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Aggregating Energy Since 2006

Climate Change

Opportunity to win $25 million

pacman

For you inventors out there, billionaire Virgin head honcho Sir Richard Branson has offered $25 million to the first person who can design a CO2 eating machine that can remove at least a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Branson made the announcement with Al Gore at his side. This hypothetical machine would differ from standard carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) because rather than capturing the CO2 at the source, it would remove it from the ambient air.

I'm offering my own contest with a $0 cash prize to the first person who can calculate the number of trees that would have to be planted to remove one billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Bonus question: how much land would these trees take up?

More House RES Testimony

While the Senate has voted overwhelmingly to approve S.F. 4, calling for a strong renewable energy standard for Minnesota, the House continued to hear testimony on it in the Energy Committee on Wednesday, 7 Feb. I attended, having heard they would hear ammendments to bill H.F. 4 but Representative Westrom (the Republican lead and former Chair of the committee) could not make it. Thus, they heard more testimony and pushed off ammendments for Monday.

Before going over the House testimony, I wanted to note the 4 Senators who voted against the RES. Senators Hann, Ingebrigsten, Pariseau, and Skoe all voted against passing S.F. 4. Given the amount of work that went into creating a strong compromise bill, it is too bad it could not leave the Senate unanimously. My previous RES coverage is available here.

Betsy Engelking from Xcel Energy presented their position and answered many questions. Before she could start though, Representative Peterson again reminded everyone that he is annoyed at the Senate's version and people testifying should keep their focus on HR 4.

Betsy started by discussing the varied and confusing requirements levied at Xcel by the legislature. I hadn't realized the wording of the original mandate to Xcel - that it ordered Xcel to purchase 425 MW of wind generation by a certain date. They fulfilled that with 10 year contracts. Xcel is under no obligation to renew those contracts and they start coming up soon.

I expect this is one of the reasons S.F. 4 removed the many different requirements on Xcel and folded them into one - 30% by 2020. This change freed up some 1125 MW of wind that could not previously be counted under the REO language to count toward the new standard and eases Xcel's burden somewhat while giving them full credit for their wind investments.

Xcel is aiming to have 1300MW of wind capacity installed by the end of this year. However, there is a question as to how much of that Xcel can own. They are currently building a 100MW wind farm. Some legislation, aimed at encouraging community investment (pre-dating the C-BED (Community-Based Energy Development) framework) said that Xcel could not own more than 100 MW of wind generation but it was unclear if that language applied to everything or just the 300 MW mandate that it added to Xcel's total mandates. So Xcel wants that language cleaned up so it can own more wind (when I read it the passage last year, I thought it only applied to the 300MW but I ain't no lawyer).

Interestingly, Xcel believes it will hold to its 2003 carbon dioxide emissions on its 30% by 2020 path. This is hardly going to stop global climate change, but it means that Xcel will not be increasingly its emissions.

In the period for questions and answers, Engelking discussed the recent cold snap and Xcel's call for consumers to limit their power usage due to tight availability of electricity. Representative Beard asked about the state of the grid, saying he had read that they had less than 4% spare capacity at times.

Engelking replied that they were caught in the middle of planned upgrades and an unexpected problem with one of the boilers at the Sherco unit (a huge coal plant). This is what left them with unexpectedly low spare capacity when the cold snap hit.

This would have been a great time for her to cast doubt on the plan to add so much wind onto the grid but she did not take it.

Beard went on to say he did not see the final purpose of this bill - was it for jobs? GHG reduction? Local economic development? And then he went and noted that they were all sitting there putting carbon dioxide into the air. What that has to do with anything, I'm not sure - I think most people were confused as to what human respiratory systems have to do with requiring additional renewable electricity on the grid.

For those who are not aware, there is a natural balance of GHGs in the world. GHGs are constantly being released and transformed in a continuous cycle. Human activity (from massive reliance on fossil fuels) has overwhelmed this process by releasing too many GHGs. Thus the point of controlling climate change is not to stop all GHG emissions but to return the natural system to a balanced state.

Toward the end of the meeting, Peterson made a plea for the Committee to pass the RES. He noted that they could pass it with a party-line vote but he did not want it to come to that. To that end, he asked that they set aside the C-BED issues until later and focus on passing an RES now.

On Monday, 12 Feb, the House Energy Committee will deal with amendments to H.F. 4 and we'll see what happens next.

Responsible Carbon Neutrality?

Many people have recently been discussing carbon neutrality because so many companies are carbon washing themselves.

Joel Makower makes some good points about when one should be considered carbon neutral:

But beyond that is a bigger concern: that carbon neutrality could be seen as a cover-up for real action. As such, there would be a backlash against companies making carbon-neutral claims without having taken the appropriate precursory steps to maximize their energy efficiency and use the highest percentage possible of energy derived from clean, renewable resources.

I think we should distinguish between responsible carbon neutrality and irresponsible. I don't know where Wal-Mart would fit within this model if they use sustainable building practices (big if given their dependence on massive parking lots and such) and LED lighting. On the other hand, their entire business model is based on carbon-intensive long-distance transit.

14 Minnesota Colleges kick-off Energy Saving Competitions

On February 1, 14 Minnesota colleges kicked-off Campus Wars, a state-wide energy saving competition managed and led by students in the Minnesota College Energy Coalition and the Minnesota Public interest research group. The competition measures percent reduction in heating and electricity use from the previous 3-year average for the entire campus, so student life, academic facilities, and institutional operation are all involved.

As one of the organizers and a student coordinator at Macalester College, I was delighted to get picked up by the Minnesota Daily:

http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2007/02/08/70675 

Students around the state, from Macalester to the U of Ms in the Twin Cities, Morris and Duluth, Carleton and more are pulling together to confront global warming and the energy crisis. We are moving forward with innovative on-campus solutions, institutional policies, state and federal advocacy, community energy development, and building a new campus culture of efficiency and innovation. 

The Midwest Climate Action Conference, which will draw hundreds of youth from across the Midwest to confront global warming, is in 3 weeks.

 

UMN Alumni Magazine, climate change, and editorial balance

Do news organizations have a responsibility to provide media coverage proportional to the scientific understanding of a topic? Is that even possible? (Assuming that the Minnesota Magazine really is a news organization.) Does that squelch minority opinions? (The world would still be flat if not for minority opinions.) Or does the need to maintain topic interest and controversy trump scientific consensus and editorial reporting?

Minnesota Magazine published an article on climate change (Sept/Oct 2006, "Hot Commodity", which elicited this response from a UMN alumni in the letters to the editor (Nov/Dec 2006):

<start>

Inconvenient Articles

Have you ever considered renaming your magazine Minnesota/Global Warming? It seems that every single issue is devoted to the idea of global warming, blames Bush, and allows no room for debate on the issues. A little, and I mean little, amount of research on the subject (Minnesota is a research University, right?) told me a few things not mentioned in your articles:

• The cost for America to comply with the Kyoto provisions have been estimated as high as $440 billion annually, would cost millions of jobs, and punish families to the tune of $2,700 a year.

• The United States got the worst of the deal when Clinton signed the Kyoto treaty: other countries were assigned lower reductions or completely exempted.

• The Senate voted unanimously 95-0 to reject the terms of the treaty.

• Satellite and weather balloon data show none of the warming found by land-based thermometers.

I look forward to the November–December magazine, which no doubt will mention how Christmas (excuse me, “holiday season”) will be ruined by global warming.

<end>

Which then elicited this response from a different alumni (Jan/Feb 2007):

<start>

Equal Time is Unbalanced

[NAME] is apparently the new conservative voice that helps the alumni association indicate balanced coverage in the alumni magazine [Letters, May–June 2005, May–June 2006, and November–December 2006]. At what point does balanced coverage override the need for objective assessment of opinions?

Minnesota magazine may very well be reporting on global warming more than other relevant topics. However, no other issue in history has likely been studied and scrutinized on a consensus basis as much as the science on global warming. Scientifically, detractors are approaching the realm of those who believe, but can’t produce evidence, that the earth is 6,000 years old. However, the media insists on giving equal time to the small minority, which tells the wrong story to the public.

Bowers mixes uncited research and politics, taken as fact, and would do well to read http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics [an independent environmental journalism Web site] on how to talk to climate change skeptics.

<end>

House RES Testimony

As many of you are aware, the Minnesota Senate's Renewable Energy Standard has been passed out of committee unanimously last week. Soon the entire Senate will act on it.

Meanwhile, the House Energy committee has taken the RES up. They are considering Representative Peterson's (DFL 20A) H.F. 4 bill which mirrors the language of S.F. 4. I discussed this language when observing the Senate's observations. You can listen to mp3 files of the Minnesota House Energy Committee meetings. This is quite convenient - I hope the Senate adopts similar information technology to encourage transparency.

The House has spent the better part of 2 sessions hearing testimony on H.F. 4 and will begin dealing with amendments and the link on Wednesday afternoon. As a result of the deal struck in the Senate committee, most of the stakeholders agreed to push the House to adopt the language of the Senate.

The testimony in front of the House Committee seems to reflect this. I may be mistaken, but the language of those testifying against the RES seems to have moderated as they say they believe it will be possible to meet a 25% by 2025 standard. However, the House Committee members have refused to roll over.

Former Chair of this committee, Representative Torrey Westrom (R 11A) seems to pursuing an anti-RES strategy based upon the marketing strategy called FUD (used famously by Microsoft against Linux). Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of less well known products, an established company can discourage decision-makers from choosing those products over its wares, regardless of the relative technical merits.

Do not forget that Westrom's Committee did not allow a renewable energy standard to leave committee.

Representative Westrom's main tactic has been insinuating in several questions that the RES will not help rural Minnesota because it does not cover community development issues. This is a red herring because both the Senate and the House are hearing that as a separate issue. Yet Westrom has returned to this point even after being assured by the Chair that the committee will be visiting community ownership of wind. He actually went so far as to demand an answer as to what would happen if the Leg passes a strong RES but doesn't do anything for community ownership issues - as though this were not a major priority for both the DFL and the Pawlenty Administration.

Representative Westrom does not seem interested in the fact that coal plants offer far less community development prospects - especially when they are built in South Dakota (Big Stone I and II) for Minnesota demand. Strikes me that even if the Leg were to collectively get dementia after passing the RES and forget to deal with community-based energy development, rural Minnesota would still be considerably better off than under the status quo of coal and imported power.

Representative Magnus (R 22A) joined Westrom in challenging Fresh-Energy's Michael Noble. He tried to suggest Noble had downplayed Minnesota's place in wind power when he noted that the REO is in the middle of the pack in terms of the amount of renewable energy it demands. Magnus talked about Minnesota's commitment to wind (because we have the 4th highest amount of installed capacity in the country) and actually seemed to imply that Noble was impugning Minnesota by noting how many other states are more ambitious in their standards. Given Noble's role in forcing Minnesota to require wind development, Magnus' comments seem unnecessarily hostile and out of line.

Lest this is perceived to be a rant against one party, I have to note the obvious anger of bill author Peterson directed at Franklin from the Chamber of Commerce who had the temerity to reference the amended language of S.F. 4. It would seem that Rep. Peterson is upset at the outcome of the Senate Energy Committee because he feels he could have created a stronger bill in the House and forced more concessions from utilities. As it is, the media coverage of the Senate bill have largely focused heavily on Senator Anderson and not on Representative Peterson.

At any rate, he spoke harshly against Franklin and said he should respect the bill in front of the committee. Franklin was responding to a direct question from a Representative at the time and was defended by other members of the committee but it shows how seriously Peterson considers his bill and also suggests he may be unlikely to look favorably upon ammendments to square his bill with the new S.F. 4.

We'll see what happens in the next committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chamber of Commerce reminded committee members that even seemingly minor rate increases are recieved differently by companies that pay thousands (or hundreds of thousands) for electricity per year whereas residential customers may pay only hundreds. He also noted that the Chamber of Commerce is working on a conservation program to encourage energy efficiency.

It's not always what you say...

...but how you say it?

In this morning's New York Times, this article http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/03/science/earth/03climate.html?ref=science calls global warming unequivocal.  There's really nothing new here for those of us who have been following the GW "debate" and *gasp* already understood that the evidence is more than compelling, but the question is whether use of more forceful language will impact the naysayers. 

The article quotes Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program:  “Feb. 2 will be remembered as the date when uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet,” he went on. “The evidence is on the table.”

Others out there have used the language of certainty to describe the impact of global warming.  So will this attempt at removing uncertainty as a issue drive policy makers into action?  Has the issue finally been framed in such a way to force real changes?  My favorite part of the article:

The Bush administration, which until recently avoided directly accepting that humans were warming the planet in potentially harmful ways, embraced the findings, which had been approved by representatives from the United States and 112 other countries on Thursday night.

Administration officials asserted Friday that the United States had played a leading role in studying and combating climate change, in part by an investment of an average of almost $5 billion a year for the past six years in research and tax incentives for new technologies.

At the same time, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman rejected the idea of unilateral limits on emissions. “We are a small contributor to the overall, when you look at the rest of the world, so it’s really got to be a global solution,” he said.

The United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other country.

Democratic lawmakers quickly fired off a round of news releases using the report to bolster a fresh flock of proposed bills aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has called the idea of dangerous human-driven warming a hoax, issued a news release headed “Corruption of Science” that rejected the report as “a political document.”

Well, maybe it doesn't matter what or how it's said, some will never listen.  Hopefully this new report will have some impact on those policy makers concerned about uncertainty, and strengthen some climate change initiatives.

RES Analysis

The potential new RES is now available online. Many are calling it the most aggressive Renewable Energy Standard in the country, but such absolute comparisons are difficult (and ours is not law yet, it has to go through the House and conference committee). California has an RES of 20% by 2010 and a goal of 33% by 2020.

Regardless, this is certainly a massive step foward thanks to the hard work of many people. Senator Anderson has pushed for an RES for many years and deserves much of the credit. Governor Pawlenty's new energy package certainly also had a hand in making it so strong.

Let's dive right into it.

The renewable energy standard says that utilities must create a certain percentage of the electricity they sell from eligible (renewable) technologies by a certain year. Xcel has once again been singled out for more aggressive responsibilities but in a different way than as under our current Renewable Energy Objective. The objective has been increased to 7% by 2010 rather than an objective of 5% by 2010 as under current law.

After 2010, there are several standards (this is all utilities aside from Xcel). 12% by 2012. 17% by 2016. 20% by 2020. 25% by 2025.

Now we get to Xcel. Xcel continues to have a standard rather than an objective. However, its many wind project requirements under the Prairie Island deals (made in exchange for increasing temporary nuclear storage at the site) will now count toward its requirement. Currently, those projects do not count toward Xcel's standard. Counting them is now justified due to Xcel's greatly increased obligations.

For Xcel: 15% by 2010, 18% by 2012, 25% by 2016, and 30% by 2020! Given that Xcel sells some 50% of all power sold in Minnesota, this standard is a tremendous achievement.

Xcel is mandated to use wind for 25% of its generation in 2020. This sort of technological lock-in can be dangerous to write into statute though as the ultimate goal is not to produce wind so much as it is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, wind is the most economical way to do that and this requirement will make sense so long as that remains true. If other eligible technologies have a massive technological or economical leap, this language will have to be modified or Xcel will waste its ratepayer's money.

As everyone expected, eligible hydro has a new ceiling of 100MW. Larger hydroelectric facilities will not count toward the renewable requirement. They have dropped the language that would have made old hydro ineligible. Greenpricing has also been axed so I guess I'll have a couple extra dollars a month.

The offramp language is more robust but also gives the PUC less decision-making power. Previously, the language said the PUC "may" modify or delay the standard if certain conditions are met but it now reads that the PUC "shall" modify or delay the standard.

Nonetheless, the PUC has been given a strong set of criteria by which to judge if a utlity merits a delay or modification (look halfway down the post). The Committee finishes the compliance section with a warning to the PUC and a requirement that a utility must file a plan to meet the standard if it requests a delay.

When considering whether to delay or modify implementation of a standard obligation, the commission must give due consideration to a preference for electric generation through use of eligible energy technology and to the achievement of the standards set by this section.

The bill requires the PUC to develop the credit trading program (well on the way - MRETS) and credits cannot be treated differently based upon the state in which they were generated. All utilities must work with this system.

Of course, we still want to encourage energy development in Minnesota:

The commission shall take all reasonable actions within its statutory authority to ensure this section is implemented to maximize benefits to Minnesota citizens, balancing factors such as local ownership of or participation in energy production, development and ownership of eligible energy technology facilities by independent power producers, Minnesota utility ownership of eligible energy technology facilities, the costs of energy generation to satisfy the renewable standard, and the reliability of electric service to Minnesotans.

On to the House!

MPR coverage. Pioneer Press coverage. My RES chain of posts begin here.

Energy Committee OKs RES

Minnesota is one step closer to an official Renewable Energy Standard today after the Senate Energy Committee moved S.F. 4 out of committee and onto the Senate floor (at time of publishing, bill was not yet updated in the Senate system). This post follows my coverage of the RES/REO discussions.

The bill is different than anticipated - Loon Commons has a brief comment about it.

It looks like Xcel will continue to be held to a different reqirement - 30% of all power by 2025 and other utilities will have a standard of 25% by 2025.

You can watch the 36 minute committee hearing online via the klunky Senate system. Look for the row for Thursday, 1 Feb, 2007.

Chair Prettner Solon noted that the stakeholder group came to a strong agreement.

What came out of this, with the stakeholders that were involved, with the exception of one municipal utility who is not able to support this, have agreed on the language and have agreed that they will not offer amendments; they will not lobby against it; and that they will advocate for this position in the other body also.

I'm hoping that we have a good solid bill that we can move foward. And I thank you all.

Judging from the post at Loon Commons, I'm curious if they left some environmental groups behind also. Given the sudden change in the targets and dates, I would not be surprised if some environmental orgs were disappointed.

There was an interesting situation in the committee where Senator Vandeveer (first term Republican from District 42) attempted to offer an amendment that would increase the standard by 1% in 2017 (or 2018, I forget). He offered little justification for an amendment which clearly was unneeded and against the spirit of the entire process that far.

In the end, Senator Anderson and Senator Dibble prevailed upon him to withdraw the amendment and he complied. I figured out why they have these committee meetings during the day - I think they are trying to rival drama on TV.

Nonetheless, we appear to be heading to a better outcome than we hoped 8 months ago. I will link to the bill as soon as it is available and provide more details.

Climate Change A/V Achive

If you missed the historic 8-way Committee meeting on global climate change, you can view it online via the House archive. They are listed chronologically, so scroll down to 30 January and look for "Informational presentation on global warming."

Additionally, you can listen to a call-in show from Minnesota Public Radio on global warming.

RES Draft Bill

I have been meaning to post about last week's RES discussions in the Senate Energy Committee. My home internet has been broken for a week and Comcast has proven uninterested in fixing the problem. At any rate, I will now continue my continuing coverage of renewable energy legislation in the Minnesota Senate.

The time is ripe and the Committee appears poised to vote on the resolution on Thursday, Feb 1. These notes come from the Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan 25 (Real media video, Windos Media Video, and mp3 audio).

The Senate Committee will be voting on (and approving) S.F. 4. Behind the scenes, the committee has convened stakeholder meetings to work out a compromise bill that the committee will then pass. I have a draft from last week's agreement but it has undoubtedly been refined since. I think we have a basic idea of what the committee will pass though.

If all goes to plan, the bill will be S.F. 4, but don't bother reading the text of that bill now because the committee will adopt a "delete all" amendment that rewrites the entire bill with language selected to assure passage and broad agreement.

It will be a 25% standard, requiring all utilities in Minnesota to generate 25% of the electricity they sell in the year 2020 from renewable resources.

At this point, it still looks like they will remove the biomass set asides although there are some people that are still fighting such action. Under the current REO, utilities must use biomass for part of their generation. This has proved difficult and costly without enough of a benefit to justify keeping it. It is also hobbled by the way it is written - though intended to be .5% of all energy sold, it actually requires utilities to generate .5% of 10% of their sales. Whoops. No Senator has yet appeared willing to keep this biomass language.

The standard targets are 11% by 2013, 15% by 2015, and 25% by 2020. Utilities may bank excess renewable generation in one year to use for future years.

The draft I have still disallows old hydro (put into service before 1975) - which will apparently take 200MW of Xcel hydro from being allowed to being disallowed. This provision is justified by supporters because the point of the RES is to create new, carbon-neutral generation sources rather than reward old generation facilities.

There is an interested provision on technologies based upon fuel combustion that says it can only count toward the standard if it was constructed with new source performance standards or uses best available control technology for that type of facility. This limits co-generation units to those which are least polluting.

The RES bill will offer substantially more offramp provisions than the Senator Anderson's original proposal. There is a section that gives the PUC power to decide if it needs to modify or delay a standard if it is in the public interest to do so (for reasons of reliability, technical concerns, or major rate impact) if there are significant reasons to do so.

It then includes language which says "the commission shall modify or delay" obligations if there are issues beyond the utilities' control. Note that the PUC has not choice in this matter, it must grant a delay or modification if this situation arises. The reasons are

  1. delays in acquiring sites or routes or due to rejection of necessary siting or other permitting approvals;
  2. delays, cancellations, or nondelivery of necessary equipment for construction or commercial operation of an eligible energy facility; or
  3. transmission constraints preventing delivery of service.

I am guessing that these clear offramps were needed to ensure broad approval of the ambitious 25% by 2020 standard. While some are worried about the increased offramps, I really don't think they matter in the long run. Whaaaa? Well...

The point of the RES is to force utilities to invest in carbon-neutral electricity generation. Just by passing this legislation, the state sends a message to the market that Minnesota is committed to the wind market. Utilities will know what is expected of them. If they are not meeting their obligations in 5-7 years, when the consensus will be even stronger that carbon emissions are a problem, they will incur the wrath of the legislature and public.

The compliance penalty will have a ceiling of the cost of complying with the standard. I thought this was odd, but commenter Jesse reminded me that this penalty will levied against the company whereas the cost of complying with the standard can be recovered from ratepayers. Additionally, the PUC can first order the utility to construct facilities or buy credits. Ideally, the penalties will never be required anyway.

The bill then deals with transmission, saying that utilites must work with MISO to develop a plan to ensure the grid can handle the coming load from so much wind generation.

The final provision deleted green pricing. This bothers me becuase I like having the option of forcing utilities to deliver 100% green power to customers willing to pay extra. But this is most likely a worthwhile tradeoff given the strong standard.

Once the committee sends this bill out of committee, we'll see what happens in the full Senate. I hope to follow the House deliberations on their RES closely as well in order to see how closely the two agree.

Again, this discussion is based on a draft bill. I look forward to the final wrap-up after the vote on Thursday.

The new RES will require all electric utilities to participate in the PUC approved credit tracking system (MRETS). This is an important step for an effective tracking program.

The committee will next be dealing with C-BED (Community-Based Economic Development) issues and the CIPs (Conservation Improvement Programs).

Bush Clueless on Energy

The Star Tribune has an excellent editorial on Bush's energy proposals from his State of the Union address. In short, they will likely encourage continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions and do little to encourage biofuels.

Finally, as he did last year, the president emphasized the need for the development and expansion of alternative fuels. The prospect of expanding corn ethanol production and the development of other biofuels is not only good for energy self-reliance, it's also good for the economies of states like Minnesota, where corn, prairie grasses and other sources of fuel can be grown. Here the president did propose a mandate: the production of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017. But whole-plant or cellulosic ethanol, which would have fewer environmental impacts than corn ethanol, isn't ready for prime time, and Bush has never supported the levels of research necessary to create a working industry.

As is usual for politicians at the national level, Bush used misleading language which may make the uninformed observer think he is encouraging smarter energy policy when he is actually doing the opposite. Indeed, his ideas aren't just bad for energy, they are bad for U.S. companies as well.

Bush advocates changing the fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, but the way in which he wants to change them makes more sense for the sagging auto industry than as a means of reaching his purported goal: getting more miles per gallon of fuel.

A major reason for poor U.S. sales remains the wretched fuel economy of U.S. car companies. They have pushed the most profitable cars - SUVs - without a care for environmental consequences and without increasing the competitiveness of their smaller cars. CAFE is smarter than the execs - it is not often you hear government bureaucrats making better decisions than the market, but we need to go that route unless we really want the market to punish U.S. automakers with continued declining sales.

Rising to the Challenge: Youth Climate mobilization

This week January 29th-Feb 2nd is the national week of youth climate action: Rising to the Challenge, with events hosted at 575 campuses nation-wide. Students in Minnesota will host Campus Wars, a month long competition to save energy and speak out for climate change action.

I invite you to check out the wider initiative at http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/category/week-of-action/

Hosted by It's Getting Hot in Here, the global youth climate movement blog.

In case you want to check out the campuses involved, you can do so at: http://www.climatechallenge.org/woa

I coordinate many of the efforts of the Minnesota schools at campus sustainability, advocacy, and developing ambitious, concrete solutions to global warming.

Midwest youth in this movement will gather together for the Youth Climate Action Conference on March 2-4 in Madison Wisconsin - the second annual gathering our youth energy and climate leaders.

Climate Change

We have a lot of local climate change events in the immediate future, so I wanted to note them. First of all, many people have been talking about Bush using the term "global climate change" in his State of the Union address this week. Unsurprisingly, Bush's energy proposals are imaginative only in the sense that they are deceitful.

It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power -- by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power.

Let's parse this. In the first sentence, he says we must "diversify America's energy supply." One might expect this to mean that we should get our energy from more sources or organize those sources so that rely upon each in a roughly proportional amount. Next sentence. We need to use more coal. We rely upon coal for electricity to a major degree. Some 50% of electricity in the U.S. is generated from coal. If we were to diversify our energy supply, we would focus on things like wind and solar and perhaps even nuclear, although if we are to achieve a balance, we need to focus on wind and solar.

This is where the logic of "energy independence" clashes with that of mitigating global climate change. If we are to focus on energy security, we should focus on coal because we have lots of it domestically. However, coal is the worst fossil fuels in terms of increasingly greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, if we are to cut greenhouse gases, we must use less coal (unless carbon sequestration technology and policy clears its hurdles and can compete in the market like wind power).

I attended a lecture by the University of Minnesota's Dr. Tilman on biofuels and energy issues. His research is promising, but requires more research and years of experiments. This irritated the gentleman sitting in front of me who whispered that we need solutions now. While he is right in that we need to start implementing smart policies now (which many states are now doing, Minnesota included), I wondered if he actually understands the inertia in the system.

Inertia is not complicated. It is the tendency of objects in motion to stay in motion and for those at rest to stay at rest. The climate has massive inertia. We have spent hundreds of years putting too many greenhouse gases into the environment. As a result, we are committed to significant warning regardless of what we do today. The question is how we can limit it.

Those who think we still have time to prevent it are wrong. If we do not make this clear, we will face considerable pain in 5 years when the average person in the U.S. wonders why lifestyle changes are necessary if the climate is continuing to warm. While we need to start acting now, continuing to research makes a lot of sense and should be funded heavily by the government as well as private enterprises.

Many of these issues are covered in a good energy roundtable discussion led by WAMU's Diane Rehm. You can download the podcast here but it appears to cut off near the end.

At any rate, there are a number of events over the next couple of days that deal with climate change.

Friday, all day. Risk and Response Conference at the Humphrey Institute

Friday night, Minnesota Public Radio is doing some sort of a public forum on climate change. Tickets are sold out, but you can listen online - they will be streaming it from MPR.org starting at 7:00. It will also be replayed on Tuesday's Midmorning show at 9:00AM.

Tuesday, 4:00PM - Several committees from the Minnesota Legislature are having a joint session on climate change. They will meet in the House Chamber. Committees involved will be: Environment & Natural Resources, Environment & Natural Resources Finance, Energy Finance & Policy and Transportation Finance.

On the agenda is Will Steger, Dr. David Tilman, Dr. Lee Frelich, Dr. Lucinda Johnson, Archbishop Harry Flynn and Bishop Craig Johnson.

The public will be able to view the event in rooms 217 and 316 of the State Capitol, where it will be projected on the walls, and on TVs in 123 State Capitol, the Capitol Cafeteria and 5 State Office Building.

More reason for cautious optimism...

Environmental Defense reports that ten major corporations have joined forces with four environmental groups to form the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). The group is calling for a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions and more international cooperation by the US to address climate change. The corporations are: Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, Florida Power & Light, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, Pacific Gas & Electric, and PNM Resources. The environmental groups are Environmental Defense, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute.

USCAP

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