Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wind Power does not make people sick

Through Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star, I was made aware of a major study of Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects.

The study was done for the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association, so I assume that the results will be dismissed by the people working against wind power. The study was done by the two industry groups because no government agency was willing to do the study.

I looked through the list of the expert panel for the study, and they seem to cover all the bases for the issue and seem to be a reasonable representation for the study. The fact that there were seven people on the panel from all different areas of expertise lends credence to the conclusions. Here is the list of conclusions from the study:

  • There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
  • The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
  • The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.
These seem to fairly clear conclusions. The study is now being out forward for publication in peer reviewed journals. The case is now there for the people arguing that there are health impacts to come up with a study of a similar quality.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An InconvenientTruth About Canada

One of the problems with Canada at the Copenhagen talks is that the environment is a provincial issue of responsibility and not a federal one. The problem is that the Federal government signs international treaties for the country even in areas that the Federal government has no role in.

International treaties that deal with areas of responsibility of the Provincial Crown should be dealt with through instructions from the provinces and not from Federal Crown. The Federal government may sign a treaty, but it can not enact the changes needed to achieve what is promised. The Federal government has no authority to make laws with respect to the provincial environment.

In 1997 Canada signed the Kyoto Accord. The Liberals remained in power for seven more years and clearly showed the problem with the Federal government going ahead with something in the provincial realm, the country achieved nothing. Chretien and Martin did nothing more to reduce greenhouse gasses than Harper has done. The biggest difference is that the Liberals pretended they cared and would do something. Gordon Campbell has had a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than any Prime Minister.

BC should have a seat at these talks, the whole nature of who gets to sit at the table and who does not is crazy. Certainly BC is a more important player globally than New Zealand. BC has the legislative tools to make cuts in emissions, in fact it has more power to do so than countries in the EU. If BC were on its own, it would have the 50th largest national economy in the world. I can hear you, but what about PEI?

There are 17 countries at these talks that have smaller populations than PEI. These countries all have the same vote as Canada does. But you can not mix sovereign nations and sub national units. Actually you can if it makes sense to do so.

The Copenhagen talks would not suffer from having relevant sub national units of countries represented at the table. There are actually few countries where the sub national units have the responsibility for the environment. If it was not Canada at Copenhagen, but the ten provinces, I suspect the talks in Copenhagen would benefit. The biggest provinces in Canada are the leaders in North America on climate change issues. Alberta owns the tar sands.

Canada could easily state that the treaty needs to be signed by the Provincial Crown and not by the Federal Crown.

When it comes to doing something about emissions, a Canadian province is a better size and scope to be able to make functional changes that will reduce emissions. The Federal government often tries for a one size fits all approach in the country and normally fails with this. With ten provinces, there will be ten different approaches, each tailored for the local area. There will also be ten different models in use. In five to ten years it should be clear which model works the best.

Canada should hold regular first minister meetings on climate change. It is from these meetings that the Federal government should take its direction. When the Federal government works outside of its area of expertise and competence problems arise. The best the Federal government could do is work as a facilitator for the provinces.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Carbon Credits - The Modern Indulgences

I have looked a carbon credits for about ten years now. On a first glance I thought they were an interesting way to finance projects that would improve the environment, but the more I looked into them, the more I was uncomfortable with how they work and how they are measured.

I have thought about writing about them from time to time over the last couple of years, but watching the Carbon Hunters on CBC today pushed me to move forward on the idea.

Carbon credits feel more like the indulgences the Catholic church sold in the past. The idea was that if you paid cash ahead of time, you could sin. Carbon credits means you can emit carbon but feel like a non-sinner about it. The medieval system was inherently corrupt and did nothing to convince people that living a moral life was a good idea. Carbon credits are much the same.

Carbon Trade Watch covers many of the issues I have with carbon credits, though they seem to come from anti-market point of view.

Carbon Credits May Not Reduce Emissions

There are various carbon credit ideas out there that are all about not doing something. As an example paying people not to cut down trees. Company X offsets Y tonnes of CO2 because someone is choosing not to cut down a set of trees. The level of emissions is no lower, but the company can claim to be carbon neutral.

The crazy thing is that these same trees that do not get cut can get carbon credits each and every year. Farmers that practice no till farming can get annual carbon credits.

If someone buys land in the Amazon and does not log it, they can get carbon credits. This ignores the fact that there has been reduction in the demand for more land to cleared in Brazil. There is no way this can be counted as a benefit, but it is. There is no net reduction of CO2, just a transfer of money from one business to another for a green washing.

At the end of the day the total global emissions has not been reduced, only the potential for more emissions.

Carbon Credits are Hard to Monitor

Much of the carbon offset business is based on the idea of someone doing something, but there is not a very rigorous audit and compliance system in place. If someone plants some trees, there is an assumption of the carbon credit value. It is rare to have anyone actually quantify the amount of carbon that has been captured by the trees.

On small projects it is all done on the basis of trust that the people will do as they promised. There is no consistent monitoring. In many developing countries the legal and business infrastructure is fundamentally corrupt and untransparent. In these countries there is no way to monitor what is happening. The best example is China, the nation is well known for not having any effective monitoring of anything. It is also well known as being impossible to enforce a contract. The government is one that spends huge energy on a fake image and does not allow scrutiny of actions. I highly doubt that third party monitoring will be possible.

The buying and selling of carbon credits moves people and businesses a long way away from the actions they are taking. They are not taking a personal responsibility for their actions.

Many Carbon Credit Projects Would Happen Anyway

The idea of a carbon credit project is that is either removes or avoids green house gas emissions. How do you deal with projects that would happen anyway? As an example, no till farming in Saskatchewan is better for long term farming the than the status quo, a smart farmer is already using no-till farming.

Micro-hydro in BC will dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in North America by displacing coal fired power, but these micro-hydro projects will go ahead without the money from credits because it makes financial sense to do so.

Large Scale Carbon Credit Projects are Dangerous

One of the reasons climate change is an issue because we are doing too much the global environment. If we take on some truly huge carbon projects that use natural systems to make them happen, we have a strong potential for unintended consequences. When messing with the global climate through plants or grandious for algae die offs in the ocean, we have too many unknowns in the equation.

Carbon Credits Will be a Disaster as Part of Cap and Trade

I will post about cap and trade in the future, I have no faith that cap and trade will make any difference to emissions. Carbon credits are an integral part of cap and trade. The idea is company A reduces their total emissions below their cap and they can sell the 'extra' as a carbon credit to company B.

Cap and trade has been a corrupt nightmare where it has been used
. The carbon credits coming from this source are worthless hot air.

How Can You Make Carbon Credits Work?

Simple, you physically capture CO2 or methane and sequester it. You do not capture it through a natural process such as growing trees unless there is a plan to long term harvest and sequester the timber. Ideally you would strip the CO2 out of the air and have an actual measurement of the CO2 captured. There are industrial processes for this and the more of a demand there is for this, the cheaper the process will get.

I would like to ideally see a carbon tax that uses the proceeds to pay for industrial extraction of CO2 from the air. This sort of connection will create a clear price that a carbon tax needs to be at.

It is also important that certified carbon credit projects occur in countries with a free press, democratic government and transparent processes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

I have some strong reservations about the Stern Review primarily because the economic assumptions within it are not realistic. You can read the whole report here,

1) Economic projections that go out more than one generation are little more speculation. If someone had told us in 1979 that we would see low inflation, long term strong global growth, the decline of Japan or the rise of China, I suspect no one would have taken it seriously. I have this great Omni book from 1979 that predicts where we will be in the future. Suffice it to say they got most of it wrong for 2009.

To think that we can know what will be the driving factor in the global economy in 2050 or later is hubris. We can make some broad assumptions based on past experience: more free trade, more and consistent economic growth, lower use of energy per dollar of global GDP produced, and fewer poor people. How we will achieve these things is not something we can see.

The Stern Review looks out not only over a generation, but out to 2200. Within the review's projections, there are few economic impacts till 2070 or 2080. That is two generations out.

The Stern Review projections are based on one major assumption - nothing will change from the current world. No new technology, no change in consumption rates, no change in governance, no change in anything from today. The report feels like what 2005 would look like if we had a much warmer planet and nothing else is changed. This is simply unrealistic.

2) The discount rate Stern uses is remarkably low. Discount rate is how much you reduce the value of something in the future to measure its value today. Stern uses a rate of 1.4%, in no other economic projections I have seen anyone use a number that low. A low discount rate means you are assuming a high degree of risk. Stern also assesses a risk premium in his review. You can not both have a discount rate and a risk premium, it is double counting. He is effectively assuming a discount rate over a generation of 0.8%.

A discount rate should reflect something roughly comparably to what the expected average rate of return of an investment would be over the same term. Looking at long term bonds, something in the order of 3% is a realistic conservative discount rate or risk premium.

3) The Stern Review assumes the cost of mitigation is based on the current day costs of actions to be taken. This is not realistic. Mitigation becomes cheaper as technologies change. A simple example is the LED light.

A few years ago there were very few of them and they were very expensive for lighting. Now I have seen LED lightbulbs for about $10 a piece. I assume that in a couple of years LEDs will displace all other lighting. This will dramatically reduce electrical usage. We could not have predicted this was coming as a specific change, but we can assume there will be other reductions in mitigation costs.

The cost of ending oil use will be nothing, actually it will be an economic benefit to society as we will be replacing oil with a cheaper and cleaner fuel.

Spending money now to have an ineffective impact on CO2 levels makes no sense. We need to wait till have the tools that can allow us to reduce CO2 levels at no cost to the economy. This is within our reach, within a generation we will have the tools to make this happen and not bankrupt us.

Stern also assumes that if there is no mitigation action taken now, none will be taken in the next 100 years. The Stern review is missing any model that assumes we take action in 10 to 20 years with tools that not only do not cost us anything, but give us positive economic impacts.

4) Stern does not include any useful measure of the impact of improving technology on climate change. I think it is realistic to assume that fossil fuels will not be a major part of the energy mix in a generation. This is not because we will run out, it is because it will be cheaper to obtain energy from other sources through technological changes.

We can look back at the last 150 years and see multiple energy crisis's that were solved because we moved from a scarce and more expensive fuel to a cheaper and more plentiful fuel. It is reasonable to assume this pattern will continue into the future because people will be able to make money from new and cheaper energy. Any company that is not looking at how to make its energy use lower and cheaper will be out of business quickly.

We do not know what will be driving the economy in 30 years, but it is safe to assume that there will be changes in technology that will create new jobs that no one has ever thought of and done with little or no energy. Who would have thought people in China would have jobs playing online video games to make advancing in levels easier for people in the first world? These "Gold Farmers" in China earn a better income more than 60% of the population.

The Stern Review is alarmist and puts forward an apocalyptic view of the future. The IPCC report is the bulk of the New Testament of Climate change. The Stern Review is Revalations, an odd depature from the rest of the narrative that only serves to get people caught up in worry. I view Bjorn Lombrog as a climate change Gnostic if I were to continue the analogy.

All in all the Stern Review has been a huge red herring in the climate change debate and has dramatically harmed work towards solutions to climate change. People need to forget it and get on with rational debate and action on climate change.

The Munk Debates take on Climate Change

Tonight the Munk Debates will take on the issue of Climate Change.

Be it resolved climate change is mankind's defining crisis and, demands a commensurate response

Elizabeth May - Green Party of Canada leader
George Monbiot - British author on climate change issues

Bjorn Lomborg - Danish Academic and founder of the Copenhagen Consensus
Nigel Lawson - Former British Conservative cabinet minister

I heard a short debate between Lomborg and Monbiot on CBC Radio One just now. The one issue that came up was a disagreement about the Stern Review.

I plan on watching tonight.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Copenhagen - a process that will do nothing

The Copenhagen Climate Conference Dec 8th - 15th is unlikely to come out with anything useful for the world. I wish it was a functionally useful as the Copenhagen Consensus, but that is highly unlikely.

The Kyoto Protocol was a very political document that was a compromise. It set goals, but placed them too far into the future, it was outside of normal timeframes elected governments think about. The Kyoto Protocol was not based on a science or economics. It was a highly flawed document. Defenders have said something is better than nothing, I have to disagree.

Kyoto defacto penalized jurisdictions that were low CO2 emitters and rewarded the countries that had the highest emissions. It also concerns me that the places in the world where emissions are increasing the fastest are not being pushed to reduce their CO2 emissions.

1997 was a very different time in climate science, what people thought was happening in the climate in 1997 has in a number of cases turned out not to be true. We are still studying what the implications are of different actions. We now know that large scale hydro is not greenhouse gas free. We know much more about forests and changes to them and how this impacts greenhouse gasses. We know more about what makes a carbon offset and what does not. We had targets set for countries to meet without having the knowledge infrastructure in place to measure the outcomes in a meaningful manner.

Can we expect anything better from Copenhagen? Honestly I have no hope that the process will lead to anything functional, it will once again be a political feel good document. I do not believe that the draft document has any hope of being ratified as it has been written, and rightly so, it is a huge step in the wrong direction globally.

The Copenhagen draft calls for $70 to 140 billion a year to be transfered from developed countries to developing countries by 2020, the intent is to convince newly industrializing nations not to increase their greenhouse gas emisions. See page 36 clause 33 for details. We are talking about a transfer of money from the major indsutrialized countries that is anywhere from 50% to 150% higher than foreign aid at the moment. I find the idea that this will happen highly unrealistic. I also have no idea how it will be decided who will pay, how much they pay, who gets it, and who decides what it should be spent on. I can see trade disputes arrising from this. Managing this money is going to be a nightmare.

There are some options considered for how to raise the money in the page 135 range of the document. Some of the ideas being proposed would cause a global recession that would put this latest one to shame.

Copenhagen also seems to create a new 'government'? A global government? I am not clear as to I reading it correctly, but it seems that the Copenhagen draft is looking at creating a global government to implement the Treaty. I bothers me already that we do not elect our representative to the UN, we will also not be allowed to elect people to this body. If it is to be a government, there has to be a mechanism to allow for people to directly chose the representatives. This new 'government' will be responsible for managing the $100 billion ballpark of money coming in by 2020.

The UN is renowned for one thing above all else, an inability to get value for money for anthing they do. I have no hope that a new body would be able to manage a budget in the range of $100 billion a year in responsible manner.

Meanwhile the effect of what the draft document talks about in 187 pages includes not one concrete thing I can point to that will have a meaningful impact on climate change. It is interesting to note that the Copenhagen Treaty is suggesting something in the order of twice as much money being raised per year than what the Copenhagen Consensus tried to prioritize for a four year period.

Meanwhile, how much is it costing to have this Copenhagen Climate Conference? I suspect that with all the meetings leading up to it, that the costs will exceed those of a winter Olympics and will have had less direct impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the 2010 Olympics will have.

The Copenhagen Consensus also measured 15 different possible climate change solutions and prioritized them here. It makes for interesting reading, it is some real thinking outside of the traditional pro and con people on climate change.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BC is leading in North America

Over and over again it is clear that the jurisdiction in North America that is most willing to take action on climate change is BC. This is in the jurisdiction in North America that already has close to the lowest per capita CO2 emissions and will have the hardest time trying reduce them much at all.

Recently BC was praised by Prince Charles for the steps the province is taking. This is a very significant statement as the Prince would not have made it without have his staff research the issue in detail and giving him the confidence it is true. The Windors as a family have been amazingly good at keeping themselves out of politics. The biggest stirs on any potential political issue have been when Prince Charles derided modern architecture or his father has made some old school boneheaded upper class comments about society.

The problem here in BC is that the left can not deal with the fact that a centre right party that is free enterprise in nature is the most environmentally progressive government in all of North America. Really they should be rejoicing that BC has a government that can get the business community to come abroad with green issues. Instead there is a backlash against the government not being green enough or attacks on projects that will have major positive impacts on CO2 emissions in attempts to 'brown-wash' them.

People in BC that are not happy with the huge amount of work that the Liberals have done here need to consider the fact that they are complaining about being in the location that is leading everyone else. This is sort of like complaining that in a marathon your guy is winning but not by a large enough margin. They are complaining about a government that is aiming to set new world standards for how low CO2 emissions can be in a first world country.

In BC we are on par with the CO2 emissions of with many of the leaders in Europe. We are developing industries that will have an impact on CO2 emissions in all of western North America. It is realistic for BC to produce huge amounts of green electrical power, each Mw/h reduces the need for one tonne CO2 from coal fired power.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just some thoughts on aspects of warming air and water

I was thinking about what happens when the ocean warms and gets a larger surface area, should this not lead to higher levels of evaporation of water? Seems like we will see higher levels of precipitation. But will that mean?

There are no good projections of what precipitation will look like on a regional basis, the IPCC 2007 report has some estimates but certainly cautions against using them as predictions.

More precipitation should mean more plant growth in many areas. It should mean the average humidity globally will be higher and this should be beneficial to plant growth as well. More plant growth means more carbon captured. The IPCC report indicates that soil moisture will increase in a number of crucial areas specifically the Sahel, northern China and the Steppes.

Higher precipitation will mean more clouds globally, this should mean a higher planetary albedo and less solar radiation reaching the earth. There are concerns about the implication to planetary albedo from an open ocean in the arctic, but would this not be offset by more cloud cover? I am working my way through the IPCC report section dealing with clouds and they are not ready yet to be able to apply the effects of increased clouds to the climate model. The system may be more resilient to change than we are projecting at the moment.

The increases projected for precipitation in 100 years is an increase in the 5% range. This may not sound like much, but many of the most important growing areas in the world are semi arid and the addition on average of one and a half centimeters per year could offer some very significant improvements to crop yields and reduce the need for irrigation.

The modelling for the future climate is still very rough in estimates and we are utterly unclear as to the implications of the changes to the climate. So much of the coverage about climate change is about the disaster scenarios, the Armageddon futures. It does not strike me that it will be apocalyptic in our future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why is it bad for electrical power to be produced by private industry?

The campaign against green power in BC seems to primarily be focused on the fact that the power will be developed by private companies and not by BC Hydro. Certainly this is what the Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaign sounds like. The Sierra Clus is a bit different, which is nice to see. The union COPE, local 378, seems to only be about public ownership of power. The Citizens for Public Power are also all about public ownership of power generation.

Why is the idea of private ownership of power production such a problem for so many people in BC? I do not hear any demands that food only be produced by a Crown Corporation. No one is talking about moving forestry into the hands of the government. Why is need to have power production in the hands of the government?

I can not think of any other business that is in as much in the hands of government as power generation. The ownership of power by government is left over piece of the 1950s economic thinking. BC Hydro was created in the 1950s by the Social Credit government to speed up industrial development in BC. The idea was to have the public sector swallow the cost the infrastructure and then provide artificially cheap power to business.

I can understand the case of government to own the transmission grid as this is the same sort of infrastructure like the highways are, but there does not seem to be any case for the public to own the power generation facilities. Certainly the economy of the province would benefit from private generation through more jobs and more taxes for governments.

What worries me the most about this demand for public ownership of power generation is that it will stifle innovation. Big corporations are bad at innovation and doing things in a new way. Government is by nature slow to change course and seems fundamentally opposed to innovative thinking. Here in BC was have a raft of small businesses that are coming up with all manner of innovative ideas around green power production.

In BC we can tap into cogeneration, biomass, landfill gas, micro-hydro, wind, ocean wave, geothermal and other sources of power. We are building a huge base of knowledge and expertise in all manners of green power in this province. This expertise would not be developing if did not have an open marketplace to sell the power.

With all these micro-hydro projects underway in BC, we have a host of companies being developed that can deal with all aspects of the development of a run of the river power project. We have engineers that know how to develop a project, builders that know how to put them in place, biologists that have expertise in ensuring the projects have no impact in fish, and many more people in BC gaining skills that can be applied around the world to expand green power.

Public power projects require the government to provide the investment dollars - money that should be used for schools, hospitals, highways and transit. Private projects get their financing from the capital markets at no cost to the provincial government. In fact green power projects in BC are attracting large amounts of capital investment into BC.

Unless people want political interference in how BC Hydro operates, there is no way in which public power is better for society than private power. Political interference in BC Hydro would normally be used by government to buy votes through making electrical power rates low.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two videos on global warming I recently watched

While being with Max, I was watching some videos on YouTube that are taklking about global warming.

First there is this one from David Attenborough and I find it understated but compelling - to truly convinced of it I would have to see the data and the model used

And there is this one from Glenn Beck. This is a great example of casting dispersions on the current work by throwing enough mud up in the air. In the end the best they seem to be able to do is say that the scientific community does not have accurate data.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just some thoughts on where we are at

It is clear that when it comes to climate change issues there are several clear camps of people:

  • The Armageddon crowd - the world is coming to an end and we have to end modern life as we know it now. These people really are the zealots that want to see an end of the world come because they are glass half empty group. Y2K and the rapture are some other events that have the same sort of believers
  • Time to change crowd - there is a crisis and we need to do something about rising levels of greenhouse gasses and this is best done through efficiency, market mechanisms, and targeted government regulation. This is were most of the rational environmentalists and scientists fall.
  • It is not happening crowd - this group believes that there is no climate change underway and nothing needs to happen.
  • It is happening but do not worry crowd -this is the second largest group in the scientific community, but they are very, very quiet as they have become pariahs in the world.

The group that is missing from the above groups is the mass of the public. It seems that the mass of the public is convinced that there is some sort of climate change going on but it is not real for them. Most people are not taking any action because the effects and impact of climate change are too far off to seem like anything urgent to people.

When the mass of people do not change their behaviour, it is unrealistic to think change will happen. It is because of this that carbon taxes are crucial so as to have any impact on CO2 emissions. A rise in the price of fuels will cause people to vote with their wallets. It will also raise the funds needed to be able to allow CO2 to captured and stored.

The typical family car in Canada uses about 3000 litres of fuel and this costs about $3000 a year. At $2 a year this rises to $6000 and at $4 it becomes $12 000. These costs are clearly enough to make people rethink the fuel economy of their car. At the moment the majority of the cost of car is the price paid to buy it. One can assume about a $5000 a year in loan payments and a total cost of having that car of about $9000 a year.

At $4 a litre this same vehicle would cost $18 000 a year, twice as much as today. This is high enough to have people change to a much more fuel efficient vehicle. It is realistic to be able to buy a suitable family vehicle that uses about 40% of the fuel of the typical family car at the moment - many people with small families buy minivans or SUVs and could easily live with a sedan. This change would bring the annual cost down to about $10500, not that much more than now. It also means that even with gasoline at $4 a litre, for many people the cost of fuel will still not be the majority of the cost of operating a vehicle.

This high and radical price of gasoline would be a great market signal for the general public and will fuel the demand for smaller and more efficient cars. You could not get there quickly, it would have to be phased in over years. To be able to do this you need a carbon tax.

The same can be done with home heating fuel and for non-green electrical power. Do this and you will see people figure out how to keep their homes warm and cool without using as much energy.

The reason we still use as much non-green energy in our society is because it is still rather cheap to use.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Economist article on gasoline taxes

I found this interesting article in the Economist on gasoline taxes.

If you look at how low the taxes on gasoline are in Canada, it is clear to me that there is a lot more room to raise revenues from this source. It also says to me that a carbon tax is needed as the price of fuel is lower than it should be when compared to the rest of the OECD.

Other than Gordon Campbell and Stephane Dion, no one has the guts to move forward with the sort of carbon taxes we need. Stephane Dion saw his political career ended in part due to the carbon tax policy.

People will chose more fuel efficient options for driving if there is an economic signal telling them that is worth their time to do so. At the moment a saving of 3 litres per 100 km will only save you about $700 to $800 a year. With an additional $0.30 per litre carbon tax, the annual savings rises to $900 to $1000 a year. If you move from a 12 litre per 100 km minivan to a 5.5 litre per 100km sedan, at the moment you save $1300 a year, with the carbon tax this rises to $1700 a year.

The numbers are still small, but each rise will push more people towards choosing a more fuel efficient option and will push people to make more effective use of their vehicle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This came across my desk today:

Finavera Renewables Welcomes BC Hydro Decision on Clean Power Call

Vancouver, Canada, August 24th, 2009 – Finavera Renewables Inc. (‘Finavera Renewables’ or the ‘Company’) (TSX-V: FVR) is pleased to provide an update on the BC Hydro Clean Power Call (“CPC”) process. BC Hydro has announced energy purchase agreements under the 2008 Clean Power Call are anticipated to be awarded in the Fall of 2009. The Clean Power Call timing was affected after the British Columbia Utilities Commission recently rejected portions of the BC Hydro Long Term Acquisition Plan. In its update, BC Hydro also states that it will be assessing the status of First Nations consultations to determine whether adequate consultation has occurred with respect to the proposed sale of power to BC Hydro.

Finavera Renewables CEO Jason Bak said, “The news that BC Hydro will be proceeding with the Clean Power Call sends a strong message to British Columbians and the renewable energy industry that this province is committed to clean electricity generation. The government of British Columbia and BC Hydro have been consistent in their support of the Clean Power Call and this update provides clarity for investors and the industry as a whole. We also welcome the increased scrutiny of First Nations consultations given our commitment to an ongoing and respectful dialogue with First Nations in our project areas.”

Finavera Renewables has submitted four projects totaling 293 megawatts into the Clean Power Call. Final turbine suitability studies, wind analyses, and civil, electrical, mechanical, communications designs and contractor cost estimates have been prepared for each project and incorporated into the proposals to BC Hydro. The projects represent an optimal mix of attractive firm energy pricing combined with accurate and realistic capital costs and secured financing. All necessary permits for securing exclusive access to the lands for development of wind energy are in place and in good standing. All other permits are on track for the proposed timelines.

To view the BC Hydro update, please visit:

Jason Bak, CEO

For more information:

Finavera Renewables

Myke Clark

SVP Business Development

Finavera Renewables


About Finavera Renewables Inc. (

Finavera Renewables Inc. is dedicated to the development of renewable energy resources and technologies. The Company’s objective is to become a major renewable and green energy producer by developing and operating its assets in the wind sector. Finavera Renewables is developing wind energy projects in Canada and Ireland. In British Columbia, Canada, projects totaling 293 MW have been bid into the 2008 BC Hydro Clean Power Call. In Alberta, one 75 MW project is being developed. In Ireland, two pre-construction wind projects are under development with a potential capacity of 175MW. Data collection and environmental studies have been continuing at a number of sites in both countries.

This news release does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to sell any securities in the United States. The securities have not been and will not be registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the "U.S. Securities Act") or any state securities laws and may not be offered or sold within the United States or to U.S. Persons unless registered under the U.S. Securities Act and applicable state securities laws or an exemption from such registration is available. This press release contains “forward-looking information” that is based on Company’s current expectations, estimates, forecasts and projections. This forward-looking information includes, among other things, statements with respect to the strength of the Company’s proposed wind farms, outlooks and business strategy. The words “would”, “will”, “expected” and “estimated” or other similar words and phrases are intended to identify forward-looking information. Forward-looking information is subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause the Company’s actual results, level of activity, performance or achievements to be materially different than those expressed or implied by such forward-looking information. Such factors include, but are not limited to: uncertainties related to the ability to raise sufficient capital, changes in economic conditions or financial markets, litigation, legislative or other judicial, regulatory and political competitive developments and technological or operational difficulties. This list is not exhaustive of the factors that may affect the Company’s forward-looking information. These and other factors should be considered carefully and readers should not place undue reliance on such forward-looking information. The Company disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

The TSX Venture Exchange has not reviewed, and does not accept responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of, this release

Friday, August 21, 2009

Run of the River power

I have been doing some research on some energy issues and doing some comparisons of different energy sources and their relative costs financially, socially and environmentally. In doing this work and developing the report I was going to put in some of the environmental issues with run of river power projects. Guess what, I can not find any measurable data showing any environmental impact from run of the river in BC.

There are people that say run of the river is a problem for wildlife. I looked for any research that shows that wildlife is negatively impacted by run of the river in BC. I could find nothing. No data or research within any of the submissions to the Environmental Assessment process indicated any measurable impact to wildlife

Many people are talking about impact on fish, once again I can not find any data indicating any measurable impact on fish. In fact the majority of the projects I looked at were on sections of water courses that do not have fish within them and are above the fish habitat area. There is no good data I could find that there has been any temperature or water flow changes due to the projects.

Increased human activity is claimed to be detrimental, but I can not see the evidence that the added people from run of the river is measurable above the existing impact of forestry, mineral exploration and tourism.

All the projects approved in the EAO process have mitigation strategies for presumed impacts on the environment. They also have long term data gathering going on. It seems to me that the power companies will be required to improve the environment to something better than before the power project was built.

When I blogged about wind power, I was sent a lot of data on people claiming environmental impacts from the windmills. I may not agree with some of what they are saying, but at least there is data to discuss. When it comes to run of the river I can not find any data indicating a problem. All the data I can find indicates there is no measurable impact.

All I am finding are suppositions of potential problems or wild hyperbole with no backing. I can find nothing to indicate that the operating projects have caused any measurable harm to the environment. I have seen one thing in relation to Miller Creek that there was a problem with water flows in 2007 due to human error. Though it was caught before there was an impact.

These power projects are almost all in areas that are within or close to the timber harvesting land base in BC. The footprint of the power projects is several orders of magnitude smaller than the timber harvesting that is going on in the same areas. As an example, the total footprint of all the new land to be disturbed by the Bute Inlet project of Plutonic Power will be smaller than an average clear cut. This for a project that will produce the scale of power of something like the large hydro electric projects. Williston Resevoir, created by the WAC Bennett dam, has an area of 175 000 hectares. That is an area roughly equal to all the timber harvesting in one year in BC.

To put it in other terms, to use the same footprint as the WAC Bennett dam, there would have to be several thousand Bute Inlet type projects built.

I am happy to read anything out there that indicates there is something measurable going on, though I would love to know where it is hiding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Compact Fluorescent Lights

Many people have jumped on the band wagon to get rid of their incandescent light bulbs and replace them with Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs - CFLs. As time goes by I am realizing there are more and more problems with CFLs and they many not be a great improvement.

I was an early adopter of compact fluorescent lights, the costs at the time I started buying them was high that there was no cost savings on the electrical usage. When I started buying them they were about $8 to $12 a bulb. I bought them to use less power, but I also bought them to reduce the heat in my home. I lived in Lillooet at the time and the reduction of heat from the bulbs made a significant difference in keeping my house cool for five to six months of the year. Having the CFLs meant about 600 watts less of heat going into the house each hour.

I have not been impressed with the length of time CFLs last - in certain parts of this house they last less than a year and in the bathroom fixtures less than six months. I am concerned about the best to dispose of the bulbs, especially when they break. The cost savings are still not really worth it. Electricity is so cheap in BC that you have to save a lot of power to pay for the higher costs. Power is so cheap in BC that is cheaper for me to use oil filled electric space heaters than an oil furnace.

If my concerns were not enough, local Victoria electrician Walter McGinnis has strong issues with the electromagnetic fields of CFLs. Here is a video of an interview with him on Jack Etkin's show face to face

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another carbon sequestration solution, maybe.....

I was reading Clean Break by Tyler Hamilton, energy reporter for the Toronto Star, and he latest post is about "biochar", a process by which you turn carbon containing material into a charcoal like material.

I find this another interesting way to capture CO2 and store. The higher the demand is for solutions, the more interesting ideas are going to come out of the woodwork. Some of these ideas will become economic and be able to take green house gasses out of the atmosphere fast enough and large enough quantities to make a difference.

When there is a problem and there is some way for people to make a gain out of it, the forces of innovation work very, very quickly. Once someone figures out how to make money getting GHGs out of the atmosphere, there will be a flood of people trying to do the same. Very quickly the costs will come down and come down dramatically.

If we see the sort of advances we have seen in things circuits on a chip, or the cost to sequence DNA, or various other new technologies, we are likely to see some very inexpensive solutions for capture and storage of CO2 within ten years.

I look around at how well innovation works when there is a market demand for the service or product, I have no strong worries about the future. Frankly I see us reaching a steady state for GHG emissions within five to ten years and I see us being able to reduce the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2025. The bigger problem between 2025 and 2050 is going to be complaints from the cold nations that things are going too quickly with respect to stopping the greenhouse effect.

The people calling out for us to use fewer resources, to consume less, to not have the first world lifestyle we are used to are going to be in for a surprise when the clear solution for global warming will be through capture and storage. The goal of the people seeking for us to use less is often their core political belief and global warming has become their tool to attack the status quo.

The future is going to have us having more cars, bigger houses and more toys. It is this global desire that will make it very attactive for people to figure out how to capture the carbon so that we do not have to give up the good life we are used to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thursday June 18: Dr William Calvin - Solutions to Climate Change

Thursday June 18: Dr William Calvin - Solutions to Climate Change

UVic, Bob Wright Centre, Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Building

VICTORIA, B.C. - We all know about the problem of global warming, but what can we do about it? On Thursday, June 18th Sierra Club BC brings Dr William Calvin to the University of Victoria to deliver a lecture about solutions to climate change over the next 20 years.

Dr Calvin is a respected neuro-physiologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine affiliated with the Program on Climate Change. He is widely known for his work linking abrupt climate change with human evolution. In his 2008 book, Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change Dr Calvin delivers both a clear-eyed diagnosis and a strongly worded prescription.

Tickets are $15 or $5 for students from Sierra Club BC by calling 250-386-5255 Ex 237.

Lecture begins at 7 pm at the Bob Wright Centre, Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Building, University of Victoria.

Since 1969 Sierra Club BC has played a leading role in environmental stewardship in British Columbia. BC's spectacular wilderness and wildlife make our province a global ecological treasure. Sierra Club BC is passionately committed to safeguarding BC's wild places.

For more information, please contact:
Moira Campbell, Sierra Club BC: (250) 386-5255 Ex 237

Friday, May 22, 2009

More will come in the next weeks

but for the moment here is a link to good, postive and forward thinking op-ed by Tseporah Berman in the Vancouver Sun.

Instead of having a lot of investment money tied up in the car industry a lot of that can and will go into green electrical power. The free market will support green projects when they show they can be profitable.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some more the scale of the problem

The estimates are that in the next 20 years we will need to generate a lot more electrical power for all of our electrical gadgets, this according to the International Energy Agency. They are talking about another 1 000 000 Gigawatt hours of electricity per year by 2030. IF the gadgets can be made to require less electrical power, the need would fall to about 750 000 GwH.

We need to add about 40 000 GwH or green power a year globally just to keep pace with the demand for electronic gadgets. If we are not adding that much, we are falling behind. If only add that much we are not cutting into the existing coal fired power base.

Tyler Hamilton has a good article on this in the Toronto Star.

Globally governments have to remove the barriers to the development of a lot more private green power. Government has been the biggest block to increasing green power since the 1960s. We need to work towards a carbon tax on coal, this alone will push the vast majority of green power ideas from marginal into profitable.

I would like to see the money from carbon taxes used to remore green house gases from the atmosphere. I would like to see the tax go high enough that companies find it cheaper to be carbon neutral than pay the tax.

But back to the point, demand for electrical power is still rising and is no danger of falling anytime soon. We have to plan on the standard of living of China and India rising dramatically over the next generation and with that electrical energy use. To pretend that it is not going to happen is to stick one's head in the sand and ignore reality.

By 2030 I expect China and India to have 2 000 000 000 iPhone (or much better) moblie phones in use. I expect that there will be 500 000 000 computers, gaming systems and other electronic equipment to be in use. I also expect there to be a lot more air conditioners in use, one per household by 2030.

There is a huge demand for electrical power coming. Every watt of green power will be one more carbon free watt produced and we need huge amounts to come online very quickly.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From Kyoto to Copenhagen

I was never a fan of the Kyoto protocol because it did not reward good behavior in the past. Those that were causing the least CO2 emissions were expected to reduce by as large a percentage as those with huge emissions. Kyoto has been at best a tool to shame governments into taking looking like they are interested taking some action on climate change.

Now we have Copenhagen and see no hope that this will make any real difference to action on climate change issues.

I may not agree with all Andrew Weaver has to say, but there is some likely limit to which we should not push green house gas emissions. We have a huge problem with the scale of emissions for electrical production in the US and China alone. Shifting cars to emission free form will ultimately be market driven and need not government intervention other than to place a carbon tax on fuels. It is electrical production where the problem.

We need to deal with the CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants. There are only two options, get rid of coal fired power or capture the CO2 released. Neither will be easy or cheap.

Based on how things are going, as an example look at the backlash against green power in BC, we are unlikely to be able to replace the coal fired power in the next 20 years. Conservation is only likely to slow demand and not to reduce the demand. Even if we could achieve a 20% reduction by households over five years, that would only keep demand steady.

In the short term, the next 20 years, the major solution to green house gasses will be through carbon capture and storage. We will see more and more people, governments and businesses pay to offset their carbon footprint. We are already seeing this happen, as an example Habour Air in Victoria is carbon neutral. This will create a real market for carbon capture and storage.

But this ignores the big picture, the 2 000 000 GWh coal fired power in the US problem.

It also ignores the other big green house gas source, eating meat.

We are going down a path of a lot more green house gas emissions for the better part of another generation. A generation of carbon capture and storage as the only major solution.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A good blog post on IPPs. The campaign against IPPs has become the most bizarre campaign of twisting reality I have seen. The people opposing IPPs are doing so with no data that I can see that backs up any of their points.

When environmental protection and business can meet up, we have the best of all worlds.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pembina Institute Review of Platforms

The Pembina Institute has reviewed the platforms of the three major parties as it relates to climate change and energy policy. The information they pull out of each platform is good, I am just not convinced at some of their rankings.

The Greens come out the winners - no surprise there at all. The Liberals and NDP come out more or less tied. The NDP manages to benefit from being vague on a number of issues and not being held to account for how they acted when they were government.

It can not be easy for organizations that have strong personal ties to the NDP to come out and say the emperor is not wearing any clothes. The right wing equivalent is issues around the horrible mistake of deficit spending and stimulus packages - most of the commentators on the right are still having trouble pointing out that Stephen Harper has lost his way and is not governing well for the economy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scott Simpson Column on IPPs and NAFTA

Scott Simpson of the Vancouver Sun has his columns online and they are worth reading. Today he wrote about the idea that NAFTA somehow forces the government here to continue sales of power to the US once they start. Not that he is saying that, some of the NDP candidates are saying that.

There are some major fallacies with the argument that NAFTA would force a commodity to be sold in perpetuity.

1) No one can force a private company to sell the power they produce to the Americans.
2) BC has a sovereign right to regulate water issues under constitution. The federal Crown does not have the power to force the provincial Crown to bend to their will. No treaty Canada signs can bind a province in an area of provincial jurisdiction.
3) No one has ever come up with a true scare story of what NAFTA does.

I suspect that the licenses will be renewed in the future given the fact that it makes rational sense because the infrastructure is in place.

Of course our power is going to the US, we can produce loads of green power and are connected into a north - south grid.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IPPs and Campbell River

The Campbell River Mirror is running a poll about a moratorium on run of the river power projects. As of this moment the vote is very close with about 407 in favour of a moratorium and 395 against. I am surprised that it is this close given the huge amount of energy that the anti-green power lobby is putting into to stopping all the projects in BC.

At the same time, the opposition to green power projects on the coast of BC is pushing more and more aboriginal leaders to be either be opposed to the NDP or actively in favour of the Liberals. Lately Eppa(Gerrard Peters) of the In-SHUCK-ch and Judith Sayers of the Hupacasath First Nation both condemned the NDP stance on IPPs. Gerrard was strong supporter of the NDP in the past. Judith Sayers was the public face of the campaign against the Liberal referendum on the Treaty process.

First Nations in rural BC are looking for ways to diversify their economic options and green power is clearly one of the ways they see getting long term jobs, revenues for their governments and reduce dependency on forestry or fishing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Atlin Run of the River project

We still have some small towns that rely on diesel generators, Atlin was on one such town. Run of the river in BC has been done well and requires a lot of reviews before you can go ahead.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The NDP and the Carbon Tax

I am finding the debate on this issue tedious. The NDP clearly has made a huge error on this issue as every recommendation for dealing with climate change is to price carbon, a carbon tax is the easiest way to do it. A carbon tax that uses tax shifting, meaning no net increases in tax take by the goverment, is truly using taxation as a public policy tool. The BC Liberals have chosen to be on the forefront on public policy on this issue. The simply are more forward thinking and progressive than anyone else out there.

Instead of supporting something the government is doing that is a very smart idea, the NDP is opposing this. There is no shortage of public policy differences the NDP could highlight.

The carbon tax is the most progressive of taxes possible because it is your choice to pay it or not. The poorest in society have almost most direct impact from it because their purchases of fuels is limited. People choosing to have several cars, a truck, a boat, a quad etc will end up paying the most.

The carbon tax will also increase the demand for transit, getting rid of it will reduce the demand.

The alternative to a carbon tax is a cap and trade system. Cap and trade will require huge amounts of regulation and monitoring, it will be very open to corrupt behaviour. Cap and trade will always be open to government meddling with the cap - if the cap is high enough, there is no need for the trade. One only needs to look at how public power has worked in BC, even though it would make good sense for conservation reasons to raise electrical rates, no government has the guts to do it. Cap and trade honestly scares me given the dangers I noted above.

A tax we can choose to pay or not is the best way to price carbon. It is my choice how much gas I want to buy and therefore how much tax I pay. The tax will rise over time. The $30 a tonne price we will see in a few years will still likely not be high enough, but it will be higher than elsewhere and people will make decisions to avoid paying the tax. We will reduce our fuel use compared to elsewhere.

Clearly the NDP chose to oppose the carbon tax because they thought they could gain political points. There was no debate of this as a policy at any NDP convention, it was just born over a coffee in the legislature by the brains trust that gave the province one of the weakest oppositions ever. This is not a thought out or rational policy decision, but a spur of the moment one they chose in the hopes of bad polling numbers for the Liberals. The wierd thing is that there environmentalists out there supporting the NDP in this decision, clearly these are people putting political partisan views ahead of a better environment.

I find a lot of the crapping on the NDP from the right on the issue of the carbon tax as annoying as the NDP opposition to the carbon tax. Many of the people suddenly voicing support in a round about way for the carbon tax are people that were until recently skpetics on climate change. Admittedly the NDP move to be side with the climate skeptics means many borderline climate change skepitcs on the right are now on board with carbon pricing.

The people that have remained rational and reasonable in this debate are:
  • Serious environmentalists like Tseporah Berman
  • Climate change scientists like Andrew Weaver
  • Business people like Jim Hoggan
  • Gordon Campbell and his government
  • Jane Sterk and her party

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Implications of opposition to Green Power

Numerous people opposing green power production on the grounds that it is damaging to the environment - not that I have seen any substantive data from a project that has been received an environmental assessment certificate to show that run of the river power projects have negative environmental impacts. Andrew Weaver has a well written piece about the lack of data and scientific backing to the anti-green power people.

Various people say we should use less energy - fine, but the way to to do this is raise electrical rates to something crushingly high or to ration electrical power. Try selling the idea of paying $0.15 a KWh for electrical power in BC, not this is high enough to reduce demand enough.

There is a huge swath of electrical power in North America produced by coal fired power. To take this offline through conservation over 20 years means we would have to use 57% less electricity per person than we do now. This means no electrical heating - the most common heating source for renters. No plug in hybrids.

This is not to say that we should not work on conservation, though conservation will happen when we raise the prices of power, a lot. In most of the US the electrical rates are already much higher than here and consumption has not plummeted.

No green power here means the power has to come from somewhere else. The grid in North America, or I should say the three grids, are integrated across national and regional political boundaries. BC is not in isolation with respect to power, we are intimately connected to Alberta, the Western US and Baja California. That whole grid needs a specific amount of power. If it does not come from run of the river in BC, it will come from tradional sources like coal and natural gas or possibly some other sources, all of which are somewhere on the Pacific side of North America.

If we can nto be shown to be a source for a lot of green power through things like run of the river, other juridictions will seek other energy sources. Bruce Power has said they are going forward with plans to build a nuclear power plant near Peace River Alberta. Alberta released a report last week on nuclear power. Bruce Power is also looking at nuclear in Saskatchewan.

Ontario specifically has chosen to go further down the nuclear path because of the Kyoto Accord.

Few other renewable energy sources are as cheap as run of the river in BC. A number of them are not yet inexpensive enough to be able to compete with coal and other traditional fuels. The first wave energy operations are coming into being, but the costs remain high. The same with solar.

Wind is being roundly condemned by people as being ugly and intrusive on the landscape. Some people even claim health impacts from the wind turbines. Wind also remains expensive.

In the short term, that is the next five to ten years, lack of numerous run of the river projects in BC will lead to more natural gas fired power plants being built and coal fired plants continue operating. If the opposition does not end soon and if we see projects stopped, this will push more and more jurisdictions to build nuclear power plants.

So irrational opposition to green power here will have major energy policy impacts elsewhere. It also impacts the finances of the province of BC. Each Bute Inlet scale project, and we could easily have 100 or more on the coast of BC with no impact on wildlife, should annually net governments about $60 000 000 a year in taxes. I am only talking about watersheds that are currentlypart of the timber harvesting land base or are already within a developed region.

If we add 1000GWh of green power per year in BC for the next 20 years, the governments will have close to an extra $500 000 000 a year to spend. About 4% of the budget by then.

Since the gird we are part of is more north south and east west almost all of the revenues from green power would be money flowing from the US to Canada, helping with our national current account. We have to balance all the things we buy from the US such as food, computers, movies along with all the money we spend in the US. This is a good way for us to protect our macro-economic health and save the environment at the same time.

The construction of the projects are a large inflow of capital into BC. We are not asked to pay for the capital costs to build these projects as we are with government infrastructure. The influx of capital investment into BC will increase the net value of the province.

There are so many upsides. I am at a complete loss as to understand the rationale for the opposition.
One more article lately pointing out the irrationality of the people opposing green power claiming to be environmentalists. This was in the Toronto Star the other day:

Published on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by The Toronto Star

Yes, windmills and dams deface the landscape but the climate crisis demands immediate action

by Bill McKibben

Don't be too "Canadian" about the backlash - this is no time for Mr. Nice Guy

Watching the backlash against clean energy projects build in Canada has moved me to think about what Americans have learned from facing this same problem. I have been thinking and writing for several years about overcoming conflict-avoidance and the importance of standing up for "Big Truths" even at the price of criticizing fellow environmentalists.

It's not that I've developed a mean streak. It's that the environmental movement has reached an important point of division, between those who truly get global warming, and those who don't.

By get, I don't mean understanding the chemistry of carbon dioxide, or the importance of the Kyoto Protocol, or those kinds of things - pretty much everyone who thinks of themselves as an environmentalist has reached that point. By get, I mean understanding that the question is of transcending urgency, that it represents the one overarching global civilizational challenge that humans have ever faced.

In the U.S., there are all manner of fights to stop or delay every imaginable low-carbon technology. Wind, solar, run-of-river hydro - these are precisely the kinds of renewable energy that every Earth Day speech since 1970 has trumpeted. But now they are finally here - now that we're talking about particular projects in particular places - people aren't so keen.

Opponents of renewable energy projects point out (correctly) that they have impacts - there are (overstated) risks to birds from wind turbines, to fish from run-of-river hydro, that the projects mean "development" somewhere there was none and transmission lines where there were none before.

They point out (again correctly) that the developers are private interests, rushing to develop a resource that, in fact, they do not own, and without waiting for the government to come up with a set of rules and processes for siting such installations.

The critics also insist that there's a "better" site somewhere - and again they're probably right. There's almost always a better site for anything. The whole business is messy, imperfect.

If we had decades to burn, then perhaps the opponents would be right that there's a better site, and a nicer developer. There's always a better site and a nicer developer. But in the real world, we have at most 10 years to reverse the fossil fuel economy. Which means we have to do everything quickly - conservation and plug-in cars and solar panels and compact fluorescents and 100-mile food and tree planting. And windmills, windmills everywhere there is wind, just like off the shores of Europe.

Whatever natural endowments a region is blessed to have, these are the basis for your green economy: solar in the deserts, wind where it's windy, hydro where water's falling, geothermal if you've got it. Do it all, and do it quickly.

In the ideal world, we'd do everything slowly and carefully - but this planet is rapidly becoming the worst of all possible worlds, a place that before my daughter dies may well see temperatures exceeding anything since before the dawn of primate evolution. A planet facing hundreds of millions of environmental refugees as a result of rising seas, with heat waves like the one that killed 35,000 in Europe becoming commonplace occurrences.

The evidence gets worse by the day: already whole nations are evacuating, the Arctic is melting and we have begun to release the massive storehouse of carbon trapped under the polar ice. Scientists figure the "safe" level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 350 parts per million. This is the most important number in the world. Go beyond it for very long and we will trigger "feedbacks" that will result in runaway warming spiralling out of any human control and resulting in a largely inhospitable planet.

We are already well beyond 350 and accelerating rapidly in the wrong direction.

So when local efforts to delay or stop low-carbon energy projects come into conflict with the imperative to act urgently on global warming, they have to take second place. Because even if we win every other battle, if we lose 350, it won't make any difference at all. You can "keep" every river and bay and lake and mountain and wilderness, but if the temperature goes up 3 degrees globally, it won't matter. The fish that live there won't be able to survive, the trees that anchor the landscape will die, the coral reefs will bleach and crumble. Whatever the particular part of the world that we're each working on, it's still a part of the world. Global warming is the whole thing.

Believe me that I understand how difficult this is. I have spent a lifetime loving and fighting for the Adirondacks and other treasured areas. Perhaps you've spent your life fighting for birds, and I understand how wrenching it must be to acknowledge that "some birds may die from this wind farm." But what 350 forces us to say is: every bird, every fish, and everything else that we know, is fundamentally at risk in the next few decades.

In the name of birds, I want that windmill on my ridge. In the name of rivers, I want run-of-river hydro. In the name of wild beauty, I want that windmill out my window.

350 means it is too late to be arguing for theories or cool ideas. In the real world, the one where CO2 inconveniently traps solar radiation, you don't get to argue for perfection.

You can say, as opponents of clean energy projects have said, that we'd do more to fight global warming by improving gas mileage in our cars. You can say that we should insulate our homes and build better refrigerators. You can say that we should plant more trees and have fewer kids.

And you would be right, just as every Earth Day speech is "right." I've given my share of Earth Day speeches. And if we're to have any chance of heading off catastrophic temperature increase, we have to do everything we can imagine, all at once. Hybrid cars and planting trees, windmills, energy conservation, carbon taxes, emissions caps, closing the coal plants and pressuring our leaders.

I understand the opposition to clean energy projects. And I would have supported the opponents years ago - before climate science became clear. I live in the mountains above Lake Champlain, where the wind blows strong along the ridgelines. I'll battle to keep windmills out of designated wilderness if that ever comes up, but right now I'm joining those who are battling to get them built on the ridgeline nearest our home. And battling to see them not as industrial eyesores, but as part of a new aesthetic. The wind made visible.

The slow, steady turning that blows us into a future less hopeless than the future we're steaming toward now.

Bill McKibben is the author of many books, including his latest: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future [1]. McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and cofounder of [2].

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A very interesting approach to producing green power

I am across this interesting post at Tyler Hamilton's blog Clean Break. He is a reporter with the Toronto Star.

The company Riverbank Power has come up with an innovative pumped-storage hydro system, though they call it Underground Alternative Energy Production. The idea is to effectively use the movement of water into and out of an underground storage facility to produce electrical power. You let water run in during peak hours and peak demand and then you use the excess power, which is cheap, at off peak hours, to pump the water back out.

The technology to do this is clearly there, my question would be if the business case is there to do this. Is the differential between peak and off peak rates high enough to pay for the capital costs and cover the energy lost in the process?

I wonder if there are issues with storing the water underground in a created cavern and then returning it to the surface? What would the impact be on fish and wildlife? Would the water change in temperature and would that then be a problem?

I love it when people come up with interesting and innovative solutions, it is so much better than being opposed to everything and generally be negative and gloomy.

If climate change is happening, let us embrace it in the hope that it will bring us more and great wealth through the development of new technologies and new companies.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The scale of what needs to happen

At the moment the US produces a bit more than 2 000 000 GWh of power from coal fired power plants. If there is any serious thought to reducing CO2 emissions, then these plants need to be replaced.

If this is to be done over 20 years, this 100 000 GWh of new green energy each and every year. This means we need 30 Bute Inlet projects each year for 20 years just to replace US existing coal fired power.

I have not considered Canadian coal or and oil and gas power production.

BC can go a long way toward providing that power. 400 000 GWhs of green power over the next 20 years is possible here in BC. 800 000 is in theory possible. And this is all green power.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blog supporting the carbon tax

Lead the Way is a blog supporting the carbon tax in BC. I have been intrigued and interested in tax shifting as a way influence public policy. Carbon tax is such an obvious way to achieve reduction of emissions through higher costs and rewarding those that avoid making CO2 emissions.

I am firmly opposed to cap and trade systems because of the red tape involved with accurately monitoring it and the very high risk of unintended consequences.

I would support and expansion of the carbon tax to other green house gases and looking at industrial emissions of CO2 we are not yet capturing with the current tax.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What we eat and the impact on greenhouse gas

The New Scientist out of the UK has some interesting articles on eating meat and greenhouse gas emissions.

This first link is to a graph of what the average US family costs in GHGs due to food. What is important to see here is something I have known for sometime, transportation of food over long distances does not have a big impact. The methane is much more of a problem. The article is here.

Through that article I found this CO2 calculator for food - take it with a grain of salt because it is rather broad, but it is an interesting tool to look at.

The other interesting article is this analysis of what would happen if we backed off of beef and pork consumption. The article seems to say that by eating a low meat diet, we could reduce by 1/2 the costs of dealing with climate change by 2050. Low meat means 70 grams of beef a week and 325 grams of chicken or eggs. That is a burger every ten days and five eggs a week.

All in all, there is a lot more work being done on the greenhouse gas emissions that come from what and how we farm. It is becoming easier and easier to work out the impact of our diet. When I tried to work this out in the fall of 2007 there was not a lot of data I could access, but it was clear that meat eating was one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in my life.

Tseporah Berman on the Backlash Against Green Power in BC

Tseporah Berman wrote this piece on what is happening BC.

She went up Toba Inlet and checked out the proposed locations for the Plutonic Power run of the river projects in the area. She saw first hand that the project is not an environmental threat to the region.

To say that all run-of-river projects destroy rivers and are not ‘green’ is absurd. I’ve been up to Toba/Montrose with the Klahoose. I’ve seen how Plutonic’s operations are reopening tributaries and cleaning up the mess of crushed culverts and downed bridges that logging left behind. The same would hold true for other heavily logged areas like Bute Inlet. I was fully prepared to see impacts on the river and was pleasantly surprised to find that, contrary to the horror stories circulating, the water diversion is high up near the glacial outflow, above waterfalls (fish barriers) where there are barely even nutrients in the water. The salmon habitat and water flows remain intact. Most people won’t know this because it turns out I am the only environmentalist that has bothered to take the Klahoose up on their invitation to go and see it for myself.
For years environmentalists have been talking about respecting the First Nations and giving them say over their territories, turns out it this was all lip service that ended as soon as any aboriginals were not interesting in being 'noble savages'.

The Green Party and the NDP talk about the need for a green economy and for green jobs. Plutonic Power is doing what they are asking for. The BC Liberals have made it possible for businesses in BC to develop green power. If run of the river projects are not green enough to be part of the green economy, what possibly could be green enough?

The push for green businesses has worked, companies are willing to invest billions of dollars to make the environment a better place. They are willing to take more action to fight climate change through development of projects in BC than any government has anywhere in North America. The Bute Inlet project will displace 2 000 000 tonnes of CO2 per year - that is enough of a savings to offset the CO2 emissions of Kamloops.

We have reached a point in BC where the leaders on the environment in BC are businessmen and the main free enterprise party. If the environment matters to a voter in BC, the obvious decision on May 12th is to vote for the BC Liberals.