Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sign the petition for a coalition!


Show Your Support for a Coalition Government

I've added a simple Blogger "poll" gadget in the top right corner of this blog to let readers stand up and be counted in favour of a coalition government to help save the economy and the environment.

It would be nice if this sort of gadget were easy to share, with anyone being able to put it on their blog or web site, and a central server keeping score of all the unique users who vote on each site. We could just make this "go viral"!

Do you know how to do this or where to look for this type of widget? Please tell me in the Comments. Thanks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

First Commercial Ship Sails Canada's Northwest Passage: Good News -- or Is It?

1st commercial [Canadian] ship sails through Northwest Passage (CBC)

They didn't see even "one cube of ice". Sounds like good news for arctic communitieswho can get supplies delivered cheaper and faster. Of course the opening of the Northwest Passage is also one of the predicted effects of climate change, it's happening much sooner than expected, and any traditional activities that depend on year-round ice cover (directly or indirectly) may have to be abandoned. And the more arctic (and other) fossil carbon is burned, the more the climate would change -- further degrading traditional arctic ways of life.

The race to exploit arctic mineral and energy resources will also heat up. The CIA thinks that it would benefit Canada as a whole and " is unlikely to trigger major armed conflict." And we all know from events in the last eight years how prescient they are. Oh wait...


The federal opposition parties have finally seen the light, and are working on putting together a coalition government. I had supported this idea, and I continue to think that it would be good for the country -- and the planet. The potential coalition partners agree that total emissions should be priced, not just emissions per unit of product ("intensity targets"). The NDP and Liberals also agree on the importance of promoting green technologies and jobs. The details can be worked out, and differences (how to price carbon emissions: tax shifting and/or cap-and-trade) can be settled by compromise -- unlike Harper, responsible politicians know how to do it.

I hope that Harper's procedural move to delay the confidence vote does nothing more than postpone the inevitable. As I said during the last election, we cannot afford to risk four more years of Harper inaction on climate change.

So Go Coalition Go!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Secret advice to politicians: oilsands emissions hard to scrub

Now, here's a big surprise:

Secret advice to politicians: oilsands emissions hard to scrub

CBC News has obtained a government document that says reducing greenhouse gases from Western Canada's oilsands will be much more difficult than some politicians and the industry suggest.

The ministerial briefing notes, initially marked "Secret," say that just a small percentage of the carbon dioxide released in mining the sands and producing fuel from them can be captured.

OPG testing biomass fuel in coal-fired power plants

Finally - a good idea from Ontario Power Generation:

Duncan Hawthorne, chief executive of nuclear operator Bruce Power, wants to build a new nuclear plant beside Nanticoke. It will create jobs and stimulate the economy, he argues. It will provide voltage support for the grid and more than replace the power lost when Nanticoke is mothballed (though we all know he wouldn't be able to build a new nuclear plant before 2014).

When Hawthorne proposed the new plant three weeks ago, Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman was quick to shoot him down. Smitherman has different plans for Nanticoke, and said in an interview last week he's "cautiously optimistic" it will work.

The idea: burn biomass instead of coal.

"It's an exciting option," says Smitherman, who in September directed the Ontario Power Authority to look at ways to add more renewables to the grid. He specifically asked the power authority to explore the potential of burning biomass in coal-fired plants. "I think it's going to be about 18 months before we have enough information to know what is possible."

Figuring out how to burn biomass such as wood or switchgrass pellets could solve many problems at once. The government could make good on its commitment to phase out coal. It could keep a sizeable amount of electricity generation in the area without having to build new transmission lines or plants, whether nuclear or natural gas.

It could continue to provide some much-needed voltage support for the grid, meaning less need to install expensive gear to compensate for the voltage losses.

It could keep local jobs and potentially create even more. That's because instead of importing coal, which is a flow of capital out of the province, OPG's need for biomass would stimulate a local industry for collecting wood or agricultural waste and turning it into fuel pellets. If an energy crop like switchgrass or poplar is chosen, it would also create opportunities for farmers that have seen markets for tobacco and ginseng disappear.

Most of all, it would lead to much cleaner power. Sulphur dioxide from biomass, particularly wood, only exists in trace amounts. There's no mercury. There are nitrogen oxides emissions, but far less than burning coal and some units at Nanticoke have selective catalytic reduction systems that can remove much of those emissions. Pollution-control equipment at Nanticoke that keeps soot and other particulates from entering the air can also be used for biomass.

That leaves greenhouse gases. When you burn wood or agricultural waste it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning coal. The difference is that the CO2 that enters the air is theoretically carbon-neutral – that is, it gets reabsorbed in new plant growth. I say theoretically because it assumes biomass harvested is plant life that's replaced.

But, I wonder how much biomass you would need to replace all that coal? And where would it come from?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Green / Environmental Event: STOP GLOBAL WARMING Volunteer Meetings (Nov 20, Dec 1, Dec 7)


STOP GLOBAL WARMING Volunteer Meetings (Nov 20, Dec 1, Dec 7):

1. STOP GLOBAL WARMING: Previewing Poznan & Toronto Climate Campaign Volunteers' Meeting - Thursday November 20

2. Postering and leafletting schedule - JOIN US! Build the movement!

3. Volunteers' and logistics meeting - Monday December 1


Monday, November 10, 2008

Toronto Star: A ray of sunshine for solar energy

Another good story from Tyler Hamilton (The Toronto Star). | Business | A ray of sunshine for solar energy:

Morgan Solar has come up with a completely different approach that relies on what it calls a light-guided solar optic. Basically, pieces of acrylic or glass are designed to capture sunlight as it hits a triangular surface less than a centimetre thick. Once inside the material, the sunlight is trapped and corralled through a bottom layer to one corner, where a tiny sliver of solar cell is positioned to absorb the barrage of concentrated light.

The triangles are packaged together to form a square about the size of a Compact Disc case and dozens of these squares make up a single panel.

"It's bloody amazing," says William Masek, president and chief technology officer of Brockville-based Upper Canada Solar Generation Ltd., which has plans to build 50 megawatts of solar farms in Ontario. In the next few weeks he will begin field-testing Morgan Solar's prototypes. "They probably have the most breakthrough solar technology announced in a long time."

Masek says the cost savings for him could be enormous if the technology, as claimed, can affordably convert more of the sun's energy to electricity per square metre than conventional solar panels. "With traditional solar panels we'll need over a thousand acres of property. But if we switch to their system, we can cut that land requirement in half and also substantially cut our costs," he says.

The materials that make up the panels are nothing fancy or expensive, Nicolas Morgan says during an interview at the company's office. The solar panels are flatter than the competition, lighter, cheaper to build and can concentrate the light at up to 1,500. "This is completely new. Nobody has done it this way," he says.

Now comes the tough part – turning it all into a commercial product without falling into the valley of death, that point in the life of a technology start-up where the difficulty of finding funding ends up starving promising companies.

Toronto Star: Clean coal is no quick fix

A good piece on "clean" coal in the Toronto Star today. Clean coal is no quick fix

Alberta and Saskatchewan are determined to clean up coal and pump carbon dioxide back into the ground, two achievements that would turn the world's dirtiest fossil fuels – coal and tar-sands oil – into a climate-friendly source of energy.

That's the theory.


The fossil-fuel folks often like to poke fun at wind, solar and conservation efforts by dismissing them as "playing at the edges." It also appears clear the federal government is putting disproportionate weight on the ability of clean coal and carbon-capture technologies to reduce Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions.

Not everyone in the industry is convinced, including Alex Pourbaix, president of energy at TransCanada Corp., a natural gas pipeline and power generation company headquartered in Calgary.

"The cost of these types of technologies are very, very uncertain," Pourbaix told investors in Toronto last week, explaining that they don't stack up well when compared to natural gas. Natural gas is costlier than coal, but emits half the CO2 and very little sulphur dioxide.


Their electrical demand, or what's often called parasitic losses, can range from between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of power being generated. In the United States, that means if all existing coal plants were converted to clean coal and their emissions were captured and sequestered, it would require 320,000 megawatts of new electrical generation to compensate for the parasitic losses – that is, for the extra power required to capture the CO2, compress it, and pipe it safely into permanent underground storage.

Yikes. That's about 10 Ontario electricity systems. Or about 600 more coal plants. Certainly a good way to keep a dinosaur industry from going extinct, isn't it?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Toronto Star: Obama will let us off the Kyoto hook | Ideas | Obama will let us off the Kyoto hook:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be pinching himself over his great luck.

One day, he's isolated with the reviled George W. Bush as a pariah of climate change. The next, he's shoulder to shoulder on the issue with the most popular politician on the planet.

All without having to lift a finger. American voters did him the favour by making Barack Obama their president-elect. Obama pledges to act on climate change, and after eight years of American obstructionism, 're-engage' with the international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

His administration will 'work constructively' within the United Nations process aimed at putting the Kyoto Protocol into practice. He proposes a firm target for reducing emissions. He promises an ambitious list of measures to achieve that goal, including a cap-and-trade system far tougher than any attempted elsewhere.

But a crucial outcome of all this – for Harper and the world – is that the Protocol is dead."