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[1THING] Blog: Archive for August, 2012

[ GM Again Temporarily Halts Volt Production Over Low Sales ]

In the same week that the Obama administration announced its new fuel economy standard, U.S. automaker General Motors announced it would halt production of the Chevrolet Volt electric car for four weeks, citing the car’s failure to meet targeted sales projections, according to Bloomberg news.

(Related Photos: Rare Look Inside Automakers’ Drive for 55 MPG)

GM sold 10,666 Volts in the U.S. in July. Global sales were targeted at 60,000 units, with 45,000 on the U.S. market. Sales for 2011 were also under target, and even though an investigation into vehicle safety concluded that the Volt did not pose a fire risk, the congressional hearings on the issue led to a slow-down in sales.

According to Bloomberg, citing Automotive News, GM will halt production at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant between 17 September and 15 October, though GM did not independently confirm those dates.

“In the past couple of months, the production of the Volt was running ahead of sales, but I thought that might be for this particular process because they’re bringing in the new vehicle, so they were intentionally trying to get ahead,” Alan Baum, principal of Baum & Associates, told Bloomberg.

This is not the first time GM has stopped Volt production because of weak sales: The automaker also did so earlier this year, just before the model was named European Car of the Year.

Charles Kennedy

This post is based on one from OilPrice.com and was republished with permission.


[ Savings and Costs of the New U.S. Fuel Economy Standards ]

A new fuel economy rule that will nearly double the efficiency of the nation’s cars and trucks to a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon over the next 13 years was finalized by the Obama administration this week. The requirements of the rule will be phased in gradually between now and then, and automakers could face fines for non-compliance.

(Related Photos: Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate the rule will increase the average price of a vehicle by $1,800 in 2025. Consumers could save an estimated $5,700 to $7,400 in gasoline over the life of the vehicle. Additionally, the rule is expected to save 4 billion barrels of oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons.

The rule, some argued, doesn’t come without consequences. Higher-efficiency vehicles that consume less fuel could reduce revenues from the gasoline tax 21 percent by 2040. As a result, spending on road repairs could decline.

Forbes says regardless of the high 54.5 mpg requirement, your average will likely be closer to 40 mpg.


[ Isaac Drives Spike in U.S. Gas Prices Ahead of Labor Day Weekend ]

U.S. gasoline prices are getting worse before they get better, spurred by domestic refinery woes and Hurricane Isaac.


[ College – An Opportunity To Live Green! ]

Greenversations is an official blog of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA).   A recent post reflects on the college experience, whether it’s living in the dorms or an apartment off campus. It’s contains some simple ways a recently independent college student can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the climate:

  • Buy ENERGY STAR products: You may be deciding which mini-fridge or light bulbs to purchase for your dorm or apartment. Look for ENERGY STAR products that meet energy efficiency requirements and can save you money while protecting the environment.
  • Turn off the lights: Our parents yelled at us for a reason. Leaving the lights on raises the energy bill. Whether you’re paying the bills in an apartment, or not paying the bills in a dorm, leaving the lights on uses more electricity and contributes to climate change.
  • Find out what else college students can do to protect the climate here.


    [ The Romney-Ryan Energy Plan by the Numbers ]

    Oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, efficiency. Which are the Republican hopefuls’ priorities?

    This week, it’s convention time for the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees. Last week, the Romney-Ryan team rolled out its energy policy [pdf] for the nation. Entitled “The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: ENERGY INDEPENDENCE,” the new plan, running 21 pages, replaces Romney’s energy policy paper from September 2011.

    The new blueprint is a mix of policy points and criticisms of the Obama administration along with “Did You Know?” sections comprised of quotations from sources ranging from the Manhattan Institute to the New York Times. It turns out that the white paper devotes more space to the quotations than to Team Romney’s own statements.

    In the Clouds with Romney-Ryan

    The plan’s goal of achieving energy independence, writ large in the report’s title, is a bold vision. Bolder still when it is understood that the goal is for North America by 2020. But of course the devil is in the details.

    So what are the details? One objective way to get a sense of the plan is through a word count. After all, the prominence of a topic or term, such as oil, wind or energy efficiency, is a reasonable proxy of its import.

    The word cloud shown below provides some interesting insights: “U.S.” and “energy” are front and center and “Obama” is pretty prominent — although it’s a safe bet that he’s not being mentioned or discussed in a positive light. In terms of energy sources, “oil” is by far the dominant player and “gas” is no slouch.

    After that, slim pickings. “Coal,” “wind” and “solar” do show up, but finding them is a bit like the old needle-in-a-haystack challenge. And I never did find “nuclear.” Ditto “conservation,” “efficiency,” and “biofuels.”

    Romney-Ryan energy plan word cloudA pictorial word count for the Romney-Ryan energy plan.

    Big on Crude, Short on Green and a Little Nasty

    Want to be a little more quantitative? Then take a look at the table below. Of the words we counted, “oil” is the winner, appearing 154 times. Averaged over the length of the document, that’s more than seven times per page.

    You green types may be relieved to know that “environment” gets a fair showing with 24 appearances. For example, here’s one item that suggests that the Romney team would seek a balance between environmental protection and economic development:

    “Implement measured reforms of environmental statutes and regulations to strengthen environmental protection without destroying jobs, paralyzing industry, or barring the use of resources like coal.”

    But contrast that with this direct frontal attack on enviros:

    “But statutes and regulations that were designed to protect public health and the environment have instead been seized on by environmentalists as tools to stop development altogether.”

    Word or term (and its derivatives) Number of times used
    Oil 154
    Energy 148
    Environment 24
    Energy Independence
    Solar 23
    Clean energy
    Alternative energy
    Green energy

    Alternative Energy Not Much of an Alternative

    Making brief appearances, cropping up once or twice in the plan, are “clean energy,” “alternative
    energy,” “conservation,” efficiency,” “green energy,” and “biofuels.”

    Climate. What Climate?

    And get this. The number of times the word climate appears in the Romney-Ryan plan: 0.

    So the Romney team’s energy plan is huge on oil, big on gas, and everything else is pretty much an also ran. Drilling down (sorry, couldn’t resist), it’s pretty clear that the plan’s path to North America’s energy independence is to … drill — to exploit domestic sources of oil and gas as quickly and as comprehensively as we can.

    A number of analysts (see here and here) have pointed out that even if such an approach for North American crude allowed the United States and its would-be Mexican and Canadian partners to meet their domestic needs for oil, it would still not free us from international price instability or dependence on politically unstable nations. Why? Because oil is fundamentally a global commodity and even countries that are net exporters of oil (think Canada) still suffer price swings due to unrest and other volatility elsewhere. And so in that sense, the whole notion of energy independence when it comes to petroleum is illusory, and the real issue should be energy security.
    (See here and here.)

    And when it comes to energy security, many — including George W. Bush — have argued that that is achieved by reducing our consumption of oil, a move that would begin to decouple our economy from unstable, oil-rich parts of the world. And how would we do that? By growing our use of renewable energy and becoming more efficient. (See here and here.) Clearly these goals are not central to Team Romney’s plans, at least at this point in the campaign.

    And then there’s the whole problem of energy and climate. How do Romney and Ryan plan to solve that conundrum? Apparently, for now at least, by ignoring it.



    An interesting bit of trivia related to the energy plan can be found in the PDF of the plan under the “properties” menu. There, Anna Gatlin, the Romney campaign’s domestic policy advisor who has a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, is listed as the author.


    [ Top Five Must-Have Items For Your Dorm ]

    It’s late August and most students have already dusted off their backpacks and have started heading back to campus. If you’re in need of new school supplies or are thinking about updating your old ones, think about the environment when making your purchases, because Eco-friendly school supplies don’t have to be bland and boring.  Step up your back-to-school style with the Sierra Club’s top five must-have items for your dorm:

    Type up papers using iZEN BAMBOO’s keyboard and mouse. Cased in organic moso bamboo, which grows as fast as a weed and regenerates after harvest, these handmade conversation pieces are more durable than they look, with a button lifetime of more than 5 million keystrokes. $90 for the set, izenbamboo.com

    View the rest of the list from the Sierra Club here.


    [ Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards ]

    Consumer Savings Comparable to Lowering Price of Gasoline by $1 Per Gallon by 2025

    The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

    “These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It’ll strengthen our nation’s energy security, it’s good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”

    The historic standards issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the success of the Administration’s standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg, are already saving families money at the pump.

    Achieving the new fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovation and investment in advanced technologies that increase our economic competitiveness and support high-quality domestic jobs in the auto industry. The final standards were developed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards. By aligning Federal and state requirements and providing manufacturers with long-term regulatory certainty and compliance flexibility, the standards encourage investments in clean, innovative technologies that will benefit families, promote U.S. leadership in the automotive sector, and curb pollution.

    “Simply put, this groundbreaking program will result in vehicles that use less gas, travel farther, and provide more efficiency for consumers than ever before—all while protecting the air we breathe and giving automakers the regulatory certainty to build the cars of the future here in America,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Today, automakers are seeing their more fuel-efficient vehicles climb in sales, while families already saving money under the Administration’s first fuel economy efforts will save even more in the future, making this announcement a victory for everyone.”

    “The fuel efficiency standards the administration finalized today are another example of how we protect the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Innovation and economic growth are already reinvigorating the auto industry and the thousands of businesses that supply automakers as they create and produce the efficient vehicles of tomorrow. Clean, efficient vehicles are also cutting pollution and saving drivers money at the pump.”

    The Administration’s combined efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. Together, they will save American families more than $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of the vehicle. For families purchasing a model Year 2025 vehicle, the net savings will be comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon. Additionally, these programs will dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil and reducing oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day.

    The standards also represent historic progress to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change. Combined, the Administration’s standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, reducing emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.

    President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.

    In achieving these new standards, EPA and NHTSA expect automakers’ to use a range of efficient and advanced technologies to transform the vehicle fleet. The standards issued today provide for a mid-term evaluation to allow the agencies to review their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments.

    Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. In addition, a wide range of technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:

    • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles; 
    • Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups; 
    • Incentives for natural gas vehicles; 
    • Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.

    [ Our Energy Inheritance: Living With Our Grandparents’ Decisions ]

    Most news coverage of energy and the environment is in love with the new: cool new technologies, new research, and all the impressive creative energy that’s being poured into these fields. Yet one of the most significant factors shaping the energy field is the power of old decisions.

    Take, for example, the power plants that supply our electricity. The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a report on the age of the nation’s generating stations this month, and one of the most striking things is how old they are. Half of our generating capacity (51 percent) is at least 30 years old.

    But the other interesting point is the age of different kinds of plants. For example:

    • Of the 25 oldest power plants in the country, 24 of them are hydroelectric dams, built more than 60 years ago.
    • Three-quarters of our coal plants were built before 1980.
    • Most of our nuclear plants were built in a two-decade period between 1970 and 1990.
    • Almost all of the new capacity – the plants brought on line in the last 10 years – comes either from natural gas plants or wind farms.

    If you look at the history, these trends make sense. In the first half of the 20th Century, Americans believed in big public works, like Hoover Dam. But views have changed, and there aren’t many more major rivers that could be dammed even if we wanted to. The trend toward nuclear power picked up speed in the 1970s until the Three Mile Island accident occurred, and even after the accident a number of nuclear plants already in the pipeline were completed. Coal has been the world’s go-to power source since the Industrial Revolution.

    And the current trend toward natural gas and wind? That’s been driven by the improving economics of natural gas, as well as concern over climate change and the other environmental downsides of coal.

    To a remarkable extent, we’re living with the energy choices of our grandparents. Power plants can easily last for generations. And while our grandparents undoubtedly made the choices that made sense for them at the time, they couldn’t possibly anticipate all the consequences of their decisions.

    The real lesson here is that, just as our grandparents made choices for us, we’re making choices for our grandchildren. The natural gas plants and wind farms we’re building now will be serving our needs for decades to come. Domestically, that will leave us with a cleaner and more diversified energy system than we have now, although at the current pace it’s going to take a long, long time.

    But the United States is only one player in the energy world, and arguably not the most important one anymore. China, India and the developing world are the ones adding power capacity at a feverish pace to keep with growth, and they’re the ones who are going to really shape the global energy future. It’s also no coincidence that the International Energy Agency warned last year that the world is coming uncomfortably close to locking itself into an “insecure, inefficient, and high-carbon energy system.”

    There’s an old saying that “nothing lasts so long as the provisional.” In the energy world, there are remarkably few purely short-term decisions – and yet we make so many  of our choices based on short-term thinking. Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that it’s our children who will live in the energy environment we create for them. Are we bequeathing them an energy system that considers their interests in the long term, or will we just continue doing what’s easier for now?


    [ DEP Urges Consumers to Prepare for New Electronics Recycling Law ]

    The Department of Environmental Protection is advising consumers and businesses of new rules for recycling electronic devices that will take effect on Jan. 24, 2013.

    Enacted in 2010, the Pennsylvania Covered Device Recycling Act requires that consumers not dispose of covered devices, such as computers, laptops, monitors and televisions, with their trash. This means that trash haulers will no longer be able to take covered devices unless the municipality has a curbside electronics collection program that ultimately sends the devices to an electronics recycler.

    “Proper recycling is important because there are millions and millions of devices; they have a limited useful life span; and they contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury as well as other materials that do not belong in the normal trash stream,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said.

    Many devices also contain valuable metals such as gold, silver and platinum and base metals like copper, iron and aluminum that can be separated and reused in new products.

    The law also requires manufacturers of devices to provide for the collection, transportation and recycling of these devices by establishing one-day events, permanent collection programs or mail-back programs.

    Consumers can find more information on registered manufacturers and where to recycle covered devices at www.dep.state.pa.us, keyword: Electronics Recycling.

    Additional recycling information is available from County Recycling Coordinators, whose contact information can be found at the same website, keyword: recycle. DEP’s Recycling Hotline is 1-800-346-4242.


    [ Montana Wind Turbines Give Way to Raptors ]

    The breezy ridges that are so attractive to wind-power developers are also, quite often, prime raptor nesting territory. That’s the case on Kevin Rim, sandstone cliffs in north central Montana where NaturEner is building a 189-megawatt wind farm that will generate power for San Diego Gas and Electric.

    If this sounds like a situation that could lead to a classic pitched developer-environmentalist battle, well, it did have that appearance – but in a surprising turn, the developer of the Rim Rock Wind Farm has agreed to relocate more than two dozen turbines, pushing them away from raptor nesting sites.

    “At the urging of Montana Audubon, NaturEner voluntarily agreed to relocate each of 25 wind turbines to provide a buffer of approximately ½ mile from historic and active raptor nests,” the company and organization said in a joint statement [PDF]. “This commitment was made after the project design was finalized, financing completed, and actual construction had begun.”

    A memorandum of understanding [PDF] reached by the parties added that the relocation came “at great expense to Rim Rock,” and included acknowledgement from Montana Audubon that NaturEner’s actions in the matter were “unprecedented and extraordinary.”

    According to Audubon, 10 species of raptors are documented to breed at Kevin Rim, including four species that are of global (ferruginous hawk), continental (Swainson’s hawk, prairie falcon), or state (golden eagle) “conservation concern.”

    Ferruginous hawk, Montana (Photograph by Bob Danley, Flickr)

    But with the project on private land and no Montana wind development regulations lax, Audubon’s leverage was limited. Projects on federal land at the very least give interest groups a chance to comment on the potential impact of a development.

    On the other hand, some raptors – including golden eagles, which are found in the Kevin Rim area – are protected by federal law, regardless of whether they’re on public or private land.

    The Obama administration recently finalized new voluntary siting guidelines that were endorsed by the wind industry and many major environmental groups, including Audubon. While the voluntary guidelines don’t carry the big stick of mandatory regulation, they do come with a carrot: They state that developers found to be in violation of laws and regulations – whose turbines, for instance, kill a protected species – could potentially escape trouble if they can show “documented efforts to communicate with the (Fish and Wildlife) Service and adhere to the Guidelines.”

    Earlier this year, when NaturEner got financing to build the project and the raptor issue began to bubble up, the company told the Great Falls Tribune [PDF] it was consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but maintained that quarter-mile setbacks were adequate around Kevin Rim. The area is a designated Important Bird Area by Audubon, and is also an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and a Key Raptor Area according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

    Further discussions, however, apparently swayed NaturEner.

    “Although the land-based wind energy guidelines developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) did not specify a setback distance, NaturEner was aware of the concerns and consulted with both the USFWS and Montana Audubon in an effort to find common ground regarding the planned turbine placement,” the joint statement said. “After numerous meetings and the desire of both NaturEner and Montana Audubon to find an acceptable solution to minimize potential impact to these sensitive bird species, the final design plan was changed.”

    As of the end of July, 33 of the 126 turbines planned for the site were installed. With 305 workers on the site, NaturEner is motoring ahead to get the project completed, and an opening ceremony is set for Sept. 12.

    Rim Rock is merely one project out of more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of wind power capacity that NaturEner has planned for the windy corridor surrounding the Montana-Alberta Tie Line (MATL) transmission line. The 300-MW, 214-mile long MATL will stretch from a substation nine miles northeast of Lethbridge, Alberta, to Great Falls, Mont., according to a company announcement from January.

    Rim Rock is NaturEner’s third wind farm in Montana. The company also owns and operates the 210-MW Glacier 1 and Glacier 2 projects, near Ethridge. The company’s Canadian affiliate is developing more than 500 MW of wind power capacity in Alberta. Both companies are subsidiaries of Spain-based Grupo NaturEner.

    Pete Danko

    This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.