Not Far Enough: Some Say EPA's Climate Rules Need to do More

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant, central Wyoming | Photo: Greg Goebel/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency issued its long-awaited plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants on Monday, but some climate activists are saying the move doesn't go far enough.

The EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan would, if approved, direct states to develop a range of programs to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to 70 percent of 2005 emissions levels no later than 2030. Under the proposed rule, California would be asked to cut its power plant emissions by about 23 percent from 2012.

Though Monday's announcement was lauded by many in the environmental movement, the Clean Power Plan did not escape criticism from some who say the reductions goals are too little, and 2030 too late to forestall devastating climate change.

Rooftop Solar Installations Gaining So Far in 2014

more solar panels were put on houses like this than on big commercial buildings early this year. | Photo: ATIS547/Flickr/Creative Commons License

More solar was installed on residential rooftops than in big commercial settings during the first quarter of 2014, according to a trade report released Wednesday.

According to the Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, released this week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. saw 232 megawatts' worth of residential rooftop solar installed from January through March of this year, while commercial installations, such as those atop big-box stores and warehouses, lagged slightly behind at 225 megawatts.

Utility-scale solar installations, a.k.a. those gigantic solar panel arrays out in the desert or on converted farmland, neatly outstripped both commercial and residential installations put together, at 873 megawatts installed in the first three months of the year.

The last time residential solar installations outstripped commercial projects was in 2002, according to SEIA, well before the current boom in solar started. The report's authors expect commercial installations to gain steam later in the year, but say the long-term trend likely favors household rooftop over commercial.

Solar's 'Threat' to Utilities Prompts Financial Rating Downgrade

Old-school Barclays Bank sign | Photo: Dominic Alves/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's that embarrassing thing where a major financial firm tells you your industrial sector might not survive if we save the planet. A team of analysts at Barclays, the dreadnought British bank and financial services firm, downgraded its rating for the American utilities sector this week due to perceived threat to the industry from residential rooftop solar with battery storage.

The move will make it more expensive for American power companies to obtain loans, especially if other analysts follow suit.

And it's all because the Barclays boffins figure that it will soon be cheaper to generate and store your own power than it will be to pay your electric bill as usual.

Solar Fuel: An Interesting Idea Takes a Realistic Step

Shu Hu, in foreground, measures the efficiency of one of his team's solar fuel cells. | Photo: Robert Paz, Caltech

Every time we use fossil fuels to move ourselves around, heat our homes, or generate electricity we're using stale solar energy. Plants took sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide and turned them into hydrocarbons, which then got socked away for anywhere between hundreds of thousands and hundreds of millions of years.

Rather than burn those vintage hydrocarbons, releasing their stored carbon into the atmosphere, wouldn't it be great if we could mimic the process of photosynthesis on our own? Imagine taking sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide and turning them directly into fuel for our machines. Not only could we avoid dumping the Paleozoic's sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, but we might well be able to avoid the other kinds of pollution involved in extracting and processing fossil fuels.

That's the theory. The practice is more complex and fraught with obstacles. But a group of researchers at Caltech might just have found a way around one of those obstacles, using a material once deemed worthless for technological use.

U.S. Carbon Emissions Are Rising Again

Carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants rose in 2013 | Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In the run-up to the anticipated announcement next week of new, strict federal greenhouse gas emissions limits for power plants, a federal agency has announced that the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use have started rising again after a five-year decline.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a semi-independent wing of the U.S. Department of Energy, announced Wednesday that the United States' energy-related carbon emissions in 2013 were up by around 2.4 percent over 2012, and that the first two months of 2014 saw emissions around 7.45 percent higher than for the same period in 2013.

The rise marks the end of a five-year period from January 2008 through December 2012 in which the nation's greenhouse gas emissions fell, and it looks as though a rise in emissions from coal and natural gas are to blame.

April Was Bad Month for Birds at Ivanpah Solar

An American kestrel. This tiny raptor is falling prey to solar flux injuries at Ivanpah | Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The April stats are in for reported bird deaths at the Ivanpah solar power plant in the California desert, and it's bad news: 97 birds were found killed or mortally injured between April 1 and 29 at the nearly 4,000-acre plant in San Bernardino County south of Las Vegas.

That's a record number of reported deaths for the facility, though the increase may be at least partly a statistical artifact: sources tell ReWire that biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) were on site throughout April investigating wildlife mortality on the premises, likely leading to more stringent searches for injured wildlife.

But those searches still covered just 20 percent of the facility, meaning that one could reasonably extrapolate that total bird mortalities for April could be five times the official count. And that's not taking into account injured birds that land outside the fence, or are eaten by scavengers before survey crews can find them.

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