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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Renewables For Schools Bill Unveiled in Colorado

From a Colorado House Press release issued last Thursday:

Representative Andy Kerr and Treasurer Cary Kennedy will present a new bill that combines two of the hottest issues at the legislature this year: education and the New Energy Economy.

House Bill 1312 creates an innovative program to provide schools access to clean energy with low- and no-interest loans. By producing energy on-site with wind and solar, schools can slash their utility bills, create a buffer against future energy price spikes, inform the next generation about next-generation technologies, and put more money toward educating our kids.

The “Renewables for Schools” bill provides schools access to renewable energy with low- and no-interest loans.  Immediately following the press conference, the House Education Committee will hear testimony and vote on the bill.

The bill was originally scheduled to be unveiled last Thursday.  With the March 2009 blizzard raging, it was postponed until Sunday and Monday: unveiled Sunday and introduced to the House Education Committee Monday.  The bill was approved by that committee by an 8-4 vote.  It now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

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MIT Doubles Previous Warming Prediction to 5.1°C

The nice part about science is the ability to retest things as new data and better methods become available.  In the case of climate change, new data and updated models are producing increasingly higher warming predictions for the end of this century.  MIT joined other entities in retesting their predictions with their Integrated Global System Model .  The IGSM is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100.  Back in 2003, at the time of their original predictions, end of the century median surface temperatures were 2.4°C higher than the climatological average of the preceding century.  Armed with additional data and significant updates to the model, their latest prediction is an astounding 5.1°C (median value) in the 2091 to 2100 time period.  That’s more than double the value found just a handful of years ago.  I can guarantee, and I’m sure they would agree, that their data isn’t completely sufficient; nor is their model accounting for critical feedback processes, many of which we’re only now becoming aware of.

Their new study also includes new predictions of CO2 concentrations over the next 80 years.  Their new 5th percentile projection is higher than their 2003 median (50th percentile) at just under 700ppm (current values are 387ppm and increasing).  Their new 50th percentile projection is almost as high as their 2003 95th percentile projection: 866ppm vs. 900ppm.  Finally, their new 95th percentile projection registers at a nearly unfathomable 1100ppm.  Concentrations of CO2 leading up to 1100ppm would certainly open the door to out-of-control climate feedback processes, the kind which nobody would want to deal with.

Warming in their simulations range from 3.1°C to 7.3°C by 2100.  They make sure to note that not one of their 400 simulations resulted in globally averaged temperature increases of less than 2°C.  Not one.  That’s a very significant result.  Why the big change?  The authors explain:

Rather than interacting additively, these different affects appear to interact multiplicatively, with feedbacks among the contributing factors, leading to the surprisingly large increase in the chance of much higher temperatures.

That multiplicative description is characteristic of non-linear systems, such as the climate system.  It’s quite frankly something that many climate change deniers/delayers don’t understand or gloss over.  Additive changes of GHG emissions result in multiplicative surface temperature changes down the road.  We don’t have to inject too much CO2 or other gases to generate large temperature increases.  Which little additive change in emissions will result in more feedback processes kicking in?  We don’t know.  As such, I don’t think it’s worth it to continue emitting GHGs until we see the feedback has kicked in – it will be too late to slow things down at that point.

Another important result: polar amplification is present in their simulations.  By that, I mean that just as has already been observed in the past 30 years, polar temperatures are expected to increase more than temperatures across the mid-latitudes and tropics.  There are some differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  Their median percentile projection calls for a 10°C rise at the north pole by 2091-2100 compared to 1981-2000, a 7°C rise at 45°N and a 6°C rise at the Equator.  At 45°S, the median temperature change is predicted to be slightly more than 4°C; the south pole temperature change is predicted to be about 7°C.

Does anybody think the Arctic ice sheet can exist year round with 10°C warmer annual temperatures?  I certainly don’t.  This report identifies a 5% probability of Arctic Ocean ice disappearing in the summer by 2100.  I don’t think it will take until 2025 before that happens.  Again, the poles are observed and sampled very infrequently in time and space.  We simply don’t have solid ideas of how polar climate dynamics behave – not in stable conditions and certainly not in unstable conditions.


Efficiency Standard Would Take Bite Out Of Higher Energy Costs

Reading about a national energy efficiency standard made me remember the full-page, color package of lies advertisement I wrote about just over a week ago.  A group spun efforts by Congress to consider reducing greenhouse pollution as a direct tax on the American people.  The pollution must be reduced – the sooner the better.  No matter the manner in which Congress works to introduce the first nationwide effort to reduct that pollution, for-profit energy corporations will do their best to pass on any new costs directly to consumers.  I suppose there is nothing intrinsically wrong with those costs being passed along – it’s the nature of corporations to do so, after all.  What I object to is the morality of doing so when easily implementable solutions are available to those corporations.  That’s where citizen activism comes in – if the corporations refuse to think outside their little box, other people can and will.

It would be relatively straightforward to alleviate cost increases to both energy providers and energy users.  How?  Implementation of Energy Efficiency Standards.  Renewable Energy Standards have been implemented in a number of states (Colorado was the first) and will be done nationally as well.  That’s only part of the energy equation.  Energy efficiency, as I’ve written before, provides a low-cost method of significantly reducing our energy requirements.  People can and have already done so in individual cases.  It’s time to direct energy providers to do the same on a much larger scale.  Imposing costs on greenhouse gas polluters merely introduces a situation in which it makes even more sense to implement Energy Efficiency Standards on a national-scale.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy provides the following argument for enacting a national-scale EES:

Currently, new conventional base-load production sources generate electricity at a rate between $0.073 and $0.135 per kilowatt-hour.  At a cost of $0.03 per kilowatt-hour saved, efficiency improvements are significantly less expensive than building new plants and power lines and burning more fuel.

More power is going to be requested by users in the future.  Efficiency technologies today can offset 85% of projected 2030 demand.  85% of projected demand could cost half or one-fourth as much as what energy corporations are going to want to charge Americans.  The potential savings are estimated at nearly $170 billion per year by 2020 if an EES is put in place.  Why wouldn’t we implement such a strategy?

Locally in Colorado, HB07-1146 was one of the first pieces of legislation to reflect the vision of Governor Ritter’s New Energy Economy.  Colorado is currently one of 18 states nationally to have adopted energy efficiency standards.  That effort would be strengthened by a national effort.  Implemening a national energy efficiency standard would improve the efficacy of a national renewable energy standard, something else Colorado has enacted.

Such an effort is underway:

The Campaign for an Energy-Efficient America supports a federal EERS, a target that would require utilities to reduce electricity demand by 15 percent and natural gas demand by 10 percent by 2020. This EERS is included in both House and Senate versions (H.R. 889 and S. 548) of the Save American Energy Act, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY).

I would really like to see this effort make its way through the Congress with a minimum of fuss or change.  The globe could use some relief from our greenhouse forcing.  Energy efficiency is a highly reachable method of doing that in the short term.  It would mean energy corporations would receive less money in the future than they would if their lies to Americans were to beat this effort back.  I don’t plan on letting that happen.  I want to save money in the future and save the climate now.

Cross-posted at SquareState.

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Shuttle Discovery & Obama’s Auto Plan – 3/30/09

A couple of news items I wanted to touch on today include the return of space shuttle Discovery to Earth and the Obama administration’s announcement today that GM and Chrysler’s restructuring plan fall short of their goals.

The Discovery mission to the International Space Station was mostly successful.  Astronauts installed the final set of solar panels, which will allow for fully planned power generation.  They also worked to repair the station’s water recycling sytem.  Both the solar panels and the water recycling system must work as planned if the station’s crew is to grow from 3 to 6 persons.  One negative from the mission was two external storage containers getting stuck during deployment.  The storage will hold station spare parts for the 2010-2014 time period when NASA won’t have a shuttle or their next generation craft flying.

Part of me supports the Obama administration’s rejection of the GM and Chrysler restructuring plans.  Both corporations are lacking innovation and a solid working model.  As such, they don’t deserve to receive billions of additional dollars in taxpayer money.  Another part of me recognizes that there are a lot of Americans that depend on GM and Chrysler for their jobs – directly and indirectly.  If these auto manufacturers are headed for bankruptcy reorganization, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.  Plenty of other corporations have emerged from bankruptcy changed for the better.  At the end of the day, if GM and Chrysler can’t get it done, other companies are ready and waiting to expand in the void.  Will it be painless?  Of course not.  Nobody can say that change is painless.  Is it necessary?  It’s looking increasingly like it will be.

At the same time, Wall St. firms have ripped off the government (read: taxpayers) for billions of dollars.  They’re not being held to the same standards as are GM and Chrysler.  I would support the Obama decision more wholeheartedly if those standards applied to every corporation looking for corporate welfare for their crappy decisions.  If this decision marks a new chapter in the unfolding economic disaster we’re currently experiencing, all the better.  Greedy Wall St. corporations deserve this same kind of treatment and more.  If they don’t have valid, up-to-date operating plans, they deserve no more money than GM or Chrysler do.  Enforcement of laws already on the books to control Wall St. corporations should begin immediately.  The American people would be better served by fewer financial institutions that are held accountable.

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World Solar Photovoltaic Market Grew to 6GW in 2008

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations reached a record high of 5.95 gigawatts (GW) in 2008, representing growth of 110% over the previous year.

So says in the introduction of their annual world solar photovoltaic industry report.  What portion of that capacity does the U.S. contribute?  A whopping 0.36GW.  You can look at a “positive”: the U.S. has the third largest share of any country.  But we’re a long, long ways back from the #1 and #2 countries.  Germany comes in at #2 with 1.86GW of solar PV, or nearly 6 times as much as the U.S.

Who is number one?  Spain.  Spain has 2.46GW of solar PV installations.  Their market share grew by 285% in the last year to help them surpass Germany.  The U.S. grew, but not nearly at this rate.  To really highlight how weak U.S. efforts are, South Korea came in at #4 with 0.28GW.

It’s a good thing those other industrialized countries don’t believe in the kind of unregulated capitalism and are squadering their money on stupid things like renewable energy resources.  After all, why would the U.S. want any of the $37.1 billion the PV industry generated in global revenues in 2008?  According to the fossil fuel industry, renewables will never be major market forces.  Nobody should waste their time on such things.  Well, too many powerful people in the U.S. bought into such talk.   America developed large-scale PV technologies years ago – a product of our world-class education system and research infrastructure.  With industry’s focus on quarter-by-quarter profits above all else, the rest of the industrialized and some of the developing world have taken the mantle of solar PV manufacturing and installation away from the country that worked so hard to introduce the technology in the first place.

The good news is there are plenty of grassroots-level Americans that have gone against the flow in the country.  A growing number of people will help build the solar PV industry up to its capabilities.  We’re behind the count, but we can still come out ahead in the next few years with more attention and effort.

[h/t Climate Progress]

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Oil and Gas Rules Close To Being Approved By CO Senate

The oil and gas drilling rules that were established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have passed through the state House and as of today were initially passed by the state Senate (a committee, perhaps? the article doesn’t say). Final approval is still required by the full Senate and of course requires Governor Ritter’s signature.

From the Post article:

The Republicans hoped to increase certain protections for drinking water and to raise fines for some rules violations in exchange for stripping out a number of regulations.

Democrats summarily rejected the change, and, afterward, Republicans conceded the fight in the legislature is basically over.

Sen. Penry continues to project how the Cons operate:

“There are a lot of Democrats with reservations about this,” Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, asserted. “But they’re moving with lockstep discipline. They didn’t give an inch today.”

I certainly wouldn’t say Democrats ever move with lockstep discipline. These rules are two years in the making, coming after numerous public comment sessions and being watered down from their original state. Instead, a more appropriate story-line would be that the Cons’ 2009 session strategy of delay and distract ended up not waylaying these rules, at least up to this point.

Indeed, as johne demonstrated yesterday at SquareState, their distracting talking points haven’t stood up to the reality of the marketplace (what else is new?): as oil prices came off their record highs last summer, oil drillers found it wasn’t as profitable to keep drilling at the break-neck pace they had up until late last year.

This Denver Post article at least recognizes this:

Republicans say the rules also impose new costs on drilling companies, which have significantly scaled back their operations across the West in response to the flagging economy. Those costs could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars extra per well, said Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.

Good – one article didn’t repeat the Cons’ lies. One small step at a time. As for the rest of that quote, what I wrote when the rules were about to clear the state House is still valid:

The truth is the fossil fuel drilling industry is scared of losing their stranglehold on uncontrolled drilling. They haven’t been faced with working with others before this and like other Cons are terrified of progress and inclusion.

The fossil fuel drilling industry has operated too long without reasonable restraint. If these rules are implemented and enforced (quite a different story altogether, unfortunately), Coloradans will be allowed to play on a field that’s a little more level. Hopefully news comes tomorrow that the full Senate voted for the rules.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


Boulder’s Smart Grid Update – 3/24/09

I had written about Boulder, CO becoming Xcel Energy’s first Smart Grid City just over one year ago.  I followed that up with an update in May about the first few projects Xcel was working on.  I went back to Xcel’s SmartGrid site today to see how things were going.  The answer isn’t easy to come across.  It looks like they spent some time last year laying out the plans, but not much time updating the site with progress to date or how their plans have shifted.  There was this update back in August:

Xcel Energy and its technology partners are making significant progress in the installation of SmartGridCity. The first meters are active and two-way communication between the customer and the utility company is a reality. Xcel Energy has installed sensors and high-speed communications on approximately 82 miles of fiber optic cable. By the end of 2008, Xcel Energy will have more than 13,000 homes enabled with smart meters and by mid-2009, another 10,000 meters will be available for installation at the customer’s request.

Those numbers are down from what I wrote about back in May 2008:

15,000 homes should have brand new digital meters by Aug. 1 of this year. Xcel plans to install approximately 50,000 meters by year’s end.

23,000 by mid-2009 isn’t quite 65,000 meters by the end of 2009.  Since then, I can’t tell what’s happened.  Xcel tested some PHEVs in October.  But no more news has surface as to the progress of the smart meters or the infrastructure installation.  That’s kind of disappointing.  Hopefully by this summer, more good news will be released.

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Climate Change News: New Coral; Methane; GHG Reporting

I’m catching up on a few more news items.  First, a new genus of coral might have been found.  This finding is somewhat less impressive when you realize how little we know about what is in the oceans.  The oceans remain the least explored region on Earth.  Six of seven species discovered recently could qualify for a new genus, once additional examination is conducted.  Just as importantly, researchers were able to secure 4,000 years’ worth of history from some long-lived coral species.  Their growth rings can be “read” like tree growth rings to tease out clues of past climatic conditions.  What will coral tell us about the climate?  As CO2 is slowly absorbed by the oceans, they become more acidic.  Coral can’t grow when the water is highly acidic.  Lots of marine organisms have the same limitation.  These corals are deep-water coral.  If they start dying off due to increased acidity (and temperature) due to manmade greenhouse forcing, it will be a strong signal that the 21st century climate will indeed be quite different than anything we’re familiar with.

Methane levels in the Norweigan Arctic are rising.  Vast beds of methane have been locked up in the northern tundra due to the perpetual cold temperatures.  Global warming has warmed the poles much more than the mid-latitudes or tropical regions.  As they’ve warmed, the tundra is thawing.  As a result, those vast methane beds are releasing the gas back into the atmosphere.  Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas than is CO2.  Therefore, it doesn’t take nearly as much methane to amplify the polar warming already underway (that’s called a positive feedback loop).  One of the problems climatologists face is the arctic region is less well sampled than are the mid-latitudes.  Not even close to the degree that the oceans are under- or non-sampled.  But enough to be a big missing piece of the puzzle.

Yet another missing puzzle piece might come into focus.  The EPA is looking to introduce mandantory greenhouse gas tracking on approximately 13,000 facilities nationwide.  I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of outrage from Cons who will insist its an unfair tax that businesses shouldn’t be made to shoulder.  Ah what a difference an election makes:

“Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement announcing the proposed regulation.

Well said.  Climate change is already impacting businesses and societies.  How much it will continue to do so will only be made more clear once we know how much pollution we’re emitting.  Oh – an easy way to get out of this requirement?  Quit producing the greenhouse gases.  Support renewable energy development – it greatly reduces emissions.  Or continue with the old, polluting ways and finally pony up the costs to society.  Smart, bottom-line watching companies will see which path is cheaper, I’m sure.

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Quick Hit: Shell Oil Buying Water Rights in Colorado

Shell Oil put forth a water claim on 15 billion gallons of water, as this article details.  I think this is in addition to the 7.2 million acre-feet of senior water rights that Shell and others bought last week, as I covered here.  The older article that I’m just now getting to says the Yampa River water rights are junior rights.  The end use of the water would likely be the same: drilling for oil in shale formations.  That’s why I’m not sure if the articles are actually about the same purchase or not.  If not, Shell is putting down a lot of money in what is likely to be a very bad investment.  If all the claims make their way past regulators and the court system (no guarantee in itself), it would take another decade before the first drilling could occur (if the technology is ready, another thing not guaranteed).  So in 10 plus years, Shell might be ready to drill for oil in formations.  What do you think our energy portfolio and infrastructure will look like by then?  Does anyone seriously think that oil and gas will be viewed as the best sources of energy in 10 more years?  Of course not – they’re not today and that won’t improve with time.  (The fact that absent massive corporate welfare, oil and gas are even worse sources than they are commonly viewed today seems to escape most peoples’ notice.)  For the sake of our environment and our economy, renewable energy sources are where the smart money is.

Once again, as gas prices inch back up toward $2 per gallon this spring (and likely to go higher again this summer), this is what Shell and other fossil fuel corporations are doing with a great deal of their money: securing water rights so that dozens of gallons of water can be wasted to produce one gallon of oil 10+ years from now.  They’re not incresing refining capacity, which would help lower the price of gas for all of us.  They’re planning to start boondoggle projects.  In too many people’s eyes, it’s alright if Shell and other corporations do so because they’re infallible.  It disgusts me.

Update: The Colorado Independent’s David Williams has an article up on this.

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State of the Arctic – 3/23/09

The Arctic ice sheet likely already reached its yearly maximum extent about a month ago.  Instead of starting to steadily decrease in the week since my last post on it, a weather system set up over Alaska and the Pacific to its west that was able to induce more ice formation than what was lost over the remainder of the ice sheet.  This is a positive development as it could allow the ice extent minimum this September to be a bit higher than it otherwise would have been.  Conversely, it would only take a couple analogous systems this summer to melt the ice away as more people are fearing will happen every summer.  Time will tell.  So to update my last post, here are the corresponding graphs showing the state of the arctic ice sheet as of yesterday:

The extent of the ice sheet graphically looks like this:

I’ll take this opportunity to remind myself and others that a moderate La Nina hung on through the end of 2008.  At this time, a more neutral phase is being established.  As it does so, I expect the current set of strom tracks to shift course.  Again, what that means the remainder of the year will have to wait.  Even with generally cooler conditions and mostly favorable storm tracks, the ice extent still couldn’t match the climatological norm this winter.  I don’t expect this summer’s extent to either.


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