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VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

Posted by on Thursday, February 28, 2013

More than $17 billion is at stake as the civil trial against BP opens in New Orleans.

This week marked the start of the the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in US history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to 3 months if a deal isn’t reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was “grossly negligent” in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.

Filed under Climate Desk Features · Tagged with ,


Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn’t Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine

Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn’t Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine

Posted by on Thursday, February 28, 2013

The UK has 870. Germany has 416. So what’s stopping us?

“Jack-up” ships like this are needed to drive massive offshore wind turbines into the seafloor. There’s not a single one in the US.

Despite massive growth of the offshore wind industry in Europe, a blossoming array of land-based wind turbines stateside, and plenty of wind to spare, the US has yet to sink even one turbine in the ocean. Not exactly the kind of leadership on renewables President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address.

Light is just beginning to flicker at the end of the tunnel: On Tuesday, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a gathering of offshore industry leaders he was optimistic the long-embattled Cape Wind project would break ground before year’s end. And in early January industry advocates managed to convince Congress to extend a critical tax incentive for another year.

But America’s small yet dedicated entrepreneurial corps of offshore developers are still chasing “wet steel,” as they call it, while their European and Asian colleagues forge ahead on making offshore wind a basic component of their energy plans. So what’s the holdup? Here’s a look at the top reasons that offshore wind remains elusive in the US:

1. Begging bucks from Uncle Sam: The industry breathed a sigh of relief this year when Congress re-upped the Production Tax Credit, which recoups wind developers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power they produce, and the Incentive Tax Credit, which pays back 30 percent of a wind project’s construction costs. It might sound like chump change, but the PTC alone amounts to $1 billion a year, and industry advocates insist that wind would hit the doldrums without these subsidies. Still, they hardly put wind on a level playing field with the lavishly subsidized (and lushly lobbied) fossil fuel industry.

That’s especially a problem for offshore wind, says Thierry Aelens, an executive with German developer RWE. Higher construction and transmission costs make electricity from offshore over twice the price of onshore in the US, he says, a tough pill for state regulators and utility operators to swallow, especially given the low cost of natural gas made possible by fracking. Today renewables startups rely heavily on private investment to get off the ground, but the industry needs better financial backing from the feds to help it compete with fossil fuels, Aelens says. “Germany is a fully subsidized system. Which technology get supported is fully in the hands of the government.”

“Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?”

2. Blowback from “stakeholders”: Whale and bird lovers. Defenders of tribal lands. Fishermen. The Koch brothers. Since it was proposed in 2001, Cape Wind, a wind farm whose backers say could provide 75 percent of Cape Cod’s energy needs, has been run through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits on everything from boat traffic interference to desecration of sacred sites to harming avian and marine life. Just down the seaboard another major project, Deepwater Wind, had to negotiate concerns that its turbines would throw a roadblock in the migratory pathways of endangered right whales. Alliance for Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind’s main opposition group, claims the project “threatens the marine environment and would harm the productive, traditional fisheries of Nantucket Sound.”

Last summer’s “Cape Spin” is an excellent “tragicomic” rundown of the controversy:

Of course, there’s another powerful factor at play here: NIMBYism. No one could put it better than fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch, owner of a $20 million Cape Cod beachfront estate and donor of $1.5 million to ANS: “I don’t want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?”

Why indeed.

But Catherine Bowes, a senior analyst with the National Wildlife Federation, says while there are legitimate concerns for wildlife, Cape Wind and Deepwater have both bent over backwards to accommodate them. “I think there’s an attempt at highjacking” the wildlife message by the NIMBYers, she says. “Wildlife issues are often used as a reason to oppose a project even by those who have never cared about animals before.” Many of the nation’s leading environmental organizations—including NWF, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club—have come out in favor of the project. It’s easy to see why, Bowes says: “We know that the biggest threat to wildlife is global warming.”

3. Not a single ship in the Unites States is equipped to handle wind turbines: Forget about whales and yacht routes. How the hell do you go about lodging a 450-ton, over 400-ft tall turbine into the ocean floor? Answer: With one massive mother of a boat.

But there’s a problem, says Chris van Beek, Deepwater’s president: “At this point, there is not an existing vessel in the US that can do this job.”

The world’s relatively small fleet of turbine-ready ships—500-ft., $200 million behemoths—is docked primarily in Europe; an obscure 1920 law called the Jones Act requires ships sailing between two US ports to be US-flagged, and once the foundation of an offshore turbine is laid it counts as a “port.” Consequently, turbine installation ships cruising in from, say, Hamburg, wouldn’t be able to dock in the States.

On top of that, given the pittance of offshore projects in the works in the US, bringing the ships in from abroad can be cost-prohibitive. Offshore turbines could find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Weeks Marine of New Jersey is working to solve the problem by building the first country’s first turbine ship. They’ve completed the hull and hope to have the boat seaworthy by 2014, possibly in time to chip in on putting up Cape Wind.

4. States and feds butting heads: The recipe for every offshore wind farm has two essential ingredients: a construction site, and a contract with the electric utility for the developer to sell the farm’s power into the grid at a fixed price for a set period of time. In Europe, these go hand-in-hand: Governments auction off sites with the contract thrown in. But in the US, the deep water necessary for wind turbines is managed by the federal Interior Department, while the contracts are awarded by states. So a project could wind up winning the site lease, but getting passed over for the contract, or vice-versa.

“It’s fucking nuts,” Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski says. Even if you sweet-talk a state—Rhode Island, in his case—into signing the purchase contract, “there’s a possibility for some other developer to win the land, and then you don’t get the project.” Since Deepwater and Cape Wind have the only two federal permits for offshore wind, both by the Obama administration, this state-federal tension hasn’t been a major issue yet. But as wind lobbyists schmooze their way into statehouses up and down the Atlantic seaboard and score more contracts, the feds will need to rethink how they decide who gets to develop the ocean floor.

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Gardening Question of the Day for Thursday, February 28, 2013

What region of the United States is best for raising kiwifruit? Is the Alabama climate suitable? (answer).From The Old Farmer’s Almanac. […]

Robotic Exoskeleton Gets Safety Green Light

A metal-and-plastic exoskeleton has become the first nursing-care robot certified under the draft standard. […]

Charge Your Cell Phone In 5 Seconds – DNews

Supercapacitors: They’ll enable you to charge your cell phone in 5 seconds, or an electric car in about a minute. They’re cheap, biodegradable, never wear out and as Trace will tell you, could be powering your life sooner than you’d think. […]

Salazar: On Energy, Expect Four More Years of the Same

Salazar: On Energy, Expect Four More Years of the Same

Posted by on Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The outgoing interior secretary predicts little change in second-term Obama energy policies.

Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk

If you aren’t happy with President Obama’s plan for powering the US, don’t hold your breath for any changes in his second term.

Speaking today to a conference of leaders of the offshore wind industry in Boston, outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar hinted at the nation’s energy future. “It’s going to be very much a continuation agenda,” Salazar said of Sally Jewell, Obama’s pick to succeed him.

Salazar noted with pride how in Obama’s first term, the equivalent of 30 fossil-fuel-fired power plants worth of renewable energy projects have been approved for public lands, a trend he’s confident will continue into the future. But stashed away in his remarks was also a renewed commitment to growing fracking nationwide and oil drilling in the Alaskan arctic, two key aspects of Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy that have drawn fire from environmentalists, and which Salazar equated with renewables as “very important” components of America’s energy plan going forward.

Salazar, making a rare public appearance without his signature Stetson hat, closed his speech with an excerpt from Obama’s recent State of the Union address, wherein the president called on America to be a leader on renewables. But later, speaking to reporters, Salazar expressed ambivalence about the Keystone XL pipeline, saying only that he supported the president’s review process and he trusted incoming State Secretary John Kerry, with whom the ultimate call on Keystone XL rests, to make the right decision. He also sidestepped a question about the risks of fracking, saying that “shale gas has a lot of promise for energy security in the US. We will be implementing an agenda that takes advantage of it all.”

During his time in Obama’s cabinet, Salazar embraced climate change as an issue, overseeing the granting of the US’ first two offshore wind permits and helping to draft a regulatory structure for building solar farms, wind turbines, and other renewable energy projects on the 250 million acres of public land managed by his Bureau of Land Management. But Salazar also signed off last year on permits for Shell to drill for oil off Alaska, and has indicated that more Arctic drilling is likely, despite Shell’s comedy of errors there this winter.

Still, Salazar said he was optimistic that Cape Wind, the first proposed offshore wind project in the US, would finally break ground this year after over a decade of lawsuits and permitting holdups. Salazar’s department has purview over some 1.7 billion acres of federally-managed sea floor, and is thus a key player in the ongoing struggle to spark a domestic offshore wind industry. Last year the US added more (onshore) wind energy than any other single source, but offshore wind continues to prove elusive here, even while it explodes in countries like the UK and Germany—a single offshore turbine has yet to be installed in the US.

If Salazar’s prediction pans out, it will be a relief for Cape Wind’s developers; Cape Wind President Jim Gordon bemoaned the “Kafka-esque loop” he’s been stuck in since 2001, fighting off over a dozens lawsuits (much of the opposition to Cape Wind, it must be noted, is funded by fossil-fuel scion William Koch, who also happens to own a $20 million beachfront estate on Cape Cod not far from where the proposed wind farm would be installed).

Getting Cape Wind up and running would also be a nice bookend for Salazar’s White House career, and could be a tangible monument to the climate action he and Obama have become increasingly fond of professing—even if it comes hand-in-hand with oil and gas.

“We know the reality of climate change is something we have to address here in this country,” Salazar said. “The effort we’ve initiated over the last four years is an effort that will continue.”

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Gardening Question of the Day for Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Is basil difficult to grow? (answer).From The Old Farmer’s Almanac. […]