Tillerson wants U.S. diplomats to promote use of fossil fuels and avoid questions on climate change

Reuters reports: U.S. diplomats should sidestep questions from foreign governments on what it would take for the Trump administration to re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement, according to a diplomatic cable seen by Reuters.

The cable, sent by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to embassies on Friday, also said diplomats should make clear the United States wants to help other countries use fossil fuels.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement in June that the United States would withdraw from the accord, the cable tells diplomats to expect foreign government representatives to ask questions like: “Does the United States have a climate change policy?” and “Is the administration advocating the use of fossil fuels over renewable energy?”

If asked, for example, “What is the process for consideration of re-engagement in the Paris Agreement?”, the answer should be vague: “We are considering a number of factors. I do not have any information to share on the nature or timing of the process,” the cable advises. [Continue reading…]

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Under Trump, coal mining gets new life on U.S. lands

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is wading into one of the oldest and most contentious debates in the West by encouraging more coal mining on lands owned by the federal government. It is part of an aggressive push to both invigorate the struggling American coal industry and more broadly exploit commercial opportunities on public lands.

The intervention has roiled conservationists and many Democrats, exposing deep divisions about how best to manage the 643 million acres of federally owned land — most of which is in the West — an area more than six times the size of California. Not since the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion during the Reagan administration have companies and individuals with economic interests in the lands, mining companies among them, held such a strong upper hand.

Clouds of dust blew across the horizon one recent summer evening as a crane taller than the Statue of Liberty ripped apart walls of a canyon dug deep into the public lands here in the Powder River Basin, the nation’s most productive coal mining region. The mine pushes right up against a reservoir, exposing the kind of conflicts and concerns the new approach has sparked.

“If we don’t have good water, we can’t do anything,” said Art Hayes, a cattle rancher who worries that more mining would foul a supply that generations of ranchers have relied upon.

During the Obama administration, the Interior Department seized on the issue of climate change and temporarily banned new coal leases on public lands as it examined the consequences for the environment. The Obama administration also drew protests from major mining companies by ordering them to pay higher royalties to the government. [Continue reading…]

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Extreme heat will hit India’s most vulnerable the hardest

Climate Central reports: A flurry of studies in recent months have laid bare the significant threat posed by extreme heat in a warming world. Perhaps nowhere is this threat more apparent than in India and other parts of South Asia, where intense heat waves collide with a large, vulnerable population.

If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t brought under control, global warming will boost heat waves in the region to the limits of what humans can endure on a yearly basis, a new study finds. But if action is taken to curb climate change the threat could be substantially reduced.

The expected future impacts also raise important questions of environmental justice, as the population that will be most impacted by extreme heat has contributed the least to climate change. It also highlights the contradiction between India’s reliance on coal to fuel its economic boom and the impacts its citizens might see. [Continue reading…]

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Prospect of Trump tariff casts shadow over U.S. solar industry

Reuters reports: U.S. solar companies are snapping up cheap imported solar panels ahead of a trade decision by the Trump administration that could drive up costs and cloud the fortunes of one of the economy’s brightest stars.

Domestic consumers and businesses have been embracing solar energy at a furious pace – thanks to a big assist from China. Low-cost photovoltaic cells and panels made in China and other Asian countries have helped drive down costs by around 70% since 2010, enabling more Americans to go solar.

Installations in the United States last year hit a record. Jobs are mushrooming too. The domestic industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to The Solar Foundation, most of them construction workers hammering panels on rooftops and erecting utility-scale solar plants in the nation’s blistering deserts.

But signs of a chill are already visible as the industry waits to see how President Donald Trump responds to a recent trade complaint lodged by a Georgia manufacturer named Suniva. The company has asked the administration effectively to double the price of imported solar panels so that U.S. factories can compete. About 95% of cells and panels sold in the U.S. last year were made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research.

Trump has wide latitude to levy tariffs to protect domestic firms. His actions could determine whether sun-powered electricity can compete with fossil fuels to light the nation’s homes and businesses.

The White House would not comment on the solar trade case. But the administration has vowed to protect steelmakers and other U.S. manufacturers by penalizing “unfair” imports.

That has the solar industry bracing for the worst. Panic buying has sent spot prices for solar panels up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks as installers rush to lock up supplies ahead of potential tariffs.

Skittish U.S. energy customers are putting some solar projects on hold. Manufacturers are eyeing other markets to develop. And some investors are running for cover. Funding for large U.S. solar deals fell to $1.4 billion in the second quarter, down from $3.2 billion in the first quarter and $1.7 billion a year earlier, primarily due to concerns about the trade case, according to research firm Mercom Capital Group. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.

That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.

But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.

Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)

Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.

“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.

The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff. The Energy Department did not make Mr. McCormack available for an interview.

In April, Mr. Perry ordered an examination of how renewable energy may be hurting conventional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, a study that environmentalists worry could upend federal policies that have fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind power.

Charged with spearheading the study, due this summer, is Mr. McCormack.

“There’s no doubt these utilities are out to kill rooftop solar, and they’re succeeding,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group. “They’re now driving the agenda.” [Continue reading…]

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Exxon sues U.S. over fine levied for Russia deal under Tillerson

Reuters reports: Exxon Mobil Corp sued the U.S. government on Thursday, blasting as “unlawful” and “capricious” a $2 million fine levied against it for a three-year-old oil joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday morning slapped the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer with the fine for “reckless disregard” of U.S. sanctions in dealings with Russia in 2014 when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Exxon’s chief executive.

The lawsuit and the Treasury’s unusually detailed statement on Exxon’s conduct represented an extraordinary confrontation between a major American company and the U.S. government, made all the more striking because Exxon’s former CEO is now in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Exxon took the government to court despite the fact that the fine, the maximum allowed, would have a minor impact on the company, which made $7.84 billion in profit last year.

The fine came after a U.S. review of deals Exxon signed with Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, weeks after Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow for annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region. [Continue reading…]

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The U.S. is not ready to clean up an arctic oil spill, warns Coast Guard

ClimateWire reports: The United States is not ready to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic, the head of the Coast Guard said yesterday.

The warning comes as Congress prepares to open up more drilling in a region quickly being transformed by climate change.

Adm. Paul Zukunft said that the challenges of cleaning up the BP PLC Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico—where the conditions were much more favorable—show the extreme difficulty of Arctic oil spill recovery.

“We saw during Deepwater Horizon, whenever the seas are over 4 feet, our ability to mechanically remove oil was virtually impossible,” he said at a Washington symposium yesterday hosted by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. “Four-foot seas up there [in the Arctic] would probably be a pretty darned good day, so certainly environmental conditions weigh heavily in addition to just the remoteness.” [Continue reading…]

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The bipartisan fight for quieter oceans

Ed Yong writes: Last night, to celebrate the fourth of July, the air over the U.S. filled with fireworks. The noise they created was extremely loud and, mercifully, brief. But imagine having to listen to even louder explosions once every ten seconds, for days or weeks on end. Starting this fall, that may be the new reality for whales, fish, and other marine life off the eastern seaboard, if the Trump administration’s plans go ahead.

Following the president’s executive order to open the Atlantic to offshore drilling, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is set to permit five companies to begin seismic airgun blasting—an old but controversial technique for detecting reserves of oil and gas. Ships will tow an array of 24 to 36 cannons behind them along with streamers of underwater microphones. The cannons create explosions by releasing pressurized gas, while the microphones detect the echoes of these detonations to pinpoint petroleum deposits beneath the ocean floor.

Each airgun produces up to 180 decibels of noise, making them around 1,000 times louder than nearby fireworks. And each will go off five or six times a minute, for months at a time, from the back of slow-moving ships that crisscross 90,000 kilometres of Atlantic waters from New Jersey to Florida. There is clear evidence that noise of this magnitude kills or perturbs marine life at every scale—from titanic whales to tiny plankton. It “poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life… the full extent of which will not be understood until long after the harm occurs,” said a group of 75 marine scientists in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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The race to solar power Africa

Bill McKibben writes: The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Daban could now safely store the vaccine for yellow fever; residents could charge their cell phones at home rather than walking to a bigger town to do it. As we talked, one of the old men handed me a small plastic bag of water, the kind street venders sell across West Africa—you just bite off a corner and drink. The water was ice-cold and refreshing, but it took me an embarrassingly long moment to understand the pleasure with which he offered it: cold water was now available in this hot place. There was enough power to run a couple of refrigerators, and so coldness was, for the first time, a possibility.

I’d come to Daban to learn about the boom in solar power in sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of cell phones in the region has made it possible for residents to pay daily or weekly bills using mobile money, and now the hope is that, just as cell phones bypassed the network of telephone lines, solar panels will enable many rural consumers to bypass the electric grid. From Ghana, I travelled to Ivory Coast, and then to Tanzania, and along the way I encountered a variety of new solar ventures, most of them American-led. Some, such as Ghana’s Black Star Energy, which had electrified Daban, install solar microgrids, small-scale versions of the giant grid Americans are familiar with. Others, such as Off-Grid Electric, in Tanzania and Ivory Coast, market home-based solar systems that run on a panel installed on each individual house. These home-based systems can’t produce enough current for a fridge, but they can supply each home with a few lights, a mobile-phone charger, and, if the household can afford it, a small, super-efficient flat-screen TV.

In another farming town, in Ivory Coast, I talked to a man named Abou Traoré, who put his television out in a courtyard most nights, so that neighbors could come by to watch. He said that they tuned in for soccer matches—the village tilts Liverpool, but has a large pocket of Manchester United supporters. What else did he watch? Traoré considered. “I like the National Geographic channel,” he replied—that is, the broadcast arm of the institution that became famous showing Westerners pictures of remote parts of Africa.

There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.” [Continue reading…]

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During visit to Iowa, leading producer of wind power in U.S., Trump scorns wind power

ThinkProgress reports: On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump held a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he praised coal and ridiculed wind energy.

“I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes,” Trump told the crowd.

Iowa is the leading producer of wind energy in the country and generated 36.6 percent of its electricity from wind in 2016. Statewide, the wind industry employs between 8,000 and 9,000 people and has added $11.8 billion to the state’s economy through capital investments. Wind farms that are built on private land, which is leased to wind developers, collectively earn farmers and landowners an estimated $20 million annually. [Continue reading…]

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Analysis questions plan for powering U.S. economy entirely from renewable energy

The New York Times reports: Could the entire American economy run on renewable energy alone?

This may seem like an irrelevant question, given that both the White House and Congress are controlled by a party that rejects the scientific consensus about human-driven climate change. But the proposition that it could, long a dream of an environmental movement as wary of nuclear energy as it is of fossil fuels, has been gaining ground among policy makers committed to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources.

They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels.

And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts.

In a long-awaited article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same journal in which Professor Jacobson’s manifesto appeared — a group of 21 prominent scholars, including physicists and engineers, climate scientists and sociologists, took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit. [Continue reading…]

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Solar power will kill coal faster than you think

Bloomberg reports: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.

The report also found that through 2040:

  • China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
  • The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
  • At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
  • Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

[Continue reading…]

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How the GOP leaders were persuaded to cast climate change as fake science

The New York Times reports: The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.

“Most Republicans still do not regard climate change as a hoax,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who worked for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “But the entire climate change debate has now been caught up in the broader polarization of American politics.”

“In some ways,” he added, “it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”

Since Mr. McCain ran for president on climate credentials that were stronger than his opponent Barack Obama’s, the scientific evidence linking greenhouse gases from fossil fuels to the dangerous warming of the planet has grown stronger. Scientists have for the first time drawn concrete links between the planet’s warming atmosphere and changes that affect Americans’ daily lives and pocketbooks, from tidal flooding in Miami to prolonged water shortages in the Southwest to decreasing snow cover at ski resorts.

That scientific consensus was enough to pull virtually all of the major nations along. Conservative-leaning governments in Britain, France, Germany and Japan all signed on to successive climate change agreements.

Yet when Mr. Trump pulled the United States from the Paris accord, the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon and Conoco reiterate support for Paris climate deal

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump faces some unlikely opposition to the idea of pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate accord: Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips, two of the world’s biggest oil producers.

Both companies reiterated their support Wednesday for the global agreement to cut greenhouse gas pollution amid reports that Trump planned to ditch a pact he says hurts the U.S. economy. Their argument: The U.S. is better off with a seat at the table so it can influence global efforts to curb emissions that are largely produced by the fossil fuels they profit from.

Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods took it a step further during the company’s annual investor meeting in Dallas, saying that oil demand will continue to grow in the coming decades, even with the Paris agreement in place.

“Energy needs are a function of population and living standards,” Woods said in his first annual meeting since becoming chief executive officer on Jan. 1. “When it comes to policy, the goal should be to reduce emissions at the lowest cost to society.”

Woods has been a staunch advocate for keeping the U.S. in the Paris group, as was his predecessor Rex Tillerson, who is now Trump’s secretary of state. In his first blog post after becoming CEO, Woods advocated low-emission fuels, carbon capture and biofuels as tools for meeting the goals of the Paris agreement. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. coal companies opposed withdrawal from Paris accord

Reuters reports: U.S. coal company shares dipped alongside renewable energy stocks on Wednesday after reports that President Donald Trump plans to pull the United States from a global accord on fighting climate change.

The market reaction reflects concerns, raised by some coal companies in recent months, that a U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Agreement could unleash a global backlash against coal interests outside the United States.

Peabody Energy, the largest publicly traded U.S. coal company dropped 2.2 percent to $24.29 a share, while Arch Coal fell 0.4 percent to $70.77.

A spokesman for Peabody said the company would support a decision by Trump to withdraw from the Paris deal because the “accord is flawed on a number of levels.”

Peabody, however, was among a handful of big coal companies that had argued that Trump should stay in the deal to help protect coal industry interests overseas, including by ensuring funding for coal-fired power plants and so-called “clean coal” technology.

Cloud Peak Energy Inc had also urged the Trump administration to stay in the Paris deal to prevent other nations from an aggressive turn against the global coal industry. Its shares were down 0.6 percent to $3.39. [Continue reading…]

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Leaked documents reveal counterterrorism tactics used at Standing Rock to ‘defeat pipeline insurgencies’

The Intercept reports: A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project.

Internal TigerSwan communications describe the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters. One report, dated February 27, 2017, states that since the movement “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model while active, we can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse.” Drawing comparisons with post-Soviet Afghanistan, the report warns, “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.”

More than 100 internal documents leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor, as well as a set of over 1,000 documents obtained via public records requests, reveal that TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters. [Continue reading…]

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Three reasons to believe in China’s renewable energy boom

Beth Gardiner writes: The squares of silicon are hardly thicker than sheets of paper, each about six inches by six, with narrow stripes of silver. They come into the factory by the thousands, stacked in cardboard boxes, and within hours, they’ll be ready to leave again.

The squares are solar cells, and in this plant two hours’ drive from Shanghai, workers in bright blue uniforms and white lab coats run the machines that assemble them, row by row, into more familiar-looking panels, ready to be installed on rooftops or in large arrays and begin turning sunlight into electricity.

Chinese manufacturing has changed the economics of renewable power around the world, making solar generation cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels like natural gas and even coal. It has brought change closer to home too, as China rolls out the world’s biggest investment in clean energy—motivated in part by a desire to ease the atrocious air pollution that kills an estimated 1.1 million of its people every year.

“The installation rates are absolutely mind-blowing,” says Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy and air pollution expert at Greenpeace in Beijing. China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation in 2016 alone. “That’s almost equal to Germany’s total capacity, just in one year,” Myllyvirta says. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon seeks U.S. waiver to resume Russia oil venture

The Wall Street Journal reports: Exxon Mobil Corp. has applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia in a bid to resume its joint venture with state oil giant PAO Rosneft, according to people familiar with the matter.

Exxon has been seeking U.S. permission to drill with Rosneft in several areas banned by sanctions and applied in recent months for a waiver to proceed in the Black Sea, according to these people. The company has sought approval for access to the region since at least late 2015, one person said.

The Black Sea request is likely to be closely scrutinized by members of Congress who are seeking to intensify sanctions on Russia in response to what the U.S. said was its use of cyberattacks to interfere with elections last year. Congress has also launched an investigation into whether there were ties between aides to Donald Trump and Russia’s government during the presidential campaign and the political transition.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is Exxon’s former chief executive officer and in that role forged a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Rosneft, a company that is critical to Russia’s oil-reliant economy.

The State Department is among the U.S. government agencies that have a say on Exxon’s waiver application, according to current and former U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]

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While Trump promotes coal, other countries are turning to cheap sun power

The Washington Post reports: On the solar farms of the Atacama Desert, the workers dress like astronauts. They wear bodysuits and wraparound sunglasses, with thick canvas headscarves to shield them from the radiation.

The sun is so intense and the air so dry that seemingly nothing survives. Across vast, rocky wastes blanched of color, there are no cactuses or other visible signs of life. It’s Mars, with better cellphone reception.

It is also the world’s best place to produce solar energy, with the most potent sun power on the planet.

So powerful, in fact, that something extraordinary happened last year when the Chilean government invited utility companies to bid on public contracts. Solar producers dominated the auction, offering to supply electricity at about half the cost of coal-fired plants.

It wasn’t because of a government subsidy for alternative energy. In Chile and a growing list of nations, the price of solar energy has fallen so much that it is increasingly beating out conventional sources of power. Industry experts and government regulators hail this moment as a turning point in the history of human electricity-making.

“This is the beginning of a trend that will only accelerate,” said Chilean Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo. “We’re talking about an infinite fuel source.” [Continue reading…]

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