Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Senate Committee Revives Wind Energy Tax Credit; Nuclear-Fueled Exelon Seeks to Squash It

Posted: 04 Aug 2012 05:44 PM PDT

The Senate Finance committee late early Thursday (August 2) added a one-year extension of the $12-billion wind energy production tax credit (PTC) into a broad, $205-billion tax credit extension bill, reviving hopes that a sharp contraction in US demand for wind power may be avoided, according to a Reuters report.

US wind energy industry participants, such as Denmark’s Vestas, are cautiously encouraged by the PTC’s revival, but some of the nation’s largest utilities, including Chicago-based Exelon, are working to assure the tax credit extension doesn’t make it through Congress.



Congress’ “Stop-and-Go” Support for US Wind Power

Faced with the year-end expiration of the PTC, US wind energy projects are being postponed and canceled. Repeated enactment and lapse of the wind energy PTC since it was first passed in 1992 has prompted a series of booms and busts in US wind energy, industry participants and proponents note.

The wind energy PTC allows wind power producers to take a 2.2 cents-a-kilowatt hour credit against their tax bill. When it’s been allowed to expire, US wind power installations and wind turbine orders collapsed, the former falling between 73%-93% and the latter 75% in a single year, according to a American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) study. The CEO of market-leading wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has repeatedly warned that a repeat is in store should the current PTC be allowed to expire.

A detailed Navigant study of the history of the US wind energy PTC for the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that the federal government’s “stop-and-go” policy of enacting the wind energy PTC and then allowing it to expire has wreaked havoc on the industry, the broader economy, and job creation.

With the federal wind energy tax credit in place for six years now, US domestic production of wind turbine components has grown 12-fold at what’s now more than 400 facilities in 43 states. That’s brought highly valued manufacturing jobs back to the US, the AWEA points out.

Enacting a four-year extension of the PTC would keep the US wind energy industry on track to supporting half-a-million jobs by 2030, a statistic projected in a US Dept. of Energy report completed during the G.W. Bush administration, the AWEA has noted.

Should the wind energy PTC be allowed to expire at year-end, 50% of US wind energy industry jobs — some 37,000 — would be lost, including a roughly ⅓ cut in US wind energy manufacturing jobs, according to Navigant’s analysis and projection.

Outlook: Highly Uncertain

The outlook for extension of the federal wind energy PTC is highly uncertain, as wind and renewable energy tax credits and other government incentives sought by the Obama Administration and supporters in Congress have been consistently stymied by opponents. Federal government support for renewable energy has become a “hot button” political issue and dividing line for President Obama and leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Though it’s one of the largest providers of wind power in the US, Chicago-based Exelon is also the largest provider of nuclear power. Sharp declines and fast-growing production of clean, renewable wind power is cutting into its profits, as electricity produced from nuclear energy comes with higher profit margins, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“Wind power provides a fraction of power in the U.S., but once the turbines are running, they depress electric prices because wind as a fuel is free. At certain times, such as the middle of the night, wind power can help drive electricity prices to below zero,” the Chicago Tribune‘s Julie Wernau explains in her article.

She notes that Exelon’s “been a climate change evangelist for 20 years, billing itself as one of the greenest, lowest-pollution-emitting power producers in the country.” Nonetheless, nearly half the company’s profits come from its nuclear power plants, and low-cost wind power, as well as low natural gas prices, which are cutting into its profit margins.

Rising to CEO through Exelon’s nuclear power division, CEO Christopher Crane says that after 20 years, it’s time to let the federal wind energy PTC expire. “The (production tax credit) has been in place since 1992, I believe,” Crane was quoted as saying during an earnings conference call with investors and analysts Wednesday.” And I think that’s enough time to jump-start an industry, 20 years. So, we’ve made it known, even as a wind company, that it should be stopped.”

It didn’t take long for criticism of the Exelon’s CEO statements and Exelon’s lobbying to squash the wind energy PTC to emerge.

“Exelon has been advertising for years how green the company is. They’ve been showcasing wind turbines on their materials. They’ve been proud of their sustainability footprint,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Exelon coming out to oppose reasonable incentives that are working to spur wind power development is just tone-deaf.”

To set the facts straight, the wind energy PTC has not been in place for 20 years. It’s been allowed to expire three times since 1992, prompting dramatic drops in wind power installations, demand for equipment and job creation. See the the AWEA’s “Save USA Wind Jobs” website for more.

Chart Courtesy: American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)

Campaign Launched to Counter Utilities’ Efforts to Derail California’s Net Metering Program

Posted: 04 Aug 2012 05:29 PM PDT


Well-entrenched businesses will fight tooth and nail to maintain their market dominance and keep doing business in the same, well-entrenched ways — push from new technology, public interest groups, consumers, and government policies and regulations notwithstanding. This is especially true in economic sectors where a small number of vendors have come to dominate the supply of goods or services, and that’s come to be the case across the economy on a never-before-seen scale over the past two or so decades as the “globalization” wave has swept across the world.

Achieving economies of scale is one thing, allowing businesses to become “Too Big to Fail” is quite another, as has repeatedly been demonstrated by successive banking system crises and business scandals. The vast majority of Americans have been ill-served by government policies of the past two decades that have greatly expanded the freedom of banks and multinational businesses to move money and assets across borders while allowing them to evade taxes, regulation, and accountability here at home.

All of the above is in play in the ongoing political, business, and public debate regarding US energy and climate change policy — more specifically, efforts to wean the US economy and society off of fossil fuels by building a new, more distributed, and much less polluting infrastructure based primarily on clean, renewable energy resources.


Business and Politics as Usual

Large corporations have effectively captured the US democratic process — often writing the nation’s laws for Congress, as well as those of states and municipalities — and taking control of local elections courtesy of Citizens United, which allows corporations and special interests to mask their identities and pour as much money as they deem necessary to assure that candidates with views contrary to their own don’t get elected.

Large corporations and special interests have become adept, and spend billions, on behind-the-scenes political lobbying. When that isn’t enough, they have also become proficient at running public relations and media campaigns that sow public disinformation, misinformation, and confusion over key issues.

Seeking to preserve their public image, well-entrenched corporations and special interest groups, when opposed by well-funded opposition and/or public opinion, will coincidentally yield some ground. All the while, they’ll continue working hard and spending big in private and publicly to resist changes they perceive as threatening to their commercial interests and well-entrenched ways of doing business.

Smart grids — for electricity, gas, water, and waste management — have become a central aspect of the US’ expanding clean energy infrastructure. While the advent of smart grid and renewable energy technology is opening up new opportunities for US utilities, it also poses significant challenges and threats.

Solar Power, Smart Grids and Net Metering

Here in the US, California has led the way when it comes to fostering renewable energy growth. It’s also a center for smart grid technology. With much of the US in the midst of unusually high heat and record-setting drought, those investments and installations are now paying off in dramatic fashion.

“California’s pro-solar energy policies enacted over the past decade are helping the state avoid brownouts. More solar power, particularly during peak periods, is being put back onto the state’s power grid, thanks to ‘net metering,’” the California-based Coalition for Solar Rights (CSR) points out.

Net metering is a key aspect of smart grid systems — one that enables electric utility customers with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to feed electricity back into the grid. Smart meters then start running in reverse, reducing their electricity bills.

California’s major electric utilities have connected more solar and renewable energy systems to their grids than utilities in any other state. They’re also rolling out smart meters that enable net metering to take place. Thing is, they’re also lobbying the state legislature and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to “derail California’s successful net metering program with unfair fees and restrictive caps on participation…this despite the fact that 86% of California voters think net metering should be more widely available,” CSR asserts.

“Solar sales are soaring this summer too, as homeowners take advantage of lower solar costs. Among low-income households (less than $50,000), sales are up by more than 364 percent,” CSR notes from a recent article in Forbes magazine.

The organization has launched a “Protect Net Metering” campaign that’s looking to derail the efforts of California’s largest utilities to derail the state’s net metering program.

“Like rollover minutes on your cell phone bill, net metering gives solar energy customers fair credit on their utility bills for valuable clean power they put back on the grid,” the Protect Net Metering website states. “It is one of the most important policy tools we have for empowering homes, businesses, schools and public agencies to go solar.”

The organization is looking to organize public opposition to utilities’ efforts to derail California’s net metering program. Those in agreement looking for a focused, targeted channel to express those views can learn more on its website.

Photo Credit: Sensus

Compact Solar Cooker Unfolds for Easy Use

Posted: 04 Aug 2012 05:15 PM PDT

Cheng Tsung-Feng knew that providing a safe and easy way for people to cook for themselves after disaster strikes is no small task. Tsung-Feng set out to design a solar cooker that was simple to assemble and use, and succeeded in creating exactly that. Behold the the little orange solar cooker that could:

Source: Tree Hugger
Images: via Cheng Tsung-Feng 

Carbon-Fibered Electric Motorcycle to Be Tesla of Electric Motorcycles?

Posted: 04 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT

This is a sweet new electric motorcycle plan recently unveiled in Norway, as covered by Chris DeMorro of Gas2:

67-Pound Carbon Fiber Electric Motorcycle Revealed In Norway (via Gas 2.0)

While electric cars are stumbling, electric motorcycles are finding more and more fans in the marketplace thanks to improved performance and generous subsidies. Brands like Brammo and Zero Motorcycles here in America are making a name for electric motorcycles. Over in Norway however, a group of 5 college…

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