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Watch the predators team analyse the keen sense of hearing and ideal hunting body shape of the owl. Their satellite-shaped head means that the penalty for rustling is almost always death. Watch some of the most amazing animals on the planet with BBC Worldwide.

Fungi Discovered In The Amazon Will Eat Your Plastic

Polyurethane seemed like it couldn’t interact with the earth’s normal processes of breaking down and recycling material. That’s just because it hadn’t met the right mushroom yet.

 

The Amazon is home to more species than almost anywhere else on earth. One of them, carried home recently by a group from Yale University, appears to be quite happy eating plastic in airless landfills.

The group of students, part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador. The mission was to allow “students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way.” The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane.

The common plastic is used for everything from garden hoses to shoes and truck seats. Once it gets into the trash stream, it persists for generations. Anyone alive today is assured that their old garden hoses and other polyurethane trash will still be here to greet his or her great, great grandchildren. Unless something eats it.

The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and–even more surprising–do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.

Student Pria Anand recorded the microbe’s remarkable behavior and Jonathan Russell isolated the enzymes that allow the organism to degrade plastic as its food source. The Yale team published their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology late last year concluding the microbe is “a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation.” In the future, our trash compactors may simply be giant fields of voracious fungi.

Who knows what the students in the rainforest will turn up next?  Read original

 

Greenie Super Bowl Ads

Sadly, there weren’t too many this year, but at least there were these two.

This short documentary provides a glimpse into an unusually important, and long-running research and demonstration project, called the Texas Coalition for Sustainable Integrated Systems Research (TeCSIS) and the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) that started with a grant from SARE to form TeCSIS. This combined project (TeCSIS/TAWC) involves scores of scientific researchers, educational institutions, government agencies, and local area farmers (producers) that are trying to find answers to extend the life of the aquifer, and promote more sustainable, economic viability for this invaluable agricultural region.

“We will have to develop much more sustainable, or durable forms of food production because the way we have done things up to now are no longer as viable as they once appeared to be.” Prince Charles speech on the future of food, May 4th, 2011

 

Mankind is not on a timeless journey; as with all of life, our destiny is defined within the bounds of finite hope and promise. The magnificent bounty of nature, easily mistaken as being endless in supply, provides the foundation for all living things; it sustains the air we breath, the land we sow, the water, and other essential minerals in the earth, to create the necessary conditions for life to begin, and for it to continue to flourish. But nature’s abundance is not without limits, and in particular, the human species must learn how to navigate life’s path less destructively, and less rapacious of the natural world’s finite resources. Quite simply, unless we change course in time, having consumed both house and home—we may find ourselves plunged— as other civilizations before us— into sudden extinction.

 

Lubbock, Texas area from the air, showing center pivot irrigation circles.Lubbock, Texas area from the air, showing center pivot irrigation circles.

On the southern high plains of Texas, on a time-scale less than an average human lifetime, growing concerns over water scarcity are playing out. In this semi-arid region of the country that represents the largest contiguous land mass dedicated for production agriculture, the total annual rainfall may be 18 inches, or in some years, substantially less. Since the rainfall is not distributed evenly over the growing season, or to be counted upon when most needed, the majority of the agricultural production, around 70% of food and fiber grown in this region, comes from irrigated lands.

 

The single source of irrigation is ancient water from a massive, underground aquifer. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest, fresh water aquifer’s in the world, and was formed millions of years ago from the erosion of the Rocky Mountains. It traverses through portions of eight states (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming), providing 30% of the total water used in irrigation of agriculture, and accounts for an astounding 20% of the entire agricultural output of the country.

 

More efficient center pivot irrigation of a cotton field in Hale county.

By the early 1970′s, it became clear that the aquifer was declining significantly in the Southern High Plains region, most notably in Texas. Due to heavier use and highly inefficient irrigation methods that began about 1950, and a lack of adequate recharge to replenish the aquifer’s supply, better water management practices to extend this finite resource were required.

 

This short documentary provides a glimpse into an unusually important, and long-running research and demonstration project, called the Texas Coalition for Sustainable Integrated Systems Research (TeCSIS) and the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) that started with a grant from SARE to form TeCSIS. This combined project (TeCSIS/TAWC) involves scores of scientific researchers, educational institutions, government agencies, and local area farmers (producers) that are trying to find answers to extend the life of the aquifer, and promote more sustainable, economic viability for this invaluable agricultural region.

 

TAWC project manager, Rick-Kellison, talks to dry-land farmer Keith PhillipsTAWC project manager, Rick-Kellison, talks to dry-land farmer Keith Phillips

For the 20 Hale and Floyd county, west Texas producers participating in the TAWC demonstration project, there are 30 different sites involved. Ranging from monoculture cotton and monoculture corn, to multi-crop, integrated forage livestock systems— this project created a fundamental shift in producer attitude. The prior emphasis of always trying to maximize production yields, shifted toward a more sustainable effort to develop measurable practices that maximize the net return of the producers, factoring in all their input costs, including their water usage. For example, before all the measuring and analysis that took place through the TECSIS/TAWC project, farmers often continued to water later into the growing season, not realizing that their extended water use did not produce enough gain to offset their higher input costs of more fertilizer and increased (water) pumping costs. By coordinating with other experts in this project, producers were able to set realistic goals of anticipated production yields, lowering their input costs (including their water consumption), but improving their economic bottom-line. They learned that maximum returns keep farmers in business; maximum yields do not.

 

There is another ambitious goal of this project that may be as important as its efforts to extend the life of the aquifer in this region. Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater. Roughly two-thirds of that water is frozen, leaving less than 1% available for growing crops, and for drinking supplies. The transferrable knowledge that is gained through this unique type of cooperative research effort may offer valuable clues to other semi-arid regions in the world who are facing similar critical water scarcity challenges.

When we look toward the very near future, with an anticipated 2 billion more global inhabitants expected by 2050, better conservation of these fresh groundwater resources will be critical for our continued well-being.

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Additional Resources:

Can the 2012 Farm Bill protect the Ogallala Aquifer?

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart Urban Farm contributor

In a world of monocrops and monoculture, the age-old gardening technique of companion planting — the practice of arranging symbiotic plants in close proximity to one another — is more important than ever. Whether you have a small balcony with a few veggies in containers or several raised beds overflowing with foliage, companion planting is an easy method that anyone can use to safely deter pests, increase yields and beautify their space.

Integrated Pest Management

Some plants exude chemicals from their roots, leaves and other parts that naturally deter pests and, in turn, make ideal neighbors to more vulnerable crops. This biochemical repellent is the essence of companion planting. But there are many other reasons to use this gardening practice.

For the organic urban gardener, companion planting is a way to provide diversity in the garden, mirroring the diversity of flora and fauna found in nature. In this way, companion planting helps to attract beneficial insects, birds and pollinators to the garden and offers them a wealth of variety in food sources. Furthermore, the practice of companion planting reduces the need for chemical pesticides because it eradicates the abundance of a single crop. When crops are intermixed, the insects that prey on just one plant will not be able to find (and demolish) it as easily. Your crops will be masked by the array of foliage around them, confusing the “bad bugs” in the process.

When planning your garden in late winter or early spring, take inventory of how many plants of one crop you may grow. Should the garden scheme include an abundance of one cultivar — let’s say tomatoes — opt to plant half of them to one side of the garden and the rest in another location. Then, interplant those with compatibles, such as asparagus and garlic (see chart for more). This way, your main crop is not in one easy-to-find spot and has the added advantage of the insect-repelling aromatics of its neighbors.

Also consider the addition of flowers as companions in the vegetable patch. Many flowers are quite effective at attracting beneficial insects with their source of pollen and nectar, and can give off a strong aroma, deterring other insects from your edibles. Similarly, use herbs for their potency as well, interspersing them with vegetables throughout the garden. Fennel, dill, yarrow and goldenrod will attract beneficials such as bees, parasitic wasps and ladybugs, some of which will prey on the insects intent on consuming your vegetable plants.

Physical and Spatial Interaction

While companion planting is traditionally successful on a biochemical level, physically placing crops as they would benefit from others will increase your yields and extend your growing season, too. Consider how each variety grows, how much light it needs and its spacing requirements when laying out your garden.

Each year, I try to place my spring lettuces and other shade-loving greens in the shadow of taller crops, such as staked tomato plants or sweet peppers. Also called “nurse cropping,” these larger crops can provide protection and windbreak for smaller or more fragile cultivars and lengthen their growing season.

The (Other) Three Sisters

Squash, corn and beans, a group of vegetables also known as “the three sisters” in traditional Native American agriculture, is perhaps the best example of successful companion planting. When grown together, the three crops mutually benefit one another. The corn provides a trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans stabilize the corn and return nitrogen to the soil, increasing fertility for future years’ growth. The squash, when grown below the corn, acts as living mulch, shading the area beneath, preventing weed growth and retaining moisture in the soil. The squash’s spiny foliage also repels pests on a non-chemical level, insuring that bugs don’t build up a resistance.

If you’re new to companion planting, however, an easy place to start is with liberal use of the following three crops, which I call the “other three sisters.” Use these three anywhere in the garden as their companions are plentiful:

Mint: A pleasant-smelling but unruly crop, plants in the mint family (especially catnip) will deter aphids and cabbage moths and are medicinal to boot. But because mint will spread quickly and take over any free bit of soil, opt to grow it in containers and strategically place around the garden. If you prefer to have mint in closer proximity to your crops, transfer it to a plastic pot, and then bury the container up to the rim in the soil to contain the roots.

Marigolds: The strong aroma of these flowers has long been effective at deterring pests in the garden, so plant them generously throughout your veggie beds. At the end of the season, allow the flowers to dry and harvest seeds from your favorite and most effective varieties for planting in the following year.

Sweet Basil: Chances are, you’re probably already growing basil in your garden, but in case you’re not, I hope to change your mind. Sweet basil repels aphids, asparagus beetles, mosquitoes and mites, and stunts the growth of milkweed bugs. It also repels the tomato hornworm and is said to improve the taste of tomatoes. In some instances, sweet basil can act as a fungicide, and in all instances, it makes a mean pesto (are you convinced yet?).

Companion planting is an easy technique to employ in virtually any garden, and the benefits in pest management and yield are well worth the small bit of extra planning that goes into the process. Finally, don’t underestimate the visual appeal of companion planting — a mix of flower colors, foliage shapes and leaf textures adds a bit of whimsy that can’t be beat.  Read more

Companion Planting Guide

 Crop Compatibles
Incompatibles
 Asparagus basil, tomato, parsley, dill, coriander, aster garlic, onions, potatoes
 Beans most vegetables and herbs (carrots, cauliflower,
potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage)
garlic, onions
 Beets cabbage, onions, kohlrabi pole beans
Cabbage Family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts,
kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage)
celery, potatoes, beets, onions, spinach, chard, sage,
thyme, mint, rosemary
tomatoes, dill, strawberries, pole beans
 Carrots tomatoes, peas, onions, leeks, chives, rosemary dill, parsnips
 Celery potatoes, spinach, bush beans, onions, cabbage families corn, potatoes, aster
 Corn potatoes, peas, beans, squash, cucumbers, pumpkin tomatoes
 Cucumber beans, corn, radishes, sunflower, dill, beets cauliflower, potatoes, basil, sage, rue
 Eggplant beans, spinach, tarragon, thyme, marigolds, peppers
 Garlic most herbs, roses, raspberries, apple trees, pear trees,
cucumbers, peas, lettuce
 Lettuce  beets, broccoli, bush beans, carrot, strawberries,
radishes, cucumbers, dill
cabbage, parsley
 Onion beets, carrots, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile peas, asparagus
 Peas corn, cucumber, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, radishes,
spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, turnips
chives, potatoes, onions
 Pepper tomatoes, okra, parsley, basil, carrots fennel, kohlrabi, apricot trees
 Potato beans, corn, cabbage pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers
 Pumpkin corn, beans, radishes, peas, oregano, marigolds
 Radish carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, members of
squash family, nasturtium
hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower,Brussels sprouts, turnips
 Spinach peas, beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, strawberries, squash
 Squash beans, pumpkins, corn, cucumbers, onions potatoes
 Tomato asparagus, onions, beans, basil, lettuce, garlic, cucumber,
celery, chives, peas, peppers, parsley, marigolds
dill, fennel, apricot trees, potatoes, kohlrabi, corn
 Turnip peas, cabbage potatoes, radishes or other root vegetables
 Zucchini  nasturtium, flowering herbs

BY DARRIN NORDAHL

6 AUG 2010 5:41 AM
Madison city hallThe produce outside the capitol building at Madison, WI, is donated to a food pantry.(Kelly Hafermann/Flickr)

Montpelier VT city hall with chardChard is one of the many plants growing in the Montpelier, Vt. state house vegetable garden.Photo: Waldo Jaquith via FlickrThere’s a new breed of urban agriculture germinating throughout the country, one whose seeds come from an unlikely source.

Local government officials from Baltimore, Md., to Bainbridge Island, Wash. are plowing under the ubiquitous hydrangeas, petunias, daylilies, and turf grass around public buildings, and planting fruits and vegetables instead — as well as in underutilized spaces in our parks, plazas, street medians, and even parking lots. The new attitude at forward-thinking city halls seems to be, in a tough economy, why expend precious resources growing ornamental plants, when you can grow edible ones? And the bounty from these municipal gardens — call it public produce — not only promotes healthy eating, it bolsters food security simply by providing passersby with ready access to low- or no-cost fresh fruits and vegetables.

But is this really city government’s job?

As long as municipal policymakers strive to create programs to reduce social inequity and increase the quality of life for their citizens, I contend that it is. Access to healthy, low-cost food helps assure the health, safety, and welfare of citizens every bit as much as other services that city governments provide, such as clean drinking water, protection from crime and catastrophe, sewage treatment, garbage collection, shelters and low-income housing programs, fallen-tree disposal, and pothole-free streets.

Median magicians

In Seattle, a forgotten strip of land that once attracted only those engaged in illicit behavior is now a source of fresh food and community pride. Residents of the Queen Anne neighborhood worked with the Department of Transportation to transform a neglected street median, rampant with invasive plants and pricked with hypodermic syringes, into a community garden and gathering space. They cleared the median of its debris and weeds, and have recently constructed raised vegetable beds and planted fruit trees. (I had the honor of attending the dedication ceremony back in April, and planted — what else? — an apple tree.)

Planting a medianVolunteers plant a median in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle with edible landscaping.Photo: Darrin Nordahl

Parks and Recreation staff in Des Moines, Iowa, meanwhile, are cultivating the land in neighborhood parks and around schools and community shelters. Fruits and nuts are the foods of choice for Des Moines staff, since once established, these woody perennials require considerably less maintenance than annual vegetable crops such as corn, beans, and tomatoes. Des Moines’ reasons to turn public space into food gardens are profound: bolster food security, improve economic self-sufficiency, increase community access to culturally appropriate and nutritious food, and to make connections between community members, organizations, and resources to ensure the longevity and viability of the urban food system.

Interestingly, city staff purposely plant fruits that are unfamiliar to many. By encouraging Des Moines citizens to try new foods they hope to increase dietary diversity and to improve “food literacy.” That these plants are unfamiliar to many is somewhat ironic, as many of the fruit trees and shrubs — such as paw paw, spicebush, and serviceberry — are actually native to Iowa.

Parking garage plans An eyesore of a parking garage           (top) will become an edible oasis (bottom), thanks to a joint effort by the city of Davenport,  Iowa, volunteers, and nonprofits.A bit further east along Highway 80, city planners in Davenport, Iowa, where I work, are refining plans to turn an underutilized downtown parking lot into an edible oasis. What is today a one-acre eyesore will become green space filled with fruit and nut orchards, garden plots, and pergolas replete with rambling grape vines. The renovation of this parking-lot-cum-park is being funded out of the municipality’s Capital Improvement Program: $370,000 is allocated for construction, with ongoing maintenance supplied by volunteers from United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, students from local grade schools and universities, and even the proprietor of the Thai restaurant across the street. (The produce he will plant and harvest — such as Thai eggplants, chilies, and basil — is essential to his authentic cuisine, but difficult to source in Davenport.)

The willingness on behalf of these local organizations to help the City of Davenport with the ongoing production of fruits and vegetables should placate anyone concerned with maintenance of these public produce plots. Imagine how few takers there would be if municipal leaders were to offer citizens an “opportunity” to help city staff mow the grass in the neighborhood park or weed the petunia beds in the downtown plaza. Ask those same citizens to help grow food for their community, and it is remarkable the legions who step forward, trowel in hand.

Capitol ideas

Higher-profile landscapes around city halls are also shedding their purely ornamental visage for an edible makeover. Such garden transformations have already occurred in Baltimore, Md. and Portland, Ore. In Montpelier, Vt., chard, beets, kale, collards, and red lettuces adorn the public grounds around the historic statehouse. Madison, Wisc. staffers ripped out the flowers around the Capitol and replaced them with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, corn, peppers, and tomatoes.

Municipal government officials have no doubt been inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s transformation of a portion of the White House South Lawn into a vegetable garden. But there’s an important distinction between the produce being grown at the White House and that at city hall. The food from the First Family’s garden is primarily for them and their dinner guests. At these green-thumbed city halls, the growing of food is an endeavor by the people, for the people.

“I want people to see city hall differently — that it’s our public land, and that it works for us and with us,” Sallie Maron, a Bainbridge Island resident who recently helped transform the landscaping around the town’s city hall into an edible bounty, told the Kitsap Sun. The volunteers planted more than 40 plants, including cauliflower, kale, and strawberries, and any resident is welcome to grab a tomato and some basil for their dinner. As another Bainbridge Islander remarked, “It’s for people in need or people who just want to try some fresh food.”

The Bainbridge Island folk were inspired by the tale of Provo, Utah, where — as in many municipalities across the country -
– the recession has reduced budgets and forced cutbacks on maintenance. Fussy ornamental landscapes adorning civic places just don’t seem a high financial priority for elected officials.

Seedlings in a cubicleCity planners in Provo, Utah germinated seeds for the city hall plaza in their makeshift greenhouse — in this case their cubicles in city hall.Photo: Darrin NordahlBut nobody likes to look at empty plots of dirt or weed patches outside their window. So in Provo, three planners volunteered their time to re-establish the landscape outside their city hall — but did so in a manner that adds immense value to the landscape and the community. They sowed melons, beans, cucumbers, and beets in the many brick planters.

During their first season (which was last year), the city planners harvested 350 pounds of produce from 250 square feet of dirt and donated it to the local food bank. This year, with a bit more gardening know-how under their hats, they plan to cultivate an expanded 500-square-foot space from which they hope to reap more than 1,000 pounds — quite a harvest from such diminutive plots. (The group is also blogging the progress of the city hall “farm.”)

San Francico City Hall victory gardenSan Francisco planted a Victory Garden in front of its city hall during World War II.Photo: SF Public LibraryAs with many of the urban agriculture projects, the idea of growing food on municipal land is not new. (See the introduction to the Feeding the Cities series, “The History of Urban Agriculture Should Inspire its Future.”) Vegetable gardens have helped bolster America’s food supply when times were tough during the Long Depression of the 1890s and the Great Depression, as well as both World Wars. The most popular of these public veggie patches — the Victory Gardens of World War II — were planted not only by patriotic citizens around the nation, but by city governments in public spaces to provide, teach, and inspire their people.

With unemployment in many cities, food stamp use, and pressure on food banks at an all-time high, it simply makes sense to grow food, not flowers, where possible. Victory Gardens supplied the nation with 40 percent of its fresh vegetables. It is staggering how much edible bounty can be produced from small-scale gardening efforts on public land. The time is ripe to revisit Victory Gardens in public spaces: with just a little bit of organization and encouragement from our government officials, we could bring the community together to brighten the landscape and nourish the needy.  Read more

Darrin Nordahl is the city designer at the Davenport Design Center, a division of the Community & Economic Development Department of the City of Davenport, Iowa. He has taught in the planning program at the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of My Kind of Transit and <a href=”http://islandpress.org/bookstore/details607b.html?prod_id=19155&#8243;Public Produce, which makes a case for local government involvement in shaping food policy.

Hold down the “ctrl” key and press the “+” key repeatedly to magnify if necessary.

“Don’t buy it.”  If we stop buying products made from endangered species, people will stop killing them for a profit.  What you do counts, never doubt that.

HERMAN K. TRABISH: JANUARY 31, 2012

New technologies make the southern states’ wind resources a new frontier for developers.

Is Wind Power the Most Under-Exploited Energy Opportunity in the Southern US?from AWEA

The U.S. has nearly 45,000 megawatts ofinstalled wind capacity.

There is a total installed capacity of 29 megawatts in the southern block of states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

There is a reason the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is holding its 2012 conference in Atlanta, Georgia this year, according to Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Renewable Energy Manager Simon Mahan. The combination of newly identified, as-yet-unexploited resources, new technologies that make exploiting them economically feasible and a growing demand for electricity make the region a new frontier for developers.

Southerners are, Mahan said, among the biggest electricity devourers in the nation. The average home in the region, he said, “uses something well north of 14,000 kilowatt-hours a year, primarily because we run our air conditioners a lot.”

In electricity consumption, he explained, “after you get past the top five, you find Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina very high on the list. Florida is the third or fourth highest. And Texas is the biggest. On the East Coast, we represent four out of the top five electricity markets, with New York.”

Southern utilities are hungry for capacity. Older conventional generation units are going offline and utilities must face the regulatory rigors and prohibitively high costs of building new coal or new nuclear — or consider the energy diversification that new wind capacity offers. Only new natural gasplants are competitively priced.

Mahan described projects that have engaged South Carolina’s Santee Cooper, Georgia’s Southern Company and North Carolina’s Duke Energy (which, when it merges with competitor Progress Energy, will be the biggest utility in the nation).

“If they weren’t genuinely interested, they would just put out a white paper saying it’s too expensive, it’s not viable,” Mahan said. Whether their involvement will lead wind development, Mahan said, still isn’t clear. “They’re taking baby steps, which is a necessary economic caution for them,” he noted. But that’s “better than not doing anything.”

Wind’s emerging competitiveness is the result of several factors, Mahan explained.

The South’s resources, measured in the 1980s at a height of 50 meters, were once thought inadequate to economic development, but new turbine technology makes it possible to exploit winds at 100-meter heights.

“Let me give you three pieces of information,” Mahan said. “The first is anecdotal. Airplanes face headwinds of 120 miles per hour because high up, wind speed is much greater.”

“The second,” he said, “is the wind-power law that says the higher you go, the better the wind speed. There is an actual equation. That’s what the National Renewable Energy Lab [NREL] has done with its most recent wind resource assessment map.”

Just published at the DOE website, new NREL data assesses winds across the U.S. at 80-meter heights and allows detailed extrapolations at 100-meter heights. The detailed data shows pockets of potential in many southern states, especially in the mountains and along the coasts. “Potential resources for wind farms are popping up that folks just didn’t realize existed,” Mahan said, “and they’re starting to test them out.”

Developers are moving on the South now because the taller turbines are also technologically more advanced. Advanced blades, drivetrains and power electronics all make feasible the harvesting of the South’s lower speed winds.

“The third piece of information,” Mahan said, “is that private developers are putting up their own anemometers.” In pursuit of the one to two years of actual, on the ground day-to-day data required by the loan institutions that back them, developers are verifying the NREL assessments.

Mahan’s SACE and Wind Working Groups in several states are laying the ground work to wind public approval. “We pride ourselves on our stakeholder engagement and public outreach,” he explained.

Developers like Iberdrola, Invenergy and Wind Capital Group are engaging communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida with proposed projects totaling over 1,400 megawatts. “If a developer comes into a community that is not prepared,” Mahan said, “there can be a ‘public backlash.'” SACE and its allies, he said, bring “third-party information so communities are primed and ready for when developers show up.”

TVA’s 1,565 megawatts of power purchase agreements (PPAs) for Midwestern wind and Southern Company subsidiary Alabama Power’s recent PPA for Oklahoma wind both underscore the business sense in fledgling HVDC mega-capacity transmission projects planned by Clean Line (seven gigawatts) and Pattern Energy (three gigawatts) that will by mid-decade deliver Texas and Midwestern winds to southern utilities.

Maybe the biggest part of the equation, Mahan said, “is that we’ve already got businesses here providing goods and services to the wind industry domestically and internationally.” Siemens, ZF Gearboxes, ABB and GE are among the many big names building in the South. “We’ve got turbine and blade manufacturers, nacelle assemblers, ship builders, foundation builders, monopole steel companies and a lot of service companies for avian monitoring, for lighting, for the wires.” It is, Mahan said, “a full suite of economic opportunities for us.”

The obvious next question, Mahan said, is, “’We build the stuff here; why can’t we just go ahead and install it here?’”

Read more

01/26/2012 // , SOLUTIONS ANALYST

© 2007 Flickr/doublecool CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I spend much of my time studying carbon pollution trends, analyzing growing evidence of global warming, and assessing the impacts of a warmer climate. Thus, I recently found myself in agreement with scientists when they moved the symbolic doomsday clock closer to midnight (planetary catastrophe) in part because of global inaction on climate change. At the same time, I remain optimistic about our collective ability to face the crisis. Why? Because even as we’re racing against time to combat climate change, we’re also moving forward in the clean energy race.

Did you know that 2011 was the first year in which global investment in renewable energy was greater than investment in fossil fuel power plants? There are many complex factors motivating countries to invest more in clean energy. A number ofEuropean nations were first-movers, and embraced renewable energy in a big way a decade ago when the EU’s objectives included addressing climate change and creating opportunities for economic growth through innovation.

For many nations, the primary objectives of increasing installed clean energy capacity are achieving energy security by ending dependence on foreign oil, and ensuring reliable, widespread energy access for their people. For some others, it is the desire to reduce the chances of costly disasters from fossil fuel extraction (such as the BPDeepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico) or nuclear energy (such as the meltdown at Fukushima in Japan). And for some countries, the impetus is the realization that dirtyfossil fuels will get more costly making alternative sources of energy more economically viable. Whatever the motivation, the fact is that clean energy – especially energy from renewable sources – is one of the most powerful weapons against carbon pollution.

© 2009 Flickr/Uncleweed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So, how are countries faring in the clean energy race? Until a few weeks ago, the best performer on investment was China, followed by Germany and then the U.S, according to one analysis. Trends in 2010-2011 showed the U.S. falling behind in terms of installed clean energy capacity as well as the level of investment. In the solar arena, China ramped up its 2015 target by 50%. China is gearing up to invest 440 billion RMB (approximately $68.9 billion) in solar in 2011-2015. Germany installed four times as much solar capacity as the U.S. in all of 2011, nearly half of which was added in just December alone. And this was done at almost half the American price. A second analysis focused on attractiveness for renewable energy investment. It put the U.S. in second place, behind China but ahead of Germany, India and Italy.

Like all races, however, nothing remains constant. Last week, things suddenly changed, with a report that the U.S. has now overtaken Chinain terms of renewable energy investment during 2011. U.S. investment grew 33% in one year, to $55.9 billion, more than China’s $47.4 billion. This is primarily because the last phase of clean energy investments from President Obama’s economic stimulus package was recently implemented.

When you put the investments of all countries together, the best news for the climate is that global investment in renewable energy in 2011 grew by 5% over the last year to $260 billion, a five-fold increase since 2004!

Clean energy investment is more than a race among nations. It is also a race against time. As the impacts of climate change become more apparent and more severe, it is clear that more and more countries are making a commitment to clean energy. Nearly 100 countries now have domestic renewable energy targets (as do most U.S. states. Countries with strong domestic climate change policies, including clean energy development, will attract more investment, build more new industries and technologies, and create jobs faster than those lagging behind. Does your country get this? Where does your country stand in terms of overall renewable energy capacity or investment? Find out, and then urge your leaders to surge forward in the clean energy race.

Read at The Climate Reality Project 

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