A (Relatively) Steady Breeze Lifts Wind Power Worldwide

From the American heartland to China and Latin America, wind energy is becoming an increasing popular alternative energy source — though questions remain about environmental impacts. The Fort Worth Business Press reports that Texas outranks all other states in the number of wind farms it operates. Iowa, where President Barack Obama made a symbolic visit April 22 to commemorate Earth Day, ranks second. In Ohio, the municipality of Avon Lake is the latest in the region to consider local initiatives to harness the breezes coming off nearby Lake Eerie. The American Wind Energy Association said U.S. wind-power capacity increased by 50 percent in 2008, edging out Germany as the world leader in the field.

Sweden's own Ecotopia

The small town of Kalmar, Sweden, is on track to become entirely free of fossil-fuel use by the year 2030, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. 
The city’s comprehensive program to reduce fossil fuels includes heat and electricity generated by a local wood pulp plant, an entire fleet of biodiesel municipal trucks, strict energy efficient building codes and tax incentives.  
Kalmar’s 60,000 residents save money by getting over 65 percent of their energy from renewable resources. 
They say that while the shift has been an adjustment, it “hasn’t made life miserable.” 
At first, most of the city’s politicians scoffed at the idea of independence from fossil fuels, but now they are overwhelmingly in support of the transition. 
“We are not eco-freaks,” one sustainability officer told the Tribune. “We’re just making it easy to change, giving people the tools.”  
–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org
“Going green: Entire Swedish city switches to biofuels to become environmentally friendly”
Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2009

Bulgaria Juggles its Nuclear Waste

Bulgarian dependence on nuclear energy has produced a hot problem — how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The BBC reports that although nuclear power keeps Bulgaria’s carbon emissions down, it also creates tons of toxic waste that will remain radioactive far into the future. Some of the waste goes temporarily to Russia, but after reprocessing and a ten-year waiting period gets returned to its source. For this reason, and increasing transport costs, other Eastern European countries no longer work with Russia — but Bulgaria is running out of room in-country to store the spent fuel produced by its two active nuclear plants. So far, the problem has not caused Bulgaria to rethink the way it produces electricity.

Renewable Energy Gets Global Boost

A lot of global energy went into the creation of a new international agency that aims to promote a clean and green world — but many environmentalists fear the effort may not be enough. Inter Press Service reports that some 75 nations endorsed the creation of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in January — excepting China and the United States, the world’s biggest polluters. Funding and staffing is also a concern. IRENA’s $25 million budget is just a tenth of that of Greenpeace International, according to the environmental advocacy group. There is also a question about how much clout IRENA can have without official status as a United Nations organization.

Detroit's Got the Slow-Selling Hybrid Blues

Automakers, already flirting with bankruptcy, find themselves in another bind when introducing hybrid and fuel-efficient models — consumers aren’t buying if they can afford the gas. The Detroit News reports that small car and hybrid sales surged last year but have since fallen about 2 and 12 percent, mirroring dropping gas prices. Lower gas prices hinder investment in smaller vehicles and more efficient technology — yet in order to meet new emission standards being considered by Congress, automakers will need to spend billions on green technology. Auto sales have hit a 27-year low, and companies are deciding whether to spend limited resources on electric, hybrid, and fuel cell technology that might not sell. By 2012, the North American hybrid market is only projected to increase to 5.3 percent.

Is there a Carbon-Credit Bubble?

Carbon trading, which seeks to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions through market-based incentives, is being threatened by the global economic downturn, the BBC reports. Carbon trading in the European Union and the United States enables governments to set limits on the amount of climate-changing pollution a company can produce. If carbon dioxide emissions exceed that limit, the offending company can buy emission credits from companies that pollute less; thus, credit buyers pay to pollute, while sellers are rewarded for reducing their own emissions. Yet the global recession is reducing industrial productivity, resulting in lower carbon emissions, and so creating a surplus of carbon credits whose market value has plunged. Critics of market-based carbon trading say the whole system is flawed and warn of a “carbon bubble.”

Tribes Press Obama on Renewable Energy

Claiming that they will bear a disproportionate burden due to global warming, a coalition of American Indian tribes is requesting the Obama administration to support tribally owned or operated renewable-energy projects. The group represents around 250 tribes and their affiliates, and also hopes the new administration will direct a bevy of green jobs to the native nations, according to Indian Country Today. At present, companies working with renewable energy technologies shy away from joint ventures with tribes because they lose tax credit privileges. Tribal representatives highlighted the energy potential of their lands, saying wind and solar projects could produce billions of kilowatts per year. They also said investments in renewable energy would yield more jobs per dollar than ongoing investments in fossil fuels.