Sunday, November 21, 2010

China Imports more and more coal

Importing Coal, China Burns It as Others Stop

Jack Atley/Bloomberg News
In Australia, environmental groups have repeatedly halted trainloads of coal headed to the export docks at Newcastle this fall.
Even as developed countries close or limit the construction of coal-fired power plants out of concern over pollution and climate-warming emissions, coal has found a rapidly expanding market elsewhere: Asia, particularly China.

Beyond Fossil Fuels

Coal Flows to Growing Asia
Articles in this series examine innovative attempts to reduce the world’s dependence on coal, oil and other carbon-intensive fuels, and the challenges faced.
At ports in Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa, ships are lining up to load coal for furnaces in China, which has evolved virtually overnight from a coal exporter to one of the world’s leading purchasers.
The United States now ships coal to China via Canada, but coal companies are scouting for new loading ports in Washington State. New mines are being planned for the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, some of the world’s more environmentally progressive regions are nascent epicenters of the new coal export trade, creating political tensions between business and environmental goals.
Traditionally, coal is burned near where it is mined — particularly so-called thermal or steaming coal, used for heat and electricity. But in the last few years, long-distance international coal exports have been surging because of China’s galloping economy, which now burns half of the six billion tons of coal used globally each year.
As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more.
And the rush to feed this new Asian market has helped double the price of coal over the past five years, leading to a renaissance of mining and exploration in many parts of the world.
“This is a worst-case scenario,” said David Graham-Caso, spokesman for the Sierra Club, which estimates that its “Beyond Coal” campaign has helped to block 139 proposed coal plants in the United States over the last few years. “We don’t want this coal burned here, but we don’t want it burned at all. This is undermining everything we’ve accomplished.”
In Australia, environmental groups have repeatedly halted trainloads of coal headed to the export docks at Newcastle this fall, and flotillas of kayaking protesters have delayed cargo pickups by Asia-bound coal ships.
Julia Gillard, Australia’s newly elected prime minister, promised during her campaign to “put a price on carbon” — in other words, make companies pay in some way for excessive carbon dioxide emissions. But environmentalists say that such laws will be meaningless if the country continues its nascent coal rush and “exports global warming to the world,” as one group, Rising Tide Australia, puts it.
This summer an Australian company signed a $60 billion contract with a state enterprise, China Power International Development, to supply coal to Chinese power stations beginning in 2013 from a vast complex of mines, called China First, to be built in the Australian outback. It was Australia’s largest export contract ever, the company said.
The deal points to the love-hate relationship many wealthier countries have with coal: while environmental laws have made it progressively harder to build new coal-fired power plants, they do not restrict coal mining to the same extent.
That is partly because emissions accounting standards focus on where a fuel is burned, not where it is dug up; because the coal trade is a lucrative business; and because the labor-intensive mining industry creates jobs.
Such benefits are particularly hard to forgo in the midst of a recession. In the last two years, “There has been an awful lot of mining development, and much of it is based on the potential of these new markets,” said David Price, director of the global steam coal advisory service at IHS-Cera, a global energy consultancy.
Vic Svec, senior vice president of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, said it was “planning to send larger and larger amounts of coal” to China.
“Coal is the fastest-growing fuel in the world and will continue to be largely driven by the enormous appetite for energy in Asia,” he said.
The conflict between environmental and trade concerns is gaining momentum in the United States and Canada as well as Australia.
Last year, the United States exported only 2,714 tons of coal to China, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Yet that figure soared to 2.9 million tons in the first six months of this year alone — huge growth, though still a minuscule fraction of China’s coal imports.
New mines are planned to expand the market further. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, is suing to block the lease of state-owned land in Otter Creek, Mont., to Arch Coal for mining to serve demand in Asia and elsewhere. Likewise, Peabody Energy and Australia’s Ambre Energy have been separately expanding mines and exploring the idea of opening loading ports in the Pacific Northwest.
In Washington State, the city of Tacoma decided Friday that it would not host a proposed coal loading plant, citing “a multitude of business and community factors.” This week officials in Cowlitz County are expected to decide whether to grant a permit for a proposed coal port in Longview, on the border with Oregon.
Environmental groups will be there to oppose the port, noting that policies in both states effectively block new coal-fired plants and that both have plans to close the few that remain. “It’s one step forward, 10 steps back if we allow coal export in our region,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.
Likewise, environmentalists in British Columbia, which enacted the first tax on carbon dioxide emissions in North America two years ago, are incensed that Vancouver has blossomed into a major coal loading location. “It’s just hypocritical,” said Ben West, a spokesman for the Wilderness Committee, a Canadian conservation group.
This summer, Jim Prentice, who was then Canada’s environment minister, announced a national phase-out of dirty coal-fired plants. But mines are primarily regulated by the provinces, said Henry Lau, a spokesman for the ministry. The Canadian government adds that while it is committed to its target of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, it has to balance “environmental and economic benefits for its citizens.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Honda EV

Honda Fit EV(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET)
With its small engine, the Honda Fit gets excellent fuel economy and produces few smog causing pollutants, but at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show, Honda showed it could make the Fit even greener. On display was a concept version of an electric Fit, dubbed the Fit EV.
Using an electric motor similar to that it developed for the Clarity fuel cell vehicle and a lithium-ion battery pack, Honda says the Fit EV will drive for 100 miles between recharges and hit a top speed of 90 mph. The driver can select between three different drive modes, Eco, Normal, and Sport. In Sport mode, Honda claims the Fit EV will deliver the acceleration of a 2-liter gas engine.
Charging times are fairly typical for current electric vehicle technology, at under 12 hours with a 120 volt outlet and under 6 hours with a 240 volt outlet.
Few changes were made to the Fit body for the EV version. Honda closed off the front grille and redesigned the headlight casings for better aerodynamics. The interior remains unchanged, with the same versatile seating arrangement.
Drivers will be able to view the charging status of their vehicles on the Web, on a smartphone app, or on a special remote for the car, which will also let them set charging times.
Honda expects to put the Fit EV into production in 2012.

Oregon Solar Power

For most of its recent history, Oregon has been a progressive state, embracing technology and political innovation. During the 1880’s, despite only recently becoming a U.S. state, Oregon rapidly expanded its railroad production eastward facilitating the rise of wheat and lumber industries, bringing huge amounts of capital westward. On the political front, in 1902, Oregon was the first state in the union to adopt an initiative and referendum process for citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or amendments to the state constitution.
And today, Oregon retains its progressive spirit by supporting the legalization of cannabis as well as anti-urban sprawl and pro-environment laws. So it should be no surprise, that Oregon is at the forefront supporting renewable energy technology and, in particular, solar power.
Oregon Solar Power Market
One would thinking that Oregon, ranking only 27th in population in the U.S. and blessed (or cursed depending on your mood) with ample rainfall, would be a terrible place for solar power to take root…but you’d be wrong. The following three pictures show the amount of direct normal radiation from the sun for March, July and October, respectively, in the Northwest.
This is eight months out of the year where most of Oregon is receiving ample solar radiation to make solar power worthwhile. Oregon’s solar power success is also born out by the statistics as well.
Oregon ranks 9th in the country with 3.7 MW of cumulative installed solar capacity per person. Solar energy is also Oregon's most abundant energy resource and estimates have placed the state's potential electricity production from solar power at 68,000,000 MWhs annually, an amount larger than the state's total electricity consumption of 46,457,000 MWh in 2005. In addition, Oregon’s grid-connected photovoltaic capacity has grown exponentially from 2.8 MW in 2007 to 14 MW in 2009…that is an increase of 400% in two years. Many solar manufacturing companies have chosen to operate in Oregon because of its cheap hydroelectric power. In fact, Oregon was one of the only three states (along with Michigan and Ohio) to manufacture more than 100 MW of solar panels during 2009.
Oregon Renewable Energy Mandates
Oregon’s government made solar power adoption a priority throughout the state and they have implemented numerous mechanisms to make renewable energy and solar power a more commonplace reality. To start, in 2007, Oregon adopted a Renewable Energy Standard, requiring the largest utilities in Oregon to provide 25 percent of their retail sales of electricity from newer, clean, renewable sources of energy by 2025. Also in 2007, public entities such as state and local governments were required spend 1.5% of their construction budgets for new or renovated buildings on on-site solar technologies. And in 2009, Oregon enacted additional laws requiring 25 megawatts of new solar electric systems from homes and small-scale commercial systems within five years and also required the two largest electric utilities in Oregon to develop or purchase the equivalent of 20 megawatts of solar power annually within a decade.  
Oregon Solar Power Rebates and Incentives
Oregon also has a large number of rebates and tax incentives all geared towards promoting the adoption of residential and commercial power systems. The following is a brief discussion of the primary rebates and incentives in Oregon:
  • Residential Energy Tax Credit - Up to $6000 based at $3 per watt with a minimum solar power system size of 200 watts. $1,500 maximum can be claimed per year and the solar power system must be verified by a tax-credit certified technician.
  • Business Energy Tax Credit – 50% of the eligible project costs (up to $20 million) however the tax credit must be taken over 5 years at 10% of all eligible installation costs per year.
  • State Energy Loan Program – This program aims to encourage investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy production by offering long-term, fixed-rate loans to all types of organizations and individuals with a maximum cap at $20 million per loan….the rates and fees vary but they are typically very competitive.
  • Feed-in-Tariff – Recently, the Oregon Public Utility Commission approved trial feed-in tariff rules where residents and businesses who install solar systems can enter a 15-year contract with investor-owned utilities in Oregon where they will receive guaranteed payments over the life of the contract with rates ranging from $0.55 to $0.65 per kWh. Funding will come from an estimated one half of 1% increase in electricity rates. The trial program ends after four years and the entire project's size is limited to a maximum 25 MW.
  • Energy Trust of Oregon - Solar Electric Buy-Down Program provides a rebate to customers of Pacific Power (PP) and Portland General Electric (PGE). For residential solar power systems, the rebate is $1.50/watt for PP and $1.75/watt for PGE with a maximum incentive of $20,000 for each…for commercial solar power systems, the rebate is $0.50-$1.00/watt for PP with a $100,000 incentive and $0.75-$1.25/watt for PGE with a $500,000 maximum.
In addition, there are other rebates from local utilities and there are rebates and incentives if you are interested in solar thermal power. Many of the incentives discussed above can be used in conjunction with each other. However, please be sure to talk with a tax specialist or a Oregon solar installer before your begin your solar project as they can better explain all of the applicable rebates for your home solar system.
Please note that there many different ways to finance the purchase of a residential solar system so that you do not have to come up with a large cash outlay at one time yet ensure that you are still spending less than your current electric bill even with financing. Your solar installer should be able to help you with any additional financing mechanisms.
Net Metering and Tax Exemptions
On top of the state subsidies, Oregon has a net metering policy which means that you only pay for the net amount of electricity that you use. With net metering, homeowners with solar installed are able to “bank” the excess electricity their solar system generates and receive credit up to 100% of their electric use bill at the full retail electricity price that they can use later. In addition, Oregon’s government has even gone so far as to exempt the value of a renewable energy source from a property owner’s property taxes. Unlike other home improvements, you do not have to pay increased property taxes even though the value of your home will increase with a solar electric system. In addition, Oregon has exempted solar power systems from sales tax!
Prior to moving forward with a solar installation, it is always a good idea to seek professional advice. This is especially true in today’s climate, with many solar incentive programs struggling to keep up with demand. A licensed solar installer can help you figure out the cost of a system, financing options, and the incentive for which you qualify.
For those interested consumers – homeowners and commercial business owners – that are unsure about solar power and how they should go about evaluating whether solar is right for their situation, please know that there are answers to your problems and all you need to do is a little research at great sites like the U.S. Department of EnergySolar Energy Industries Association, and Solar Energy Installers (who can help you find a great solar installer in your area). Remember, solar power is potentially a large investment, so it’s advisable to look into both the technical and financial considerations before either getting the wrong solar panel system or dismissing the chance to save with solar.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Juicy tax breaks for electric cars buyers of the Nissan Leaf electric car can get steep discounts thanks to state and local incentives.
NEW YORK ( -- The Nissan Leaf will carry a price tag of $32,500, but some California residents could drive one for just about $17,000 -- roughly the cost of a typical gas-powered compact sedan.
That low, low price is thanks to incentives from the federal government, which offers a $7,500 tax credit to buyers of plug-in cars; the state of California, which offers a $5,000 rebate; and local governments in California's San Joaquin Valley, which offer another $3,000 in rebates.
Many other states, and even cities and counties, offer their own incentives for plug-in cars. Those tax breaks and other goodies could be deal-makers for a lot of consumers, if they know about and can understand them.
The incentives are designed to encourage car buyers who are willing to do their part to help the environment -- provided it doesn't cost them anything.
"Survey after survey says 'I'm willing to drive sustainably but I'm not willing to pay one penny more,' " said Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan North America.
For the initial buyers of plug-in vehicles, however, those sorts of pay-offs probably will make little difference, said Jesse Toprak, an auto sales analyst with the website The first buyers in line will be hard-core electric-car enthusiasts who've been waiting years to get their hands on one and who'll need little financial prompting.
"State incentives will be more of a factor as the early adapter effect diminishes throughout the year," Toprak said.
Tax incentives for plug-in vehicles are cropping up in lots of places -- blue states and red, said Jay Friedland, legislative director for the group Plug-in America, an electric car advocacy group. That's in part because efforts to reduce fuel consumption appeal to people across the political spectrum, from those who want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to those who want to cut dependence on foreign oil, Friedland said.
"It covers environmental issues all the way over the whole national security field," he said.
But some of the rules for getting these incentives can be confusing and not all define an "electric" or "zero emission car" the same way.
For example, Californians who buy a Nissan Leaf will be able to get a $5,000 tax credit and access to carpool lanes, but those who buy a 2011 Chevrolet Volt won't. That's because, under state rules, the Volt does not qualify as a "zero emissions vehicle," GM spokesman Shad Balch said.
The Volt does qualify for the federal $7,500 tax credit, though, as well as incentives in other states. With some engineering tweaks, it is expected to qualify for the California benefits by 2012, Balch said.
Some of the biggest state packages, according to Nissan:
  • Colorado residents can get a tax credit of up to $6,000 for the purchase of a qualifying vehicle, plus a tax credit of up to 20% for the purchase of a charger.
  • California is offering a tax rebate of up to $5,000 for the purchase of a zero-emission vehicle, plus use of carpool lanes. Many localities offer additional incentives, including tax breaks and free parking.
  • Georgia offers an income tax credit of up to $5,000 as well as a tax credit of 10% for the cost of charging equipment. Qualifying vehicles also have access to carpool lanes.
  • Hawaii residents can claim a rebate of 20% of the vehicle's purchase price up to $4,500. Rebates of up $5,000 are available if the purchase includes a charging station.
The Department of Energy maintains a database of federal and state incentives for electric vehicles on its website at To top of page

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama to fund Grant Program with DOE Loan Guarantees

Washington, DC, USA -- The Obama Administration has been debating an option to kill the Section 1705 DOE Loan Guarantee program and transfer remaining funds to a pool for Section 1603 investment tax credits. The move could be good for wind and solar, but bad news for biofuels companies.

Solar, Wind Win, Biofuels Lose

The big potential winner is wind energy (and possibly solar), as wind energy projects are helped by the Section 1603 program and in 2009 nearly 10,000 megawatts of wind energy were built in the US. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that up to 25 percent of the capacity would not have been built if the tax credits had not been available.

The proposal was included in a package of options placed before President Obama by White House energy policy coordinator Carol Browner, former chief economic policy advisor Lawrence Summers, and Vice President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain. Among other options: improving the efficiency of the loan guarantee process, or limiting the oversight role of OMB and the US Treasury.

Lame-duck Session Is Key Target

The proposals, which require legislative approval, have been targeted for the lame-duck session where Democrats still control strong majorities in the House and Senate. They indicated that the new policy could be appended to the upcoming tax extenders package.

The advisors, however, warn that the option to defund the Section 1705 loan guarantee would risk incurring the wrath of Senate Energy chairman Jeff Bingaman, noting that the program is “his program.” Vice-President Biden is reported to favor streamlining the loan guarantee program rather than transferring funds to the investment tax credit program.

Admission of “Failure of Key Recovery Act program” Feared

The advisors also note that de-funding the Section 1705 program “could signal the failure of a Recovery Act program” that has been featured prominently by the Administration,” and runs the risk that Congress will agree to take the funds away from the loan guarantee program but fail to apply them towards the investment tax credits.

The goal is to get dollars out of the door before the Recovery Act funding sunsets on September 30, 2011, or before Congress re-appropriates the funds towards other purposes. Already, Congress has redirected $3.5 billion of the funds towards cash for clunkers and other urgent funding priorities.

The advisors note that conditional commitments would need to be finalized by March to close before the overall program sunsets. They further note that OMB review is taking an average of 28 days on top of the extensive due diligence and negotiated changes in the financing structure required by DOE, plus policy review by the White House and Treasury has “occasionally extended the amount of time a project is under review.”

With Republicans intent on enforcing strict, pay-as-you-go financing restrictions, Democrats fear that the untapped loan guarantee funds will prove too tempting a target for Congressional initiatives that will require offsetting budget cuts in order to progress towards passage.

The loan guarantees were developed to assist in proving out the feasibility of transformational projects in order to unlock the availability of traditional project finance, which traditionally avoids first-of-kind technologies. Instead, the DOE has been able to deploy only 2.5 percent of the $2.5 billion in funds, and have given conditional commitments to nine other programs which would obligate another $500-$900 million, according to the brief.

100-200 Staff Closing 4 Loans

The policy background penned by Browner, Summers and Klain paints a picture of organizational gridlock in the execution of the loan guarantee process. The 1603 tax credit program involved a 4-6 week review period, closed 3851 projects and required a staff of 20 full-time employees at Treasury and DOE.

By contrast, the 1705 Loan Guarantee program involves a 6+ month review period, has closed four loans, and requires a staff of “100-200 FTE DOE staff and contractors,” according to the White House memo.

Former Obama Administration official, DOE Director of Minority Impact Joe Garcia, described the loan guarantee process as “A disaster. Nothing could get through. I would get them on the phone and beg people to move these projects along. You have my OK – just get going. We need the jobs.”

The Digest’s Take

The Browner memo is a classic study of a government project that choked on a lethal combination of high ambition and inexperience. Among the factors they cite are an overly consultative process of review, an aversion to risk, and a bloated bureaucracy.

We agree that the Section 1705 program has gone off the tracks, but Vice-President Biden is right: the program requires streamlining, not abandonment. Going back to the legislature, in this uncertain environment, could have disastrous implications.

As far as the option to combine restructuring of clean energy policy with the tax extenders package, we have seen all year defeat after defeat of the tax extenders when it is combined with anything. How many defeats will convince the White House that the tax extenders should not be used as a sweetener for other, more controversial actions?

The President does not need an Act of Congress to bail out the loan guarantee program; an act of leadership will do. By engaging broadly, quickly, decisively with industry and other stakeholders, and streamlining the Administration’s review process, clean energy can accelerate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Effect of the mid term elections on solar

Regardless of the outcome of Nov. 2 midterm elections, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), is positive about the solar industry’s future.

“Our industry doubled this last year in size and now has almost 100,000 people employed in the U.S.,” he said. “We’re a real economic force and that resonates with both Democrats and Republicans.”

A GOP Congress has historically supported solar, from the first tax credits passed in the 2005 energy bill by a Republican House and Senate, to extensions passed in 2007 and signed by George W. Bush. “You see over time that solar is about job growth; it’s not about choosing sides,” Resch said.

The greatest challenge for moving forward energy or tax policy will be getting Republicans and Democrats to work together to advance policy, Resch said. He said the challenge will be “breaking through the log jam that’s existed for the last several years.”

While some tax policies may be difficult for the 112th Congress to agree upon, Resch said development of an energy bill is likely. “When I step back and look at what policies will most likely get done, they’re looking very good for the solar industry.”

One of the potential trailblazers for solar policy could be Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the likely new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Over the last four years, Camp’s District 4 in Michigan has seen approximately 20,000 layoffs in various manufacturing jobs. However, 5,000 new jobs in the solar industry have been created in Camp’s district, Resch said. “While other industries have moved overseas or shut down their factories, he’s seen that solar is moving into these areas with skilled labor and good distribution networks.”

Resch said Camp recognizes solar as an economic engine that creates jobs and is a smart investment for taxpayers.

Resch said that the Treasury Grant Program start date will likely be extended through Dec. 31, 2012, either as the program currently exists or through a direct payment mechanism.

Resch said broad recognition exists that the grant program has resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs. “It’s probably the highest return on a dollar-by-dollar basis to the taxpayer of any of the provisions created in the stimulus bill,” he said.

SEIA is also pushing for a return of Section 48C, the manufacturing tax credit. Under 48C, which was created in 2009, 50 new solar manufacturing facilities are either under construction or in operation. Resch said U.S. manufacturers face competition from Germany, China, South Korea and other countries that provide more support for their industries.

One of the biggest victories for solar in the Nov. 2 elections may have been in California, which Resch said “hit a trifecta in regards to supporting solar energy.” The first victory was the defeat of Proposition 23, which would have kept the state’s aggressive goals for renewable energy adoption from taking hold. Resch said the other two victories were the election of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown and the re-election of Sen. Barbara Boxer, both supporters of renewable energy.

“I think California sent a very clear signal that they’re doubling down on solar and clean energy to help lift their economy,” he said.

While renewable energy developers applauded the defeat of Proposition 23, some worry that voter approval of Proposition 26 could neutralize its effect. Proposition 26 expands the definition of “tax” and requires a two-thirds majority of the California legislature (not a simple majority) to approve any new fee on companies or taxpayers. A UCLA School of Law study found that Proposition 26 “could have substantial and wide-ranging impacts on implementation of the state’s health, safety and environmental laws.” The study lists AB 32 as one measure that would suffer as a result of Proposition 26.

Resch declined to comment on Proposition 26 other than to say it is something to watch. The New York Times reported that some energy analysts predict Proposition 26 will result in a court battle, given the apparent disparity between rejecting Proposition 23 while approving Proposition 26.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New York Law 86

In 2005, the New York City Council passed Local Law 86, establishing a mandatory set of sustainable criteria for public buildings. The city's School Construction Authority (SCA) responded by developing a LEED-like green building self-certifying rating system it calls the NYC Green Schools Guide.

Much like LEED, the guide has five categories, including indoor environmental quality, site, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and materials. The reason SCA developed its own guide is to emphasize areas — most notably indoor air quality, which represents about one-third of the rating system's points — it felt were more critical to school construction.

Lately, the Division of School Facilities (DSF) has become much more involved in working with SCA on new construction projects, says Ozgem Ornektekin, director of sustainability for DSF. The reason for that is partly the team effort and relationship-building that's resulted from the large-scale energy efficiency projects, and partially the commitment to sustainability, as both agencies have realized the necessity of having facility folks involved in new construction planning so that they don't build schools that are difficult to manage — a mirror of a trend in the industry at large.

"When SCA improves their guide, they make sure DSF is a part of the conversation before changing the standard," says Ornektekin. "They don't do anything we can't operate, and now they provide training for us."

Shea agrees: "Our relationship with the SCA has grown over the past few years because of our shared commitment to the sustainability ideals, and that has led to more productive collaboration. SCA always solicited our input, but the teams now in place have a more involved working relationship."