CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: CPUC Considers Boosting Carbon Offset Program

By Published On: November 20, 2009

The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote just after press time to allow Pacific Gas & Electric to spend up to $20,000 a month of ratepayer funds for marketing a carbon offset program. The program, known as ClimateSmart, which has underperformed to date, would sunset at the end of this year without the commission’s authorization to continue it. At issue is $4.078 million of unspent funds collected from all utility ratepayers for the administration and marketing of the program. PG&E seeks a temporary extension to allow it to expend the funds while the regulators mull over whether to extend the program to the end of 2011. The tentative extension and authority to spend $20,000/month for the program is set for a CPUC’s vote November 20, and expected to be approved. Consumer advocates object to tapping into unspent ratepayers funds. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates and The Utility Return Network contend spending the money on marketing and administration would unfairly prejudice the outcome of the pending application seeking to extend the program by two years--from the end of 2009 to December 31, 2011. The proposed decision would prohibit the expenditure of the funds on day-to-day marketing, noting shareholder money should be used. “Nonetheless, we believe PG&E should be allowed to expend [administrative and marketing] funds for essential administration and compliance activities,” states the proposed ruling by administrative law judge Amy Yip Kikugawa. Under the ClimateSmart program, participating ratepayers voluntarily pay a monthly premium--about $5.00. Program investments have been in forestry protection projects and dairy and landfill methane reduction projects. That has included buying emission reductions from The Conservation Fund’s Big River and Salmon Creek Forest carbon project. * * * * * President Barack Obama conceded that the upcoming United Nations meeting on climate change in Copenhagen is unlikely to produce a new binding international accord on global warming. Meeting in Singapore over the weekend, Obama agreed with other Asian leaders that the aim at Copenhagen should be “an accord that covers all the main areas of the negotiations and has immediate operational effect, even as negotiations towards a legal agreement continue,” deputy national security advisor Mike Froman told reporters November 17 in China. Froman said that Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao agreed that in Copenhagen each country would: -Agree to take “significant mitigation actions” on climate change; -Try to “reach an accord that includes all the issues,” including emissions reductions targets for developing and developed nations, adaptation, and financial and technical assistance; and -Further “transparency” in implementation. Meanwhile, the two leaders agreed to cooperate on clean energy in numerous ways, including formation of a joint U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The two nations also pledged to cooperate on developing electric vehicles and renewable energy and achieving energy efficiency. Under the agreement, the two nations plan to work together on developing clean coal technology and the U.S. will help China develop its shale gas potential. * * * * * Improving home energy efficiency and curbing associated greenhouse gases is the focus of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Homes Web site launched November 16. The website “will help people make their homes greener with tips on reducing energy consumption, carbon footprints, waste generation and water usage, as well as improving indoor air quality,” stated EPA. American residences--houses and apartments--are responsible for more than 50 percent of the nation’s energy use and about 31 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions, according to EPA. The website addresses energy use on a room-by-room basis, from kitchens to bathrooms, noting ways to reduce energy and water use. That may include insulation, sealing leaky ducts, installing a cool roof to reflect the sun’s heat instead of absorbing it, and using energy efficient appliances, as well as low-flush or compost toilets. * * * * * The Greenland ice sheet has been losing mass at an accelerating rate since 2000, according to a November 11 study by scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Their study says that Greenland’s ice sheet contains enough water to cause a global sea level rise of 7 meters. Since 2000, the ice sheet has lost about 1,500 gigatons, representing about 0.5 millimeters of global sea level rise per year. This loss is equally seen with an increased incidence of icebergs on the ocean--driven by acceleration of Greenland’s fast-flowing outlet glaciers--and increased melt water at the ice sheet surface. Recent warm summers further accelerated the annual loss to 273 gigatons in the period 2006-2008, which represents 0.75 millimeters of sea level rise each year, according to the study. At the same time that surface melting started to increase, snowfall on the ice sheet also increased at approximately the same rate, masking surface mass losses, according to the scientists. Moreover, a significant part of the additional melt water refroze in the cold snow pack that covers the ice sheet. Without these moderating effects, post-1996 Greenland ice sheet loss would have been double the amount observed, they said. * * * * * Spurred by a warming climate, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States, new research shows. “Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” said Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead, measurements at thousands of weather stations for the period from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2009, in the continental United States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves, the research found. A record daily high means that temperatures were warmer on a given day than on that same date throughout a weather station’s history. The authors examined data over the past six decades to capture longer-term trends. This decade’s warming was more pronounced in the western United States-- where the ratio was more than two to one--than in the eastern United States, where the ratio was about one-and-a-half to one. The study also found that the two-to-one ratio across the country as a whole could be attributed more to a comparatively small number of record lows than to a large number of record highs. This indicates that much of the nation’s warming is occurring at night, when temperatures are dipping less often to record lows. This finding is consistent with years of climate model research showing that higher overnight lows should be expected with climate change. The study, by authors at the center, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and Climate Central.

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