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German renewables revolutionary visits UK

Kate Connolly, The Guardian
Endless possibility
Hermann Scheer is the force behind Germany’s renewables revolution, and now he’s on his way to the UK to try to persuade Britain that old technologies are best left in the past.

Hermann Scheer has been described both as the “solar king” and the “Stalin of windpower”, but the German MP behind the revolutionary project to make his country completely energy self-sufficient is sanguine. “Our dependence on fossil fuels amounts to global pyromania,” he says, letting out the characteristically jolly chuckle that escapes whenever he is making a serious point. “And the only fire extinguisher we have at our disposal is renewable energy”.

Scheer, chair of the World Council for Renewable Energy, has been a fierce advocate of renewables for more than 20 years, and it was he who came up with the idea of the “feed-in tariff law”, which has been picked up across Europe and by opposition parties in Britain. According to what has become known as “Scheer’s law”, German households and businesses that generate renewable energy can sell it back to the grid at more than triple the normal market price.

“The key to it working is that consumers have guaranteed access to the grid at guaranteed prices,” explains 63-year-old Scheer, a qualified economist. This probably goes further than any single piece of national legislation in the world to encourage the growth of the renewable energy industry.

Power companies do not like it, but it has given incredible verve to an industry that had not until now had many believers.
(16 April 2008)

Local communities reach for power over energy

Kelly Zito, San Francisco Chronicle
Marin County residents want more solar and wind power. San Francisco officials think they might be able to strike better energy deals. Some cities in the San Joaquin Valley want to build their own power plants.

From the North Bay to Hollywood, California communities are trying to exert more power over, well, their power.

… However, the player that stands to lose the most – Pacific Gas and Electric Co. – isn’t likely to let Marin or any other community considering similar programs go without a fight. PG&E, which both supplies and distributes energy throughout Northern California, stands to lose the lucrative supply side of its business in communities that choose to go their own way. The company has a long history of successfully staving off public power efforts in San Francisco and elsewhere.

… The Marin effort has roots in the California energy debacle of 2000 and 2001. In 2002, in response to the crisis, the state passed a law allowing local governments to participate in the open power market. Today, the worries driving the movement are local and global: climate change, dependence on foreign oil, record oil industry profits.

“It’s probably the quickest and most powerful thing we can do to reduce Marin’s carbon footprint,” said Ed Mainland, a Novato supporter of Marin’s plan and co-chair of the energy-climate committee of the Sierra Club. “And it’s also more democratic decision-making; it’s trying to take care of our own energy futures and getting it out of the boardrooms of the corporations and bureaucratic state agencies.”

But big questions loom. Can local governments play in the complex and competitive energy market? More importantly, is cheap green power a reality? Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute, says the answer to both questions is a resounding no.

… Marin County, with its liberal sensibility and fondness for all things earthy, seems a likely spot for a community drive toward renewable energy. The county wants more power from sun, wind, hot springs, biomass and other natural sources. And officials say they can offer that at costs initially on par with or possibly higher than PG&E’s generating costs. Eventually, they say, those costs would fall below the utility’s.
(16 April 2008)

Native American company launches wind energy project

Shadi Rahimi, Indian Country
SAN FRANCISCO – Just as a collective of tribes is pushing for federal legislation in favor of tribal-led wind energy projects, a Native company is posed to launch an unprecedented effort to help tribes to become principal owners of turbines.

The Seattle-based company, Native Green Energy, will debut its first endeavor in April in Maine, where it has been working with the Passamaquoddy tribe to install two 100-kilowatt turbines that would power 50 homes on a private grid and allow the tribe to sell back additional energy to private utilities.

… Energy experts say the Dakota winds in the northern Great Plains alone could meet the nation’s entire electrical needs with wind power. But the lack of a federal tax credit has been thwarting a tribal-led green energy future.

Currently, tribes are not entitled to the tax credits provided to non-Native developers for renewable energy production. And if an outside company wants to team up with a tribe, they are not provided a full tax credit.

The Senate and House are currently considering extensions of the renewable energy tax credit, which expires this December. A companion bill in the Senate would allow tribes to be principal owners of renewable energy projects and would provide their non-Native partners with a full tax credit. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has introduced a similar bill in the House.
(11 April 2008)
Related: Winona LaDuke on climate change, peak oil, wind energy