The Moniz confirmation hearing — what he said

Early online reports on Tuesday’s confirmation hearings on Secretary of Energy nominee Ernest Moniz focused on his well-known and long-stated support for natural gas development.

But from where I was sitting, the most important moment in the MIT professor’s relatively low-key questioning by members of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee came when Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado spoke about the impacts of climate change in his state and asked how a balanced energy portfolio could reduce carbon emissions.

As to climate change in general, Moniz said, “I certainly agree the scientific basis for warranting action is completely clear,” and the statement passed with no further comment by anyone on the committee, at least while I was listening to the hearing.

Does the lack of controversy raised by the remark signal that Republicans, at least on this committee, are not disputing the science of climate change and are open to discussing options for U.S. action on the issue?

Moniz then went on to talk about going to a low-carbon economy “that will include natural gas among traditional sources in this country being a bridge. But assuming we do go to a very low-carbon economy, even natural gas will require capping while we deploy renewable energy, nuclear and efficiency, plus hydro.”

I managed to listen in on the live stream for about an hour during which I focused mostly on what Moniz said on issues relevant to the Coachella Valley — renewable energy development, energy efficiency and innovation.

Overall, I’d say Moniz pretty much aced the hearing. It is clear President Obama nominated him because he does embody an all-of-the-above approach to energy and is equally comfortable talking about fossil fuels or renewables. When individual senators tried to push him on specific local or partisan issues, Moniz was not afraid to say he was not up on a specific issue, but would do his research and work with lawmakers on solutions. At the same time, he never backed down on his basic support for a strong role for renewables in the nation’s energy future and support for research and innovation.

One example – at one point, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah referred to a Government Accountability Office report finding significant overlap in wind energy incentive programs across different federal agencies — the Department of the Interior, Agriculture and Energy — and pointedly asked about whether it made sense to have multiple programs.

Moniz answered he was not aware of the report, but added, “I’m very supportive of providing the marketplace with low-carbon options.”

Several questions were asked about the DOE’s national research laboratories and their role in supporting innovation and technology transfer to the private sector — that is, getting federally developed technologies out to start-ups that work with green or tech incubators such as the Coachella Valley iHub.

Moniz said he wanted to involve lab directors in setting research priorities for the departments and also possibly develop regional or state-level initiatives to create a “better innovation eco-system.”

Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota asked about the low funding levels for clean energy research, about $5 billion, compared to other government funding, tens of billions, for defense and medical research and potential budget cuts in this area due to sequestration.

“This is a very serious issue,” Moniz said. “I would note if one does simple arithmetic as a guide . . . we are under investing by a factor of three.”

With sequestration, leveraging available funds will be needed, he said.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii asked for Moniz’s views on the role of energy efficiency in U.S. energy policy.

“Energy efficiency demand side is enormously important if you look at a low-carbon future. It’s hard to see how that can happen withour efficiency gains,” he said. “This low-hanging fruit is quite ripe.”

Moniz called for additional research and more federal-state cooperation, possibly drawing on the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” model — states being eligible for federal grants for some level of achievement in energy efficiency.

Udall also asked for Moniz’s views on public-private partnerships in developing new technologies in the energy sector.

“I’m an enormous fan of public-private partnerships,” he said (obviously, “enormous” is a frequently used adjective in the Moniz vocabulary). “I would be seeking all kinds of new ideas of moving that forward. We should think about regionally focused industry. The regional issues for solving energy problems are quite big.”

Barring some political bomb shell, Moniz’s confirmation by the full Senate seems likely.  Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has already announced his support.

More controversy can be expected on Thursday, when the Senate Committee on the Enviroment and Public Works takes up Obama’s nomination for the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.

The hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, which means another early morning, 7:30 a.m. out here and will also be live-streamed from the committee’s website.

The archived stream of Moniz’s hearing is available on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.

Translating renewables and energy efficiency into dollars and good sense

Left to my own devices, I could spend a good deal of time immersed in new studies of renewable power and energy efficiency, announcements for which land in my email box or turn up on my Twitter feed almost daily.

As Marilyn would undoubtedly have done were she still here.

But even without her, I received two this week that underline current efforts to quantify the value of green technology within our existing economy specifically in terms that will make sense to financial institutions, investors and policy makers.

The first, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and funded by energy giant, BP, aims to set out a method for comparing coal, oil and gas reserves with renewable reserves, an effort emerging from an industry group called the Renewable Reserves Initiative. BP is apparently a leading member.

The study points out that renewables constitute an increasing amount of the world’s primary energy — that is the underlying energy sources needed to generate the electricity required to power the world’s economy. In 2010, renewables accounted for 13 percent of primary energy, a figure expected to rise to at least 20 percent by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency.

“In spite of this, the world still lacks a widely-agreed upon methodology for comparing renewable energy projects with each other, and with fossil fuels. The increasing popularity of renewable technologies presents a challenge to companies, governments and investors more used to thinking in terms of finite fuel reserves,” the Bloomberg report says.

What the powers that be need, the report says, is a method that will nail down the “total quantities of energy achievable” from renewables. While clearly stating that its results are intended only as an initial, hypothetical model, the report shows the challenges of comparing finite fossil fuel reserves to inexhaustible renewables.

For example, while daily output from an oil well tapers off over its productive lifetime, the output of a wind farm, an example used in the report, while intermittent, remains stable. Another point of inequal comparison is that fossil fuels, once out of the ground may not necessarily be used to produce directly usable power; renewables for the most part are.

The Bloomberg report proposes going at the problem by looking at the financial viability of projects, comparing proven fossil fuel reserves with wind and biomass projects either in operation or likely soon to be, and converting the total energy output of renewables into an equivalent measure of barrels of oil. Again, for hypothetical purposes, the report provides results from the U.S. and Brazil.

In the U.S., as might be expected, wind and biofuels are dwarfed by coal and natural gas reserves, but together exceed oil. Wind reserves are calculated at the equivalent of 23 billion barrels of oil, while biofuels come in for 26 billion barrels. Oil stands at 31 billion barrels.

While the numbers might seem to still favor fossil fuels, it is encouraging to remember that the renewable resources will continue to grow while fossil fuel reserves are finite, and the report doesn’t touch solar and geothermal potential or compare the social and environmental costs of  fossil fuels vs. renewables.

The U.S. is also a mature economy compared to an emerging economy such as Brazil where the report shows biofuel reserves at the equivalent of 28.6 billion barrels versus 22 billion barrels for coal and 15 billion barrels for oil.

Such numbers indicate the kind of global shift toward renewables that may be occuring — another report from China this week showed that new wind generation exceeded new coal-fired power in the country for the first time last year. The fact that fossil fuel companies such as BP are attempting to quantify the potential of renewables speaks volumes in and of itself.

The second study strikes a bit closer to home, literally, speaking to ongoing efforts to qualify the economic impacts of energy efficiency for homeowners and mortgage lenders.

Funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit promoting energy efficiency, researchers from the University of North Carolina found that energy efficient homes were 32 percent less likely to go into default than standard homes.

Using a national sample of 71,000 home loans drawn from CoreLogic, a leading source of information tracking for the lending industry, the study compares default risks for standard homes with homes that earned an Energy Star rating, meaning they were at least 15 percent more energy efficient than a standard home.

How to define standard versus Energy Star is based on something called a HERS rating, which stands for Home Energy Rating System. A standard home, presumably one meeting the building code for any specific state or jurisdiction, is rated at 100, with energy efficiency lowering the score. An Energy Star home typically earns at least an 85 HERS score.

The study was carefully designed to weigh and balance for a range of variables. The homes chosen for review covered 38 states and the District of Columbia and included both older and newer single-family homes with prices averaging about $220,000 and 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages originating between 2002 and 2012. That is, the standard homes were not all old and in ill repair and the Energy Star homes were not all new and upscale.

California was one of 12 states not included, apparently due to privacy regulations and address inconsistencies.

Not only were Energy Star homes 32 percent likely to default, but the researchers found that the more efficient the home, the less likely it was to default or prepay its mortgage, which banks don’t like as it cuts into their profit.

The default rate for Energy Star homes was about 8 percent, compared to 15 per for standard homes. About 23 percent of Energy Star homes prepaid their mortgages vs. 33 percent for standard homes.

Such results suggest that mortgage lenders should “require information about energy costs and encourage an energy audit or energy rating during the process of mortgage underwriting,” the report says.

It also recommends that financial institutions – specifically major home mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac –take into account the higher value of energy-efficient homes to provide “the underwriting flexibility needed to cover the modest additional cost of energy efficiency features.”

Translation: Provide better and more affordable financing for middle-income homeowners for home energy retrofits. Energy efficiency pays for itself and will prop up, not hurt, the housing market.


Pushing green energy ceilings — wind and solar hitting new highs

The sun is setting in the Coachella Valley as I type this, but somewhere on the other side of the world, I feel certain, it is shining and possibly there’s a solar panel there converting the sunlight to electricity and reducing the carbon emissions that fossil fuel power would have generated.

The spread of solar around the world is part of the story contained in figures from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.  As of 2012, the world had a bit more than 101 gigawatts of PV running around, producing the same amount of power as 16 coal or nuclear plants of 1 gigawatt each, while reducing carbon emissions by 53 million tons.

Of those 101 GW, just shy of 30 GW were installed last year, about the same as 2011, the EPIA said. What’s more important, the geographic spread of PV installations is expanding.

Thirteen gigawatts of solar are now outside Europe, compared to 8 GW in 2011, the EPIA reported. Germany is still the world leader, with 7.6 GW, while China has 3-5-4.5 GW and the U.S. has 3.2 GW. Another report from Greentech Media projects growing solar markets, about 3 GW, in Africa and Middle East in the next two years.

Meanwhile, wind energy is also hitting new highs in terms of how much power it supplies in different states, according to Pete Danko writing on the Earth Techling website.

From midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday, three wind farms in eastern Washington pumped out 16,593 megawatt-hours of power, or about 23.5 percent of the power Puget Sound Energy needed for its 1.1 million customers. Danko writes:

While wind power rises and falls with the varying wind speed – obviously – Puget Sound said its three wind farms are providing at least some power two-thirds of the time and on average are supplying about 10 percent of the power its customers use.

Texas is also breaking records on wind production. The state leads the nation in wind installations over al,l and at 7:08 p.m. on Feb. 9, those turbines were spinning away, producing 9,481 megawatts of power, 10 percent over the previous record of 8,667 MW.

The Feb. 9 high mark represents 28 percent of the load on the state’s power system.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Xcel Energy reported that wind power accounted for 16 percent of the 35.9 million megawatt hours of electricity it sold in 2012.

The missing link to drive those numbers even higher is, of course, storage. California may be taking a step toward new green energy ceilings to break with a recent decision from the state’s Public Utilities Commission ordering Southern California Edison to add 50 MW of grid storage over the next eight years.

Writing about the order on Greentech Media, Jeff St. John notes it’s a relatively small amount of storage, but provides a signal that the state is serious about integrating wind and solar power onto the grid by the 2020 deadline for reaching the state’s renewable energy goal of 33 percent.

In the context of total energy production, in the U.S. or worldwide, all these new benchmarks may be relatively small, but they reflect a vision and momentum that will continue to push renewable energy ceilings higher and higher.


The green learning curve: Tesla, the New York Times and commercial real estate

The Tesla-New York Times kerfuffle has been interesting to watch.

A brief recap — Tesla Motors pitched the NYT to do a road trip in its Model S all electric sedan from Washington, D.C. to Boston, using the company’s newly installed fast-charging stations at two locations on the highway between the two cities. NY Times reporter John M. Broder essayed the trip during extremely cold weather and at one point, lost all power on the car, which had to be towed. Much ink has since been spilled on both sides, with the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan admitting Broder may have showed poor judgment but had not deliberately staged the breakdown.

But in a blog on the Natural Resources Defense Council website, attorney Max Baumhefner brings up a key point — that driving an electric vehicle involves a learning curve.

“There’s an important difference between taking a car on a test drive and taking one home,” Baumhefner writes.

“Researchers from UC Davis found that drivers who leased an all-electric version of the Mini Cooper for a year quickly progressed through a discovery phase, in which they became accustomed to the car’s range, rapid acceleration, sporty handling, and regenerative braking that allows for ‘one-pedal’ driving. After living with the cars, every participant in the study reported that electric vehicles are suitable for daily use.”

Tesla is now pushing the daily driving envelope for EVs with its highway superchargers, and this also involves a learning curve, a transition in how people plan and think about road trips.

This seems simple and straightforward enough but there is always a cultural lag, where people expect a new technology to work exactly like the older version it’s replacing. We expect an electric car to work exactly like one that runs on gasoline — an expectation that’s a bit easier to meet in hybrids. We expect power from wind or solar sources to work exactly like power from fossil fuels.

The renewable energy learning curve is obviously a very long one, requiring significant changes in how we think about power generation and transmission, but the transition is underway, as evidenced by a press release that popped into my email box on Tuesday.

CoreNet Global, a major professional group for the commercial real estate developers, sent out a press release with a policy statement advocating that its 7,900 members worldwide prioritize designing zero-net buildings.

“We support the principle that smart and responsible energy policies and practices reduce corporate carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions, (and) we encourage our members’ companies to drive energy efficiency to optimal levels with net-zero buildings as a top measure of long-term success.”

Net-zero buildings are defined simply as commercial buildings that produce as much electricity as they use.

Noting that industrial and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the statement emphasizes the “tangible benefits for companies and management teams which prioritize energy efficiency and take steps to reduce the carbon footprint. They will realize meaningful return on investment financially, socially and environmentally.”

Think about a built environment — factories, warehouses, stores, malls, where net-zero construction is not the exception but the norm – and how that would affect our everyday thinking about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

A lot of people in California could soon be climbing that learning curve. Our building codes are targeting net-zero standards for residential construction by 2020 and for the commercial sector by 2030.



The Cal ISO-PacifiCorp deal — Getting more green energy on the grid

The best way to integrate wind and solar energy onto the electric grid — without creating big spikes that require the frequent firing-up of natural gas peaker plants to even things out – is to spread out the renewables over as wide a geographic area as possible.

So, in the case of California, if the wind’s not blowing in the San Gorgonio Pass, it might be nice and breezy up north in the Alta pass; ditto for sun in east Riverside versus San Bernardino or Kern counties.

The California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the main grid in the state, is taking this concept a step further. The agency on Tuesday announced a memorandum of understanding with PacifiCorps, a utilitythat serves customers in Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, to create something called an Energy Imbalancing Market or EIM.

PacifiCorp is owned by MidAmerican American Energy Holdings Company, owned by Warren Buffett.

So what the EIM will do is allow the ISO, at times of peak demand, to tap into PacifiCorp’s renewable resources, which include more than 2,000 megawatts of wind energy, much of it located in Wyoming.

“This opportunity is something that will resonate through the West where we are on this constant march to integrate renewables into the system while maintaining best rates,” said Steve Berberich, Cal ISO’s CEO, during a press call Tuesday morning. ”We can ultimately share resources efficiently over a much wider footprint.”

The way things work now is that the ISO has a super-charged system that balances energy supply and demand every five minutes, picking energy sources at lowest cost to meet energy needs on the grid. But, beyond the ISO grid, utilities such as Southern California Edison still have to maintain regional balances between supply and demand with manual systems.

The EIM will allow other utilities, such as PacifiCorp, to tap into the five-minute market to even out times of over- or undersupply and ease stress on local utilities.

Widening the footprint from which ISO can draw power should also lower costs. If wind or solar power is available from Wyoming to fill a gap in peak power demand here, that could mean less need to fire up natural gas peaker plants, which are an extremely expensive source of backup power.

The system will run both ways, so any excess renewable power in California could be sold out of state.

Exactly if or how this will affect our energy bills has yet to be determined. Berberich said the cost to set up the EIM will be a “modest” $2.1 million, but projections on savings are still being calculated.

The MOU announced Tuesday is the first step in what could be a lengthy process. The ISO has scheduled a meeting for stakeholders to gather public input on Feb. 27 and the ISO board will also have to give its OK to move forward with the EIM, tentatively at its March meeting.

The system will likely not be online and working until 2014, so it’s not going to be an easy solution to filling in Southern California’s energy needs this summer if the San Onofre nuclear power plant stays off-line as it seems more and more likely it will.

Certainly there will be problems to iron out, unintended consequences to be manged, but the potential is exciting and enormous. A regional EIM covering the Western states could be possible in the future, making integration of wind and solar less of a problem across the region.

You can follow the implementation of the EIM, and daily supply and demand balancing  on the grid with the ISO’s new free smart phone app, ISO Today,


Getting the renewable energy mix right

I was out at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal on Wednesday, talking with students in the school’s green tech career academy about what I do as an energy and green tech reporter — ask people a lot of questions about very technical things and try to turn it all into plain English.

Most of the students said they want to work in a green tech or engineering field, so I also spoke about the importance of good communication skills and the inestimable value of being able to write clear, grammatical sentences (old school, I know, but it’s something I’m actually rather passionate about).

One of the students asked me what I thought the best form of renewable energy is, and I stopped for a second. Being a reporter, one always stops when anyone asks you what you think the best of anything is, because one cannot appear to be biased or endorsing one thing over another.

Luckily in this case, it was not a problem. What I said, in essence, is that , with renewable energy it isn’t a matter of better or worse, but rather how the different forms fit together and complement each other.  We need them all.  The wind blows best at night — so we can have renewable energy on the grid ready to go in the wee hours and early morning.  Then photovoltaic, rooftop solar comes on in the morning and peaks in the afternoon for daytime use.

Geothermal can fill in the gaps, it is 24/7 baseline power. Solar thermal technology also has the potential to fill in the intermittent gaps created by wind and rooftop. While big solar thermal projects, such as BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant, have major environmental impacts and have been difficult to perimit, their technology — using solar energy to heat fluids and run a traditional generator — provides a more reliable power source than rooftop solar.

If you add storage to the picture — and it’s coming, in the foreseeable future — you have the possibility of a grid that can, at least in theory, run almost entirely on clean, renewable sources with the inevitable economies of scale and lower prices.

This is, at least in part, the argument that some advocates are now making as California develops a renewable energy portfolio that will provide 33 percent of the state’s power by 2020. The utilities have largely loaded up on cheaper photovoltaic projects that by their very nature mean we will need some kind of fossil fuel backup to balance the intermittency of solar.

More reliable forms of renewables, such as solar thermal, are more expensive, but cost alone should not be the only factor considered.

Which brings me to BrightSource. Even as the company’s Rio Mesa project looks shaky – possibly losing a power purchase agreement to sell half the power from the plant and facing millions in mitigation costs to offset environmental impacts — investors have given the company a vote of confidence in the form of $80 million in new equity funding.

In a press release issued today, company executives announced a list of new investors –

Alstom, a global leader in the world of power generation, and VantagePoint Capital Partners lead the round. Additional investors include DFJ, CalSTRS, DBL Investors, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Technology Ventures and BP Ventures among others.

The company now has $615 million in equity funding.

Alstom is a French energy multinational and VantagePoint is a major player in clean tech investments. That major fossil fuel companies such as Chevron and BP want in also speaks volumes.

The bottom line is, every form of energy, whether fossil fuel or renewable, has some kind of environmental impact; that is the unavoidable trade-off we make for the power.

Figuring out the best value and right balance of renewables going forward will be a complex process, involving careful thought and calibration of lots of competing and conflicting factors.  Hopefully, some of the students I spoke with today will help find the solutions.

And they’ll be able to write about it in clear, grammatical sentences.

The Arctic and the desert: Climate change lessons from Greenland

As we in the Southern California desert wait for the end of a summer with seemingly endless triple-digit days, the long hot summer of climate change has had more dramatic impacts in the northern reaches of Alaska and Greenland.

Warren Olney’s To the Point news program on KCRW Sept. 23 looked at the receding Arctic ice cap and the changes it is driving in Greenland, an autonomous state of Denmark, with a population of 57,000 and apparently huge resources in rare earth minerals — which, with the ice melting, are now possible to mine — as well as offshore oil.

The program includes interviews with Elizabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times, who has written an article on the current changes underway in Greenland; Jens B. Frederiksen, vice premier of Greenland;  Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch, an online news website, and Jon Hoekstra of the World Wildlife Fund.

It’s all worth a listen, and is still available online, because what’s happening in the Artic — in Greenland and Alaska — has parallels with our renewable energy development in the Southern California desert, where resources that were previously not economical to tap, whether solar, wind, or geothermal — are now being developed.

For example, Hoeskstra talks about the Arctic as the last frontier, presenting an opportunity to develop resources while also protecting the environment — it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, he said.

“We have the scientific tools to quantify the risks and rewards; we have the opportunity to map those and consider the tradeoffs carefully; we don’t have to repeat the mistakes we have made when we’ve developed other frontiers.”

Frederiksen was extremely thoughtful on his country’s ability to control development of its resources and think about what its national priorities should be.

“What is it we want – is it only money, only the value of money we need. Do we need other things? Do we need political influence in the Arctic? Do we want to have influence on worldwide climate policy?”

In the desert, the process for balancing all the competing interests, through the federal Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and the state’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan,  has shown just how difficult this can be. The DRECP has most recently come under fire from its own panel of independent science advisors who released a report slamming the plan for its lack of good scientific research.

Another key point coming out of the KCRW program is the federal government’s predictable foot-dragging on climate change policy and its impact in the Arctic. Rogoff pointed out there is no deep water port on Alaska’s Arctic coastline, which is just as long as the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. There are huge economic and national security issues at stake, she said.

The melting of the Arctic ice could open up a northern shipping passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that would be 45 percent cheaper than the Panama Canal, she said. Rosenthal noted that while scientists originally thought it would be decades before such a passage opened up, if melting continues at the current pace, it could happen by the end of the decade.

The Alaska Dispatch reported recently on the record summer ice melt this year:

“The (National Snow and Ice Data Center) reports that the melting season appears to have ended Sept. 16, and at that time, it covered about 1.32 million square miles. The record low came more than a quarter-million square miles before, when scientists measured the extent at 1.58 million square miles in late August. The previous low was recorded in September 2007 at 1.61 million square miles.”

Olney ended the discussion with a connection to the presidential election or rather why climate change and the opening of Arctic have not been major issues. The U.S. has not even ratified the U.N. convention on the law of the sea, which would ensure the country’s access to Arctic resources along the Alaskan border.

When Rosenthal called the State Department for her Greenland article to find out its position on these issues, the answer she got was that there is no position.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess what it’s going to take to get the presidential candidates and the country in general to get serious about climate change and all the complex, critical issues its spawning.

Frederiksen had the last word:

“When the candidates are running for the presidency, it should be a very big issue, the climate change,” he said, speaking from a boat in a fjord, with ice bergs floating all around.

“That’s the only way you can focus worldwide attention on it, the only way the big countries can take it seriously and reduce the outlet of CO2. That’s the only way you can save the world.”


Drilling into Romney’s energy plan

The media has been having a field day drilling into Mitt Romney’s energy plan, released Aug. 23, and it’s hard to blame them. The GOP’s presidential candidate left himself wide open on too many counts.

Boiled down to its main points, Romney wants to transferr the authority to approve energy development on public lands from the federal government to individual state governments, which, he contends, will unleash new coal, oil and gas exploration and drilling.

The reason, he says, is that state permitting processes are faster than the federal process (he’s never been to California, has he?) The result, he claims, will be a gusher of new fossil fuel resources, adding three million jobs and $500 billion to the national economy.

Let’s start with the $500 billion.  An article on the Information Daily website notes that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that even if we pulled all the oil we could out of federal lands, total revenues would be $7 billion.

The Atlantic tracked down Edward Morse, an energy analyst with Citi, whose report,  ”Energy 2020: North America, The New Middle East?” is cited six times in Romney’s energy plan.  In the an unedited interview, Morse’s reactions were decidedly mixed.

Yes, Romney’s plan acknowledges the nation’s huge resources in natural gas, shale and off-shore oil, and the ongoing role it will play in the nation’s economic development, Morse said.

But, the idea of transferring permitting authority to the states leaves him puzzled.  Simply saying states permit energy projects faster than the feds ignores the complexity of energy development on public lands, he said.

Federal lands include all deep water. There’s no deep water in any state territory. Any kind of planning for deep water is bound to have more planning associated with it, so it’s going to be a longer process than anything on land, or in shallow water . . . The second area is the collection of revenues for minerals exploitation. This is one of the single most important sources of revenue for the federal government. How readily should the federal government devolve that to the state level and how much less revenue is going to be associated with it? And is this something that ought to be considered a tradeoff in this moment in time?

Asked if President Barack Obama is doing anything right now that is impeding fossil fuel exploration and development, Morse said, “No.”

Another uncertain premise of the Romney plan is that unleashing national oil and coal production will bring down energy prices.

In a column in the The Washington Post, writer Stephen Stromberg explains energy self-sufficiency based on fossil fuels could mean higher prices.

Participating in the global oil market is a crucial way to keep prices down across the board — market forces determine which fields to tap, how to transport which barrels of crude to which refineries and then on to which markets, meeting the particular requirements of the world’s various economies for the least cost. If America wasn’t hooked into the system, our gas prices would probably jump, since we would be inflexibly dependent on North American supplies that are relatively expensive to develop.

A case in point, Hurricane Isaac now chugging toward New Orleans, and closing down hundreds of off-shore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a release from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The amount of oil “shut-in,” meaning not pumped out, is estimated at more than 1.2 million barrels per day.

Another problem, Romney’s plan does not take into account falling oil demand in industrialized countries, based on more efficient technology and the development of renewables, Stromberg said.

Instead of bragging about how much coal and oil he’s going to pull out of the ground, Romney should be talking about something much harder — how to cut America’s consumption. But that would require political effort and, probably, higher prices. So, instead, the Republican is pigeon-heartedly ceding the critical question of how to cut fossil-fuel dependence to the left.

Then there’s the glaring absence of any mention of climate change or how much more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases all that mining, transportation and fossil fuel burning will cause.

The reason for that is that Romney is getting millions from energy company executives and lobbyists, many of whom are also on the committee consulting with him on energy policy.

Think Progress names names, beginning with Romney’s chief energy adviser, Harold Hamm, an oil-shale billionaire, whose company Continental Resources controls the most drilling acreage in North Dakota.

Others include

– Jack Gerard, a long-time friend of Romney’s and as president of the American Petroleum Institute, the top oil lobbyist in the country

– Coal lobbyist Jim Talent, who  contributed a chapter Romney’s economic plan that called for amending the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon emissions, increased coal and oil production, and loose safety regulation

– Tar sands lobbyist David Wilkins, who represents the interests of Canadian oil corporations on the Romney team.  He is seen as a likely source for Romney’s pledge to approve the Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he gets into office.

Who’s not on the committee? A single wind, solar or renewable energy executive or lobbyist. Romney’s plan calls for federal funding for research on renewables, but no incentives, such as the production tax credit, a key incentive for the wind industry. A one-year extension of the credit has significant bipartisan support.

The Romney campaign said the energy team’s role was primarily consultative, but the fossil fuel industry is banking on a huge pay-off if their man is elected.

Exactly who will benefit was made abundantly clear earlier this month when Romney campaigned at an Ohio coal mine, with a small phalanx of miners backing him up on stage.

Turns out, the miners in question, who work for Murray Energy, not only were told by their employer that attending the rally was mandatory, but had to take a full day off, without pay, to attend the event. Romney may not have been aware of the situation, according to a report on Think Progress.

In a New Yorker article on the enormous amounts of money Republican super PACs are raising, Tom Perriello, a former Virginia Democratic congressman unseated by a flood of conservative spending in his district, makes the connection clear.

“They’re not giving money just to elect Romney — they’re doing so on a platform of bashing clean energy.”

Which made a conciliatory statement from the Solar Energy Industries Association more than a little puzzling, as noted by Rich Hessler on

Sifting through Romny’s plan, the SEIA managed to find a few crumbs on which they at least build an argument for support for solar energy, when in fact renewables are not part of the Romney plan, for example –

We also applaud Governor Romney’s recognition that the federal government can help ensure access to diverse, reliable sources of energy.  Every energy source, from oil and coal a century ago to modern natural gas drilling operations, receive federal support to help power our economy. According to a study this year by the Howard Baker Center at the University of Tennessee, federal support for solar deployment is consistent with federal support received by all other major energy sources.

The SEIA, responding to  questions from Hessler, said their response was intended to be a “tactful approach” that did not endorse the policy as a whole and is in line with its commitment to working both sides of the aisle.  Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the SEIA, seems to think the best thing the solar industry can do to win the conservatives over is tell them  “how you have grown, how many people you employ and have added and how many customers are saving money after going solar.”

Thought the industry has already been doing that — for quite a while – but Romney and his energy advisors don’t seem to be listening.



The climate isn’t the only thing that’s changing

After being on the political backburner for much of the election season, climate change and what the U.S., its politicians and businesses should do in response, could become a major focus of the campaign, according to a new poll released Thursday.

Based on a survey of 1,008 adults, 18 and over, conducted March 12-30 by Yale and George Mason University (margin of error +/- 3 percent at 95 percent confidence level), here are a taste of the findings:

– 72 percent of Americans think climate change should be a priority for both the president and Congress, with 12 percent saying it should be a very high priority, 28 percent, high and 32 percent medium.

 – 92 percent think developing clean energy sources should be priority for the president and Congress, with 31 percent rating it a very high priority, 38 percent high and 32 percent medium.

 – 58 percent say that Congress should be doing more to address climate change, while 54 percent say President Obama should be doing more to address climate change.

 – 83 percent think that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs or has no effect on jobs and growth.

 – 79 percent support funding more research into renewable energy such as wind and solar.

 – 55 percent said climate change will be a key issue in determining their vote for president this year, with 3 percent saying it would be the single most important issue and 52 percent saying it would be one of several important issues for them.

 Pundits and political analysts are already pronouncing climate change and energy as this election’s wedge issues, and President Barack Obama looks to be getting ahead of the curve in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, which came out earlier this week.  Responding to a question about the Keystone XL pipeline, the president staked out his position on climate change.

“Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people’s number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it’s been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science. I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. That there’s a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That’s an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now.”

Romney’s position on energy, which barely mentions wind and solar or climate change, can be found in his platform. A recent article on the GreenTech Media website gives a quick rundown.

What I find most interesting is his blind spot on green jobs and energy. Here’s what he says about the connection between jobs and energy production.

“Producing more domestic energy would create good jobs and bolster local economies in a wide variety of energy-producing regions that effectively ‘export’ their product to the rest of the country. While countless jobs are engaged in the actual energy-production process, they are a small fraction of the full workforce that benefits. For instance, before the first barrel of oil is pumped out of the ground, entire industries are hard at work creating the equipment and providing the services used in drilling, production, and the long chain of supporting industries that brings energy from inside the earth to the consumer.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that solar, wind and other renewables have similar material value chains stretching across the country and renewable projects create secondary jobs and economic activity in local economies.

 Obama’s focus on sustainable energy and jobs is an “unhealthy obsession,” while his focus on fossil fuels and unraveling environmental regulations is not?

In the meantime — if you are at the intersection of Palm Canyon and Alejo tomorrow (Saturday) at about 11:45 a.m., you may run into a flash mob of dancing polar bears — or people dressed up as polar bears dancing.

The event, which will run a scant 15 minutes, is part of a national chain of dancing bear events organized by the Sierra Club to protest Shell Oil’s plans to start drilling for oil this summer in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas—home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears.

Find out more on the Sierra Club’s Chill the Drills web page.



Perez energy tour coming to valley

Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez is bringing his Select Committee on the Renewable Energy Economy in Rural California to the Coachella and Imperial valleys this Thursday and Friday for meetings with area officials, a tour of renewable energy sites and a public hearing set to be held in El Centro.

Perez’s staff said the visit is more of a fact-finding tour to identify issues where the Legislature might be able to help promote clean energy development in the state’s rural areas. Along with Perez, State Assemblymembers Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) are slated to attend.

The group will get a welcome dinner Thursday evening from a group of valley business and civic leaders, including Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, RBF Consulting — an environmental-energy consulting firm – and Kaiser Restaurant.  Along with good food, the committee will also get a presentation of local renewable energy issues.

The next day is a marathon tour, starting with a morning visit to a North Palm Springs wind farm, and then a road trip to El Centro, with stops at a solar project in Niland and a geothermal plant in Calpatria. The day ends with a two-hour public hearing in El Centro with three panels of state, business and local officials talking about renewable energy development.

I am going along for the ride, and will be posting along the way.