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Posts Tagged ‘Coal-fired Power Plants’

DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2009

article_photo1_smWhen giving his slide presentation on America’s new energy direction, Jon Wellinghoff sometimes sneaks in a picture of himself seated in a midnight blue, all-electric Tesla sports car.

It often wins a laugh, but makes a key point: The United States is accelerating in a new energy direction under President Obama’s newly appointed chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At the same time, FERC’s key role in the nation’s energy future is becoming more apparent.

Energy and climate legislation now pending in Congress would put in FERC’s hands a sweeping market-based cap-and-trade system intended to lower industrial greenhouse-gas emissions.

Besides its role granting permits for new offshore wind power, the agency is also overseeing planning for transmission lines that could one day link Dakota wind farms to East Coast cities, and solar power in the Southwest to the West Coast.

“FERC has always been important to power development,” says Ralph Cavanagh, energy program codirector for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. “It’s just that people haven’t known about it. They will pretty soon.”

That’s because Mr. Wellinghoff and three fellow commissioners share an affinity for efficiency and renewable energy that’s not just skin-deep, Mr. Cavanagh and others say.

Wellinghoff started his energy career as a consumer advocate for utility customers in Nevada before being appointed by President Bush in 2005 as a FERC commissioner. He was a key author of “renewable portfolio standards” that require Nevada’s utilities to incorporate more renewable power in their energy mix. Now he’s the nation’s top energy regulator.

It’s clear that FERC has a mandate to speed change to the nation’s power infrastructure, Wellinghoff says.

When it comes to the extra work and complexity FERC will encounter if Congress appoints FERC to administer a mammoth carbon-emissions cap-and-trade program, Wellinghoff is eager, yet circumspect.

“We believe we are fully capable of fulfilling that role with respect to physical trading [of carbon allowances],” he says during an interview in Washington. “We’ve demonstrated our ability to respond efficiently and effectively to undertake those duties Congress has given to us. Unfortunately, the result of that is they give you more to do.”

While the US Department of Energy controls long-term energy investment decisions, FERC’s four commissioners (a fifth seat is vacant) appear determined to ensure that wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power get equal access to the grid.

The commissioners are also biased against coal and nuclear power on at least one key factor: cost.

Many in the power industry believe that renewable energy still costs too much. Not Wellinghoff, who says: “I see these distributed resources [solar, wind, natural-gas microturbines, and others] coming on right now as being generally less expensive.”

That might sound surprising. Yet, with coal and nuclear power plants costing billions of dollars – and raising environmental issues such as climate change and radioactive waste – others also see renewable power as the low-cost option.

Wellinghoff’s outspoken views have irritated some since his March selection as chairman.

Last month, for instance, he drew fire from nuclear-energy boosters in Congress after he characterized as “an anachronism” the idea of meeting future US power demand by building large new coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

“You don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear [plants] that run all the time,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a US Energy Association Forum last month. Then he added: “We may not need any, ever.”

That set off a salvo from Sen. Lind sey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a staunch nuclear-power advocate. “The public is ill-served when someone in such a prominent position suggests alternative-energy programs are developed and in such a state that we should abandon our plans to build more plants,” he said in a statement.

But to others, Wellinghoff is the epitome of what the US needs: a public servant zeroed in on energy security, the environment, efficiency, and keeping energy costs down.

“Wellinghoff has been a longtime supporter of efficiency and consumer interests,” says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy advocacy group. “I would call him a visionary. He’s not just content with the status quo.”

In Wellinghoff’s vision of the future, where the cost of carbon dioxide emissions is added to the price of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines, it may be less expensive for consumers to set their appliances to avoid buying power at peak times. Or they may choose to buy power from a collection of microturbines, fuel cell, wind, solar, biomass, and ocean power systems.

“We’re going to see more distributed generation – and we’re already starting to see that happen,” Wellinghoff says. “Not only renewable generation like photovoltaic [panels] that people put on their homes and businesses, but also fossil-fuel systems like combined heat and power,” called cogeneration units.

To coordinate and harmonize this fluctuating phalanx of power sources, customers will need to know and be able to respond to the price of power, Wellinghoff says. They will also need a new generation of appliances that switch off automatically to balance power supply and demand peaks.

But there are huge challenges with a power grid that provides energy from a mix of wind, solar, and other renewable power.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid [along the East Coast], he says. “You can’t just move [wind and wave power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability – Florida to Maine.”

As the percentage of renewable power rises toward 20 to 25% of grid power from around 3% today, there must be a backup to fill gaps when intermittent winds stop blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.

In a decade or more from now, Wellinghoff, says millions of all-electric or plug-in electric-gas hybrid vehicles could plug into the grid and supply spurts of power to fill in for dipping wind and solar output.

“There are new technologies,” he says, “that in the next three to five years will advance the grid to a new level.”

Gesturing to a drawing board on the wall, he hops up from his chair, his hands flicking across a sketch of the eastern half of the US with power lines fanning out from the Plains states to the East Coast.

“This is another grid option that would take a lot of power that’s now constrained in the Midwest, that can be developed – wind energy there – and move it to all the load centers [cities] on the East Coast,” he says.

Similarly, lines could be built across the Rockies to connect wind power in Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast. Instead of building power lines from the Midwest to the East Coast, “a lot of people would say, ‘No, no, let’s look first look at the wind offshore,’ ” he says.

Whether it’s wind from the Plains or the ocean, the resulting variability will have an impact on grid reliability if action isn’t taken, Wellinghoff says.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid here,” he says, gesturing to the East Coast. “You can’t just move [power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability.”

Reliability of the grid remains paramount – Job No. 1 for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But if boosting renewable power to 25% by 2025 – the Obama administration’s goal – means spreading Internet-connected controllers across substations and transmission networks, then cybersecurity to protect them from increasing Internet-based threats is critical.

Yet a recent review by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation overseen by FERC found more than two-thirds of power generating companies denied they had any “critical assets” potentially vulnerable to cyberattack. Those denials concern Wellinghoff.

“We are asking the responding utilities to go back and reveal what are the number of critical assets and redetermine that for us,” he says. “We want to be sure that we have fully identify all the critical assets that need to be protected.”

It would be especially troubling if, as was recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, Russian and Chinese entities have hacked into the US power grid and left behind malware that could be activated at a later time to disable the grid.

But Wellinghoff says he has checked on the type of intrusion referred to in the article and denies successful grid hacks by foreign nations that have left dangerous malware behind.

While acknowledging that individuals overseas have tried to hack the grid frequently, he says, “I’m not aware of any successful hacks that have implanted into the grid any kinds of malware or other code that could later be activated.”

But others say there is a problem. In remarks at the University of Texas at Austin in April, Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, the nation’s most senior counterintelligence coordinator, indicated there are threats to the grid.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” he said in prepared remarks. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

In an e-mailed statement, Wellinghoff’s press secretary, Mary O’Driscoll, says the chairman defers to senior intelligence officials on some questions concerning grid vulnerability to cyberattack: “The Commission isn’t in the intelligence gathering business and therefore can’t comment on that type of information.”

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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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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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