Friday, 11 December 2009

Soros Proposes Way to Fund CO2 Cuts

COPENHAGEN -- Financier George Soros proposed that rich nations tap into special currency reserves issued by the International Monetary Fund to finance developing nations' efforts to combat climate change.
CO2 by Country
Take a look at events leading up to the climate conference.
Making the proposal, Mr. Soros waded into the key dispute between rich and poor nations at the United Nations climate summit here.
Mr. Soros suggested that rich nations finance climate subsidies for developing nations by tapping into some of the $283 billion in special drawing rights that the IMF issued to respond to the global financial crisis earlier this year. More than $150 billion of those rights went to the 15 biggest developed economies, he said. Special drawing rights, or SDRs, are a form of composite currency issued by the IMF to its members.
"Rich countries could double available funding to combat climate change by donating recently issued special drawing rights to a new green fund," Mr. Soros said. "This fund would jump-start investment in low-carbon energy sources, reforestation efforts, rainforest protection, land-use reform, and adaptation programs."
Developing countries expressed support for the idea, while European Union negotiators responded with skepticism. The IMF declined to comment.
Mr. Soros is among a cadre of business and political figures in Copenhagen hoping to sway the bargaining among 190 nations over what should be done to cut the emissions linked to a trend of rising temperatures, and who should pay the price. The conference is scheduled to end Dec. 18 with a gathering of world leaders.
The U.N.'s chief climate negotiator said "some progress" is being made toward deals that leaders can consider next week. "There is real seriousness now to negotiate, good progress is being made in a number of areas, especially in the area of technology," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Countries agreed that a new executive body should be set up and would be responsible "for accelerating action on technology development and transfer."
The transfer of technology to developing countries to help them limit their greenhouse-gas emissions is a delicate matter in the talks because of issues such as intellectual-property rights and patents. Technology transfer could be a profit opportunity for investors and companies with solar panels, wind turbines, carbon scrubbers and other technology.
Financier George Soros announced a plan to generate an additional $100 billion for climate-change relief.
Mr. Soros said in October he would invest up to $1 billion in clean-energy technology, and announced the formation of a policy initiative to address global warming, which he would fund with $10 million a year over 10 years.
Without action to put limits on consumption of fossil fuels, however, some clean-energy bets may not pay out, because fuels such as coal and oil are cheap, abundant, and don't require expensive new technology.
Poor countries are calling on the U.S. and the European Union to subsidize investments in clean-energy technology.
Developing countries, backed by some nongovernmental organizations, embraced Mr. Soros's idea. "As we are sitting now, the IMF is sitting with more than $200 billion of SDRs that are not being used," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, Sudan's ambassador to the U.N. and chairman of the Group of 77 developing nations, in a news conference Thursday. Issuing that money wouldn't create inflation, just "effective demand," he said.
EU representatives were cautious. "We have to be very careful in the way we use the special drawing rights. It is an instrument that can be used in very specific situations," said Artur Runge-Metzger, a lead EU negotiator. "There is no way we can just print money in order to make sure there is sufficient finance on the table."—Devon Maylie in London contributed to this article.
Write to Alessandro Torello at

Copenhagen Summit: developing nations warn of failure without US reverse

Philippe Naughton in Copenhagen

The top African negotiator at the Copenhagen climate summit called on Barack Obama today to live up to the world's expectations of him as a Nobel laureate and commit America to a meaningful global agreement to tackle global warming.
The call from Lumumba Di Aping of Sudan, who chairs the G77 group of developing nations, came as President Obama visited the Norwegian capital Oslo - just 300 miles to the north - to pick up a Nobel Peace Prize that many feel is premature.
Mr Di Aping, who has spent the opening days of the Copenhagen summit railing against Western attempts to impose a climate deal, said the the world "cannot achieve an equitable and a just deal that would save the planet without the participation of the United States".
He repeated a call for American to ratify and join the Kyoto Protocol, which Mr Obama has already made clear he will not do. The US walked away from the landmark deal to cap CO2 emissions in 2001 when President Bush decided that it would be too costly for American business.

"We should not waste time trying to reinvent what we have already achieved," Mr Di Aping said. "That simply undermines the fight against the emissions. That's the challenge President Obama needs to rise to - that's what we expect of him as a Nobel prizewinner, that is what we expect of him as one of the new advocates of multiateralism."
The Sudanese diplomat backed an innovative idea proposed earlier today by the financier George Soros for industrialised nations to free up unused Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) - foreign exchange reserves issued by the International Monetary Fund - to held poorer countries head off cope with global warming.
Mr Soros, himself worth an estimated $11 billion, wants to create a $100 billion fund to invest in and finance reforestation and agriculture projects and says it could help break a financing logjam in the Copenhagen negotiations - although he doubted that the United States would want to get involved.
Picking up on the idea, Mr Di Aping immediately doubled it to $200 billion and said that the question should be asked of the US Congress: "You approve billions of dollars in defence budgets: why can't you approve $200 billion to save the world?"
The SDR idea looks unlikely to gain much traction in Copenhagen, but beyond the dramatics there were the first signs of some serious progress towards a deal.
Mr Obama is due to arrive in Copenhagen next Friday along with at least 110 other world leaders, the latest among them President Medvedev of Russia. The US leader will doubtless remember his last trip to Copenhagen when he came to tout Chicago as potential host of the 2018 Olympic Games, only for IOC members to choose Rio de Janeiro instead.
The US President had originally planned to stop off in Copenhagen yesterday, en route to the Nobel ceremony, but decided last week to come for the final day of the talks on December 18, when any deal would be signed by the assembled leaders.
That suggested a degree of optimism in the American camp that something worth signing will emerge from the two weeks of negotiations in Copenhagen.
Because of the US refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which obliged developed nations to cut CO2 emissions by 5 per cent on 1990 levels by 2012, the Copenhagen conference has twin-track negotiations on reaching a successor accord to Kyoto and a separate pact to which the United States would also sign up.
But there is a growing feeling among delegates from developed and emerging economies that there is no point sticking with the Kyoto Protocol if the United States is not involved and the summit should focus its attention on an entirely new treaty.
Developing nations would resist such a proposal - and reacted angrily to a "Danish text" which effectively took such a line - but may have no choice if they want to receive the vast sums on offer to help them mitigate the effects of global warming.
The EU's chief climate negotiator, Anders Turesson, complained today that the slow pace in the formal plenary session of the conference was preventing progress elsewhere, including in the negotiating track with with the Americans are most closely involved.
The plenary session has been tied up over calls from developing nations for a much more ambitious target on limiting global warming.
More than half the countries at the 192-nation back a call from the Pacific island of Tuvalu - which says it is already sending climate refugees abroad - for a formal target of limiting rises in termperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Industrialised nations have backed a 2C target.
In his Nobel acceptance speech, Mr Obama said that world had to come together to confront climate change.
"There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades," he added.

Copenhagen: Barack Obama backs Norway-Brazil forest protection plan

US president endorses scheme proposed by Norway and Brazil that would protect the world's rainforests with funding from rich countries which cannot cut their emissions at home
John Vidal in Copenhagen, Thursday 10 December 2009 17.12 GMT
The US president, Barack Obama, made his first public intervention in the Copenhagen climate summit today by backing a plan put forward by Norway and Brazil which would protect the world's rainforests with funding from rich countries that cannot meet their commitments to cut emissions domestically.
Speaking after he accepted the Nobel peace prize in Oslo, Norway, Obama said: "I am very impressed with the model that has been built between Norway and Brazil that allows for effective monitoring and ensures that we are making progress in avoiding deforestation of the Amazon.
"It's probably the most cost-effective way for us to address the issue of climate change - having an effective set of mechanisms in place to avoid further deforestation and hopefully to plant new trees."
The president is not due at the conference for another week but his intervention comes at a critical time in the summit where negotiations on deforestation are moving rapidly.
The scheme is seen as attractive because pilot studies have shown it to be effective and has the backing of Prince Charles's Rainforest Project.
Countries are more or less unanimously behind finding a way to reduce deforestation, which accounts for 16% of world greenhouse gas emissions, but are encountering sticking points which require the intervention of heads of state.
At least 20 different plans for Reduced deforestation and degradation (Redd) plans have been put forward by many different countries, but talks are in the balance over the rights and safeguards for people who live in or depend on the forests; how the money can be prevented from falling prey to corruption; how to measure and verify claims of protection and the future of existing forest industries.
Rich countries are eager to find a solution because a successful deal will provide them with a solution to "offset" hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon. Poor countries, especially in the tropics, are equally keen because they stand to receive vast cash flow for protecting their forests.
Brazil is critical in forest talks because it not only is responsible for nearly 20% of all global forest emissions, but it has the largest swath of trees in the world and therefore stands to make more money than anyone else by protecting them.
Today, the talks were moving quickly. The EU has proposed a 50% cut in the rate of deforestation by 2020 and a complete halt by 2030. But Brazil said it did not want a specific target or timetable, arguing that Redd would be voluntary, and that developing countries needed to see how much money they might receive before committing themselves to such an ambitious global scheme.
Obama's endorsement of the Brazil-Norway plan was welcomed by non-governmental organisations who said that it indicated that money had a good chance of being found to set up Redd schemes.
A global deforestation initiative would take many years to establish, and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to set up because it would require satellite technology and pilot projects. In addition, governments will have to pass domestic legislation before it begins.
Also in Copenhagen, Google demonstrated a new technology prototype that enables online, global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the Earth's forests. The technology, which combines satellite photography, area-measuring software and a "cloud" processing engine, will be offered as not-for-profit service to all nations.

Kofi Annan - Climate change puts us all in the same boat. One hole will sink us all

Global warming does not respect borders. A mindset shift is required if world leaders are to save us from ourselves

Kofi Annan, Thursday 10 December 2009 13.05 GMT
The UN climate change conference in Copenhagen offers the prospect of a robust political deal, endorsed by the world's leaders and witnessed by the world's people, that sets out clear targets and a timeline for translating it into law. To be a truly historic achievement, such a deal must do two things.
First, it must lay the basis for a global regime and subsequent agreements that limit global temperature rise in accordance with the scientific evidence. Second, it must provide clarity on the mobilisation and volume of financial resources to support developing countries to adapt to climate change.
The stakes are enormous. Economic growth has been achieved at great environmental and social cost, aggravating inequality and human vulnerability. The irreparable damage that is being inflicted on ecosystems, agricultural productivity, forests and water systems is accelerating. Threats to health, life and livelihoods are growing. Disasters are also increasing in scale and frequency.
But despite the mounting evidence of negative impacts, reaching a deal will not be easy. It will require extraordinary political courage – both to cut the deal and to communicate its necessity to the public.
A mindset shift is required. Distrust and competition persist between regions and nations, manifest in a "no, you must show your cards first" attitude that has dogged the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. This has to be overcome.
A deal that is not based on the best scientific evidence will be nothing better than a line in the sand as the tide comes in. But short-term considerations, including from special interest groups and electoral demands, are working against long-term solutions.
Success in reaching a deal will require leaders to think for future generations, and for citizens other than their own. It will require them to think about inclusive and comprehensive arrangements, not just a patched up compilation of national or regional interests.
A deal that stops at rhetoric and does not actually meet the needs of the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries simply will not work. The climate cannot be "fixed" in one continent and not another. Climate change does not respect national borders. We are all in the same boat; a hole at one end will sink us all.
For it to work, climate justice must be at the heart of the agreement. An unfair deal will come unstuck. Industrialised countries such as the United States must naturally take the lead in reducing emissions and supporting others to follow suit, but developing countries like India or China also have an increasing responsibility to do so as their economies continue to grow.
Tragically, it is the poorest and least responsible who are having to bear the brunt of the climate challenge as rising temperatures exacerbate poverty, hunger and vulnerability to disease for billions of people. They need both immediate help to strengthen their climate resilience as well as long-term support to enable them to adapt to changing weather patterns, reduce deforestation, and pursue low-emissions, clean energy growth strategies.
The deal must include a package of commitments in line with the science and the imperative of reducing global emissions by 50-85% relative to 2000 levels by 2050.
This requires a schedule for richer countries to move to 25-40% emission cuts by 2020 from 1990 baselines; clear measures for emerging economies to cut emissions intensity; and clarity about both immediate and longer term finance and technical support for developing countries, notably the poorest and most vulnerable among them.
Will we get there? The targets that have been proposed for emission reductions by many industrialised countries such as the EU, Japan and Norway are encouraging, as are those being made by the big emerging economies including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.
Recent announcements by the US on emission targets represent a significant shift and provide a basis for scaling up commitments in the coming years. So does the recognition by emerging economies that they also have a role in supporting the most vulnerable countries.
Welcome too are the proposals for financial support to LDCs and small island states made at the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad, as well as proposals by the Netherlands, France, and the UK, among others.
But much greater specificity on finance is needed. Existing official development assistance (ODA) commitments to help the poorest countries meet the Millennium Development Goals need to be met. And significant additional finance that is separate from and additional to ODA needs to be mobilised to support them meet the incremental costs generated by climate change.
A deal that is not clear on the finance will be both unacceptable to developing countries, and unworkable. Finding the additional resources and communicating its necessity will not be easy, particularly in the current economic climate, but it must be done.
A successful deal could incentivise not only good stewardship of forests and more sustainable land use, but also massive investment into low-carbon growth and a healthier planet, including in sectors such as energy generation, construction and transportation.
And it could usher in an era of qualitatively new international co-operation based on common but differentiated responsibilities – not just for managing climate change, but for human development, social justice and global security.
Ultimately, at stake is whether our leaders can work to help us save ourselves from … well, from ourselves. The legacy of today's politicians will be determined in the weeks to come.
• Kofi Annan was UN secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. He now chairs the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Africa Progress Panel and is president of the Global Humanitarian Forum
For regular updates on the Copenhagen climate talks and beyond

How to finance a climate change fund

Money for a vital 'green fund' in the developing world could come from a loan of IMF special drawing rights

George Soros, Thursday 10 December 2009 13.00 GMT
It is now generally agreed that the developed countries will have to make a substantial financial contribution to enable the developing world to deal with climate change. Funds are needed to invest in new low-carbon energy sources, reforestation and protection of rainforests, land-use changes, and adaptation and mitigation. But there is no similar agreement on where the money will come from.
The developed countries are reluctant to make additional financial commitments. They have just experienced a significant jump in their national debts, and they still need to stimulate their domestic economies. This colours their attitudes. It looks like they will be able to cobble together a "fast-start" fund of $10bn a year for the next few years, but more does not fit into their national budgets. This is unlikely to satisfy the developing countries.
I believe that this amount could be at least doubled and assured for a longer time span. Developed countries' governments are labouring under the misapprehension that funding must come from their national budgets. But that is not the case. They have the money already. It is lying idle in their reserve accounts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Spending it would not add to any country's fiscal deficit. All they need to do is to tap into it.
In September 2009, the IMF distributed to its members $283bn worth of special drawing rights (SDRs), arcane financial instruments that essentially constitute additional foreign exchange. They can be used only by converting them into one of four currencies, at which point they begin to carry interest at those currencies' combined treasury bill rate. At present, the interest rate is less than 0.5%.
Of the $283bn worth of recently distributed SDRs, more than $150bn went to the 15 largest developed economies. These SDRs will sit largely untouched in the reserve accounts of these countries, which don't really need any additional reserves.
I propose that the developed countries – in addition to establishing a fast-start fund of $10bn a year – band together and lend $100bn worth of these SDRs for 25 years to a special green fund serving the developing world. The fund would jump-start forestry, land use, and agricultural projects – areas that offer the greatest scope for reducing or mitigating carbon emissions, and that could produce substantial returns from carbon markets.
The returns such projects could generate go beyond addressing carbon emissions. Returns from land-use projects, for example, could also include the potential to create more sustainable rural livelihoods, enable higher and more resilient agricultural yields, and generate rural employment.
This is a simple and practical idea, and there is a precedent for it. The UK and France each recently lent $2bn worth of SDRs to a special fund at the IMF to support concessionary lending to the poorest countries. At that point, the IMF assumed responsibility for the principal and interest on the SDRs. The same could be done in this case.
I further propose that member countries agree to use the IMF's gold reserves to guarantee the interest payments and repayment of the principal. The IMF owns a lot of gold – more than 100m ounces – and it is on the books at historical cost. Thus, at current market prices, it is worth more than $100bn over its book value. It has already been designated to be used for the benefit of the least developed countries. The proposed green fund would meet this requirement.
This means that the developed countries that lend the SDRs would incur no interest expense and no responsibility for repayment. There are some serious technical problems involved in offsetting the interest income against the interest expense, particularly in the United States, but the net effect would be a wash. These technical difficulties stood in the way of previous attempts to put the SDRs to practical use, but they do not apply to the proposed green fund.
There are three powerful arguments in favour of this proposal. First, the green fund could be self-financing or even profitable; very little of the IMF's gold, if any, would actually be used.
Second, the projects will earn a return only if developed countries co-operate in setting up the right type of carbon markets. Establishing a green fund would be an implicit pledge to do so by putting the gold reserves of the IMF at risk.
Finally, this money would be available now, jump-starting carbon-saving projects.
For all these reasons, the developing countries ought to embrace my proposal. The key point is that it is possible to increase substantially the amount available to fight global warming in the developing world by using the existing allocations of SDRs, with interest payments on them guaranteed by the IMF's gold reserves.
All that is lacking is the political will. The mere fact that tapping SDRs requires congressional approval in the US ensures that nothing will happen without public pressure – including pressure from the developing countries. Yet it could make the difference between success and failure in Copenhagen.
• Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

Illegal palm oil from forests taints household brands

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

A company that produces many of Britain’s best-known household brands has been exposed as contributing to the destruction of rainforests by buying thousands of tonnes of illegal palm oil.
Unilever, which uses palm oil in its Flora and Stork margarines, Dove toiletries and Persil washing powder among many other products, will today announce that it is cutting links with Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s largest palm oil company.
Unilever is acting after being shown photographic evidence of Sinar Mas clearing rainforest in protected areas, including reserves for the country’s endangered orang-utan population.
The Anglo-Dutch company, which claims to be a leader in protecting rainforests and chairs the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), was informed almost two years ago about Sinar Mas’s illegal activities.

It cancelled the £20 million annual contract in the past few days after learning that Greenpeace was about to publish a dossier of evidence.
The RSPO, which also includes Sinar Mas, is a self-regulation body that aims to prevent illegal forest clearance. Environmental groups have criticised it as toothless and an obstacle to independent scrutiny.
The growth of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned the country into the third-largest emitter of CO2, after China and the US. Indonesia has the fastest rate of deforestation, losing an area the size of Wales every year.
Deforestation contributes 15-20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the key issues being debated at the Copenhagen climate change summit.
Sinar Mas is one of dozens of palm oil companies likely to exploit loopholes in proposed new UN rules on protecting forests. Under the draft text of the rules, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd), palm oil plantations created by clearing rainforests would qualify for payments from a new fund under which rich countries would pay developing countries for storing carbon in trees.
Gavin Neath, Unilever’s vice-president for communications, said: “We have received very serious allegations against Sinar Mas and we had no choice but to suspend future purchases from them.” He said that the company had not acted before because it thought it better to work with Sinar Mas to improve its practices. He admitted that this approach had failed.
Unilever is the world’s biggest consumer of palm oil and has pledged to buy only from certified sustainable plantations from 2015. This year, 85 per cent of its palm oil was uncertified.
Waitrose said this month that all the palm oil in its own-brand products would be from sustainable sources by 2012.
The growth of certified palm oil has been held back by a dispute between producers and buyers over the price for the sustainable product.
Producers had been asking for an additional 10 per cent to cover the cost of certification. Mr Neath said that Unilever had been unwilling to pay this because it believed that consumers had little understanding of the issues about palm oil and would not accept the extra cost. Unilever negotiated a smaller premium on 180,000 tonnes of sustainable palm oil this year out of its consumption of 1.3 million tonnes.
Simon Lewis, research fellow on tropical forests at Leeds University, said: “We shouldn’t have the companies buying the palm oil being the policemen. We need a strong Redd agreement with independent monitoring and no loopholes for new plantations.”

Acid oceans 'the evil twin of global warming' could wipe out many marine species

Published Date: 11 December 2009
By Jenny Fyall
THE acidity of the oceans will rise by unprecedented levels causing mass extinction of marine species unless emissions are cut, a Scots-sponsored report has warned.
The report, presented at the Copenhagen climate summit, said the acidity of the oceans has already risen 30 per cent since industrialisation began. If levels continue to rise, acidity could increase by 120 per cent by 2060. This would make the seas more acidic than they have been for 21 million years, according to the IUCN report – which was part sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage.The acidity could put 70 per cent of cold water corals at risk by the end of the century.The oceans act as a huge carbon sink, as is taken out of the atmosphere and dissolves in the seawater, where it forms carbonic acid.As humans put increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the seas are becoming rapidly more acidic, damaging the ability of plankton, shellfish, molluscs and reef-building species to create skeletons or shells – with knock-on effects up the marine food chain."Ocean acidification can be best described as the evil twin of climate change," said Dan Laffoley, lead editor of the guide, and marine vice chairman of IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas. As well as providing about half the Earth's natural resources, the oceans also produce half the oxygen we breathe.Prof Laffoley warned that ocean acidification would affect seas and coastal areas all around the world. "No matter where you are, remember that every breath you take and every drop of water you drink connects you back to the ocean," he said.Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the IUCN Global Marine Programme, added: "The ocean is what makes Earth habitable and different from anywhere else we know in our solar system and beyond – now's the time to act to minimise the impacts on our life support system while we still have time."

United Technologies Corporation flies to the rescue of Clipper Windpower

Stake in loss-making firm stabilises future of Britannia turbines for wind power market

Terry Macalister, Thursday 10 December 2009 12.36 GMT
United Technologies Corporation, the maker of Sikorsky helicopters, has come to the rescue of Clipper Windpower and secured the future of the huge Britannia offshore turbine being developed in the north-east of England.
UTC, which also makes Pratt & Whitney aero engines, has spent £126m buying a 49.5% stake in loss-making Clipper, which is listed on London's junior Aim market but has most of its sales in the US.
Clipper recently won a grant from energy secretary Ed Miliband to build a factory to construct the Britannia's 70m (230ft) blades for use in the North Sea wind power sector, but, like Vestas and other turbine manufacturers, has been struggling with cash shortages.
Clipper more than doubled its sales but made a net loss of $120.2m (£75m) in the first six months of the year. Management has made clear in recent months it is searching for a new backer to secure the company's long-term future.
Shares in Clipper soared 19.86% to 175p amid relief and excitement about the investment by UTC, seen by many as the strongest possible partner given its $64bn (£39.3bn) capitalisation. UTC, based in Hartford, Connecticut, has a fuel-cell business but no other real investment or track record in wind or other renewable energy.
Douglas Pertz, Clipper's chief executive, described the UTC investment as "transformational" and said it would give a platform for expansion. "Our relationship with UTC will enable Clipper to access UTC's support and expertise in areas of manufacturing, product quality and other industrial processes, while providing Clipper with equity financing to deliver our longer-term strategic goals," he said.
"Following this transaction, we believe there is a tremendous opportunity for Clipper to grow its market share and take its world-class technology to new markets."
But not everyone is convinced the future is bright enough yet for Clipper. Analysts at investment bank Piper Jaffray warned: "Today's placing clearly gives the company a cash buffer given that it remains loss-making – the company had a $103m cash burn in the first half of this year. However, technology issues remain and reliance on customer pre- payments remains a key risk to the business model."

Deepwater Wind to build first U.S. ocean wind farm

Reuters, Friday December 11 2009
* Private developer signs agreement with National Grid
* First 28-MW phase of wind farm to be completed in 2013
* Plans to build larger 385-MW project as well
* Sees total cost at $1.5 bln
(Adds CEO comments, state's electricity rate, byline)
By Laura Isensee
LOS ANGELES, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The tiniest state in the nation may build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, after privately held Deepwater Wind on Thursday landed a deal to sell power from the first phase of a Rhode Island project that eventually could supply 15 percent of the state's electricity.
Under a 20-year power purchase agreement, developer Deepwater Wind will sell electricity from up to 8 turbines producing 28 megawatts to National Grid Plc.
Earlier this year Rhode Island set a target to obtain 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2015. ID:nN26291981
Many states and their utilities have looked to solar and wind power to meet clean energy goals, but Rhode Island expects offshore wind power to make up the bulk of its green energy.
Currently there are no offshore wind projects operating off the United States.
The other contender to become the first U.S. offshore wind farm is Cape Wind, a 130-turbine, $1 billion wind farm planned off the coast of neighboring Massachusetts, that has been mired in protests by critics.
"It's probably always going to be cheaper to build land-based wind farms than offshore wind farms," Deepwater's Chief Executive William Moore said in an interview.
"But the situation here in southern New England is actually much closer to the situation in Northern Europe where there isn't a lot of land suitable for large land-based wind farms," said Moore, who spent 13 years working on onshore wind sites.
The executive said a combination of geography -- a medium water depth of 80 to 100 feet is needed -- and construction logistics -- like access to specialized vessels to install the turbines -- have held back U.S. offshore wind projects.
The first phase of Deepwater's project, called the Block Island Wind Farm, is expected to start operations in 2013. Its turbines are planned to go up 3 miles off the coast of Block Island in state-owned waters, which developers believe will ease the permitting process.
The project includes plans to build a transmission line to Block Island, which currently relies mostly on diesel fuel. Any excess electricity generated by the project that the island does not use will be fed to the state's main grid.
For the first year of the project, the electricity will cost 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour. In August, the average retail price of electricity in Rhode Island was 13.85 cents per kilowatt hour.
Deepwater also plans to build a larger utility-scale offshore wind power project in federal waters. The developer must sign a separate power purchase agreement for that farm, rated at 385 megawatts.
Moore said that the company could build the larger project in 2014 or 2015 and could grow it to 500 MW.
"For Deepwater projects, there are pretty significant economies of scale. What we're looking at is building a larger project and interconnecting that to other adjacent states," Moore said.
Together the projects would generate about 1.3 million megawatt hours of electricity annually, enough to meet 15 percent of the state's energy needs, and cost $1.5 billion.
Deepwater, whose largest investor is hedge fund DE Shaw, is funding the project through private equity and debt.
The developer expects to select a supplier for the first phase of the wind farm in the early part of 2010, Moore said.
Manufacturers that make offshore wind turbines include Siemens AG and Vestas.
Deepwater, which is also focused on the markets of New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, also plans to bid for a proposed utility-scale offshore wind project off New York in the first quarter of 2010, Moore said. (Reporting by Laura Isensee; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Google unveils breakthrough technology to monitor deforestation

The software can processes satellite images to extract scientific and tracking information about how much forests have changed

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 10 December 2009 19.10 GMT

Tracking the destruction of the world's forests is to become much easier for scientists and forest managers, thanks to a software tool unveiled by search-engine giant Google's philanthropic arm today.
The software, which uses Google's computing resources to extract scientific information from decades of satellite images of forests, was demonstrated at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. "We hope this technology will help stop the destruction of the world's rapidly disappearing forests," said a statement on the blog . "Emissions from tropical deforestation are comparable to the emissions of all of the EU, and are greater than those of all cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains worldwide. According to the Stern Review – the report prepared for the British government in 2006 on the economics of climate change by Lord Nicholas Stern – protecting the world's standing forests is a highly cost-effective way to cut carbon emissions and mitigate climate change."
The UN mechanism to reduce deforestation is called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (Redd), a system whereby richer countries would provide financial incentives to protect forests in poorer nations. For Redd to be successful, however, countries need ways to accurately monitor and report on the state of their forests.
In's prototype software, environmental authorities or NGOs interested in monitoring forests start with satellite images of their area and track how the size and shape of the tree cover has changed over time. The software can processes the images to extract useful scientific and tracking information about how much the forests have changed.
For the analysis, the team worked with Greg Asner of Carnegie Institution for Science and Carlos Souza of Imazon. Technology developed by Asner and Souza is used in Latin America to track changes in forest cover – but mainstream use of the models has been slow due to lack of access to high-quality satellite images and the computer power needed to carry out the analysis.'s solution is to enhance the Asner and Souza models using its own computing power. "What if we could gather together all of the earth's raw satellite imagery data – petabytes of historical, present and future data – and make it easily available on this platform? We decided to find out, by working with Greg and Carlos to re-implement their software online, on top of a prototype platform we've built that gives them easy access to terabytes of satellite imagery and thousands of computers in our data centres," it wrote.
Colby Loucks, deputy director of the conservation science program at WWF-US said: "A cost-effective and transparent approach for monitoring deforestation is needed to help pave the way for a global Redd program. If Google's system can be expanded to cover forests globally and access near real-time imagery, it can potentially be a powerful tool that helps tropical countries monitor forest loss."