CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: San Diego Leads Algae Biodiesel League

By Published On: June 18, 2010

San Diego leads the world when it comes to activity aimed at making biodiesel out of algae grown in salt- or brackish-water, according to the University of California at Los Angeles Institute of the Environment’s Southern California Environmental Report Card, Spring 2010. Biodiesel has the potential to cut greenhouse gases from transportation, but there’s more, especially when it comes to algae, according to UCLA professor Suzanne Paulson, report card author. When grown next to power plants, oil refineries, and other smokestack industries, she notes that the carbon dioxide in the exhaust could be used to feed algae. Waste heat from these plants even could be used to dry algae for harvesting and converting into biodiesel. To boot, the power plant operators and other industries could earn greenhouse gas emissions credits for their role in helping create transportation fuel with algae in a win-win for the environment and business profits. For the efforts of the eight companies in San Diego involved in using algae, plus the endeavors of other organizations throughout Southern California, UCLA gave the region a B+ when it comes to developing biodiesel. * * * * * GWF Power Systems is seeking “special consideration” in the decade ahead under any state carbon cap-and-trade program for its six petroleum coke-fueled power plants in Contra Costa and Kings Counties. The company told the California Air Resources Board in a letter June 7 that it needs the agency to give it free emissions rights equal to 90 percent of the plants’ historical emissions. It will need the free rights through 2021, GWF asset management director Mark Byron wrote. Otherwise GWF effectively would have to close the plants because it cannot pass on the cost of purchasing emissions rights under its power sales agreements with Pacific Gas & Electric. Under an Air Board plan, power generators would be required to purchase emissions rights under a state carbon cap-and-trade program (see related story above). As a result, Californians would lose jobs and the coke would “leak,” that is, be sold to China or other nations abroad where it likely would be burned in dirtier facilities, according to Byron. He noted that GWF burns the coal-like coke in a “very clean” fluidized bed process at its plants, which have a combined capacity of 125 MW. GWF gets the coke from nearby petroleum refineries, where it’s a byproduct of producing gasoline and other fuels and chemicals. * * * * * This week Valero Oil doubled its contributions to a ballot measure to suspend the state’s climate change law, AB 32, aimed at the November ballot. The Texas oil company contributed another $550,000, according to June 14 Secretary of State filings. That more than doubles Valero’s contributions to date, bringing them to $1.05 million. Tesoro Petroleum, another Texas oil company, also upped its investment, making an additional $150,000 contribution to advance the initiative. * * * * * The state Senate is preparing to take up AB 2529, which the Assembly passed earlier this month to require the California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, and other agencies to undertake economic studies in rulemakings that could have a substantial impact on businesses and then have those studies peer reviewed. The bill by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) passed the Assembly June 3 by a 44-18 vote that split Democratic lawmakers. The measure is widely viewed as aiming to slow the Air Board’s efforts to carry out the state’s climate change law, AB 32, after it became embroiled in controversy over an earlier economic study criticized by the Legislative Analyst (Current, May 21, 2010). Democrats who voted against the measure voiced concerns that the Assembly Appropriations Committee shepherded the bill through without sending it to policy committees with clear jurisdiction over the Air Board and AB 32. * * * * * The California Legislature is getting ready to call on Congress to establish a comprehensive federal framework--including dedicated federal funding--for adapting the nation’s wildlife, habitats, coasts, watersheds, rivers, and other natural resources and ecosystems to the impacts of climate change. The Senate Environmental Quality Committee June 14 approved AJR 26, by Assemblymember Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast), which makes that call on Washington. The Assembly passed the resolution earlier this year. “Projected future climate change impacts to California’s natural resources and human health over the next century are dramatic,” according to the resolution. It says federal funding is needed for adaptation projects, such as removing invasive species, restoring wetland, riparian and other habitats, removing unused logging roads, and protecting against wildfires. * * * * * University of California, Davis, researchers last month quietly delivered a preliminary report to the California Air Resources Board concluding that an automotive “feebate” program could yield significant greenhouse gas reductions by incentivizing motorists to purchase electric vehicles. The report suggests that charging an additional fee of $700 on the sale of conventional new vehicles--then rebating those who buy zero-emissions vehicles an average of $600--could cut greenhouse gas emissions 2 percent by 2020. That’s about the same reduction as expected from the state’s Million Solar Roofs program. Higher fees and feebates could achieve deeper emissions cuts, according to the paper. However, it noted that any feebate would diminish auto sales and for a time reduce “consumer welfare.” In the long-run, though, the paper concluded that a feebate program would produce a “net gain” in “social benefit.” A final report is expected later this year, according to the Air Board. The agency views an automotive feebate as a backstop measure in case its greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars are somehow overturned or cannot be met by automakers.

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