Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mother Nature’s Dow

NY Times

March 29, 2009


While I’m convinced that our current financial crisis is the product of both The Market and Mother Nature hitting the wall at once — telling us we need to grow in more sustainable ways — some might ask this: We know when the market hits a wall. It shows up in red numbers on the Dow. But Mother Nature doesn’t have a Dow. What makes you think she’s hitting a wall, too? And even if she is: Who cares? When my 401(k) is collapsing, it’s hard to worry about my sea level rising.

It’s true, Mother Nature doesn’t tell us with one simple number how she’s feeling. But if you follow climate science, what has been striking is how insistently some of the world’s best scientists have been warning — in just the past few months — that climate change is happening faster and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few years ago. Indeed, if Mother Nature had a Dow, you could say that it, too, has been breaking into new (scientific) lows.

Consider just two recent articles:

The Washington Post reported on Feb. 1, that “the pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said. ‘We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations,’ Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said.”

The physicist and climate expert Joe Romm recently noted on his blog,, that in January, M.I.T.’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change quietly updated its Integrated Global System Model that tracks and predicts climate change from 1861 to 2100. Its revised projection indicates that if we stick with business as usual, in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions, average surface temperatures on Earth by 2100 will hit levels far beyond anything humans have ever experienced.

“In our more recent global model simulations,” explained M.I.T., “the ocean heat-uptake is slower than previously estimated, the ocean uptake of carbon is weaker, feedbacks from the land system as temperature rises are stronger, cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century are higher, and offsetting cooling from aerosol emissions is lower. Not one of these effects is very strong on its own, and even adding each separately together would not fully explain the higher temperatures. [But,] rather than interacting additively, these different effects appear to interact multiplicatively, with feedbacks among the contributing factors, leading to the surprisingly large increase in the chance of much higher temperatures.”

What to do? It would be nice to say, “Hey, Mother Nature, we’re having a credit crisis, could you take a couple years off?” But as the environmental consultant Rob Watson likes to say, “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics,” and she is going to do whatever they dictate. You can’t sweet talk Mother Nature or the market. You have to change the economics to affect the Dow and the chemistry, biology and physics to affect Mother Nature.

That’s why we need a climate bailout along with our economic bailout. Hal Harvey is the C.E.O. of a new $1 billion foundation, ClimateWorks, set up to accelerate the policy changes that can avoid climate catastrophe by taking climate policies from where they are working the best to the places where they are needed the most.

“There are five policies that can help us win the energy-climate battle, and each has been proven somewhere,” Harvey explained. First, building codes: California’s energy-efficient building and appliance codes now save Californians $6 billion per year,” he said. Second, better vehicle fuel-efficiency standards: “The European Union’s fuel-efficiency fleet average for new cars now stands at 41 miles per gallon, and is rising steadily,” he added.

Third, we need a national renewable portfolio standard, mandating that power utilities produce 15 or 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Right now, only about half our states have these. “Whenever utilities are required to purchase electricity from renewable sources,” said Harvey, “clean energy booms.” (See Germany’s solar business or Texas’s wind power.)

The fourth is decoupling — the program begun in California that turns the utility business on its head. Under decoupling, power utilities make money by helping homeowners save energy rather than by encouraging them to consume it. “Finally,” said Harvey, “we need a price on carbon.” Polluting the atmosphere can’t be free.

These are the pillars of a climate bailout. Yes, some have upfront costs. But all of them would pay long-term dividends, because they would foster massive U.S. innovation in new clean technologies that would stimulate the real Dow and much lower emissions that would stimulate the Climate Dow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wind farm proposed for Carthage

By Eileen M. Adams , Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 2009

CARTHAGE - This small Franklin County town is the latest site for possible wind turbine development. If constructed, the project would more than double the valuation of the town.

Todd Presson, chief operating officer for Patriot Renewables, a Quincy, Mass.-based company, said at least 12 turbines capable of producing about one-and-a-half megawatts each, are in the early planning stages. The company has an option to buy about 1,000 acres for siting the 400-foot turbines.

He said a meteorological tower was erected on Saddleback Ridge in the north central part of the town in October.

Another six or seven towers could also be built on an adjacent 300 acres owned by the town, Presson said.

First Selectman Steve Brown said residents voted in 2001 to preserve that acreage in its natural state.

If Patriot Renewables leased the property to build additional turbines, Brown said the town would receive royalties.

To change the status of the land requires a vote by residents, he said.

On Monday, about 60 residents turned out at the town office to hear a presentation by Presson and two other representatives from the company on their plans.

He said the company plans to meet with the Department of Environmental Protection within the next couple of weeks to discuss the spring bird migration season.

Because the town does not have ordinances governing structures such as turbines, the permitting process will be done through the state.

Residents, however, will have a chance to learn about the project every step of the way.

Presson said a visit to a completed wind farm in the Waldo County town of Freedom is being organized for sometime in the next couple of weeks for Carthage residents who would like to learn more about the impact of turbines. That recently completed project is comprised of three turbines.

Anyone interested in joining the tour should contact the Carthage town office.

Presson said another public meeting will be scheduled sometime after the field visit and a decision by residents on whether to lease the town's 300 acres on Saddleback Ridge.

Patriot Renewables is also in the early stages of planning a six- to 12-turbine project in Woodstock along Spruce Mountain.

Presson said if all permits go according to hopes, construction on both the Carthage and Woodstock wind farms could begin in 2010.

Electricity produced would be sold to the New England grid.

Brown said the current value of the town is $26 million. If the turbines are built, that could more than double.

Other area wind farm projects in various stages of planning include Black Mountain in Rumford and a site in Roxbury.

Climate proposals feel a bit of a chill

State House: The recession and a split vote on a minor bill raise fears that global warming policies may stall.

March 23, 2009
Maine's Legislature will soon take up some landmark proposals to combat climate change, starting with a public hearing Tuesday.

If the bills pass, developers could face new anti-sprawl limits on construction in rural areas and fees for the right to cut down trees. Passage also would ensure that Maine's Legislature remains one of the most aggressive in the nation when it comes to addressing climate change.

The bills, coming in the midst of a deep recession, are sure to test the state's commitment to the issue. And a preliminary vote last week suggests lawmakers may be losing their appetite for new climate policies.

The Legislature's Natural Resources Committee surprised observers when it supported the creation of a new climate-change planning group in an 8-5 vote that split along party lines. Democrats voted for it, and Republicans against.

This legislation was supposed to be the easy one.

"We didn't think that was a controversial bill," said David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. "It's frankly a bad foreboding for how things might go this session."

The split vote creates a measure of doubt about the bill's fate and will at least delay the group's initial meeting. If global warming becomes a partisan issue in Augusta, some advocates fear, the more ambitious efforts to slow global warming could be in trouble.

"I didn't see it (climate change) as a partisan issue here," said Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, sponsor of the bill.

In past years, the committee has generally given bipartisan support to climate legislation, including participation in the nation's first carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system.

And, Simpson said, her bill didn't ask lawmakers to take a stand on what is causing warming or how to stop it, only to plan for it so that roads, for example, aren't washed away by coastal flooding as sea levels rise.

"We need to make some kind of long-term strategy," Simpson said. "That (vote) was weird. There was nobody that opposed it. It doesn't cost any money."

Sen. Doug Smith, R-Dover-Foxcroft, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee and voted against the bill, said he agrees that planning makes sense.

"The substance of what they were proposing to do was not of great concern, but there were some procedural aspects that were of concern," he said. "There's a concern on the part of many people that when the Legislature (creates) a stakeholder group that it's buying into the underlying idea behind the stakeholder group."

Smith said the vote was not a sign of a new partisan split on climate change or a decision by Republicans to oppose climate legislation in general. But he also said Republicans are generally more reluctant to take big regulatory steps, given the costs and remaining questions about the science.

Although there is no doubt climate change is happening, "there are those who are not entirely convinced that human activity is entirely at fault in creating current climate change," Smith said.

"Everybody in the Legislature realizes that there is a certain state commitment to do what is reasonable to deal with climate change and to be prepared for climate change," he said. "But I think there are questions beyond that about how much cost should we build into the economy."

Ray Sirois, a Republican climate-change activist from Harrison, said the vote on a planning study was disappointing.

"This is not the kind of thing that's healthy for Republicans to be opposing, in my opinion," he said. "The fact of the matter is that even in the most optimistic scenarios, we're looking at damage to our infrastructure.
"This is not something that should be a partisan issue. It's an issue that's affecting all species, Republicans and Democrats."

Simpson's resolve to create the planning group could reach the floor of the Legislature this week. Because of the split committee vote, it is now likely to undergo some floor debate. Although it is still expected to pass, the doubt created by the split vote caused the DEP to postpone an organizational meeting of the new group from April to May.

In the meantime, at least three more controversial proposals related to climate change are taking shape in the State House. The first of those bills will be presented to the Natural Resources Committee at a public hearing Tuesday at the State House.

It would make Maine one of the first states to take into account greenhouse-gas emissions when issuing state permits for large development projects. Massachusetts has a similar policy, and California requires municipal governments to consider global-warming impacts as part of their land-use planning.

The proposed Maine law would go a step further, authorizing the state to charge greenhouse-gas compensation on large developments. A developer who cuts down an acre of forest, for example, could be required to pay a corresponding fee that would be used to promote energy efficiency.

A similar, but broader, proposal being drafted by conservation groups would also require the state to consider climate-change impacts in other laws and planning activities.

A third bill related to climate change – and clearly one of the most controversial proposals – could require state-permitted development projects covering 20 acres or more to be located within locally designated growth areas or where there already are sewers.

The proposal, which also has yet to be finalized and printed, is intended to slow sprawl, which contributes to global warming by encouraging the cutting of trees and increasing car travel, among other things.

Smith, the Republican senator, said he already has been hearing a lot of opposition to the anti-sprawl bill.

And although Republicans aren't necessarily opposed to climate-change legislation, there is a lot of concern about new regulation, especially in light of the poor economy, he said.

Chris Jackson, a lobbyist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the business community shares the Republicans' concern about adding regulation, especially now.

"You want to be mindful of the fact that the economy is struggling out there, and if we don't have to put up unnecessary hurdles that employers have to clear, I think we should avoid those," he said.

The chamber didn't take a position on the climate-change planning group, which would include business representatives as members. Jackson said time will tell if the vote is a sign of a new partisan split on global warming.

"It's early yet," he said, "and the most contentious issues haven't really been dealt with."

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

Copyright © 2009 Blethen Maine Newspapers

FREEDOM Wind-turbine firm wants tax shelter

Kennebec Journal

FREEDOM -- A consulting firm will propose a tax-increment financing zone for representing Beaver Ridge Wind during a meeting tonight.
Selectman Ron Price said Tuesday that the select board and the public alike will be able to comment on the proposals. The meeting in the basement of the Freedom Congregational Church begins at 6.

Price said that Eaton Peabody of Augusta has put together TIF plans on behalf of the town.

The company built three 400-foot energy-generating turbines last year on Beaver Ridge, on land it leased from Price.

"They're going to make a proposal with several different scenarios as to how it could be beneficial to the town," Price said.

TIFs are tax shelters that protect communities from valuation. The communities, in turn, provide a certain portion of the tax rebates to developers that bring in jobs. Often, town or cities offer TIFs to attract companies to locate there, in the interest of economic development.

Last summer, following a lengthy process, Beaver Ridge got the go-ahead to build its wind turbines. Residents voted 159-112 to reject a commercial-development review ordinance that might have hampered the company's plans to build the turbines.

Opponents of the turbines complained that they would disrupt the scenery and quiet of the rural lifestyle.

Mat Eddy, executive director of the Eaton Peabody Consultants Group, will make tonight's presentation.

"I will be speaking on behalf of the town, to work them through the thought process of the TIF, whether it serves the town's interests, the developer's interests or both interests," he said.

Eddy said communities and developers normally split TIF tax rebates in a range of 40 to 60 percent, either way.

"This is a little unusual in that the turbines are already in place," he said. "Usually, the TIF proposal happens before the development takes place."

Beaver Ridge Wind's turbines have a value of about $10 million, Eddy said. Over each year of the 30-year period of the TIF, he said, the town might realize $170,000 in reimbursed taxes.

Eaton Peabody would help the town and the company negotiate how to split that money, Eddy said.

The town must use its share for economic development, such as revolving loans for new businesses or road construction, Eddy said.

Larry Grard -- 861-9239

Monday, March 09, 2009

Home-Grown Power

NY Times

March 7, 2009


PRESIDENT Obama has laid out an ambitious agenda for dealing with our energy needs and climate change: he proposes to double the supply of renewable energy within three years, establish a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and use federal stimulus dollars to help homes, businesses and governments use energy more efficiently. This is the right blueprint for increasing the number of green jobs, encouraging economic growth, ensuring that the United States has the energy it needs at reasonable prices, and reducing the risk of global climate change.

But as Congress translates this grand plan into legislation, lawmakers should resist calls to add an extensive and costly new transmission system that would carry electricity from remote areas like Texas, the Great Plains and Eastern Canada to places with high energy demands like Boston, Chicago and New York. This idea is being promoted by energy companies and by elected officials who see it as an economic development opportunity for their particular state or region. Long-distance transmission lines are needed, they argue, to ensure that the president’s energy goals are met.

But there are better — and cheaper — ways to get more clean power flowing to the big cities.

Renewable energy resources are found all across the country; they don’t need to be harnessed from just one place. In the Northwest, the largest amount of green power comes from hydroelectricity. In the Northeast, the best source may be the wind over the ocean, because it blows harder and more consistently there than on land. Offshore wind farms have been proposed for Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In the Southwest, solar energy can be tapped on a large scale. And in the Southeast, biomass from forests may one day be a major source of sustainable power. In each area, developing these power sources would be cheaper than piping in clean energy from thousands of miles away.

Unlike our federal highway system, which is needed to transport goods across the country, or the “information superhighway” of the Internet, which is the fastest way to carry information around the world, long-distance transmission lines have no inherent value. On the contrary, the farther electricity is transported, the more of it is dissipated. “Line loss,” as this is called, gobbles up an estimated 2 percent to 3 percent of electricity nationally.

And of course, the longer the power line, the more expensive it is to build. In New England, we estimate the cost per mile at $2 million to $10 million. The closer electricity is generated to where it’s used, the better.

Another component of President Obama’s clean energy vision is the creation of a smarter power grid. But that has little to do with high capacity transmission lines that carry electricity in bulk over hundreds of miles. Building a “smart grid” means upgrading the local grid from a simple delivery system to an information system that can let consumers know the times when power is cheapest, thus enabling them to adjust their use to save money. This flattens out electricity loads and minimizes periods of peak demand. Smart grids will also be able to identify and fix power failures instantly, and someday may even send signals to specific household appliances like thermostats, washing machines and refrigerators to switch them on when demand is low or turn them off during times of peak energy use.

The cost of building transmission lines to connect new power plants to the grid ought to be covered the way we cover it in the Northeast, by folding it into the price of the power that the lines deliver. That allows the market to help keep prices as low as possible.

In Massachusetts, we get about 5 percent of our power from hydroelectric plants in Quebec. Our distribution utilities are negotiating to install a second transmission line for Canadian hydropower, which would be paid for through long-term power-purchase contracts approved by the New England states whose residents use that power. Developers of remote wind-power farms in eastern Canada have said they would also like to sell us electricity, but unless the combined cost of the power they could provide and its transmission is competitive with our other renewable energy choices, their projects won’t get approved. That’s the way it should be.

For a clean energy future, we need a smart grid and we need more renewable energy. The Obama administration is offering welcome support for both. Beyond that, what we need is a level playing field that enables energy providers to compete fairly with one another. The cost of transmission should be incorporated into the overall cost of bringing clean energy to market. Then let the chips fall — and wind turbines rise — where they may.

Ian Bowles is the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts.