Three energy bills are listed on House agendas (there are several) for today. This time of year, the House works from several agendas, with bills lined up like airplanes waiting for a runway. The first agenda is simply called "House Agenda" followed by "House Agenda I" etc. SS 1 for SB 49 is on the House Agenda for today. The bill would limit the use of covenants to prohibit the installation of solar panels by community associations starting next year. Two bills I've been following are on House Agenda I: SB 106, which would create new Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) is one of Governor Markell top policy priorities. Under the bill, Delaware's electricity consumption would be reduced by 15 percent by 2015, and natural gas consumption would be reduced by 10 percent. The bill would also create a workgroup to monitor progress. The workgroup would be empowered to adjust the standards if shifts in energy usage (such as heating oil to natural gas) make the targets impractical or unattainable. SB 173 further tweaks the Sustainable Energy Utility to allow local governments to tap the SEU for help funding energy projects. It would also give the SEU the authority to trade Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), which are treated differently than RECs.
"I think that the idea of dealing with some broad environmental questions this way is sensible," Castle said during a Wednesday interview. "Having said that, I am concerned about the cost aspect of this -- how that's going to be passed on to consumers and the possibility of businesses in our country making the decision that they don't want to bear that cost and therefore shifting jobs to other parts of the world."
One source of these spurious numbers, the Heritage Foundation, claims that Waxman-Markey would reduce GDP by a total of $7.4tn and destroy 1.9 million jobs by the year 2035. A family's electricity bill would climb 90% and natural gas prices would climb 55%, adding $1,500 to the family budget. An even scarier assertion that the bill would cost families $3,100 was purportedly based on an MIT study – a claim that one of the study's authors, John Reilly, roundly disputed. Opponents reached these conclusions by exaggerating the downside and ignoring the upside altogether. They have overstated the costs of renewable energy, underestimated the future costs of fossil fuels and left out the cost savings of improving energy efficiency. The Heritage Foundation report projects home energy prices will increase three to four times faster than the Congressional Budget Office or Environmental Protection Agency studies, and doesn't include any benefits from improvements in energy efficiency or investing in new industries. The CBO came in with a cost of $175 per household. The EPA projects a lower net cost per household of $80 to $111 per year, and predicts energy savings for US households would lower utility bills by roughly 7% by 2020. Critics often cite the burden on the poor as a reason to not support renewable energy. But the CBO analysis projects a net benefit to the lowest income quintile of $40 per year.
I just spoke with a staffer in Mike Castle’s office, who said the Congressman is waiting to see what happens with amendments on the floor before deciding how he will vote.
Opponents of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill argue that we can't afford it. It's a familiar refrain. We heard it here in Delaware during the debate over wind power, usually with wildly inflated cost projections. But it turns out that it won't be as expensive as the critics claim. The Congressional Budget Office came in with a cost of $175 per household. Critics often cite the burden on the poor as a reason to not support renewable energy. (Again we heard that from Delmarva Power during the wind power fight.) But the CBO analysis projects a net benefit to the lowest income quintile of $40 per year. The Environmental Protection Agency projects a lower net cost per household of $80 to $111 per year, and predicts energy savings for U.S. households:
As a result of energy efficiency measures, consumer spending on utility bills would be roughly 7% lower in 2020 as a result of the legislation.
These savings will come by investing in renewable energy technologies that won't be subject to the relentless and inexorable increase in fossil fuel prices. The EPA projects that by 2025 two thirds of new energy generation will be from renewable sources. Neither analysis includes the costs of unchecked global warming, which could be considerable.
As Reuters reports, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went to Atlantic City to announce that the department had issued five exploratory leases for wind power projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware. (See the Interior release here.) These leases are for meteorological research towers to gather the data needed for siting eventual wind farms. This announcement demonstrates that the Minerals Management Service is working through the regulatory process to enable offshore wind power projects to move forward. A formal comprehensive framework governing the development of offshore wind was issued on Earth Day, April 22. Bluewater Wind was awarded two leases, one for Delaware and one for New Jersey. Two other companies, Deepwater Wind and Fishermen's Wind were also awarded leases in New Jersey waters. I spoke with Rob Propes of Bluewater, who tells me that the the New Jersey lease means that Bluewater is in the running to build one of the offshore wind projects in New Jersey. As the News Journal reports, Bluewater has engaged investment bankers Credit Suisse to help entertain offers to buy the company from its bankrupt parent, Babcock & Brown. Rob tells me Bluewater is pitching the business to prospective buyers and hopes to complete a deal by the end of the year.
El Somnambulo of Delaware Liberal linked to this site for information on two energy bills on the Senate agenda today. So here's the rundown: SB 106 would create new Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS). It's a top policy priority of Governor Markell. Under the bill, Delaware's electricity consumption would be reduced by 15 percent by 2015, and natural gas consumption would be reduced by 10 percent. The bill would also create a workgroup to monitor progress, and adjust the standards if shifts in energy usage (such as heating oil to natural gas) make the targets impractical or unattainable. SB 173 further tweaks the Sustainable Energy Utility—which is still a work in progress. It would allow local governments to tap the SEU for help funding energy projects. It would also give the SEU the authority to trade Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), which are treated differently than RECs. The SEU has been approached by Dover and Newark about assisting in financing possible renewable energy projects. The SEU remains controversial among environmentalists, who support its aims, but remain deeply suspicious of Harris McDowell because of his opposition to Bluewater Wind and the way the SEU has been managed to date. (On the latter point, I find it encouraging to see DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara taking a strong hand in the SEU's management.) In this instance, it's useful to keep in mind the adage that one should not imagine one's adversaries to be enemies. In Leg Hall, an adversary on one bill may well be an ally on the next. For instance, at last week's Energy & Transit Committee meeting, I was happy with the way McDowell handled two bills (SB 85 and SB 106) but dismayed to see SB 153, enabling V2G cars to connect to the grid, held up thanks to complaints from Delmarva Power and an evident lack of enthusiasm from the chair.
Monday is the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train. The fire was extinguished in 30 minutes and caused just $50,000 in damage. But it became a galvanizing symbol for the environmental movement, one of a handful of disasters that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and to the passage of the Clean Water Act.
The Times reports that the fire, which was a relatively minor incident, took on enormous symbolic importance:
The 1969 fire was tiny compared with those that engulfed the Cuyahoga and other rivers that received large amounts of industrial pollutants from the 1800s through the 1950s. One reason it received national attention, including a prominent article in Time magazine, was that the problem of rivers catching fire was mostly solved by then, said Jonathan Adler, an environmental law professor at Case Western Reserve University.
Progress on the Cuyahoga has been impressive:
Today, the Cuyahoga is home to more than 60 species of fish, said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization, a nonprofit group that coordinates cleanup efforts. Beavers, blue herons and bald eagles nest along the river’s banks. Long sections of the Cuyahoga are clean enough that they no longer require aggressive monitoring, regulators said.
Cleveland and nearby Akron were conservative industrial cities at the time. The clean up of the Cuyahoga River didn't come about because civic leaders in northeast Ohio tossed aside their grey flannel suits for jeans and love beads. The Cuyahoga River was cleaned up because it had become a civic embarrassment. What's the use of having Major League Baseball and NFL franchises when comedians are making jokes about your city?
With the budget crisis looming over Leg Hall, it's good to see some energy legislation moving forward. Yesterday, the House passed three bills I have been following: SB 59, which would establish new standards for home energy efficiency, passed 29 to 10, and now heads to the governor for his signature. SB 85 would institute net metering for electric utility customers with wind or solar installations, passed unanimously, and is also heading to the governor's desk. House Substitute 1 for HB 70, which would prohibit the use of covenants or other legal barriers to installing home wind power systems, passed 25 to 14. HA 2, which provides a buffer for historic districts, was added by voice vote. We'll see how it fares in the Senate. Earlier this spring, I thought this wouldn't be a good year for getting much done on energy and environmental issues. But when I was in Dover Wednesday, I heard a plausible explanation for movement on these bills: Legislators don't want to go home with nothing more than pay cuts and tax increases to show for the session. Update: I'll be discussing goings on in Dover with Allan Loudell of WDEL this evening at 4:35.
I spent yesterday in Dover, trying to help move some energy bills. Two important bills were reported out of the Senate Energy & Transit Committee: SB 106 would create new Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS). Under the bill, electricity consumption would be reduced by 15 percent by 2015, and natural gas consumption would be reduced by 10 percent. The bill would also create a workgroup to monitor progress and adjust the standards if shifts in energy usage (such as heating oil to natural gas) make the targets impractical or unattainable. SB 119 would extend and increase the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from 20 percent to 30 percent by 2023. The bill would create a new carve out for distributed renewable energy of 10 percent. SB 153, which would enable a two way connection for V2G (vehicle-to-grid) technology, was held by committee chair Harris McDowell based on objections from Delmarva Power. Two important bills have been on the House agenda for a week: SB 59 would establish new standards for home energy efficiency, which is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce carbon emissions available to us. SB 85 would institute net metering for electric utility customers with wind or solar installations by eliminating forfeitures of excess electric generation. It has been compared to allowing customers to accumulate rollover minutes on their cell phones without having to forfeit them at the end of a billing year. Also on the House agenda is House Substitute 1 for HB 70, which would prohibit the use of covenants or other legal barriers to installing home wind power systems.
Most existing flat roofs are dark and reflect only 10 to 20% of sunlight. Resurfacing the roof with a white material that has a long-term solar reflectance of 0.60 or more increases its solar reflectance by at least 0.40. Akbari et al. estimate that so retrofitting 100 m2 (1000 ft2) of roof offsets 10 tonnes of CO2 emission. (For comparison purposes, we point out that a typical US house emits about 10 tonnes of CO2 per year.) Emitted CO2 is currently traded in Europe at about $25/tonne, making this 10-tonne offset worth $250.
On a summer afternoon, central Los Angeles registers temperatures typically 5°F higher than the surrounding suburban and rural areas. Hot roofs and pavements, baked by the sun, warm the air blowing over them. The resulting urban "heat island" causes discomfort, hikes air-conditioning bills, and accelerates the formation of smog.
This accumulation of heat is not due solely to urban density:
Contrary to popular opinion, heat islands do not arise mainly from heat leaking out of cars, buildings, and factories. In summertime, such anthropogenic heat gain accounts for a mere 1 percent of the heat island's excess temperature.
There is one effective way to reduce global warming that doesn't involve high technology, new technology or even any moving parts: painting rooftops white. This simple technique acts locally by reducing cooling costs, and globally by reflecting sunlight back into space. Most people can grasp the idea intuitively, with one caveat: I have heard some ask whether the gains in lower cooling costs are offset by higher heating costs. As the Washington Post reports, the benefits are clear as far north as the 49th parallel:
There is also the winter problem: In a cold climate, a dark roof can lower heating costs by soaking up the winter sun. White-roof advocates counter that, in the continental United States, the "winter penalty" is just 10 percent of the overall savings. "As far north as Toronto, it pays," said Arthur H. Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission.
There are environmental problems that require that we balance competing interests, costs and benefits. But this one is easy. A modest investment in a few five gallon cans of reflective white paint can have a dramatic effect on summer cooling costs.
If you're interested in learning more about the Waxman-Markey bill, which runs to 964 pages, Grist has a handy summary. The bill includes a renewable electricity standard, emissions reductions, a system for trading emissions permits and carbon offsets, investments in energy technology (including "clean coal"), and energy efficiency standards.
The News Journal reports that a study of the green economy by the Pew Charitable Trusts has unwelcome news about Delaware. The Pew study, titled "The Clean Energy Economy," finds that Delaware is one a few states that has lost green jobs between 1998 and 2007—a disappointing result in a sector that has been growing nationwide. According to the study, 43 green technology patents were awarded in Delaware between 1998 and 2007, just one half of one percent of the national total. It may not sound that impressive, but it is higher than the national average on a per capita basis. The problem, as DNREC secretary Collin O’Mara points out, is that Delaware hasn’t done very well in turning those patents into jobs:
O'Mara said Delaware is doing well in the area of green-energy patents, but has had trouble turning that into local jobs. "There's a disconnect," O'Mara said.
The disconnect may have something to do with a lack of venture capital. Only $3.3 million was raised in Delaware for green industry—just 0.03 percent of the national total during the period.
The Supreme Court Lets the Chrysler Deal Go Forward
The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Chrysler bankruptcy deal, less than 24 hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a temporary stay. The two page decision notes that a stay "is not a right" but "an exercise of judicial discretion." The decision also quotes precedent that "in a close case it may be appropriate to balance the equities" and consider the "interests of the public at large." In other words, this isn't a matter of fundamental rights, as Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock asserted, but just a matter of balancing competing interests. Mourdock complained that, as a holder of secured debt, the pension funds he manages should have trumped all other claims. Holders of 92 percent of that debt agreed to accept 29 cents on the dollar, which sounds harsh. But then, there has been plenty of pain to go around. By the way, the New York Times reports, Mourdock bought the debt last July for 43 cents on the dollar. He may have thought buying distressed debt was a reasonable bet at the time, but it strikes me as a rather speculative play for public pension funds.
We are not buying GM and Chrysler cars. In fact, we have never bought a GM or Chrysler product.
I don’t know that urban dwellers who don’t actually buy cars should be considered a significant market segment. But many of these folks will eventually will buy cars, after spending their early adulthood driving Japanese hybrids. Many young urban dwellers decamp for the suburbs when they start families, and when they do can be expected to need to own more cars. If they have grown accustomed to Japanese cars, then they can hardly be expected to switch to U.S. brands without having ever actually driven one. As I wrote recently in the Guardian, the automaker formerly known as the Big Three used to build their strategies around providing cars to satisfy every buyer:
In Detroit's glory days, GM, Ford and Chrysler offered a full range of products, from small starter cars to big luxury vehicles. They had a strategy of moving their customers up through their product lines, from entry-level compacts to station wagons to luxury sedans. Forty years ago, my grandparents had two GM cars in the driveway: a Cadillac and a small Corvair. But in the 1970s, Detroit began to lose market share for entry-level vehicles. When I was growing up, we had a VW Beetle sitting next to the Ford or GM station wagon. Detroit's small cars ranged from whimsical (the AMC Gremlin) to dangerous (the fire-prone Ford Pinto).
Detroit abandoned this strategy years ago when auto executives discovered they could make easy money selling pickups and SUVs, and forgot about capturing young drivers with affordable cars.
Since January, cows at 15 farms across Vermont have had their grain feed adjusted to include more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed — substances that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat. As of the last reading in mid-May, the methane output of Mr. Choiniere’s herd had dropped 18 percent. Meanwhile, milk production has held its own. The program was initiated by Stonyfield Farm, the yogurt manufacturer, at the Vermont farms that supply it with organic milk. Mr. Choiniere, a third-generation dairy herder who went organic in 2003, said he had sensed that the outcome would be good even before he got the results. “They are healthier,” he said of his cows. “Their coats are shinier, and the breath is sweet.” Sweetening cow breath is a matter of some urgency, climate scientists say. Cows have digestive bacteria in their stomachs that cause them to belch methane, the second-most-significant heat-trapping emission associated with global warming after carbon dioxide. Although it is far less common in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it has 20 times the heat-trapping ability.
Cows were around for a long time before farmers started tinkering with their feed. One thing researchers have found is that the natural grasses have higher concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids, a familiar term to health conscious foodies. Industrial agriculture has developed around the technologies of adding more and more additives, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to our food chain. The idea that we can get equal production—and less methane—simply by letting cows eat what they evolved to eat still seems a little strange. But in this case it seems to be working.
SB 59 would establish new standards for home energy efficiency, which is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce carbon emissions available to us. The most authoritative studies, including those by McKinsey & Company, agree that increasing home energy conservation will not cost money, but will save money. The now famous McKinsey abatement cost curve shows home energy efficiency techniques at the far left end of the chart, with net savings far greater than adopting hybrid vehicles or most forms of renewable energy including wind and solar:
The Building Codes Assistance Project (http://www.bcap-energy.org/) estimates that the energy efficiencies from adoption of the bill would amount to no more than $337 per home—a modest amount that will quickly be recovered through energy savings. Any homeowner who has struggled with the cost of heating in the winter or cooling in the summer can easily appreciate the lasting value of improved energy efficiency. SB 85 would institute net metering for electric utility customers with wind or solar installations by eliminating forfeitures of excess electric generation. Customers would be able to retain excess generation or request payments. It has been compared to allowing customers to accumulate rollover minutes on their cell phones without having to forfeit them at the end of a billing year.
The tone on Capitol Hill may be getting ugly, but it was all sweetness and light as Barack Obama welcomed former first lady Nancy Reagan to the White House for the signing of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act. The centennial of Reagan's birth will be observed in 2011.Nancy Reagan was widely noted (and sometimes mocked by comedians) for her talent for gazing adoringly at her husband. The sight of that legendary gaze directed at Barack Obama is sure to lead to much gnashing of teeth among the hard line GOP. Ronald Reagan is the one true hero the Republican Party has these days. But too many who appeal to him as a conservative icon forget that he was not one to demonize the opposition. Obama appealed to Reagan's memory in talking about a more civil tone for the debates that necessarily define our public life:
President Reagan understood that while there are often strong disagreements between parties and political adversaries -- disagreements that can be a source of conflict and bitterness -- it is important to keep in mind all that we share. For all of the deepest of divides that exist in America, the bonds that bring us together are that much stronger. And we may see the world differently, but we must never stop seeing one another as fellow Americans -- and as patriots -- who want what is best for the country we love. This nation was built on the basis of the principle that we are stronger, not weaker, for even the most vigorous debates -- debates that have energized our politics since the inventors of America argued over our founding documents more than two centuries ago.
Mrs. Reagan is scheduled to have lunch with Michelle Obama tomorrow. Photo: CBS News
I discuss the GM bankruptcy announcement over at the Guardian. The General Motors that emerges from bankruptcy will be a different corporate entity that will acquire the useful assets of the old GM. The old GM controlled 54 percent of the market in 1955, and has seen its share steadily decline since. The new GM will be much smaller, perhaps small enough to make it in the current recession: