of biofuels, the escalating security implications of the nation's energy use -- especially the vulnerable transportation sector -- and promising new solutions such as Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).
Inside Renewable Energy - Podcast
"Renewable Energy is the pathway to world peace. We must take our clean energy technology and replicate and proliferate it throughout the world."

-- Alexander "Andy" Karsner, the U.S. Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

As in past years, the conference was organized by the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) and PennWell Publishing. This year it attracted nearly 150 exhibitors and 1,900 attendees.

Biofuels, specifically ethanol and biodiesel, are playing a larger role than they have ever before. This is largely the result of both state and federal policies that advance the industry, but it is also the result of a crystallizing awareness that the North American transportation sector is critically dependent on one form of energy, gasoline.

Specific to the conference this year was the addition of "& Fuels" to its title, acknowledging the greater role that biofuels are playing in today's renewable energy market. And it was more than just a name change, as there were many biofuels companies on hand, particularly from the ethanol industry. ACORE, which operates as a sort of umbrella organization for all the renewable energy industries, also held its first meeting of its newly minted Biomass Coordinating Council.

Geopolitics and Energy Collide

Unlike the electricity sector, where there are some wide-ranging choices for the production of power, the millions of cars and trucks that criss-cross the U.S. each day are woefully dependent on crude oil, which is largely supplied by unstable or inhospitable governments. Like an unbalanced financial portfolio, this has grave economic and national security implications for the U.S., this point that was repeatedly addressed by conference speakers.

Among them was surprise speaker Alexander "Andy" Karsner, the U.S. Department of Energy's new Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This was his first public speech since taking office only a few weeks ago and it was a passionate and strongly political one. Karsner echoed President Bush's recent statement that "America is Addicted to Oil" and outlined the vulnerabilities the U.S. faces because of this issue.

And in the same way the Bush Administration believes the proliferation of democracy throughout the world will lead to greater stability and world peace, Karsner said greater use of renewable energy throughout the world could have a similar effect.

"Renewable Energy is the pathway to world peace," Karsner said. "We must take our clean energy technology and replicate and proliferate it throughout the world."

Another speaker qualified to speak on the topic was Jim Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under the Clinton Administration. Woolsey has been a central figure within the ACORE community and a conservative, hawkish proponent of renewable energy primarily for national security reasons. His public endorsements and speeches on renewable energy have been a part of past ACORE events and reached their latest incarnation at this year's event.

Woolsey's speech -- even more so than Karsner's -- took on a very political tone, calling Iran's increasingly defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "genocidal maniac" and part of a larger problem in the Middle East where more than two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves exist.

"We have a long term, serious problem with regard to vulnerability of the transportation sector...it being so tied to oil is a huge security question...and the Middle East is at the heart of the issue," Woolsey said.

Woolsey's sobering assessment went on to explain how each year the U.S. borrows 250 billion dollars to import oil, a situation he equated to the country shipping "IOUs" abroad. More importantly, he says a large share goes to the Middle East and lands in the hands of the Wahabis, which he called the most extreme sect of Islamic fundamentalists. Some of these funds in turn go on to bankroll Madrasas in Pakistan, where fundamentalist ideologies are fostered and propagated. And this has serious and timely implications for the U.S. struggle against Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the larger "War on Terror."

"This is the first war in U.S. history in which we pay for both sides," Woolsey said. "This is not a winning strategy."

Woolsey's recommendations include a focus on biofuels like ethanol or biodiesel -- and particularly the commercialization of ethanol from cellulosic processes -- but they also hinge perhaps more than ever on what's achievable today. And he left no guesses how he feels about the hydrogen economy.

"We have to focus on changes that can be made with the existing infrastructure, within the existing system," Woolsey said. "We continue to wait for the hydrogen economy...TIME OUT...no more waiting."

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Woolsey articulated a mounting concern among an increasing number of people who follow renewable energy that for all its promises, a hydrogen economy is just too much of a long-term play, faces too many obstacles, would likely exclude renewables, and is unlikely to offer any real results in the near-future. And one of the ex-CIA Chief's solutions is a relatively recent one that's received quite a bit of buzz: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).

The vehicles combine technologies that are all available today and that operate on today's energy infrastructure. PHEVs essentially combine the hybrid-electric technologies already proving themselves in the market today with larger batteries that can be charged up from the electric grid. Woolsey, and many others, argue that what small local driving requirements can't be accomplished by the 35-mile or so range of the batteries in the PHEV can then be accomplished by the internal combustion engine. And the engine, of course, would run off increasing blends of ethanol or biodiesel, fuels not from the Middle East.

Most importantly, it's doable today. Instead of the hydrogen economy example where hydrogen becomes the new energy carrier -- a fundamental and massive shift -- electricity remains the key energy carrier as it is today. Renewable energy technologies can also play a larger and more efficient role as electrons generated by, say, wind or solar could go directly into the electric grid where they can contribute to charging vehicle batteries or the countless other tasks accomplished by our grid today (see related article at the link below).

One person who isn't waiting any longer to put PHEVs on the road is Roger Duncan, of Austin Energy, the city's municipal electric utility, who is leading Austin Energy's Plug in Partners Program that tests PHEVs in the city. Under the direction of the Austin City Council, the City of Austin and Austin Energy are leading a national campaign to demonstrate to automakers that a market exists today for plug-in hybrids.

Duncan was among a handful of presenters in one of the more packed conference sessions, which explored high mileage vehicles and the solutions to the transportation sector.

"We don't believe hydrogen is going to pick up and allow that transition within less than a decade or two," Duncan said. "For plug-in hybrids, the infrastructure is already in place. This gives a tremendous advantage to this -- and it allows solar wind and biofuels all to play a strong part."

Duncan's point couldn't have been more relevant than at this year's ACORE conference where the entire spectrum of renewable energy technologies fall under one roof, with the singular purpose of making clean, domestic electrons a far greater part of the nation's energy resources.