Energy Secretary Contender Dr. Steven Chu: Transform the Energy Landscape to Save 'A Beautiful Planet'

Posted by Wonk Room Mon, 08 Dec 2008 14:09:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reports that there’s “buzz” that the Obama transition is “looking hard at some scientific types” to lead the Energy Department. Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is reportedly a dark horse candidate.

In a presentation at this summer’s National Clean Energy Summit convened by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Dr. Chu described why he has moved from his background in experimental quantum physics to tackling global warming:

Consider this. There’s about a 50 percent chance, the climate experts tell us, that in this century we will go up in temperature by three degrees Centigrade. Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn’t seem a lot to you, that’s 11° F. Chicago changes by 30° F in half a day. But 5° C means that … it’s the difference between where we are today and where we were in the last ice age. What did that mean? Canada, the United States down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, was covered in ice year round.

Five degrees Centigrade.

So think about what 5° C will mean going the other way. A very different world. So if you’d want that for your kids and grandkids, we can continue what we’re doing. Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about ten million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.

As Dr. Chu explains in the above video, the optimal way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to waste less energy, by investing in energy efficiency. He demolished the myth that we can’t reduce our use of energy without reducing our wealth by offering numerous counterexamples, or, in his scientist’s jargon, “existence proofs.” Applause broke out when he described how companies, after claiming efficiency gains and lowered costs were impossible, “miraculously” achieved them once they “had to assign the jobs from the lobbyists to the engineers.”

Chu continued by discussing what he has done to develop “new technologies to transform the landscape.” He discussed the Helios Project, the research initiative Berkeley Lab launched for breakthrough renewable energy and efficiency technology. In addition to research into energy conservation, Berkeley Lab researchers are pursuing nanotech photovoltaics, microbial and cellulosic biofuels, and chemical photosynthesis.

Dr. Chu concluded his address with a reminder why this challenge is so important:

I will leave you with this final image. This is – I was an undergraduate when this picture was taken by Apollo 8 – and it shows the moon and the Earth’s rise. A beautiful planet, a desolate moon. And focus on the fact that there’s nowhere else to go.

Study: California's Green Economy Has Created 1.5 Million Jobs, $45 Billion

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 21 Oct 2008 23:45:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

A major new study of the success of California’s green economy by economist David Roland-Holst finds that “California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000.” Today, California’s per-capita electricity demand is 40 percent below the national average:

Total electricity use, per capita, 1960-2001
U.S. vs. California energy consumption, 1960-2001

Instead of household income being lost to the capital intensive energy sector, Californians have enjoyed the benefits of their wages being plowed into job creating sectors, such that “induced job growth has contributed approximately $45 billion to the California economy since 1972.”

Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Job Creation in California, by David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first study of how the savings from California’s energy efficiency standards affected its economy through “expenditure shifting” away from the energy sector. The author explains:
When consumers shift one dollar of demand from electricity to groceries, for example, one dollar is removed from a relatively simple, capital intensive supply chain dominated by electric power generation and carbon fuel delivery. When the dollar goes to groceries, it animates much more job intensive expenditure chains including retailers, wholesalers, food processors, transport, and farming. Moreover, a larger proportion of these supply chains (and particularly services that are the dominant part of expenditure) resides within the state, capturing more job creation from Californians for California. Moreover, the state reduced its energy import dependence, while directing a greater percent of its consumption to in-state economic activities.

USCHPA Annual Meeting

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 02 Oct 2008 11:00:00 GMT

Join USCHPA for a strategy session featuring policymakers, practitioners, financiers and pundits discussing the future of clean energy technologies and offering guidance on ways to maximize the role of clean heat and power as a solution to climate change.

Tentative Agenda

7:00 AM – 8:00 AM
  • Continental Breakfast
8:00 AM
  • Welcome Back, Jessica Bridges, Executive Director, USCHPA
8:00 AM – 9:00 AM
  • Future Market Opportunities for Energy Efficiency

Session Leader: Paul Thomsen, USCHPA Vice Chairman and Director of Policy and Business Development, Ormat Technologies This session will address the future of clean heat and power from the C-level perspective. Where are the big opportunities? Will increasing climate change sensitivities, carbon reduction initiatives, and fuel prices align to create the perfect opportunity for energy efficient technologies? If so, what do CEOs need and want from Wall Street?

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Financial Forecast for Clean Heat and Power

Session Leader: Justin Rathke, Director, Policy and Business Development, Capstone Turbine Corporation

Policymakers, industry, and the general public are all talking carbon reduction; what’s the financial impact? How is industry reacting to, and where does Wall Street stand on a potential U.S. carbon trading regime? This session will focus on industry trends for clean heat and power from an investor perspective.

10:00 AM – 10:15 AM
  • Break
10:15 AM – 11:15 AM
  • International Perspectives on CHP: How to Lead Not Follow

Session Leader: Richard Brent, Government Affairs, Solar Turbines, Inc The U.S. could learn a thing or two about combined heat and power (CHP) deployment from our peers on the world stage. Panelists in this session will focus on best practices and lessons learned from international leaders in the deployment of CHP, and recommend strategies for U.S. industry and policymakers to follow to realize the levels of CHP success achieved in other countries.

11:15 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Closing Remarks – Moving Forward

Paul Thomsen, USCHPA Vice Chairman and Director of Policy and Business Development, Ormat Technologies

12:00 Noon
  • Adjourn

DoubleTree Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia

Senate Tacks Tax Extenders Onto Bailout Bill 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 01 Oct 2008 15:11:00 GMT

The Senate is attaching their version of H.R. 6049 to the bailout bill they plan to vote on this evening.

The New York Times reports:

Senate leaders scheduled a Wednesday vote on a $700 billion financial bailout package after accepting tax breaks and a higher limit for insured bank deposits in a bid to win House approval and send legislation to President Bush by the end of the week. . . The Senate proposal would cost more than $100 billion and extend and expand many individual and business tax breaks, including tax credits for the production and use of renewable energy sources, like solar energy and wind power.

The bill would also extend the business tax credit for research and development, expand the child tax credit, protect millions of families from the alternative minimum tax and provide tax relief to victims of recent floods, tornadoes and severe storms.

Climate Progress has more.

The Comprehensive American Energy and Security, Consumer Protection Act 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 16 Sep 2008 03:16:00 GMT

Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), Gene Green (D-Texas), George Miller (D-Calif.), and John Dingell (D-Mich.) have unveiled the House Democratic “all of the above” energy package, The Comprehensive American Energy and Security, Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 6899), which lifts the moratorium on offshore drilling and calls for massive investments in natural gas, oil, and coal, as well ethics reform for the MMS, support for public transit, and a suite of energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives and standards paid for by eliminating some oil subsidies.

Many elements are drawn from previous House bills—H.R. 5351, H.R. 3221, H.R. 6, H.R. 4520, H.R. 6578, H.R. 6078, H.R. 6052, H.R. 6515.


  • Renewable Energy and Efficiency Tax Incentives. Extends and expands tax incentives for renewable energy, including incentives for plug-in vehicles, and retains and creates hundreds of thousands of American jobs. It expands and extends tax incentives for renewable electricity, (such as solar and wind) and fuel from America’s heartland, as well as for plug-in hybrid cars, and energy efficient homes, buildings, and appliances. Investments in renewable energy create three to five times as many jobs as investments in fossil-fuel energy. (H.R. 5351)
  • Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), Electricity from Clean Renewable Sources. Requires utility companies to generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources – such as wind power, biomass, wave, tidal, geothermal and solar – by 2020. A 15 percent Renewable Electricity Standard will reduce global warming emissions and lower energy prices, saving consumers $13-18 billion cumulatively by 2020. It permits utilities to meet up to 4 percent of their target through energy efficiency. (H.R. 3221)
  • Investing in Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Home Heating Assistance (LIHEAP), Paid for by Making Oil Companies Pay their Fair Share for Drilling on Public Lands (98/99 leases). Creates a Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve to invest in clean, renewable energy resources and alternative fuels, promote new energy technologies, develop greater efficiency and improve energy conservation. It will also fund home heating assistance, weatherization, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and carbon capture and sequestration. (H.R.6)


  • Royalty Reform: Making Oil Companies Pay Their Fair Share for Drilling on Public Lands. Ensures that oil companies pay their fair share of royalties on flawed leases granted in 1998 and 1999. Oil companies holding 70 percent of these leases issued in the Gulf of Mexico from 1998 and 1999 pay no royalties on this oil, costing American taxpayers about $15 billion.
  • Repeal of Tax Subsidies. Repeals a giveaway in the 2004 international tax bill (H.R. 4520) for the Big Five oil companies. (Small, independent oil and gas companies would continue to benefit from the deduction at the current rate.) It also closes a foreign tax loophole for large oil companies. These will pay for critical investment in American renewable energy. (H.R. 5351)
  • Releasing Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Temporarily releases nearly 10 percent of the oil from the government’s stockpile (known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)), and replaces it later with heavier, cheaper crude oil. Past releases have brought down prices by as much as 33 percent. (H.R. 6578)
  • Mineral Management Service Ethics Reform. Take aggressive steps to crack down on the extreme misconduct at the Mineral Management Service—the agency charged with collecting royalties from oil and gas companies, which is one of the largest sources of revenue for the federal government. The Interior Department’s Inspector General just reported on a range of illegal and unethical behaviors plaguing the MMS, including accepting gifts, meals, and alcohol from industry representatives; instances of illegal drug use among employees; sexual relationships between MMS employees and representatives of oil and gas companies; and violations of federal procurement regulations, which clearly put taxpayer dollars at risk, such as steering lucrative contracts to former colleagues in the private sector.


  • Strengthen Energy Efficiency in Buildings to Bring Down Costs. Could save consumers as much as $210 billion in energy costs through 2030 by updating energy codes for new buildings. New residential and commercial buildings will have to realize a 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2010, and 50 percent by 2020. The building sector alone accounts for approximately 48% of all energy consumed in the United States and of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. (H.R. 3221)
  • Incentives for Energy Efficient Homes. Provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions, including the Federal Housing Administration, to provide lower interest loans to consumers who build, buy or remodel their homes to improve their energy efficiency. The average American consumer spends 9.7% of their annual income on energy, while low-income households spend more than 16%. (H.R. 6078, Rep. Perlmutter)
  • Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act. Reduces transit fares for commuter rail and buses and expands service. The average commuter can save up to $8,000 a year riding public transit, based on today’s gas prices. (H.R. 6052)


  • Responsible Compromise on Drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Because of recent actions by President Bush, the 27 year bipartisan legislative moratorium banning offshore drilling, keeping oil spills and polluters off America’s coastlines, will end on September 30th, allowing drilling to take place as close as 3 miles offshore.
    • The compromise would permit leasing between 50 and 100 miles offshore if a State ‘opts-in’ to allow leasing off its coastline by enacting state law.
    • Environmental Protections: National marine monuments and national marine sanctuaries are permanently withdrawn from oil and gas leasing. All leasing activities must protect the coastal, marine and human environment of the State coastal zones and OCS. DOD authority to designate national defense areas remains in force and leasing must also take place in accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement between the Defense and Interior Departments.
    • The compromise adheres to the 2006 law protecting parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico from drilling until 2022.
    • The remaining Outer Continental Shelf beyond 100 miles would be open to oil and gas leasing.
  • Require Oil Companies to use the 68 Million Acres of Federal Lands They Already Control. Strengthens requirements that oil companies produce oil on federal lands leased for drilling during the initial term of their lease. (DRILL Act, H.R. 6515).
  • Increase Domestic Oil Production in Alaska. Mandates annual lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, which has more oil than the Arctic Wildlife Refuge; also the oil can be brought to market sooner. Also requires the Bush Administration to facilitate completion of the oil pipeline infrastructure into the Reserve and the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, which could create up to 100,000 jobs, while banning export of Alaskan oil outside the U.S. (DRILL Act, H.R. 6515)
  • Promote Natural Gas, E-85 Infrastructure. Includes incentives and financing mechanisms for installing natural gas pumps in service stations and homes and requires service stations owned by Big Oil to install at least one “alternative fuel pump”such as natural gas or E-85. Natural gas costs 40 percent less than gasoline, is 33 percent cleaner and is produced in North America.
  • Carbon Capture & Sequestration. Advances the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to come up with a cleaner way to use coal by using funds from the 1998/99 royalty reform to invest in this critical technology.

The Eight Missed Votes

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 12 Sep 2008 13:11:00 GMT

In August, Tom Friedman penned “Eight Strikes and You’re Out” on McCain’s record on extending renewable energy production and investment tax credits:
Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.
The eight votes:
  • July 30: S. 3335 filibustered 51-43 [Roll Call #192]
  • June 17: H.R. 6049 filibustered 52-44 [Roll Call #150]
  • June 10: H.R. 6049 filibustered 50-44 [Roll Call #147]
  • April 10: S. Amdt. 4419 (tax credits without offsets, attached to Dodd housing bill) passes 88-8 [Roll Call #95]
  • February 6: S. Amdt 3983 to H.R. 5140 (tax credits without offsets, attached to stimulus package) filibustered by one vote (58-41; Reid procedural vote with GOP, McCain not voting) [Roll Call #8]
  • December 13: H.R. 6 filibustered by one vote (59-40; Landrieu with GOP, McCain not voting) [Roll Call #425]
  • December 7: H.R. 6 filibustered 53-42 [Roll Call #416]
  • June 21: S.Amdt. 1704 filibustered 57-36 (Landrieu with GOP, Boxer, Brownback, Coburn, Johnson, McCain, Sessions not voting) [Roll Call #223]

The one time the tax credit extension passed, it was known to be a deal-breaker in the House, since there was no funding mechanism approved and it was tied to the housing bill.

See Hill Heat’s earlier timeline of Republican obstruction on extending the renewable tax credits.

House Energy Bill On Tap

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 11 Sep 2008 11:16:00 GMT

According to E&E News, Democratic leadership plans to unveil an “all of the above” energy package today or tomorrow which likely has the following components:
  • Expansion of OCS leasing to include areas off the coasts of the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia, and possibly the eastern Gulf of Mexico as well. A bipartisan Senate plan known informally as the “Gang of 10” proposal would allow drilling in these regions no closer than 50 miles from shore. But House lawmakers and aides did not say how close to shore their plan would allow drilling.
  • New revenues from oil companies. A Democratic leadership aide said the bill may include provisions to ensure payment of royalties from late-1990s deepwater Gulf of Mexico leases that currently allow royalty waivers regardless of energy prices. The absence of price-based limits on these royalty waivers could cost the Treasury as much as $14.7 billion over 25 years, according to the Government Accountability Office. The bill may also include the repeal of the Section 199 tax deduction for major oil companies. This plan, past versions of which have also frozen the deduction at 6 percent for non-majors, raises roughly $13.6 billion over a decade, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in June.
  • A so-called renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and geothermal power. The House Democrats plan to include a standard of 15 percent by 2020, an aide said, akin to a measure the House approved last year that did not survive negotiations with the Senate. The plan allows roughly a fourth of the standard to be met with efficiency measures.
  • Extension of renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits.
E&E also reports that Pelosi indicated “the energy bill might include support for automakers’ retooling to make more efficient vehicles.”
This could also be part of an economic stimulus package being prepared or the continuing resolution to extend government spending beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, she said.

House Democrats Develop "All of the Above" Energy Agenda in Response to Republican Attacks

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 03 Sep 2008 22:08:00 GMT

Alex Kaplun reports for E&E News:
Top House Democrats say that shortly after Congress reconvenes, they will put on the floor a piece of legislation that will include an expansion of offshore drilling but also a renewable electricity mandate, energy-efficiency standards for buildings and oil industry tax provisions.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) described the plan as “a political reverse takedown on the Republicans,” by calling the GOP bluff on their calls for an “All of the Above” energy agenda. David Sandalow, an adviser to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), told E&E News: “We’ll see whether the proponents of all of the above can take yes for an answer.”

Renewable electricity standards, building efficiency standards, and oil tax provisions have repeatedly passed the House over Republican opposition, but have died in Republican filibusters in the Senate.

The legislative plan will represent a compromise from the agendas of the various national lobbying campaigns by outside organizations:
  • Al Gore’s We Campaign’s call for a 100% renewable electricity standard by 2018;
  • Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions For Winning the Future’s call for expanded drilling;
  • T. Boone Pickens’ call for new grid development, tax incentives for wind and solar, and subsidies for natural gas;
  • The coal industry’s American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity’s call for increased advanced coal technology subsidies.

ACCCE and Pickens each have had a significant presence at the national conventions.

On a lighter note, as Open Left’s Matt Stoller found, the people employed by ACCCE to spread the “clean coal” message in Denver weren’t necessarily all up to speed.

The Podesta, Pickens, and Pope Power Summit

Posted by Wonk Room Wed, 27 Aug 2008 22:02:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

At the Big Tent in Denver, Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, and oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens engaged in a discussion about our energy future. Pickens, who believes that our global oil production is at its peak and will soon inexorably decline, discussed his “Pickens Plan” for a massive increase in wind and solar electricity production and a shift for trucking fleets from diesel to natural gas. Podesta noted that the climate crisis is evident today, in the flooding in Florida and the increasing threat of powerful hurricanes. “The cost of doing nothing,” Podesta said, “is extremely substantial.”

This panel of three highly powerful individuals from the environmental, progressive, and conservative energy industry communities represented a remarkable confluence of priorities, in recognizing the energy crisis and the need to get off oil. As Carl Pope described:
If our politics was even vaguely functional, anything that all three of us agree on would have happened long ago. We have some very deep profound political problems. Our politics are broken.

Pickens himself, a highly influential fundraiser for right-wing politicians, described how his money has gotten him access in Washington but that he had learned that his contributions don’t translate to policy. He expressed his enthusiasm for the ability of the Pickens Plan campaign to reach millions on the Internet and mobilize hundreds of thousands of people. He argued, “I’m not doing this to make money. My entire estate will go to charity when I go. We are now importing almost 70 percent of our oil. It’s too much. We’re not talking about my generation—we can make it to the finish line.”

Pope explained what Newt Gingrich and other conservatives are really trying to do with their drill-drill-drill agenda, when they know that lifting the offshore drilling moratorium won’t deliver new oil to this country.

What is it about? It’s about distracting us from the conversation we ought to be having. As long as we’re talking about drill drill drill, it distracts Americans from the fact there’s a chasm between the two candidates. It’s a huge headfake by Karl Rove.

At the end of the conversation, Podesta and Pickens talked about their political differences. Pickens – who helped sponsor the Big Tent – admitted he is inclined to defend oil companies, who work for their shareholders and are run by his friends. When challenged by Podesta for having given significant contributions to “the gang on Capitol Hill who have been blocking the renewable production tax credit,” Pickens, with resignation apparent in his face, said, “I grind on them . . . I don’t have the time.” He argued that he is now trying to act on behalf of the American people, to avoid being partisan, to move past the old politics—the politics that he has spent millions to sustain.

EnergyPlus and SketchUp – Integrating Building Energy Performance into Design

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 14 Aug 2008 16:00:00 GMT

EnergyPlus—DOE’s building energy simulation program—includes many building energy-simulation features that previously have not been available together in a mainstream program. Features include variable time steps, configurable modular systems integrated with a heat balance-based zone simulation, on-site power, hybrid natural/mechanical ventilation, and under-floor air distribution (UFAD). The underlying heat balance load calculation method is included in the 2005 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Fundamentals. In 2007, DOE began working on a plug-in for Google’s SketchUp software, which Google describes as “3-D for everyone.” SketchUp is used by a majority of architects during early design to facilitate studies of shape and massing. The Energy Design Plug-In integrates EnergyPlus with SketchUp, allowing easy evaluation of building energy performance. This presentation, by Drury Crawley of EERE, introduces EnergyPlus and its simulation methodologies, capabilities, utilities, and interfaces that facilitate using it.

Drury B. Crawley is acting team leader for the Commercial Buildings area of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He leads DOE’s team that is working to achieve net-zero energy commercial buildings by 2025. He also is responsible for managing DOE’s building energy software tools research and development activities including EnergyPlus, Energy Design Plug-In, and DOE-2, among others. He has more than 30 years of experience in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainability for buildings; and is active in ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the American Institute of Architects. He serves on the editorial boards of three international journals, has published more than 100 papers and articles, and has given more than 175 presentations throughout the world.

901 D Street SW (adjacent to the Forrestal Building) or 370 L’Enfant Promenade. Ninth Floor. Please contact Wanda Addison, of Midwest Research Institute (MRI), at or 202-488-2202

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