Friday, June 15, 2007

Renewable Energy News for June 15, 2007

  • Senate Energy Bill Update: Renewableenergyaccess.com reports on the action in the U.S. Senate yesterday, where an amendment to the energy bill which would have included "clean coal" and new nuclear power in a national renewable portfolio standard was rejected.
  • Will a "Sky Trust" Solve Global Warming? - Jonathan Alter's column in Newsweek this week advocates for a "sky trust" as a potential policy solution to controlling carbon emissions. The concept - first outlined by Peter Barnes in his book "Who Owns the Sky" - seeks to couple a carbon tax with the type of dividend program the State of Alaska has been using for the past several decades to share oil revenue with residents. The idea is that revenue raised by taxes on carbon would be sent directly back to citizens in the form of a dividend check, with every American receiving the same amount in carbon dividends. The proposal is an interesting merger in two often opposing philosophies: the environmental "polluter pays" philosophy which advocates for charging polluters for the use of the public "commons" - in this case, the air - and the fiscally conservative philosophy that the government is not to be trusted with our tax dollars. Under the "sky trust" model emitting carbon becomes more expensive, but the revenue goes right back into people's pockets on an equal basis. According to recent studies of the idea, most Americans would come out ahead in the transaction; the dividend check would more than cover the increased costs associated with more expensive gas and energy:
    According to calculations by [Peter] Barnes and by James K. Boyce of the University of Massachusetts, those earning more than $160,000 a year—who have bigger cars and houses and thus use more energy—would end up paying more in energy charges than they got back in dividends. Those earning less than about $45,000 would end up paying less, and with some extra cash in their pockets. And those in between would find it roughly a wash, though about 70 percent overall would make money on the deal.
    As with all the cap-and-trade and carbon tax policies currently being discussed, the practical day-to-day operation of such a system remains to be worked out. But the "sky trust" is an intrigue concept that's sure to get more attention as folks in D.C., and those on the 2008 campaign trail look for politically paleteable solutions to global warming.
  • State of Vermont OKs Three of Four Small Dams: The Times Argus reports on the state's recent "early encouragement" of three small hydro projects in Vermont. The three projects - located in Middlebury, Bennington, and Plainfield - still require formal state review and federal approval, but the initial signal from the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) in its "pre-feasibility assessment" was positive. ANR hasn't approved a new hydro facility in two decades, but as we commented some months back, there's renewed enthusiasm for small hydro projects in Vermont. But the timing of the state's "encouragement" of these three projects has led some to speculate that the action may be political cover for Governor Jim Douglas' recent veto of the Vermont legislature's climate change bill.

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