Friday, 14 November 2008

UK Coal fired up to bring clean energy out of the collieries

Terry Macalister

The Guardian, Friday November 14 2008

More than a dozen of the UK's former coal mining sites are to be redeveloped as wind farms under a scheme to turn old energy into new.
UK Coal, once the main part of the National Coal Board, has announced a joint venture with Peel Energy that would see 14 former colliery locations used to erect 54 turbines generating up to 133 megawatts of electricity per hour, enough to power 80,000 homes.
Shares in UK Coal raced forward 10% in early trading yesterday as the City welcomed the initiative but later fell back along with the rest of the market.
"We believe there is significant opportunity to develop wind farms on parts of our land portfolio," said Jon Lloyd, the chief executive of UK Coal.
"By allying with Peel Energy, we are joining forces with one of the UK's most active and knowledgeable wind power companies."
The company, which has already moved into renewables through the harnessing of methane gas for power, said that it hoped to have submissions for planning permission for some of the 14 sites ready within three months.
Peel Energy already boasts an onshore wind portfolio in excess of 450MW and is involved in England's largest scheme, at Scout Moor in Lancashire, with 26 turbines. The company, whose parent group owns a large stake in UK Coal and operates ports around Britain, is developing Royal Seaforth Dock wind farm in Liverpool and has submitted a planning application for the Port of Sheerness wind farm.
Peel and UK Coal intend to create special-purpose vehicles owned 50/50 between them to develop former colliery sites for wind schemes. The coal mining group could grant the joint venture an option for a 30-year lease on the land.
"This agreement [with UK Coal] is an important step forward for Peel Energy significantly expanding its onshore pipeline and gaining access to some of the UK's best wind farm locations," said Steven Underwood, director of Peel Energy.
Chris Millington, an analyst at the stockbroker Numis Securities, described the deal as "pretty good", saying Peel would bring expertise and capital to UK Coal's innovative wind farm activities.
UK Coal owns 46,500 acres of land and has identified more than 3,500 of it for new development. It still operates six active surface mines, with an annual output in excess of 1.5 million tonnes.

Boeing to test biofuel on Air New Zealand flight

Aviation company to test biofuel next month using oil from jatropha trees
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday November 13 2008 15.30 GMT

Workers at a jatropha nursery in Dimbokro, Ivory Coast. Photographer: Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty
Boeing and Air New Zealand will fly a jumbo jet powered partly by biofuel next month, the two companies announced today.
An Air New Zealand jet will leave Auckland on December 3 with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and oil from jatropha trees, in one of its four engines on a flight designed to show that jatropha biofuel is suitable for use in aviation as well as economical to produce .
"This flight strongly supports our efforts to be the world's most environmentally responsible airline," said Rob Fyfe, chief executive of Air New Zealand. "Introducing a new generation of sustainable fuels is the next logical step in our efforts to further save fuel and reduce aircraft emissions."
The jatropha nuts, which contain 40% oil, were harvested from trees in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.
Friends of the Earth's biofuels campaigner, Kenneth Richter, welcomed the move to get the aviation industry to reduce the environmental footprint of its planes, but he raised concerns about the impact of biofuels. "Even jatropha is being linked to food price rises and habitat destruction. Current rates of growth in air travel mean it is not enough to switch to biofuels."
Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace UK's climate change campaign, said: "We need a dose of realism here, because this test flight does not mean an end to the use of kerosene in jet engines. The amount of jatropha that would be needed to power the world's entire aviation sector cannot be produced in anything like a sustainable way, and even if large volumes could be grown, planes are an incredibly wasteful way of using it."
Boeing said their trees were grown on marginal land not required for food in India and south-east Africa.
Billy Glover, Boeing's managing director of environmental strategy, said that to prepare for the test flight, his team had tried to source biofuel reliably and economically for commercial aviation.
"The processing technology exists today, and based on results we've seen, it's highly encouraging that this fuel not only met but exceeded three key criteria for the next generation of jet fuel: higher than expected jet fuel yields, very low freeze point and good energy density. That tells us we're on the right path to certification and commercial availability."
Air travel contributes up to 5.5% of UK carbon dioxide emissions and the search for a greener alternative to kerosene jet fuel has been fraught with difficulty. Airlines cannot use standard biofuels such as ethanol because this would freeze at high altitude. Testing for the Air New Zealand flight showed that the jatropha-based biofuel was more suitable for flying since it froze at -47C and burned at 38C.
Chris Lewis, a fuels specialist at Rolls-Royce, which tested the jatropha biofuel, said: "The blended fuel meets the essential requirement of being a drop-in fuel, meaning its properties will be virtually indistinguishable from conventional fuel which is used in commercial aviation today."
Last month, Darrin Morgan, an environmental expert at Boeing, said biofuel-powered aircraft could be carrying millions of passengers around the world within three years, much sooner than most experts thought.
The Air New Zeland plane is not the first to use biofuels. In February, Virgin Atlantic successfuly tried a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel (made from coconut oil and babassu palm oil) in one engine of a Boeing 747 on a flight between London and Amsterdam.
Oakley said that technological advances in jet engines could only make a difference if there was a limit to the "massive expansion of the airline industry around the world."
"If Boeing were really serious about reducing their impact on the environment they would end their vocal support for a third runway at Heathrow and put some of their billions into high-speed rail technology instead," he said.

Renewable energy may end up scarred, but stronger

The Associated Press
Published: November 13, 2008

DENVER: Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens put his massive wind farm plans on hold in Texas. A Maryland solar plant project has been scrapped. And the second-largest U.S. ethanol company is under bankruptcy protection.
The alternative energy sector has run smack into a credit crisis, probably a recession as well, and almost all industry experts think the fourth quarter is going to be worse.
Yet many believe it could emerge from the economic turmoil scarred but stronger. The International Energy Agency in Paris this week predicting green energy will be the second largest source of global electricity generation before 2015.
"We're in a moment now where people are taking a deep breath and really challenging their business models and really making sure that they'll be able to sort of weather the storm," said Joseph Muscat, Ernst & Young's Americas director of cleantech and venture capital.
"I think we need confidence to return to the overall markets. People have to get a perspective on what will this recession look like," he said.

Until September, cleaner technology was on a roll, collecting some $3.3 billion in venture capital investment during the first nine months compared with $2.6 billion for all of 2007, Muscat said.
Globally, venture capital and private equity investment was $5.8 billion in the second quarter that tumbled 24 percent in the third quarter as the global economy hit the brakes, according to London-based New Energy Finance, a research firm.
When the downturn hit, the credit markets froze up and prices plummeted for oil, coal and natural gas. Retail gasoline prices have fallen nearly 32 percent in past last month and now are below $2 a gallon in several states.
The reality today is that it's more expensive to produce renewable energy than it is from traditional resources, and consumers suddenly strapped for cash will start moving away, said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at Cato Institute.
Even proponents are slowing the move toward alternative energy, at least for the moment.
Pickens has delayed a plan to develop a wind farm on thousands of acres in west Texas, citing the drop in natural gas prices. He even trimmed about $10 million from a renewable energy campaign he started to promote wind and natural gas.
Last month, BP Solar scrapped plans for a $97 million expansion of its Frederick, Maryland, plant citing intense global competition.
And, China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. said it has no plans to boost its manufacturing capacity once it reaches 600 megawatts next year.
Taylor said renewable energy makes economic sense only if it does not need government subsidies. Without it, he said, the renewables can't compete.
Yet, energy experts are still banking on a future for renewables.
The International Energy Agency expects the technology to overtake natural gas to become the second-largest source of electricity by 2015.
In a forecast released this week, it based the forecast on an assumption that fossil-fuel prices will climb, costs will fall for renewable technology and supporting government policy.
"Excluding biomass, non-hydro renewable energy sources — Wind, solar, geothermal, tide and wave energy — together grow faster than any other source worldwide, at an average rate of 7.2 percent per year over the projection period," the agency said.
Renewable energy trade associations for solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower said Thursday there are a wide range of potential investors such as pension funds and non-profit organizations that would invest if Congress tweaks tax and production credits to make them refundable.
"It's just that the economics are just not there with respect to financing. If you free that up, you'll see record growth for solar in particular in the United States in 2009," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
There are two key issues for the cleaner technology industry: finding new sources and managing energy use, Muscat said.
Going forward, he expects builders to include energy-efficient products that don't cost too much more but will help reduce energy costs. Consumers will start smaller, perhaps with LED lights, fuel cells for electricity generation and even blended petroleum products, he said.
The recovery, he speculated, could be just one quarter or could take longer
"We are at a very unique moment where I think with a new administration ... one of their top priorities is a comprehensive strategy," he said. "I think we'll see all of those elements of electricity generation solar, hydro, wind all of those being a part of the solution."

Crisis hits Chinese maker of solar cells

Bloomberg News, Reuters
Published: November 13, 2008

NEW YORK: A Chinese solar cell maker, JA Solar Holdings, said the global economic slump had brought "panic" in the solar market, prompting it to cut its sales forecasts and sending its shares down nearly 30 percent, to a record low.
JA Solar's American depositary receipts dropped 96 cents, or 29 percent, to $2.38 in trading Wednesday on the Nasdaq composite index. They have fallen 90 percent this year to the lowest level since a share sale at $5 in 2007.
Sales of solar cells and panels have risen sharply in recent quarters as companies like JA Solar have increased production. But the global economic slowdown has since caused that growth to slow, leading to a supply glut.
"At this moment the market reaction has been panic," Samuel Yang, chief executive of JA Solar, said in a conference call Wednesday.
The company, which posted a quarterly loss from its ties to the defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers, said it had cut back on the output of solar cells and would seek to renegotiate its polysilicon supply contracts.
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That effort to cut costs for polysilicon, the key material in its cells, was an attempt to offset an expected 20 percent price decline in the average selling prices of its products.
"Just recently the euro depreciated dramatically, more than 23 percent. So we have to adjust our ASP to support our customers," Yang said, referring to average selling price. Europe is the largest market for photovoltaic solar equipment because of the subsidy programs set up by the German and Spanish governments.
"We do not believe in the 'disaster scenario' implied by the stock's sharp drop during today's session," Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James, said in a client note, noting that the stock was trading nearly 40 percent below its book value. "JA Solar's low cost structure and healthy balance sheet place it in a strong competitive position."
JA Solar said that it would seek a 20 percent discount in the price it pays its suppliers for polysilicon in 2009, and that it had already won price concessions for 2008. The company will seek to push its contracted costs for silicon below the spot market price of $200 to $220 per kilogram, or $90 to $100 per pound.
The company cut its 2008 revenue forecast to between $849.5 million and $878.9 million from the $1.05 billion to $1.17 billion it had forecast in October, and said its earnings per share would be near break-even.
It also cut its 2009 revenue forecast to $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion from the previously issued $2.0 billion to $2.2 billion.
Fourth-quarter growth margins will drop to 5 to 7 percent, the company said, from 21.6 percent in the third quarter and 23.3 percent in the second quarter.
JA Solar said it lost a net $21.0 million in the third quarter. In the same quarter a year ago it earned $24.4 million.
It posted a one-time loss of $100 million in investments it made with Lehman, a $7.3 million loss from the derivatives deals with the bank and a 1.1 million share dilution based on shares lent to the collapsed investment bank.

VeraSun forecasts drastically higher 3Q loss

The Associated Press
Published: November 13, 2008

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota: Ethanol producer VeraSun Energy Corp. said it expects to report a third-quarter net loss of about $464 million — more than four times the number quoted in an earlier announcement that accelerated the company's fall into bankruptcy protection.
Verasun also said it was unable to report quarterly earnings this past Monday as scheduled because of "extraordinary and critical demands" of the bankruptcy filing.
The second largest U.S. producer, with about 13 percent of the nation's ethanol capacity, filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago citing volatile corn prices and bad bets on corn futures.
In mid-September, the company had estimated a quarterly loss of $63 million to $103 million. VeraSun earned a profit of $7.8 million in the third quarter of 2007.
VeraSun in a Wednesday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said that its quarterly earnings would be filed by Nov. 17.

The company said it expects to report a third-quarter gross loss — net sales less the cost of goods sold — of $206.7 million. VeraSun expects to report "a substantial operating loss" for the quarter of as much as $637 million, it said in the filing.
The company expects third-quarter revenue of $1.08 billion, up from $221.9 million during the year-ago period, on increased ethanol sales at higher prices.
VeraSun, founded in 2001, went public in June 2006 amid perfect market conditions. Corn was cheap, gas cost a bundle and refiners were clamoring for more ethanol to use as a cleaner-burning alternative to the additive MTBE.
But skyrocketing corn costs began cutting into ethanol producers' profits, and many tried to use hedging to control costs. Hedging sets future prices for corn sellers while helping buyers avoid the risk of volatile price swings by letting them lock in at a set cost.
After VeraSun locked into prices for its feedstock for the third quarter, corn went into a sharp decline from almost $8 per bushel to less than $5 per bushel in mid-August.
The company in mid-September tried to raise $20 million in a public offering, but later scrapped that plan and retained Morgan Stanley to help it evaluate "strategic alternatives" involving anything from a buyout to a partial sale of assets.
Trading of the company's shares on the New York Stock Exchange was suspended on Nov. 3.

Obama's message to the world: we will act quickly on climate change

• It's going to be busy 2009, says president-elect's aide• Judges reject ban on navy exercises to protect sealife
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington, Thursday November 13 2008 00.01 GMT
The Guardian, Thursday November 13 2008

Barack Obama is sending Madeleine Albright to the G20 summit in Washington. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP
Barack Obama, who has spent much of the time since his election closeted with his advisers in Chicago, sent a strong signal yesterday that he plans a decisive break with George Bush on environmental policy once he moves into the White House.
The move was part of a carefully coded series of messages from Obama meant to reassure America and the world about the shape of his administration, which does not assume power until January 20.
Also yesterday, Obama appointed Madeleine Albright, who served as Bill Clinton's secretary of state, and Jim Leach, a former Republican member of Congress from Iowa who endorsed his campaign, to meet international delegations visiting Washington for the G20 summit at the weekend. Obama will not attend the summit, and aides have repeatedly noted that Bush remains president until January 20.
But while Obama and Joe Biden, the vice president-elect, have been elusive since the election, the Democrat has delivered a number of messages intended to heighten anticipation of changes to come.
In one such signal the president-elect sent Jason Grumet, a policy adviser mentioned for a possible energy post, to an environmental conference in Washington to offer reassurances that there would be swift movement on climate change legislation. "The whole transition team felt it important to be here," Grumet said. "I think it is going to be a very very busy 2009, and I think we are going to need all of you to be on top of your game."
However, Grumet did not offer policy specifics, and his optimism was not shared by others at the conference, organised by the consulting group Point Carbon and the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico senator who chairs the Senate's energy and national resources committee and another possibility for a post in the administration, said it was highly unlikely that Obama could sign into law cap and trade legislation next year. "I think the reality is that it may take more than a year to get it all done," he said, pointing to 2010.
Grumet's brief appearance was widely seen as a signal that Obama, who for nearly two years of campaigning warned of a "planet in peril", was serious about following through on a 30-point environmental agenda that called for creating green jobs, cutting US oil consumption, and moving to renewable sources of energy,
It was the second time in 24 hours that Obama had tried to reassure the world that he wanted a radical departure from Bush's policy on the environment. Obama has said repeatedly that the global economic crisis remains his top priority, but John Podesta, part of the troika overseeing the transition, said on Tuesday that the environment was at the top of the Democrats' agenda. "I anticipate him moving very aggressively and very rapidly on the whole question of transforming the energy platform in the United States from high carbon energy to low carbon energy," he said.
For campaigners, change cannot come soon enough. Yesterday the supreme court rejected environmental protections for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals imposed on US navy sonar training exercises off southern California. Environmental groups had argued that intense sound waves could hurt or even kill some 37 species including sea lions and endangered blue whales by interfering with their ability to communicate and navigate. At one stage Bush intervened by citing the national security necessity of the training.
The hiatus between election and inauguration has led to intense speculation about cabinet appointments and policy breaks with the Bush White House.
Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Obama intended to replace the two top intelligence officials early in his administration. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and General Michael Hayden, the CIA chief, are associated with the Bush administration's most controversial policies, including monitoring the email and phone calls of US citizens without court oversight.
Some of the Obama camp's efforts to stoke anticipation have been countered with caution - and at times frustration. Yesterday Bingaman warned that Obama urgently needed to appoint his cabinet secretaries. "The idea that the transition team develops policies and then gets new people in place ... that is not the way I have seen it in Washington," he said.

The green pseudo-revolution

Whatever the enviro-lobbyists say, subsidising inefficient green industries is not the way to tackle climate change

Björn Lomborg, Thursday November 13 2008 13.30 GMT

With a worldwide recession advancing, strong action on global warming has been thrown into jeopardy. This matters, because in little more than a year, the world will sit down in Copenhagen to negotiate the follow-on treaty to the failed Kyoto Protocol. Yet, with people losing jobs and income, immediate economic help seems to matter more than temperature differentials 100 years from now.
Many green pundits have, however, started saying that the financial crisis only makes the need for action on climate change greater. They urge America's president-elect Barack Obama to pursue a "green revolution" with big investments in renewable energy, arguing that this could create millions of new "green collar" jobs and open huge new markets. Such sentiments, no surprise, are strongly voiced by business leaders who live off such subsidies. But are such pleas smart investments for society?
The problem with the green revolution argument is that it doesn't trouble itself about efficiency. It is most often lauded for supplying new jobs. But billions of dollars in tax subsidies would create plenty of new jobs in almost any sector: the point is that many less capital-intensive sectors would create many more jobs for a given investment of taxpayers' money.
Similarly, green initiatives will open new markets only if other nations subsidise inefficient technologies bought abroad. Thus, the real game becomes which nations get to suck up other nations' tax-financed subsidies. Apart from the resulting global inefficiency, this also creates a whole new raft of industry players that will keep pushing inefficient legislation, simply because it fills their coffers.
A good illustration is Denmark, which early on provided huge subsidies for wind power, building thousands of inefficient turbines around the country from the 1980s onwards. Today, it is often remarked that Denmark is providing every third terrestrial wind turbine in the world, creating billions in income and jobs.
A few years ago, however, the Danish Economic Council conducted a full evaluation of the wind turbine industry, taking into account not only its beneficial effects on jobs and production, but also the subsidies that it receives. The net effect for Denmark was found to be a small cost, not benefit.
Not surprisingly, the leading Danish wind producer is today urging strong action on climate change that would imply even more sales of wind turbines. The company sponsors the "Planet in Peril" show on CNN, which helps galvanize public pressure for action.
The crucial point is that many green technologies are not cost-effective, at least not yet. If they were, we wouldn't need to subsidise them.
The standard reply is that green technologies seem more expensive only because the price of fossil fuels does not reflect their climate costs. That makes some sense. Given that fossil fuels contribute to global warming, standard economic theory suggests we should tax them according to their cumulative negative effects.
But this would make little difference to the inefficiency of most green technologies. The most comprehensive economic meta-study shows that total future climate impacts justify a tax of €0.012 per litre of petrol ($0.06 per gallon in the US). This is dwarfed by the tax that many European countries already impose, and it is much less than in the European trading system.
Yet it is argued that much higher taxes and subsidies are the best way to increase research and development in new, cheaper renewable energy sources. This is untrue. During the massive investment associated with the Kyoto treaty, the participating countries' investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP has declined , not increased. It is rather obvious that if you invest massively in inefficient solar panels, most of your money will go to buy the physical panels, whereas only a very small part will go to R&D. If you want more R&D, you should spend your money directly on R&D. This could tackle global warming in the longer run.
Finally, it is often claimed that high CO2 taxes and subsidies for green technology will actually do good, and again Denmark is often taken as an example. After all, it is argued, Denmark has kept its CO2 emissions flat while enjoying 70% economic growth since 1981. But could it have grown more if it had not restricted CO2 emissions? During the same period, US emissions grew 29%, but its GDP grew 39% more than Denmark's, indicating a simple truth: CO2 cuts and subsidies don't necessarily mean no growth, but they probably do mean slower growth.
President-elect Obama is now facing countless people who claim that subsidies for renewable energy and CO2 taxes are great ways to tackle global warming and forge a new green economy. Unfortunately, this is almost entirely incorrect. Taxes and subsidies are always expensive, and will likely impede growth. Moreover, if we really want to tackle global warming, we shouldn't spend vast sums of money buying inefficient green technology – we should invest directly in R&D to make future green technology competitive.
Obama should seize the initiative and make the meeting in Copenhagen next year not about bloated subsidies for inefficient technologies, but about lean investments in future breakthroughs. That is the way to tackle global warming and support a genuinely vibrant economy.
In cooperation with Project Syndicate, 2008.

In bad economy, boat owners abandon their vessels

The Associated Press
Published: November 14, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO: From Southern California to Maine, the foundering economy, high fuel prices and poor fishing have driven boat owners to abandon perhaps thousands of vessels on the waterfront, where they are beginning to break up and sink, leaking oil and other pollutants.
Boats have long been a barometer of consumer confidence, disposable income and the overall state of the economy. Now, marina and harbor officials are reporting a sudden increase in the past year in the number of deserted pleasure boats and working vessels.
In Antioch, a town about 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of San Francisco, harbormaster John Cruger-Hansen showed up at his marina one day last spring to find the horizon changed overnight. On the San Joaquin River, he saw an old crane, a rusted barge, a tugboat and an assortment of other junked boats, all of which had been hauled in and left illegally.
"Boating is a pure luxury and one of the first things to go when the economy turns south," said Cruger-Hansen, who expects to see more abandoned boats by year's end. "If it comes to the point of putting food on the table or paying the boat slip fee, it's the boat that goes."
Unlike cars, wooden and fiberglass boats have virtually no scrap value. So rather than pay the high cost of hauling their boats to the dump, people ditch them or sell them for as little as $1 to anyone who will take them. The boats often break up and go under, or pass into the underground economy of nighttime scuttlers_ who, for a fee, remove traceable identification numbers, strip out salvageable items and sink the vessels.

"Oil, gasoline and sewage from these boat leaks into the aquatic environment," said Sejal Choksi, program director at San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental organization. Boat paint often contains chromium, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals, and as a vessel deteriorates, the coating flakes off and settles on the sea floor or river bottom, where fish swallow it, Choksi said.
Government officials and environmental groups are calling for more programs and funding to prevent and clean up the junkyard flotillas.
But removing just one sunken sailboat can cost upwards of $12,000, and taking away larger commercial vessels is even more expensive.
With nearly a million registered boats, California — the second-largest boating state behind Florida — spends about $500,000 each year removing deserted recreational boats. The state has no money to remove commercial boats, and unless they are leaking oil or blocking a navigation channel, the Coast Guard is not required to take them away.
"They just sit there, falling apart," said Contra Costa County sheriff's Sgt. Doug Powell, who patrols the mouth of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Nearly 30 decaying tugboats, fishing boats, cranes and barges make up the aquatic junkyard in Powell's county.
High fuel prices and several disastrous years in the nation's fishing industry have led fishermen to desert salmon boats in Washington state, crab boats in Maryland, trawlers in Oregon and lobster boats in Florida.
In Georgia, Charles "Buck" Bennett, a natural-resources enforcement manager for the state, regularly finds wooden shrimp boats run aground and left to break apart in the Atlantic Ocean swells.
Bennett keeps a growing list of broken down boats slated for removal, currently 152 statewide. But with lean economic times and a declining shrimp industry, he guesses there are hundreds more hidden along the state's shoreline and waterways.
It's not just barnacle-laden junkers that are being abandoned.
In recent months, an increasing number of powerboat and sailboat owners have been failing to pay their slip fees, according to Randy Short, chief executive of Almar Management Inc., a company with 16 luxury marinas in California and Hawaii.
When the payments are 40 days delinquent, the marina chains the boat to the dock. Recently, a boat owner in one of Short's Southern California marinas disappeared, leaving behind a $200,000 boat and no contact information.
"People get financially upside-down and ditch their boats," Short said, "and you can just forget trying to sell a power boat right now. No one is buying."

Cloud of Soot Above Asia Is Affecting Cities, U.N. Says

BEIJING -- A three-kilometer thick cloud of brown soot and other pollutants hanging over Asia is darkening cities, killing thousands and damaging crops but might be holding off the worst effects of global warming, the United Nations said Thursday.
The vast plume of contamination from factories, fires, cars and deforestation contains some particles that reflect sunlight away from the earth, cutting its ability to heat the earth.
"One of the impacts of this atmospheric brown cloud has been to mask the true nature of global warming on our planet," U.N. Environment Program head Achim Steiner said at the launch in Beijing of a report on the phenomenon.
It said the amount of sunlight reaching earth through the murk has fallen by up to a quarter in the worst-affected areas and if the brown cloud disperses, global temperatures could rise by up to two degrees Celsius.
But the overall effect of slowing climate change isn't the silver lining to a dark cloud that it appears to be. The choking soup of pollutants might hold temperatures down overall, but the mix of particles means it is also speeding up warming in some of the most vulnerable areas and exacerbating the most devastating effects of higher temperatures.
According to the report, the complex impact of the cloud, which tends to cool areas near the surface of the earth and warm the air higher up, is believed to be causing a shortening of the monsoon season in India while increasing flooding there and in southern China.