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Tuesday July 5th 2011

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Energy and Global Warming News for February 12:

Warming water spurs U.S. to consider ESA protection for 82 coral species; For venture capital, efficiency is in vogue

http://www.sail-world.com/photos/Alt_Bleached%20corals.jpg
Warming Water Spurs U.S. to Consider ESA Protection for 82 Coral Species

The National Marine Fisheries Service said yesterday that it has found “substantial scientific or commercial information” that Caribbean and Indo-Pacific corals may be threatened or endangered. Environmentalists have predicted the corals — found near Florida, Hawaii and U.S. territories — could be wiped out by midcentury if the government does not take steps to protect them from warming waters, rising ocean acidity and pollution.

The announcement in yesterday’s Federal Register (pdf) launches a formal status review by federal biologists. The fisheries service will also accept public comment before deciding next year on whether to list the corals under the Endangered Species Act.

“The status review is an important step forward in protecting coral reefs, which scientists have warned may be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection can provide a safety net for corals on the brink of extinction.”

For Venture Capital, Efficiency Is in Vogue

Investors shifted their money from capital intensive solar and biofuel companies into firms that use technology to reduce or monitor energy use, the Ernst & Young report found, because the funding requirements are lower and the returns are often faster.

“These are more tech-type investments that the typical venture capitalist is comfortable investing in,” said Douglas Regnier, a partner at Ernst & Young in San Diego.

Last year, venture capitalists started focusing on energy efficiency companies over alternative energy firms because they require less money. According to the report, some renewable projects can cost up to  $250 million to build, and many of their technologies are still relatively unproven.

During a recession, it can be a safer bet for venture capitalists to put their money into cheaper, more solid technology.

In the fourth quarter, there were more deals in energy efficiency companies than any other category, with $252.8 million raised in 22 deals. Roughly $133.7 million was invested in 14 deals in the third quarter.

For the entire year, venture capitalists put $593.3 million into energy efficiency companies.

The biggest deal of the fourth quarter went to Silver Spring Networks of Redwood City, Calif., which installs networking infrastructure for smart grids. The company raised $105 million.

Biomass energy gets tax break love

The biomass energy lobby sees itself as the Rodney Dangerfield of renewables, never getting the same love — or tax breaks — as the new boys on the block: wind, solar and geothermal.

No matter that its backers include billionaire Sam Zell or the powerful Fanjul sugar family in Florida. “Biomass gets no respect,” reads a recent edition of Power magazine; federal policy has seated the industry in “the caboose of the [energy tax credit] gravy train.”

But when the Senate Finance Committee rolled out its latest draft of tax extenders Thursday, there on Page 66 was a two-paragraph, $100 million-plus gift for the lobby and its diverse members representing old-school lumber, sugar and even rice interests in about 20 states.

As drafted, Section 503 breathed new life into an unusual production tax credit, first awarded to the industry in 2004 as part of a one-time, five-year deal benefiting nearly 80 biomass electric-generating plants, most of which were up and running well before the tax break was enacted.

The House balked at renewing this bargain in December, saying production tax credits are to spur new production, not to subsidize old. But Finance subtly changes the old wording from five years to six, thereby adding 12 months to a tax break that is typically worth about $1.75 million annually for a qualified 20-megawatt plant.

SunPower to Acquire Europe’s SunRay

SunPower, a leading Silicon Valley solar company, said on Thursday that it had agreed to acquire SunRay Renewable Energy, a European photovoltaic power plant builder, in a $277 million deal.

The acquisition follows the purchase on Monday of Ausra, another Silicon Valley solar technology company, by Areva, the French nuclear energy giant, in a deal that an Areva executive valued at around $400 million.

SunPower has previously supplied solar panels to SunRay, which has a pipeline of projects in Europe and Israel that totals 1,200 megawatts. SunRay, which is headquartered in Malta, is owned by its management and Denham Capital.

“We have acquired customers in the past when we were looking to accelerate penetration into a market,” said Julie Blunden, SunPower’s vice president for public policy.

EU’s Ashton To Engage China On Climate Change

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s new foreign policy chief wants the EU to work more closely with China on climate issues and search for trade-offs with other policy areas, an EU official said on Thursday.

Catherine Ashton will brief a summit of EU leaders on Thursday about her policy vision in areas such as climate, trade and security.

“She won’t be saying that we’re flexible on everything, but she doesn’t want climate change to be seen as an isolated issue,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Most EU leaders were disappointed by the outcome of United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in December, which failed to set emissions reduction targets

Australia and Japan pledge larger emission cuts than EU

THE EU is in danger of being overtaken by Australia and Japan in pledging tougher targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions blamed by scientists for causing climate change, according to an analysis of the most recent pledges.

The analysis by Point Carbon, a leading independent provider of market intelligence on energy and the environment, examined pledges made by 65 countries under the Copenhagen Accord, which was the outcome of last December’s UN climate summit.

“Even if the EU were to increase its emissions reduction target to 30 per cent of 1990 levels, Japan and Australia are still pledging larger cuts from current emission levels”, said Kjetil Røine, Point Carbon’s manager. “The EU is lagging behind.”

High-speed rail cash lays congressional track for billions more to follow

The $8 billion President Obama handed out late last month to jump-start work on 13 high-speed rail lines across the country will likely do more than put shovels in the ground.

It also appears to lay the track for lawmakers to pump billions of dollars more into the president’s vision of a nationwide high-speed rail network for many years to come.

According to an E&E analysis, the passenger rail lines that received stimulus cash go through more than 40 percent of all congressional districts, including those represented by a number of powerful lawmakers that will play a key role in finding the tens of billions of additional dollars thought to be needed to complete the work.

When looked at as a whole, the grants can be seen as an attempt to entice lawmakers to continue to spend on a massive public works project that is still very much in its infancy, even at a time when Washington has one eye firmly focused on the growing national deficit.

“Logrolling is the name of the game,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog. “If everyone gets a piece of the pie, they become more likely to support that program in the future.”

An exact congressional tally is difficult to determine given that no exact route yet exists for some lines such as the “3C” high-speed line in Ohio linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, and an extension of Pennsylvania rail service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. But based on existing rail lines and federal sketches of future routes, the 13 lines appear to cross into a total of 182 congressional districts plus the District of Columbia.

Dozens more congressional districts that are close to, but not part of, the passenger rail lines are also expected to benefit from the federal investment, and more could get in on the direct action when all is said and done. The stimulus grants included several million dollars for planning work in states that otherwise would have gone empty-handed, such as Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas and West Virginia.

The bulk of the stimulus cash went to a trio of major projects: a high-speed rail line linking Tampa and Orlando, Fla.; a high-speed line linking Southern and Northern California; and incremental upgrades to three existing lines radiating out from Chicago to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Detroit.

The administration also sprinkled more than $2 billion around to more than 20 other states for incremental upgrades to existing Amtrak passenger rail service or for very preliminary work on future high-speed rail lines that could take years to construct.

While a number of smaller projects got only relatively tiny pieces of the funding pie, the administration has suggested that more could be on the way.

Obama has called the stimulus grants a “first step” in a robust plan similar to President Eisenhower’s launching the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, and has admitted billions of dollars more will be needed to complete the passenger rail network.

States requested more than $50 billion from the stimulus program alone, and some of the most ambitious high-speed advocates have said the final price tag — including private investment — for a national network will approach $600 billion over the next two decades.

The gaps between current funding and the totals needed to complete the lines is evident, beginning with the major three federal projects.

California received a total of $2.3 billion, the largest amount of any corridor but only a fraction of the estimated $40 billion the state will need to link Los Angeles and San Diego with the San Francisco Bay Area. Florida’s $1.25 billion will cover about a third of the work on phase one of its new high-speed rail line but none of the roughly $8 billion needed for phase two, and the $2.2 billion the Midwest received will result in only the first steps of a long-term, high-speed plan for the region.

States will likely have to come up with their own ways to pay for at least part of the work but that could prove difficult given the budget crunches that have spread across much of the country. California and Illinois, for instance, are facing deficits of roughly $20 billion and $13 billion, respectively.

High-speed backers in Congress say more federal funding is on the way. The next relatively small batch of cash is expected to come from the fiscal 2011 appropriations process, with the next multi-year highway bill — which is currently mired in congressional inaction and temporary extensions — expected to follow with tens of billions of dollars more.

Obama is said to have personally pressured lawmakers to insert the $8 billion in high-speed grants into last year’s stimulus package. But he is going to need widespread congressional support to ensure the federal funds continue to flow.

That is where the wide scope of projects that received funding last month could give rail work the momentum it needs to get up to full speed.

Because a typical high-speed rail project runs for several hundred miles often through heavily populated areas, the projects almost by definition encompass a large number of congressional districts. For example, the Northeast Corridor that links Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston — which received a relatively small sum of $112 million — covers a portion of more than 30 districts.

Likewise, the major three projects combine for more than 80 districts. The Midwest work includes an estimated 37 congressional districts spanning six states. All told, 39 California districts are included in the grants that state received. The Florida work, meanwhile, runs through seven districts, although a second phase of the project — running nearly the length of the state from Orlando to Miami — would include at least an additional five districts.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress