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Archive for the ‘Coal-fired Power Plants’ Category

DANIEL TERDIMAN, CNET, July 23, 2009

Caspar Wind FarmWyoming — Walking across the former site of the Dave Johnston Mine here, about half an hour outside Casper, you’d never know that over the course of 42 years, 104 million tons of coal was taken out of the ground.

But now, instead of having a heavy carbon footprint–and coal certainly does–these rolling hills have an entirely green footprint. Today, the site is home to a 158-turbine wind farm that produces 237 Megawatts of power, enough electricity for 66,800 households for a year.

And what’s particularly notable about the site is that while the wind farm is among the newest and most state-of-the-art in the country today, it is also likely the first full-scale wind power project to be installed on the site of a former coal mine.

From 1958 until 2000, the Dave Johnston Mine stretched for nine mines through this otherwise barren landscape. But in the late 1990s, after the mine’s operator, Rocky Mountain Power, determined that it was no longer economical to run it, a full-scale reclamation project began.

As part of my road trip in 2009, I visited the wind farm to get a first-hand look at how such a scar on the earth can be successfully converted to a graceful and clean power project.

According to Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp that provides power to Utah, Wyoming and Idaho residents, “Full-scale final reclamation efforts to restore the nearly nine-mile long stretch of land affected by mining began in 1999 and were completed in 2005. Mountains of dirt were moved, miles of land reseeded with native vegetation and major contouring performed in order to return the landscape to its pre-mining appearance. More than 85 million yards of earth were moved to accomplish this feat.”

A big part of the reclamation project was providing long-term grazing land and habitat for a variety of wildlife. To that end, sagebrush and many other forms of vegetation were planted throughout the property as a source of habitat and food for animals such as pronghorned antelope and deer. Further, the team behind the reclamation concentrated on habitat for birds, including building five nesting platforms for eagles and cover for other, smaller bird species.

And more than 120 “rabbitats,” rock shelters for rabbits and other small animals, were built around the property.

All told, the Glenrock Wind Farm is home to antelope, deer, mountain lions, foxes, bobcats, rabbits and golden eagles.

While it’s easy to link the reclamation of the former coal mine and the new, giant, wind farm, Rocky Mountain Power didn’t originally set out with the intention of converting its property from greenhouse gas-intensive power to green power. Rather, the company realized after the decision was made to shut down the coal mine that the property was ideally suited to building a big wind farm.

And that’s because the company already owned the property, had a significant system of transmission lines already installed nearby and understood that these rolling hills had the wind strength to support a multi-hundred million dollar wind project.

But Rocky Mountain Power has by no means abandoned coal. In fact, it still has a coal processing plant adjacent to the former Dave Johnston Mine, which is one reason the transmission lines are still there. Still, the company, and other power generators, have certainly begun to see the value–and the economics–of wind farms like these. Indeed, the day after I visited the Glenrock Wind Farm, the front page of the Casper, Wyo. newspaper had an above-the-fold front-page headline trumpeting another giant wind farm that will soon be developed in the same area.

21 Species of Vegetation

My hosts for the visit to the wind farm were Chet Skilbred, Rocky Mountain Power’s vegetation scientist at the property and Doug Mollet, the director of wind operations at Glenrock Wind Farm. Skilbred explained that as part of the reclamation project, he and his team were required to replace all the indigenous plants that had been there prior to the coal mine. So, a big part of the project was the planting of 21 different species of vegetation, including warm season grasses, cool season grasses, shrubs and many more.

But, with 158 soaring wind turbines dominating the lanscape today, Skilbred told me a joke about the process: “I had no idea my see mixture included wind turbines.”

In order to get back the remaining $2.6 million of an original $56 million bond that was put up when the coal mine was opened, Rocky Mountain Power must monitor the land through 2017 for things like ground water and surface water hydrology, wildlife and vegetation. But I have to hand it to them: If they hadn’t told me there had been a coal mine here, I never would have known.

Instead, I would have been simply overwhelmed by the majesty and breadth of the wind farm (see video below, but turn your volume down because of the wind noise). Big enough to be visible from many miles away, the 158 turbines are breathtaking up close. That’s in part because, when the tips of the 125-foot-long blades are pointing upwards, the turbines are 340 feet tall.

That, of course, casts a large and long shadow, and one thing that has happened is that many of the animals on the property–and no matter where we went, we would see some of the 1400 head of antelope or 600 head of deer bounding about–use those shadows to escape the intense Wyoming sun.

In a sense, because there is so much new habitat for animals, as well as the fact that there is no hunting allowed on the property, the wind farm area is tantamount to a nature preserve, Skilbred said.

Indeed, while there had been wildlife on the property before, life is better for them now, Skilbred said: They are no longer getting stuck in the mud inside the mine.

180 Feet Deep

When in operation, the coal mine was at least 180 feet deep, and nine miles long. So in order to complete the reclamation project, Rocky Mountain Power had to dig up the mine, reconstitute the soil and replant all the vegetation.

But to Skilbred, the project has been a big success. “You couldn’t ask for a better ending for a coal mine,” he said, “to go from a carbon footprint to a green footprint.”

For Rocky Mountain Power, wind is just one power source, and the company sees a mixture in its future: wind, natural gas, coal and, likely, nuclear.

But here, driving around amidst these giant turbines, it’s hard to think of anything but wind power. And what’s amazing is that the turbines are so big, you feel like you’re always right in front of one. In fact, however, they are a minimum of a half-mile apart, east-to-west, and 600 feet, north-to-south. Put them too close together, and the vortexes coming off the blades affects the wind flow of other turbines.

The actual placement of the 158 turbines, done in what is sort of like a staggered, Z-shaped configuration, was done by turbine specialists who examined the property and developed placement models based on the terrain, the topography and the prevailing wind conditions.

You might think that a company spending several hundred million dollars on such a project would expect full-time production. But that’s not realistic. Mollet said that over the course of a year, the best the company can expect is 40% average production. But of course, that’s an average. Between November and March, that number is much higher, and between late August and September, it’s much lower.

The turbines, while a simple concept, are controlled by advanced electronics. And among the tasks those systems have is shutting down the turbines if the winds go above 60 miles an hour–otherwise, they can be destroyed–as well as figuring out where the wind is coming from and automatically rotating the head so that the blades are always working with the best wind. The heads can spin around three full times in search of the strongest wind, in fact, before the system runs out of wire and must reset itself.

Tracking the wind is a major innovation for modern turbines. In the past, the heads were stationary, and so wind farms had limited production when the wind shifted. But now, Rocky Mountain Power and other companies with such projects can maximize the power production.

$2 Million a ‘Stick’

Mollet said that the cost of the turbines averaged about $2 million “a stick,” and that they are intended to last for 20-to-30 years. However, Rocky Mountain Power thinks of them more as 100-year assets, given that they can replace aging systems within the turbines, or even the blades themselves.

Keeping them working properly means constantly monitoring how they’re behaving in the wind. So the wind farm utilizes two types of equipment, annemometers and wind vanes to measure wind velocity and direction in order to ensure that the pitch of the blades is optimal and won’t result in them rotating too fast.

This is all new technology, something previous generations of wind farms couldn’t take advantage of. But today, wind power is a growing resource and companies like Rocky Mountain Power are demanding new technology. They’re also demanding more people who know how to run and maintain these systems, despite there currently being a shortage.

That’s why, for example, the company is working with local colleges in the Casper area to create new, two-year associate degree programs in wind turbine technology.

“We’re going to build 1,000 turbines in the next ten years,” Mollet said. “We need to grow some people.”

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GLOBE-Net, November 28, 2008

congressFive leading U.S. corporations – Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, Sun Microsystems, and Timberland – have teamed up with the Ceres investor coalition to lobby the U.S. Congress for stronger climate and energy legislation.

These founding members of Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, BICEP, are urging for government action to ensure future climate change issues do not impact the currently struggling economy further.

“These companies have a clear message for next year’s Congress: move quickly on climate change to kick-start a transition to a prosperous clean energy economy fueled by green jobs,” says Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres.

The global corporations that make up BICEP say that without aggressive government involvement, the move towards a green economy will be arduous and the effects on companies will be devastating.

“Large-scale climate change would have economic, social and environmental consequences for our business and the communities in which we operate,” says Hilary Krane, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co. “We can voluntarily change our own behavior in the hopes of mitigating impacts and are doing so, but we also believe that U.S. government leadership is essential if we are to create an environment in which every U.S. company recognizes the role it must play in addressing climate change and the responsibilities associated with doing business in a carbon-constrained world.”

The coalition members agree that voluntary company efforts to reduce their environmental impact will not be enough to reap the overall benefits and security of a green economy.

“Climate change is a threat to any business that relies on an agricultural product like we do with coffee,” said Ben Packard, Starbucks vice president, global responsibility. “Starbucks believes that addressing climate change will help companies like ours reduce operating costs and mitigate future economic instability due to extreme weather conditions and agricultural loss.”

BICEP’s work will focus on working with members of the business community and with Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate change legislation consistent with the following eight core principles:

1. Set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets to at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

2. Establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that auctions 100% of carbon pollution allowances, promotes energy efficiency and accelerates clean energy technologies.

3. Establish aggressive energy efficiency policies to achieve at least a doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvement.

4. Encourage transportation for a clean energy economy by promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, low-carbon fuels, and transit-oriented development.

5. Increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and carbon capture and storage technologies while eliminating subsidies for fossil-fuel industries.

6. Stimulate job growth through investment in climate-based solutions, especially “green-collar” jobs in low-income communities and others vulnerable to climate change’s economic impact.

7. Adopt a national renewables portfolio standard requiring 20% of electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 30% by 2030.

8. Limit construction of new coal-fired power plants to those that capture and store carbon emissions, create incentives for carbon capture technology on new and existing plants, and phase out existing coal-based power plants that do not capture and store carbon by 2030.

The members of BICEP are not the only ones flexing their muscle on Capitol Hill. In September, Google and General Electric announced a joint effort to lobby Washington on policies that support alternative energy technologies.

Ceres is a coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change.

BICEP members believe that climate change impacts will ripple across all sectors of the economy and that new business perspectives are needed to provide a full spectrum of viewpoints for solving the climate and energy challenges facing the United States.

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NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, The New York Times, August 28, 2008

One of the country’s largest builders of coal-fired power plants will give investors detailed warnings about the risks that global warming poses to its business under a deal with New York’s attorney general.

The agreement Wednesday between the attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and the company, Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, is the first of its kind in the country. It could open a broad new front in efforts by environmental groups to pressure the energy industry into reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Until now, advocates have largely relied on shareholder resolutions as a way of pushing the companies to reduce their carbon dioxide output and invest more aggressively in renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.

That effort has picked up pace, according to Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, with dozens of shareholder resolutions filed during the 2008 financial reporting season.

“This really takes it another step, by making it a settlement agreement that should have an impact across the industry,” said Dan Bakal, the director of electric power programs at Ceres.

Mr. Cuomo subpoenaed Xcel and four other companies last September, seeking to determine whether their efforts to build new coal-fired power plants posed risks not disclosed to investors, like future lawsuits or higher costs to comply with possible regulations restricting carbon emissions.

The attorney general’s office is still negotiating with the four other companies — the AES Corporation, Dominion, Dynergy and Peabody Energy. But Mr. Cuomo hopes that the agreement will help persuade other companies to follow in the footsteps of Xcel, which supplies natural gas and electricity to customers in eight states. Among utilities, Xcel is one of the nation’s largest producers of greenhouse gases and a major provider of wind energy.

Many coal-fired power plants have been proposed or are under construction across the country and environmental advocates have made it a priority to reduce their impact.

“This landmark agreement sets a new industrywide precedent that will force companies to disclose the true financial risks that climate change poses to their investors,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Coal-fired power plants can significantly contribute to global warming, and investors have the right to know all the associated risks.”

The agreement represents another novel use by Mr. Cuomo of the Martin Act, a powerful tool that allows the attorney general to bring criminal as well as civil charges. Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, used the law to vastly expand the office’s investigations of suspected Wall Street malfeasance.

Now Mr. Cuomo has turned it into a de facto form of environmental enforcement, too. For energy companies, including those based far from New York, he is able to claim jurisdiction because they issue securities on Wall Street.

The agreement with Xcel requires the company to analyze the likely effects on its business of current and future legislation or regulations in the states and countries where it operates and to disclose that information in its investor filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Congress and many states are considering global warming legislation. Ten states stretching from Maryland to Maine, including New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, have struck a deal to cap emissions and allow trading of pollution allotments among producers.

Under the agreement with Mr. Cuomo, Xcel will disclose the financial risks of lawsuits and of federal or state court decisions that would affect its business. The company will also analyze and disclosed the “material financial risks” to itself associated with global warming, like drought — coal plants are prodigious users of water — or rising sea levels.In a statement, the chairman of Xcel, Richard C. Kelly, said the company had already voluntarily reduced carbon emissions and planned to continue to do so.

“We previously provided detailed information concerning the expected impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions regulations on our operations, and under this agreement we will make even more detailed disclosures,” Mr. Kelly said. “This agreement will enhance our already aggressive efforts to be responsible environmental stewards.”

Xcel officials said their reductions of greenhouse gases had totaled 18 million tons since 2003. They added that the company planned to build an additional 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy generation by the end of the next decade.

Justin McCann, an energy analyst at Standard & Poor’s, said that the company had included more detailed information on climate change risks in its most recent filing, since Mr. Cuomo’s investigation began. But the new agreement will require even more disclosure, he said, and probably encourage other companies to follow suit.

“Utility lobbies are very strong, but they have read the writing on the wall in terms of greenhouse gas reductions,” Mr. McCann said. “They know it is extremely popular with the public, and so they have wanted to get ahead of the curve, so they can have some input.”

But some of the companies that Mr. Cuomo scrutinized might be less amenable to adopting the new requirements than others. When Mr. Cuomo issued his subpoenas last year, Vic Svec, a spokesman for Peabody Energy, described the attorney general’s inquiry as “outrageous” and suggested that Mr. Cuomo’s use of the Martin Act was a form of legal harassment.

Reached Wednesday, Mr. Svec said: “We’re confident that our disclosures around CO2” — carbon dioxide — “have been and continue to be adequate.”

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GLOBE-NET, August 21, 2008

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued the final Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for Round 3 of the Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI) which seeks to accelerate the commercial deployment of advanced coal technologies.

DOE anticipates making multiple awards under this FOA and, depending on fiscal year 2009 appropriations, may be able to provide up to $340 million to be distributed among selected recipients. The projects will be cost-shared, with the award recipient(s) providing at least 50% of funds for the project.

The solicitation contemplates cooperative agreements between the Government and industry to demonstrate, at commercial scale, new technologies that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-fired power plants and either sequester the CO2 or put it to beneficial use.

“The Department of Energy is committed to increasing the Nation’s energy security and addressing global climate change by developing the technologies that will ensure coal can be used to meet our growing energy demand in an environmentally responsible way,” Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Jim Slutz said.

“This announcement brings clean, coal-derived energy, with no greenhouse gas emissions, one step closer to the commercial market and to the consumer.”

The FOA, which is available at Grants.gov and the DOE e-Center, provides instructions for the preparation and submission of an application and outlines the mission need and background, project description, and the primary technical goals and functional performance requirements. The announcement also outlines the criteria by which applications will be evaluated, the terms and conditions of a model cooperative agreement, and the cost-sharing required for government-industry cooperation.

For Round 3, a draft FOA detailing the goals and requirements was released in October 2007 for comment. To garner input, a public workshop was held November 1, 2007, with 105 attendees representing utilities, technology vendors, and project developers. Changes to the final FOA include:

  • Carbon capture technologies must operate at 90% carbon capture efficiency.
  • At least 300,000 tons per year of CO2 must be captured and sequestered or put to beneficial use.
  • Projects must show significant progress toward carbon capture and sequestration with less than 10% increase in electricity costs.
  • Projects must use domestic mined coal or coal refuse for at least 75% of energy input.
  • Projects must produce electricity as at least 50% of the gross energy output.
  • Repayment of the Government’s share of project costs is not required.

Applications are due by January 15, 2009, and selection announcements are anticipated for July 2009.

Initiated in 2002, the CCPI is a multi-year program that demonstrates advanced coal-based power generation technology at commercial scale. Eight projects are currently active from two previous rounds of competition.

The goal of the initiative, which is being executed through a series of competitive solicitations, is to accelerate the readiness of advanced coal technologies for commercial deployment, ensuring that the United States has clean, reliable, and affordable electricity and power. Coal is the nation’s most abundant energy resource, supplying more than 50% of domestic electricity.

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PETER SLEVIN, The Washington Post, August 18, 2008

DENVER — When Colorado voters were deciding whether to require that 10% of the state’s electricity come from renewable fuels, the state’s largest utility fought the proposal, warning that any shift from coal and natural gas would be costly, uncertain and unwise.

Then a funny thing happened. The ballot initiative passed, and Xcel Energy met the requirement eight years ahead of schedule. And at the government’s urging, its executives quickly agreed to double the target, to 2%.

In Colorado — a state historically known for natural gas and fights over drilling — wind and solar power are fast becoming prominent parts of the energy mix. Wind capacity has quadrupled in the past 18 months, according to Gov. Bill Ritter (D), and Xcel has become the largest provider of wind power in the nation.

The politics and economics of energy are shifting here in ways that foretell debates across the country as states create renewable-energy mandates and the federal government moves toward limiting carbon emissions. One advocate calls Colorado “ground zero” for the looming battle over energy.

Despite a continuing boom, oil and gas companies here are on the defensive. They are spending heavily as they try to prevent the repeal of as much as $300 million in annual tax breaks that would be shifted to investment in renewables and other projects.

The industry, already facing a rebellion among some longtime supporters angered by its toll on the environment, also finds itself in a fight against new regulations designed to protect wildlife and public health from the vast expansion in drilling. Beyond the merits, the proposals reflect the strengthened hand of environmentalists and their friends who feel that the fossil-fuel companies have held sway too long.

“Now is a terrific time for renewables to launch. I hope they get all the capital they need, and all the great minds and talent. But I don’t want it to come at the expense of the oil and gas industry,” said Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “As goes Colorado, so goes the West, as far as this energy policy debate.”

State leaders are thrilled with the economic benefits that have come with the hundreds of new research and manufacturing jobs in pursuit of alternative power. Yet the fledgling renewables industry is also facing challenges, from a desire for tax credits of its own to a need for a stronger transmission grid that will make power more portable.

“The future in Colorado is building wind farms in wheat fields,” said Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, recalling the 2006 campaign pitch that helped carry him into the governor’s office. “Quite frankly, it’s how we should have been thinking for 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Xcel began offering wind-generated electricity, but it was a niche market for eco-conscious customers willing to pay extra. That changed in a significant way after 2004, when Xcel lost the referendum fight.

After legislative efforts failed, proponents of renewable energy turned to the ballot that year. The initiative, Amendment 37, required the state’s biggest utilities to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable sources. Advocates found themselves facing off against Xcel, which said it feared for its bottom line.

“We ended up opposing that amendment. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t,” said Frank Prager, Xcel’s vice president for environmental policy. He said utility companies are inherently conservative, yet find themselves facing a transformation in an industry that, as he put it, has changed little since Thomas Edison’s time.

Voters rejected the utility industry’s arguments and approved the measure, making Colorado the first state to mandate renewable-energy use at the ballot box. Today, legislatures in more than 25 states have set prescribed levels, known formally as “renewable portfolio standards.”

“It was one of those cases where the public was ahead of the politicians,” said Tom Plant, Ritter’s top energy strategist.

Once Xcel executives began to come to terms with the new rules, they discovered that federal tax credits made wind power affordable, especially in relation to rising natural gas prices. The cost of wind power is relatively constant and provides a hedge against future emissions regulation, such as the cap-and-trade approach favored by presidential candidates Barack Obama (D) and John McCain (R).

“It was good for the system,” Xcel’s Prager said, referring to the utility’s mix of energy sources, “and it was good for the customer.”

By the end of 2007, Xcel had met Amendment 37’s goal and endorsed Ritter’s request to double it to 20% by 2020. That measure passed the Colorado legislature easily: With the utility on board and public sentiment clear, the bill collected 50 sponsors in the 65-member House.

Executives at publicly traded Xcel stress their twin desires to make money and to insulate the company from the risks of unproven technology. As Prager put it during an interview in the company’s downtown Denver headquarters: “It’s absolutely essential that the state offer us something that makes it worth our while to be green.”

Amendment 37 allows utilities to collect a fee from customers to invest in renewable fuels; it averages $12.72 a year for a typical homeowner with a monthly bill of $73. When the renewables goal doubled last year, so did the fee. Prager said the fee has provided Xcel $37.6 million between March 2006 and July 2008 for capital investment in wind and solar.

Colorado is adding wind-power capacity at a higher rate than any other state, its hundreds of turbines delivering one gigawatt of generating power at the end of 2007. That is triple the total of 12 months earlier. Six states produce more than one gigawatt with wind, with Texas far in front and California second.

Solar power remains a small part of the equation in Colorado, in part because concentrated solar generation is expensive. Xcel is sponsoring an 80-acre field of photovoltaic panels in the San Luis Valley, a project expected to provide 8.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1,500 homes. But only 4% of Xcel’s renewable megawattage is required to come from solar.

Meanwhile, Xcel’s latest plan, filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, calls for retiring two of its aging coal-fired power generators.

“We’ve reached this critical point where we’re seeing the deployment of these technologies accelerate,” said John Nielsen, an energy analyst with the nonprofit environmental group Western Resource Advocates. “There was slow progress over the last decade, and you’re now seeing this tipping point.”

Among the signs is the arrival of Vestas, a Danish wind turbine company, which announced Friday the construction of two more manufacturing plants and 1,350 new jobs, bringing the company’s total in Colorado to 2,450. Conoco Phillips announced this year that it will locate its alternative-fuels research operation in the state. The Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory is adding 100 jobs.

Colorado’s growing political and economic commitment to renewables is causing fear in the oil and gas industry, which is fighting to keep its tax breaks and its influence over state rulemaking.

“We’re not feeling very cherished,” said Collins, whose oil and gas association represents more than 30 companies. The group objects to an initiative on the ballot in November; it would eliminate the industry’s 87.5% property tax exemption, estimated to cost the state treasury $230 million to $320 million a year.

If the ballot rule passes, the tax money will be channeled to renewable fuels, wildlife conservation and education. The industry also objects to proposed rules that would require greater public health and environmental protection in areas where drilling takes place.

“It could have been done in a different way, and things wouldn’t have gotten so heated,” Collins said.

Alice Madden, the Democratic majority leader in the Colorado House, looks at the oil and gas industry today and recalls Xcel before the passage of Amendment 37. She has little sympathy for Collins’s arguments, especially at a time when oil and gas profits are soaring.

“It’s Chicken Little all over again: ‘The sky is going to fall,’ ” said Madden, who also chairs Western Progress, an advocacy group. “The oil and gas companies see the writing on the wall, the shift to renewables. They want to make as much money as they can, right now.”

Looking ahead, supporters of alternative fuels are counting on securing some advantages their fossil-fuel predecessors have enjoyed. One request is the renewal of a federal tax credit set to expire this year. Another, Prager said, is “some clear rules on the national level, especially on climate policy.”

With 34,000 active gas wells in Colorado and 28 new permits issued each day, there is no chance that the oil and gas industry will fade away soon. And, as powerfully as the wind blows and the sun shines, the transmission grid for renewable energy is limited and the strength of the current is unsure.

“Unlike a coal plant or a gas plant,” Prager said, “you can’t flip a switch and make the wind blow.”

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ED PILKINGTON, The Guardian, June 23, 2008

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress – in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming – to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the “perfect storm” of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.”

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen’s speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public’s attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding “it is time to stop waffling”.

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.

He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. “The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon.”

His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. “The problem is not political will, it’s the alligator shoes – the lobbyists. It’s the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it’s intended to work.”

A group seeking to increase pressure on international leaders is launching a campaign today called 350.org. It is taking out full-page adverts in papers such as the New York Times and the Swedish Falukuriren calling for the target level of CO2 to be lowered to 350ppm. The advert has been backed by 150 signatories, including Hansen.

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MATTHEW L. WALD, The New York Times, June 8, 2008

Washington — Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a fine idea, and a lot of companies would be proud to do it. But they would prefer to be second, if not third or fourth.

This is not a good way to get started in fighting global warming.

As efforts to pass a global warming bill collapsed in the Senate last week, companies that burn coal to make electricity were looking for a way to build a plant that would capture its emissions. There is a will and a way — several ways, in fact — to do just that.

Capturing carbon from these plants may become a lot more important soon. Emissions from coal-fired power plants already account for about 27% of American greenhouse emissions, but as prices for other fuels rise, along with power demand, utilities will burn more coal. And if cars someday run on batteries, a trend that $4-a-gallon gasoline will accelerate, then the utilities will burn even more fuel to generate the electricity to recharge those batteries.

This could be good news, because controlling emissions from a few hundred power plants is easier than controlling them from tens of millions of house chimneys, or hundreds of millions of tailpipes. And in the laboratory, at least, there are three very promising systems for capturing carbon dioxide before pumping it underground.

But supplying electricity is not like most other businesses. Unlike the companies that make microchips, clothing for teenagers or snack foods, the companies that make electricity can see no advantage in going first. This is true for the traditionally regulated utilities that can charge everything to a captive class of customers (if regulators approve), and it is also true for the “merchant generators,” who build power plants and sell their output on the open market.

“No one wants to go into the new world,” said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit group that favors stringent controls on power plant emissions. “We have very few takers because of the price premium.”

By price premium, Mr. Cohen meant not only the costs of going first, with the high probability of mistakes that others can learn from, but the costs of the new technology itself. The problem is, the premium is of unknown size, which makes everyone in the industry especially wary.

The point was illustrated by a recent decision by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, to turn down an application by the Appalachian Power Company to build a plant that would have captured 90% of its carbon and deposited it nearly two miles underground, at a well that it dug in 2003. The applicant’s parent was American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest coal users, and perhaps the most technically able. But the company is a regulated utility and spends money only when it can be reimbursed.

The Virginia commission said that it was “neither reasonable nor prudent” for the company to build the plant, and the risks for ratepayers were too great, because costs were uncertain, perhaps double that of a standard coal plant. And in a Catch-22 that plagues the whole effort, the commission said A.E.P. should not build a commercial-scale plant because no one had demonstrated the technology on a commercial scale.

Thus an approach that makes collective sense — trying out technologies that could be helpful over the long term — is unattractive to individual participants.

That is not the only where-to-get-started problem. Another is that building a plant might make sense to a utility regulator, or to a company that builds power plants on speculation, if it generated pollution credits that the company could then sell to other polluters, for instance, or could help the plant meet emissions quotas. But there are, as yet, no credits to buy or sell and no quota to meet.

When Congress debates the idea, one of the drawbacks is that no one is sure where to set the caps on emissions, because no one is sure what the carbon regulation would cost. So there is no regulation, no plant built to meet the regulation, and thus no plant for lawmakers to look at to determine how strict a regulation to pass.

Carbon capture is not the only field in which nobody wants to go first; another is nuclear power. Builders in that industry also recognize that the first to build a next-generation reactor (the last one ordered that was actually built was in 1973) will pay a lot more than the builders who follow. But Congress has tried, at least, to solve that problem by offering generous loan guarantees and risk insurance for the first few reactors. There was a plan to heavily subsidize a single capture-and-storage coal plant, but when the estimated construction price nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion, the Energy Department dropped the plan.

And without full-scale tests, nobody knows what all this would cost.

“The estimates are accurate to within plus 20% to plus 100%,” said John Rowe, the chief executive of Exelon, which burns coal and also operates nuclear reactors, and leans toward the latter for new projects. “These are very complicated projects, with a great deal of both science and engineering and of public acceptability tests that have simply not happened yet,” he said. In contrast, he argued, nuclear is easier.

While others differ, or argue that solar or wind would be a better bet, the failure to get started does have a certain circularity to it. Companies will not run to build plants that sequester their carbon because Congress has not set a price for emitting the pollutant. Without the early plants, Congress has little clue how many tons the economy can afford to capture and sequester.

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