Push for a carbon emissions tax

A carbon emissions tax is a huge long-shot in today’s political climate, but that’s not deterring former congressman Bob Inglis.

Google pushes towards zero-carbon emissions


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As a company, Google has a bunch of issues. They have absurdly terrible customer service and treat their affiliates like crap.

But they treat their employees well, and they are also one of the companies leading the charge in carbon emissions and sustainability.

As the double-decker bus turns onto Charleston Road and starts winding through Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, I stretch out in the business-class-size seat, admiring the smoothness of the black leather and the plush gray carpeting at my feet. A spacious table expands to hold a laptop, which can connect to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi system. This $800,000 luxury double-decker is one of 73 buses that Google owns and operates. (It leases 26 others.) Each day the fleet transports about 4,500 employees, or about a third of those working at the Googleplex, as the company’s headquarters is known.

It turns out that Google (GOOG) isn’t offering a free ride simply as an employee perk — the buses actually save the company money. Yes, there’s the added productivity of 4,500 employees working an extra couple of hours each day while riding to and from work. But Google’s bus service is about much more than that. Real estate in Mountain View is expensive. Underground parking spaces cost as much as $85,000 to construct. (Really!) If Google had to build a parking space for each of the bus riders, the price tag would run to almost $400 million. And that’s not counting the lost opportunity cost of not using that land for new office buildings.

Google has made other investments in transportation too. If, during the day, a Google-ite needs to run an errand or pick up a sick kid at school, he or she can hop into one of 52 electric and hybrid cars parked on campus. The company also encourages employees to drive electrics. It has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million to install 395 chargers — the largest corporate electric-vehicle infrastructure in the country.

Finding creative solutions to energy issues has become a major priority for Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page in recent years.

Read the entire article. Other companies may not have the resources to do everything Google is trying, but they can set a great example when it comes to cost-effective solutions for responsible companies.

New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

Natural gas helps CO2 emissions drop

In a surprising bit of good news, CO2 emissions are dropping in the United States, and much of the credit goes to the use of natural gas.

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Natural gas has been controversial due to fracking, but the carbon emission benefits can be substantial if gas replaces coal. It’s also adding to job growth and other economic activity as well.

How the Bloom Box works

Today is the official unveiling of the Bloom Box by Bloom Energy, so we’ll hopefully be getting more and more information on this innovative new fuel cell.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article that nicely summarizes how the technology works.

In case you’ve not read how the Bloom Box system works, each “power plant-in-a-box” come chock full of thin fuel cells, bundled and packaged into an outdoor-safe case. The individual cells soak up oxygen on one side, “and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity,” reported CBS last night. “There’s no need for burning or combustion” but it still requires some form of fuel to work. What kind is up to the owner.

“Our system can use fossil fuels like natural gas. Our system can use renewable fuels like landfill gas, bio-gas,” Sridhar says. “We can use solar.”

In some cases, CO2 is still being emitted by whatever power is feeding the Bloom Box. Rather than calling this new device “zero emission energy,” maybe it’s better to think of it as a booster pack for already-green sources and as an impressive new filter for dirty ones.

Also, The New York Times reports that the Bloom Box generates electricity at competitive rates.

Mr. Sridhar said the Bloom Energy Server has been generating electricity at a cost of 8 to 10 cents a kilowatt-hour.

In California, where Bloom has installed 30 fuel-cell systems, commercial electricity rates averaged about 14 cents a kilowatt-hour in October 2009, according to the latest figures from the United States Department of Energy. Elsewhere, commercial rates averaged 7 to 24 cents a kilowatt-hour.

Last July, eBay flipped the switch on five Bloom Energy Servers that now supply 15 percent of the electricity at its San Jose, Calif., campus, or about five times as much energy as generated by its 3,248 solar panels, according to Amy Skoczlas Cole, director of the company’s Green Team.

“We’re expecting a three-year payback period,” said Ms. Skoczlas Cole, adding that the calculation includes state and federal tax incentives that halved the price of the fuel cells.

Very impressive!

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