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Robert Rubin: How ignoring climate change could sink the U.S. economy

By Robert E. Rubin July 24

Robert E. Rubin, co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, was treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999.

Good economic decisions require good data. And to get good data, we must account for all relevant variables. But we’re not doing this when it comes to climate change — and that means we’re making decisions based on a flawed picture of future risks. While we can’t define future climate-change risks with precision, they should be included in economic policy, fiscal and business decisions because of their potential magnitude.

The scientific community is all but unanimous in its agreement that climate change is a serious threat. According to Gallup, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that global warming is caused by human activity. Still, for many people, the effects of climate change seem like a future problem — something that falls by the wayside as we tackle what seem like more immediate crises.

But climate change is a present danger. The buildup of greenhouse gases is cumulative and irreversible; the pollutants we are now emitting will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So what we do each day will affect us and the planet for centuries. Damage resulting from climate change cuts across almost every aspect of life: public health, extreme weather, the economy and so much else.

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Business as Usual: The US Chamber’s History of Fighting Environmental Protection

Posted: 07/25/2014 5:13 pm EDT Updated: 07/25/2014 5:59 pm EDT

Gene Karpinski Become a fan

President, League of Conservation Voters

The EPA's new Clean Power Plan is not difficult to defend. Limiting carbon pollution from power plants, the nation's single largest polluter, will undeniably protect the public health and welfare of millions of Americans, not to mention that it is a crucial step towards protecting our land and water from the adverse effects of climate change. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants us to believe otherwise.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of anti-environmental extremism and false predictions about public health safeguards. The most recent of these claims is an alarmist "study" the Chamber released declaring that the EPA's Clean Power Plan would cause devastation in the U.S. economy, kill hundreds of thousands of jobs, and skyrocket electricity bills. Fortunately, there is little truth to these claims; the Chamber's "study" was conjured up before the EPA's proposal was even released, and is thus based on flawed assumptions that are meaningfully different from the EPA's actual proposal.

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Science is the new cleantech in the Valley but without the righteousness

By Katie Fehrenbacher

Jul. 26, 2014 - 8:00 AM PDT


Science is the cleantech. Well, sort of. My thoughts on the evolving way for VCs to fund tough problems.

I get slightly annoyed when articles come out bemoaning how Silicon Valley hasn’t been tackling hard problems. I’ve written a variety of “get off my lawn” rebuttals a couple times on Gigaom before, but these articles still keep coming out. Most of them, while partly true, ignore that venture capitalists spent tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars investing in the “cleantech” wave between mid-2000 to 2012 and were trying to tackle hard problems. Many of them ended up losing a good deal of money.

The about face and the cleantech reversal was a totally reasonable response from a group of people who were losing other people’s money, jeopardizing their firms’ chances of raising future funds, getting pressure from limited partners, and watching easy, fast money being made in the internet.

But guess what? For some of the Valley’s most cutting edge VCs, tackling hard problems and investing in these scientific and energy innovations is once again starting to be new and cool again. But make no mistake: it’s not going to be called “cleantech” this time around, and here’s hoping it won’t be bogged down by the type of subtle “righteous” mindset that characterized the first cleantech wave.

Valley investors are now starting to embrace the term “science” as an overarching rubric for energy innovation, but they are also including things like materials science, health startups, and space exploration projects. And this move is not just because we at Gigaom finally changed our cleantech channel to the broader moniker Science & Energy.

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Technology Is The New Black In The Energy Economy

7/24/2014 @ 7:39AM


Chip Register

Discussing the Centennial Moment in the capital and commodity markets

We have never been great at forecasting energy supply and demand fundamentals very far into the future. The traditional models have all coalesced GDP figures with reserve estimates and power generation investments to deduce what our energy production levels and consumption mix might look like forty years in the future. As you might imagine, this yearly statistical skydive has always been fraught with peril.

The most notable of these reports is probably the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) Annual Energy Outlook, released in May. In addition to the big EIA report, a slew of similar findings are also disgorged by various energy companies like Norway’s Statoil . But the grand-daddy of them all remains BP ’s Statistical Review of World Energy, released in January and updated in June.

As a former energy trader turned utility executive, I can attest to the relevance of these documents in boardrooms where massive investment decisions get made. Billions go on the line, backed by models that are powered by these studies.

Understanding the assumption-laden nature of their construction, that always gave me a little analytical vertigo. But now, I think the issue is a hundred times worse. My question is: “Has the pace of arrival of disruptive technology increased to the point where the standard error on these is so wide as to render them virtually meaningless?”

I fear so.

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Nuclear-Renewable Mix Is Just What The EPA Ordered

7/23/2014 @ 12:45PM


James Conca

I cover the underlying drivers of energy, technology and society.

A lone nuclear power plant, Columbia Generating Station, near Richland, Wash., generated a record 9.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The reactor has been operating since 1984 and has produced well over 200 billion kWhrs of electricity averaging between 4 and 5¢ per kWhr.

Columbia Generating Station has an installed capacity of 1170 MW, so this 9.7 billion kWhrs represents a capacity factor of 95% for the year. Capacity factor (cf) is the amount of energy actually produced over a year divided by the amount that the system could produce if it ran at capacity perfectly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So for the Columbia Generating Station, this is calculated as:

1170 MW x 1000 kW/MW x 8766 hrs/year = 10.3 billion kWhrs possible in a year

9.7 billion kWhrs ÷ 10.3 billion kWhrs = 0.95  or  cf = 95%

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Post-coal Pueblo left out in the cold

By Lydia DePillis

The Washington Post

Posted:   07/27/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

PUEBLO — Sharon Garcia is stumbling around her dining room in the dark, trying to find Post-It notes.

As she has for years, Garcia wants to affix the notes, marked with dollar signs, to light switches all around her house. The message to her five kids: Light is expensive.

"Why do you need to turn the lights off?" she asks her son, Mariano.

"Because otherwise there's no money," he answers, dutifully.

"And when there's no money?"

"You can't feed us or take us anywhere."

Bingo, again.

It's not just the light switches, though. Ever since her power was shut off in 2010, Garcia has adopted a Depression-era obsessiveness: She doesn't use the oven in the summer, because it heats up the house, and she uses only one small air conditioner. Even the aquarium goes dark when someone's not in the room.

"If we're not in here looking at the fish, it shouldn't be on," she says.

And yet, no matter how much she rations and cuts, Garcia cannot keep ahead of the fast rise in rates. She runs a day care out of her home, so her monthly bill of about $200 is already higher than average in Pueblo, where the residential rate per kilowatt hour has risen 26 percent since 2010 and, on a per-household basis, is now among the highest in the state.

Garcia's extreme frugality is, indirectly, the result of coal plants shutting down as Colorado transitions to renewable energy. But in Pueblo, it happened in a way that has left poor consumers gasping for relief.

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Appalachia tries to make a life after coal

By Laura Flanders

Cross-posted from Yes! Magazine

Catherine Moore / Appalachian Transition Fellows

Mural in Benham.

Original source:

Benham, Ky., in the heart of Harlan County, is a quiet place with a proud sign that has been amended over time to read, “Benham, the little town that International Harvester, coal miners and their families built.”

International Harvester, a farm-equipment conglomerate created by industrial speculator J.P. Morgan, bought up Benham’s land and mineral rights soon after the turn of the century in order to supply Wisconsin steelworks with Appalachia’s high-quality coal.

All at once, a trappers’ and hunters’ hamlet became a churning coal-camp town. International Harvester designed the streets, built the houses, attracted the workers, and ran the coal north by rail. Miners were paid good wages when there was work (especially later, when workers were unionized), but most of the workers’ cash went straight back to International Harvester – which owned the two-story department store, the cinema, the hospital, the power company, and every significant business in town.

Half a century later, new machines took miners’ jobs and new technology enabled customers to burn cheaper coal. IH started laying off miners and selling its properties, taking its profits with it – as it had the coal.

Between 1960 and 2012, Harlan County shrank from more than 51,000 residents to fewer than 30,000. Benham’s population (now under 500) set about building a new economy.

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Oil, gas boom taps rush of ordinances and bans across the U.S.

By Mark Jaffe

The Denver Post

Posted:   07/27/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

Related Stories

Development of oil and gas shale formations has sparked drilling from Pennsylvania to California, and that is leading to a new wave of local oil and gas ordinances and bans.

Towns and cities — from Robinson Township, Pa., population 13,354, to Dallas, population 1.2 million — are enacting rules to limit or control oil and gas development.

Beverly Hills, Calif., home to Hollywood stars and a cluster of wells at Beverly Hills High School, has banned fracking, the technique used to crack shale and free up oil and gas.

The rural New York hamlet of Dryden, home to the northeast's two largest organic dairy farms, has zoned it out of town.

But in many places, local governments and the oil and gas industry are reaching accord and finding ways to balance desires of residents against the demands of business.

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Fracking’s hidden toll on rural America

Russell Gold's "Boom" argues shale gas offers a road map to a low-carbon economy. The human cost may be too steep

Friday, Jul 25, 2014 04:30 AM PDT

Scott Dodd,

Topics:, fracking, Pennsylvania, John D. Rockefeller, West Virginia, Business News, Politics News

This article originally appeared on

Growing up in northern West Virginia in the 1970s, I remember seeing a lot of big white plastic candy canes sticking out of the ground, marking the natural gas pipelines that ran just below the surface. You’d encounter them along streams and fence lines and the backcountry roads that always made me carsick. What I didn’t realize as a kid was how much of my family history was intertwined with those hidden gas lines.

My great-great-grandfather, William Dodd, helped lay some of the first pipe across the state, working for a subsidiary of Standard Oil at a time when John D. Rockefeller craved alternatives to oil (not for any environmental reason, but because even back then he was worried we would run out). William’s son was an administrator for Hope Gas, and his grandson (my grandfather) was a supervisor at a company extraction plant on the Ohio River. Then my dad spent his career as a corporate executive for Hope’s successor, Consolidated Natural Gas, until it was gobbled up by Dominion Resources.

That time line of mergers and name changes—from Hope to Dominion—serves as a rather succinct summary of the role of natural gas in the U.S. economy over the past couple of centuries. First used commercially in 1821 to light lamps in Fredonia, New York—almost four decades before an oil well was drilled in nearby Pennsylvania—gas has nevertheless remained oil’s “invisible twin,” as David Waples put it in his 2005 book, The Natural Gas Industry in Appalachia. Gas was often seen as an unwanted by-product, frequently burned off because coal was cheaper and oil more versatile.

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Can your town ban fracking? Depends on the state

A judge struck down a fracking ban in Longmont, Colo. Thursday – a victory for oil and gas companies, and a blow to environmentalists trying to halt fracking at the local level. As more and more cities and towns mull fracking bans, courts are weighing in with decisions that vary widely by state.

By Jared Gilmour July 25, 2014

Washington — Anti-fracking activists in Colorado are shifting their focus to statewide ballot initiatives later this year, after a district judge overturned Thursday a voter-approved local ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil and gas extraction technique.

The ruling is a win for the region’s supporters of expanded energy production, but both sides are gearing up for a debate that extends well beyond Colorado’s borders.

Across the country – from California to New York, and Ohio to Texas – state courts are determining whether or not local fracking bans are legitimate. Thursday’s ruling underscores the bind that can arise when a state rules one way on fracking, and a city or town leans the other way. Traditionally, permitting and regulating of oil and gas development occur at the state level in the US, meaning the feasibility of a fracking ban can vary drastically across state lines. It becomes even more of an issue as the US shale boom spreads closer to suburban – and even urban – areas, where residents have no history with energy extraction.

“These bans are springing up all over the place,” says David Spence, a professor of law, politics, and regulation at the University of Texas at Austin, in a telephone interview Friday. “All of them will bring the same kinds of legal challenges.”

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San Bruno: E-mails show cozy ties between state and PG&E

By Jaxon Van Derbeken

July 25, 2014 | Updated: July 25, 2014 11:15pm

State PUC President Michael Peevey sent PG&E an unsolicited critique about its public-relations acumen after it was indicted in the San Bruno blast case.

A high-ranking aide to the California Public Utilities Commission's president advised a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executive on ways the company could fend off a legal challenge during the fallout over the deadly gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno, newly released e-mails show.

The e-mails - among 7,000 obtained by the city as part of a lawsuit settlement with the state agency - show that PG&E repeatedly went to top regulatory officials with complaints or requests for help related to investigations stemming from the September 2010 explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

San Bruno officials said the communications were proof of a cozy relationship between the commission and the utility it regulates. That has been a consistent theme of commission critics since the pipeline disaster, which the National Transportation Safety Board said revealed a "culture of complacency" in the state agency that was supposed to ensure PG&E operated its pipelines safely.

One big team?

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Houston praised, some others panned, for gas pipeline maintenance

Posted on July 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm by Rhiannon Meyers in featured, General, Natural gas, Pipelines

A new study says the U.S. should work faster to upgrade aging natural gas utility lines. At the current pace, pipeline replacement will take 30 years, the study says.

Campaigning for the acceleration of repairs to the nation’s aging natural gas utility pipelines, labor unions and environmentalists say expediting the replacement schedule would boost the economy and curb the amount of pollution emitted into the air each year.

“We believe America doesn’t have to choose between good jobs and a clean environment,” said Kim Glas, the executive director of BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations that released a report on pipelines Thursday. “We can and will have both.”

The group had some good words for Houston, noting that the oldest, most leak-prone pipeline typically runs through major metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and Chicago, but that Houston has made good progress on repairs.

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Solar Industry Is Rebalanced by U.S. Pressure on China


Even as regulators continue to wrestle with the protracted trade conflict with China over solar panels, the case has already started to reshape the industry, lifting manufacturers based outside China while also raising prices of panels for developers.

On Friday, the United States Commerce Department took another step in that direction, finding that Chinese solar companies had dumped their products on the American market at below cost, and imposing duties of 10.74 percent to 55.49 percent. The ruling follows a separate decision in June that ruled that Chinese solar panel manufacturers had benefited from unfair government subsidies and that imposed steep duties of about 19 percent to 35 percent.

Even though Friday’s ruling, like the one in June, is preliminary and could change — final rulings are expected this year — the effect of the higher tariffs imposed in June has been evident in the market. Panel prices have increased by about 10 percent since then, developers and analysts say, resulting in decreased demand for some of the large, low-cost manufacturers that have dominated the market, like Yingli and Suntech.

But it has been a boon to other companies, whose products are suddenly seen as competitive and are winning new business. American and European manufacturers that survived the fierce competition with Chinese companies have already shown glimpses of a revival.

SolarCity, the fast-growing rooftop solar power provider based in San Mateo, Calif., recently announced it would buy as much as 240 megawatts’ worth of panels from REC Solar, a Norwegian manufacturer, and acquired a start-up, Silevo, with plans to produce panels in Buffalo. SolarWorld Industries America, the manufacturing company based in Oregon that brought the original case, has also benefited with a recent deal to sell equipment to RGS Energy, an installer.

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SolarWorld Wins Again: Big Anti-Dumping Tariffs in US-China Solar Panel Trade Case

What’s the real impact of this case on the U.S. market?

Eric Wesoff

July 25, 2014

The Department of Commerce has again found for the petitioner, SolarWorld, in its Chinese solar module trade case. This afternoon's preliminary decision imposes significant tariffs on Chinese solar modules in the anti-dumping portion of this case.

Today's decision also closes what SolarWorld called a "loophole" that allowed Chinese module manufacturers to use Taiwanese cells in their modules and circumvent U.S. trade duties.

SolarWorld has prevailed at pretty much every step of this case despite the debatable efforts from CASE and other trade organizations.

Here is today's preliminary decision:

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PV on Oahu: Solar Shipwreck

The end of net energy metering? Marco Mangelsdorf assesses the PV situation in Hawaii.

Marco Mangelsdorf

July 25, 2014

Not long ago, the solar electric industry was the hottest construction trade on Oahu. Today, it is foundering.

According to January-June 2014 photovoltaic system permit data provided by the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting, the total number of PV permits issued dropped by 43 percent compared to the same period last year, and the total project value declined by more than 50 percent.

Riding high with white-hot annual growth from 2007 to 2012, few expected this ship to suddenly break apart at sea, with some of the top solar installation firms seeing their sales on the island drop off by more than 90 percent over the same period in 2013. Amidst talk of the Hawaiian Electric companies being under the gun, business models needing to change, an energy revolution happening before our eyes, so-called disruptive technologies emerging, and the manic search for readily available and affordable battery storage, many PV companies can’t afford to wait for this promised land of limitless distributed rooftop solar electric generation.

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