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10 natural wonders to see before they disappear

By Laurel Delp, Budget Travel
May 10, 2011 8:05 a.m. EDT

(Budget Travel) — You’ve heard the grim timelines: if warming continues, the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached by 2030; glaciers in the Swiss Alps, on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and in Glacier National Park will disappear in under 40 years; and Arctic ice melt will leave the North Pole bare and polar bears extinct.

The immediacy of these timelines prompts flocks of curious eco-tourists to travel to environmentally fragile areas.

Tourism is both bane and boon: it can add strain to already distressed areas, but it can also provide income, which in turn can help preserve these wonders.

We spotlight 10 areas under threat — some lesser known than others — that can still be visited responsibly. In some cases the price tag may be higher than your average vacation, but consider it an investment in Mother Earth.

See photos of the wonders

BELIZE BARRIER REEF

Like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef leads a tenuous existence.

A section of the nearly 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef that reaches from Mexico to Honduras, the Belize reef suffered a severe bleaching in 1998, with a loss of 50 percent of its coral in many areas, including much of its distinctive staghorn coral.

Since the bleaching, its decline has continued, due to global warming of the world’s seas, agricultural pollution, development, and increasing tourism, which has given rise to more coastal development and an invasion of cruise ships.

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THE CONGO BASIN

At more than 1.3 million square miles, the Congo Basin has the world’s second-largest rainforest, after the Amazon’s. According to the United Nations, up to two-thirds of the forest and its unique plants and wildlife could be lost by 2040 unless more effective measures are taken to protect it.

Extending across six nations, ten million acres of forest is degraded each year due to mining, illegal logging, farming, ranching, and guerilla warfare. Roads cut by loggers and miners have also enabled poachers and bushmeat hunters to prey on endangered animals like mountain gorillas, forest elephants, bonobos, and okapis.

As the forest shrinks, less carbon dioxide is absorbed, and rain decreases, adding to climate change.

THE DEAD SEA

In the last four decades, the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third and sunk 80 feet –13 inches per year! — stranding formerly seaside resorts and restaurants nearly a mile from shore.

The Jordan River is the lake’s sole source, and as surrounding countries increasingly tap its waters, little reaches the Dead Sea, which could disappear within 50 years. Further pressure is put on the sea by the cosmetic companies and potash producers who drain it for minerals.

One proposed solution is the controversial Red-Dead Canal, channeling water 112 miles from the Red Sea, but its environmental impact could be negative (some worry that it would increase seismic activity in the region).

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THE EVERGLADES

A host of dangers are putting this fragile wetland at risk: pollution from farms, invasive species, and encroaching development, not to mention the fact that 60 percent of the region’s water is being diverted to nearby cities and farms.

As a result, The Everglades is now half the size it was in 1900. Worse, this is the sole habitat of the Florida panther, and there are less than 100 of the creatures left in the wild.

These big cats may be completely lost within the next 40 years as their habitat disappears (they’re not alone, either — at least 20 species in the Everglades are endangered, including turtles, manatees, and wading birds).

MADAGASCAR

If nothing is done to save the world’s fourth-largest island, its forests will be gone in 35 years (once 120,000 square miles, they’re now down to 20,000), and their unique inhabitants along with them.

Forest ecosystems are being destroyed by logging, burning for subsistence farms, and poaching. The 20 species of lemurs for which Madagascar is renowned are in danger of disappearing.

Though there are game reserves, they’re not large (occupying only 5% of the island), nor are they contiguous, thus failing to provide corridors for the animals to travel through. Some of Madagascar’s endemic species have never even been recorded, and will likely be lost before they can be studied.

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THE MALDIVES

Few scientists hold out much hope for the Maldives — the world’s lowest nation — if global warming continues to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels. Its 1,190 small islands and atolls (200 of which are inhabited) scattered across the Indian Ocean rise a mere eight feet above sea level.

In 2008, the President of the Maldives announced the government would start buying land in other countries, including India, for future homes for citizens displaced by rising waters. In 2009, he held a cabinet meeting underwater to stress the islands’ vulnerability.

THE POLES

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the world’s largest non-profit ocean research group, has predicted that 80 percent of the emperor penguin population of Antarctica will be lost, and the rest in danger of extinction, if global warming continues.

In the Arctic, the polar bear is also endangered by the steady loss of sea ice (which has decreased 3% per decade since the 1970s). As sea ice disappears at the poles, so do entire ecosystems: the phytoplankton that grows under ice sheets feeds zooplankton and small crustaceans like krill, which are on the food chain for fish, seals, whales, polar bears and penguins.

Studies predict that with continued warming, within 20-40 years, no ice will form in Antarctica.

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RAJASTHAN, RANTHAMBORE

The world’s population of wild tigers has fallen to as few as 3,200, more than half of which live in India. If extreme efforts are not undertaken, the big cat may be extinct within our lifetime — possibly in as soon as a dozen years. (Compare this number to the 100,000 tigers that lived in India in 1900 and you can see just how drastically things have changed in the past two centuries.)

Their habitats have been reduced 93%, and though there are reserves across Asia, most are small and have no corridors between them for the normally far-roaming felines. It’s estimated that a tiger a day is killed for use in Chinese traditional medicine.

THE TAHUAMANÚ RAINFOREST

This magnificent rain forest in Peru’s Madre de Dios region holds some of the last old-growth stands of mahogany in South America. But illegal logging is depleting the rainforest — and the U.S. is responsible for buying 80% of the mahogany.

A single tree can create as much as $1 million worth of furniture. Loggers build roads, allowing farmers and hunters to enter, further crowding the indigenous people and destroying the delicate ecosystem. In nearby areas, gold mining has released mercury into the air and water.

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THE YANGTZE RIVER BASIN

It’s too early to know the exact impact of the creation of China’s massive, $24 billion Three Gorges Dam, but many, including the Chinese government, have acknowledged that the Yangtze Basin region is in danger of losing its most distinctive marine and animal life.

Deforestation has occurred from clearing land for displaced farmers, and the reservoir has flooded villages, farms, factories, and mines, adding to the Yangtze River’s existing pollution from shipping, industry, agriculture and raw sewage.

Landslides have also happened, and seismologists wonder if the water pressure above two fault lines might result in a disastrous earthquake.

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May 10, 2011 at 6:47 PM Leave a comment

Dolphin, turtle deaths eyed for links to oil spill

(Reuters) – Scientists are examining the deaths of at least six dolphins and over 100 sea turtles along the U.S. Gulf Coast in recent weeks to see if they are victims of the giant oil spill in the region, wildlife officials said on Thursday.

Science |  Green Business |  Lifestyle

All of the deaths are being looked at as possible casualties of the oil gushing unchecked since April 20 from a ruptured wellhead on the floor of the Gulf off Louisiana because of their proximity in time and space to the spill.

But none of the dolphins or turtles examined showed any obvious visible signs of oil contamination.

Necropsies — the animal equivalent of autopsies — are being performed, and tissue samples analyzed to determine if oil ingestion caused the deaths. The results are expected to take about two weeks.

“So far we have not seen any relationship with the deaths of either the turtles or the dolphins to oil,” Dr. Moby Solangi, head of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, told Reuters TV in Gulfport, Mississippi.

But Solangi added it was only a matter of time before the spilled oil began affecting the dolphin population. “There is no question that the oil is in their habitat,” he said.

Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said scientists were investigating the deaths of six dolphins and 117 sea turtles along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida since April 30.

Sources close to the Gulf’s wildlife spill-response teams put the number of dolphin deaths at seven.

Either way, federal wildlife officials said dolphin and turtle mortality seen since the oil rig explosion off Louisiana last month is not unusually high for this time of year.

TOO SOON FOR CONCLUSIONS

A few of the deaths were ruled out as spill-related because they occurred before the spill or were animals that were known to have been sick or injured beforehand, the sources said.

Solangi said dolphins were at the top of the aquatic food chain in the ocean and also acted like the “canary in the coal mine” in that their experience and behavior can give advance warning to humans of impending disasters and catastrophes.

Wildlife officials have expressed particular concern for the well-being of sea turtles in the Gulf following the spill because all five species that inhabit the region are endangered, and it is their spring nesting season.

On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, NOAA officials said it was still too early to draw firm conclusions from the latest wildlife casualties in the Gulf.

“We don’t have definitive information for most of the … (animals) that have been found,” said Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

Impacts on bird life has been relatively light to date, according to wildlife specialists.

“So far, relatively few birds have been brought in with oil on their feathers,” said David Ringer of the National Audubon Society, who put the number at between 12 and 20.

“The birds that have been brought in are birds that catch fish in open waters” and would have come in contact with oil there, he said.

May 14, 2010 at 9:48 AM Leave a comment

Dirty Dozen’ cosmetic chemicals to avoid

From shampoos, to soaps, to lotions, to makeup — it’s not uncommon for a single person to use 10 or more personal care products each day. But some of the ingredients in beauty products aren’t that pretty. U.S. researchers found that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants.

Here is a list of 12 chemicals you might want to avoid. Check the ingredient lists on the personal care products you purchase. To find out why the use of these chemicals in cosmetics is a concern, and how to recognize them on product labels, click on the name of the chemical. You can also download our handy shopper’s guide and keep it in your wallet!

1. BHA or BHT

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as antioxidants and preservatives. They are also a hidden ingredient in some fragrances. BHA is toxic to the immune system and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a possible human carcinogen. Studies suggest that BHT may be toxic to the skin, lungs, liver, and immune system. Both chemicals can cause allergic reactions, are suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption), and may promote tumour growth. They also have the potential to bioaccumulate in aquatic species.

2. Coal Tar Dyes

  • Look for p-phenylenediamine or colours identified as “C.I.” followed by a 5-digit number

Phenylenediamine, used in hair dyes, has been found to be carcinogenic in laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and National Toxicology Program. Other coal tar-derived colours are used extensively in cosmetics, identified by a five-digit Colour Index (C.I.) number. The U.S. colour name may also be listed (“FD&C” or “D&C” followed by a colour name and number). Coal tar itself is recognized as a human carcinogen and the main concern with coal tar colours are their potential as carcinogens. As well, colours may be contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and some contain aluminum (a neurotoxin). This is of particular concern when used in cosmetics that may be ingested, like lipstick.

3. DEA

  • Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA

DEA (diethanolamine) and DEA compounds are used to make cosmetics creamy or sudsy. They irritate the skin and eyes and may be toxic to the immune and nervous systems. DEA compounds can also react with other ingredients in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency classifies cocamide DEA as hazardous to the environment because of its acute toxicity to aquatic organisms and potential for bioaccumulation.

4. Dibutyl Phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate (prounced thal-ate) is used mainly in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle. Phthalates are also unlisted fragrance ingredients in many other cosmetics. Dibutyl phthalate is absorbed through the skin. It can enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations, although it is not a mutagen itself. In laboratory experiments, it has been shown to interfere with hormone function (endocrine disruption) causing reproductive and developmental problems. Dibutyl phthalate is banned in cosmetics in the European Union, but not in Canada.

5. Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives

  • Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Formaldehyde-releasing agents DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate are used as preservatives in cosmetics. Formaldehyde is a recognized human carcinogen. DMDM hydantoin and quarternium-15 can irritate skin and eyes and trigger allergies at low doses. They are also toxic to aquatic organisms.

6. Fragrance or Parfum

The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a cosmetic ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Fragrance recipes are considered a trade secret, so companies are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, most have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. Many of these hidden ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergic attacks, migraines, and chemical-induced nerve irritation in sensitive individuals. In laboratory experiments, individual fragrance ingredients have been associated with cancer and neurotoxicity. For example, one chemical of concern is dimethyl phthalate (prounced thal-ate), or DEP. Widely used in cosmetics to make fragrances linger, DEP is suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption), causing reproductive and developmental problems. Health Canada recently announced regulations banning six phthalates in children’s toys, but DEP is still widely used in cosmetics.

7. Parabens

  • Look for ingredients ending in “paraben” (e.g., methylparaben)

Parabens are widely used in cosmetics as a preservative. They easily penetrate the skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption). There is some evidence that parabens mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. Some studies suggest a possible association between parabens and breast cancer.

8. PEG compounds (e.g., PEG-60)

  • Look also for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., polyethylene glycol).

PEG (polyethylene glycol) compounds are widely used in cream bases in cosmetics. PEG (and its chemical cousin, propylene glycol) opens the skin’s pores, allowing harmful ingredients to penetrate more deeply. PEG and other “ethoxylated” ingredients (which usually have chemical names including the letters “eth”) may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Both contaminants may cause cancer. Also, ethylene oxide may harm the nervous system and interfere with human development, and 1,4-dioxane is persistent. In other words, it doesn’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain.

9. Petrolatum

Petrolatum (mineral oil jelly) is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers. It is also used in hair care products to make your hair shine. A petrochemical, it can be contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The European Union considers petrolatum a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics.

10. Siloxanes

  • Look for cyclomethicone and ingredients ending in “siloxane” (e.g., cyclotetrasiloxane)

Cyclomethicone and siloxanes are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten. These compounds can, however, irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. They are also suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption) and of liver toxicity. These chemicals are persistent. In other words, they don’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after they are rinsed down the shower drain. Environment Canada considers cyclotetrasiloxane and cyclopentasiloxane to be toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

11. Sodium Laureth Sulfate

  • Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).

Sodium laureth sulfate is used in cosmetics as a cleansing agent and also to make products bubble and foam. This and other “ethoxylated” ingredients (which usually have chemical names including the letters “eth”) may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Both contaminants may cause cancer. Also, ethylene oxide may harm the nervous system and interfere with human development, and 1,4-dioxane is persistent. In other words, it doesn’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain.

12. Triclosan

Triclosan is used mainly in antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, and hand sanitizers as a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent. It can pass through skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption). Environment Canada categorized triclosan as potentially toxic to aquatic organisms, bioaccumulative, and persistent. In other words, it doesn’t easily degrade and can build up in the environment after it has been rinsed down the shower drain. The extensive use of this chemical in consumer products may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products, such as those containing triclosan.

May 6, 2010 at 11:42 AM Leave a comment

NREL Highlights Utility Green Power Leaders: Annual assessment shows more consumers making clean power choices

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) today released its annual assessment of leading utility green power programs.  Under these voluntary programs, consumers can choose to help support additional electricity production from renewable resources such as wind and solar.

According to the NREL analysis, more than 850 utilities across the United States now offer green power programs. Utility green power sales in 2009 exceeded 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), and they represent more than 5 percent of total electricity sales for some of the most popular programs. Wind energy represents approximately two-thirds of electricity generated for green energy programs nationwide.

“Despite the economic downturn, consumers are continuing to support the development of renewable energy by voluntarily participating in utility green power programs,” said NREL senior energy analyst Lori Bird. “These utilities are the national leaders.”

Using information provided by utilities, NREL developed “Top 10” rankings of utility programs for 2009 in the following categories: total sales of renewable energy to program participants, total number of customer participants, the percentage of customer participation, green power sales as a percentage of total utility retail electricity sales, and the lowest price premium charged for a green power program using new renewable resources.

Ranked by renewable energy sales (kWh/year), Austin Energy in Austin, Texas sold the largest amount of renewable energy in the nation through its voluntary green power program. Rounding out the top five are Portland General Electric (Oregon), PacifiCorp (Ore. and five other states), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (Calif.), and Xcel Energy (Col., Minn., Wis. and New Mexico).

Ranked by the percentage of customer participation, the top utilities are City of Palo Alto Utilities (Calif.), Portland General Electric, Madison Gas and Electric Company (Wis.), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and the City of Naperville (Ill.). (See attached tables for additional rankings).

“Participating in green power programs is one way that consumers can support renewable energy development and reduce their environmental footprint,” said NREL analyst Jenny Sumner. More than 650,000 customers are participating in utility programs nationwide.

Utility green pricing programs are one segment of a larger green power marketing industry that counts Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and colleges and universities among its customers, and helps support more than 6,000 MW of renewable electricity generation capacity.

NREL analysts attribute the success of many programs to continued efforts by utilities and their partners to raise awareness of the availability of green power options.  In addition, the rate premium that customers pay for green power continues to drop.  The average net price premium for utility green power products has decreased from 3.48¢/kWh in 2000 to 1.75¢/kWh in 2009.

The Green Power assessment was performed by NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC), which integrates technical and economic analyses and leads NREL’s efforts in applying clean energy technologies to both national and international markets.

NREL released its first annual Green Power study in 2000.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Visit NREL online at www.nrel.gov

Green Pricing Program Renewable Energy Sales
(as of December 2009)
Rank Utility Resources Used Sales (kWh/year) Sales (aMW)a
1 Austin Energy Wind, landfill gas 764,895,830 87.3
2 Portland General Electricb Wind, biomass, geothermal 740,880,487 84.6
3 PacifiCorpcde Wind, biomass, landfill gas, solar 578,744,080 66.1
4 Sacramento Municipal Utility Districtc Wind, hydro, biomass, solar 377,535,530 43.1
5 Xcel Energycf Wind, solar 374,296,375 42.7
6 Puget Sound Energycg Wind, landfill gas, biomass, small hydro, solar 303,046,167 34.6
7 Connecticut Light and Power/       United Illuminating Wind, hydro 197,458,734 22.5
8 National Gridh Biomass, wind, small hydro, solar 174,536,130 19.9
9 Public Service Company of New Mexico Wind 173,863,751 19.8
10 We Energiesc Wind, landfill gas, solar 173,217,802 19.8

a An “average megawatt” (aMW) is a measure of continuous capacity equivalent (i.e. operating at a 100% capacity factor).
b Marketed in partnership with Green Mountain Energy Company.
c Product is Green-e Energy (www.green-e.org) certified.
d Some Oregon products marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
e Includes Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power.
f Includes Northern States Power, Public Service Company of Colorado and Southwestern Public Service.
g Residential product marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
h Includes Niagara Mohawk, Massachusetts Electric, Narragansett Electric, and Nantucket Electric.

Green Power Sales as a Percentage of Total Retail Electricity Sales (in kWh)
(as of December 2009)
Rank Utility Program(s) % of Load
1 Waterloo Utilitiesa Renewable Energy Programb 21.4%
2 Edmond Electricc Pure and Simple 8.1%
3 Portland General Electricd Clean Wind, Green Source, Renewable Future 7.9%
4 City of Palo Alto Utilitiese Palo Alto Greenb 6.9%
5 Austin Energy Green Choice 6.4%
6 River Falls Municipal Utilities Renewable Energy Programa 6.2%
7 Madison Gas and Electric Green Power Tomorrow 4.9%
8 Sacramento Municipal Utility District Greenergyb 3.6%
9 Park Electric Cooperativef Green Power Program 3.4%
10 PacifiCorp (Oregon only)be Blue Sky Blockb, Blue Sky Usageb, Blue Sky Habitat 2.8%

a Power supplied by WPPI Energy.
b Product is Green-e Energy certified.
c Power supplied by Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.
d Marketed in partnership with Green Mountain Energy Company.
e Marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
f Power supplied by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

Total Number of Customer Participants
(as of December 2009)
Rank Utility Program(s) Participants
1 Portland General Electrica Clean Wind, Green Source, Renewable Future 72,812
2 PacifiCorpbc Blue Sky Blockd, Blue Sky Usaged, Blue Sky Habitat 71,165
3 Xcel Energye WindSourced, Renewable Energy Trust 70,393
4 Sacramento Municipal Utility District Greenergyd 50,250
5 PECOf PECO WIND 34,491
6 Puget Sound Energycg Green Power Program 25,789
7 National Gridh GreenUp 22,888
8 Connecticut Light and Power/United Illuminating CTCleanEnergyOptions 22,336
9 We Energies Energy for Tomorrowd 20,927
10 Iberdrola USA: NYSEG and RG&Ef Catch the Wind 20,386

a Marketed in partnership with Green Mountain Energy Company.
b Includes Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power.
c Some Oregon products marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
d Product is Green-e Energy certified.
e Includes Northern States Power, Public Service Company of Colorado and Southwestern Public Service.
f Marketed in partnership with Community Energy Inc.
g Residential product marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
h Includes Niagara Mohawk, Massachusetts Electric, Narragansett Electric, and Nantucket Electric.

Customer Participation Rate
(as of December 2009)
Rank Utility Program(s) Customer Participation Rate Program Start Year
1 City of Palo Alto Utilitiesa Palo Alto Greenb 20.8% 2003
2 Portland General Electricc Clean Wind, Green Source, Renewable Future 10.2% 2002
3 Madison Gas and Electric Green Power Tomorrow 9.6% 1999
4 Sacramento Municipal Utility District Greenergyb 8.5% 1997
5 City of Napervilled Renewable Energy Program 8.4% 2005
6 Silicon Valley Powera Santa Clara Green Powerb 8.1% 2004
7 Pacific Power – Oregon Onlya Blue Sky Blockb, Blue Sky Usageb, Blue Sky Habitat 6.5% 2002
8 River Falls Municipal Utilitiese Renewable Energy Programb 5.8% 2001
9 Stoughton Utilitiese Renewable Energy Programb 5.2% 2002
10 Lake Mills Light & Watere Renewable Energy Programb 5.1% 2002
10 Pacific County PUD Green Power Tomorrow 5.1% 2002

a Marketed in partnership with 3Degrees Group Inc.
b Product is Green-e Energy certified.
c Marketed in partnership with Green Mountain Energy Company.
d Marketed in partnership with Community Energy Inc.
e Power supplied by WPPI Energy.

Price Premium Charged for New, Customer-Driven Renewable Power
(as of December 2009)
Rank Utility Resources Used Premium (¢/kWh)
1 Edmond Electricab Wind -0.17
2 OG&E Companyac Wind 0.28
3 Avista Utilities Wind, landfill gas, hydro 0.33
4 Park Electric Cooperatived Wind 0.39
5 Arizona Public Service Companye Wind, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, solar 0.40
6 Indianapolis Power & Light Company Wind 0.42
7 Flathead Electric Cooperatived Wind 0.50
7 Sacramento Municipal Utility Districte Wind, hydro, biomass, solar 0.50
9 Xcel Energy (New Mexico)ae Wind, solar 0.75
10 Emerald People’s Utility District Landfill gas, wind, biomass 0.80

a Premium is variable; customers in these programs are exempt or otherwise protected from changes in utility fuel charges.
b Power supplied by Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.
c OG&E Company offers two rate structures for its Wind Power program; the lowest premium is for the rate which exempts customers from the fuel charge.
d Power is supplied by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
e Product is Green-e Energy certified.

May 4, 2010 at 10:03 AM Leave a comment

New State-by-State Wind Power Data Helps Build a Green Grid

New wind resource maps and wind potential tables for the lower 48 states were recently released by AWS Truewind in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This new data marks the first state-by-state comprehensive update of wind energy potential since 1993. Accurate information about the wind resources available in each state will help keep the momentum in wind energy development going strong in 2010. If state and federal policies need valid evidence of wind potential to promote this clean energy source, then that data has arrived.

We know that wind power is an inexhaustible source of energy that can play a large part in creating a sustainable future, but there are real-life factors that keep this resource grounded. Transmission and storage of the generated energy requires a modern power infrastructure that is expensive and controversial. Additionally, developers need a stable policy environment if they are expected to commit to long-term projects with tremendous up-front costs. But no wind-power skeptic can spend a few days in Texas and claim that wind is not a viable solution to our future energy woes — just check the new map.

At the 80-meter height, the estimated wind energy potential of available development sites yield 10,459GW (gigawatts) of installed capacity. The new estimates are available on the AWS Truewind website and the NREL website. The current installed wind capacity in the US is 35GW and 158GW world-wide. In 2009, the U.S. wind industry added about 10GW of new capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 2.4 million homes.

The maps and estimates were created with a weather modeling system and then refined with measurements from wind monitoring stations. The NREL has already conducted a preliminary review and validation of the AWS Truewind’s 80 meter map estimates for 19 selected states across the US using wind monitoring station measurements at heights of about 50 meters and above from more than 300 locations. The estimates show the windy land area with a gross capacity factor (without losses) of 30% and greater. Capacity factor compares a turbine’s actual production over a given period of time with the amount of power the plant would have produced if it had run at full capacity, or at full sail, for the same amount of time.

An important consideration for wind energy is its dependency on variable but predictable weather patterns

. For example, average US wind speeds in 2009 were up to 10% lower than their long-term averages in key locations, and they were slightly higher in others. This significant difference was caused by the El Niño climate fluctuation. 3Tier, a renewable energy mapping and data solutions company, provides a visualization of these fluctuations. But wind is not the only renewable that is affected by weather patterns: Solar and hydroelectric power resources are in the same boat.

Large-scale wind power projects need more than just good data on placement locations. They need a way to tie into the grid and sell that clean wind energy to big urban markets. Currently, this is a significant factor affecting the viability of many wind power projects. A speedy transition to a clean energy economy needs a Renewable Energy Transmission Highway, and this is one of the legislative priorities of the American Wind Energy Association. While an improved transmission grid might conjure up images of even more ghastly metal towers criss-crossing the US, there is a better alternative. Underground super-cooled transmission lines can efficiently transmit electricity when they are refrigerated, and the cost per mile is comparable to the standard above-ground transmission cables. However, this technology requires substations about every mile in order to keep the coolant cold, so it is best for shorter distances. Another technology instead uses direct current (DC) for a high-temperature underground superconducting transmission system. The Electric Power Research Institute recently released a report that indicates the high-temperature superconducting lines are a practical and efficient way to improve electric grids.

The large-scale concept of renewable energy calls for an interconnected, national renewable energy infrastructure so that wind, solar, and hydro developers and utilities can plug in. Others see long-distance transmission as expensive and unnecessary and promote local power generation and storage solutions. The local-power proponents point out that utility companies are lobbying for new transmission lines because they want to sell power regardless of its source. The actual solution that will emerge over the next decade is likely going to be a combination of local and imported power. The utilities themselves foresee a future “hybrid” model of power generation by 2050 that includes both centralized and distributed models. This will create a reliable, efficient, and well-balanced national grid so that the electrons will flow come rain or shine. Some areas of the United States are ideal for wind, while others barely squeeze by that minimum 30% gross capacity factor. For some cities, local power generation simply won’t cut it if there is any chance of weaning the united states off of coal power plants.

Article continues: http://greeneconomypost.com/wind-power-data-helps-developers-8460.htm

May 4, 2010 at 9:44 AM Leave a comment

New EPA Regulations Target Mercury and Other Toxic Emissions from Boilers and Solid Waste Incinerators

From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published May 4, 2010

The US environmental Protection Agengy (EPA) is currently issuing a new proposal to cut mercury emissions by more than half as well as other pollutants from boilers, process heaters, and solid waste incinerators. Toxic air emissions have been shown to cause cancer and other serious health problems for affected people. The main purpose of this proposal would be to reduce health and environmental risk in a cost-effective way. The EPA estimates that the new rules would yield more than $5 in health savings for every dollar spent in implementing the rules.

“Strong cuts to mercury and other harmful emissions will have real benefits for our health and our environment, spur clean technology innovations and save American communities billions of dollars in avoided health costs,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is a cost-effective, commonsense way to protect our health and the health of our children, and get America moving into the clean economy of the future.”

Mercury has been shown to be extremely harmful to human health. It can damage the brains and nervous systems for children developing both before and after birth. Mercury in the air eventually is absorbed into the surface water where it can build up in freshwater and ocean marine life. This is highly toxic for people who eat the contaminated fish. The mercury contamination can lead to fish consumption advisories to protect public health.

Efforts at reducing mercury emissions are nothing new. Pollution controls on Mercury were started in the early 1990’s and have gotten progressively tighter. The most recent proposal is another step in tightening the regulations.

The EPA estimates that mercury emissions will be reduced from about 200,000 industrial boilers, process heaters, and incinerators. Health benefits are estimated to be between $18 and $44 billion per year. The new rules would prevent from 2,000 to 5,200 premature deaths and roughly 36,000 asthma attacks per year. Meanwhile, installing and operating the new pollution control devices would require only $3.6 billion under the new rules.

This is what is known as internalizing the cost for operators of boilers, heaters, and incinerators. Air emissions are an externality. Once the air emissions are released, they are no longer the responsibility of the plant operator. However, members of the public have to pay for the emissions through higher health care costs. Therefore, the true cost of the operators’ actions is externalized to the public. The new rules help to internalize this externality.

Boilers and incinerators at large industrial facilities would have to meet the new emissions limits and also be required to conduct energy audits to find ways to reduce fuel use. Smaller facilities such as schools, commercial buildings, or hotels would not be included in these rules, but would be required to perform tune-ups every two years.

After the rules are published in the Federal Register, the EPA will take comments for 45 days and hearings will be held to assess public opinion. To find more information on the new EPA proposals and details on the public hearings, go to: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion/

May 4, 2010 at 9:38 AM Leave a comment

Spring 2010 Elections Results – GIFT Referendum Status: Approved!!!

Congratulations USF on passing (GIFT) the Green Initiative Fund for Tomorrow.  Now let’s make the change.

The Green Initiative Fund for Tomorrow (GIFT) provides funding for projects that reduce USF’s negative impact on the environment. GIFT will allocate funds to projects that increase the amount of renewable energy used on campus, increase energy efficiency, and reduce the amount of waste created by USF. Portions of the fund will support education initiatives, student aid, and internships. GIFT is supported by student fees and administered through a student-majority governance board.

GIFT is a dual-purpose fund:

1. Provide resources for immediate response and action
2. Create a growing capital base over the long-term to ensure maximum net benefits

GIFT will receive re-occurring funding through student fees and will grow over time. Through a revolving mechanism drawing cost-savings from projects, GIFT will replenish the fund while providing cost-savings to USF. GIFT will make it easy and efficient for students and other USF community members to design projects. This will provide an unrivaled hands-on opportunity for individually structured environmental education while raising the awareness of the entire community. Furthermore, it will demonstrate that a synthesis between student fees and self-funding sustainability projects are optimal to ensure impact and fiscal stability

Roughly $18,000 will be generated annually from this fee increase to support these initiatives. The increase in student fees will not take affect until Fall 2011, pending approval by the Board of Trustees.

Important aspects of sustainability include minimization of the negative effects of producing and consuming energy, preservation of environmental and economic resources, equity to insure social justice, and reverence for the future.

April 29, 2010 at 11:04 AM Leave a comment

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