Author Archives: Gretchen Weber

Salazar: Risky Times for Western Water

Interior Chief to California: Don’t allow significant water supply and infrastructure projects be derailed

Patrick McCully/Flickr

Demonstrators rally in 2006 for the removal of dams on the Klamath RIver.

Today at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar weighed in on three major water projects in the state and called on Californians to “stand firm” and defend the “hard-gained agreements and settlements” built in past decades.

“Never before have water agreements that provide safety and certainty for Westerners been so at risk,” said Salazar, referring to debates over the future of the San Joaquin River, the California Bay Delta, and the Klamath River.

Salazar argued that the state, and the country, should not back away from the 2006 San Joaquin River Restoration Program settlement, which, he said enabled the river to run from its headwaters to the ocean this year for the first time in half a century. He lobbied for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, calling it a “comprehensive approach that includes new habitat for endangered fish species, coordinated measures to attack toxics that are fouling delta waters, and improvements to the state’s water infrastructure.” Continue reading

Bill McKibben: On the Front Lines of the Climate Fight

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben says that if we want to put the brakes on global warming, it’s time to put our bodies on the line.

(Photo: Nancie Battaglia)

Today McKibben dropped by KQED for a discussion on Forum with entrepreneur and fellow environmentalist Paul Hawken about the fight for a coherent national climate policy.  McKibben is the founder of the environmental group 350.org and was among the hundreds of people arrested near the White House last week during a protest over a controversial oil pipeline that has been proposed to run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Afterward, I sat down with McKibben and asked him about the role of civil disobedience in the fight against climate change. Continue reading

Is Your City Planning Ahead?

Heidi Nutters

Flooding along San Francisco's Embarcadero during an extreme high tide in February, 2011.

With little being done at the national and international level to cut carbon emissions and curb the march of climate change, more and more communities and institutions are seriously considering how they will adapt to the environmental changes that lie ahead. 

Sea levels are rising, and in the Bay Area, planners are expecting an increase of nearly five feet by the end of the century.  According to climate models, temperatures across the state are likely to rise between three and seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, leading to increased heat waves and stressing the state’s water supply.

So, are we prepared?  Not really, according to a story today on the public radio program Marketplace.

And yet, as reporter Sarah Gardner explains, there are communities, including some in California, that are taking action now, and investing real money, to protect themselves (and their real estate) from the changes ahead, despite current fiscal challenges.

Officials Call for Federal Clean Energy Standards

In Las Vegas, politicians and industry leaders point to California’s lead

Gretchen Weber

Gov. Jerry Brown with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

In his keynote address at this week’s National Clean Energy Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said America is at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and that the choice is clear.

“If we shrink from deciding that we’re going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake this nation has made in its entire history,” he said.

The Vice President was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Jerry Brown, and other political and industry leaders at the summit, which is in its fourth year and is sponsored by several entities, including the Center for American Progress and Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

“If we don’t lead in this new energy technology, we’re going to follow, and I’d hate like hell to be trading the importation of oil, for the importation of new technologies,” said Biden. “Neither is very acceptable.” Continue reading

A Sneak Peek at “World’s Biggest” Solar Project

Gretchen Weber

Construction of one of three planned solar thermal towers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, Ivanpah Dry Lake, CA

Construction of the Ivanpah site is reportedly on-schedule for completion in 2013

The National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 opens in Las Vegas on Tuesday, bringing policy makers and industry leaders from around the country together to “chart the course for the future of energy in America.” It’s also attracting lots of media, which is why on Monday Oakland-based BrightSource Energy opened the gates to the construction site of its 3,500 acre Ivanpah Solar Complex, which lies just over the California border, 45 minutes southwest of the Las Vegas Strip.

About 15 reporters donned hard hats and safety goggles in 100-plus temperatures to tour the active construction site in the Mojave Desert, along with officials from BrightSource, San Francisco-based construction company Bechtel Corp., and NRG Energy, which, along with Google, is the project’s main investor. Continue reading

Making Wind Power More Efficient: Lessons from Fish

A possible game changer in wind technology with an unlikely inspiration

John Dabiri

Vertical-axis wind turbines at a CalTech test site in northern Los Angeles County.

Most of the wind turbines you see driving throughout the deserts and hill country of California look pretty much the same: soaring towers hundreds of feet high with massive, pinwheel-like structures on top, blades churning (or not) as the wind blows (or not).

But there’s another design for generating wind power that, if new research proves correct, could eventually become a far more common sight as California ramps up its portfolio of renewable energy. Vertical axis wind turbines look a little like upside-down egg beaters. They tend to be smaller than traditional turbines, and therefore less powerful. But according to John Dabiri, head of Caltech’s Biological Propulsion Lab, they can be far more efficient at generating power than traditional turbines are when they’re used together in just the right way.

Dabiri said the problem with standard turbines is that the turbulence or “wake” from the turning of one turbine disrupts airflow and reduces the performance of surrounding turbines.  Locating them within 300 feet of each other can reduce performance by 20-50%, said Dabiri. That means standard wind farms need a lot of land. Continue reading

A Close Look at a Melting Arctic

Gretchen Weber

Ice melting in the Arctic, summer 2010

This week, NPR launches a six-part series on, “the changing Arctic,” taking a look at, “what may be the world’s next geopolitical battleground.” Part of that look includes considering the impact of rising temperatures and melting ice, such as freshly-opened strategic waterways and the rush to claim newly-accessible natural resources, like oil and gas deposits.

This focus comes just as MIT releases a new study arguing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) substantially underestimated the rate at which Arctic sea ice is melting.  The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecasts an ice-free Arctic summer by the year 2100.  NPR has created an animated map, showing the Arctic’s loss of summer sea ice for the last 30 years. Continue reading

Natural Carbon Storage Off the California Coast?

A new study from the University of Southern California finds that the cool waters off the coast of Los Angeles are acting as a carbon sink by sequestering more carbon than other parts of the world’s oceans.

Lisa Collins, a lecturer at the USC Dornsife College, spent four years studying samples from floating sediment traps in the San Pedro Basin as a way to determine what’s falling through the water column and how deep it’s getting.

“We have a pretty good idea of how much biomass is produced in the ocean, but we don’t have a great idea of how much of that biomass actually gets down through the water column and ultimately to the sediment,” said Collins.

One reason that matters, she says, is that phytoplankton, which make up much of the biomass, live and grow by taking up sunlight and carbon dioxide, just like plants on land do. When the phytoplankton die, they sink, taking that stored carbon down the water column with them. If they make it all the way to the mud at the bottom of the ocean, Collins says, that carbon will be sequestered there for hundreds or thousands of years or more. Continue reading

Clean Energy Target Still Unmet, PG&E Signs More Renewables

Craig Miller

California’s three big utilities have another two years to reach their mandated target of having 20% of their electricity generated from renewable sources, and today PG&E announced two new deals that could inch the company closer to that goal:

  • Wind:  An agreement with NextEra Energy Resources, for 25 years of wind power from the company’s 163 megawatt North Sky River project in Tehachapi, CA.  PG&E says the energy from this project could meet the needs of about 90,000 typical homes.
  • Solar:  A 25-year contract with Sempra Generation for 150 megawatts of solar power from an expansion of the Copper Mountain Solar complex near Boulder City, NV.  Just under 2/3 of that power is expected online in 2013, with the remainder available by 2015. Ultimately, the company says, this project could power 45,000 homes.
  • Continue reading

NASA and Google Team Up for Zero-Emissions Flight Contest

Google’s made all kinds of headlines with its investments in clean energy recently: $280 million for a California residential solar company, $55 million for a wind project in Kern County, more than $10 million for geothermal R&D projects, and $168 million for a massive solar farm in the California desert, just to name a few.

A new move by the company seeks to address another kind of energy challenge: airplane fuel. The company has teamed up with NASA to sponsor the Green Flight Challenge, a competition to develop emissions-free aircraft.

The challenge?  Build a plane that can fly at least 100 miles per hour and achieve the equivalent energy efficiency of 200 miles per gallon of fuel on a 200-mile flight. Continue reading