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Aggregating Energy Since 2006
We focus on energy policy and issues relating to climate change. Anyone may comment on an item; all views solely reflect the opinion of the author. Please email us if you have comments or questions.

Full carbon accounting for nuclear power

In an interesting report, a team of Australian academics created a life-cycle accounting of carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear plants and found them to be higher than previously thought. The main source of the difference is the mining of uranium, which is predicted to become more energy intensive as the high-grade sources diminish. This report is apparently the first to consider the environmental costs throughout the process of creating nuclear power.  It is helpful to have a greater accounting of the impacts of nuclear energy, and this report could be used to further illuminate decisions about new electricity plants. However, I would still imagine that the greenhouse gas emissions of these sources are much lower than any fossil fuel source, even including the transportation and sourcing of the uranium.

Just the Tree of Us

Newsweek ran a cover story on the Enviro and Leadership that had some details I wanted to note. It focuses on Hillary, Obama, and McCain (or, if you have followed his blatant abandoning of energy issues by skipping every 2007 vote on energy issues, you might call him McShame).

I am not convinced McCain will be the global climate change legislation champion we would hope him to be. His recent actions have me wondering if his past work with Lieberman on climate change was merely him trying to get center-cred by championing an issue he knew would go nowhere.

I don't know - because I do not follow national politics closely enough. I know he has taken a lot of heat from the right on this and his work has helped us by showing that Republicans are divided on this (kinda) so maybe I am too harsh. The story considers this:

A plausible explanation is that McCain sought to avoid taking a position that would offend either conservative primary voters or the moderate ones he will need in November. A more relevant statistic might be his lifetime LCV rating, which is 26 percent, compared with an average of 16 percent for all Republicans. As recently as 2004, when his rating for the 108th Congress reached 56 percent, the league endorsed him for re-election to the Senate.

I do feel more comfortable criticizing the media because I pay much more attention to their coverage and listen to a number of shows that look at media coverage. Perhaps because the media regards this as being a boring issues among 3 candidates who all acknowledge the massive challenge to deal with climate change, they have refused to ask questions about climate change.

The League of Conservation Voters tracks how often candidates are asked about environmental issues in televised debates and interviews, and the current tally shows that of 3,231 questions by the leading political reporters from five networks, exactly eight concerned global warming.

Newsweek also looks at 10 fixes for global warming - all of them fairly small in the tradition of recognizing it will take a massive patchwork to change our carbon habit. One is massive kites to help pull containers ships across the ocean (so China can keep making all our consumer goods and shipping them to us).

Any idea how far the largest container ships can go on a gallon of fuel? Try 37 feet. That adds up to 2 billion barrels of petroleum a year. "If the shipping industry were a country, it would be No. 7 in carbon emissions," says Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist for Oceana.

Sure, those ships are over 300m long and carry billions of dollars worth of stuff (with the value of the dollar, probably many tens of billions at this point) but 37 feet?? I'm not sure whether to be impressed or not.

Finally, the article alerted me to which offers a scorecard measuring big companies on global warming stuff. I see that Canon is rated highly (Nikon - my camera company of choice, is not ranked) whereas Apple is nearly at the bottom (which made me smile because I hate my MacBook and love my PCs).

Tax Intl Fuel

If you are shipping a refrigerator from China to the U.S., the fuel used by the ship is not taxed. The International Herald Tribune has a story looking at international transportation.

The lack of taxes on these fuels has helped keep the cost of such shipping quite low, greatly encouraging products to travel further and further from production to consumer. The article points out that this is not always a net loss for those of concerned with using energy efficiently:

Some foods that travel long distances may actually have an environmental advantage over local products, like flowers grown in the tropics instead of in energy-hungry northern greenhouses.

Another complication is deciding how such a tax would be administered and collected - there is no authority governing all these international shippers.

Nonetheless, it strikes me that when we run into the pollution resulting from all this transportation, it should be taxed.

Gore's New Slides

Al's updated his slideshow and presented it at TED. Toward the end, he talks about the upcoming election though he hedges quite a bit.

theWatt Podcast

Despite my lack of posts over the past year or so, Ben Kenney invited me to participate in his weekly discussion podcast last week. I enjoyed the show - in which we talked a lot about biofuels and hot topics like Al Gore's $300 million campaign. It is especially interesting to talk with folks outside the U.S. - Canada and England in this case.

Prius v. Hummer

I continue to hear claims (even from people who should know better) that the Prius is somehow less energy efficient over its lifetime than the Hummer. This is total BS and Slate explained why the Prius is more efficient and why so many people claim otherwise.

Most of this disinformation comes from a loony report that too many serious people took ... well, seriously. It was not. It was a hack job.

The skeptics' basic argument is that the Prius' battery is irredeemably un-green, mostly because of its high nickel content and complex manufacturing process. As a result, "Dust to Dust" contends that a Prius will consume $3.25 worth of energy per mile over its cradle-to-grave lifetime. A Hummer H2, by contrast, will use $3.03 per mile and the Hummer H3 just $1.95.

It seems that the authors just made a bunch of stuff up and got Rush Limbaugh to do their publicity. When I first looked at this report, my BS-meter went off when I saw their claims that most of the energy in a cradle-to-grave analysis of vehicles comes its production.

"Dust to Dust" also posits that the vast majority of a car's cradle-to-grave energy gets expended during production. That assertion runs contrary to virtually every other analysis of vehicular life cycles, including those conducted by MIT (PDF) and Argonne National Laboratory.

Next time you hear someone spreading this disinformation, send them to the Slate piece. And please stop repeating it.

Food Prices

The March/April 2008 issue of Foreign Policy discusses high wheat prices in its FP Quiz. I found the following interesting:

Although the price of gold rose 35 percent and the price of oil skyrocketed 57 percent in 2007, the price of wheat grew a staggering 80 percent during the same period. According to the International Grains Council, a ton of American hard red winter wheat -- the common standard for the price of wheat -- sold for $203 in early January before leaping to $365 by the end of December, thanks to rising demand in developing countries and heavy droughts.

No talk of biofuels? I guess they should talk to Shell Oil. I just wanted to note this because rising food prices involve many factors despite the one sided coverage that likes to insist they are heavily dependent on corn prices.

I would guess another factor is the high price of oil, which drives up transportation costs. And as extreme weather events from global climate change increase in intensity and frequency, food prices will continue to rise regardless of biofuels policy.

This suggests to me that we may want to encourage some sort of change in policy if we are worried about people not being able to afford food. But I'm guessing the concerns for food prices are driven largely by cynical anti-biofuels interests who will go back to ignoring the plight or the poor immediately after their anti-biofuels polices were enacted.

Solar v Trees

The AP had an interesting article that I read in the Star Tribune on Sunday (but subsequently couldn't find online - found it elsewhere:  Neighbors Clash Over Trees, Solar Power)  In California, a man put up solar panels in 2001 and then sued his neighbors because their trees blocked his panels.  The trees were there before the panels were erected.  After a 6-year lawsuit, a judge ruled that two of the 8 redwoods would need to be removed because California has a law protecting a homeowner's right to sunlight.  The Solar Shade Control Act states that a homeowner can block no more than 10% of a neighbor's solar panels between 10 am and 2 pm with shrubs or trees.  This is the first conviction under the law since it was enacted 30 years ago.  Fascinating.  A spokeswoman for a local environmental group thinks the law may need to be reexamined to prevent similar lawsuits in the future.  I can't imagine being in the same situation - I don't think I would put up solar panels if my neighbors' trees were blocking them significantly... or at least I would talk with the neighbors first!  

Ethanol & GHGs

Biofuels have been tarred this week following some research in Science suggesting GHGs may be increased under some scenarios involving expanding use of biofuels.

In fact, our own local "weakest link" columnist got a column on MSNBC in which she continues her 100% always wrong streak.

Not that I'm coming back after a long posting hiatus to take cheap shots at people I disagree with. But I hate this sensationalist crap. Look, I'm not an expert on biofuels - and what I do know makes me think we need to rapidly slow the amount of driving we do rather than find a new fuel. But to claim that biofuels are increasing greenhouse gases today is absurd.

We should study just how effective they are though. So, kudos to those who are examining the true effects of expanding biofuel production and a giant sigh at those who trumpet some half-baked claims because it runs counter to the prevailing wisdom.

Disclosure: I work for the folks who put out this report debunking the claims made by some over-reaching researchers and the press on GHGs and ethanol. However, I don't do any energy work for them. I'm a tech-telecom geek.

From what I can tell, there are some environmentally destructive practices that are ultimately counterproductive when it comes to biofuels. However, most of what I have heard has been to produce biodiesel - which is why we need smart legislation that looks at the GHG emissions associated with each fuel and the manner in which it is produced. Coal-fired ethanol is right stupid. Planting non-native trees to produce biodiesel will probably bite us in the long run. Let's be smart folks, but let's be rigorous too.

"In case of global warming, break glass"

Marketplace did a thought-provoking story on "geo-engineering," ways to prevent the Earth from warming too much even if we can't reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time. The ideas sound like they're from science fiction novels, such as a huge space umbrella to filter the sun's rays. However, they are gaining credibility with some scientists, since the cost of addressing GHG is currently astronomical. Were we to go this route, where countries are able to "place their hand on the global thermostat," I think we would need to have a stronger international community/regulating structure to monitor the process and adjudicate among nations who want different things. Check it out.

Fact Checking the State of the Union

NPR did a great story on fact checking the recent State of the Union address. Check out the section on climate change. The basic analysis is that though Bush says he is committed to addressing climate change internationally, he really just wants to create a new agreement that looks for new solutions but does not affect emissions. Internationally, his plan "is seen as a way to doge the mandatory commitments in the U.N. system." Some of the candidates, the Democrats and John McCain, are espousing a mandatory cap & trade system and strengthening international agreements. Congress currently seems unlikely to pass anything ground-breaking.

Does Energy efficiency just offer more money to squander?

As more and more vehicles and appliances become energy efficient, Americans save money -- then spend that money on more and bigger vehicles and appliances, a new study finds.

Big Stone II coal-plant debate turns to carbon regulation

The group of utilities backing the Big Stone II power plant, slated to be built near Milbank, S.D., filed new documents with Minnesota utility regulators Tuesday. The filing includes, for the first time, cost estimates for electricity prices that assume some type of carbon tax, cap-and-trade program or other regulation will add to the cost of generating power. An environmental lawyer representing the project's opponents said they're skeptical about a figure used by the utilities, though. The hypothetical cost of carbon regulation used in their report is $9 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted.  

Policy and a Pint

Short Description: 

Come listen to the guys who wrote "The Death of Environmentalism" discuss their view on the future of environmental advocacy, have appetizers from the Loring Pasta Bar, and drink good beer!


Varsity Theater, 1308 4th St SE, Minneapolis


Hosted by the Citizens League and 89.3 The Current.


$10 general, $5 with student ID

Full Description: 

89.3 The Current and the Citizens League open the new season of Policy and a Pint with Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of "Breakthrough." The two stirred up controversy a few years ago when they released an essay called "The Death of Environmentalism." They argued that the old ways of talking about pollution and acid rain would never change how people go about their lives, and that "environmentalism" had to die in order for real change to happen to protect our water, air and land. Their new book expands on their original idea. They believe controlling global warming won't happen with more calls to end pollution; instead we need to come up with new models that take into account economics, job creation and people's quality of life. 89.3 The Current DJ Steve Seel will moderate the event.

Details on St. Paul Public Buildings' Efficiency

The City of St. Paul has a Sustainable Initiative and the Council Matters video program recently covered what St. Paul is doing to become more efficient.

They interview Dave Nelson, the city of St. Paul's real estate manager, about a new building that will use 45% less energy than one built only to code. The building uses special asphalt that allows water to drain through it to the earth rather than channeling it to a drain.

They have also arranged the building so the offices and conference rooms are in the south of the building to use as much natural light as possible. Other areas have solar tubes bringing light from the roof into the building. Sensors controlling the lights automatically keep light levels even depending on the amount of ambient light.

They are also retrofitting old buildings to use less energy and achieving paybacks of between a 2-5 years from what I remember. The Council Matters program seems like a good source of local news to St. Paul.

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