Thursday, 11 June 2009

Biggest emitters fail to show the way forward

Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Edward Luce in Washington
Published: June 10 2009 17:05

China and the US failed to achieve a breakthrough at their latest round of climate talks on Wednesday, raising the stakes in the global effort to fight global climate change.
The two countries responsible for almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ended three days of negotiations in Beijing.

While there are still months to go until the December meeting in Copenhagen, where 181 countries, led by the United Nations, plan to work out a new climate pact, the two biggest emitters’ glacial pace towards compromise is likely to discourage others from making concessions during a pre-Copenhagen round of negotiations under way in Bonn, which is set to wrap up on Friday.
Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s special envoy on climate change, tried to sound optimistic when the US delegation ended its China visit but could hardly conceal that little had been achieved. Mr Stern, who before leaving for China had said, “Let’s get this damn thing started [between the US and China]”, did his best to paper over the lack of progress. “In our meetings, we deepened our dialogue with our Chinese counterparts through a candid discussion of the challenges we must overcome and the opportunities we must seize if we and the world are to reach an international climate agreement,” the US delegation said in a leaving statement.
“These meetings were a step in the right direction on the road to Copenhagen and to charting a global path to a clean energy future,” the Americans added.
Chinese officials maintained that the two countries should have a “common but differentiated approach” – code for Beijing’s reluctance to adopt a formal domestic mandate to reduce its carbon emissions. The US Congress is considering a bill that would reduce US emissions to 83 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. China wants the US to cut its emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 – a different order of magnitude. It also wants the US to pledge up to 1 per cent of its gross domestic product to pay for clean technology in China and elsewhere.
“It is going to be really tough to get the Chinese to make significant concessions by Copenhagen,” said Bruce Braine, a board member of the International Emissions Trading Association. “There seems to be a lack of realism in ... the developing world about what the US can achieve at home.”
US lawmakers expressed optimism last month when they toured the Chinese capital for discussions on climate change. But the two countries’ positions on what they could and should contribute show an almost ideological divide which observers say risks antagonising the rest of the world along the lines of developing and developed nations.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Japan goes green with £100bn economic recovery

• Boost for electric cars and solar power • Analysts say Kyoto target may still not be met
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Julia Kollewe
The Guardian, Friday 10 April 2009

Japan today announced a ¥15tn (£102bn) stimulus package that focuses on boosting the green economy in an attempt to drag the country out of its worst recession since the second world war.
The total is a substantial increase from the £68bn package announced by the prime minister, Taro Aso, on Monday, and is likely to top ¥56tn when other measures such as tax cuts and credit guarantees are included.
Announcing the stimulus plan in a televised speech, Aso said: "Japan's economy is worsening rapidly with exports and production tumbling. Job conditions are also deteriorating sharply. Japan's economy can be described as being in a crisis."
In addition to pledging more loans for hard-pressed small businesses and cash for job creation, it will also encourage the start of mass production of electric cars in three years and boost solar power generation to 20 times the current level of 1.42m kilowatts.
"I want to show that Japan's future is not all that dark if we follow this vision," Aso said. "If you just read the newspapers, it seems like tomorrow will be completely gloomy. But this is not the case. There is some light."
The stimulus package also includes a car scrappage scheme similar to the "cash for clunkers" programme being debated in the US Congress.
Motorists will be eligible for between ¥100,000 and ¥250,000 in subsidies if they trade in cars that are more than 13 years old for a hybrid or other environment-friendly vehicle.
Though details have yet to be released, the measures could result in new car sales of between 450,000 to 1.51m, according to the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Together with the introduction of lower taxes on clean-energy cars, consumers replacing an old vehicle for, say, a new Toyota Prius hybrid could make savings of about US$4,000.
The news prompted a stockmarket rally and sent the Nikkei index in Tokyo soaring by 3.7% to 8916.06. Shares in Toyota, maker of the Prius hybrid, rose 4.3%, while those of Sharp, the world's second-largest maker of solar cells, surged 10.7%.
However, analysts said that if the latest stimulus works, the resulting boost in demand for carbon-fuelled electricity could negate any advances made by the wider use of green cars.
The country is only just beginning to address its poor track record on green spending. While industry, the biggest polluter, has been left to aim for voluntary targets, the onus is now on individual householders and businesses to spearhead Japan's version of the Green New Deal.
Until now Japan has set aside only 2.6% of total spending for climate change measures, compared with 12% in the US and 34% in China, an HSBC report said.
Some analysts doubted that the envisaged shift to fuel-efficient cars would have much of an impact on Japan's attempts to meet its Kyoto protocol targets. The country's greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.3% last year, putting them at 16% above the target it has committed itself to achieving by 2013.
"I don't think the stimulus will make any notable contribution to Japan's emission cuts," said Itsuho Haruta of Natsource Japan, adding that the package would make only a tiny contribution to the fall in emissions expected as a result of plunging industrial output.
The government also plans to revive the use of solar energy by expanding a scheme in which power companies - traditionally reluctant to boost their use of renewables - will buy more surplus energy generated by households equipped with solar panels.
It will also set up solar power generators at 37,000 schools and introduce heat-insulating materials and other energy-saving measures in 3m buildings over the next three years.
The measures - which are equivalent to 3% of the country's GDP - were approved by the ruling Liberal Democratic party's executive council. The government is expected to approve the proposals today.
Officials have not said where they would find the extra money, though Aso recently said he would turn to issuing bonds if needed.
Last month, Japan's parliament passed a record ¥88.5tn budget for the new fiscal year, which started on 1 April, including parts of Aso's two previous stimulus packages.

Japan's 15% target to cut emissions condemned as 'disaster'

Target is 'weakest any country has pledged so far' and threatens agreement in Copenhagen, say critics

David Adam, environment correspondent, Wednesday 10 June 2009 16.15 BST

Japan's target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2020 was immediately condemned by environmentalists as "appalling" and unambitious after it was announced today. The Japanese government defended the target as comparable to European efforts because it does not permit offset schemes such as carbon trading, which allow cuts to be bought from other countries.
Taro Aso, Japan's prime minister, announced the target in Tokyo while UN talks on a draft climate agreement are continuing in Bonn. The talks, which finish on Friday, aim to lay foundations for a a meeting in Copenhagen in December when a new global treaty on global warming to succeed the Kyoto protocol will be agreed.
Observers said Japan's target was only slightly more ambitious than already required under Kyoto - a cut of 6% on 1990 levels by 2012. Japan's emissions have actually risen 7% since 1990. Its new 15% reduction commitment uses a 2005 baseline, equating to a 8% cut on 1990 levels by 2020.
Japan will have to do more to help keep global warming below dangerous levels, said the European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas: "The EU believes that we must be fundamentally guided by science."
Japan's target represents "the weakest target any country has pledged so far", said Kristian Tangen, at analysts Point Carbon
The UN climate panel says developed countries should reduce their emissions by 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to keep temperature increases to within 2C of pre-industrial temperatures.
Paul Cook, director of advocacy at development charity Tearfund, said: "This is a disaster. The level of ambition among developed countries is already incredibly weak – way below the 40% emissions reductions needed. . Japan's decision risks creating a race to the bottom among other developed countries looking for an excuse to evade tough targets."
The group said Japan's decision would make it difficult for EU countries to increase their target of a 20% reduction by 2020 to 30% – which they say they will only do if other developed countries make a similar effort to cut emissions.
The Obama administration has talked of cutting emissions by 17% on 2005 levels by 2020, about 4% relative to 1990 levels. But the target has yet to be approved and may be weakened to help it pass into law.
Cook said: "It is difficult to see how a fair, science-based deal can be achieved [at] Copenhagen if developed countries so utterly fail to do what is necessary to prevent a catastrophe for poor people and for the planet. Japan should be condemned for its failure of leadership and ambition."
Japan argues its target is ambitious given that its economy is already relatively energy and carbon efficient. It already has made a long-term pledge to cut emissions 60-80% by 2050.
Kim Carstensen of WWF said: "It is true that Japan's energy efficiency improved in the 1980s, during the oil crisis. Unfortunately, since 1990 most of the sector's energy efficiency either stagnated or declined."
Hidefumi Kurasaka, professor of environmental policies at Chiba University, Japan, said: "The target is not strong enough to convince developing nations to sign up for a new climate change pact. Japan's population is falling, so that means it has an advantage over the United States. The fact that Japan can commit to only an 8% cut from 1990 levels, even as its population falls, will lead to doubts over its seriousness to fight climate change."

China and the environment: Red, green - and black

The Guardian, Thursday 11 June 2009

Visiting China a couple of years ago, the American journalist Thomas Friedman conceded that, when it came to climate change, his hosts had a point. Yes, the west had grown rich using dirty old coal and oil, and the Chinese had the right to do the same. "Take your time!" he told a conference in Tianjin. "Because I think my country needs ... five years to invent all the clean power and energy efficiency tools that you, China, will need to avoid choking on pollution and then we are going to come over and sell them ... to you." It took a few moments for his words to be translated and land in delegates' headphones - and for the ripple of consternation to spread around the hall.
Two years on, Mr Friedman's lesson - that clean energy can be profitable rather than a costly drag - has not only been learned by the Chinese; now Beijing is intent on writing the rest of the textbook. Just look at yesterday's Guardian report on China's plans to ramp up wind and solar power, so that they meet 20% of its energy needs by 2020. That is already a big advance in Beijing's goals - and it is poised to go even further. There are reports it will spend up to $600bn on clean power over the next decade - or the equivalent of its entire military budget every year for each of the next 10 years.
Sums like that certainly put western chatter about green new deals in perspective. Indeed, China's 20% goal matches European targets, which EU members such as Britain are struggling to meet. And while Beijing's announcement may put Europe's governments on their mettle, there is more to this clean stimulus than a challenge for environmental leadership. China is dependent on imported fuel, it can see the business opportunities from developing green technology (it is already the world's leading manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, which turn sunlight into electricity) - and Beijing needs to go into this December's negotiations on a successor treaty to Kyoto with something to deflect the charges that it is some kind of climate criminal. Instead, China will be able to cast itself as a green leader.
There is only one snag. Green optimists such as Thomas Friedman yoke energy security with the green agenda; Beijing is effectively decoupling the two. However much it may trumpet its green initiatives, China is still the world's biggest user of coal and the largest emitter of carbon. Neither of those two things look likely to change. Beijing has yet to accept any target for reducing carbon emissions. The US Congress looks as if it will accept only a small one. The two countries that are central to December's negotiations in Copenhagen will be able to show much progress and good faith - but painful, binding targets? Do not bet on it.

China leads escalation of coal consumption

High prices and environmental impact fail to stop coal use growing faster than other traditional energy sources

Terry Macalister, Wednesday 10 June 2009 14.05 BST

Coal consumption is continuing to grow more quickly than other traditional sources despite high prices and the dangerous impact it will have on carbon emissions, new statistics released by oil giant BP show.
China, which has been trumpeting its new wind and solar goals in recent days, led the way with a near 7% increase in the amount of coal it burned during 2008 despite average prices rising 73% to $150 (£129) per tonne. This accounts for 43% of global coal use.
Worldwide coal consumption rose by 3.1% to 3.3bn tonnes of oil equivalent last year while gas use rose by 2.5% and oil use fell very slightly, according to the BP statistical review of world energy.
"For a sixth consecutive year, coal was the fastest-growing fuel - with obvious implications for global carbon dioxide emissions," said Tony Hayward , the BP chief executive.
Crude consumption dropped 0.6% to 81.8m barrels a day last year but prices of crude have soared in 2009 to more than $70 per barrel amid expectations that demand will pick up as a result of a bounceback in economic activity. Hayward said he could see prices rising to $90 while Alexei Miller, chairman of Russia's Gazprom, predicted they could go as high as $250.
Despite the 2008 rise in coal consumption, the BP data showed growth in the use of the fuel continued to decline compared with 2007 when it had risen by 5% and five years ago when it had gone up by 8%.
Coal consumption in the European Union fell by 5.4% to 301m tonnes in 2008, pushed lower by rising carbon emissions prices and a drop in industrial production caused by recession.
The BP statistics show global wind grew by 30% and solar capacity rose 70% in 2008 but the oil company says this is coming from a very low base and still accounts for a relatively tiny part of total world energy consumption – 1.5% of electricity generation.
The growing use of coal will alarm environmentalists and increase the calls for companies and governments to speed up trials on "clean coal" technology and the use of carbon capture and storage.
China has promised to increase its use of renewables: Zhang Xiaoqiang, the vice chairman of the China's national development and reform commission, says the country may produce as much as 20% of all energy needs from wind and solar by 2020.
Hayward said the current price range for oil was convenient because it would support investment in new supply without destroying demand. "There is a rational argument to say that somewhere between $60 to $90 a barrel is the right sort of level," he said.

China makes renewable power play to be world's first green superpower

China tries to throw off image as a global climate criminal with its aims to become the future leader in a low-carbon world

Jonathan Watts, Wednesday 10 June 2009 14.34 BST

A game-changing moment could be upon us. In recent years, the world has grown used to condemning China as a climate criminal. But over the next few weeks and months, don't be surprised if you hear the same nation being hailed as the planet's first green superpower.
The State Council, China's cabinet, will soon release the details of a staggeringly large "new energy" programme that could propel the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter past Europe and the US into a global leader in renewable energy and low-carbon technology.
This is no short-term economic boost or sop for climate change negotiations; it is a long-term investment aimed at making China a dominant force in the global low-carbon economy for decades to come. Power plays do not come much bigger.
The size of the energy stimulus has not yet been revealed, but reports in the domestic media and from foreign diplomats suggest between 1.4 trillion (US$200 bn) and 4.5 trillion yuan (US$600bn) will be invested over the next ten years in nuclear power plants, solar and wind farms, hydroelectric dams, "green transport", "clean coal" and super efficient electric grids.
The consequences will be staggering. If the bigger figure proves correct, China will be spending the equivalent of its 2009 military budget on "new energy" for each of the next ten years. Even the smaller figure would mean that China, which represents just 6 per cent of the global economy, would exceed the amount the entire world invested on new power generating capacity last year, including fossil fuels.
China already makes most of the world's solar panels and wind turbines. Its carmakers, such as BYD, are pushing ahead faster than established Japanese and American rivals to mass produce electric vehicles. Its carbon capture technology and high-efficiency "ultrasupercritical" coal plants are close to the global cutting edge. With the new package, the government will commit itself to developing domestic markets for these "sunrise" industries.
The speed at which the country can move has already been shown in the wind sector, where installed capacity has been doubling every year. According to Changhua Wu, director of the Climate Group's China operations, the pace will be quicker for solar. "They are learning from best practice. It took 15 years to do it in the wind sector. They want to go more quickly now."
The government's targets for wind power have already risen threefold, solar is likely to go up two to fourfold and nuclear sixfold. Overall, China will raise its target for renewables from 15 per cent of total energy by 2020, possibly even surpassing Europe's goal of 20 per cent by that date. By that time, China should also have a super high voltage grid.
If a substantial amount of the new package goes on renewables and efficiency, Julian Wong, an energy analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC, says the potential is enormous.
He says: "If those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned global leader in clean energy production, significantly increasing its chances to wean [itself] off coal, and at the same time ushering in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy technologies to the world."
This is not being done because of international obligations, but as an investment in national security. Renewable energy eases China's dependence on foreign fuel supplies, which are a growing concern. In an age of soft power, asymmetric warfare and carbon anxiety, an investment in solar and wind energy will help the country to stake a claim to the moral high ground.
Todd Stern, the top climate change envoy for President Barack Obama, recently warned that the US could fall behind.
"We need to recognise that if we aren't careful, we may spend the next few years chasing China to do more, but then spend all the years after that chasing them," he said before heading to Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterparts this week.
The US team is pressing China to do more in terms of slowing the growth in emissions. They are right. Regardless of the massive "new energy" investment, the country will remain dependent on coal and pump out more greenhouse gas than other nations for decades to come. True to its ability to produce superlatives and contradictions, China is likely to be both a black and a green superpower at the same time.
But the new energy plans may change the perceptions and parameters of the climate debate. While a proper assesment must wait until the details are released, the stimulus package ought to force Europe and the US to be more ambitious. The world might finally start to see a race to the top rather than the bottom.

US wind farms face lack of fuel

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 10 June 2009 19.59 BST

The great gusting winds of the Midwest may be dying, and with them hope for America's most promising source of green energy, according to a new report.
A study to be published in August in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggests average and peak winds may have been slowing across the Midwest and eastern states since 1973. The findings are preliminary, but measurements by wind towers raise the possibility of yet another side effect of global warming.
"We noted some periods in the past ... where there was a pretty substantial decrease in wind speed for 12 consecutive months," Eugene Takle of Iowa State University and one of the authors, told the Guardian. "We suspect it's some large scale influence we don't yet understand."
Areas of the Midwest have seen a 10% drop in wind speed over the decade. Some places have seen a jump in days where there was none at all. Takle said climate modelling suggested a further 10% dip may occur over the next 40 years. "Generally we expect there'll probably be a decline in speeds due to climate change."
The US is the world's largest producer of wind power; investment hit $17bn last year, and turbines are now a common sight. The American Wind Energy Association had no immediate comment, but a 10% fall in peak winds could translate into a 27% cut in energy, Takle said.
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at Nasa, told the Guardian: "It's very preliminary. My feeling is that it's way too premature to be talking about the impact this makes."

Korea Hydro sees high demand for debt sale

By Song Jung-a in Seoul
Published: June 10 2009 18:33

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power is selling up to $1bn of US dollar bonds in a deal that marks the country’s biggest corporate debt issue this year, people close to the deal said on Wednesday.
The state-run company has cut its guidance for the five-year debt’s yield to 362.5-375 basis points over US Treasuries. Korea Hydro, the unit of electricity provider Korea Electric Power Corp, offered about 400bp over US Treasuries this week.
The tighter guidance came as Korea Hydro attracted more than $8bn in orders for the debt sale.
Barclays Capital, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are arranging the deal and KDB is an additional co-lead manager.
Bankers expect more debt issues by state-run Korean companies in the coming weeks. State-run Korea National Oil Corp might issue dollar bonds as it is considering a takeover or asset deal with Addax Petroleum, an oil exploration and production group. Korea Gas is also thought to be planning a $500m dollar bond issue in June.
South Korean companies are tapping international debt markets in record numbers amid growing investor appetite for dollar-denominated issues from Asia’s fourth-largest economy. According to Dealogic, a record $12.8bn has been raised by Korean companies through 35 dollar-denominated bond issues this year.
“Korean issues are leading the way in re-opening the Asian credit market with investors from the US, Europe and Asia, whose risk appetite is returning on the back of successful transactions,” said John Kim, head of Korea Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs.
“In conjunction with the wider global market sentiment, there is a clear improvement of confidence in the Korean economy and its issuers.”
Government officials are becoming increasingly optimistic about the economic outlook after the Korean economy grew 0.1 per cent in the first quarter on a sequential basis.
A recovery in the Korean won, one of the best performing Asian currencies against the dollar this year, has soothed fears about overseas borrowings by Korean companies.
Korean financial companies are also rushing to refinance their existing debt, encouraged by improving market conditions.
Woori Bank plans to offer subordinated debt this week in exchange for $400m of notes that it did not redeem in March due to “adverse” market conditions.
The bank will offer 7.63 per cent notes maturing in April 2015.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Reprieve for Magnox plant

By Andrew Bounds
Published: June 11 2009 03:00

A second ageing Magnox nuclear plant has had its life extended, preserving over 1,000 jobs and easing fears of looming electricity shortages.
Magnox North, operator of Wylfa power station on Anglesey, has been granted approval to continue generating electricity until at least December 2010, past its planned closure date of March 2010.
Last year the operator also received approval to prolong generation at Oldbury in Gloucestershire.
Andrew Bounds
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Zapatero's green credentials come under nuclear stress

By Paul Betts
Published: June 11 2009 03:00

From the very beginning, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has been a diehard supporter of renewable energy such as wind and solar power and an opponent of the nuclear alternative. Under the stewardship of Spain's greener than green socialist prime minister, the country has become one of Europe's leading producers of electricity from wind farms along with Germany and Denmark. These days, wind power accounts for about 15 per cent of Spanish electricity consumption.
Mr Zapatero has also said he planned to shut down eight existing nuclear reactors when they reached the end of their natural life. He is about to have his first opportunity to confirm his anti-nuclear convictions with the country's oldest nuclear plant of Garona in northern Spain coming to the end of its 40-year lifespan.
But the prime minister is having second thoughts. Although the ultimate decision to close down Garona will be a political one, the country's nuclear security council has recommended that the plant should be kept going for another 10 years as long as its systems are updated and modernised. The operator of the facility - a joint venture between Iberdrola and Endesa - is also keen for an extension that would avoid it cutting some 1,000 jobs and shutting down a cost-efficient plant with a good safety record that produces about 1.35 per cent of all Spanish electricity. Spain depends on nuclear energy for about 20 per cent of its electricity production.
Opinion polls suggest that the Spanish public is beginning to warm towards nuclear, even though the majority is still either opposed or indifferent. Apart from Germany, which is still committed to shutting down its nuclear plants when they reach the end of their lifespan, other European countries are increasingly embracing the nuclear option. This is not only the case of the UK, but also of Italy.
Spain, like everybody else, is also under pressure to reduce its carbon emissions to comply with the Kyoto and European energy targets as well as reduce its costly imports of oil and gas. To this end, it has stimulated the development of wind power via generous state price support mechanisms, but there is a limit to how quickly and how much such renewable energy sources can replace the shortfall if the nuclear option was scrapped entirely.
For all these reasons, there is a convincing case for Mr Zapatero to dilute his green ideology and anti-nuclear convictions and adopt a more pragmatic approach to the issue
In the case of Mr Zapatero, there is an even more compelling political reason for such a compromise. His own centre-left party is split on the issue. After suffering badly in the recent European elections, Mr Zapatero can ill afford a damaging fracture in his own party over this issue.
All this suggests there will be a compromise. Mr Zapatero will probably agree to extend the life of the old Garona nuclear plant, but by only five years. This intermediate solution could be an expedient way of protecting his green virginity.
Low-profile rescue
A quiet changing of the guard took place in Milan this week as Matteo Arpe, the former chief executive of Capitalia, was appointed chairman of Banca Profilo, the listed private bank his Sator investment group stepped in to rescue in February.
Sator's timely intervention allowed the Bank of Italy to maintain its clean sheet during the financial crisis with no bank having gone belly-up in Italy to date. In more "sophisticated" countries such as the UK, bank failures have been all too frequent and no less costly.
Indeed the authorities in Italy, often criticised for their sclerotic decision- making and lack of communication among themselves, have on this occasion combined smoothly to ensure a solution that has protected clients and recapitalised the bank while also injecting a new and respected management team to boot.
Sator is apparently the first private equity player in Europe to be allowed by national authorities to rescue a regulated bank. While other funds have picked up distressed institutions, they did so after they had crashed. In Profilo's case, Sator stepped in before its impending failure became public. This is to the credit of all those involved and to their low key but effective approach. Hardly, it has to be said, the norm in Italy.
The handsome paper return that Sator has reaped since its emergence as Profilo's saviour will further burnish Mr Arpe's reputation for astuteness. The fact that taxpayers' pockets remain unpicked and minority shareholders have benefited from an impressive rally in the shares also makes this a doubly rare event in the Italian context - a deal in which those who normally lose out have quietly emerged winners.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

GM Pulls Plug on Hybrid Model


General Motors Corp. has pulled the plug the hybrid-electric version of the Chevrolet Malibu sedan for the 2010 model year due to slow sales that has led to a backlog of inventory of the vehicles on dealer lots.
A GM spokesman said the company made the decision because of a "sufficient stock of 2009s," and said starting up production in the near future is "possible, but not likely." The company will continue to make hybrid versions of the Malibu for fleet buyers, but it is uncertain if GM will ever produce the Malibu hybrid for retail consumers ever again.
GM introduced hybrid-electric versions of the Chevrolet Malibu in 2008 in an effort to boost its portfolio of fuel-efficient models. But like many other auto makers offering hybrid versions of their vehicles, the hybrid Malibu has returned disappointing results and Chevy dealers are not ordering them any longer.
"We could care less," said Joe Menegos, sales manager at Ron Baker Chevrolet-Isuzu in National City, Calif. He noted the hybrid Malibu only gets what he described as marginally better fuel economy and said that the price is more expensive.
A base Malibu, carrying a four-cylinder engine, costs about $22,300, and a hybrid version, which uses a battery to help propel the vehicle, is about $4,000 more. Both models achieve 34 miles-per-gallon in highway driving, according to GM.
The Malibu sedan is a key product for GM and was redesigned for 2008 in order to better compete with Japanese competitors, such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Conventional versions of the Malibu, powered by traditional internal combustion engines, have been well received.
Toyota Motor Corp. is the only large auto maker in the U.S. to have a hot selling hybrid vehicle, the Prius sedan. But with the U.S. market slumping and demand for fuel-efficient vehicles being volatile, Toyota has been forced to offer big incentives -- including 0% financing for 60 month loans and $1,000 rebates -- in order to boost demand.
GM offers several trucks with hybrid engines, and those vehicles also sell in low volumes.
GM will continue making hybrid versions of its trucks, including the Chevrolet Silverado and Cadillac Escalade, in 2010. Hybrid vehicles carry much higher price tags than conventional cars and trucks due to the added cost of battery technology.
GM's decision to sell Saturn to auto retailer Roger Penske will put a further dent in GM's hybrid portfolio because that brand offers two hybrids -- the hybrid Vue crossover and the hybrid Aura sedan -- that will no longer be sold under the GM umbrella.
The GM spokesman said the auto maker continues to develop hybrid technology for future applications. The company plans to launch the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car in 2010, but the cost of that sedan is expected to be much than conventional hybrids.
GM, which filed for bankruptcy last week, posts substantial losses on every hybrid Malibu it builds. It has been under pressure in recent years to be more active in the hybrid market in recent years despite the red ink associated with the vehicles.
Honda Motor Co. recently launched the Insight hybrid to compete with Toyota. Nissan Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Corp. have also made forays into the hybrid vehicle market.
Ford recently launched the Fusion sedan hybrid, aimed to go head to head with the Prius and hybrid Malibu.
Write to John D. Stoll at and Sharon Terlep at

Winter fuel payments could be taxed 'to help fuel poor'

Times Online
June 10, 2009
Tax on the £400 benefit should be used to help the most vulnerable households, according to a Government committee
Lauren Thompson

The winter fuel payment should be made taxable and stopped altogether for 200,000 pensioners who pay higher-rate tax, a government committee said yesterday.
The measure would save £250 million a year, which could be spent on better-targeted energy efficiency programmes to help the five million households living in fuel poverty, according to the Environment & Rural Affairs Select Committee .
Around 2.9 million pensioners receive winter fuel payments, currently worth £250 for over 60s or £400 for over 80s. However, only 12 per cent of recipients are in fuel poverty – where one tenth or more of income goes on fuel bills.
Michael Jack MP, chairman of the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee says: “The Government should instigate an action plan as a matter of urgency to help the millions of UK households who remain in fuel poverty as a result of fuel price rises.

“Taxing the winter fuel payment would fund a larger programme of practical energy saving improvements. This should be aimed in the first instance at the fuel poor, but then also at other vulnerable households, such as the disabled, with unusually high personal energy needs.”
However, consumer groups say that if the fuel payments become means-tested, this will deter millions of pensioners from applying and could leave some of the most vulnerable households worse-off.
Emma Hayes, of Consumer Focus, which campaigns for a fair deal for conusmers, says: ‘Winter fuel payments should remain universal to ensure that the much-needed cash reaches all pensioners who need it.
“However, the payment could be taxed for those on the highest tax-rate, and the funds raised invested in energy efficiency schemes.”
The committee also criticised the Government’s piecemeal approach to reducing fuel poverty, and recommended that the range of current energy efficiency programmes should be consolidated into one comprehensive programme to upgrade all homes, delivered by local authorities.

Green collar job creation 'outstripped traditional sectors in US'

Report on US job figures up to 2007 also says wind and solar sectors resisting recession better than traditional manufacturing

Suzanne Goldenberg, Wednesday 10 June 2009 17.59 BST

America's emerging clean energy economy produced new jobs at more than twice the rate of more traditional industries in the years leading up to the economic downturn, a new study released today claimed.
The report by the Pew Charitable Trusts provides the first hard evidence of jobs created by the rising demand for environmentally friendly services, and in the new clean energy sectors like wind and solar.
It said such jobs grew at a rate of 9.1% from 1998-2007, easily outstripping job growth in traditional areas of the economy, which was 3.7%.
The study stopped before the economic downturn, which has caused steep job losses in the traditional economy. Some 347,000 Americans were put out of work in May alone.
However, its authors also noted that the rapid growth came at a time when there was little or no federal government support for clean energy – unlike today when Barack Obama has committed to greening the economy.
They also said that wind farms, solar projects, and battery factories had fared better than traditional manufacturing as the job market has contracted.
"This is a sector poised for explosive growth," said Lori Grange, the interim deputy director of Pew. "Our report points to trends that show a very promising future for the green energy economy."
The report helps bolster Obama's claims that his $787 billion economic recovery plan could create millions of new jobs. The package contains about $85 billion in green investment, and the administration has repeatedly touted its efforts at creating new clean energy jobs.
The Pew report said the new jobs were created across 38 states, and not restricted to specific regions.
By 2007, more than 68,200 businesses accounted for about 770,000 green jobs. That is not hugely below the numbers of jobs in fossil-fuel industries, including oil and gas extraction and coal mining, which employed 1.27 million people in 2007, the report said.
California created the most green jobs: 125,390, while Wyoming had the fewest, just 1,419. Pay scales among the new jobs ranged from $21,000 to $111,000 a year, Pew said.