Monday, July 14, 2008

Microsoft Pays Employees For Energy Efficiency Improvements

Microsoft has introduced employee incentives to improve energy efficiency and it’s paying off. From 2004 to 2007, Microsoft saw a 22 percent improvement in the energy efficiency of its data centers, Network World reports.

Microsoft has begun charging business units based on the amount of energy consumed by the servers that host their services instead of basing the charge on the amount of floor space required to stack the servers that their services used - which led to extremely dense, power hungry servers.

This has allowed the company to do away with underutilized equipment resulting in major savings.

The effort has also led to developers writing new code and examining the trade off between extra speed and energy savings.

Data-center facilities managers are in the game plan too - yearly bonuses are based on year-over-year efficiency improvements.

Dupont is also using incentives to cut energy use.

To the source...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tiny Somerset set for large coal gasification push -The Green Blog - A Boston Globe blog on living Green in Boston

Tiny Somerset set for large coal gasification push -The Green Blog - A Boston Globe blog on living Green in Boston

A $25 million demonstration project that converts coal to clean-burning natural gas is scheduled to be built at the large Brayton Point power station.

But it is a second proposal at a smaller coal-fired power plant in the community that is raising residents’ ire. Last week, that plant moved another step closer to gasification after a state environmental judge moved to dismiss an appeal by 12 Somerset area citizens challenging the state’s decision to allow it.

Secret World Bank Report Blames Biofuels for Food Price Spike | Wired Science from

Secret World Bank Report Blames Biofuels for Food Price Spike | Wired Science from

Thursday, July 3, 2008

State starts a green era

Law encourages renewable sources; Utilities expected to help cut costs - By Beth Daley Globe Staff / July 3, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick signed a landmark energy bill yesterday that does away with long-standing obstacles to building renewable power projects in Massachusetts and making homes and businesses more energy efficient.

The Green Communities Act was hailed by environmentalists as among the most innovative efforts in the nation to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to encourage use of clean technologies that don't contribute to global warming.

The law will probably result in utilities' designing customized plans for homeowners and businesses to cut energy costs and providing rebates to pay for measures such as installing insulating windows and more efficient boilers. Homeowners and businesses will be able to rent solar panels from utilities to avoid expensive up-front costs, and the law makes it easier for homeowners who have installed wind turbines or solar panels to sell surplus energy.

Supporters said the new law could save hundreds of millions of dollars through energy efficiency, helping to hold down consumers' electric bills as energy prices are skyrocketing.

"I am here today to sign into law the best clean energy bill in America," a jubilant Patrick said during a signing ceremony at the Museum of Science. "Climate change is the challenge of our times, and we in Massachusetts are rising to that challenge."

Massachusetts has long been a leader in energy legislation, and it is taking part in a regional effort to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants. Patrick has set an aggressive goal to increase solar power in the state by 600 percent in four years.

The law "maintains Massachusetts' status as a state leader," said Patrick Hogan of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Virginia-based environmental policy think tank.

Business leaders praised the legislation, saying it could stabilize electric rates in New England, already among the highest in the nation. Utilities, including NStar and National Grid, said they have long focused on energy efficiency but are eager to ramp up the effort, as well as to provide solar power to customers.

"It pushes us to a new level," said Tom May, NStar's chief executive. "We get to cross the street to our customer side and help them with energy choices . . . such as windmills in a neighborhood or solar panels. It's helping them reduce their carbon footprint."

Among the law's major provisions:

A requirement for utilities to invest in energy efficiency when it is cheaper to do so than it is to buy power. Historically, companies would simply buy more power when demand went up, which over time would lead to construction of very costly and polluting power plants. Now, utilities will have to invest in energy efficiency if to do so is equal to or cheaper than buying power. The law will also use at least 80 percent of the revenue from the regional effort to cap power plant emissions for efficiency programs, such as home energy audits to identify how to save on energy bills.

"The cleanest power plant is the one that never gets built," said Sam Krasnow, attorney for Environment Northeast, a research and advocacy group. "Energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest energy resource available."

Several efforts to promote renewable power. Utilities would have to enter into 10- or 15-year contracts with renewable energy developers, an effort to help those developers get financing from banks. The Patrick administration is particularly proud of a provision that lifts a prohibition on utilities owning solar electric panels and allows them to rent the panels to customers. The law is designed to allow utilities to recoup the cost of panels over time from rental fees while the customers reap energy savings.

Utilities will have to purchase a greater amount of their electricity from renewable power sources than under current law. By 2030, utilities would buy 25 percent of their power from renewables.

It is unclear whether that goal, one of the most ambitious in the nation, can be met, however. The current requirement of 3.5 percent has not been met, partly because of the difficulty in siting renewable projects. The utilities instead pay a fee to the state.

The creation of "Green Communities." The state will commit $10 million annually to help communities figure out ways to become more energy efficient or invest in renewables, including giving them no-interest loans. New buildings in the state will have to meet updated building codes with energy-savings provisions.

The energy bill encountered some controversy during the two years it took to become law. Early versions guaranteed a market for coal gasification, a technology that is cleaner than conventional coal-burning power plants but still emits large amounts of carbon dioxide.

The final language would give financial incentives to gasification technologies only in limited cirumstances and only to those that capture and store the carbon dioxide underground.

Environmentalists had nothing but praise for the law yesterday, saying it was a paradigm shift in the way energy will be created, bought and sold.

"This is a tremendous advancement that comes not a moment too soon, given rising energy prices and the climate crisis," said Sue Reid, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation.

Article source:

Beth Daley can be reached at

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

NASA warming scientist: 'This is the last chance'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Exactly 20 years after warning America about global warming, a top NASA scientist said the situation has gotten so bad that the world's only hope is drastic action.

James Hansen told Congress on Monday that the world has long passed the "dangerous level" for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and needs to get back to 1988 levels. He said Earth's atmosphere can only stay this loaded with man-made carbon dioxide for a couple more decades without changes such as mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.

"We're toast if we don't get on a very different path," Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences who is sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, told The Associated Press. "This is the last chance."

Hansen brought global warming home to the public in June 1988 during a Washington heat wave, telling a Senate hearing that global warming was already here. To mark the anniversary, he testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming where he was called a prophet, and addressed a luncheon at the National Press Club where he was called a hero by former Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who headed the 1988 hearing.

To cut emissions, Hansen said coal-fired power plants that don't capture carbon dioxide emissions shouldn't be used in the United States after 2025, and should be eliminated in the rest of the world by 2030. That carbon capture technology is still being developed and not yet cost efficient for power plants.

Burning fossil fuels like coal is the chief cause of man-made greenhouse gases. Hansen said the Earth's atmosphere has got to get back to a level of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. Last month, it was 10 percent higher: 386.7 parts per million.

Hansen said he'll testify on behalf of British protesters against new coal-fired power plants. Protesters have chained themselves to gates and equipment at sites of several proposed coal plants in England.

"The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants," Hansen told the luncheon. "I'm not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this."

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for many U.S. utilities, including those trying to build new coal plants, said while Hansen has shown foresight as a scientist, his "stop them all approach is very simplistic" and shows that he is beyond his level of expertise.

The year of Hansen's original testimony was the world's hottest year on record. Since then, 14 years have been hotter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Two decades later, Hansen spent his time on the question of whether it's too late to do anything about it. His answer: There's still time to stop the worst, but not much time.

"We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes," Hansen told the AP before the luncheon. "The Arctic is the first tipping point and it's occurring exactly the way we said it would."

Hansen, echoing work by other scientists, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

Longtime global warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., citing a recent poll, said in a statement, "Hansen, (former Vice President) Gore and the media have been trumpeting man-made climate doom since the 1980s. But Americans are not buying it."

But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., committee chairman, said, "Dr. Hansen was right. Twenty years later, we recognize him as a climate prophet."

Justices Take Case on Navy Use of Sonar

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday stepped into a long-running environmental dispute over the impact on whales and other marine mammals of Navy training exercises off Southern California.

The court, warned by the Bush administration that a set of conditions placed on the exercises by the federal appeals court in San Francisco “jeopardizes the Navy’s ability to train sailors and marines for wartime deployment during a time of ongoing hostilities,” agreed to hear the Navy’s appeal during its next term.

The training exercises, which are due to end next January, will continue in the meantime, because the appeals court issued a stay of its own order when it ruled in the case four months ago. That court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ordered the Navy to suspend or minimize its use of sonar when marine mammals are in the vicinity.

The Navy acknowledges that the sonar can cause “behavioral disruptions” and short-term hearing loss in dolphins and whales, but denies that these effects are serious or lasting. But the Natural Resources Defense Council maintains that the high-intensity sonar causes “mass injury,” including hemorrhaging and stranding. The appeals court said the Navy’s own assessment “clearly indicates that at least some substantial harm will likely occur” without the measures designed to mitigate the sonar’s effects.

The justices themselves will not resolve the debate over the extent of the harm. Rather, as presented to the Supreme Court, the case is a dispute over the limits of executive branch authority and the extent to which the courts should defer to military judgments.

In January, as the case was proceeding in the appeals court, President Bush granted the Navy an exemption from one federal environmental law, the Coastal Zone Management Act. Simultaneously, the Council on Environmental Quality, an executive branch agency, declared that “emergency circumstances” warranted granting an exemption from the full effect of another statute, the National Environmental Policy Act.

These actions did not sway the appeals court, which said that “while we are mindful of the importance of protecting national security, courts have often held, in the face of assertions of potential harm to military readiness, that the armed forces must take precautionary measures to comply with the law.”

In the government’s appeal, Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, No. 07-1239, the administration describes training in the use of sonar to detect submarines as an “essential element” of the exercises, which it says are designed to “train the thousands of military personnel in a strike group to operate as an integrated unit in simultaneous air, surface and undersea warfare.”

The administration’s brief says that by imposing conditions on the use of sonar, “the decision poses substantial harm to national security and improperly overrides the collective judgments of the political branches and the nation’s top naval officers regarding the overriding public interest in a properly trained Navy.”

Under the appeals court’s order, the Navy must suspend the use of sonar or reduce it to specified levels when a marine mammal is seen at certain distances. The appeals courts said this requirement would not compromise the Navy’s ability to conduct the exercises.

Another appeal before the Supreme Court on Monday also presented a clash between executive power and environmental protection, concerning the fence being built on the Mexican border by the Department of Homeland Security.

But in this instance the government had prevailed in the lower court, and the justices, without comment, declined to hear an appeal filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club. The question was the validity of a federal law that allows the secretary of homeland security to waive any federal, state, or local laws that, in the secretary’s “sole discretion,” present obstacles to the fence project.

Michael Chertoff, the department’s secretary, invoked this authority last year in waiving 20 laws, including the Endangered Species Act, to enable the fence project to proceed through a national conservation area in Arizona.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups maintained that the statute violated the separation of powers by delegating to the secretary a form of legislative authority. The lawsuit also challenged the law’s unusually truncated judicial review provision, which limits the types of challenges that can be brought in Federal District Court and strips the appeals court of jurisdiction to hear any appeal.

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the Federal District Court here upheld the law, saying that the breadth of the waiver provision did not make it unconstitutional. The case was Defenders of Wildlife v. Chertoff, No. 07-1180.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trying to make the blacktop greener

States working to curb pollution from road runoff

Every time it rains, a soup of chemicals washes off roadways: Brake fluid, oil, salt, antifreeze, and heavy metals from tens of thousands of cars pour off the asphalt and, often, into rivers and streams.

Until recently, this form of pollution received little attention from regulators and environmentalists, but a movement is slowly building to create what may seem a contradiction: green highways.

Two weeks ago a federal judge in Boston ruled that the Massachusetts Highway Department was violating the federal Clean Water Act and ordered the agency to better control storm water from roadways in urban areas. Meanwhile, some states are beginning to capture and filter storm water before it reaches waterways, using vegetation and porous median strips among other solutions.

"All the pollution that runs off highways is put very quickly into our waterways," said Christopher M. Kilian, director of the Clean Water Program and the lead lawyer in the Massachusetts case for the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental group that sued the Highway Department. "But there are approaches we can use to stop it."

Once, the biggest problems facing waterways such as the Charles River and Boston Harbor were obvious. Raw sewage and toxic chemicals from homes and factories stank and made stepping in the water so foul people would avoid any contact. A decades-long cleanup of these pollution sources, mandated by the Clean Water Act, has gone a long way toward restoring waterways. Boston Harbor now sparkles on many summer days, and the Charles is clean enough that a 1-mile swim is scheduled there tomorrow.

Yet these scrubbing efforts were relatively simple because the pollution could easily be traced back to its sources. Now environmentalists are focusing on a problem that is more dispersed: runoff, carrying everything from dog waste to fertilizer, from lawns, sidewalks, roadways, natural areas, and farms. It is the main reason about 40 percent of rivers, lakes, and estuaries are not clean enough to meet fishing or swimming standards, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

While it's difficult to tease out the highways' share of the problem, federal officials are focusing on them because so many contaminants are washed from roadways, solutions are available and straightforward, and the federal Clean Water Act requires highway departments to deal with the problem.

"Most roads have no controls at all," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Clean Water Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her group is involved in a long-running lawsuit seeking to force the EPA, which enforces the Clean Water Act, to require anyone building roads, schools, and any private construction to use specific, proven technologies to minimize storm water runoff.

There are many highway contaminants. Chloride, sodium, and calcium can accumulate on the pavement from salt and sanding operations. Ordinary wear and tear causes cars to shed oil, grease, rust, and rubber particles. Once the contaminants are washed into waterways, they can be consumed by fish, frogs, and other aquatic life, or settle in the water, contributing to contaminant levels.

The green highway movement also includes advocacy for the use of recyclable materials for pavement or the creation of wildlife crossings. But environmentalists and scientists say storm water runoff is by far the most pressing problem - and the most expensive to fix.

The solutions are hardly high-tech. The goal is to slow water running off pavement and allow it to percolate through soil, vegetation, and stones, which cleanse it before it reaches waterways. Porous road shoulders and medians allow water to migrate into the ground instead of flowing directly into storm drains and rivers. Man-made ponds and adjacent wetlands hold runoff until it can evaporate or seep through soil. Still, such solutions can be difficult in highly urban areas where space is at a premium.

Headway is being made around the country. In January, California promised to reduce runoff pollution from its freeways in Los Angeles and Ventura counties by 20 percent to settle a lawsuit the Natural Resources Defense Council brought in 1994. Two years ago, the EPA, the Federal Highway Administration, several mid-Atlantic states, and other groups formed the Green Highways Partnership to test small-scale green highway programs that can serve as national models. Maryland has constructed man-made ponds on a pilot basis to hold highway storm water so it can filter through soil more slowly. Universities from Villanova to Louisiana State are working to perfect porous pavement technology.

In Massachusetts, state highway officials say they try to incorporate storm water management when building roads or reconstructing them in urbanized areas. But in its lawsuit, the Conservation Law Foundation said the state wasn't doing anything about runoff from the vast network of roads.

Federal District Court Judge William G. Young agreed, saying highway storm water on Interstate 190 in Lancaster was clearly contributing to pollution in a nearby waterway, as were two Route 495 sites that were polluting the Charles River. He also said the agency needs to do a better job assessing how to keep pollution out of waterways in urbanized areas. He told MassHighway to come back to him with a revised storm water management plan by the end of 2009. He praised the agency for doing a good job given fiscal and other constraints, but said "best efforts, of course, is not the standard."

MassHighway officials said they were pleased with the decision because the judge took pains to compliment them on many of their efforts. They acknowledged that they have not initiated new storm water management technologies on roadways that aren't undergoing any other work because of its prohibitive cost, probably hundreds of millions of dollars if storm water controls were installed on state highways in urban areas. They are now waiting for a US Geological Survey report that will help determine where and how pollution is running off highway segments so they can decide where to focus clean-up efforts.

"I think [the judge] was saying, given the breadth of our responsibility, we are doing a pretty good job," said Highway Commissioner Luisa M. Paiewonsky. "[We are] improving a plan already underway."

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / June 14, 2008