EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Steps Down

After nearly four years as the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson has announced in a statement that she would be stepping down as President Obama begins his second term. While reports say she gave no specific reason for leaving her position, she said in a statement, “I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.”

Lisa-Jackson EPAUnder Jackson’s tutelage, the EPA approved the use of E15 in vehicles and light duty trucks manufactured after 2001. She also announced in 2009, during COP15, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas pollutant, and as such, could be monitored. At the time, both of these decisions caused heated debate that still continues.

In a separate statement, Obama said Jackson has been “an important part of my team.” He thanked her for serving and praised her “unwavering commitment” to the public’s health.

In reaction to her departure, Tom Buis CEO of Growth Energy said, “Administrator Jackson has been a dedicated advocate for the renewable fuels industry and her work to reduce our nation’s addiction to foreign oil, while providing cleaner air and a better environment, should be commended.  As Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she should be applauded for all she has done to advance biofuels and a cleaner, better environment. Growth Energy wishes her well and thanks her for her tireless work during her time at the EPA.”

Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), added, “Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama Administration’s commitment to ethanol and other biofuels. During her tenure, she cleared the way for E15 giving consumers more choice and savings at the gas pump and she protected the progress that has been made in reducing our dependence of foreign oil by recognizing the importance and inherent flexibility of the RFS. The ethanol industry thanks her for her service and looks forward to working with her successor to continue the growth of America’s domestic renewable fuels industry.”

While Jackson has not announced her next move, there is speculation that she may run for Governor of New Jersey. There has been no announcement of who will take her place.

Companies Shifting to Clean Energy

As climate talks begin to wind down in Qatar, a new report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” has been released by Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund. The report concludes that many of the world’s largest companies are not waiting for binding treaties and subsequent polices, rather they are integrating clean energy and lower emissions into their business now.

The report shows that many Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy commitments, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, or both. While the movement is strong in the U.S., the trend to sustainability is even stronger internationally.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy.  “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

The report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. For example, many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

For some companies, there are still key barriers to achieving sustainability goals including: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives; and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report also offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, specifically, extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energythis year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

Algae. Tec Facility Continues to Attract Attention

Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Member for Eden-Monaro Dr Mike Kelly recently visited Alage.Tec facility in Shoalhaven (Australia). The plant is proving out technology that produces low cost, high grade algae-based biofuels. While on site, Dr. Kelly was briefed about the technology by company representatives.

One element with great promise is the fact that algae “eat” carbon to grow. In Israel and China, for example, the carbon-hungry algae are being used to abate emissions from coal-fired power stations that are a similar size to the ones used in Australia.

“This region is fast becoming a flagship for renewable energy in Australia,” said Dr. Kelly during his visit. “We have already seen over $1 billion being invested in renewable energy projects in Eden-Monaro and the lower Shoalhaven region – that includes wind and wave energy, solar, biomass and geothermal.”

Dr. Kelly continued, “To have a company like Algae.Tec here in Bomaderry, which recently signed a collaboration agreement with Lufthansa to produce aviation biofuels and also with Holcim Lanka, is a wonderful boon. The possibilities of this technology are extremely exciting. Their algae technology has almost no impact on the environment and could potentially eliminate emissions from coal-fired power stations.”

Roger Stroud, executive chairman of Algae.Tec noted that that the biofuels technology being used in Shoalhaven is the same technology that will be used by the company to produce aviation and other transportation fuels.

“We currently have feasibility studies underway with interested parties in Texas, Brazil, China, Sri Lanka and Germany, as well as another site in New South Wales,” said Stroud. “The Shoalhaven facility has already had VIP visits from some of the world’s largest companies wanting to see how the technology delivers sustainable low cost fuel, carbon capture, and energy security.”

Propel Receives $21M in Investments

Propel Fuels has closed on the initial phase of its Series D round of funding with $11 million in equity capital from existing investors Nth Power, Craton Equity Partners, and @Ventures as well as a new investor, Gentry Venture Partners. In addition, the company has secured $10 million in debt financing from CapX Partners. With the additional funds, Propels plans to accelerate its build out of its network of alternative energy stations.

Operating on the west coast, Propel has stations that offer E85 and biodiesel blends along with conventional fuels. In addition, the stations help people with other facets of transportation including carbon offsets, tips on improving fuel economy, rideshare opportunities, services for bicyclists, and recycling.

“The continuing support of our existing investors, the new investment from Gentry, and the access to additional debt capital from CapX is a strong endorsement for our vision, our accomplishments, and team,” said Matt Horton, CEO of Propel. “This new funding, combined with grant funding from the State of California, will enable us to accelerate the build out of our alternative fuel stations across state, offering consumers true choice and a better experience at the pump.”

As part of the investment by Gentry, Thomas B. Raterman, a Partner, has joined Propel’s Board of Directors. Raterman has more than 30 years of corporate finance, investment banking, and executive management with rapidly growing entrepreneurial companies.

Raterman added, “We’re witnessing a revolution in transportation, whether it’s innovative new enzymes to create clean fuels, or whole new drivetrains and power systems in the vehicles themselves. Propel is creating a position as a trusted source of the most advanced fuels on the market today – no matter what type of vehicle you drive. We’re excited to help them succeed.”

Offshore Wind Within Reach Off Eastern US Shores

The Obama administration has announced competitive lease sales for wind energy development off the eastern coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. This is the first time that a portion of the outer continental shelf will be leased for renewable energy development.

There are several areas proposed for leasing: the Virginia coast could support more than 2,000 megawatts of wind generation; Massachusetts and Rhode Island could support about 2,000 megawatts of wind generation. When combined, these offshore wind farms could generate enough electricity to power an estimated 1.4 million average sized homes.

“We have enormous potential for harnessing pollution-free wind energy off our coasts, and now are closer than ever to making this vision a reality in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. We are thrilled that the Obama administration has announced another critical step forward for offshore wind development and look forward to continuing to work with state and federal leaders to see turbines spinning off our coasts soon,” said Courtney Abrams, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment America.

The organization applauded Obama for his leadership and established its support for responsibly-sited offshore wind energy projects.  Abrams said offshore wind resources are vital to ensuring a future with cleaner air and fewer extreme weather events.  She cited the statistic that along the Atlantic coast alone, reaching the Department of Energy’s goal of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power would reduce global warming pollution by the equivalent of taking roughly 18 million cars off the road.  In addition, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, meeting this benchmark would generate $200 billion in new economic activity while creating more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, engineering, operations, and maintenance.

World Energy Trilemma Report Released at Doha

According to the World Energy Council (WEC), the world is far away from achieving environmentally sustainable energy systems. According to the organization’s global ranking of country energy sustainability performance, over 90 countries assessed are still far from achieving fully sustainable energy systems.

The 2012 Energy Sustainability Index, published within the WEC’s 2012 World Energy Trilemma report, “Time to get real – the case for sustainable energy policy,” finds that most countries still have not managed to balance the energy trilemma. The WEC argues that countries must balance the trade-offs between the three challenges of the trilemma: energy security, social equity, and environmental impact mitigation, if they are to provide sustainable energy systems.

The Index reveals that:

  • Environmental impact mitigation remains a universal problem;
  • Providing high-quality and affordable energy access remains a significant challenge for developing and emerging economies; and
  • Countries at various stages of development struggle with energy security.

“The message of the Energy Sustainability Index is clear: all countries are facing challenges in their transition towards more secure, environmentally friendly, and equitable energy systems,” said Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman of the World Energy Council. “What makes the difference is how they set their final goals, how they balance market economics and public policies, and how they design the smartest policies in order to promote efficiency and to optimise costs, resources and investments for the long term. If we are to have any chance of delivering sustainable energy for all and meeting the +2°C goal, we need to get real.” Continue reading

EC: Save Carbon Trading System; Need Key Actions

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has been busy promoting wind energy throughout the European Union (EU). Last week, the European Commission identified key actions to develop the internal energy market by 2014 that included the phasing-out of regulated electricity prices and the Commission was also critical of capacity payments. In addition, the proposal lacks further development of the internal energy market after 2014.

But EWEA says these actions do not go far enough as both regulated prices and capacity payments are major obstacles to a properly functioning EU energy market. “Regulated prices, fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies, market concentration and lack of market transparency are the main problems that need to be tackled urgently. The communication focuses too much on renewable energy support mechanisms and not enough on the most critical distortions,” explained Paul Wilczek, EWEA Senior Regulatory Affairs Advisor.

Wilczek says the European Commission is right to be critical of capacity payments, which are a disincentive to invest in urgently needed grid infrastructure and create another distortion to the energy market, and also adds that the European wind industry is very strongly in favour of a single market in electricity and has been critical of the slow progress towards it.

Last week the European Commission also published “structural measures” that called for “backloading” of emission allowances. EWEA says this is needed to stop the massive oversupply of emission allowances and to re-establish confidence in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Stéphane Bourgeois, Head of Regulatory Affairs for EWEA added that while it is a necessary first step, it will only delay and not solve the structural problem of oversupply in the ETS and a structural solution must be agreed or the carbon price will not recover. Continue reading

More Accurate ILUC Carbon Accounting

Dr. Jesper Hedal Kløverpris and Dr. Steffen Mueller have proposed a new approach to measuring the climate impact of biofuels related land-use changes (ILUC) as opposed to other land use changes: “Baseline Time Accounting Concept” and believe it should become an integrated part of future ILUC studies. According to the researchers, this model incorporates baseline time accounting into ILUC models, leading to a more accurate assessment of global warming impact. The peer reviewed study was published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

Jesper and Mueller explain that climate impact estimates are more precise when indirect land use emissions from the conversion of land at the agricultural frontier are compared with emissions resulting from the baseline conversion the same land. Historically, ILUC models assume a static land baseline although land use trend regionally differ.

“As many others, I have always been uncomfortable with the annualization method applied for time accounting in most previous ILUC studies because it is basically arbitrary,” said Kløverpris. “A more sophisticated approach was required to assess the actual climate impact of indirect land use change. Baseline time accounting is our proposal for a more scientifically rigorous way of dealing with the time issue in ILUC studies as the science is refined.”

More specifically, the approach incorporates two agricultural land use dynamics that they say is missing from previous time accounting models. The first is accelerated expansion which occurs in regions such as Latin America where agriculture area is expanding. Biofuel production may move up by a year or more the ongoing conversion of land to agriculture.

Globally, explain the researchers, the agricultural area will continue to expand for some decades, so a piece of land converted as an indirect result of biofuels production today would have come into production at some point regardless. That may not continue to be the case but one of the points with baseline time accounting is to assess biofuels production under the conditions prevailing when the biofuels are produced. If global land use dynamics change, so does the climate impact of ILUC.

The second dynamic is delayed reversion  Continue reading

Cool Planet – 3 Years, 30 Biomass Plants

Cool Planet Energy Systems has announced a breakthrough in the commercialization and affordability of biofuels from biomass. Using a mechanical process and scaling approach, the company says it can produce high octane gasoline at the cost of $1.50 per gallon without the need for subsidies and also while removing carbon from the air during the course of production.

The company, backed by Google, BP, General Electric, NRG, and others, says it has already successfully tested the technology internally as well as at Google’s headquarters with its campus vehicle, GRide, that has driven 2,400 miles on the fuel. By running on a 5% Cool Planet carbon negative fuel blended with 95% regular gasoline, the test car blend met California’s 2020 Low Carbon Fuel Standard – eight years ahead of schedule according to a Cool Planet statement.

The statement also said the control car used 100 percent regular gasoline, and successfully passed five smog checks with no significant difference between cars. The total mileage of the test car was virtually the same as the control car, driving a total of 2,490 stop and go miles in the test car compared with 2,514 miles in the control car. Additionally, both the test car and the control car were virtually identical in emissions testing. Other field tests are planned.

“Innovations in alternative fuels will be key in addressing growing climate change concerns,” said Brendon Harrington, Transportation Operations Manager at Google, Inc. “We are thrilled to be a part of Cool Planet’s field testing and believe that this product has the potential to make a significant impact on our future energy needs.”

A byproduct of producing the biofuel from biomass is the activated carbon, or biochar that can be used as a soil enhancer increasing land fertility while isolating the carbon captured from the atmosphere. Continue reading

Palm Oil Production Creates High GHG Emissions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently reviewing whether to allow biofuels produced from palm oil as an allowable renewable fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). The palm oil industry and the Indonesian and Malaysian governments are applying pressure to the EPA to reverse its finding that the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from palm oil production are too high to quality as a biofuel under RFS2.

In a new study published in Nature Climate Change, by researchers from Yale and Stanford, expanding the use of palm oil in the Indonesian part of Borneo would significantly increase emissions. The area was the focus on the study because of its current use of palm oil, that includes conversion into biofuels. The study finds that if the use of palm oil is expanded:

  • Palm oil expansion is projected to release more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s fossil fuel emissions.
  • Palm oil expansion in Borneo alone is projected to contribute 18 percent to 22 percent of Indonesia’s 2020 C02- equivalent emissions.
  • Full lease development would convert an additional 93,844 square kilometers of land in Borneo to oil palm plantations, including 41 percent intact forest. This is in addition to the three fold increase in land converted to palm plantations between 1990-2012, 90% of which was rainforest.

The study also links an increase in deforestation resulting from palm oil production in addition to palm oil production being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Book Review – Climategate

For those of you who believe in climate change, you will criticize me for not only reading but reviewing “Climategate,” by Brian Sussman as the last book in my 2012 La Nina Reading List. For those of you who don’t buy in to climate change, you’ll applaud me for bringing you this review.

Sussman is best known as a TV science reporter and meteorologist and a person who does not buy into the theory of global warming. In fact, he wrote the book to “sound a vociferous warning: global warming is a scam perpetuated by an elite sect of Marx-lovers who believe they can do communism/socialism more effectively than their predecessors; and now, with the ascension of Barack Obama as president, the scam has reached hyperspeed.”

If you have read enough of my book reviews (and if you haven’t get to reading), you will note that Sussman is in the same camp as all the others who don’t believe in climate change – it is a scam with influential players from politicians, to scientists to environmental organizations, to make money.

The book takes a look at the “foundation of fraud” that has led us to where we are today. It dates back to the late sixty’s, early seventies, writes Sussman, with the advent of Earth Day and has gained warp speed with the creation of climate conferences, global treaties and legislation. One of the worst hoaxes of climate change—the Environmental Protection Agency determining that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

Why are people buying into this theory? Sussman says when citizens lack a frame of reference they are primed to be sucked into believing what “experts” say. In other words, peoples’ lack of education around basic energy and environmental knowledge has left them open to corruption.

So what are the solutions to this problem? The country needs an energy plan that does not involve restrictions and limitations. An effective energy policy will be one that provides Americans with inexpensive and abundant power that includes harvesting fossil fuel resources argues Sussman.

Who is this book for? Not those mired deep in the beliefs of climate change who are weak of heart. You just might have a stroke. This book is best read by those who agree that global warming is a farce and will give you additional arguments to back up your theories.  Ultimately, Sussman diverges from others in his linking those who buy-in to climate change as being a Marxist or communist. Has he gone too far or not far enough?

Book Review – Eaarth

What is happening to the “Eaarth”? A question many are asking, including author Bill McKibben, as the summer brought us the worst drought in decades along with extreme heat. Many people would blame this on global climate change while others would argue that “global warming” and “weather” are actually two separate things. Well it is time we delve back into the discussion I began earlier this summer as part of my 2012 La Nina Reading List.

McKibben is a true believer in climate change, holds humans responsible and writes we’re dealing with a “spooky, erratic climate”. He writes that global warming is no longer a philosophical threat or a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It is reality. Because we no longer live on the same planet, argues McKibben, earth needs a new name: Eaarth.

The focus of his book is to turn back time, per se, to safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “safe” level according to climatologist James Hansen, is 350 parts per million – a number we have surpassed and now hover around 390 parts per million. Throughout the book, Hansen explains why lowering levels of CO2 “will be extremely hard” but offers ways “we can try”.

Why do we need to do this? Because, argues McKibben, “…the earth has changed in profound ways, ways have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has- even if we don’t quite know it yet.”

One of the main issues he focuses on in the book is the need to replace the fossil fuel system. Other issues include the need to fix infrastructure and he posits that climate change will cause more resource wars and leave billions of people “climate change refugees”.

The book concludes with a discussion about ways to reduce impact with the main theme being things need to get smaller and less centralized. He also writes that we need to focus on maintenance not growth. In addition, McKibben writes we need global governments to have the courage to take a stand against climate change.

For those who are passionate about the environment, you know that McKibben is one of the best-known writers in the field. His latest book doesn’t disappoint – it is an interesting read. Yet he barely scratched the surface on outlining what needs to be done to live on the new Eaarth. Might that be the topic is his next book that he could call Eaarth 2.0?

NYSE Euronext Supports Wind Energy

The NYSE Euronext is a supporter of wind energy. The exchange purchased renewable energy certificates (RECs) from Green Mountain Energy Company for its 2011 electricity use. The RECs purposed were generated from 100 percent wind energy sources.

“We are making commitments across the board to operate sustainably, and our decision to choose 100% wind renewable energy certificates for our electricity usage is one more proof point of those efforts” said NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Officer Duncan L. Niederauer. “By working with Green Mountain we were not only able to deliver on our commitment but also partner with a company that was built on a mission to provide what we were after – a cleaner source of power.”

Over the course of 2011, NYSE Euronext used nearly 80 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of wind energy and so it purchased a like amount to cover its energy usage. The exchange’s electricity needs are fueled by trading floor activities and operational needs and by purchasing wind energy credits, avoided over 82 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted. This is equivalent to the CO2 generated in one year by people taking over 33 million taxi rides in New York city.

Scott Hart, president of Commercial Services for Green Mountain added, “Our partnership with NYSE Euronext to choose clean energy sources makes a great fit for the environmental practices in place at both our companies. NYSE Euronext may do a lot of trading, but doesn’t make trade-offs when it comes to bettering the environment.”

Consumers Choosing Carbon Offsets at Pump

Consumers in California have been choosing to purchase carbon offsets when they fill up at the pump. Propel Fuels has been operating a pilot program with its flagship Clean Mobility Center in Fullerton, California. When a consumer purchases carbon emissions offsets it goes through the Carbonfund.org Foundation. Since Propel launched CarbonOffset in May, nearly 1,000 customers have spent $1.00 per fill and offset more than 160,000 pounds of CO2 at one station.

“It’s encouraging that, even during a period of high fuel prices, consumers are choosing to pay a little extra to offset their emissions, one tankful at a time, to help make progress toward our nation’s clean energy goals,” said Matt Horton, CEO of Propel. “By making carbon offsets convenient and cost effective, we’re helping consumers take part in the clean energy movement, even if their vehicles don’t run on renewable fuels.”

The program is not just for consumers driving cars and trucks. Fleet drivers can also participate and keep track of their efforts through the CleanDrive program. Members receive personalized emissions reports that include CO2 reductions, barrels of oil displaced and equivalent annual impact of mature trees.

When carbon offsets are purchased, Carbonfund.org Foundation uses the money to fund projects focusing on renewable energy, methane capture, energy efficiency, reforestation and other carbon emission reduction projects. CarbonOffset participants are currently helping to fund the Truck Stop Electrification Project, an initiative that provides truck drivers the ability to access heating, cooling, internet, TV and other amenities by plugging into electricity rather than idling their diesel engines.

Due to the early success of the program, Propel plans to expand the program to more locations. “The early success of Propel’s CarbonOffset program is strong evidence that consumers are ready and willing to support clean energy, especially if the cost and benefits are clear,” added Eric Carlson, President of Carbonfund.org. “Thanks to Propel, thousands of drivers can vote with their dollars to support clean energy and domestic, renewable fuels.”

Algae Plant in Australia Commissioned

The first algae production plant, owned by Algae.Tec, was commissioned in New South Wales, Australia yesterday. An event was held today at Shoalhaven One and New South Wales Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, was on hand to participate in the celebration. The facility is connected to the Manildra Group’s facility in order to capture the carbon dioxide and feed it to the algae to aid in the growth process.

The plant officially went online when Minister Hartcher activated the state of the art lighting system that delivers the Algae.Tec super yield capabilities. Prior to this momentous moment, Algae.Tec Executive Chairman Roger Stroud said the biorefinery offers New South Wales and Australia energy security at a time when traditional fossil fuel companies are leaving the local market.

Algae.Tec offers the promise of home grown transport fuels (aviation and diesel), which is the number one energy security priority for countries like the USA and increasingly Australia,” continued Stroud.

Algae.Tec has recently recruited biofuels and aviation fuels specialist engineer Colin McGregor as General Manager Project Operations. He will be participating in the work third party SGS will undertake to inspect, verify, test and certify the technology.