In the biggest green news of the past week, while global warming apparently was too hot a button for either candidate to touch—no less, press—during the recent U.S. presidential campaign, the nation’s newly reelected chief executive held forth on the topic during his inaugural address on January 21.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” President Barack Obama pledged to nearly one million Americans standing on the National Mall in Washington, DC. He warned, “The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” adding, “But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries; we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet….That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Even as environmental groups lauded Obama, others pointed out that the President's words will soon be tested as he decides whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The oil pipeline would run from western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Obama blocked it last year; due to uncertainty over its route, which had been mapped to run through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. There is also controversy regarding the type of oil to be transported via the pipeline, which environmental groups referred to as "dirty oil" from the tar sands in Alberta.
Dave Coles, the national president of Canada's largest energy union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), came out against the Keystone XL pipeline last week and called on Obama to reject the project. However, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) approved a new route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on January 22 that would detour around the state’s environmentally sensitive region. Heineman sent a letter to Obama confirming that he would allow the pipeline to proceed through his state. Now, we all await the next move.
Meanwhile, President Obama has some top guns on his side. Just this week, the American military announced the completion of its largest solar installation ever—on 42 acres in the New Mexico desert. The $16.8 million solar plant went online on January 16. Developed in coordination with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Siemens (News - Alert) Government Technologies, Inc., and the investment bank Bostonia, the 4.1-megawatt (MW) White Sands Missile Range solar energy system annually will generate about 10 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean electricity. Complemented by a 375-kilowatt (kW) solar carport, the solar array will supply about 10 percent of the total power used at the installation. All energy generated from the project will be consumed by onsite operations. Construction of the solar power plant began last April and was completed in December.
And in the race to become the “first” and the “largest,” you wouldn’t expect that Volkswagen—still known best for it’s tiny, iconic Beetle—would be a competitor. But the German company has powered up a 9.5 megawatt (MW) solar system that represents both the largest single solar installation at an automotive manufacturing facility in the United States and in the state of Tennessee—as well as Volkswagen’s largest photovoltaic deployment worldwide. At a dedication ceremony on January 23, dignitaries flipped a giant light switch to signal the official opening of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park; built on 33 acres adjacent to VW’s manufacturing plant. The solar park comprises 33,600 solar modules from Shanghai-based JA Solar, designed to produce 13.1 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity annually. The electricity produced by the solar installation will not be sold back to utilities. Instead, it is expected to meet 12.5 percent of the energy needs of the Chattanooga plant during full production and 100 percent during non-production periods.
Across the Pacific and across the Pond, wind farms are spreading, both in terms of number and size. Fittingly enough, what the ocean took away from Japan in the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it is now being harnessed to return in some small measure. Almost two years after one of history’s worst nuclear disasters forced Japan to close all but two of its atomic energy plants, the nation is developing what may be the world’s largest offshore field of wind farms near the site of the shuttered Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. The energy generated by the wind farm should produce about 1 gigawatt (GW) of capacity. That’s only about one-quarter of Daiichi’s past 4.7-gigawatt output—and a small fraction of the amount of power taken offline when more than 50 other nuclear plants were shut down after the accident—but it’s a start. The recently announced wind farm project, due for completion in 2020, will comprise 143 offshore turbines about 10 miles off the coast of Fukushima prefecture. Construction is expected to begin in July.
Windmills are to Holland what chocolate is to Switzerland—national icons, embedded in the regional history and culture. The oldest mill in the Netherlands dates back to the eighth century—and there still are more than 1,000 windmills across the country’s level landscape. However, the nation’s newest wind project will be located offshore, in the North Sea. Rotterdam-based Eneco Energie, which provides more than two million customers in the Netherlands with natural gas and electricity, and the Energy Business Group of Tokyo-based Mitsubishi (News - Alert) Corporation have agreed to jointly construct and operate the Luchterduinen Offshore Wind Farm, sited about 15 miles off the coast of Noordwijk. The project involves installation of 43 wind turbines in a 10-square-mile area. With commercial operations set to start around mid-2015, the wind farm is expected to generate approximately 130 megawatts (MW). The cost of the project is estimated at between US$500 million and US$600 million.
And while the Ravens and 49ers will be heading toward the goal posts at the Super Bowl on February 3, the host city for the competition—New Orleans—has different, but compatible goals in mind. The "Geaux Green" program has been launched by the Super Bowl XLVII Host Committee, Entergy Corporation, and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) to limit the environmental impact of the Super Bowl. All emissions related to travel by the athletes, coaches, support staff and fans are being captured by a farm in Michigan, which Entergy is purchasing, before the gases enter the atmosphere. "Entergy is committed to protecting our environment, and the Super Bowl offers a unique opportunity to showcase creative programs aimed at making a difference," said Patty Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility for Entergy Corporation.
Finally, two competitive automakers, BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corp, have announced that they are teaming up to create revolutionary “lithium-air” batteries for eco-friendly vehicles. The lithium-air batteries will be more powerful and efficient than the lithium-ion batteries commonly seen on the market today. The automakers hope to produce the batteries for a lower cost, which is all a part of their plan to complete a fuel-cell vehicle by the turn of the decade.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman