Monthly Archives: November 2006

Transit-centered growth will help reduce greenhouse gases

As a coastal area, San Francisco is sensitive to reports that climate change from greenhouse gases would raise ocean levels and inundate parts of the region.  Since new report, Climate Change and the Bay Area shows that half of all greenhouse gas emmissions come from private automobiles, planners are working on mixed-use, transit oriented development to reduce the need for cars.  As Edward Carpenter writes, 

With the average Bay Area resident spewing about 12 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year, the move toward transit-centered development is the only logical choice to cut traffic congestion and tackle global warming, according to transit experts.

Not only could high-density housing development encourage more walking, biking and transit use, it could help the state reach its ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 25 percent, to 1990 levels by 2020, said Ted Droettboom, regional planning director for a joint committee on smart growth.

“Smart growth is going to play one huge part in reducing greenhouse gases,” Droettboom told members of the Joint Policy Committee on Friday.

And while transit-oriented development is not a silver bullet, convincing drivers to give up their cars addresses, head-on, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the Bay Area and California, James Corless of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said. An estimated 50 percent of all greenhouses gases in the Bay Area — more than twice that from local industry — comes from personal vehicles, a new study on “Climate Change and the Bay Area” shows.

“We’ve got a really tough task ahead of us,” Droettboom told committee members. He warned of an impending crisis in which wildfires increase 55 percent and ocean levels rise, submerging the San Francisco and Oakland airports by the year 2099.

As a first step to getting a grip on the problem, the Joint Policy Committee voted unanimously Friday to move forward with a comprehensive analysis of what traffic and Bay conservation agencies as well as local governments need to do to begin reducing greenhouse gases. Warning there is no time to lose and adopting the state’s 25 percent reduction model as a goal, the analysis is expected to be complete in six months, Droettboom said.

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A thousand barrel a second oil fix

The world, most notably the developed world, has a very large habit. Canadian Peter Tertzakian thinks the days of the easy fix are over. As Steve Raabe writes in the Denver Post,

North America’s dependence on oil will force higher prices and lifestyle changes in years to come, a leading Canadian energy analyst warned a Denver audience in a recent speech.

“Ultimately we will get to the point where (oil) supply is unable to meet demand in an economically feasible way. That’s the break point – something has to give,” said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist for Calgary-based ARC Financial Corp.

What will give, he said, is consumer behavior that until now has been motivated by cheap and plentiful energy. Out of necessity caused by tight supplies and high prices for oil, consumers will gravitate to fuel-efficient vehicles and increasingly embrace working at home in lieu of commuting.

Tertzakian noted that fuel-efficiency gains from new automotive technologies largely have been offset by consumer preference for trucks and sport utility vehicles.

“We’re suffering from vehicle obesity,” he told an audience at the Canadian Consulate General in downtown Denver. “The fleet gets heavier and heavier.”

Gasoline-electric hybrids are just a small part of the solution because they accounted for only about 1 percent of North American auto sales last year, he said.

“If every car buyer bought a hybrid, it would still take 14 to 15 years to replace the fleet,” said Tertzakian.

His new book, “A Thousand Barrels a Second,” refers to the current world rate of oil consumption. The book has been a best seller in Canada.

Tertzakian doesn’t align himself with the “peak oil” theory – the notion that world oil production will peak in coming years, followed by a gradual decline in which prices will keep rising.

However, he acknowledged that production of light, sweet crude oil – the type most favored by oil refiners – probably already has peaked and must be replaced by more expensive and harder-to-extract sources such as Canada’s vast reserves of oil sands, and perhaps in the future, Colorado’s oil shale.

His message of tight supplies, higher prices and the need to conserve and sacrifice used to rankle traditional oil and gas interests, many of whom believed that new discoveries and technologies would maintain strong production. That attitude is changing.

“Nobody in the industry disagrees that we will need development of alternatives and conservation,” said Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

“We’re not trying to deliver the message that the salad days are here forever,” Smith said. “Price and supply strictures will cause changes in consumer behavior. But it’s a question of whether it will be a hard landing or a soft landing.”


Colorado’s Energy Future could become national model

Bill Ritter’s Colorado Promise touts a “New Energy Economy” as part of its platform. With Democrats in the leadership position in the Governor’s mansion, the house and senate a renewed emphasis on energy efficiency and renewables could set a model for Washington to follow. As Steve Raabe and Christine Tatum write in the Denver Post, Colorado energy future is shows promise after the results of the November election:

Conventional political wisdom holds that Democrats will favor alternative and renewable energy, while taking a tougher look at the environmental impact of traditional energy sources – oil, natural gas and coal.

Yet some energy issues such as wind power and more oil and gas drilling have bipartisan support, and Democrats alone may not set the agenda.

“Responsible politicians in both parties recognize that America has been sleepwalking to disaster,” said Colorado energy analyst Randy Udall, “and that a new emphasis on energy efficiency, renewable energy and domestic production is needed.”

Here are a few of the sectors and companies that could see changes under the new political regime.

Biofuels

Colorado already has a strong foothold in the industry of making liquid fuels from crops, with several ethanol and biodiesel plants in operation, more under development and a research hub at the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Clean coal

Democrats are expected to take a strong look at the carbon emissions and pollutants from 153 new coal-burning power plants proposed for the next quarter century.

Oil and gas

Big Oil may be “a big loser” as congressional drilling limits are feared. Industry officials hope changes won’t inhibit extraction.

Industry officials are concerned about possible congressional initiatives to limit drilling on public lands and in coastal waters, as well as to assess windfall-profit taxes on oil and gas production.

Xcel Energy

Xcel, Colorado’s largest gas and electric utility, has recently embraced a carbon-reduction plan that is likely to win it kudos from majority Democrats in Congress and the Colorado legislature.

But Xcel’s support for a proposal that would reduce utilities’ carbon emissions without imposing taxes on utilities – in the form of draft legislation by Republican U.S. Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota – could run into trouble in the new Congress. The proposal will face competition from several Democratic initiatives that would impose caps and taxes on carbon from coal-burning power plants.

Wind power

Despite a growing embrace of the industry, Congress has failed to enact a long-term tax credit that makes wind energy cost-competitive.

Wind energy has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington and Colorado in recent legislative sessions. Xcel Energy is the nation’s largest purchaser of wind power, primarily to serve customers in Colorado and Minnesota.

But Congress, to the dismay of wind-energy producers, has repeatedly failed to enact a long-term tax credit that makes wind energy cost competitive with coal-fired generation.

Read the full article . . .

Colorado towns get setious about energy and climate

The City of Boulder and the Town of Carbondale may be on opposite sides of Colorado’s Continental Divide, but they are on the same page when it comes to increasing the use of renewable energy and addressing climate change.
Voters in both communities approved tax and debt questions to implement their respective Community Energy Plans.

In Boulder, voters approved ( 59% to 41%) an “energy use tax” on electricity use by residential and business customers of Xcel Energy.

According to estimates, homeowners will pay an average of $33 a year, businesses $37 a year and industrial customers $2,832. The tax would raise$ 5.5 million over five years and pay for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Boulder.

The city has voluntarily agreed to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, which would require cutting the city`s emissions by 24 percent by 2012.

In Carbondale, voters approved the issuance (by a 4 to 1) of up to $1.8 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) to construct and operate two large-scale solar systems. The proposed systems would provide about 250 kilowatts (KW) of power. One of the systems would be the largest solar system in western Colorado.

“It’s great to have interest-free money at the municipal level, so we applied,” said Joani Matranga, an architect of the project and the ballot question, which takes advantage of a provision tucked into the federal Energy Policy Act that encourages renewable energy investment by rural electric cooperatives, cities and towns.

The Internal Revenue Service pays the interest with tax credits to buyers of the bonds. Xcel Energy, prodded by requirements of Amendment 37 (passed by Colorado voters in 2004), will help pay the principle on the bonds with incentives and rebates based on energy production.

Read the full article by Marilyn Gleason . . .

Boulder to vote on Carbon Tax

DENVER — Voters in Boulder, Colo., will decide Tuesday whether the city will become the first in the nation to impose a “carbon tax” on homeowners and businesses to fund efforts to reduce emissions that cause global warming.

If approved, the ballot measure would tax electricity usage and add about $16-$20 a year to the average residential electric bill. Businesses would pay an additional $46 a year on average, and industries an extra $3,226, according to Yael Gichon of Boulder’s environmental affairs office. The tax could raise $860,000 in the first year.

Gichon and Matt Baker, director of Environment Colorado, a Denver-based environmental group, say that if the measure passes, it will mark the first time a U.S. city has voted in favor of a carbon tax to combat global warming.

The levy is called a carbon tax because most electricity in the USA is produced by burning coal and natural gas, which emit carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.

Climate Smart, a local group that supports the tax, estimates the average monthly residential electric bill of $63 would increase $1.38, or 2.2%. A medium-size office building would rise $33, or 0.6%.

Boulder, one of the state’s most liberal communities, has a long history of environmental activism, such as preserving open space, recycling and encouraging use of public transit. The town of about 92,000 residents is home to the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “We have probably more climate scientists living in Boulder than any other city in the world,” Mayor Mark Ruzzin says.

The City Council authorized the ballot measure to fund a city plan to reduce greenhouse emissions 7% below 1990 levels. To accomplish that, Boulder would have to cut emissions 24% by 2012. About half of the city’s emissions are attributed to burning fossil fuels for electricity.

Four years ago, the city adopted emission targets set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement the United States has not ratified, to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

“There is a strong environmental ethic in Boulder,” Ruzzin says. “People are looking to do the right thing, and the climate action plan gets us down that road.”

No group has organized in the city to oppose the tax measure, and even the Boulder Chamber of Commerce has endorsed it. Climate Smart expects to spend about $8,000 on yard signs and “a few newspaper ads,” volunteer Ken Regelson says.

Gichon says the tax would fund efforts to increase energy efficiency, spur the use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, and encourage residents to drive less. The tax also would fund city-sponsored energy audits for residences, and educational programs on utility-sponsored rebates for installing energy-efficient appliances, light fixtures and insulation.

Many states have mandated special charges on electric bills to fund energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs. And some city-owned utilities, including Fort Collins, Colo., have raised rates to pay for renewable-energy programs.