November 21, 2014

U.S. Senate bill proposed $42 price on carbon

A newly introduced U.S. carbon-pricing bill isn’t coming from the White House, but it is coming from a Whitehouse – that is, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has teamed up with fellow Democrat Brian Schatz, a senator from Hawaii. Their bill, the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, would require large greenhouse gas emitters to pay $42 for every tonne of carbon pollution emitted. The “fee” – they don’t dare say “tax” – would kick in beginning in 2015 and rise annually by an inflation-adjusted 2 per cent. Nobody in their right mind believes this bill has a chance of succeeding, but as Jeff Spross from Climate Progress writes, the proposed legislation could mark the beginning of negotiations with Republicans, who may view a carbon fee as one way to bypass Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Republicans will also want to influence what the fee will be, how quickly it will rise, and how the revenue collected from it will be used.


Report outlines “deep decarbonization” path for U.S.

On the heels of a U.S.-China climate deal, the United Nations has just released a report from its Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project that targets U.S. emissions reductions. It concludes that it is technically feasible for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, but this “requires a transformation of the U.S. energy system.” Words like “transformation” sound scary, but the report says it doesn’t have to be so. It cited no major technical or economic barriers to achieve such a target, detailed multiple pathways, and said its assumptions about technology, infrastructure turnover, and resource availability were conservative. As for incremental cost to the electricity system of meeting such a target, the report calculated that as 1 per cent of GDP, though “with a wide range of uncertainty.” The findings, it added, are consistent with the U.S. government’s recent commitment to reduce total GHG emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.


Indian utilities undermining rural solar projects

Bloomberg News has a lengthy report about how local and regional utilities in India are intentionally undercutting fledgling rural solar projects by supplying heavily subsidized and dirty grid electricity to previously “dark” communities. The reason is unclear, but it likely has something to do with utilities protecting their turfs, despite the fact they have a hard enough time keeping the lights on for their core customers. Such behaviour seems to run counter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to have electricity brought to every Indian home by 2019 by leapfrogging the grid with solar technology. Modi’s determination is likely to be buoyed in January, when U.S. President Barak Obama is expected to pay him a visit. Could a U.S.-India climate deal be in the tea leaves?


To reverse climate change, invest like Google

Google captured our attention back in 2007 when it said it was going to help take on the world’s climate and energy problems. This was embodied in its much-hyped Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative, also known as RE<C. But the Internet giant decided to shutter the initiative in 2011 after realizing it wasn’t making the dent it had hoped to make. Two Google engineers on the project, Ross Koningstein and David Fork, explain what happened in an insightful guest article on IEEE Spectrum. “It was clear that RE<C would not be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal,” they wrote. “Incremental improvements to existing technologies aren’t enough; we need something truly disruptive to reverse climate change.” Their conclusion is that any effective approach to battling climate change needs to embrace Google’s 70-20-10 rule. This dictates that 70 per cent of employee time be spent on core business tasks, 20 per cent on side projects that support the core business, and 10 per cent on “strange new ideas that have the potential to be truly disruptive.” Wouldn’t it be great, they ask, if governments and energy companies adopted a similar approach? “The result could be innovation at Google speed,” they write.


Areva nuclear woes grow more costly

French state-owned nuclear giant Areva must feel sometimes it has an albatross around its neck. Its stock fell Wednesday after the company said a “lackluster market” for nuclear services and continuing problems with certain nuclear projects, including its long-troubled Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland, was forcing it to suspend its financial outlook for the next two fiscal years. The 10-year-old Olkiluoto 3 project was supposed to be completed by 2009, but cost overruns and delays have pushed the latest start-up date to 2018. The result has been a multibillion-dollar lawsuit with Finnish utility TVO. “The giant power stations, for which the designs date to the early 1990s, were supposed to be safer and simpler than earlier nuclear plants, but they are proving fiendishly complex and expensive to build,” reports the New York Times. It’s more bad news, overall, for the nuclear industry.


Canadian economists get set to tackle waste, pollution

Corporate Knights‘ editor-in-chief Tyler Hamilton interviewed Chris Ragan, founding chairman of the recently launched Ecofiscal Commission, which aims to influence fiscal policy in Canada aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and waste. The commission is composed of 12 economists from across the country and supported by a heavy-hitting advisory board. Read the Q&A here.

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