Federal spending on clean energy falls short on jobs, but wind and solar advance

Reply Mon 13 Aug, 2012 09:06 am
Aug. 13, 2012
Federal spending on clean energy falls short on jobs, but wind and solar advance
By Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers


What has America gotten so far from President Barack Obama’s spending on clean energy, and has it been worth the cost?

The multibillion-dollar outlays of the past four years had equally big goals: putting people to work right away, but also future jobs in a growing global endeavor to cut pollution and the risks from climate disruption.

The federal spending has become an issue in the 2012 campaign. Republicans say the federal government squandered taxpayers’ money, whether it was on $27-a-gallon biofuels for a test of an aircraft carrier battle group last month, subsidies for renewable energy or the taxpayers’ loss of $535 million to the bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra.

Four years ago, the Democrats’ promises on clean energy were all about jobs. As Obama took office seeking nearly $1 trillion in spending and tax cuts to boost a free-falling economy, he wanted to include green energy spending and he stressed the job benefits.

“We’ll put nearly half a million people to work building wind turbines and solar panels, constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings, and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to new jobs,” he said on Jan. 16, 2009, in a speech pitching the stimulus proposal.

On jobs, the promise fell short. The White House said its clean-energy stimulus funds created 224,500 jobs. An independent study this year concluded that 70,000 jobs were added to clean technology industries from 2007 to 2010. That study was done by the Brookings Institution, the Breakthrough Institute and the World Resources Institute.

Obama and his team argued that spending on clean energy would have other benefits. They said it would help the United States get some of the renewable energy manufacturing that otherwise would go to China, where energy technology is subsidized. It also would create jobs in the future and help the environment.

“Whenever the government has been involved in so-called stimulus, it’s really more than stimulus,” said Diane Lim Rogers, the chief economist for the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog that advocates for fiscal responsibility.

The 2009 stimulus, she said, was aimed at helping people make ends meet, increasing demand for goods and services in order to create jobs, and making a long-term shift in the way resources are used in order to better reflect social values and costs.

In the case of the clean-energy spending, that third part included a way of addressing climate change.

Renewable energy doubled from 2006 to 2011 and prices fell, according to the Brookings-Breakthrough-WRI report.

Construction began on the first nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, and U.S. companies got a share of the market in advanced batteries and vehicles. But nearly all clean-tech industries depend on subsidies or other supports in order to compete with oil and gas.

After spiking to $44.3 billion per year in 2009 with the first year of the stimulus, federal support for clean technology is on track to total $11 billion annually by 2014.

“Judged by the standards of short-term job creation, the energy investments may not have performed brilliantly,” said Mark Muro of Brookings, one of the authors of the report.

“However, over the medium and longer term, these programs will in time be viewed as critical investments in research and development, early-stage deployment and broader scale-up of important new technologies.”

Most of the tax preferences for energy efficiency and renewable energy, which were expanded with the stimulus bill, expired at the end of last year. The wind industry is fighting to keep a production tax credit that will expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it.

The industry’s trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, says wind-manufacturing jobs in the U.S. increased from 2,500 in 2004 to 30,000 today. Overall, the wind industry employs 78,000 people. The association argues that the tax credit is essential for the growth of wind, and that without it nearly half the jobs would be lost.

To some, taxpayer support means the market isn’t really ready for renewable energy.

David Kreutzer, a research fellow in energy economics at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis, argued that wind and solar industries don’t stimulate growth because they depend on subsidies.

“To the extent you put resources to electricity that make it more expensive than it would be if produced conventionally, that would retard economic growth,” Kreutzer said.

Congress considered a plan in 2009 to attack climate change by making fossil fuels more expensive. When it died in the Senate, the Obama administration turned to clean-energy support instead.

The idea was to help these industries get started so that they could grow and eventually compete with fossil fuels. Part of that strategy was the Department of Energy’s loan-guarantee program.

Besides Solyndra, two other solar companies, out of 33 companies in the loan-guarantee program, filed for bankruptcy.

Abound Solar borrowed about $70 million for solar manufacturing plants in Colorado and Indiana, and taxpayers will be out about $40 million to $60 million after the company is liquidated, the Department of Energy estimated.

Beacon Power Corp. qualified for a $43 million loan guarantee for an energy storage plant in New York. The company had assets that attracted a buyer, and taxpayers received 75 percent of the loan amount back.

Others moved ahead, including a large solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert where 2,100 workers are building the $2.2 billion facility with parts made in 17 states. A wind farm in Oregon has employed 1,000 construction workers and has purchased components from 15 suppliers in nine states. Half of the planned 338 turbines are built and operating.

Another major way the government is pushing clean energy is with the military.

For example, the Defense Department is working on a plan to find private contractors to build and operate solar, wind, biomass or geothermal plants at military installations.

No additional dollars from Congress would be needed, Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said last week.

Hammack said the renewable energy plants would save money. The plant operators would sell some energy to the military bases, and any extra energy could be sold off base. The bases would get reduced energy costs in exchange for the use of their land.

The Navy has been pushing the development of biofuels from plants other than food crops as a way of reducing dependence on Middle East oil and the volatile world market price.

In July, in the largest international maritime exercise in the world, a Navy carrier strike group was powered on a blend of petroleum and biofuels made from animal fats and algae.

The government made its biggest biofuel purchase ever for this test: 450,000 gallons for $12 million, or $27 per gallon.

“We’re in a unique position, relative to commercial aviation or shipping, to play a leading catalyst role in the early establishment of the market,” said Thomas Hicks, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy.

The Navy played the same part when it shifted from sails to coal, and from oil to nuclear power, Hicks said. But alternative fuels will have to become cost-competitive before the military uses them, he said.

The federal government plans to spend $510 million in a partnership with private companies to get a few refineries built to produce biofuels that can be blended with petroleum and used in the same vehicles and military equipment that use oil today.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., have led efforts in Congress to block the military from pursuing biofuels, arguing that they’re a waste of money.

Sharon Burke, the assistant secretary of defense for operational energy, acknowledged that it’s impossible to say when the military will have a ready supply of competitively priced biofuels.

But the military thinks decades ahead, she said, when the U.S. could be faced with unfriendly oil suppliers, an end of easy oil or increasing climate problems.

“There will come a day when there won’t be enough petroleum in the global market to meet global demand,” Burke said.

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Reply Mon 13 Aug, 2012 10:03 am
Bee thank you for that report

Out here in The Mojave, clearing for a solar installation costs over $100,000 to relocate a single turtle. Does this not beg the q, “Are we as a nation not overpopulated"
Reply Tue 14 Aug, 2012 08:45 am
Another one in case you missed these. BBB

Aug. 10, 2012
Hydropower bills energize environmental debate over dams
By Michael Doyle | McClatchy Newspapers


Hydropower dams would get a boost, while their skeptics would get punished, under a controversial new bill backed by Western conservatives in Congress.

In a bit of tit for tat, the legislation introduced this month would strip federal funding from environmental groups that have challenged hydropower facilities in court over the past decade. The bill further would block federal money from being used to study or undertake dam removals, save for the rare occasion when Congress has authorized the action.

“This bill would . . . help eliminate government roadblocks and frivolous litigation that stifle development,” Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said in a statement when he introduced it.

The chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, Hastings has convened a panel hearing for next Wednesday in Pasco, Wash., that will be stacked with hydropower supporters, providing a hint of legislative momentum.

But with little time left in a Congress now mostly focused on campaign season, and with the 17-page Hastings bill poisonous to prominent environmental groups, the legislation appears fated for now to serve primarily as debate provocation.

“This is incredibly extreme,” said Jim Bradley, the senior director of government relations for American Rivers. “I haven’t seen anything quite like this. It’s a little bit shocking for a member of Congress to create this kind of blacklist.”

American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited are among the organizations that could be cut off from federal grant funding under the bill; each has been party to a suit potentially challenging hydropower generation, and each has received federal money.

“We’re very concerned about it,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president for government affairs.

It’s all a reminder that hydropower, however fresh it sounds, can generate political heat as well as occasional cooperation.

In June, for instance, a sharply divided House passed a bill by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that would permit California’s Merced Irrigation District to raise the spillways on the district’s New Exchequer Dam. That would increase power production and water storage, but it also would temporarily inundate part of a protected Wild and Scenic River. The Obama administration opposes the Denham bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Hydropower rhetoric, too, can get heavy. At a hydropower hearing last year, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, denounced American Rivers, which advocates for protecting river habitat nationwide, as an “extremist organization.”

Last year, on a closely divided vote, McClintock won House approval for an amendment blocking the removal of what he called “four perfectly good hydroelectric dams” in the Klamath River Basin of Oregon and Northern California. Congress later dropped the amendment; but, as with the new Hasting bill, a point had been made about an important part of the nation’s energy mix.

In a more collaborative vein, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., won unanimous House support in July for a bipartisan bill that streamlines licensing for small hydropower projects. The legislation would exempt from federal licensing requirements the nation’s 1,100-plus hydro projects that aren’t operated by the federal government and that generate less than 10 megawatts of electricity; the current exemption is limited to projects that generate less than 5 megawatts.

“Notwithstanding all of (the) benefits, the regulatory approval process for hydropower development, especially for smaller projects, can be unnecessarily slow, costly and cumbersome,” Rodgers said during House debate.

Her bill awaits Senate action.

Hydropower accounts for about 8 percent of all electrical production nationwide. California has more hydropower facilities than any other state, while Washington state leads in overall power production. Lawsuits periodically have challenged these dam operations, directly or indirectly, and supporters of Hastings’ bill say the litigation slows energy development and increases consumer costs.

Groups that file lawsuits that “if successful would result in” a reduction in hydropower generation would be covered by the federal grant cutoff, under the new bill. Attorneys for such groups likewise would be cut off. Spencer Pederson, a spokesman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said the panel didn’t have a list of which organizations might be affected.

“It is a policy statement about the importance of hydropower and how taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to destroy that resource,” Pederson said of the bill.

Court and federal grant records show that American Rivers would be affected because the group has litigated and it’s received federal funding, including a $1 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant last year. The 110,000-member Trout Unlimited likewise has sued and has received federal grants, including a $350,000 habitat conservation grant last year, federal records show, while the significantly larger National Wildlife Federation has sued and received a variety of habitat conservation grants last year.

Reply Tue 14 Aug, 2012 08:47 am
Aug. 10, 2012
Obama slams Romney's opposition to wind energy tax credit
Kathleen Hennessey | Tribune Washington Bureau

PUEBLO, Colo. -- ]

President Barack Obama kept the pressure on Republican opponent Mitt Romney on Thursday in a fight over a wind energy tax credit as he stumped in southeastern Colorado, a hub of wind power.

"At a moment when homegrown energy, renewable energy, is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers. Think about what that would mean for a community like Pueblo," Obama told a crowd of about 3,500 people at the Colorado State Fairgrounds. "The wind industry supports about 5,000 jobs across this state. Without those tax credits, 37,000 American jobs, including potentially hundreds of jobs right here in Pueblo, would be at risk."

With that jab, the campaign welcomed to the trail a perennial feature: the swing state micro-issue.

Whether it's ethanol subsidies in Iowa or the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada, candidates have long sought to land on the right side of local concerns out of fear that they can have an outsized effect in an important state. In the case of the wind credits, the effect could be felt in two key states: Iowa and Colorado, both major producers in the still-nascent industry that is dependent on federal tax credits.

Romney has said he does not support the extension of the tax credit, a position in line with his criticism of Obama's investment in alternative-energy production. Romney has cast Obama's green energy push as ill-advised and wasteful, zeroing in on the federal investment in the failed solar firm Solyndra.

But it's a position that had the GOP candidate catching flak as he toured Iowa on Wednesday.

Obama piled on in remarks on Thursday.

"Colorado, it is time to stop spending billions in taxpayer subsidies on an oil industry that's already making a lot of profit, and keep investing in a clean energy industry that's never been more promising. That's the choice in this election," Obama said.

Obama also drew a contrast on immigration, ribbing Romney for his support for "something called self-deportation," while touting his recent decision to allow some young illegal immigrants - those brought to the U.S. as children - to stay in the country.

Obama described the so-called "dream" kids as American "in every single way except a piece of paper."

The Romney campaign called the former Massachusetts governor a "strong supporter" of wind power but argued the industry would benefit from less government support.

Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said the Republican candidate would "set the industry on a course for success and growth by promoting policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation."

Romney attended fundraising events Thursday in New York and New Jersey and made no public appearances. In an interview that aired Thursday night, he remained coy about his vice presidential pick but may have offered a hint.

"I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country," Romney told NBC News' Chuck Todd. "I happen to believe this is a defining election for America, that we're going to be voting for what kind of America we're going to have."

Speculation about the vice presidential nod has been rampant in recent days, with the names of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin being mentioned most often.

(Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.)
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