Thursday, June 30, 2016

Condor Population Increasing

One of the most controversial rescue stories in recent decades is the California condor (Gymnogypus californianus) recovery program undertaken by the federal  government.   The intense management of North America's largest land bird on the brink of extinction in the wild brought howls of derision from conservatives who think any money spent helping wildlife survive man's radical alteration of the planet is a waste. Questions were asked about the efficacy of man's intervention in their pending extinction, but also about the ethics of doing so given the birds notoriously slow reproductive rate.  Female condors lay one egg every other year. A captive breeding program was set up when only 22 wild condors remained. Chicks are hand reared by humans wearing condor sock puppets on their hands to prevent imprinting on humans.[photo, below]  Juveniles are then carefully reintroduced into the wild.  Each bird is tagged with prominent number tags on their wings.  They are fed carcasses to prevent them from ingesting all sorts of human detritus.  Condors are especially found of sparkly metal objects like bottle caps.  Occasionally birds need to recaptured and chelated to clean out their digestive tracts.   So although the birds live in the wild, they are not yet completely independent of their caretakers.  The program has been very expensive.  In 2007 the US Fish & Wildlife reported the program cost about $2 million a year.

All of this tender care lavished on the California condor after two and half decades is paying off in conservation terms.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service reports that condor numbers in the wild have increased to 270.  Biologists report the birds are expanding their range and have begun foraging for their own food.  Reintroduction has been difficult.  The birds are too habituated for their own good, and living near human civilization is not healthy.  Many have suffered lead poisoning from eating carrion tainted with lead ammunition.  The latest report published in the journal Ecohealth notes that this dependence may be changing for the better, although wilder behaviors are associated with lower survival rates.  Condors once flew all over North America, now they have a range confined to the southwestern United States where they have been reintroduced.

Reintroduced condors are beginning to resist recapture, making it more difficult for researchers to record accurate health assessments. Fewer condors are dying from electrocution due to collision with high power wires.  The US Fish & Wildlife says avoidance training is working and that adult condors are transmitting this information to their offspring.  There has not been a death from power pole collision since 2004.  But lead poisoning remains a intractable problem for the carrion eaters who normally have life spans of sixty years. California is phasing out lead ammunition, but the ban will not be in full effect until 2019. Lead levels in the hundred birds monitored recently are down.  The study concludes the increase in population is due to better management techniques. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When Sense is Not Common

Democrats in the Senate and House filibustered and sat-in to support the "common sense" limitation of barring terror watch-list persons from buying guns. It was extraordinary political theater for a town somnambulent under twin soporifics of summer heat and holiday recess. But is the restriction really the claimed "common sense"? US Person wants to know.

AP reported last year that the terror watch list is growing rapidly with more than 1.5 million names added in the last five years. Even Senator Ted Kennedy found himself stopped at airports because the name T. Kennedy was on the list. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis has been detained over thirty-five times. About 99% of the names submitted for inclusion are listed, even though the legal standard applied is "reasonable suspicion" the person is a known or suspected terrorist. There is no requirement for concrete facts nor irrefutable evidence a person is a suspected terrorist.  Once your name is added it is difficult to remove it. A federal court required Homeland Security to provide better means of legal redress in 2014 and at least inform the affected person they were on the list. The agency still refuses to tell people why they have been listed or offer a means of redress. The list is clearly biased towards Muslim names according to experts who have seen it. Several suits have been filed by persons and organizations against the federal government for the unreasonable curtailment of civil liberties.

So now what is clearly an abuse of civil rights may have even more consequences if the congressional Democrats get their way. A person with an otherwise clean criminal record could be denied the right to own a gun. A right enshrined in the Second Amendment as the industry trade association, NRA, constantly tells us. Real common sense like banning military grade weapons from the civilian market gives way to political expediency once again.  So now you know.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bud--Eye Witness to Murder

Bud is a parrot, an African grey like the one in the photo to be precise. Parrots are proverbial for their intelligence, ability to use human language, and their longevity. Bud was an eyewitness to the final domestic argument between husband and wife. He has been repeating snippets of that argument according to relatives. Now the local prosecutor is considering whether Bud will be allowed to testify to what he heard.

Martin Durham was found dead in his home fourteen months ago after a dispute with his wife, Glenna Durham, over money. Bud uses two voices, a man's and a woman's to repeat the last words spoken. In the man's voice, presumably Martin's, Bud says, "Don't fu***ing shoot".  Another former wife, Christine Keller, now the custodian of Bud, says she recognizes Bud's imitation of Martin. The Newago county, Michigan district attorney is studying the question of whether Bud's statement is admissible at trial. At first he was doubtful Bud's utterings could be material, but he is looking into the admissibility of such evidence. After all, how is Bud's audio recollection of the fatal argument any different in quality from a bloodhound's nose, or even a tape recording for that matter? No question this type of sensory evidence has been declared competent and material at trial. Glenna Durham is accused of shooting her husband five times before attempting to commit suicide. Way to stay alert, Bud!

COTW: Pound Hits Thrity-one Year Low

More: Political fallout over the Brexit vote continues in Europe. thirty-eight labor shadow ministers have resigned to express their lack of confidence in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. A vote among by 150 Labour members to oust him is expected shortly. Corbyn's leadership during the Remain campaign was ineffective, and his ministers concluded a new party leader is needed in a new general election that may be held shortly. More than 17 million people voted to leave the EU. Corbyn vowed to fight on as leader and appointed replacements. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scotish government, created another tremor when she told the press that it was highly likely that another independence referendum would be held during the official two-year negotiation period. Scotland vote 62% in favor of remaining in the EU. She said her government would prepare a referendum bill for consideration by Scotland's devolved parliament.

{27.06.16}US Person has always thought the pound was over-valued, pegged artificially high at around $1.50 a pound, based on the relative strength of the two economies. Perhaps that level constituted a "gentleman's agreement" between two Anglo-Saxon countries. Nevertheless, Brexit has worked its magic on the pound as it plunged to a thirty-one year low against the dollar:

Investors do not think much of the UK's prospects outside the European Union. Apparently neither do the ruling elite of Britain because their overtures for informal talks have already been rejected by the Union. The leaders of Germany, France and Italy insisted today that UK comply with Article 50 by notifying the Union of its intention to exit.  They will not sit still for British leaders using the referendum results as a bargaining chip to again renegotiate the country's membership.  Indicative of the troubles to come, S&P has downgraded UK's credit rating by two notches.

Frist Known Extinction Due to Warming

Australia has the dubious honors of announcing the first known extinction due to global warming. The Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola) should be declared extinct in the wild say experts. The rat was endemic to the Bramble Cay in the Torres Strait and the only known mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. In 2004 a survey found only 50 individuals living in a two hectare vegetation patch on the cay. The rat was first reported by Europeans in 1845.  Hundreds were found on the atoll in the 1970's. A new survey conducted in 2014 found no melomies on Bramble Cay. Researchers at University of Queensland conclude that climate change is responsible for the extinction since a rise in sea level resulted in multiple inundations of the low-lying atoll during the decade between surveys. Vegetation declined from 2.43 hectares to just 0.19 hectares, presumably reduced by invading seawater. The Torres Strait is notorious for treacherous seas and immense tides. The sea has risen 6mm a year between 1993 and 2010 or twice the global average. The study authors note there is a slight chance melomies exist on Papua New Guinea in the Fly River delta. Until that area is surveyed the rat should be declared extinct on the IUCN Red List.  Granted its just a rat, but the unfortunate melomys is a harbinger of extinctions to come.

Friday, June 24, 2016

'Toontime: Brexit, A Reality Show

credit: Ruben L. Oppenheimer, Der Standaard
The British people voted to exit the European Union in a historic referendum yesterday against predictions of financial disaster and the urging to remain by Tory Prime Minister and sometime eurosceptic, David Cameron. The close vote of about 52 to 48% in favor of leaving surprised financial markets despite polls showing the exit vote gaining ground in the final days. The pound sterling fell to $1.35, a level not reached since 1985. Stock futures predicted a 7-8% fall in the London stock market index. The British were not joined in the vote by their fellow Scottish subjects who along with Londoners decisively voted to stay in the European market. The support to remain received in Scotland and London was outweighed by strong majorities to leave in the rest of the country especially in the north and Wales, and many observers interpreted the vote to be one for self-government by disenchanted provincial voters marginalized in a global economy. Domestic control of immigration policy also played a large part in voting to leave. The exit will evolve over a two year period if the provisions of Article 50 of the Maastricht Treaty* are followed. Whether David Cameron can survive politically as head of government after his resounding defeat remains to be seen. An early indication is that he may not have enough votes within his party to win a no-confidence vote.

credit: David Simmonds

*should be Lisbon Treaty, a subsequent amendment of the original treaty signed at Maastricht, Netherlands creating the modern European Union.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Nuclear Accident Waiting to Happen

credit: Getty Images

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Facility sits on an active fault next to the ocean.  You do not have to be a geophysicist to know it is a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima* waiting to happen.  That scenario will change if a deal between PG&E and environmental organizations is realized between now and 2024.  A joint proposal was announced this week in California; in it PG&E agrees to retire Diablo Canyon when operating licenses for units one and two expire in 2023 and 24.  PG&E will replace the generating capacity with "free resources" and agrees that 55% of retail sales will be from renewable resources by 2031, exceeding the state's renewable portfolio standard of 50% by 2030.

Friends of the Earth a provided a robust technical and economic study that formed a basis for agreement.  The analysis, appropriately titled Plan B, showed how Diablo Canyon could be replaced with clean energy generation and storage.  CEO of PG&E and former chair of the Edison Electric Institute admitted the plant, despite its efficiency, is no longer economic to operate. The plain fact is that nuclear power plants cost a lot to operate, thus offsetting lower fuel costs and economies of scale.  NRDC says that rate payers can expect to save $1 billion by the time the plant is decommissioned.

This potentially historic agreement caps a decades long struggle by environmentalists against the licensing and operation of Diablo Canyon. In 1969, David Brower left the Sierra Club over a disagreement specifically about Diablo Canyon to found Friends of the Earth. Opposition became especially intense once the Fukushima disaster {20.03.11} demonstrated the insanity of siting a nuclear power plant next to the ocean on top of an active seismic fault line.   The agreemen is farsighted by providing aid to the community of San Luis Obispo and its workforce for transition to a clean energy economy.  Environmental organizations that signed the agreement (Friends, NRDC, Environment California, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility) reserved the right to continue to monitor the operation of the plant until it is shut down forever.  The proposed agreement now goes to the California Public Utility Commission for approval.

*Besides the "unpardonable breach of public trust" committed by TEPCo officials covering up the full extent of the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima Daichi (three reactor cores or about 600 tons of decaying fuel may have burned through the reactors' floor to groundwater), the toll on public health is increasingly serious. Serious enough to a cause a former Japanese prime minister to cry in public.  There is also a spike in the number of US sailors exposed to fallout during the crisis suffering serious illness.  Seven members of the class suing TEPCo for compensation have already died, some from leukemia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Conservation As It Should Be: NREPA

Conservationists are increasingly advocating protecting entire ecosystems as the way forward to preserve what remains of America's irreplaceable wilderness.  This goal requires a bold vision of what the future could be and the political courage to begin implementing it now, before its too late.  Much of the Northern Rockies already has some level of protection, but it is a patchwork of relatively small to medium size chunks of a still beautiful landscape, often referred to as "America's Serengeti".  NREPA, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, was recently introduced for the first time into the Senate with significant sponsorship (S.3022).  The Act intends to connect the existing wilderness ecosystems with biological corridors that will protect wildlife and encourage biodiversity [map].  This landscape still contains all the species present at the time Lewis & Clark explored it on behalf of a new United States still hugging the Atlantic coast.  Twenty million acres of untouched forest remain, but not for long if these biological gems do not receive legal protection from development.  1800 miles of river and stream which empty into three different oceans will be protected as wild and scenic, thus insuring migration routes for salmon, steelhead, cutthroat and native bull trout while simultaneous protecting downstream water quality.

credit: Derek Reich
Contrary to the usual objections from conservatives, the legislation will not "lock up" public lands.  Historical uses of the land for hunting, fishing and grazing will continue; fifty percent of the public land affected by NREPA will be managed for sustainable multiple use.  In fact NREPA will save the federal government money since it will no longer have to subsidize clear cutting timber sales and road building in the region; in the first ten years $245 million is estimated to be saved.  Logging is not only a money looser, it hugely contributes to sedimentation of streams, considered by the Fish & Wildlife Service to be the most important factor in degrading water quality.  Habitat fragmentation by roads also adversely elk and bear populations.  We all pay for these disruptions eventually. Recent research shows each logging job costs $1.6 million in lost carbon storage.

credit: Alliance for the Wild Rockies
To be expected, parochial interests in the states hosting these natural assets prevent their congressional delegations from supporting NREPA, but the bill has many influential scientific supporters and political sponsors including elder statesmen former President Jimmy Carter and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.  Idaho, Montana and Wyoming delegations did not support Yellowstone or Grand Tetons National Parks, but then they were on the wrong side of history.  NREPA will establish two study areas with the potential to become two more jewels in nature's crowning of America: Hell's Canyon-Chief Joseph National Park and Flathead National Preserve adjacent to Glacier National Park.  Looks like these nabobs of negativism are making the same mistake again.  Tell your representative you think NREPA is a good idea whose time has finally arrived.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Saigas Comeback

US Person posted last year about the big-nosed antelope of the Asian steppes, the saiga (Saiga tatarica). {02.06.15}  The critically endangered species suffered a mass die-off that baffled scientists.  About 200,000 died in central Kazakhstan from a bacterial infection.  A recent survey conducted last month of three saiga populations shows their number is increasing.  The survey counted 108,300 animals, down from a pre-disease count of 242,000.

credit: Klaus Nigge
Researchers continue to investigate the mass deaths, but have isolated a bacterium from tissue samples, Pasteurella multocida that caused hemorrhagic septicemia.  Prior to the mass die-off, this type of disease was never 100% fatal, making it unique in the annals of biology.  In May 2015 females of the Betpak Dala population gathered to give birth.  Separate groups spread across the landscape became ill and shortly thereafter died leaving mostly males, who separate from the herds during calving, alive.  Pasteurella normally lives in the animal's respiratory tract, so why the organism was so deadly this time remains unexplained.  Testing so far has not revealed any man-made contamination, such as rocket fuel, as a causative agent.  Saigas are already under pressure from loss of steppe habitat to agriculture and poaching of males for their horns. Saiga meat is also considered delicious and the skin is used for making suede.  Conservation efforts need to be increased in order to allow the populations to recover from the natural disaster.

Friday, June 17, 2016

COTW: The Hottest Number on Record

2015 was the hottest on record as the chart predicted.  Now 2016 is predicted to continue the upward trend.  According to researchers at the University of Reading, UK anthropomorphic warming is due primarily to CO₂ emissions.  In 2015, El Niño gave warming a slight boost, but they say the full impact of the natural cycle will occur this year.  Carbon dioxide levels are above 400 ppm and are not expected to drop for the foreseeable future.  This elevated level is in stark contrast to the 280ppm that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution.  This fact makes 400ppm the hottest number on record.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Head in the Sand for Guns

One reason America has failed to address the epidemic of gun violence (30 deaths a day), apart from the misconstrued 2nd Amendment {19.04.13}, is that it refuses to apply the traditional tools of science and policy research that have been applied to every other public health issue such as teen deaths from drunk driving, heart disease, and cancer. Australia banned assault weapons in 1996 after experiencing multiple mass shootings. Their death rate from gun violence has dropped dramatically. Legitimate hunters and legal owners of weapons will not miss prohibition of semi-automatic military rifles designed to do one thing well: spew high velocity rounds at high rate in order to kill the maximum number of humans as quickly as possible. As one TV comic phrased it, its time for America to grow up and solve the problem. Gun dealers and manufacturers are not patriots in disguise, they are purveyors of a potentially lethal product that are hiding behind a wealthy political lobby too powerful for our feckless, cash-dependent politicians to cross. This address by a gun policy expert from John Hopkins University provides some other rational policy proposals that will reduce the death rate from guns in America:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Alaska: The New California

Alaska this spring, courtesy NOAA
Think Alaska and you think cold and snow, right? Most of the state is above the Arctic Circle. Think again. Alaska is becoming more temperate all the time. Just ask the Iditarod organizers who have had to ship in tons of snow to Anchorage so the famous dog sled race could start in its usual hometown. This spring was the hottest on historical record. Temperatures to date are running 10℉ above normal according to data released by NOAA. The spring average temperature was 32℉ beating the previous record set in 1998 by two degrees. The past three January to May periods are among the four warmest on record. Early snow melt is contributing to the warm up as well as persistent high pressure systems over the region. Barrow, the northern most city in the United States, reported snow melting ten days earlier than the previous record set in 2002. Sarah Palin must think she has died and gone to California!

Climate experts think there is a 99% chance 2016 will be the warmest ever on a global basis because of greenhouse gas emissions with an assist from a strong El Niño phenomenon. They said that last year would be the hottest too.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Toontime: Clinton, Inc.

credit: Mike Lester, Washington Post
Perhaps the biggest reason US Person will not support Hillary Clinton is because he is an arrogant misogynist or because she did not offer 'free stuff' like "warmed-over socialist" Bernie Sanders did, but because she is perhaps a larger political hypocrite than Donald Trump.  Besides operating the biggest money-grubbing machine in Democratic political history in which her partner sold overnights in the Lincoln bedroom for $5.4 million in contributions, Hillary Clinton's policies are simply warmed-over neo-liberal capitulations to the plutocracy.  Hillary Clinton has repeatedly portrayed herself to the public as a champion of the rights of women and children.  Yet that portrayal has not prevented her and her political partner from accepting financial support from the House of Saud, a fundamentalist aristocracy that suppresses women.  

Nor has championing children prevented her from allowing South Sudan from using child soldiers when she was Secretary of State.  The United States passed a law in 2008 that prohibited giving military aid to nations that used child soldiers.  The law is a reasonable response by the world's largest arms purveyor to a problem causing immense suffering in failed states like Sudan. The bill was authored by a Republican legislator from Nebraska who called the abhorrent practice "unthinkable"; Clinton herself called child soldiering, "modern day slavery". However the law contained a loophole that allows the State Department to issue exemptions to countries deemed essential to US geopolitical goals.  Rebel forces in South Sudan used child soldiers before the law was passed; when it gained independence and was recognized by the United States, the Obama government issued South Sudan an exemption from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act using the technicality of South Sudan's practice prior to the passage of the US law.  True to form, it grandfathered slavery into the world's newest country and potential terrorist haven.

Former State Department officials confirm that the State Department in consultation with the White House controlled the waiver process.  Paperwork was generated at the agency, moved up to the Secretary of State's office for approval, and then was forwarded to the White House.  The State Department's role is to advise an administration on which countries should obtain a waiver.  Regardless of its blatant, deluded public statements about South Sudan's future without war, the administration maintained privately that child soldiering was a short-term concession needed to ensure the nascent government's stability.   Waivers continued to be issued after Secretary Clinton's tenure and are still in effect as US military aid, including Special Forces support, has flowed into the country.  In 2013 aid topped out at over half a billion dollars.  The rebel organization SPLA favored with US aid, in addition to using child soldiers, is implicated in a myriad of extra-judicial killings, tortures, rapes and beatings.  The violence continues to this day even though the the rebels and the government entered into a peace agreement in 2015.  The war has splintered into several sub-conflicts causing hundreds of thousands to become refugees and half the population to face the possibility of famine.

Is this a "champion" who on her watch allowed a rebel organization to enslave children in the name of securing oil supplies?  The Hillary-Donald contest is another false choice between a corrupt, neo-liberal hawk and a reactionary demagogue imposed on the electorate by the Money Power. So pass the kool-aid elsewhere Ms. Clinton, thank you very much.

Friday, June 10, 2016

'Toontime: Fueling the Fossil Express

credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune 
Wackydoodle sez: Charley, watch your speed, drivin' that train high on the gain!
The United States' solar industry is gaining steam, so to speak. The industry installed more capacity than coal, nuclear and natural gas for the first time.  There are now over a million photovoltaic installations around the country or 27.5 Gw of capacity.  One gigawatt is enough to power about 700,000 homes.  It took forty years for the US to hit the one million mark.  Experts think it will only take one year to pass two million.  The solar industry now employs more people than the coal industry.

Fossil fuel plutocrats are doing everything they legally can to stop renewable energy momentum as the cartoon suggests.  Oil companies spent $6.2 million on lobbying during the first quarter, down about 17% from last year due to the slump in oil prices.  Still, there is an army of oil lobbyists in Washington at 608 down from the 2014 number of 812 according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Despite the downturn, the oil industry still wields enough influence behind the beltway to get the legislation it wants such as lifting the decades-old ban on crude oil exports. The industry spent $129 million lobbying on oil exports and other issues last year.  Solar power represents an existential threat to their bottom lines, so you can bet oil plutocrats like Charley Koch will still be drivin' that train, high on the gain.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

COTW: Here Comes the Sun!

Despite anti-solar legislation like Nevada's being rammed through legislatures, solar power is gaining ground.  In Q1 of 2016, solar accounted for 64% of new installed capacity.  Passage of the federal investment tax credit insures that solar will be a double digit gigawatt market to the end of this decade.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Wind Blows Strong in Iowa

One of the characteristics of America's Great Plains is the abundance of wind. A flat topography, thermal heating and migrating weather systems contribute to the wind blowing mainly in the plains.  One farm state had an early vision (1983) of what the free wind could provide residents in copious amounts-- energy.  Last year Iowa generated 31% of its electrical power from wind turbines scattered across the state, making it first in the nation for the share of renewable power generated by wind and second in the nation for total installed capacity.  The industry, which includes eleven manufacturing facilities, supports 6000 to 7000 jobs and pays out $15-20 million annually in lease payments.

Even an energy source that produces those kind of happy stats is not without detractors.  Some Iowans have concerns about withdrawing fertile farm land from agriculture for leasing to wind turbines.  The Grundy County zoning board turned down two wind projects because of agricultural concerns.  The decisions were overturned by the county supervisors. One farmer who leased some of his property to a wind company observed that more land is taken up by a highway than wind turbines which he says take about an acre each.  Others express concerns over turbine noise and the impact on birds such as the bald eagle that is making a comeback in Iowa with an increase in pairs for two decades, mostly along the Mississippi River.  These are valid concerns, but the beneficial effects of wind power cannot be ignored.  In 2014 the state avoided dumping 5.9 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere and saved 3.5 billion gallons of water.  Apparently even the corn likes wind generated power; a scientist at Iowa State says turbines help stir the air and drive carbon dioxide down to plant level where the crops use it in photosynthesis, increasing the weight of grain.

The renewal of the energy production tax credit in 2015 will help continue Iowa's momentum in the wind energy field. Wind companies are looking to make investments in energy infrastructure there, and electrical cooperatives are diversifying their energy portfolios by seeking out sources of renewable energy. A defunct Maytag plant in Newton was converted in 2009 to building turbine towers; the plant's 250 workers now have an economic future thanks to wind power.  Wind industry officials estimate $8 to $10 billion will be invested in Iowa over the next five years.  Iowa Lakes Cooperative generates 12% of its total load with wind, and avoids transmission costs by siting wind projects near load centers like ethanol production plants. Surprisingly Iowans, accused by cynical punks of only watching their corn grow, are taking pride in their state's generation of so much green power.  As Professor Takle put it to Yale environment360, "we don't have mountains or an ocean, but we can feel good about generating clean energy".  US Person issues Green Kudos to Iowa!

Monday, June 06, 2016

Chile Achieves Free Energy with Solar

It is the worst nightmare come true for fossil fuel barons like the Koch Brothers. Chile has installed so much solar power capacity in recent years that the spot price for electricity in some parts of the country reached zero on 113 days through April!  At that rate, this year will beat the previous record of 193 days of free power.  And that is the "dirty secret" the oil barons do not want the American public to wake up to.  With enough installed solar capacity Americans could enjoy drastically reduced electricity costs as well as reduce carbon emissions that threaten to drown the world as we know it. American solar capacity increased by 14% last year, but fossil fuel lobbies like the Edison Electric Institute are fighting to keep US solar capacity below 3%.

Chile's economic growth has encouraged the development of 29 solar farms and another 15 are planned to be connected to the country's central grid. Chile's largest solar project so far, 160 Mw, was recently commissioned in the northern grid.  Michelle Bachelet, Chile's president, announced last month contracts to provide Santiago's metro-rail, second largest after Mexico City, with 60% renewable power by 2018. Chile is expected to install almost 1.3 Gw of solar power this year. However, Chile's two grids are not interconnected yet. It is in the less populated northern region where spot prices have reached zero.  In the northern Atacama region more solar development has taken place to service the power-hungry copper mining industry.  It is the country's electricity bottle necks that contribute to the price disequilibrium which would not be as frequent if the entire system were interconnected.  The current government plans to build a 3000 km transmission line to connect the two grids by 2017.

Free energy is good news for power consumers, but bad news for investors in new energy projects.  Even when its not free, electricity is cheap.  At a substation in the Atacama region, electricity sold for $60 /Mw for most of March, below the $70 minimum established by the government.  It is a problem that the Koch Brothers and the other energy plutocrats do not want in the United States.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Elephants Win Huge Concession from US

At a point in time when it may be too late for the survival of the African elephant in the wild, the United States finally announced it would ban all commercial trade in elephant ivory.  President Barrack Obama made the announcement at the White House on Thursday.  Previously, trade in ivory was permitted if it was old enough or if it came from a documented legal source such an elephant that died of natural causes. But the scourge of poaching is decimating wild elephant herds. {05.12.13} These loopholes allowed illegal traders cover for their activities. The US is the second largest market for ivory products behind China.  Experts expect that the ban will have an effect on the worldwide ivory trade.  According to the UK Guardian, prices for elephant ivory are already dropping in Asia.  US officials will meet with Chinese officials in China this week to discuss more ways of cutting off the illegal trade that threatens to exterminate the Earth's largest land mammal.

Once again, in a concession to trophy hunters who pay fees often used by cash poor African nations for conservation efforts, there is an exemption for importation of two carcasses per year per hunter.  Before the new rules that take effect in July there was no limitation on elephant trophies.  Any item that contains less than 200 grams of ivory such as musical instruments or other antiques may still be traded.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service said it received 1.3 million comments on the proposed rule changes since they were proposed in 2015.  The comments were predominately in favor of conservation.

Friday, June 03, 2016

COTW: Coal Consumption is Down Since 2007

More:  Predictably, the Donald said in his first major energy speech since clinching the nomination that he would be the savior of the coal industry.  At the same time he promised to reduce regulations on fracking.  Besides being warmed-over conservative pablum, his statements show just how mindless his rhetoric is, is.  Coal is declining in use as a fuel primarily because of increased natural gas production related to the shale oil has boomed.  As one industry observer put it, "natural gas is eating coal's lunch in the United States".  Even a coal industry CEO told him that he could not bring back coal mines simply by more deregulation. What deregulation will get you is what happened at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in a natural gas-coal dust explosion in 2010.  The Massey mine had a history of bad safety compliance, and CEO Don Blankenship made it clear in his communications the only thing that mattered to him was profit.   He thought it was cheaper to pay fines than follow safety rules. He recently plead guilty to a single misdemeanor related to the disaster. Donald, if you insist on rabble-rousing at least get your energy facts straight.  Both Democrats are espousing a shift to renewable energy to replace coal, although US Person believes Bernie Sanders would be more likely to walk the talk.  Hillary Clinton has taken so much money from big oil, she would be disinclined to actually bite the hand that feeds her.

Every state except Nebraska and Alaska showed decrease in the amount of coal consumed to generate power [chart above].  Ninety-seven percent of coal burned to create steam is used for electric power generation according to the Department of Energy, so a decrease in coal consumption given a flat demand curve means coal is loosing its share of power generation to other types such as conservation, combined cycle and natural gas plants, and renewable energy.

Renewable energy portfolios are playing a significant role in reducing the price of electricity and carbon emissions.  The Northeast has the highest per kilowatt electricity costs in the nation, but the price of electricity there has dropped.  A recent independent analysis released at a conference of National Association of   Regulatory Utility Commissioners says the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ("Reggie") has resulted in $460 million in savings for retail customers as well as decreasing emissions by 15% and adding $1.3 billion in economic activity to nine northeastern states involved in the plan.  Under the plan, producers are required to buy credits for every ton of carbon they emit.  A limited number of carbon credits are auctioned every quarter and the nine states* use the money to invest in further carbon reduction projects such as subsidizing alternative energy development and energy efficiency retrofitting.  Fifty-nine percent of the revenue has been spend on energy efficiency projects.

Most economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to regulate carbon emissions.  Carbon credit auctions achieve a price determination using a market mechanism.  The program is so successful the participating states agreed to lower the overall carbon emission cap for their region in 2011.  Throughout the United States the amount of carbon emission are going down.  Forty-two states have reduced carbon emissions which reflects the increase use of cleaner fuels and more efficiency as fossil-era plants are replaced. The average reduction is 18%. Reggie states reduced their emissions by 40% during the same time period. 

EPA is set to release its Clean Power Plan next month which will require the states to adopt their own means of meeting national carbon emission targets.  Electricity generation accounts for a third of all carbon emissions, primarily due to coal fired generation. Despite all the positive evidence that pricing carbon works, green energy portfolios are embroiled in partisan politics.  Governor Christie (R) took New Jersey out of the Reggie program in 2011 after initially participating.  Recently Maryland's Governor Larry Hogan (R) vetoed expanding the state's popular renewable energy portfolio standard.  Maryland, a coastal state, is eleventh among the states in installed solar energy capacity, and has more people working in the solar energy industry than it does in its iconic crabbing industry. Hogan's own administration says solar will employ 3500 by 2020 and create about $6.5 billion in economic output.  Fortunately the bill passed the state's legislature with enough votes to override the Governor's socially backward behavior.

*Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Putting a price on carbon is just one option available to the states as they adopt their own or a regional program to reduce carbon emissions.