Vital Signs: Volume 20 Released

The Worldwatch Institute has released Vital Signs: Volume 20, the latest compilation from the Vital Signs project. The report finds that in 2012, global oil consumption reached an all-time high and physical water scarcity affected nearly 1.2 billion people. The Vital Signs report provides insight on many of the most critical global concern and provides data and analysis on significant global trends such as fossil fuel subsidies, agricultural commodities and rapid urbanization in the developing world.

Worldwatch Institute Logo,jpg“Our recent economic systems and theories are programmed to squeeze ever more resources from a planet in distress,” said Michael Renner, Worldwatch senior researcher and director of the Vital Signs project. “A mixture of population growth, consumerism, greed and short-term thinking by policymakers and business people seems to be inexorably driving human civilization toward a showdown with the planet’s limits.”

Some of the trends are positive. For example, within the agriculture sector, efficient irrigation methods have increased more than sixfold over the last two decades. In addition, socially sustainable ways of doing business continue to emerge.

“There is no shortage of alternatives to change the destructive trajectory that humanity finds itself on,” continued Renner. “Renewables and efficient irrigation are two practical options among many others. But we need to get serious about these tasks instead of consigning them largely to the margins.”

Ethanol Groups Comment on RFS Path Forward

Both the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week on pathways forward for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The comments highlight the importance of next generation biofuels and how increased market access will play a critical role in the ultimate success of the RFS.

RFA-logo-13Both organizations voiced support for the addition of cellulosic fiber from the corn kernel to the list of qualifying feedstocks, and the agency’s simplified approach to RIN generation for renewable fuels derived from cellulosic biomass.

“We applaud EPA for confirming that corn kernel fiber is ‘crop residue,’ and believe the Agency has proposed a sensible and straightforward approach to RIN generation for renewable fuels derived from cellulosic biomass feedstocks,” wrote RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “Several technologies to convert corn kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol have been developed in recent years, and a number of existing ethanol plants have already adopted these technologies or are poised to integrate them in the near future. The volumes of cellulosic ethanol produced from corn kernel fiber can meaningfully contribute to RFS2 cellulosic biofuel requirements in the near term.” The comments also included a scientific analysis from a noted animal nutritionist examining the potential impacts of reduced fiber DDGS on livestock and poultry markets.

RFA’s comments expressed support for most of the RFS2 technical amendments and new pathways proposed by EPA. However, Dinneen noted, the conditions for applying the alternative RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) approach should be limited to whether blending an approved gasoline additive with E10 results in no net increase in RVP.

Growth_Energy_logo-1“The RFS has been the country’s most successful energy policy over the last forty years. Since the inception of the RFS, Growth Energy’s members and the ethanol industry have produced significant volumes of renewable fuel that have displaced 10 percent of U.S. transportation fuel, which has substantially helped reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, create thousands of jobs and revitalize rural communities nationwide,” noted Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO in his comments. “The industry has successfully built the foundation of the RFS with the first generation of grain-based ethanol production, and our members are poised to do the same in the next generation with advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol.”

Growth Energy also supports additional pathways to meet the goals of the RFS including the new pathway for cellulosic biofuel from corn kernel fiber, as well as additional crop residues. “We believe that any renewable biomass meeting the 60 percent greenhouse gas threshold should be able to generate cellulosic RINs.” Comments also addressed the issue of foreign ethanol producers, advocating that those who produce biofuels, generate RINs and importers of renewable fuel should be subject to U.S. jurisdiction to prevent fraud, and that E15 fuel should be treated the same as E10 fuel with regards to RVP.

Reactions to EPA Vehicle Emissions Proprosed Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for comments regarding its RFA-logo-13proposed rule on Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards and the industry responded in force. Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) noted that for the most part, the air toxics the EPA is reviewing pertain to refiners of gasoline and auto manufacturers, although there are a few areas of concern for ethanol producers.

ncga-logo-newThe National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) comments were based upon two main principles: first, the RFS volumes of biofuels in the future should be met in order to preserve the 150 million metric tons of annual CO2 equivalent emission reductions attributed to the RFS 2 program by EPA; and second that ethanol blends above E10 should be splash-blended to increase octane above the level of 87 AKI. Doing this would support EPA’s approach toward establishing E15 as the new certification fuel for 2017 and later non-flexible fueled light duty vehicles.

Along these same lines, the RFA supports treating E16-E50 blends as alternative fuels.

“EPA clearly recognizes that the most effective and efficient way to achieve the important goals of the proposed rule is to work to harmonize it with other policies affecting and regulating the transportation fuel sector throughout the country, including the RFS, Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE), and California’s Low Emission BIOlogoVehicle Program,” writes Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section in formal comments. “BIO supports the proposed rule and believes that the final Tier 3 rule has the potential to encourage the continued development and commercialization of all biofuels.”

Erickson, like other biofuel groups noted that the EPA should work to set the emissions of test fuel in a way that will maximize investment and adoption of all biofuels, including higher ethanol blends and drop-in fuels, while also maximizing the level of octane in the fuel supply.

Small Biz Gives Thumbs up for Climate Plan

There have been several polls conducted in the wake of President Obama’s new plan to fight climate change. This week, a poll focused on small business owners shows that ASBC logoregardless of party affiliation, they support safe, cleaner, more efficient and renewable energy. The poll was commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and asked a range of energy and environment questions.

“Large majorities of small business owners want the country to develop energy that is clean and renewable,” said Richard Eidlin, Director of Public Policy for ASBC. “Whether Republican, Democratic or Independent, they want the government to promote energy efficiency and clean technologies and they don’t want our tax dollars to continue subsidizing coal, oil and gas.”

The poll, conducted by Lake Research, gauged opinions on several policy issues currently under consideration in states and in Washington, DC. Of the business owners surveyed, 47 percent were Republicans, 27 percent Democrats and 14 percent Independents. Key findings from the survey included:

  • ASB Council Poll79% of small business owners support increasing energy efficiency by 50% over next ten years.
  • 72% of small business owners think incentives for clean energy are a priority.
  • 63% of small business owners support EPA efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions of power plants.
  • 62% of small business owners oppose continuing subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • 63% of small business owners support a national renewable energy standard.
  • 57% of small business owners want banks and other investors to include environmental benefits in business investment decisions.
  • 80% of small business owners support requiring disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Confirming the poll results, Susan Labandibar, President of TechNetworks of Boston said, “Reducing the use of fossil fuels would benefit all businesses, but especially small businesses that are most affected by damage from severe weather. It makes sense that opinion polls would show that small businesses owners want the government to set and enforce standards for safer, cleaner energy sources. They understand that reducing fossil fuel pollution and boosting clean energy will help small businesses and assure economic stability over the long term.”

Energy Development on Federal Lands Growing

During President Obama’s speech on climate change earlier this week he said that more energy projects needed to be developed on federal land. While some are in favor of this strategy, many are not. Yet according to outgoing U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes, energy development on federal lands is robust and opportunities abound for oil and gas production as well as renewable energy projects Hayes made these remarks at a Platts Energy Podium newsmaker event in Washington.

David Hayes Sec of InteriorHayes, who is leaving his post to teach at Stanford Law School in the fall, defended his department’s efforts despite criticism from some in Congress that the Obama administration isn’t moving fast enough to make more public lands available for energy development.

“It is incredibly frustrating how politicized this issue has become,” Hayes said. “On the oil side, onshore, we’ve gone up by 35% in terms of oil being produced on our public lands.”

Offshore development has also increased and Hayes said production in the Gulf of Mexico has not only recovered from delays caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, but is higher than it’s been in years. He also noted there are increased federal safety standards in place.

While oil production is up, Hayes said natural gas production is down with companies focusing on finds in shale formations (fracking) that are on private and state lands. On the renewables side, Hayes said the Interior Department has approved 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine major wind farms and 11 geothermal plants – more than 13,000 megawatts of renewable energy power approval since 2009.

“We have done proof of concept that in this country we can have utility-scale renewable energy providing a major energy source to major population centers,” Hayes added.

Consumer Opinion Poll On Gas Prices

FA_SummerGasPoll_National_062513aSummer driving season is in full swing and with it comes grumbling over fluctuating gas prices. A new poll commissioned by Fuels America asked consumers their thoughts on gas prices and renewable fuels. The survey, conducted by Research Now, identifies specific budget items families give up when they are faced with high gas prices, and their attitudes around oil, renewable fuel and the impacts both have on the economy and environment.

Eighty percent polled think the nation (U.S.) should be using more renewable fuel and 73 percent support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that is helping this to happen. The poll also found that four of the top five things consumers give up when faced with high gas prices are social or family related activities. Other findings include:

  • 55% said that if gas prices go up, they would likely take fewer road trips to visit friends and family
  • 27% responded they would enjoy fewer meals out at restaurants
  • 17% would cut back on clothes shopping
  • 12% would spend less on gifts for birthdays and holidays.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents blamed the oil industry for high gas prices. In addition four in five said they want the nation to use more renewable fuel and three in four said they want more renewable fuel options at gas stations. “Oil companies will do anything to keep competition from cutting into their profits,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council.

“That’s why they’ve launched an all-out assault on homegrown oil-alternatives like renewable fuel. Consumers aren’t being fooled, however. They know oil companies are to blame for high gas prices and demanding choices at the pump. The poll also looked at self-indentifying environmentalists and their opinion of these issues as well,” added Coleman.

Listen to the Fuels America gas price and renewable fuel poll conference call here: Consumer Opinion Poll on Gas Prices
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Groups Boo Obama’s Climate Plan

Not everyone is happy with President Obama’s new Climate Change Action Plan. The plan did many things including showed support for more renewable energy such as biofuels; tighter regulations on power plants, mandates to increase vehicle mileage; and increased subsidies for solar and wind projects on federal lands.

Those not in favor say the plan calls for unnecessary restrictions and is economically punishing and will actually stifle job creation – not create more jobs. Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director with the Heartland Institute, said, “With clear evidence that the planet has not warmed in the pasbnoeryhcqaajvfjt 15 years while carbon dioxide has increased, we know reducing emissions of CO2 will have only one impact: to increase the cost of American energy. Obviously this is Mr. Obama’s intent, and while it will thrill his anti-capitalist environmental supporters, it will hopefully wake up the general public to the fact that he does not have their best interests at heart in creating more radical environmental regulations.”

Lehr’s colleague Craig D. Idso, Ph.D who is a senior fellow, environment and co-editor, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, adds, “In discussing the rationale for his climate change and energy plan, President Obama claims that carbon dioxide, or CO2, ‘causes climate change and threatens public health’ and that ‘cutting carbon pollution will help keep our air and water clean and protect our kids.’ Unfortunately, President Obama’s statements could not be further from the truth. Far from being a ‘pollutant,’ carbon dioxide is the elixir of life.”

Some groups say carrying out the climate plan will create a catastrophe including Emily Wismer, an analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum. Continue reading

We Need to Act Now

“Americans are already paying the price of inaction,” said President Obama today during his speech on climate change at Georgetown University. After using the “facts of science” President Obama June 25 2013 Climate Change speechto prove that climate change is real, he asked, “So the question now is will we have the courage to act now before it’s too late. We need to act. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixable. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help.”

In anticipation of his plan, groups from around the country reacted to his new climate plan. Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) said, “As a business voice for technology-driven energy progress, AEE believes that President Obama’s plan moves the United States toward a smarter energy future, for economic as well as environmental benefits.”

“Energy efficiency standards will save money as well as energy,” Richard continued. “Utilizing public lands for their solar and wind resources follows in the footsteps of mineral resources and forestry products and should be pursued in the interest of national prosperity. New regulations on emissions will accelerate the replacement of outmoded power plants with high efficiency and low emitting technologies. All of these steps will make the U.S. more of a leader in advanced energy, which is a $1 trillion global market opportunity for American companies and American workers.” Continue reading

WindMade Launches New Product Label

WindMade product labelWindMade has launched the first global consumer label for products made with wind energy. This label completes the WindMade label portfolio. In tandem with the launch, the organization is calling on consumers to show their support for wind power by participating in the ‘Show You Care‘ campaign. The goal of the campaign is to demonstrate to leading brands that consumers around the world favor products that are manufactured with renewable energy.

In a 2012 global consumer study sponsored by Vestas, 73 percent of consumers globally would have a more positive perception of a brand if it used wind power as their primary energy source.

“The WindMade product label provides consumers with the transparency they demand, and with a credible and intuitive tool to make informed purchasing decisions,” said Henrik Kuffner, WindMade’s CEO. “And in addition, it gives companies an instrument to tap into this large pool of environmentally conscious consumers.”

The WindMade Product Label can be applied to all products using a minimum share of 75 percent of renewable energy in their total electricity consumption, with wind power representing the largest share. A cradle-to-gate approach was adopted, which means that the label will cover the entire power consumption for all product components, from the extraction of the raw materials all the way to the product leaving the factory gate.

“Now it is time for consumers to speak out. We know that they care, and we know that they want to see more companies using wind power. With our campaign, we invite them to actively show their support, and to put pressure on their favourite brands to use this clean, emissions-free energy source for manufacturing our most beloved products,” added Angelika Pullen, WindMade’s Communications Director, who is managing the campaign.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

Warning that the world is not on track to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has urged governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the redrawing the climate mapproblem is not going away – quite the opposite,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in London at the launch of a World Energy Outlook Special Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020.

Noting that the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions, she added, “This report shows that the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy- sector emissions without jeopardising economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4 percent increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes(Gt), but also mask significant regional differences. In the United States, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid-1990s. China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity. Despite increased coal use in some countries, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt. Emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

The Coal vs Clean Energy Show

The Sierra Club has released a new video series of short, animated sketches that highlight a different health or environmental impact from coal – “The Coal vs Clean Energy Show.” The videos are also accompanied by a web-based game featuring the same characters, which viewers can play as they try to wrack up the highest score. Additional videos in the series will be released in the coming months.

“Just like the coal character in The Coal vs Clean Energy Show, the coal industry continues to turn a blind eye to the dangerous health and environmental effects of mining and burning coal,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We hope this series helps to educate viewers on the dangers of coal and the benefits of clean energy, in a fun and engaging way.”

Renewable Energy Roadmap for Central America

According to a new report, The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,  authored by the Worldwatch Institute, Central America is far from harvesting its enormous renewable energy resources to their fullest potential. The region is a worldwide leader in hydropower and geothermal and is developing wind energy, yet has room to expand.

Renewable Energy in Central America“Central America is at a crossroads,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and co-author of the study. “As the economies of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama expand, regional use of fossil fuels is growing quickly while the use of traditional fuel wood, primarily for cooking, remains unsustainably high.”

Ochs continued, “These developments come with significant health, societal and economic costs, including rising greenhouse gas emissions and worsening air and water pollution. Central America has the potential to meet 100 percent of its electricity needs with sustainable renewable energy, but the proper policies and measures need to be put in place now.”

The report assesses the status of renewable energy technologies in Central America and analyzes the conditions for their advancement in the future. It identifies important knowledge and information gaps, evaluates key finance and policy barriers, and makes suggestions for how to overcome both. The study serves as a “roadmap of a roadmap,” scoping the improvements needed to facilitate the transition to a sustainable energy system and establishing the necessary methodology and groundwork for comprehensive regional and national energy strategies.

The reports focuses on four “high-impact” areas for transitioning Central America’s energy systems: Continue reading

Volvo Debuts Noiseless Electric Buses

The launch of an ultramodern bus service in Gothenburg, Sweden will pick up passengers indoors, without noise or emissions via electric buses. The initiative is sponsored by the Volvo Group, Swedish Energy Agency, the City of Gothenburg, Västtrafik, Lindholment Science Park and Johanneberg Science Park. The project has been coined, ElectriCity.

“This represents an entirely new mode of travel and will allow for the public-transport system to contribute to a more pleasant urban environment,” said Olof Persson, president ElectriCityand CEO of Volvo. “A silent and emissions-free public-transport system will enable the inclusion of locations in the city that are currently off limits. It is immensely satisfying to be able to launch this in our hometown, in cooperation with Region Västra Götaland and the City of Gothenburg.”

The use of electric power not only places Gothenburg on the map in terms of sustainable and innovative solutions for public transport; the new bus service will also open up new possibilities in city and urban planning. Commencing in 2015, the electric buses are to run between Johanneberg Science Park adjacent to Chalmers and Lindholmen Science Park in Hisingen.

Anneli Hulthén, Chairman of the Municipal Board added, “The electric bus service entails a new mode of public-transport system usage, which is highly positive for Gothenburg. It will highlight Gothenburg as a progressive city in terms of city planning. This is also in line with our prioritized objective of having Gothenburg reduce its climate impact to become a climate-neutral city, and increasing sustainable travel.”

In addition to the electric buses, the cooperation also includes the creation and trial runs of new bus-stop solutions, traffic-routing systems, safety concepts, energy supply and business models.

U.S. Firms Sign Climate Declaration

Twenty-two American investment firms with nearly $240 billion in assets under management have signed a Climate Declaration, calling on U.S policymakers to seize the American economic opportunity of addressing climate change. The move was timed with the start of the Global Investor Forum on Climate Change that took place this week in Hong Kong. The declaration asserts. “Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century … There must be a coordinated effort to combat climate change—with America taking the lead here at home.”

Jack Ehnes, chief executive officer of CalSTRS, one of the organizations who signed the Climate Declaration said, “As the global economy moves toward a low-carbon future, governments that act aggressively to enact strong, long-term climate and energy policies will reap the biggest rewards. In order to tackle the global climate crisis, we must realize the strength of our combined efforts. That is why CalSTRS signed the Climate Declaration. U.S. policy leaders need to step up on this issue and embrace climate change policies as an economic opportunity.”

Investors have been an important force in supporting policy changes related to clean energy and efficiency. Last year, investors managing $800 billion in assets called on Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy, which was ultimately extended for another year. Investors have also been outspoken proponents of state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) that more than two-dozen states have enacted to boost sourcing of wind, solar and other renewable energy. RPSs have catalyzed billions of dollars of investment, thousands of new projects and hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, including 30,000 new jobs in 2012 alone.

“Being smarter when it comes to climate change is the right thing to do for all of our families, and it also will translate into economic and investment opportunities,” said Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who has previously called for better disclosure of climate-related opportunities and risks and who also signed the declaration. “I am proud to stand with Oregon’s largest employers and premier ski destinations to recognize that a cleaner future will also be a more profitable one.”

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Groups Petition Cali to Evaluate Clean Energy Policy

Several organizations in California, including Californians Against Utilities Stopping Solar Energy (CAUSE), American Lung Association of California, California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) and Presente.org are petitioning the California Energy Commission to quantify the air quality and economic benefits associated with the states “net energy metering” policy.

According to CAUSE, net metering provides solar consumers with fair credit for the energy they put back on the grid, which utilities then sell to other customers. The organization says monopoly utilities in California and across the country are trying to eliminate net metering in order to halt the consumer-driven popularity of rooftop solar.

Rooftop Solar Installation“By driving the expansion of rooftop solar, net metering helps improve the quality of the air we breathe while creating jobs in our community,” said Dr. Luis Pacheco, Medical Director of the Transitional Care Unit at California Hospital Medical Center and CAUSE co-chair. “These were key considerations when net metering was adopted, and should be included in an assessment of the policy’s overall effectiveness.”

The requested study would supplement analysis of the more limited impact of net metering on non-solar ratepayers’ electric bills and would also include various other benefits including: local job growth and increased employment throughout California; increased local economic activity that generates tax revenue for state and local governments; improved air quality through reduced need for fossil fuel power generation; reduced death and disease associated with fossil fuel power generation; reduced greenhouse gas emissions; lower wholesale market prices for electricity due to decreased demand; and improved grid security and reduced economic costs from power outages.

CAUSE says attention to these additional society impacts comes at a time when Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) have begun to diverge from one another on the impact of net-metered solar on the grid. In a recent ratepayer impact study conducted earlier this year by Crossborder Energy found that net metering will deliver net benefits of more than $92 million per year to California ratepayers.

“Air pollution poses a serious threat to our state’s health. Powering our buildings with on-site clean, renewable energy instead of burning fossil fuels can help reduce harmful air pollution and lower energy costs at the same time,” addedStrela Cervas, co-coordinator of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “We should better understand the societal benefits associated with net metering before making policy changes.”