Alternative Energy, Energy Independence and Global Warming Reduction

California Again Leads the Way

The California Air Resources Board adopted a comprehensive plan to implement Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006, which calls for a cutback in state greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 level by 2020. In the next 12 years these measures will affect a wide range of activities, including where people live, where they work, what kind of appliances they buy, what they drive or the fuel they put in their cars.
      In spite of opposition from business groups that these fuel efficiency measures will increase the cost of doing business in California during a time of crisis, it is Governor Schwarzenegger’s view that the new regulations will help the state economy through the promotion and development of green technology. Just last month, the Governor, who signed AB 32, issued an executive order boosting the state’s renewable energy standard to 20% by 2010 and 33% by 2020. Besides reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming, these measures will also save businesses and consumers money in the long run. The 31 measures adopted by the Air Resources Board to meet climate goals include:

Carbon Trading

Impose an emissions limit or cap on major contributors to greenhouse gasses; utilities, oil and gas refineries and large industrial sources.
Create a cap-and-trade market so that large polluters can gradually lower emissions in conjunction with other western states and Canadian provinces.

Require automobile manufacturers to produce more efficient and less polluting cars.
Require fuels to be 10% less carbon intensive.
Offer incentives to local government to curb urban sprawl and reduce commuting distances.
Support a state-length high-speed rail system recently approved by voters.
Require cargo and cruise ships to reduce emissions while idling in state ports.
Require more efficient engines in big-rig trucks or installation ofl emission filters on existing engines.

Generate by 2020 one-third of power by state utilities from renewables: wind, solar and geothermal.
Establish new energy efficient standards for appliances and both new and old buildings.
Reduce energy consumption in the use and movement of water.
Continue the funding of solar electric or water-hearing systems through rebates.
Require power plants, refineries, cement plants and large industrial sites to conduct energy audits and reduce emissions.

Implement cap-and-trade system described above.
Reduce methane emissions at refineries and in transportation.
Limit flaring at oil refineries.
Forestry and Agriculture

Preserve existing growth and manage forests to store carbon dioxide.
Reduce emissions through greater use of manure digesters.
Trash and Recycling

Use methane produced by landfills.
Increase recycling and reduce trash going to landfills.
Tough Diesel Emissions Standards

     Since Californians have suffered from heavy pollution for years and large diesel trucks are the major source of air pollution in the state, the new rules will require the installation of soot filters or new engines on thousands of trucks, anb trucks older than 13 years will have to be equipped with nitrogen oxide reducing equipment. Trucks from other states or Canada will also have to conform to these regulations. Under the new rules, every truck larger that a standard size pickup will require comparable equipment.
     Owners of trucking companies have protested, claiming that the added costs of retrofitting their fleets, on top of higher fuel costs, will force them out of business, or that the added costs will be passed on to the consumer. But state officials think that consumers will only experience a minor rise in prices, while the state will save millions of dollars in reduced health care costs and lost work days caused by diesel related illnesses, not to mention saving thousands of lives. In addition, the costs of conversion may be spread over 16 years and loans or bond issues will be available to help finance replacements.
     Despite the drop in gasoline prices and an increasing state budget deficit, the Governor and the Air Resources Board agree that going green will not only cut emissions and costs in the long run, but will also stimulate the economy and create new well-paying jobs. Already more than $2.5 billion has been invested in new companies this year in California because of its landmark environmental goals and strategies.
     Cars, fuel, electricity and building materials may become more expensive, but the energy savings will more than offset their initial costs. According to a report from the Air Resources Board, consumers would save about $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient cars and by living in more efficient homes. Though some economists challenge its figures, the air board estimates the new regulations would save $40 billion, compared to the $25 billion cost to implement them.

Bullet Train Moves Forward

     California voters also passed a bond issue last month for a bullet train from San Diego to Sacramento, which will relieve congestion, reduce emissions and lower costs for intercity travel, and several counties and cities are planning connecting light rail systems. While some eastern cities and cities throughout Europe and Japan already have access to mass public transit, including bullet trains, Californians have not enjoyed that convenience. Given the length of the state, the size of the population and the frequency of north-south travel, the construction of an efficient north-south rail system would constitute a tremendous improvement in transportation, progress toward meeting the emissions targets of AB 32, and might even mitigate the citizenry’s love affair with the car. It would also provide a great stimulus to the economy and create thousands of new jobs in its construction, maintenance and operation.

Changes in Washington

     Though the higher automobile mileage standards already adopted by California have been blocked by the Bush administration, the hope is that the incoming administration will not only support the state’s right to implement higher standards, but that federal government and other states will follow California’s “carbon diet” and adopt similar measures. Ideally, since the issue of climate change is global, other states, nations or international agencies would join, set up higher emissions standards and support a global carbon trading market.
                - Tony White

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Wind Machines Noisy? Not According to This Town, Which Went For More And Bigger Turbines

The town of Hull, Massachusetts, is at the forefront of American towns striving for energy independence. The town is situated near an area that is classified as one in the United States with the highest average sustained wind velocity. Way back in the 1980s the town installed a 40 kW EnerTech wind turbine near the high school. This turbine ran from 1985 to 1997 when its blade tip brakes failed during a storm.
     Undeterred by the failure, the town citizens got together and decided to put a larger wind turbine in its place. After extensive planning and help from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Renewable Energy Research Laboratory the citizens of Hull in 2001 accepted a proposal to install a 660 kW Danish built Vestas wind turbine. The turbine was installed and started to produce power by the end of 2001.
      The town was so happy with the new wind turbine, that in 2007 they installed a larger version across town that is rated at 1.8 MW. According to the townspeople, there is very little noise from the turning turbine propeller blades even when standing beneath them. They also feel the aesthetics of having the two wind turbines do not detract from the overall aesthetics of the town.
      - Herb Whittall

Climate Change Ignites Educational Debate

While the battle is still being fought out in some states over including creationism in the science classes, California is facing a different debate over the science curriculum.
     A new bill, introduced in the state legislature by Silicon Valley State Senator Joe Simitian would require that future science textbooks for public schools discuss "climate change". Because it is an important and relevant issue, supporters argue, students need to understand the science behind global warming and, therefore, climate change should be studied by all public high school students. While global warming is addressed in some high school classes on weather, it is not a required topic in current textbooks or science classes.
     Already approved by the democratically controlled State Senate, the Simitian bill now moves to the Assembly, and after that, presumably to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk. While he has taken aggressive steps to reduce carbon emissions in California, he has not taken a stand on this legislation.
     However, the mostly Republican opposition in the Senate questions the science behind global warming and warns that it will inject environmentalist propaganda into the classroom. Like those who promote the teaching of creationism as science, the bill's opponents want to include the ideas of those who deny that global warming is occurring, or that it is caused by human activity, in the new curriculum.
     As the legislation currently reads, however, it does not say what to teach or when, but merely requires that the state Board of Education make those decisions. This bill, therefore, would mandate the inclusion of global warming as a topic in future science textbooks and classes. Given the overwhelming conclusion of the science community that global warming is occurring, it seems reasonable that the science curriculum should not only be updated to reflect this consensus, but also provide a scientific explanation of the phenomenon and its ramifications.
     Since the issue of global warming is not only controversial, but also complex, it offers students a great opportunity to apply scientific principles and learn what is known or not known about global warming. At the same time, many local, state and national governments are undertaking measures to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Students should not only be aware of these efforts, but also be provided with the knowledge and skills to participate in the search for effective solutions.
     In what is now a familiar scenario, if the California State Assembly passes and the Governor signs the Simitian bill, other state legislatures will probably follow suit. Given past experience, however, this process will not be without controversy.
     Since some of the measures proposed to meet the threat of global warming call for modifying social behavior or life styles, and involve new economic and social policies, the topic of climate change should also be discussed in social studies classes. Employing a systems approach, the issue of climate change is a perfect topic for integrating science and social studies.
     Learning about and practicing sustainability should be a priority for all generations, not just students and will require changing values and life styles, if it is to be effective. Driving a hybrid today has already acquired social status. While more of a feel-good gesture than an effective way to address energy independence or global warming, it shows how values and behavior can be changed by public awareness, community pressure and more realistically, higher gas prices.
      - Tony White

Solar Sonoma: Green Loans, Green Jobs

While the media focus on energy policy announcements from Washington or major breakthroughs in energy technology, many local communities have seized the initiative and created programs to reduce greenhouse gasses and become more energy efficient. These grass root developments are not only necessary to achieve emissions targets, but they also provide models for other communities at home and abroad. Within California, which leads the nation in energy policies, Sonoma County has become a leader in setting goals and adopting green energy policies.

Solar Sonoma

Despite the economic downturn, the installation of renewable energy systems recently received a tremendous boost from the Sonoma Board of Supervisors. Building on the adoption of carbon reduction pledges by its nine cities, county activists launched “Solar Sonoma County” last fall and the supervisors immediately announced plans for financing solar projects, as well as plans to streamline permit applications for installations.
      In Sebastopol, the City Council lowered permit fees and fast-tracked applications for solar installations. Solar Sebastopol then surveyed all city buildings for potential solar installations, and vendors and city officials contacted property owners about conducting energy audits and arranging financing for solar installations. It also conducted workshops for building inspectors, architects and appraisers to explain low-cost financing opportunities and how to assess increased property values based on solar or wind power systems.
     Besides Sebastopol, which leads the way in installing or approving solar projects, the county water agency has also been a leader, installing systems in three sites which generate two megawatts of power. Because water treatment and supply consumes 20% of the state’s energy use, the water agency has set a goal of being carbon free by 2015.

Financing Solar Power

In March, the county approved a program of low-cost loans for installing solar and wind power systems on commercial and residential properties. It will not only encourage owners to go off the electric grid, saving them money and reducing emissions, but will also stimulate the economy by providing new business opportunities and jobs in conducting energy audits and installing renewable power systems.
     Loans will also be available for the installation of wall and attic insulation, energy efficient windows, tankless water heaters, hot water pipe insulation, solar thermal devices, even low-flush toilets or systems which conserve water. Since Sonoma County and the state are in the third year of a drought, any reduction of water use will save energy as well as water.
     The loans will be available for projects costing $2,500 or more at 7% interest for 5 to 20 years, to be assessed on the property tax bill, and new owners will be responsible for the payments for the life of the loan. The costs of approved projects will also be available for additional tax rebates as well as tax credits offered by the state and federal governments. Only existing buildings are eligible and business owners will need to have an energy audit, while homeowners will be encouraged to conduct an audit.
     Since a new state law (AB811) permits cities and counties to issue loan notes to finance energy efficiency projects, $100 million of county funds will be made available to homeowners and businesses who want to finance systems to generate power or reduce power use. The county plans to sell bonds to institutional investors to finance the program, perhaps reducing the interest fee by 1% or 2% if the bond value is over $25 million and the bonds are tax-exempt. Interest paid on the loans should also be eligible for federal income tax deductions.


If all goes according to plan, funds will be available by early May and county surveys of the program have been overwhelmingly favorable. When Sonoma County’s new Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) began to receive applications for energy loans in late March, it took in 181 applications for more than $451,000 in the first three days, ranging in cost from $10,000 to $137,000.
     Before submitting applications, property owners can go to a county sponsored web site to assess the cost of improvements versus savings, while commercial property owners will require an energy audit conducted by the public utility, PG&E. Applicants then submit their description of their energy or water-saving improvements, and if approved, the county pays the upfront costs of the improvements and places an assessment lien on the property. The improvements must be permanently affixed to the property and cannot be repairs to an existing system. The life of the loan will be based on the cost of the system, ranging from 5-, 10- or 20-year payment cycles.
     Combined with federal and state tax credits for reducing energy use, this loan program, the first of its kind in the state, should help to jump-start the local economy, creating new business and employment opportunities, while reducing the cost of water and energy, and lowering emissions which threaten global climate change.

Green Jobs Sonoma

Last year, Solar Sonoma, along with other community organizations, organized the North Bay Institute of Green Technology-Youth Green Jobs Sonoma to eliminate poverty and preserve the environment by teaching youths and young adults about “cooperative enterprise, environmentally sound agriculture, appropriate technology and conservation”. The program will provide on-the-job training for youth at risk and has set up an 8-week summer workshop to prepare participants for green collar jobs.
     Besides training participants to conduct energy audits, install insulation in walls and attics, replace windows, insulate hot water pipes, install solar panels or wind turbines or plumb tankless hot water heaters, the curriculum will combine basic training in math, science and language skills with cultural awareness, leadership training, self-esteem, communication skills and social responsibilities. Sonoma County has a strong agricultural base and training will also emphasize sustainability and protection of the environment.
     Thus the county initiative does not just concentrate on energy-efficiency retrofits; it seeks also to develop a generation of skilled and conservation-minded technicians.
            - Tony White

Germany Faces Dilemma In Its Use of "Brown Coal"

Germany is acutely aware that ever more stringent pollution restrictions will make some forms of energy uneconomical by mid-21st century. Exorbitant prices for imported oil may impact German industry as to make its export products no longer competitive in world markets. The nation is being forced into intensifying the mining of lignite — brown coal — which is vastly abundant and comparatively inexpensive to provide.
     One quarter of all energy sources in Germany is based on brown coal, and between a quarter and a third is derived from nuclear power plants. Powerful political lobbies want a strong reduction in the use of nuclear as too dangerous. The intensive mining of lignite — Germany's abundant "Brown Gold" — is considered a way of fulfilling growing energy needs.
     Although wind is predicted to account for as much as 35% of total energy production in Germany by 2050, energy production until that time will depend primarily on three fossil fuels: lignite, bituminous coal, and natural gas. Of these, lignite emits the most CO2. New European Union (EU) regulations require that their use be drastically reduced. The four main German players on the energy market set the sights of their R&D on a near CO2-free emission level.
     The pilot project is already underway at the brown coal energy plant, "Schwarze Pumpe" (Black Pump), in former East Germany, where tons of CO2 in heavy black clouds are now emitted daily into the air. The first near CO2-free brown coal plant should be finished in 2008. German and Swedish scientists will attempt to intercept the CO2 before it is emitted into the air and press it into caverns 600 to 800 meters (2,000 to 2672 ft.) underground.
     Similar projects have tried to utilize underground caverns with partially negative effects. In an attempt to pump water into a cavern 800 meters deep in Basel, Switzerland, seismic tremors were created that caused damage to property at street level. There have been no experiments to indicate whether it is possible to store CO2 emissions for long periods underground.
     Under a field in Ketzin, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Berlin, a team of scientists from the Geo-Research Center in Potsdam will press 60,000 tons of a gas mixture under a sandstone ledge to see if the gases will stay stored in the ground or eventually escape into the atmosphere. The test period is set to end in 2020.
     Since the technology must first be developed and the costs for implementing this technology are not yet calculable, it appears that Germany will have to reduce its mining of brown coal in the immediate future to meet the CO2 emission requirements of the EU until the new technology is proven viable.       - Duane Bruce