The Demise of Desert Rock

This is a must read by Laura Paskus at the High Country News:

This March, after seven years of planning and with millions of dollars poured into attorneys, consultants and travel junkets, Sithe Global not only delayed the (Desert Rock) project once again — beyond 2015 this time — but said it is considering changing it extensively. In June, the company gave up the only funding it had secured for construction of the project, when it allowed a $3.2 billion industrial revenue bond and tax break from San Juan County, N.M., to expire. And now, with its champion (Navajo Nation President) Shirley stepping down because of term limits this fall, Desert Rock’s days are likely numbered.

The life and death of Desert Rock

Dinosaurs Agree: The Earth Loves CO2!

If some carbon dioxide is good for the Earth, then a whole lot should be great, right?

A new organization called CO2 is Green would have you believe so. The group recently placed large ads in the Santa Fe New Mexican and other local newspapers arguing that “thousands of experiments have shown that more CO2 is beneficial to plants and ecosystems.”

Leighton Steward, the geologist and businessman who heads the group of oil and gas producers and others, says, “I’m simply saying that the science doesn’t back up that CO2 has any significant impact on climate change. The planet would be much better off if we let the CO2 levels rise.”

Steward’s claims are important because they directly contradict widely-acknowledged scientific assertions that a rise in human-caused carbon emissions – i.e., pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicles – causes global warming that is harmful to the Earth.

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Putting the Brakes on New Mexico’s Solar Energy Industry?

solarpanelMany in our state have been working to uplift the solar industry so that many more New Mexicans can have access to the clean energy that is so plentiful and easy to harness here.  There is a growing awareness  of our state’s of the enormous potential for solar energy production, and of the fact that we have the scientific infrastructure, along with the public and business support, to maximize this opportunity.

Local advocacy groups, like the NM Solar Energy Association, are doing superb work in educating  the public about the benefits of solar energy  (make sure to check out their Solar Fiesta next month).  The Renewable Energy Industry Association, composed of renewable energy businesses, is enlisting ever increasing public and governmental support to help expand the solar industry.

Several state and federal incentives have been enacted in the past few years to assist in financing residential solar installation. And the Albuquerque city government is looking at yet another helpful financing mechanism to put into the mix.

We proudly recall the day when Governor Richardson  proclaimed  New Mexico the “clean energy state.” This year he took a bold step toward fulfilling this vision by helping to create the Green Jobs Cabinet. It’s mission:  “Enhance clean energy and clean technology economic development and job creation in New Mexico.”

So it would seem that we have all the right players in place, all partnering together to ensure that the solar industry grows to achieve this great vision and meet the demand in our state.

Unfortunately, there may be a hitch.

Recently PNM, our local electric utility, announced plans to discontinue its solar energy incentive program for residential and commercial users.

According to this NM Business Weekly article, PNM wants to drop the program because the “market is growing too fast”.

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Dirty Coal Astroturfing

MrCleanCoalMany of you might have heard about the ridiculous, yet not surprising, scandal involving a coal industry PR group named Bonner and Associates.  Last week they sent lawmakers in DC letters that were in support of the coal industry and in opposition to the House climate bill.

The problem was that that the letters were forged and sent out on what appeared to be the stationary of a number of minority organizations, including Creciendo Juntos and the NAACP.

The organization behind all of this is the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which hired Bonner and Associates to do their PR dirty work of sending out those letters.

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No Wonder They’re Pushing Nuclear

It is a constant source of wonderment to me why so many energy proponents and politicians have chosen to highlight nuclear as the energy source answer to our climate change (as well as rising costs in energy production) woes.

Why would they argue for more nuclear reactors to be built when the United States is already dealing with the big problem of storing/depositing the high amount of radioactive waste we already have produced?

Now the story comes out about the proposed costs to build two new reactors in Ontario.  Looks like  price isn’t going to serve as a convincing argument for nuclear power much longer either.  Why?  The price quoted last week ($23 billion dollars to be exact) by the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd to the Ontario provincial government was three times higher than what had been expected.

Will the Ontario  government start considering the use of solar power now, inasmuch as the price quoted for nuclear power averages out to be about $3,500 more per kilowatt of energy produced when compared to solar prices?

The Accidental Deliberations blog sums it up rather well:

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More Corporate Welfare For Polluters?

As the Waxman-Markey climate bill continues to slowly crawl to an upcoming vote,  more and more debate emerges.  This time it’s Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota taking the reins for energy producers who already emit too many noxious emissions into our environment.  Congressman Peterson represents rural electric producers (mainly ones who burn coal and ethanol to produce electricity) and claims this bill leaves them behind.

Congressman Peterson is protecting the exact companies (i.e. coal and ethanol plants) that this bill is trying to force to make more cleaner and more efficient.  Of course he shouldn’t expect good favor from this bill (i.e. tons of money).  Yet, by some twisted logic, that’s exactly what he’s asking for.

Peterson wants electric producers who burn coal and ethanol (see how the San Juan Generating plant is holding up in NM with their emissions production) to get back 100% of the allowances they pay for excess emissions.

To me this is like taking away your kid’s allowance because he’s bad, then giving it right back to him because he needs the money to be good.

Seeing how the fine paid by San Juan (which is owned by PNM) was the largest in state history, it is mind boggling to think how much money would be given away via 100% allowances nationwide.

Secondly, Peterson argues that many of the low-income people in his Farm Belt region would be affected more than others in the nation.  While there may be a small increase in his constituents’ rates (mostly a result of electric generators in this area not being clean or efficient enough and thus they have to spend large amounts of money to get their plants in order) it will not add up to the thousands of dollars that these dirty energy representatives claim it will.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report last Friday that estimates that the total costs passed on to households from the Waxman-Markey bill will be a whopping $175 a year.  And, the report says, the low-income consumers that Peterson talks about won’t have their rates raised – instead, they’ll actually get back about $40 a year.

So once again, I have to ask the question:

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PNM and Carbon Pollution: Will consumers get the shaft?

Jeff Sterba

PNM Resources CEO Jeff Sterba

Right now in Washington, members of Congress are debating a twist to climate control legislation that could lead to a massive corporate giveaway for oil and gas companies.

The Energy & Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is considering the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, (ACES) a comprehensive climate and energy legislative package that would limit carbon pollution and require the development of renewable energy. The bill is expected to go on to the full House of Representatives, and later this summer, to the Senate.

The fact that Congress is finally moving to limit carbon pollution by “capping” the overall amount of emissions allowed and issuing permits to emit carbon within those limits is a crucial step toward slowing global warming. Read what Al Gore has to say about it here.

What’s not so great is what Congress may decide to do with the trillions of dollars that could be generated by requiring companies to pay for the permits.

The plan that makes the most sense is to make companies pay for the permits, therefore making them financially responsible for limiting their emissions and forcing them to develop alternative forms of energy. The estimated billions that would be raised by a 100 percent auction of the permits would be returned to energy customers – you and me.

But this week, news emerged that some in Congress are apparently being swayed by the powerful oil and gas companies, who want Congress to agree to give them the permits for free.

New Mexico’s own Jeff Sterba (CEO of PNM Resources) was among a long string of utility executives who told the House committee last month that requiring companies to cap carbon emissions and develop alternate forms of energy would force them to charge their customers more.

New Mexicans know PNM well.  It’s the company that was just fined $6.9 million for federal and state air quality violations at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners. According to the New Mexico Environment Department, it was the largest fine ever levied by the state for air quality violations.

In light of those violations and others, New Mexicans need to question whether we can really trust utility companies to act on their own to reduce carbon emissions.

Moreover, if there is really no penalty for polluting (because the fines will be given right back to energy companies like PNM), then where is their incentive to “pass the savings” back to the consumer?  The whole construct just doesn’t make sense.

Congress needs to resist pressure from the oil and gas industry and hold companies financially responsible for their carbon pollution. Implement the carbon caps – and give the billions of dollars raised by the 100 percent auction of the carbon pollution back to energy consumers where it belongs.

VIDEO: Youth play vital role at the Roundhouse

It’s the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session I want to recognize the important role young people played in helping to shape public policy and educate our representatives on youth issues. During the week of March 2nd young people from across the state visited the Capitol for New Mexico Children’s Cabinet Days. I was lucky to catch some of these young leaders and interview them.

They spoke about the need for green jobs and renewable energy, teen pregnancy prevention and stopping bills that would cut youth programs among many other issues. I was impressed by their level of commitment and how organized they are. It was also clear that there is great respect from the youth for Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Claire Dudley for their work to make NM Cabinet Days a success.

Check out the video here:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAfWU_uHOeE&hl=en&fs=1]

It has also been exciting to see the fruits of their labor with the passage of the first Green Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 318 on 3/20/09. Democracy for New Mexico blogged about this important measure.

The passage of SB 318 is a huge success for groups like New Mexico Youth Organized, Green For All, Conservation Voters NM, New Energy Economy, the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council and 1Sky.

Big up’s to our young leaders!

“Clean” Coal Sludge

With all the recent talk, commercials, and news about clean coal, it’s timely to see an event emerge involving the horrible happenings in the small Tennessee town of Harriman (TV spot) (TN coal disaster) The story here is that Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Coal Plant, a coal-fired power plant that has been in the community since 1955, had a 40 acre holding pond break, and the heavy-metal enriched sludge that it contained spread throughout the underlying community.

To be exact it was 1 billion gallons, yes billions, of coal ash sludge which flowed so vigorously that three houses in its pathway now have been condemned and 42 other homes have been damaged. This sludge flow was so enormous that it now covers more than 300 acres and has risen up to heights of 65 feet in places! Continue reading

New Energy for Energy

I was fascinated by Obama’s choice of Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy. The choice of a scientist is unusual for a cabinet secretary, since cabinet positions often go to those from the political realm. Barb at Democracy for New Mexico has a lot more background on Chu, so I won’t go into his qualifications here.

The real opportunity is that political appointees often bring in tens of loyal staffers, who themselves are political appointees, and not often best suited to the policy tasks ahead. With Chu, we may see a nice little experiment – bringing in real life, substantive experience for specific policy challenges at the top of the food chain, rather than somewhere in the middle.

See also:

Washington Monthly:
A Sterling Team at Energy and Environment