Monday, 21 July 2008

Beijing’s car curbs off to a fine start

By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing
Published: July 20 2008 18:41

Beijing’s normally smog-shrouded skyline was clearly visible on Sunday as the government’s last-minute Olympic pollution controls went into effect across the city and nearby districts.
For the next two months, car drivers will be allowed to use their vehicles only on alternate days – depending on whether their registration plate ends in an odd or even number – in an attempt to reduce Beijing’s notorious congestion and air pollution.

Work on the city’s tallest building, the China World Trade Tower III, was suspended on Sunday as a construction ban went into effect, and numerous polluting factories in wide areas surrounding the Chinese capital shut temporarily or reduced output in order to help clear the air during next month’s games.
“The air is very good today, but it rained a bit last night and at lunchtime, which might have something to do with it,” Feng Caihua, a Beijing resident, said on Sunday.
Officials said the traffic restrictions should take nearly half of the city’s 3.3m cars off the road and reduce exhaust emissions by 63 per cent during the Olympic period.
About 10,000 cameras and other monitoring devices have been installed to catch drivers who flout the odd-even number-plate restrictions. Offenders will be fined Rmb100 ($14, €9, £7).
Concerns over the shocking levels of air pollution in Beijing have led a number of national teams to train elsewhere. Haile Gebrselassie, the leading Ethiopian runner, has withdrawn from the marathon because he fears the grime will exacerbate his asthma.
The government says it has spent more than Rmb120bn to improve the city’s air quality, and has been trying to promote the games as the first-ever “green Olympics”. But China has had a hard time convincing the world of its green credentials in a year when some environmentalists estimate that the country overtook the US as the world’s biggest carbon emitter.
At the weekend, the city unveiled three new underground railway lines, and officials have promised to put 2,000 more buses on the road to help transport the estimated 4m extra commuters who will switch to public transport on the days they cannot use their cars.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Olympic Athletes Wearing Masks Could Cause China to Lose Face

U.S. Committee Developed a Model in Secret; Jarrod Shoemaker Ponders the Dork Factor

U.S. triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker has a decision to make at the opening ceremony of the Olympics next month in Beijing: Should he strap on a mask?
Chinese officials insist the notorious Beijing air will be cleaner by August, making such contraptions unnecessary. Concerned about the pollution, the U.S. Olympic Committee is distributing a high-tech mask, developed in secrecy, to its more than 600 Olympians. If athletes deploy it, they risk insulting the hosts. Then there's the geek factor.
"I probably will want to wear it," says the 26-year-old Mr. Shoemaker, who plans to have his mask on nearly all the time he's in Beijing when not competing. "Whether I will be allowed to is a different issue."
Though the practice is less common today, Chinese for years have worn masks to protect their lungs from the country's heavy dust and pollution. But foreigners wearing them during the Games this summer -- particularly at the opening ceremony broadcast to billions of television viewers around the world? That's a different matter.

Q&A: Will Masks Help Olympic Athletes in Beijing?
Having foreigners cover their faces at the Olympics could mean a loss of face for the Chinese. "When you're walking around with a mask on, you're basically saying, 'You guys stink,' " says Scott Schnitzspahn, performance director of the U.S. triathlon team.
The details of the mask, which the U.S. Olympic Committee, or USOC, spent more than two years developing, remain hush-hush. That contrasts with the USOC's usual openness, typified by its willingness to share its training complex in Colorado Springs, Colo., with teams from around the world.
'Top Secret'
"Some of our strategies and equipment are, quite honestly, 'top secret,' and we are hesitant to lay all our cards on the table for our competitors to mimic," explained Randy Wilber, the USOC's sport physiologist who oversaw the mask project, in an email.
Beijing residents and visitors wonder what makes up the murky haze that has shrouded the Olympic city. Andy Jordan reports from Beijing. (July 18)
The issue is highly charged for Chinese officials, who say recent measures, such as limiting vehicular traffic and shutting down factories, will make the Beijing air more than suitable for Olympic competition next month. Over the weekend, Beijing enjoyed unusually clear weather, as the city entered the final stretch of its crash effort to clean up the skies. (Please see related article.)
"When people come to this environment and get acclimated, they'll see they won't need" a mask, says Jeff Ruffolo, senior adviser to the Beijing Olympic Committee.
Mr. Shoemaker remains unconvinced.
The poor air quality during other triathlons in China that he has competed in made his lungs feel like someone was standing on his chest, he says. So last fall, when he arrived at a triathlon outside Beijing, he opted for a mask.
Competitors teased him, telling him he looked ridiculous. Mr. Shoemaker himself worried about offending his Chinese hosts, who insisted there was nothing wrong with the air.
"I definitely got some comments, like, 'Come on, that's a little much,' " he says.
Still, he wore the surgeon-style mask for nearly his entire four days in China before and after competing. He took it off just seconds before his event. In the end, Mr. Shoemaker had the last laugh: He finished first among the Americans, by 12 seconds, qualifying him for the U.S. Olympic team now headed for Beijing.
Getty Images
Cyclists wear masks while riding in Beijing last week. Beijing authorities have insisted air quality in the Chinese capital has improved enough to meet its Olympic targets.
"There is the uncool factor," says Mr. Schnitzspahn, the triathlon team official. "But it's not so uncool once you're on the team."
American athletes who have received the new USOC mask say they were instructed not to share details about it. Some have disclosed that it contains a carbon-filter insert and comes in different colors, including black and taupe.
The secrecy has irked some. "If we have something that will help these kids from developing bronchial problems, why not share that with the rest of the world?" says Frank Filiberto, the head doctor for the U.S. boxing team.
He saw firsthand the effects of the Beijing air on his boxers during a test event last November, he says. On a scheduled five-mile run one morning, the boxers were coughing. Five of the 11 boxers came down with bronchitis, and three required medical treatment, he says. The coaches decided to keep the boxers in their hotel for the rest of the week, where they trained in the hallways.
Many play down the need to wear masks, arguing that everyone will be coping with the same conditions. The International Olympic Committee has promised to postpone events should the pollution get too thick. Some point out that pollution fears before the 1984 Games in Los Angeles turned out to be unfounded.
"There's always somebody b- about something," says former U.S. Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr. "In Athens, athletes pulled out because they thought there were going to be terrorists -- they missed out."
At the moment, there is no stated policy on mask-wearing at the opening ceremony or during competition. Olympic officials believe it's up to the international federation of each sport to determine whether to allow masks during events.
The British Olympic Association has developed a mask that could actually be worn during competition, unlike the U.S. mask. Respro Ltd., a self-described maker of "urban survival equipment" in London, says it has supplied the British team with a device called the Sportsta. It is made of neoprene and features state-of-the-art valves.
'Totally Useless'
This past spring, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, took a stand on the issue -- sort of. "I recommend athletes not to wear masks because our experts say they are not efficient," Mr. Rogge said. "They can do whatever they want, but I'm telling them it's totally useless."
Matthew Reed, a member of the U.S. triathlon team, says that seeing Olympic athletes suffering from polluted air on the world stage might not be all bad: It could embarrass China into embracing stronger environmental measures. "It's just disgusting what they've done to that part of the world," says the 32-year-old Mr. Reed, who grew up in New Zealand.
At a soccer match last year in Beijing, foreign players on the sideline wore masks, prompting several Chinese fans to tell them they were insulting and unnecessary, according to an American Olympic official who witnessed the episode.
Kara Goucher, a runner on the U.S. Olympic track team who says she will likely wear a mask between events, knows what it's like to get stares. She started wearing a mask two months ago on flights to protect against catching a cold. "People ask if I'm sick and I have to be like 'No, I'm doing this to protect myself from you!' "
Tourists at the Games this summer will have to balance sensitivity to their Chinese hosts with how they feel about health and personal appearance. "It depends on how 'Michael Jackson' you want to get," says Scott Grody, chief operating officer of Fugazy International Travel/American Express, in Boca Raton, Fla.
But the big mask moment could well be the opening ceremony on Aug. 8.
Mr. Shoemaker, the triathlete who intends to wear his mask at the ceremony, says he might consider taking it off when TV cameras zoom in on the U.S. delegation.
For friends watching at home, he says, "I want to make sure they see the big smile on my face."
--Shai Oster in Beijing contributed to this article.
Write to Christopher Rhoads at and Stephanie Kang at

Modern Water aims to clean up by osmosis

By Alistair Dawber: Monday, 21 July 2008

As the world faces the incontrovertible truth of climate change, so politicians search for ways of protecting sources of water. In the UK, people could be forgiven for wondering why this is such a big issue in a country which is, after all, surrounded by the stuff. The problem, of course, is that sea water is as useful as a chocolate teapot unless the salt is extracted first. Indeed, President Kennedy was once quoted as saying: "If we could ever competitively, at a cheap rate, get fresh water from salt water, this would be in the long-range interests of humanity and would dwarf any other scientific accomplishment."
So, step up Modern Water. The company has commercialised what it calls "manipulated osmosis technology", a useful bit of science developed by the University of Surrey, which, they say, will make the desalination process cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally palatable. Manipulated osmosis technology, for those who have forgotten their high school plant biology lessons, works by sucking salt water through a membrane at low pressure, cutting the costs of the process compared with more traditional methods, which involve very high pressured treatment.
Commercially, Modern Water thinks it is on to a winner. When the group came to AIM last year, it said it would take two years to get its first project off the ground. In fact, its first venture, in Gibraltar, will start producing soon; it is also close to signing a deal in the Middle East.
Some of the statistics on global water usage are startling. Since 1950, the world's population has increased by 200 per cent, but water consumption is up 600 per cent, meaning that a massive 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Modern Water says global spending on securing water sources in the next 10 years will reach $57bn (£28.5bn) and while the group is not yet producing revenues, it is certainly hoping to get its hands on a slice of that particular pie.

'New Deal' to tackle economic and ecology problems

Published Date: 21 July 2008
By andrew woodcock

A PANEL of environmentalists and economic commentators today issued a call for a "Green New Deal" to help Britain respond to the current economic crisis while tackling global warming.
The Green New Deal Group proposed a package of massive investment in renewable energy plus action to rein in financial speculation and provide capital for low-carbon projects.The group – which includes two former directors of Friends of the Earth, a Green MEP and the former head of the Jubilee 2000 anti-debt campaign – released new analysis suggesting that the world has 100 months to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions before hitting a potential point of no return.Some 75 years after US president Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the Green New Deal Group warned that the credit crunch, rising energy prices and climate change were combining to create a threat to stability on a scale not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.They called for a new vision for a low-carbon energy system, a "carbon army" of workers for environmental reconstruction and an Oil Legacy Fund to deal with the effects of climate change and smooth the transition to a low-carbon economy, to be paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas profits. And prices of fossil fuels including gas and coal, and that of petrol, should be increased to reflect their environmental costs. The group also called for large financial institutions to be broken up and for the government to clamp down on corporate tax evasion and introduce tighter regulation to prevent a repeat of the credit crunch and speculative hikes in commodity prices.Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth and a member of the panel, said: "The credit, climate and oil crunches are all individually serious issues, but in combination their impact could be catastrophic for our economy and our way of life."Politicians from across the spectrum should signal their willingness to think differently."

Airlines attack EU aviation emissions levy

Dan Milmo
The Guardian,
Monday July 21, 2008

Imposing an emissions trading scheme on airlines flying through Europe has "no chance" of succeeding and could incite a trade war with the United States, the global trade body for commercial carriers has warned.
Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said that the European parliament's vote to include airlines in a carbon emissions trading scheme from 2012 would trigger a confrontation with non-EU countries. The US has threatened to challenge the scheme in the international court of justice because it would breach international aviation agreements.
"The scheme has no chance. It is difficult to imagine 136 countries agreeing with something that is illegal. Why are we wasting so much time instead of building a global, harmonised emissions trading scheme?" said Bisignani. The scheme would add at least €39.60 (£31.40) to the cost of a long-haul return flight and €9 to a short-haul return trip, according to European commission estimates - forecasts that airlines now say are too low.
Iata claims that acquiring carbon credits in order to enter this scheme would cost the industry $3.5bn (£1.75bn) in 2012 alone - equivalent to two-thirds of the global industry's profits last year. Under the terms of the scheme, all airlines flying to and from the EU will have to acquire carbon credits to account for the emissions generated by their flights.
An EU spokeswoman said the inclusion of airlines in the trading scheme was necessary to create "a level playing field" among carbon-dioxide emitting industries. The airline industry accounts for less than 2% of global emissions. Asked if the EU was confident that the scheme was legal under international law, she said: "We have no indication that the system will not work."
Bisignani said the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN body, should be given more time to draft a global trading scheme. That notion has been attacked by politicians, including the UK transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, who accused ICAO of failing to live up to its leadership role.

Global warming: green campaigners blamed for 4x4 attacks

Neil Hyde
The Observer,
Sunday July 20, 2008

Green campaigners are being blamed for vandalising a number of 4x4 cars in Marston, Oxford, on Thursday night. The owners of six vehicles found that tyres had been let down and warning letters plastered to the windscreens.
'Driving an SUV is an unacceptably selfish act in the face of this global emergency,' the notes state. 'Your destructive vehicle and scores of others across Oxford have been disabled as part of a wider struggle to avert a global emergency.'
A Land Rover Discovery, two Honda CRVs, a Mitsubishi Shogun, a Subaru and a Mitsubishi truck were attacked. 'To target 4x4s is unfair, given the fact that mine has a much smaller engine than bigger cars. But it is nothing more than an irritant,' said Daniel Lea, owner of one of the Hondas.'

Gore asks bloggers for help promoting energy challenge

By Katharine Q. Seelye
Published: July 20, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, was asked a question about energy here at a bloggers conference. She glanced at her BlackBerry, noting that she had an e-mail message from a friend on that very subject.
With that, the voice of former Vice President Al Gore boomed over the public address system, leaving a sea of quizzical looks and then gasps, cheers and a standing ovation as he strode onto the stage.
It produced the first electric moment at the conference, the Netroots Nation, an ever-widening group of progressive bloggers whose major interests - the war in Iraq, the environment and technology - mesh well with Gore's current pursuits. Indeed, many in the crowd who are supporting Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, were overheard saying they wished Gore was running for president.
As waves of cheers washed over the convention center, Gore said to Pelosi, "We ought to take that act on the road."
"We are on the road," she replied.

"Well, I feel right at home here, I'll tell you," he said.
Gore told a questioner that he would not accept a role in the next administration. The best use of his talent and experience, he said, is "to focus on trying to enlarge the political space" within which politicians can address the climate crisis.
"I have seen firsthand how important it is to have a base of support out in the country for the truly bold changes that have to be made now," he said, noting that was why he intended to devote his life to bringing about "a sea change in public opinion."
He repeated the challenge he issued to the country to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and clean, carbon-free sources within 10 years. And he called on the bloggers to help achieve that goal, saying they were on the leading edge of reclaiming democracy for the grass roots.
As the morning began, Pelosi appeared on the stage with Gina Cooper, the moderator and organizer of the conference. The bloggers had submitted questions in advance and voted on them; the first was why Democratic leaders in the House were reluctant to take up impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Pelosi said the House was considering contempt resolutions against Karl Rove, the president's former top adviser.
Asked by Cooper whether, if Rove were found in contempt of Congress, he would be put "in that little jail cell that's in the basement of the House," the audience cheered. Pelosi replied that Representative John Conyers Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had told her, "Leave it up to me."
She was next asked about the wiretapping bill, detested by many progressives. She said the House version was better than the Senate's and blamed Senate Democrats for approving a version that "enabled the Republicans to send that bill to the House."
Cooper, who periodically interceded with pointed comments that were much appreciated by the audience, said later, "It sounds like your colleagues need to get with the program with the American people."
Asked whether Congress should bail out General Motors, Pelosi said: "I don't think that's going to happen," though she wanted to help pensioners and workers.
When Gore addressed the group, he noted first that the polar ice cap, which is about the size of the continental United States and has been in existence for three million years, had a 75-to-80 percent chance of melting in five years.
He also mentioned his energy challenge, which brought another standing ovation. He said he was trying to recruit "an army" of 10 million citizens to build political consensus across party lines for the energy challenge and directed the audience to, the Web site of his group, the Alliance for Climate Protection.
"I need your help," Gore said, a plea that bloggers heard repeatedly throughout their conference, which began Thursday and ended Sunday, as speaker after speaker for various causes took note of their increasing influence within society.
Gore promised them that the alliance would not turn partisan or take up some other agenda and that he was in it "for the long haul."
Pelosi was asked whether Congress would accept Gore's energy challenge. "It is absolutely possible to do so," she said.
She added that without Gore, "there would be no Netroots Nation; we would simply not have the technology."
As a reminder of the flap caused years ago - when he got tagged with having said he had "invented" the Internet, although he had not used that word and had, in fact, helped legislatively to create it - he smiled at Pelosi's comments and said, "I think I'll refrain from saying it."

There's more to the Tories' GEM idea than hot air after all

Ben Bland
Last Updated: 11:31pm BST 20/07/2008

When politicians meddle with markets their interventions are often unwelcome, unwarranted and unhelpful.
So when George Osborne, the Conservative Party Shadow Chancellor, said in March that he wanted to launch a "Green Environmental Market" (GEM), he received a sceptical reception from City financiers and insiders at the London Stock Exchange (as well as this column).
The view from the Square Mile was that, with around 50 clean technology companies already listed on Aim, there was really no need to establish a separate green market.

The key question was whether Mr Osborne and his boss David Cameron were genuinely interested in fostering the development of clean tech companies or had merely conjured up GEM in a bid to snatch a few headlines and boost their flagging green credentials.
While some expected GEM to go the same way as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's suggestion that perpetrators of knife crime visit their victims in hospital (which was confined to the dustbin of failed spin), Mr Osborne may yet prove his critics wrong.
A working group set up by the Tories to discuss their idea has met at least three times since March and is making progress.
"People were sceptical of the initial proposals but there are enough experts on the committee to point the Tories in the right direction and it's looking more encouraging," said one City source.
The committee, which has been organised by Mr Osborne's shadow Treasury team, includes Marcus Stuttard, the LSE's deputy head of Aim, and several other well-established members of the Aim community.
The committee has encouraged the Tories to drop the idea of a separate green market and focus instead on creating a special segment on the LSE's existing markets for clean tech companies.
"What they're looking at now is something that will be more like Techmark [the LSE's main market grouping for technology companies] except that it will offer some tax incentives and will be for both Aim and main market companies," the source explained.
One option the committee is looking at involves bringing in similar tax incentives to those offered to people investing in venture capital trusts, who get income tax relief. However, any changes to the tax provisions are likely to require new legislation and will have to satisfy EU restrictions on state aid. The committee is also grappling with the challenge of how to nail down which companies qualify for inclusion in this green index.
With lucrative tax advantages potentially on offer, companies will be keen to be added to this grouping. Yet there is no clear criteria for defining green companies. While most people think of windfarm operators or fuel cell developers, a number of water companies and waste disposal groups like to describe themselves as "clean tech" businesses.
"It's still a work in progress and the devil will be in the detail but the framework looks quite encouraging," concluded one person close to the committee.

There's more to the Tories' GEM idea than hot air after all

Ben Bland
Last Updated: 11:31pm BST 20/07/2008

When politicians meddle with markets their interventions are often unwelcome, unwarranted and unhelpful.
So when George Osborne, the Conservative Party Shadow Chancellor, said in March that he wanted to launch a "Green Environmental Market" (GEM), he received a sceptical reception from City financiers and insiders at the London Stock Exchange (as well as this column).
The view from the Square Mile was that, with around 50 clean technology companies already listed on Aim, there was really no need to establish a separate green market.

The key question was whether Mr Osborne and his boss David Cameron were genuinely interested in fostering the development of clean tech companies or had merely conjured up GEM in a bid to snatch a few headlines and boost their flagging green credentials.
While some expected GEM to go the same way as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's suggestion that perpetrators of knife crime visit their victims in hospital (which was confined to the dustbin of failed spin), Mr Osborne may yet prove his critics wrong.
A working group set up by the Tories to discuss their idea has met at least three times since March and is making progress.
"People were sceptical of the initial proposals but there are enough experts on the committee to point the Tories in the right direction and it's looking more encouraging," said one City source.
The committee, which has been organised by Mr Osborne's shadow Treasury team, includes Marcus Stuttard, the LSE's deputy head of Aim, and several other well-established members of the Aim community.
The committee has encouraged the Tories to drop the idea of a separate green market and focus instead on creating a special segment on the LSE's existing markets for clean tech companies.
"What they're looking at now is something that will be more like Techmark [the LSE's main market grouping for technology companies] except that it will offer some tax incentives and will be for both Aim and main market companies," the source explained.
One option the committee is looking at involves bringing in similar tax incentives to those offered to people investing in venture capital trusts, who get income tax relief. However, any changes to the tax provisions are likely to require new legislation and will have to satisfy EU restrictions on state aid. The committee is also grappling with the challenge of how to nail down which companies qualify for inclusion in this green index.
With lucrative tax advantages potentially on offer, companies will be keen to be added to this grouping. Yet there is no clear criteria for defining green companies. While most people think of windfarm operators or fuel cell developers, a number of water companies and waste disposal groups like to describe themselves as "clean tech" businesses.
"It's still a work in progress and the devil will be in the detail but the framework looks quite encouraging," concluded one person close to the committee.

Climate Report Cites Role of Cheney's Office

By SIOBHAN HUGHES: July 21, 2008;

WASHINGTON -- Bush administration officials agreed that greenhouse gases could endanger the public and should be regulated under clean-air laws, but later reversed course amid opposition from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the oil industry, a congressional report said.
The report, by the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, offers a look at the breadth of Bush administration support for regulations before such plans abruptly stopped. The report draws heavily on an interview with a former Environmental Protection Agency official who had told Congress that Mr. Cheney's office tried to censor federal testimony on the danger of global warming. It is also based on confidential interviews with EPA staff and documents subpoenaed from the EPA.
"This is the dysfunctions and motivations of the Bush administration laid bare," Chairman Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said in a statement.
The White House rejected the committee's findings. "Chairman Markey's report is inaccurate to the point of being laughable," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
For months, Congress has been investigating a series of decisions by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, including stopping California from regulating motor-vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. Previous congressional reports showed that Mr. Johnson originally sided, at least in part, with EPA staff on several matters, including the idea that greenhouse-gas emissions pose a danger to the public and should be regulated. But the latest report suggests that Mr. Cheney's office came to play a key role in interagency discussions.
Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney's office, disputed the report. "I don't accept their premise," she said. The latest report said the oil industry argued against regulatory action and had the support of Mr. Cheney's office. In the end, the report said, the Bush administration backed off regulation. "Frankly, that's ridiculous," Ms. Mitchell said.
Jason Burnett, a former EPA associate deputy administrator who played a key role in coordinating the agency's climate-change activities, told the House committee that people in Mr. Cheney's office and the White House Office of Management and Budget felt regulations would hurt President George W. Bush's legacy. Mr. Burnett didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
The report said F. Chase Hutto III, Mr. Cheney's energy adviser, argued against new regulations, along with unidentified individuals from Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute. It also said that Mr. Bush's deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez had originally endorsed an EPA finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger public welfare and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Earlier this month, those officials signed a letter saying that the Clean Air Act isn't an appropriate vehicle for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.
Energy Department spokeswoman Angela Hill said that Mr. Bodman "has not reversed course" and that the department considers the Clean Air Act fundamentally ill-suited to effectively regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for Ms. Peters, said that she "was involved in an intellectual process to explore whether the Clean Air Act was an appropriate vehicle for regulating fuel-economy standards. The decision was 'no.' You shouldn't confuse engaging in an intellectual exercise with supporting the idea."
A Commerce Department spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment. American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Karen Matusic said it isn't unusual for the group to meet with federal agencies "on areas of mutual concern," and that it has repeatedly said it doesn't believe the Clean Air Act is appropriate for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said he didn't know who made the company's case, but that "it's not a secret what our views are." He said Exxon believes the Clean Air Act isn't the appropriate way to regulate carbon emissions.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at

Green New Deal group calls for break-up of banks

David Teather
The Guardian,
Monday July 21, 2008

A "Green New Deal" to tackle the triple threats of the credit crunch, high oil prices and climate change has been proposed by a group of experts in finance, energy and the environment.
The proposals call for massive investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs, while also seeking to rein in the "distorting power" of the banking industry. Among the more radical plans, they suggest large banking groups should be forcibly demerged, to lift the threat of the kind of systemic damage that has forced governments to use public money to prop up the likes of Northern Rock.
The group hopes to shift the balance of power by building a new alliance of environmentalists, industry, agriculture and unions to promote the interests of the wider economy, instead of what are described as "footloose" financiers in the City, while ensuring that more low-cost capital is available for pressing priorities.
It is pressing the government for large-scale legislative reform and calls for tighter regulation of the financial services sector, help to finance investment in renewable energy in poorer countries, a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies to create an oil legacy fund, and a clampdown on offshore tax havens.
The members of the Green New Deal group include Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation thinktank; Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth; Charles Secrett, an adviser on sustainable development; Caroline Lucas, a Green party MEP, and Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian. "We need real leadership and vision to get through this, and right now we are not seeing it," said Juniper.

Municipal waste to produce ethanol by 2011

By Ed Crooks, Energy Editor
Published: July 20 2008 22:45

The world’s first commercially produced ethanol from municipal waste will be on sale by early 2011, according to Ineos, the privately-held chemicals group backing the technology.
Ethanol production from waste can avoid problems associated with today’s biofuels, such as competition for food crops and agricultural land. But the quantity of waste available is likely to mean that only a limited proportion of fuel demand can be met by this method.

Ineos hopes to have deals for the first commercial-scale plants producing ethanol from waste signed up “in the next three or four months”, according to Peter Williams, chief executive of its renewables business.
Cities are likely to be the first partners to sign up, although industries that produce high volumes of organic waste are interested.
Ineos has been working with Bioengineering Resources Inc, a biotech company based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which has been developing the process.
BRI has been running a very small demonstration plant, capable of producing about 150,000 litres of ethanol a year in Fayetteville. Ineos believes the process is ready to be scaled up to plants producing about 100,000-150,000 tonnes per year. A tonne of ethanol is roughly 1,250 litres.
The process works by taking organic waste, converting it into a gas and feeding the gases to bacteria that convert them to ethanol.
Several companies are pursuing similar technologies. General Motors is backing Coskata, an Illinois-based company seeking to produce ethanol from organic wastes.
But Ineos expects that its plants will be the first able to use municipal waste as a feedstock when they come on stream, it hopes, in late 2010 or early 2011.
The costs of the process “stack up very well, and are cost competitive against any other approach to producing ethanol,” Mr Williams said. Two studies have suggested it saves 90 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by conventional petrol.
The logistics of securing waste to produce large volumes of fuel are challenging. It takes one dry tonne of organic waste to produce 400 litres of ethanol, Ineos says.
The European Union creates about 65m tonnes of organic municipal waste a year; enough to produce about 12m tonnes of ethanol.
The EU’s target is to get to 10 per cent of its road fuel coming from biofuels by 2020. The market for petrol, which can be substituted by ethanol, is about 100m tonnes a year, suggesting a demand for ethanol of 10m tonnes per year, up from the 3m tonnes supplied today.
That implies that, relying on the Ineos process alone, more than half of all the EU’s organic municipal waste would have to be used for fuel to meet the target.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

GT Solar a Bellwether for 'Green' IPOs

Machine Producer Could Give a Boost To Eco-Offerings
By LYNN COWANJuly 21, 2008;

Investment bankers have been forecasting sunny skies for clean-energy IPOs for months, and this week their optimism will be tested out on the planned debut of GT Solar International Inc., a supplier of solar-cell equipment.

The New Hampshire-based company, which aims to sell $530 million in stock on Nasdaq for its private-equity owners, doesn't actually make solar cells; it makes machines that can create polysilicon, melt it and cast it for photovoltaic uses.
Demand for its equipment has skyrocketed in the last two years as solar-cell makers have ramped up production, with revenue quadrupling to $244 million in the fiscal year that ended March 31, and net income rising to $36 million compared with a net loss of $18 million in 2007.
"A hot solar market for them is like a gold rush: The miners might not know for sure whether there is gold in the hills, but it sure is good to be the company selling picks and shovels to them," said Rick Hanna, a stock analyst at Morningstar. "That's what GT Solar is: They sell the equipment that solar manufacturers need."
Although bankers and analysts are predicting that alternative energy and other "green" companies are ripe for initial public offerings, the stock market's recent poor performance is making it difficult to get deals done, and the alternative-energy sector is in rough shape.
The WilderHill Clean Energy Index is down 31% for the year, underperforming major market indexes. All four solar companies that went public in the U.S. last year have declined between 38% and 59% from their peaks, although three of the four remain above their IPO prices.
"Solar stocks went sky-high and for the most part, most all came way back," said Scott Sweet, managing director of research firm, who expects strong demand for GT Solar's IPO because of its position as an equipment supplier. "There have been loads of solar stocks that have come public, but this is the first U.S. IPO for a company that makes the capital equipment that wafer- and solar-module makers need."
About 97% of GT Solar's fiscal 2008 revenue came from customers in China, which is a major growth area for solar manufacturing due to lower operating costs.

Write to Lynn Cowan at

Ministers embrace electric car revolution

A transport gear change could see vehicles given away free, with revenue made from selling motorists contracts to supply power
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 20 July 2008

Gordon Brown is to launch the biggest revolution in the way Britons drive since the development of the internal combustion engine. He will meet manufacturers this week to try to persuade them to mass-produce electric cars, and is considering a remarkable plan to sell the cars cheap, together with their fuel, that is modelled on mobile-phone contracts.
The scheme, which has already been taken up by Israel and Denmark, would sell heavily subsidised vehicles – or even give them away – in return for contracts to buy the electricity to charge them. Its inventor, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, believes it will at least halve the cost of motoring while dramatically reducing one of the main sources of the pollution that causes global warming.
The Prime Minister – who will reveal some of his thinking at the Motor Show this week – wants all new cars sold in Britain to be electric or hybrid vehicles by 2020, and is trying to enlist leaders of the motor industry because he wants "to see those cars manufactured in Britain".
He also wants to "incentivise" the rapid changeover to electric vehicles in Britain, and so is studying the mould-breaking scheme being promoted by the 38-year-old entrepreneur, Shai Agassi, backed by $200m (£100m) of venture capital. Under the scheme – the most advanced of several proposals the Government is considering – motorists would be provided with cars just as mobile-phone customers now get their handsets. In return, they would take out a contract for a maximum number of miles.
The contract would entitle them to receive the electricity, either by plugging into any one of hundreds of thousands of recharge points across the country, or by exchanging flat batteries for fully charged ones. At present, the cars' range is likely to be only about 100 miles between recharges, which would take about two hours, so, on longer journeys, motorists would pop into filling stations for a three-minute battery exchange.
However, the plan will only help to fight climate change if the electricity comes not from fossil fuels, but from nuclear or renewable energy.

Cars to run on fuel from household waste in two years

CARS run on fuel made from household waste could be on the streets within two years, it was announced yesterday.

INEOS, the world's third largest chemical company, said it aimed to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from biodegradable municipal waste by 2011.Peter Williams, chief executive officer of INEOS Bio, the part of the firm which makes bioethanol fuel, said: "Our technology will make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gases and the world's need for fossil fuels."This is a very robust and flexible process, and we have everything we need now to take it to a commercial level."This is very attractive from the perspective of the food versus fuel debate, as it takes fuel production away from corn."The process produces ethanol by mixing a biological catalyst with carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which are produced by burning the biodegradable waste.

Rubbish idea that could make driving cheaper

A British company may have the answer to soaring petrol prices after it claimed yesterday to have become the first to have found a way to make fuel from rubbish.
Ineos, the chemicals company, said that it had patented a method of producing fuel from municipal solid waste, agricultural waste and organic commercial waste.
The company claims that it can produce about 400 litres (90 gallons) of ethanol from one tonne of dry waste. The new process works by heating the waste to produce gases, then feeding the gases to bacteria, which produce ethanol that can be purified into a fuel.
Ineos plans to sell the environmental product in industrial quantities by the end of 2010. Peter Williams, the chief executive of Ineos Bio, said: “This should mean that, unlike with other biofuels, we won’t have to make the choice between food and fuel.”
The development of fuel from waste could be a relief for motorists who have watched pump prices soar in the past year to an average of 133.3p per litre of diesel.
The bioethanol that Ineos produces will have to be combined with a fossil fuel, however, because very few cars in Britain can run solely on bioethanol. Ineos has a large traditional refinery business. It owns the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, where a strike resulted in petrol shortages this year.
Cars that run on bioethanol have been made in Brazil, where a comprehensive biofuels industry is based on sugar cane.
Biofuels have been backed by governments as one of the key ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The EU aims to get 10 per cent of its road transport fuel from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020.
Present methods of producing biofuels from crops have been criticised for causing high food prices by taking up land that would have been used to grow food. Although bioethanol production releases a lower volume of greenhouse gases than petrol, critics say that it has encouraged deforestation.
The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said this month that it believed that current biofuel production in North America and the European Union did little to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Ineos is talking to authorities in the United States, Canada and Europe about selling the fuel when it is made on an industrial scale. The company began research into the biochemical process nearly 20 years ago in Arkansas, in the US. A pilot plant was built and researchers have been working with a variety of waste materials since 2003. Mr Williams said that the company would soon announce the location of its first commercial plant.
“We will aim to quickly roll out technology around the world. We plan to be producing commercial amounts of bioethanol fuel for cars from waste within about two years,” he said.
He added that he expected at least 10 per cent of North America and Europe’s petrol use to be replaced with bioethanol, adding that because it released up to 90 per cent less greenhouse gases than petrol, the company’s technology “will make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gases and the world’s need for fossil fuels”.
The announcement was welcomed by the National Non Food Crops Centre in York, the UK’s home for the development of renewable fuels.
Geraint Evans, one of its managers, said: “This is a breakthrough in two areas. Technologically because we can use municipal solid waste. And commercially because we have the potential to produce large amounts of bioethanol viably across the world.”
The OECD estimates that as much as 14 per cent of the crop land in the EU, the US and Canada will be used to grow plants for biofuels by 2017, up from about 8 per cent last year. This could push the prices for some crops up by 19 per cent.

Former GM CEO Stempel On the Future of Electric Cars

Almost 20 Years After He Approved the EV1 The Same Major Snag Remains: Batteries

July 21, 2008

One of the Big Ideas that's gotten a boost from the recent oil price shock is the notion that the energy for transportation should come from the electric grid, not an oil well in the Middle East.
A number of big, established car makers have announced plans to produce cars that will pull from the electric grid all or part of the energy needed to make them go. They join a flock of upstart companies, such as Tesla Motors, trying to prosper by defining a new generation of mobility technology starting with a blank sheet of paper – or rather a blank video display screen.
Associated Press
Former General Motors Chairman Robert Stempel, 64, left, former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, 73, center, and Stanford Ovshinsky, president of Energy Conversion Devices pose in 1998 next to an electric bicycle the men were developing.
For everyone excited about electrifying the morning commute, Robert C. Stempel, the former chairman and chief executive officer of General Motors Corp., has a few sobering words.
Mr. Stempel believes in the idea of electric-drive cars – he uses the term "electric drive" to encompass both all-electric systems and plug-in hybrids. He gave the greenlight to development of GM's EV1, the first electric car to be offered by a mainstream car maker since the early years of the 20th Century. After he was pushed out of GM by a boardroom coup during the auto maker's last big financial crisis in 1992, Mr. Stempel continued to devote himself to the electric car idea. He spent more than a decade as chairman of U.S. battery maker Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. before leaving the company last year.
At both GM and at Energy Conversion Devices, Mr. Stempel's efforts to make a profitable business out of electric vehicles hit numerous potholes. GM has taken flak for killing the EV1. Mr. Stempel, who was long gone when the plug was pulled, says there was no subterfuge involved.

"The business side of the case wasn't there. The EV1 was too expensive…We were way off the cost target," he says.
Mr. Stempel, now a consultant with an office in suburban Detroit, says the obstacle to mass production of electric vehicles is the same issue as it was "when Mr. Edison told Mr. Ford that in a year he'd have a battery for his car. The weak link is the battery."
Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries have proven reliable, he says. "It doesn't do anything naughty, like burn up," he says. But NiMH batteries don't have the range to be competitive with conventional cars.
Lithium-ion battery technology, similar to that used in laptop computers, offers better range from smaller, lighter packages. But lithium-ion batteries do have a propensity to be naughty. The Tesla Roadster uses lithium-ion batteries similar to those used in laptops. Tesla's important technology idea isn't the commodity batteries. It's the systems Tesla engineers designed to assure they stay cool and under control.
Associated Press
GM's EV1
Piling thousands of laptop batteries into a car creates "a control nightmare," Mr. Stempel worries.
Then there's the issue of cost.
"Look at what happened to the cost of nickel," says Mr. Stempel. "The price of nickel has gone off the charts." A lot of the commodities used in batteries have gotten expensive in the recent commodity price boom, he says.
None of this necessarily means the auto industry should once again give up on electric-drive cars. When it comes to reducing the economy's dependence on oil, the amount Americans burn up in cars isn't one issue. It is THE issue. But consumers need to take the latest flurry of press releases touting forthcoming electric-drive vehicle models with a few grains of salt.
The petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine has dominated automotive transportation for a century for a good reason: On the basis of power per dollar, it's more cost effective than the competition. Depending on how strictly one controls the emissions, Mr. Stempel says, a gasoline fueled car can be five to ten times more efficient on a dollars per horsepower basis than an electric car.
The challenges confronting the drive to electrify automobiles point to a big question underlying the current energy debate in America: How much faith should we have in technology to bail us out?

Forget Democrats vs. Republicans. When it comes to the future of cars, it's Technologists vs. Skeptics. Technologists believe that innovations in battery technology, hydrogen storage, cellulosic ethanol production, water-to-hydrogen systems, and lightweight vehicle design are right around the corner – thanks in part to the digital revolution of the late 20th Century.
Technologists acknowledge the cost hurdles confronting alternatives to oil, but insist they will be overcome just as they were for the personal computer.
Skeptics believe that the technology to substantially displace oil-fired mobility will take years, maybe decades to develop to commercial scale at reasonable costs.
They also question who will come up with the billions in research and development capital to make cars like the Chevrolet Volt or the next generation of Tesla cars vehicles that ordinary people can afford. That's particularly relevant when it comes to Detroit's Three struggling car makers – who inconveniently tend to run out of money in the middle of the oil price shocks that refocus their minds on alternatives to oil. GM last week announced it's slashing its capital spending budget to ride out the cash crisis caused by the collapse in sales of its fuel-thirstiest trucks.
The only thing worse than the current situation, would be a sudden collapse in the price of oil. In the absence of incentives to pay the price for new technology, consumers could strand expensive electric vehicles on dealer lots.
"I'm glad I am not an automotive CEO right now," says Mr. Stempel. "I thought I had problems."
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Wind, wave and tide can make country world giant in green energy

Published Date: 21 July 2008
By Jenny Haworth
Environment Correspondent

SCOTLAND has the potential to be to the renewable energy world what Saudi Arabia is to oil, an international conference will hear today.
Professor Ali Sayigh, chairman of the World Renewable Energy Congress, thinks Scotland could lead the world in the research and development of renewable energy sources.Alex Salmond, the First Minister, will tell the same conference that Scotland is on track not just to reach its renewable energy targets but to beat them.Speaking to The Scotsman ahead of the conference, which is taking place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow all week, Dr Sayigh said: "The Scottish Government wants to be the Saudi Arabia equivalent of renewable energy in the world. They can be that. "With the wind and wave and solar in Scotland, they could be leading in Europe."He said Scotland's position globally in this field was one reason why Mr Salmond was invited to make one of the opening speeches at the congress.And he thinks it will be by harnessing the potential of wave, tidal and wind power that Scotland, and the rest of the UK, can "carve a niche" in the renewables sector. As well as ambitious plans for renewable energy, the Scottish Government has set itself tougher emissions targets than any other country in the world. At least 31 per cent of its electricity demand will be generated from renewable sources such as wind and wave power by 2011, and at least 50 per cent by 2020.In the Scottish Climate Change Bill later this year it will pledge to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.Mr Salmond is expected to tell delegates that the country is on course to go further than these targets.At one of the opening speeches at the conference, the First Minister will say: "I am delighted to tell you today that we are not only on course to reach these ambitious targets but to exceed them."There is almost three gigawatts of installed renewable energy capacity in Scotland, mainly in the form of hydropower and wind energy, and almost another gigawatt that has been approved but is yet to be built.This means Scotland is more than two-thirds of the way towards meeting the target of 31 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2011 – which would require an estimated five gigawatts. And with planning applications lodged, or expected to be lodged soon, for seven gigawatts more, Scotland is well on track to meet its ambitions.Mr Salmond thinks Scotland has about a quarter of Europe's tidal and offshore capacity, and 10 per cent of its potential in wave power, as well as opportunities in hydro-power, onshore wind, biomass and solar power."Scotland has vast potential in renewable energy, unrivalled in Europe," he will say."All in all, we have the potential to generate more than 60 gigawatts from renewables – enough to meet Scotland's peak electricity demand more than ten times over. "So it's fair to say that Scotland has won the natural lottery for a second time."My government is working in partnership with business and academia to develop and commercialise key technologies, to ensure that Scotland has a truly world-leading renewable energy sector."He said in order for the country to harness its renewable energy potential, it will need to have the necessary infrastructure in place. He hopes Scotland will be able to share its technology and expertise in renewables, to help the EU meet its targets of generating 20 per cent of energy from renewable energy by 2020. The tenth World Renewable Energy Congress, taking place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, is expected to attract hundreds of delegates from all over the world.Subjects scheduled to be covered at the week-long conference, include renewable energy technologies from small scale solar panels in Africa to wave machines in the North Sea, energy policy, low energy architecture, and the social and gender issues of investing in appropriate renewable technologies in developing economies.Climate at threat from 'carbon bomb' if wetlands are destroyedTHE world's wetlands – threatened by development, dehydration and climate change – could release a planet-warming "carbon bomb" if they are destroyed, ecological scientists said yesterday.Wetlands contain 771 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, one-fifth of all the carbon on Earth and about the same amount as is now in the atmosphere, the scientists said before an international conference linking wetlands and global warming.If all the wetlands on the planet released the carbon they hold, it would contribute powerfully to the climate-warming greenhouse effect, said Paulo Teixeira, co-ordinator of the Pantanal Regional Environment Programme in Brazil."We could call it the carbon bomb," Mr Teixeira said. "It's a very tricky situation."Some 700 scientists from 28 nations are meeting this week at the International Wetlands Conference at the edge of Brazil's vast Pantanal wetland to look for ways to protect these endangered areas.Wetlands are not just swamps; they also include marshes, peat bogs, river deltas, mangroves, tundra, lagoons and river flood plains.Together they account for 6 per cent of the Earth's land surface and store 20 per cent of its carbon. They also produce 25 per cent of the world's food, purify water, recharge aquifers and act as buffers against violent coastal storms.Historically, wetlands have been regarded as an impediment to civilisation. About 60 per cent of wetlands worldwide have been destroyed in the past century, mostly due to draining for agriculture. Pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction add to the destruction."Too often in the past, people have unwittingly considered wetlands to be problems in need of a solution, yet wetlands are essential to the planet's health," said Konrad Osterwalder, UN Under Secretary-General and rector of United Nations University, one of the hosts of the meeting.

Wind farms to power North-east manufacturing renaissance

By Sarah ArnottMonday, 21 July 2008

Expansion of the world's off-shore wind power industry could create up to 30,000 manufacturing jobs in the North-east and bring in £3bn of investment, the Government's Energy Minister will say today.
Malcolm Wicks is in Gates-head and Northumberland to open the site where the world's largest wind turbine – a mammoth 7.5 megawatt installation that will stand 10 times higher than the Angel of the North – is to be developed at the region's New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) by Clipper Wind, the Californian energy giant.
"The North-east already has a wealth of skills and experience in the manufacturing sector to diversify in to the green energy market," Mr Wicks said. "NaREC is setting a fantastic example and I hope many other manufacturing companies will recognise the opportunities a shift to a low-carbon economy will create."
The region has already been busy. The NaREC facilities at Blyth, built with more than £30m of regional and European development funding, opened in 2002 with an eye on the nascent global market for sustainable energy technologies. Clipper Wind is using the centre's engineering expertise and test facilities to support its $65m (£33m) "Britannia Project" scheme.
The potential in the renewable power industry is vast. The International Energy Agency estimates that, in order to meet scientists' current target for carbon emissions to be halved by 2050, some 17 per cent of all worldwide electricity generation will need to come from wind.
Last year, the market for turbines alone was worth some €25bn (£20bn) worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Clipper Wind's UK investment, and the NaREC facility, hope to make the most of plans for 15 per cent of UK energy to come from renewables, in line with European targets. The Government estimates that another 3,000 turbines will be needed and last month launched the licensing round for coastal sites that could provide around a third of the country's electricity generation.
Margaret Fay, the chairman of One NorthEast, which helped fund NaREC, said: "We are well placed to spearhead the UK's development of off-shore wind farms. The region has the skills in the off-shore sector, the ready-made sites along the rivers for companies to utilise and public sector research and devel-opment support to turn the region into a European hub for the fabrication, assembly and delivery of off-shore windturbines."
But it is not all plain sailing. Royal Dutch Shell sold its stake in the proposed 1,000 megawatt London Array – which will be the world's largest off-shore farm – to consortium partners Dong Energy and Eon last week. The oil major's decision to pull out of the Thames Estuary scheme was blamed on the extra costs of building off-shore, which can add up to 50 per cent to construction costs.
Shell will instead concentrate on the US on-shore market, which grew by around $3bn in the first quarter of 2008 and has expanded it generating capacity by 45 per cent in the last year.

Texas approves a $4.93 billion wind-power project

By Kate Galbraith
Published: July 20, 2008

Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project, providing a major lift to the development of wind energy in the state.
The planned web of transmission lines will carry electricity from remote western parts of the state to major population centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.
The project will ease a bottleneck that has become a major obstacle to development of the wind-rich Texas Panhandle and other areas suitable for wind generation.
Texas is already the largest producer of wind power, with 5,300 installed megawatts — more than double the installed capacity of California, the next closest state. And Texas is fast expanding its capacity.
"This project will almost put Texas ahead of Germany in installed wind," said Greg Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium.

Transmission companies will pay the upfront costs of the project. They will recoup the money from power users, at a rate of about $4 a month for residential customers.
Details of the plan will be completed by Aug. 15, according to Damon Withrow, director of government relations at the Public Utility Commission, which voted 2 to 1 to go ahead with the transmission plan. The lines will not be fully constructed until 2013.
Wind developers reacted favorably.
"The lack of transmission has been a fundamental issue in Texas, and it's becoming more and more of an issue elsewhere," said Vanessa Kellogg, the Southwest regional development director for Horizon Wind Energy, which operates the Lone Star Wind Farm in West Texas and has more wind generation under development. "This is a great step in the right direction."
Kellogg said that the project would be a boon for Texas power customers, whose electricity costs have risen in conjunction with soaring natural gas prices across the state. "There's nothing volatile about the wind in terms of the price, because it's free," she said.
The Texas office of the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen also lauded the news.
"We think it's going to lower costs, lower pollution and create jobs. We think that for every $3 invested, we'll probably see about an $8 reduction in electric costs," said Tom Smith, the state director.
The transmission problem is so acute in Texas that turbines are sometimes shut off even when the wind is blowing.
"When the amount of generation exceeds the export capacity, you have to start turning off wind generators" to keep things in balance, said Hunter Armistead, head of the renewable energy division in North America at Babcock & Brown, a large wind developer and transmission provider. "We've reached that point in West Texas."
Jay Rosser, a spokesman for Boone Pickens, the legendary Texas oilman who plans to build what has been called the world's largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, welcomed the announcement.
But because about a quarter of the Pickens project capacity will come online by 2011, two years before the Texas lines are fully ready, "we will move forward with plans to build our own transmission," he said.
Lack of transmission is a severe problem in a number of states that, like Texas, want to develop their wind resources. Wind now accounts for 1 percent of the nation's electricity generation but could rise to 20 percent by 2030, according to a recent Department of Energy report, if transmission lines are built and other challenges met.
But other states may find the Texas model difficult to emulate. The state is unique in having its own electricity grid. All other states fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to any transmission proposals.
The exact route of the transmission lines has yet to be determined because the state has not yet acquired right-of-way, according to Withrow of the utility commission.
The project will almost certainly face concerns from landowners reluctant to have wires cutting across their property. "I would anticipate that some of these companies will have to use eminent domain," he said, speaking of the companies that will be building the transmission lines.