Monthly Archives: December 2012

The latest Coal news

From seams to beams … Wales coal museum fits solar panels

About 6% of the Big Pit museum’s energy to be generated by 200 panels, in both a symbolic and financially rewarding move

The irony could hardly be richer. Big Pit, Wales’s national coal museum and a vivid, living reminder of the country’s most famous heavy industry, has announced the installation of 200 solar panels.

About 6% of the museum’s energy will be generated thanks to the photovoltaic panels set up on the roof of its main museum building in Blaenafon, south Wales.

Eyebrows have been raised among some of the former miners who now lead visitors on underground tours of the mine, but the consensus is that this sign of the times is good for the museum, good for the environment and an emblem of Wales’s determination to become a world leader in green energy.

Peter Walker, the museum manager at Big Pit, said: “Coal is such an important part of Wales’s heritage, and yet green energy will play a major part in its future. A solar-powered coal mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey.”

But there is also a practical side to it. “It’s far from just symbolic – the museum will benefit from huge reductions in energy bills,” said Walker.

Any surplus energy would be fed into the national grid – though as the museum opens throughout the year, there is unlikely to be much left over.

Craig Anderson, projects director at the community interest company Warm Wales (Cymru Gynnes), who project-managed the scheme, said he was delighted that the thousands of children who visit the award-winning museum every year, would get an insight into the part that Welsh coal played in the industrial development of the world, but also see how new technology could replace the reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s a nice contrast between our industrial heritage and our desire now to harness renewable energy. I think it all makes perfect sense.” Anderson said he hoped the museum would continue to invest in green technology.

Mark Richards, deputy director general of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales – said: “As a working coal mine we are here to celebrate one of the world’s oldest energy sources and an enormously important aspect of Welsh heritage. But it is important to look to, and plan for, the future – which is why we are delighted to be generating green electricity here at Big Pit. The new solar PV systems will help us cut both our bills and our carbon footprint, allowing us to reinvest the savings and earnings back into the museum.”

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Will US colleges kick coal out of their endowments?

Students across the US are lobbying colleges to dump their investments in fossil fuels

Can college students reshape energy politics in the US by reforming their colleges’ endowments? That’s the hope of idealistic students on 189 different campuses across the country, who have launched campaigns to encourage their school administrators and trustees to dump all their investments in fossil fuels. The campaign, the students say, gives them a direct check on the power of the oil, coal and gas industries, which they hope will have broader effects nationwide.

“We were feeling, like the rest of the climate movement, pretty frustrated with the political situation in the US,” said Alli Welton, a sophomore at Harvard University and the co-coordinator of the school’s divestment campaign. “We felt that fossil fuel corporations just had too much control over Congress, and it was really hard to see how we could overcome that barrier.”

“Divestment was really exciting,” Welton, a native of Washington state studying the history of science, continued. “It was striking directly at the fossil fuel companies themselves, instead of going at their proxies in Congress. “

Listen below to hear Climate Desk weigh the effectiveness of college divestment from fossil fuels:

The Divest Harvard campaign started in September with a petition drive and educational events featuring alumni and faculty from the school that had previously worked on divestment campaigns on tobacco and apartheid—”connecting historical dots,” as Welton put it. Harvard students have led successful divestment campaigns against South African apartheid in 1986, against tobacco companies in 1990, and on companies related to the genocide in Darfur in 2005.

The students were able to get a measure on the school’s ballot for student government elections this November asking the full student body, “Do you support Harvard divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry in order to avert further environmental and human rights crises due to climate change?” The majority—72 percent—voted “yes.”

The school has not disclosed how much of Harvard’s $30 billion endowment includes holdings in fossil fuels, though Harvard Management Company’s SEC filings show that the school has holdings in several energy companies, including Brazilian oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro and WPX Energy.

But in order to actually divest, the students need the consent of the Harvard Corporation—the school’s governing body, the equivalent of a board of trustees at other universities. After months of trying to get attention to their effort, Welton and other student organizers finally secured a meeting with the Corporation’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, to be held early next year.

But the signs they’ve seen from the administration aren’t promising so far. “Members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility will meet with students to discuss endowment investment policies ” said Kevin Galvin, senior director of communications at Harvard, in a statement to Mother Jones. But, when it comes to fossil fuels, he said, “the university has a strong presumption against divestment.”

The school did, however, announce last week that it is setting up a “social choice fund” in 2013 that will allow alumni to donate to an alternative to the endowment that will “take special account of social responsibility considerations.”

Other Ivies like Brown and Yale are jumping into the divestment effort. At Brown, students are trying to get the school’s endowment to drop investments in the 15 “filthiest” coal companies. “We see Brown divesting as something that can something that can promote other campuses to divest,” said Emily Kirkland, a senior majoring in economics and environmental studies. “By divesting we can shift public opinion and make it clear to politician, business leaders, and the general public that coal’s legacy of environmental destruction is unacceptable.”

Kirkland and many of the students working on divestment cite a piece a July 2012 Rolling Stone piece from author and activist Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” The piece called on college students specifically to take action: “If their college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock,” McKibben wrote, “then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree.”

McKibben’s group, 350.org, has been working with students on their divestment campaigns. The campaign has gotten some press of late, including a New York Times piece several weeks ago. That press coverage has helped prompt to an explosion of new campus divestment campaigns.

They’ve already had a few wins. Earlier this month, Swarthmore College’s Board of Managers agreed to investigate ethical investing and consider the possibility of divestment. That process is supposed to continue throughout the rest of the school year.

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EU declares no winner in carbon capture competition

First round of a contest to fund CCS projects has failed to find a winner, after setting aside €275m

The first round of a European commission contest to fund carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects failed to find a winner, the EU’s executive said on Tuesday, deepening concerns that the technology will not be emerging soon to help cut emissions.

CCS developers will be able to resubmit bids for a second round, which environment commissioner Connie Hedegaard said should be concluded within a year. “Within 12 months we will be able to award the second round. We would like to make a very fast second call, as fast as possible,” she told a news conference.

None of the short-listed projects for CCS, which entails trapping and burying carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants, made it to the final selection because of funding gaps or because projects did not sufficiently meet the criteria. Steelmaker ArcelorMittal withdrew its application for a French project, citing technical problems.

“This is a slap in the face for EU climate policy,” said Stuart Haszeldine, professor of CCS at Edinburgh University.

The commission has sold 200m carbon allowances for €1.5bn, of which it set aside €275m for CCS projects. This sum which will be carried over to the next bidding round, when some revenues from the sale of a further 100m allowances will be assigned.

The allowances, which trade on the EU emissions trading scheme, each provide generators the right to emit 1 tonne of carbon dioxide. Hedegaard said on Tuesday she would not speculate on a date for auctioning remaining allowances, saying it would be a technical decision.

CCS is commercially unproven and expensive to build, but governments that seek to curb emissions from the carbon-intensive power industry want it to make a contribution in future. EU member governments had to confirm to the commission that they could fund 50% of the proposed projects.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects coal to come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source by 2017, it said on Tuesday, painting a gloomy picture for the fight against climate change.

“Without progress in CCS, and if other countries cannot replicate the US experience and reduce coal demand, coal faces the risk of a potential climate policy backlash,” said Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA’s executive director, adding she did not expect CCS to play a role by 2017.The commission announcement had been expected after reports that there would be no EU funding for CCS projects in any country, including Britain, which had four projects on the commission’s shortlist published in July.

Elsewhere, the commission allocated €1.2bn to 23 renewable energy projects on Tuesday, with a Dutch biomass refinery project pocketing the largest amount – nearly €200m.

Other successful projects included solar power, wind and ocean energy. In total, the projects are expected to create around 1,000 permanent jobs for 15 to 20 years.

Two years ago the commission’s planned sale of 300m EU emission allowances, dubbed the NER 300, was expected to raise about €4.5bn, but a steep drop in the price of carbon significantly reduced proceeds from the first tranche of 200 EUAs to €1.5bn.

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