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Electric-Vehicle Sales On Course for Mainstream Adoption


But will growth be enough to meet global decarbonization targets?

by Jason Deign

August 22, 2016


The latest data on electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales shows continued strong progress toward mainstream adoption.

According to market tracker EV Volumes, 180,500 electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) were sold in the first four months of this year, a 42 percent increase over 2015 levels.

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California’s electric car program may be running out of gas

By David R. Baker

August 19, 2016 Updated: August 21, 2016 5:44pm

  1. Environmentalists warn that California may fall far short of its goal of putting 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles, such as these Nissan Leafs, on the road by 2025.

Elon Musk had had enough.

Asked recently about one of California’s most important programs to promote cleaner cars, the CEO of electric automaker Tesla Motors ripped into the obscure but powerful state agency that runs it.

“The California Air Resources Board is being incredibly weak,” Musk said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts. The agency, he added, “should be damn well ashamed of themselves.”

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program — which pushes automakers to sell an increasing number of electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles in the state — has become a source of increasing concern to environmentalists, who say it risks falling short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of having at least 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles on the streets by 2025.

Musk is the most prominent person so far to sound an alarm about the program, which analysts credit with helping make California the center of the electric car movement. But he’s hardly alone.

“The program is in dire need of a tuneup,” said Simon Mui, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean-vehicle efforts in California. “It won’t be delivering as many vehicles as the state wants.”

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Rules on heavy trucks’ efficiency are valuable. But there’s still a better approach.


A line of semi trucks stranded in the eastbound lane of U.S. 150 on Jan. 6, 2014. (John Dixon/News-Gazette via Associated Press)

By Editorial Board August 18

THE OBAMA administration announced this week groundbreaking rules on heavy trucks, promising that by 2027 the vehicles that move massive amounts of freight across the country will be as much as 25 percent cleaner. This is good news. But it also highlights the fact that the executive branch has been given only command-and-control tools to combat climate change. If Congress would act, the country could do much better.

Big trucks are about 5 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet but account for a fifth of transportation-sector emissions. Most of that comes from big rigs that carry up to 50,000 pounds of freight at a time and often travel more than 150,000 miles a year. The Environmental Defense Fund reckons that one of these big trucks equates to about 50 passenger cars in fuel consumption.

The new rules would tie specific fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions requirements to each vehicle size and type, making them steadily more stringent over the next decade. Past standards were based on vehicle technologies already in use. The new ones will require innovation and deployment of new fuel-saving technologies, such as aerodynamic alterations that reduce wind resistance. Trucks will be more expensive to buy but cheaper to operate.

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Harley-Davidson is officially a clear air outlaw

By Heather Smith on Aug 19, 2016

If you’ve ever wondered why a flock of motorcycles smells like a smog bomb made love to a junkyard, the secret is out. This week, Harley-Davidson agreed to pay $12 million in fines to the Environmental Protection Agency for evading clean air laws.

From 2008 to 2015, Harley-Davidson sold a device called a Screamin’ Eagle engine tuner (available in regular and pro variety), which allowed anyone to hack into their Hog’s emissions control software and dial it back to the simpler times of the 1950’s, when the kids were all excited about a hot new dance craze called the Twist, and America’s major cities were blanketed in a thick gray haze of Beijing-level air pollution.

As part of the settlement, Harley is required to stop making the tuners, to buy back and destroy all the ones currently for sale, and to spend $3 million on an as-yet-unspecified special project to reduce air pollution.

It’s no coincidence that Harley-Davidson was busted so soon after the Volkswagen emissions scandal, with the EPA taking a closer look at the so-called defeat devices auto companies have used to cheat emissions tests.

Odds are good that Harley’s won’t be the only wheels on the road that will be forced to clean up their act.

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A Danish Wind Turbine Maker Harnesses Data in a Push to Stay Ahead




Vestas windmills at Provestenen near Copenhagen. The global nature of the industry plays to the strengths of a company like Vestas.


Laerke Posselt for The New York Times

AARHUS, Denmark — A project to install hundreds of wind turbines in the Fosen peninsula area of Norway at one point was shelved as unfeasible. The strong breezes that whip off the sea can shift and swing unpredictably, while the soaring cliffs and steep drop-offs create turbulence that wears out expensive equipment.

The venture was rescued with a lot of help from the mathematical calculations of Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish wind power company.

Vestas used data to figure out how to use more powerful turbines for the project, and precisely where to place them. That meant the utility developing the facility could buy fewer turbines, helping cut costs and balancing the economics of the $1.2 billion project.

The company is at the forefront of efforts to make wind a competitive source of energy, rather than just a subsidized experiment. In doing so, it has become a model for the renewables industry, which has struggled at times to remain viable while facing cuts in government subsidies and volatile oil and gas prices.

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English Village Becomes Climate Leader by Quietly Cleaning Up Its Own Patch



Garry Charnock near some of the many solar panels in Ashton Hayes, England. Mr. Charnock, a former journalist, started the town’s emissions-reduction effort about 10 years ago.


Elizabeth Dalziel for The New York Times

ASHTON HAYES, England — This small village of about 1,000 people looks like any other nestled in the countryside.

But Ashton Hayes is different in an important way when it comes to one of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change. Hundreds of residents have banded together to cut greenhouse emissions — they use clotheslines instead of dryers, take fewer flights, install solar panels and glaze windows to better insulate their homes.

The effort, reaching its 10th anniversary this year, has led to a 24 percent cut in emissions, according to surveys by a professor of environmental sustainability who lives here.

But what makes Ashton Hayes unusual is its approach — the residents have done it themselves, without prodding from government. About 200 towns, cities and counties around the world — including Notteroy, Norway; Upper Saddle River, N.J.; and Changhua County, Taiwan — have reached out to learn how the villagers here did it.

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It’s really time to go: Alaskan village votes to relocate due to climate change

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Residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, might finally pack and move, though this is their third vote to relocate as rising sea waters continue to erode the village's shores.

By Nicole Orttung, Staff AUGUST 18, 2016 Save for later


  1. Diana Haecker/File/AP/File

Residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, voted Wednesday to relocate its ancestral island home to safer ground, escaping eroding shores and rising seas brought on by climate change.

Melting sea ice has strengthened the storms that beat along the island's shores, causing chunks to drop off into the ocean, even as the permafrost on which the community is built is rapidly disappearing.

Home to about 650 Inupiat Inuit, an Alaskan native people, the village is located on a narrow island just north of the Bering Strait. The unofficial vote count came in at 89 in favor of moving and 78 for staying, the city clerk told the Associated Press on Wednesday, although absentee and special needs ballots haven't been included in the total.

Warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country, Alaska is at the fore of efforts to mitigate climate change's effects. Shishmaref is among 31 Alaskan villages the US Government Accountability Office says are facing imminent threats from flooding and erosion. But its not clear that the federal government will help pay for these villages to move.

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Understanding Louisiana’s big flood risks

By Chelsea Leu on Aug 18, 2016

This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

There is a lot of water in southern Louisiana right now. The region’s been lashed with rain for the past week — the water has inundated freeways, surged past levees, and left about 40,000 homes water-logged husks of their former selves. The rain has stopped, for now. And when the water finally drains, people will return to their homes, pick up what’s left, and start rebuilding.

But the climate science prognosis doesn’t look good. This is the eighth time in about a year that 500-year rainfall has hammered the United States, and climate change will make extreme weather events like this more common. That means, among other things, millions of dollars worth of property damage. Fixing everything up and managing the growing threat of climate-related destruction hinges on flood insurance — which relies on ever-evolving, incomplete maps to determine risk. But new models will make it possible to better predict floodplains as it becomes increasingly dangerous to live on the coast.

The system isn’t perfect, but for people living in flood-prone regions like southern Louisiana, it’s the best line of defense, says Rafael Lemaitre, a FEMA spokesperson. If you’re covered, FEMA will pay out as much as $250,000 to repair your home.

But there are problems with how those policies get parceled out. “So much of it starts with what you define as a floodplain,” says Craig Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State University. FEMA creates flood risk maps that delineate areas of the region with a certain likelihood of being flooded every year. (An area that has a 1 percent probability of being flooded every year is called a 100-year floodplain.) Then, they base insurance premiums on where residents fall in those areas — the higher the risk, the higher the price.

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Exxon Mobil Fraud Inquiry Said to Focus More on Future Than Past



New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman faces a backlash for investigating Exxon Mobil’s public and private statements about climate change.


Mike Groll/Associated Press

For more than a year, much of the public scrutiny of Exxon Mobil was captured by the #Exxonknew hashtag — shorthand for revelations about decades-old research on climate change conducted by the company while it funded groups promoting doubt about climate science.

Articles about that research have energized protests against Exxon Mobil and the fossil fuel industry and had a role in initiating queries by at least five attorneys general, led by Eric T. Schneiderman of New York.

Early on, his office demanded extensive emails, financial records and other documents from the oil company, leaving many observers with the impression that a deeper look into the company’s past was the focus of the investigation.

But in an extensive interview, Mr. Schneiderman said that his investigation was focused less on the distant past than on relatively recent statements by Exxon Mobil related to climate change and what it means for the company’s future.

In other words, the question for Mr. Schneiderman is less what Exxon knew, and more what it predicts.

For example, he said, the investigation is scrutinizing a 2014 report by Exxon Mobil stating that global efforts to address climate change would not mean that it had to leave enormous amounts of oil reserves in the ground as so-called “stranded assets.”

But many scientists have suggested that if the world were to burn even just a portion of the oil in the ground that the industry declares on its books, the planet would heat up to such dangerous levels that “there’s no one left to burn the rest,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

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Vancouver Leapfrogs Energy Efficiency, Adopts Zero-Emissions Building Plan


Photo Credit: Josef Hanus

The move puts the city at the forefront of the green building movement. How much that will cost is still up in the air.

by Julian Spector

August 18, 2016


The city of Vancouver, Canada sent a message to the green building sector this summer: Efficient isn’t good enough.

The dense coastal city will require zero emissions from any new buildings by 2030, based on a policy approved July 13. That means the building sector will have to roll up its collective sleeves and figure out how to heat, cool and power every new construction without any net greenhouse gas emissions. If that sounds daunting, the authors of the policy agree.

“This is a plan to fundamentally shift building practice in Vancouver in just under 10 years,” the document states.

The city government is leading by example here: all new city-owned and Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency projects must meet that high standard starting now. That’s key for testing out the building techniques that will later be codified into the building standards, said Sean Pander, the head of the city’s green buildings program. The next phase will require all rezoned residential developments to comply by 2025, with other new buildings following suit by 2030.

The city council will also fund a non-governmental Zero Emissions Building Centre of Excellence to help gather and spread the knowledge needed to complete zero-emission buildings.

The ambitious targets and deadlines place Vancouver at the forefront of the sustainable building movement, and their policy will likely serve as a model for more cities to come. What makes the plan revolutionary is that the city is ditching the standard long used by green building codes -- energy efficiency -- and instead benchmarking on absolute emissions.

Focusing on the emissions drives improvements to the thermal efficiency of the building, because heating sucks up the most fossil fuels in this temperate northern metropolis. The fixes to the insulation and sealing of the buildings, though, create benefits well beyond the climate change goals.

“It's a zero-emissions outcome from a policy perspective, but what it really is is fundamentally changing the quality of the construction,” Pander said. “It's really about, let's provide something that's way more comfortable and way healthier, and then let's let the market experience that and see what kind of value they put on it.”

Laying the groundwork

Vancouver bills itself as “the first major city in North America” to enact such a policy. This bold step didn’t come out of nowhere -- it followed on the heels of a dream-team lineup of sustainability initiatives.

The province of British Columbia has a carbon tax, so living in a zero-emissions house means no tax on the gas you might otherwise use to heat your home. Since 2004, Vancouver required civic buildings attain the LEED Gold efficiency standard, with rezoning developments similarly compelled starting in 2010.

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California Climate Program Faces Uncertain Future Beyond 2020

By John Upton  Climate Central  AUGUST 18, 2016

The opinion of lawyers working for California’s lawmakers became clear in the spring. Without new laws, the state’s prominent cap-and-trade program would be dead after 2020.

Such a legal reality could put an end to the pollution reduction program, and with it billions in anticipated revenues and some of the Golden State’s vaunted global leadership on climate action.

Four months after the legislators’ law office concluded “the plain language” of state law dictates that the state’s cap-and-trade program “may not be applied or used” after 2020, officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are publicly ignoring the vexing legal questions affecting the flagship program’s future.

Under a proposal prepared this month by the California Air Resources Board, the cap-and-trade program that it oversees would simply continue operating beyond 2020 — without lawmaker blessing.

“They will absolutely be sued,” said Danny Cullenward, an energy economist and lawyer who researches climate policies at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Silicon Valley. “This is not a secret what they’re doing. The opponents of the system are well aware.”

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SDG&E shareholders and green groups headed for face-off?

Utility lobbying arm cleared by regulators to oppose increasingly popular government-run electricity program

By Joshua Emerson Smith | 11:17 a.m. Aug. 18, 2016 | Updated, 8:20 p.m.

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CCAs give communities control over power


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Regional environmental groups and some elected officials are bracing for a battle with San Diego Gas & Electric’s shareholders over increasingly popular programs that put local governments — not utility companies — in charge of how much renewable energy residents can buy.

State regulators on Thursday approved SDG&E’s request to launch an independent lobbying arm that’s allowed to publicly oppose the municipal energy programs, which have offered ratepayers up to 100 percent green power.

Known as community choice aggregations, or CCAs, the programs give elected officials the authority to decide where to purchase energy — from solar operations to wind farms to natural gas plants. Under the arrangement, a local utility continues to operate the electrical grid but no longer controls what sources of power to buy on behalf of ratepayers in a particular city or county.

The lobbying division approved Thursday, the first of its kind in California, comes as the state has four CCAs — and dozens more cities and counties poised to adopt or officially explore the programs.

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CPUC Restricts SDG&E’s New Marketing Arm Formed to Fight Choice

18 AUG 2016

State utility regulators approved a plan by San Diego Gas & Electric to fight community choice aggregation in San Diego by establishing an “arm’s-length” marketing organization.

However, the California Public Utilities Commission decision Aug. 18 found that because the marketing operation may provide information about energy it should be subject of all the commission’s affiliate transaction rules that govern operations providing products and services that use electricity.

The aim of the designation, according to the decision, is to prevent cross-subsidization of the marketing operation by utility ratepayers or any disproportionate influence in debates about choice.

State law and CPUC rules require any such marketing arm to be funded entirely by shareholders, explained Ed Randolph, commission energy division director. He added that marketing arms established to fight community choice must be operated completely separately from the utility.

SDG&E maintained all the affiliate transaction rules should not apply.

However, Sierra Club, Marin Clean Energy, Lancaster, and the Climate Action Campaign, a non-profit promoting choice in San Diego, wanted to see tighter rules on the new marketing arm.

Randolph noted that some stakeholders in the decision wanted the commission to disapprove SDG&E’s plan entirely.

However, Commissioner Mike Florio said that under the nation’s laws corporations are free to speak the same as individuals.

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California Utilities Are Fast-Tracking Battery Projects to Manage Aliso Canyon Shortfall


SoCal Edison and SDG&E want these lithium-ion battery operational in a matter of months—a new speed record for grid-scale storage.

by Jeff St. John

August 18, 2016

Facing the threat of rolling blackouts next year, Southern California’s utilities are turning to energy storage developers to get battery projects up and running at a record speed. This week, utilities Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric officially asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve contracts for more than 50 megawatts' worth of lithium-ion battery projects. They range in size from 2 megawatts to 20 megawatts, and use lithium-ion batteries, like many other storage projects in the state. But the deadline for getting them up and running -- Dec. 31, 2016 -- is much tighter than we’ve seen for projects of their size in the past.

The rush is driven by the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural-gas storage facility, due to a leak that was first detected last fall and has yet to be fixed. Without Aliso Canyon’s reserves, which supply much of the region’s gas-fired power plant fleet, Southern California could face energy shortages and rolling blackouts as early as next year, according to state analyses.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles County in January, giving utilities and regulators the push to come up with non-traditional alternatives to fill this projected shortfall in peak energy capacity as quickly as possible. That included energy efficiency and demand response -- and in a May order from the CPUC to Southern California Edison, permission for an “expedited procurement” of new energy storage resources that can be on-line by year’s end.

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California DRAM: Companies Say Utilities Fell Short on Distributed Energy Auction


Protests that utilities underspent and changed rules on state-mandated DRAM auction—and demands for more transparency

by Jeff St. John

August 17, 2016


California’s Demand Response Auction Mechanism (DRAM) has brought 120 megawatts of third-party-controlled distributed energy resources into play as grid resources since it launched last year -- not a bad result for a first-of-its-kind pilot project.

But according to a lot of the companies that have won bids in the DRAM pilot’s two auctions, California’s big three investor-owned utilities should have awarded even more contracts -- and they want to know why the utilities didn’t.

In a series of protests this week, industry groups have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to examine Pacific Gas & Electric's, Southern California Edison's, and San Diego Gas & Electric’s recently released results of a second round of auctions for the DRAM program. That auction garnered just over 80 megawatts of resources, about double the number of megawatts procured in DRAM’s first auction in January, with winning companies including EnerNOC, Stem, OhmConnect and eMotorWerks.

But these same companies are now saying that utilities don’t appear to have hit their mandated goals for the DRAM program. That holds true for the number of registered participants they were meant to enroll, as well as the budgets they were authorized to spend.

In fact, in the most recent auction, PG&E and SCE only accepted about half the number of registrations that served as their upper bound under CPUC guidance, according to the Joint DR Parties, a group including Comverge, CPower, EnerNOC and EnergyHub.

While each utility met its minimum procurement targets, “the Commission has stated that the minimums are just that -- a floor, not a ceiling,” the group wrote. Specifically, the CPUC has asked that either budgets or available registrations, whichever comes first” should “serve as the upward bound on DRAM procurement, and the [investor-owned utilities] are expected to exhaust either.”


Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell how close the utilities came to spending their total budgets on DRAM, because the utilities have redacted those figures from their most recent filings, the group noted. The “limited public information” given by each utility “does not clearly demonstrate if the 2017 DRAM Pilot solicitations produced the expected results.”

This lack of information on budgets is matched by a “lack of transparency regarding the request for offer (RFO) selection process used by the [investor-owned utilities], including bid selection criteria and the criteria to determine that the auction selection process was complete,” the group wrote.

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