December 12, 2008

Petrol Cheaper Than Ethanol?

Bill Georgevich reporting

ethanol gasoline blend
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Yes, it’s true. The corn-sourced distilled ethanol that is mixed with gasoline is now more expensive than plain old gasoline. Gasoline blenders have always used more ethanol than required because it was cheaper than gasoline. Not any more. With today’s lower oil prices, ethanol will be blended with gasoline by decree from Congress for cleaner air, another finger pointed at a misguided national strategy for alternative fuel.

On a purely voluntary basis, gasoline blenders have always used more ethanol than the required minimum because increasingly high oil prices made ethanol an attractive fuel in its own right. This month with oil under $50/bbl and wholesale gasoline under $1/gal and ethanol at $1.60/gal it makes no economic sense to blend ethanol with gasoline. The national blending requirement will become binding for the first time in 2009. Gasoline blenders will have to use 11.1 billion gallons of ethanol because that is what the law tells them, not because it makes economic sense.

In our last program I shared what it cost the Saudis to extract 1 barrel of oil - $2/barrel or less 4 cents/gallon. Well, I stand corrected. The oil minister of Saudi Arabia was just interviewed by 60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl ,and he told her on Dec. 7 of 2008 that it cost LESS than $2/ gallon.

This means that with US current laws, gasoline will be more expensive because of the mandatory blending with ethanol than by itself! This would be inconceivable in the summer of 08 and I don't think Americans have really taken it all in yet. As we talked about on several programs, oil commodity speculators poured billions into futures contracts that artificially raised the price of oil for years finally resulting in the $4+/gallon fiasco of the summer of 2008. When money left the stock market it fled the commodity markets as well forcing oil and gas prices to get closer to their actual Fair Market Value.

The other fear that drove prices up artificially was the notion that the Saudis had somehow reached peak oil production. They have consistently heartily denied this and demonstrated to 60 minutes in Dec. 08 how they intend to actually double their output at least for the next decade.

Today drivers are relieved to get was is essentially a $200/month economic stimulus package but they're also outraged that the stories about India, China, and the rest of the "increased demand" for oil really was only increased demand by speculators!

We also promised on our last program some insight as to what this means for renewables. The magic number for renewables to be competitive is for oil to sell at $35/barrel. It hasn't got there yet so the question we will explore next time is what happens now that gasoline is cheaper and how best to take advantage of it for clean energy. In the meantime, all those who told us that the era of cheap oil is over will have to eat those words at least for now.

December 3, 2008

Are you driving 75% less? If not, then why is gasoline so cheap?

Bill Georgevich reporting

oil speculation wall street
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We want to know why no one is investigating the relationship between oil prices and oil demand. Unless the world is using 75% less petroleum, it appears that the sky rocket in prices this summer was driven purely by speculation in the energy stock markets. If that’s so, what is the real cost of oil?

We know that it costs about $2/barrel or 4 cents a gallon to pump pure crude oil out of an existing oil well. There also are relatively small transportation and refining costs involved in turning that oil into consumer gasoline.

We know that in America a new oil refinery has not been built in 30 years. And we know that 30 years ago those refineries were producing gasoline that sold for less than 75 cents/gallon. Add to that the fact that in some countries like Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela, gasoline sells for less than 40 cents a gallon right now.

What does it all mean? Certainly this points to the fact that there is no relationship between “demand” and the market price of oil anymore than the value of a company is represented by it’s stock value. Companies can be over- or under-valued in the stock market….So too in commodity markets.

Without speculation inflation, oil would sell these days for between $10 and $20 per barrel with the retail cost of gasoline under a dollar per gallon. Keep in mind that oil sold for $45/barrel in early December 2008, even though OPEC had lowered production by 60 million barrels/month in a vain attempt to create a $50/barrel floor through which prices would not drop. Short term predictions point to even lower oil prices. What does this mean for the consumer and for renewable energy? Stay tuned, we’ll talk about low fossil fuel prices and its effect on renewables in our next program…

November 20, 2008

Should US Tax Payers Bailout the Electric Car Killer?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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While the US Treasury and Congress debate whether to save the Big 3 carmakers, environmentalists and renewable energy activists ponder whether General Motors, the Detroit auto manufacturing giant that killed their electric car 10 years ago, should be given a second chance. Some say that the 100 mile-per-gallon Chevy Volt promised in 2010 is too little, too late.

Tax payers are faced with a real dilemma. Should we support bailing out the Big 3 in Detroit? After all, investment banks got federal money to cover credit default swaps, which are unsecured side-bets on imaginary financial instruments. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are real brick-and-mortar companies that build real goods and employ millions of Americans. The news pundits warn that the challenged economy can't tolerate a shut down this large in the Midwest. Imagine hundreds of thousands of auto workers marching on Washington, with the fierceness and fury of Martin Luther King, demanding that Uncle Sam save the most powerful symbol of American manufacturing from extinction and mass layoff of over a million people.

Patriotism aside, how did GM and the rest get themselves in this mess? We may be quick to assume that like the Dow, Detroit is going down with the sinking ship the banking and mortgage crisis. The timing of the sudden run on government bailouts may suggest that the Big 3 are just another victim of the financial fiasco of Oct 08. No, it's just odd timing. Detroit's demise, if it comes to that, is by it's own doing – decades of poor decisions, culminating in it's most recent choice to continue making low mpg cars and trucks, even as gas prices hit $4+. Folks couldn't unload their SUV's and find enough high mpg cars to replace their daily driver. When they did, most of them were made in Asia.

GM made big cars because their ad consultants told them that big cars made drivers feel powerful. When city folks I know, who only drive in the city, purchased SUV's, their excuse to me was always that in a crash, big cars are safer. Physics would support that until every American seemed to be driving bigger and bigger cars.

Instead of making advances in hybrids and eletric vehicles, GM not only discontinued their only electric car after making only 1100, they decided that even less than a thousand on the road offered too much of a challenge to their gas-guzzing hegemony and actually had them towed away from their clinging lessees -- who offered GM millions just to keep the cars -- and crushed them!

Should we really have sympathy for car company that decided it was better to sue the State of California and overturn it's 10% zero-emission law rather manufacture a constantly improving electric car?

And what about this Volt? This hybrid sounds promising: You plug it in to power the first 40 miles, after which a gasoline powered generator makes just enough electricity to keep you going. 100 mpg or more is predicted for the car. Though GM would have you think it's breakthrough technology, it isn't, really. Every diesel locomotive ever made operates on the same principle: generate electricity to power the electric motors pulling the train. They are the most fuel efficient system in the world. When were they invented? 1920. So the Volt, we discover, is an old technology that GM finally decided the American driver was ready for.

The conclusion we come away with is that there is some kind of collusion between oil companies and domestic Detroit Iron. And somehow the wild and wacky speculation in oil futures (which was solely responsible for the dramatic gasoline price hike earlier this year), threw things out of control and drivers got spooked.

The car companies have known about the threat of high gas prices and shortages since the mid 1970's, but to hear the CEO's of these companies talk today, you would think that this problem suddenly occurred in the last few weeks. In a separate story we will talk about the real purpose of GM's introduction of the Chevy Volt - and it's not about getting good gas mileage or lowering our carbon footprint. Stay tuned.

November 3, 2008

The Company That Killed the Electric Car Brings It Back

Bill Georgevich reporting

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General Motors, after having re-introduced the electric car as the E-V1 then sending every one of those cars to the crusher, is now pretending it never happened. Ten years after the death of the E-V1, GM has gone green again, perhaps this time not as begrudgingly. The Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, is being touted by Chevrolet as not just "gas friendly" but "gas-free", since the first 40 miles can be traveled without the use of any fossil fuel.

Below is a review of the Chevy Volt from Bryan Walsh.

I can see the future of the automobile — I just can't quite hear it. I'm riding around General Motors' secure proving grounds in Milford, Mich., in what from the outside looks like an ordinary Chevrolet Malibu. But inside it couldn't be more different. The test car isn't powered by a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine, like nearly every automobile since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford's assembly line in 1908. Nor is it a hybrid like Toyota's fuel-efficient Prius with a gas engine assisted by an electric motor. This Malibu is electric, powered by a 400-lb. lithium-ion battery nestled beneath the floorboard — an energy source that is not only silent but entirely emission-free.

Actually, what we're driving is not a Malibu at all but a "mule," a stunt double for what will become the Chevrolet Volt, a new plug-in electric car that could save a struggling GM and, not incidentally, change the way we drive — just as long as they can make it work in time. "Developing this car is not something for the lighthearted," says Alex Cattelan, the Volt's assistant chief vehicle engineer, from behind the wheel. "But it's so much fun."

To understand why the Volt could be so important to two once dominant institutions that have hit hard times — General Motors and the United States — all you need to do is visit your nearest gas station, where a gallon of unleaded now costs an average of $3.64. We're spending around $700 billion a year to import oil, with much of that money being shipped to countries that don't like us very much. When we burn all that imported oil, we release nearly 2 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, heating up the planet. Those twin trends can't continue, and the solution "is to move away from oil as quickly and as devastatingly as possible," according to former CIA director turned green warrior James Woolsey.

GM is hardly the only major automaker to explore electrics as the way to make that happen; in recent months every major international automaker has announced plans to produce plug-in hybrids, semi-electric cars that can be recharged from a wall socket, like the Volt. But it is GM — which has seen revenues vanish as Americans stampede away from SUVs and other gas gluttons — that is pursuing the most ambitious program. The company does not have a happy history with electrics, having produced the battery-powered EV1 in the 1990s only to discontinue it in 1999. But this time GM has staked its future on the Volt, promising to have it in showrooms by the end of 2010 — far quicker than the pace of development for a standard car, let alone one whose battery does not technically exist yet. "This is not a choice," says Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst for the research firm Global Insight. "This is necessary for their survival." And in a warming world, perhaps ours too.

Under the hood, Bob Lutz is not your typical green. The former Marine pilot — who owns a pair of surplus military jets he likes to fly — probably has a carbon footprint half the size of Michigan. But it is the gravelly Lutz, GM's vice chairman for global product development, who is the driving force behind the Volt. Lutz worked in the auto industry for decades, left to run the battery company Exide Technologies and returned to GM in 2001 full of ideas. His dream was to develop an all-electric car that would be powered by lithium-ion batteries similar to the kind now used in cell phones and laptops. Most current hybrids use nickel-metal-hydride batteries — less expensive, but also less powerful. In 2003 a Silicon Valley start-up named Tesla Motors announced it would produce a $100,000 lithium-ion-powered sports car, and that helped galvanize Lutz. "If some guy in California can do it, to me it shows that this is certifiable technology," he says.

GM as a whole shared that confidence and at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show unveiled an early concept-car version of the Volt. To the surprise of even Lutz, it was the hit of the show. Other hybrids may offer fuel efficiency, but the Volt would go several steps further. A traditional hybrid like the Prius has two means of propulsion: one electric motor run by a battery and one engine run by gasoline. The battery can't take you very far — maybe 7 or 8 miles — which is why the gas engine kicks in so often. But as you drive, the battery does pick up extra juice, mostly courtesy of what's known as regenerative braking — collecting the heat generated every time you hit the brakes, converting it to electricity and storing it in the battery. The result: less gas used on every trip.

The Volt will rely on its electric motor, powered by its new battery, and will go up to 40 miles without using a drop of gas. For the nearly 80% of Americans who drive less than 40 miles a day, that would mean they could effectively eliminate gasoline from their lives. After 40 miles, the Volt's gas engine switches on, but unlike the Prius', it doesn't make the car move an inch. Rather, it generates electricity and feeds it to the battery, much the way an emergency generator in a hospital keeps the lights on during a blackout. This allows you to go an additional several hundred miles before you need either a fill-up or a charge-up. "With [past electrics] people had to change the way they lived," says Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer. "I want a vehicle that doesn't ask them to change at all."

October 13, 2008

Is global warming dead?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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Many Republicans who already thought carbon cap and trade regulation was bad for the economy, now say that with the growing global economic crisis, American energy companies cannot afford to be green. Like the “Drill, baby, drill!” hysteria promoted by Governor Sarah Palin in the Vice Presidential debate, Republican congressmen and senators are warning that global warming will just have to wait.

The AP reports:
Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, and both presidential candidates, continue to rank tackling global warming as a chief goal next year.

But the focus on stabilizing the economy probably will make it more difficult to pass a law to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At the very least, it will push back when the reductions would have to start. As one Republican senator put it, the green bubble has burst.

"Clearly it is somewhere down the totem pole given the economic realities we are facing," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., an electricity producer that has supported federal mandates on greenhouse gases. Duke is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and non-profit groups that has lobbied Congress to act.

Just months ago, chances for legislation passing in the next Congress and becoming law looked promising. The presidential candidates support mandatory cuts and a Democratic majority is ready to act on the problem after years of the Bush administration resistance.

But the most popular remedy for slowing global warming, a mechanism know as cap-and-trade, could put further stress on a teetering economy. Under such a system, the government would establish a market for carbon dioxide by giving or selling credits to companies with operations that emit greenhouse gases. The companies can then choose whether to invest in technologies to reduce emissions to meet targets or instead buy credits from other companies who have already met them.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Representative Rick Boucher (D-Va.), said that in light of the economic downturn, a bill that would give polluters permits free of charge would be preferable. "The first way we can control program costs is by not charging industrial emitters," said Boucher, who released a first draft of a bill this past week with the chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, Representative John Dingell ( D-Mich.). Giving away right-to-pollute permits was one of the options.

Other Democrats, however, see a cap-and-trade bill - and the government revenues it would generate from selling permits - as an engine for economic growth. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports auctioning off all permits, using the money to help fund alternative energy.

"If you see this as a job creation opportunity for the U.S. to develop the products that are then sold around the world, then you should be optimistic about what the impact of passage would mean for the American economy," said Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Conservative Republicans, who were never fans of a law to curb greenhouse gases, have used the economic downturn as a rallying cry. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate environment and public works committee, in a blog entry this month, criticized 152 House members for releasing a set of principles to tackle global warming in the midst of the economic turmoil. "The current economic crisis only reinforces the public's wariness about any climate bill that attempts to increase the costs of energy and jeopardizes jobs," Inhofe said.

Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) took the argument a step further when he said the Boucher-Dingell bill could lead the country "off the economic cliff." Even supporters of federal regulation of greenhouse gases acknowledge the difficulty given the state of the economy.

Senator John Warner (R-Va.), a lead sponsor of a Senate bill to curb greenhouse gases that failed this year, acknowledged that the economy could delay when reductions in carbon dioxide would start. Warner told The AP that any bill should allow the president to decide. "We must continue to think and devise a piece of legislation that will enable the president of the United States to control timing ... dependent on the president's analysis for the ability of the economy to assume the financial burdens," he said.

The U.S. is not alone. As the economic crisis has spread to markets across the globe, work to curb greenhouse gases elsewhere has stalled.

Earlier this past week, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN climate panel, said discussions about global warming solutions were "on the back burner."

Pachauri shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore for their work on climate change."I'm absolutely sure that climate change will be the last thing people will think about at this point in time," he said. "Sooner or later, they will come back to it."

The upside is that in hard economic times, and with high energy prices, the amount of pollution in the air tends to decline. But environmentalists say it won't be enough to stop temperatures from rising.

September 8, 2008

Hey, T. Boone, the WindWing is here

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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While oilman T. Boone Pickens installs thousands of turbines on his massive wind farm in Texas, a small California company is unveiling an invention that may revolutionize wind power production.

The "WindWing" may prove to be a superior alternative to the wind turbine, for an impressive variety of reasons:
  • It can capture energy with low-velocity wind (as little as 6 mph, roughly half the mph necessary for wind turbines)

  • Its wing-shaped design makes it a more efficient energy generator than the propeller turbine (40-60% compared to 5%)

  • It poses no threat to bird populations

  • It is quiet, unlike the propeller design

  • It can be installed virtually anywhere, which reduces the need to transport the power over long distances

  • Its small size and low cost make wind generation possible for individual homeowners and small communities, helping to decentralize ownership of the power source

While we welcome the enormous amount of clean energy Pickens' 4,000 megawatt wind farm will disseminate to the masses (1.3 million households when the project is fully operational), we do well to remember that Pickens will personally earn billions in revenue from this endeavor.

WindWing inventor Gene Kelley is a tireless, enthusiastic visionary who believes that renewable energy can be produced locally and inexpensively.

Wind energy, in particular, can be made far more efficiently than it currently is (and will be at Pickens's farm). Propeller-driven turbines are only about 5 percent efficient in converting available wind to actual energy. The 3-blade design offers a very small surface for wind contact. The wings of Kelley's WindWing offer a much larger surface, which increases its efficiency rating to 40 to 60 percent.

Wing units can be stacked vertically and their size can be customized in manufacturing, ranging from small models the size of a conference room table to large units the size of a jumbo jet. A small single unit could be installed in one's backyard, a "mini-cluster" of a few small units could power a neighborhood, and a "macro-cluster" of many large WindWings could power a shopping mall or factory.

Remarkably, the WindWing is not limited to wind as an power source. It can be placed upside down in a stream, river or aqueduct and catch the force of the moving water. The weight and constant flow of the water could create 800 times the force available from wind, according to Kelley.

Kelley and his company W2 plan to launch a prototype this fall at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Meantime, W2 has signed a contract with Hawaii's Natural Energy Laboratory (NELHA), where the WindWing is being tested for performance in a variety of wind environments. Breadth of application is also being researched; the NELHA successfully powering electric vehicles, batteries and other energy needs with the WindWing. They are also playing with a wind-solar combo. Photovoltaic cells have been mounted on the wings, which create 24/7 dual power generation.

One final adulation about the virtues of the WindWing: the cost. A WindWing unit comes in at about one-tenth the cost of a propeller turbine. Kelly also tells us that a single WindWing can do the work of 12 propellers.

The W2 web site is fairly sparse, but you can learn more here:
The W2 web site latest news

West Hawaii Today article

Ventura Country Star article

August 26, 2008

Energy Legislation at Last?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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Despite many efforts to pass an energy package, Congress adjourned for summer recess gridlocked and empty-handed. Partisan compromise is essential if we will ever see any real energy legislation. Republicans must give up oil industry tax breaks and Democrats need to budge on the offshore drilling ban. A bi-partisan group of 10 Senators, days before adjourning last month for summer recess, wrote a compromise bill that does just that.

The New Energy Reform Act of 2008 was written in response to the months-long Senate deadlock on energy legislation. The legislation, which could be considered when Congress returns in September, includes limited offshore drilling with increased investment in new energy technologies. A portion of the finding for renewables would come from taking back tax breaks from the oil industry. The bill also sets a goal of fueling 85 percent of the country's automobiles with alternatives to oil within 20 years.

The upside:
  • co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group committed to breaking the energy legislation gridlock in Congress
  • closes tax loopholes for the oil industry
  • maintains the ban on offshore drilling in California
  • extends renewable energy tax incentives that will expire in December
  • invests $20 billion for the conversion of cars and trucks to non-oil fuel sources
  • garnering wide support from liberal democrats, moderates, and Republicans

The downside:
  • permits offshore drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast (by states' consent)
  • recycling of spent nuclear fuel

Given the many bones of contention between the two parties, it is imperative to accept that a compromise coming from both sides of the aisle is the only solution to the impasse. Republicans need to give in on oil industry tax loopholes so that the renewable energy tax credits can be paid for. Democrats need to budge on their intractable stance on offshore drilling.

This bill was written just before Congress adjourned in early August. We hope that our Senators give serious attention to this bill when they return on September 4.

August 18, 2008

Countdown to Energy Reform

Bill Georgevich reporting

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This week we begin our Countdown to Energy Reform. While Congress enjoys their August recess, many Americans are wondering, where are the solutions to our energy issues? Despite multiple efforts to pass energy legislation, the Senate has been intractably gridlocked. Time is running out. Essential renewable energy tax credits will expire in December. Join us in our weekly call to action as we contact our vacationing Senators every week until they reconvene in September. This week: send a letter to Senators Obama and McCain.

Congress went on recess in early August without passing any energy legislation. Despite multiple efforts, both the House and Senate danced around the crucial issues of gas prices, offshore drilling, oil-market speculation, and the clean energy tax credits that are expiring in December.

The clean energy tax credits are especially important, because as December draws nearer, more and more investors in various renewable energy projects are getting cold feet. Many have pulled out entirely or are threatening to do so if the extension doesn't happen. Failure to renew these tax credits will be disastrous for our country and the steady momentum towards clean energy that has been taking hold.

Obama and McCain have remained rather detached in Senate activities related to renewable energy legislation. Both were among only a few to abstain on a vote to get a bill that would renew clean energy tax credits on the floor for debate. And both have shown some allegiance to the big oil industry that so handsomely finances their presidential campaigns. In 2005, Obama voted for an energy bill backed by Bush that included billions in subsidies for oil and natural gas production. In June of this year, in the weeks following McCain's embrace of offshore oil drilling, contributions from the oil and gas industry poured in ($1 million, in fact, compared to $116 K in March, $283 K in April and $208 K in May).

When the Senate reconvenes on September 4, they will be greeted with a new, bi-partisan energy bill, the first to offer a compromise to the wide philosophical and political schism that has prevented any passage of renewable energy tax credits. The New Energy Reform Act of 2008 is very promising, and couldn't come a moment too soon.

Obama has shown support of the bill, in recognition of the hope that it will end "partisan gridlock and special interest influence" and bring to the Senate "a good faith effort at a new bipartisan beginning."

McCain has remained very quiet about the bill, but most likely will not support it, for at least 2 reasons: one, the bill will take away subsidies for the oil and gas industry, which McCain adamantly wants to keep in place; and two, the bill allows for very limited offshore oil drilling (none at all off the California coast). Learn more about the bill here.

And if you haven't already, we invite you again to send a letter to Senators Obama and McCain on the very important and timely matter of energy policy.


August 1, 2008

Turning Oil Fields into Wind Farms

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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An unlikely Texas oilman – none other than the legendary T. Boone Pickens -- has announced plans to build the biggest wind farm in the world. His $10 billion dollar project will produce enough electricity to power an entire city. To date, he has put $2 billion into the project, including a record purchase of nearly 700 wind turbines from General Electric. He expects to begin generating electricity in 2011.

Pickens is not the only Texan to recognize the virtues of wind as an energy source. In recent years the oil capital of North America has emerged as the country's largest producer of wind power. In the little town of Sweetwater, up in the Texas Panhandle, wind turbines are going up at a rate of three to four a day. Some say the number of turbines in Sweetwater could top out eventually around 20,000.

Nearby Nolan County, if it were a country unto itself, would rank sixth on a list of wind-energy-producing nations in the world. It currently produces more wind-generated electricity in a year than all of California. Click on the graph for a fascinating state by state comparison of wind power.

Pickens is quick to note that "there could be lots of Sweetwaters out there," especially through the Midwest corridor stretching from Texas to North Dakota, where big wind and lots of empty space are ideal for wind power generation. Pickens envisions wind as a vital component of an energy plan for the U.S. His newly unveiled Pickens Plan declares that America can cut it's foreign oil needs by more than a third in less than a decade.

The sentiment behind his bold plan is this: "America is in a hole and it's getting deeper every day. We import 70% of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year - four times the annual cost of the Iraq war. I've been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. But if we create a new renewable energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil."

So great is Pickens' concern, he has launched a massive information campaign in print and on the web. His intention is to infuse the country's foreign-oil-dependence mania with a business-like pragmatism, replete with numbers, goals, targets and what he says is a realistic strategy. He's also hoping to prod our politicians into meaningful, results-oriented dialogue. "Neither presidential candidate is talking about solving the oil problem," he says. "So we're going to make 'em talk about it."

Ironic, really, that it might take an oil tycoon to nudge us toward a renewable energy policy.


July 28, 2008

The Greening of Google

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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The Google guys are making good on promises to invest millions of dollars in renewable energy. The computer giant just announced that their philanthropic arm,, will invest $20 million in the next year on renewable energy research.

Their goal is to become a massive force behind the creation of a greener grid, one that will effectively – and quickly – replace the use of coal, which is cheap, plentiful, and the favorite energy source for many states.

Over at you will see details of the two clean energy programs they're investing in. One they playfully call Renewable Energy "less than" Coal, whose simple aim is develop a 100% renewable energy electricity generation facility that produces 1 gigawatt of energy at a cost below the same amount of electricity produced from coal. In case you're wondering, 1 gigawatt could power a city the size of San Francisco.

For this project, their renewables of choice are solar thermal, wind, and geothermal. Google co-founder Larry Page is particularly fond of solar thermal, and spearheaded the 1.6 megawatt solar installation at their corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA. (which, despite their certainly altruistic intentions, will earn back its investment in just over 7 years). It is impressive to note that energy produced from their little 1.6 megawatt solar plant has enabled them to reduce their energy consumption from the local grid by 30%.

In the first half of 2008, gave over $85 million in grants and investments to a variety of research groups and clean energy development companies. $20 million of this has gone directly to the RE less than C project. The remaining is going to projects like their RechargeIT plug-in car development program, Predict and Prevent program, Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services program, and the Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

Learn more about their Herculean efforts at


July 7, 2008

Driving on Air

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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India's largest automaker has just unveiled a zero-emission air-powered car, affectionately called the CityCAT. This impressive car is powered entirely from compressed air, and can reach speeds of 68 mph. One tank of air will yield 125 miles of driving and cost only about $2. The price tag is starts at $7000, and the first models will be rolling off production lines late this summer.

The air car will get about 120 mpg on the highway and, oddly, even more in the city, due to its piston design. Filling the tank will be relatively simple (a problem for hydrogen cars). Any air compressor will do, and alternatively, an on-board compressor can be plugged in to an electric outlet. Because it's a non-combustion engine, owners will change the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) every 30,000 miles.

The CityCAT air car is the brain child of Guy Nègre, who has engineered Formula One racing cars. The Indian automaker Tata Motors, known for its innovative and earth-friendly vehicles, has partnered with Nègre to mass produce the CityCAT. Nègre has signed deals to bring the car to 12 other countries, including Germany, South Africa, Spain, France and Israel.

Will we see the car anytime soon in America? Very probably not, says auto industry insiders. Even if the automotive and oil lobbyists approved the idea, the air car's small, lightweight fiberglass body (which is literally glued together) would not fare well on American streets.

But the U.S. may be ready for one of Nègre's future zero-emission car designs, which he is already furiously pursuing.

Learn more about Guy Nègre.
Visit the Air Car web site.


June 30, 2008

Tax Credit Tango

Bill Georgevich

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The senate last week blocked a vote on the extension of renewable energy tax credits, which expire December 31. These tax incentives make it possible for thousands of homeowners to install solar panels & has inspired big investment in dozens of clean energy power plants. But if Congress fails to extend the credits, most of theses renewable power projects are in danger of being abandoned.

When I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico 30 years ago, new home construction was all on fire about passive solar heating, solar waters heaters, & “living off the grid” with batteries & Photovoltaic solar electric panels -- all in response to the first “energy crisis”.

Everywhere there were tromb wall homes that cooled homes during the day & warmed them with stored heat at night. Every house had a solar water heater. My house had a solar water heater with a 90 gallon tank. I had so much hot water from the sun, that even if the daytime temperature was below freezing, I could take a hot bath in my enormous soaking tub. All this was possible because of the federal tax credits that gave home builders the incentive to build renewable.

Now speculators have driven up oil prices to frightening levels again in 2008 & despite broad bipartisan support for renewable energy tax credits, Democrats and Republicans are arguing about how to finance them. There are currently 22 major solar power plants in various stages of planning around the country, but all have been implemented on the assumption Congress would extend the renewable energy tax incentives.

The discontinuation of these tax credits will "result in the loss of billions of dollars in new investments in solar," says Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. How can it be that we can’t even keep the old programs that promote renewable energy when we should be implementing additional new ones? If you as outraged as we are, here is what you can do:

Learn about the Energy Independence and Tax Relief Act of 2008, Senate bill #S.3125.

ell others about it and to take action by calling or emailing your Congressional Representative. Ask them to extend the renewable energy tax credit. You can find your Congressperson's contact information here. You can also reach the office of your Representative and Senator through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121.


June 29, 2008

The Arizona Desert Goes Green

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

Hear the 1 minute show:

The Arizona desert is one of the hottest and sunniest places on earth, so it was only a matter of time before solar energy technology would make its way there.

In early 2009, a Spanish solar power company will break ground outside the little town of Gila Bend, southwest of Phoenix, to build what will be the world's largest solar power plant. At maximum capacity, the Solana Power Plant will supply at least 70,000 households.

Abengoa Solar, which has built plants in Spain, northern Africa and other parts of the U.S. – will own and operate the $1 billion plant. Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility, will pay Abengoa $4 billion over 30 years for the energy produced.

The deal has been forged, but there's one possible glitch: The plant hinges on an extension of the federal solar investment tax credit, due to expire at the end of this year. APS and Abengoa said they're confident that this won't derail the project. Perhaps they know something we don't. To date, we have no news on where Congress currently stands on the issue. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is not feeling particularly positive about it, as he notes in an Op-Ed piece from April 30, 2008:

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

If you feel concerned, there is something you can do to help save the federal solar investment tax credit. Call or email your Representative and both Senators and ask them to urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep the ITC extension in the Energy Bill.

To locate your Representative and Senators' Washington phone number, go to this web address and type in your zip code:

You can also reach your Representative and Senators' offices through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121.

To learn more about the ITC, visit:
The Green Counsel Blog - details on Bill # S.3125

And here is a 4 minute video about the Solana Power Plant. Gives you a sense of its immense size. Click on this link to see the video:
Solana Power Plant video


May 26, 2008

Do You Own an Oil Company?

Bill Georgevich

Hear the 1 minute show:

"Do You Own an Oil Company?' -- that's what the American Petroleum institute's full page ads in Time Magazine are asking. The ad reminds us that it's millions of Americans owning a piece of the Oil and Gas industry who get hurt when government attempts to tax or regulate Big Oil. This warning is from the same industry who so recently denied the reality of global warming.

Yes, it is true that "tens of millions of Americans own a piece of the US Oil and Gas Industry", but it does not mean that "when the political rhetoric gets hot about increasing energy taxes or taking 'excess profits' from U.S. oil companies, it is important to step back, look at the facts, and ask yourself, 'who does that really hurt?'"

This the latest spin from the Petroleum Institute, the same folks that brought you the "myth" of Global Warming. If you are indeed a stock holder in the Oil and Gas business then you have a vote, a vote to influence these mega-corporations at stock holder meetings that oil as a fuel should be voluntarily phased out and used exclusively for durable goods like plastics. You, as a part owner of this business, have the right to demand that these companies take their billions and billions (127 billion in 2007 alone, according to Congress) in profits and invest that in renewable energy.

You can be sure that like all monolithic industries (remember Enron?), the Oil and Gas Corporations are hiding as much of their rising profits as possible. According to their own pie chart above just 1.5% of the oil business is owned by executives, yet the outgoing president of ExxonMobil got a 400 million dollar retirement check. That's nearly 20% of the 2.4 billion the Bush Administration has totally allotted for government spending on research into Wind, Solar, Hydrogen, Coal, and Nuclear combined!

The man who received the 1/2 billion dollar golden parachute was Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of ExxonMobil Lee R. Raymond. Hey Lee, how about sharing the wealth? Your buddy George Bush could use some help with the whole renewable energy, global warming thing. Your president is spending 2.4 billion dollars in Iraq every 40 hours and, since you, Lee, are earning $6,000/hr while in retirement, do you have any spare change for our War President?