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The Dam Building Boom: Right Path to Clean Energy?

David Biello, Yale Environment 360
Led by China, the developing world is engaged in a flurry of dam construction, touting hydropower as renewable energy in an era of global warming. But critics point out that the human and environmental costs of dams remain high.
(23 February 2009)

No fridge? Cool!

Steven Kurutz, Guardian
Doing without a fridge is a badge of honour for some green activists. But how do they cope? And how much does it help?

… As drastic as the move might seem, a small segment of the green movement has come to regard the refrigerator as an unacceptable drain on energy, and is choosing to live without it. Muston estimates that her own fridge, which was in the house when they bought it five years ago and probably dates back much longer, used 1,300kWh per year, or produced roughly 2,000lbs of CO2 – the same amount from burning 105 gallons of petrol. And even a newer, more efficient model would have used too much energy, she says, “because I’m getting along fine without one”.
(19 February 2009)

British Fight Climate Change With Fish and Chips

Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times
NUNEATON, England — As he has done frequently over the last 18 months, Andy Roost drove his blue diesel Peugeot 205 onto a farm, where signs pointed one way for “eggs” and another for “oil.”

He unscrewed the gas cap and chatted nonchalantly as Colin Friedlos, the proprietor, poured three large jugs of used cooking oil — tinted green to indicate environmental benefit — into the Peugeot’s gas tank.

Mr. Friedlos operates one of hundreds of small plants in Britain that are processing, and often selling to private motorists, used cooking oil, which can be poured directly into unmodified diesel cars, from Fords to Mercedes.
(21 February 2009)

Should we pave the desert?

Bruce M. Pavlik, Delaware Online
California’s desert lands are in some ways a perfect fit with the renewable energy industries necessary to combat climate change. There’s sun. There’s wind. There’s space.

But without careful planning and regulation, these “climate solutions” could irrevocably damage the planet they are intended to protect.

The biologically rich but arid desert ecosystems are remarkably fragile. Once topsoil and plant life have been disrupted for the placement of solar arrays, wind farms, power plants, transmission lines and carbon dioxide scrubbers, restoration would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible. And widespread desert construction — even of projects aimed at environmental mitigation — would devastate the very organisms and ecosystems best able to adjust to a warming world.

Nevertheless, there is a public land rush underway. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is processing more than 180 permit applications from private companies to build solar and wind projects in the California deserts.

… The scale of some proposals borders on fantasy. One Columbia University scientist, Wallace Broecker, has proposed installing 60 million carbon dioxide scrubbers, each a 50-foot-tall tower, throughout the world’s deserts — 17 million of them in the United States — for the purpose of capturing greenhouse gases.

… At this point in the evolution of our ecological psychology, we need to acknowledge the true costs of any energy development. When a dam is built, a river is lost. But people who turn on their tap and draw that water rarely think about the river that was destroyed to produce it. Similarly, if we choose to place our “ugly” industrial technologies in the wilderness, there will be less awareness of the damage, less incentive to conserve.

The out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to solving such problems exacerbates parochial thinking and reduces the obligation of each citizen to contribute by consuming less, or by allowing solar panels to be installed on rooftops.
(20 February 2009)

California’s renewable energy goals feasible

David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
California’s goal of getting 33 percent of its electricity from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources by 2020 might be more feasible than previously thought, according to a new government report.

If all the renewable power projects proposed in the state last year were built, California would easily surpass that goal, according to a report issued Wednesday by the California Public Utilities Commission. All told, those projects would generate 24,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for 18 million homes.
(19 February 2009)

America’s future wind web?

Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
Wind power could feed 20 percent of the US energy diet. But first, the country needs a new energy network.

Out across this wind-swept, wheat-growing state, Jeffrey Nelson sees a new crop rising – electricity from the world’s largest wind-turbine farms sending electrons thousands of miles east to Chicago or Boston.

But it’s a vision the South Dakota Wind Energy Association president says will never happen without something far larger, more controversial, and even more expensive: gigantic new high-voltage transmission lines.

Depending on whom you talk to, emerging plans to build 765,000 volt transmission lines to bring power from the “Saudi Arabia of wind” in the Dakotas to population centers in the Midwest and East Coast are either vital to the nation or a boondoggle waiting to happen.
(18 February 2009)