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EPA to impose permits on large polluters

WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) — Coal-fired power plants and other major U.S. emitters of greenhouse gases will need to seek pollution permits starting in 2011, federal regulators said.

The rule released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency covers new sources of at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year and existing plants that increase emissions by 75,000 tons.

In its first two years, the rule is expected to affect about 15,550 coal-fired plants, refineries, cement makers, solid waste landfills and other big polluters, EPA spokeswoman Gina McCarthy told The New York Times in a story published Friday.

The rule would affect about 70 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

The EPA set its sights on larger polluters after scrapping a plan to require emitters of 25,000 tons of gases a year to seek permits. That plan would have imposed permits on family farms and large apartment buildings.

“What we realized at the 25,000 level was that we were going to be actually reaching sources that we did not intend to reach,” McCarthy said.

More cars vulnerable to computer hackers

SAN DIEGO, May 14 (UPI) — Increasingly sophisticated cars need to be protected from hackers who could tamper with computerized systems, U.S. scientists said.

As more cars become connected to the Internet through wireless systems, hackers could remotely sabotage the vehicles, The New York Times reported Friday.

In tests, computer security experts at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, said they were able to remotely control braking, stop the engine and activate dozens of other functions, almost all of them while a car was in motion.

The researchers tested two versions of a late-model car in laboratory and field settings. The researchers did not publicly identify the manufacturer or model, but said they believed the cars were representative of the computer network systems found in many late-model cars today.

“You should expect that various entry points in the automotive environment are no more secure in the automotive environment than they are in your PC,” said Stefan Savage, a computer scientist in San Diego.

Dirty keyboards a health hazard

LONDON, May 14 (UPI) — Computer keyboards can be breeding grounds for E. coli and other hazardous organisms, scientists in Britain said.

Some keyboards in London offices showed traces of E. coli, coliforms and enterobacteria, which most likely were transmitted by mice and other vermin attracted to food morsels trapped between keys, the Royal Society of Chemistry said.

Office workers eat over their keyboards and drop crumbs by day and the vermin move in at night, leaving feces and disease, researchers said.

Workers can get sick by typing on a fouled keyboard and then picking up food or touching their faces with unwashed hands, the New York Daily News reported Friday.

Graphic designer Jean-Pierre Chery, 27, of New York, said he eats at his keyboard a lot and has never cleaned the crumbs that fall between the keys.

“I’ve got a whole ecosystem going on at the bottom of my keyboard right now,” Chery told the News.

Climate change killing lizards worldwide

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., May 14 (UPI) — Twenty percent of all lizard species could be extinct by 2080 because of rising temperatures involved in climate change, a California researcher said.

Lizards worldwide are far more susceptible to climate-warming extinction than previously thought because many species already live at the edge of their thermal limits, said Barry Sinervo of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Sinervo and colleagues from around the world said they reached their conclusions after comparing field studies of lizards in Mexico to lizard studies from other countries.

Rising temperatures already have driven an estimated 12 percent of Mexico’s Sceloporus lizard population to extinction, the scientists wrote in a recent issue of the journal Science.

“We are actually seeing lowland species moving upward in elevation, slowly driving upland species extinct, and if the upland species can’t evolve fast enough then they’re going to continue to go extinct,” Sinervo said in a release from the university Thursday.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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EPA to Impose Permits on Large Polluters

WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) — Coal-fired power plants and other major U.S. emitters of greenhouse gases will need to seek pollution permits starting in 2011, federal regulators said.

The rule released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency covers new sources of at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year and existing plants that increase emissions by 75,000 tons.

In its first two years, the rule is expected to affect about 15,550 coal-fired plants, refineries, cement makers, solid waste landfills and other big polluters, EPA spokeswoman Gina McCarthy told The New York Times in a story published Friday.

The rule would affect about 70 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

The EPA set its sights on larger polluters after scrapping a plan to require emitters of 25,000 tons of gases a year to seek permits. That plan would have imposed permits on family farms and large apartment buildings.

“What we realized at the 25,000 level was that we were going to be actually reaching sources that we did not intend to reach,” McCarthy said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Fed Wind Farm Rules May Not Save Birds

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) — The American Bird Conservancy says it fears proposed voluntary guidelines for wind farms will not prevent the deaths of birds by the turbines.

ABC President George Fenwick said Monday he sent letters to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey identifying key shortcomings in recent federal plans to address the affects of wind farms on birds.

“I find it ironic that the Interior Department is asking us to believe that the wind industry will follow voluntary guidelines when their own land management agency is not even doing so,” Fenwick said.

Fenwick said the Fish and Wildlife Wind Advisory Committee has made excellent recommendations for the generation of wind power that the conservancy wants adopted throughout the federal government. But Fenwick said the major shortcoming in the recommendations is that they are proposed as voluntary, rather than mandatory, and as such will do little to curb unacceptable levels of bird mortality and habitat loss at wind farms.

“The notion that the wind industry is predominantly made up of small, environmentally conscious operations is one that must be quickly dispelled,” Fenwick said. “These are large, corporate-scale utility companies, not unlike coal and oil conglomerates … with a checkered environmental track record to date. Voluntary guidelines will not change that paradigm, and will work about as well as voluntary taxes.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Energy: Enormous Ontario Potential

KINGSTON, Ontario, April 19 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say solar power production in southeastern Ontario can potentially produce nearly the same amount of power of all U.S. nuclear reactors.

The findings from the two Queen’s University studies led by Professor Joshua Pearce are the first to explore the region’s solar energy potential.

One study, accepted for publication in the journal Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, discovered that if choice roof tops in southeastern Ontario were covered with solar panels, they could produce five gigawatts, or about 5 percent, of all of Ontario’s energy.

“To put this in perspective, all the coal plants in all of Ontario produce just over six gigawatts. The sun doesn’t always shine, so if you couple solar power with other renewable energy sources, such as wind, hydro and biomass, southeastern Ontario could easily cover its own energy needs,” Pearce said.

The second study, published in the journal Solar Energy, looked at land in southeastern Ontario that could be used for solar farms. The study found land with little economic value — barren, rocky, non-farmable areas — has the potential to produce 90 gigawatts.

“Nuclear power for all of the United States is about 100 gigawatts. We can produce 90 on barren land with just solar in this tiny region, so we are not talking about small potatoes,” Pearce said.

Pearce and students Ha Nguyen and Lindsay Wiginton conducted the studies to provide solid numbers on solar energy potential, as well as possible solar farm locations.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Thick-shelled Turtle Species Discovered

PANAMA CITY, Panama, April 13 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve discovered a new fossil turtle species in Colombia’s Cerrejon coal mine.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, and the Florida Museum of Natural History said the find helps explain the origin of one of the most biodiverse groups of turtles in South America.

“Cerrejonemys wayuunaiki takes its genus name from Cerrejon, and emys — Greek for turtle,” the scientists said. About as thick as a standard dictionary, the turtle’s shell may have warded off attacks by the Titanoboa, thought to have been the world’s biggest snake, and by other crocodile-like creatures living in its neighborhood 60 million years ago, the scientists said.

“We are still trying to understand why six of this turtle’s modern relatives live in the Amazon, Orinoco and Magdalena river basins of South America and one lives in Madagascar,” said Edwin Cadena, first author of the study and a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University. “It closes an important gap in the fossil record and supports the idea that the group originated near the tip of South America before the continent separated from India and Madagascar more than 90 million years ago.”

The discovery is reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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123 Trapped in China Coal Mine Flood

TAIYUAN, China, March 28 (UPI) — A flood in a Chinese coal mine has trapped 123 workers, officials said Sunday.

The official government news agency Xinhua reported 138 workers escaped after underground water inundated the pit of Wangjialing Coal Mine in Taiyuan in north China’s Shanxi Province.

The 112-square-mile mine is undergoing construction that is expected to increase its output from 2.3 billion tons of coal a year to 6 billion tons. The mine is affiliated with the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Co.

Zhang Baoshun, secretary of the Shanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Wang Jun, governor of Shanxi, were heading to the mine, the news agency said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Projects Shine in North Africa

RABAT, Morocco, March 24 (UPI) — North Africa is taking a shine to solar power in a big way, with plants slated for Morocco and Tunisia as a German-led consortium pushes ahead with the world’s most ambitious solar project in the Sahara Desert.

The $555.3 billion Desertec project is designed to turn the Sahara’s endless sunlight into carbon-free electricity that will supply 15 percent of energy-hungry Europe’s power and lessen its dependence on natural gas from Russia.

Separately, the Moroccan government hopes to invest $9 billion in a solar energy program over the next decade.

This means big-ticket contracts could be up for grabs from major European, mainly French energy concerns, such as GDF Suez; oil giant Total; Areva, which specializes in building nuclear plants, and St. Gobain which manufactures mirrors and photovoltaic panels.

Paris’s Maghreb Confidential online newsletter says the French were lining up to join the program when Moroccan Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra presented her investment program to her French counterpart, Jean-Louis Borloo, March 8-9 in Paris.

The centerpiece of the Moroccan plan is a Franco-Moroccan solar power plant generating 20-40 megawatts and exporting up to 4 MW to France.

That’s a relatively modest project. But the Moroccans are hoping that it will lay the groundwork for more ambitious projects that will boost solar power exports to Europe and beyond.

One project being mooted for Morocca’s Solar Plan is a 500MW solar power station and at least nine international companies are bidding. They include Nexant of California and Fichtner Solar of Stuttgart, Germany, which has won contracts to design power plants at Ain beni Mather in Morocco, Hassi R’Mei in Algeria and Kuraymat in Egypt.

In neighboring Tunisia, the government unveiled a solar plan in late 2009 that includes some 40 renewable energy projects, such as thermo-solar photovoltaic power plants, with a cost of $2.67 billion.

Desertec is by far the most complex of all the solar projects currently under way. It is still in the planning stage and construction isn’t expected to begin for another 2-3 years.

It has big-name partners, such as Deutsche Bank and Siemens, and is still attracting new companies, such as First Solar, a U.S. photovoltaic company that has constructed utility-scale solar plants in the deserts of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Using a method known as concentrated solar power it would generate inexhaustible and affordable quantities of energy across the Mediterranean — and even on a global scale if necessary.

One of its big attractions is that it would emit no carbon dioxide, making it the world’s biggest green-energy project. If Desertec does get off the ground, it would be the largest green-energy project on the planet.

In theory, a global system of solar thermal power would also eliminate the prospect of resource wars erupting in the years ahead as the planet’s natural resources that currently produce energy — oil, gas, coal, timber and water — disappear.

The idea for this massive project to harness the sun’s energy on a gigantic scale originated with a group of European scientists and politicians called the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation.

The concept of large-scale solar power has been around for some time but was never able to make the breakthrough because of cheap oil.

Desertec’s backers believe it will open the door to a new era of environmentally friendly generated power on a massive scale.

That would keep Europe at the forefront of the struggle against climate change and help North African and European economies to expand within the limits of greenhouse gas emissions.

Its critics caution that there are numerous pitfalls, among them the vagaries of North African politics and the perception that European projects like Desertec is just another form of economic plundering by the old colonial powers.

According to Nature magazine, the solar-cell market has been growing by an average by 31 percent a year for the last decade, and enthusiasts predict a 20-25 percent growth rate in the next few years.

Every year, the sun produces 630,000 terawatt hours — a terawatt equals 1 trillion volts — of energy in North Africa that is untapped. Europe consumes 4,000 terawatt hours of energy a year. That’s only 0.6 percent of the unused energy that falls on the North African desert.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Activists Protest Czech Coal Power Plant

PRUNEROV, Czech Republic, March 23 (UPI) — Environmental protesters were perched Tuesday atop a 900-foot smokestack at a Czech Republic coal-fired power plant scheduled for upgrading.

Under the Greenpeace banner, 12 protesters from seven European countries scaled the stack in Prunerov Monday and vowed to remain there for several days, the CTK news agency reported.

The group erected a sign reading “Global Shame” on the structure to highlight their claims the Czech government’s planned upgrades didn’t address the issue of global warming due to carbon dioxide released by coal plants, the report said.

Greenpeace alleges the Prunerov facility is the largest source of air pollution in the country.

Last week, Environment Minister Jan Dusik, a member of the Green Party, resigned as a result of the controversy surrounding the plant’s upgrades, the report said. He wanted a more modern and technologically advanced upgrade, but was overruled by Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who said there was no time for that.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Nuclear Power a Possibility for Indonesia

JAKARTA, March 17 (UPI) — Indonesia’s House of Representatives gave a green light to the government’s plan to build nuclear plants.

That decision Monday came after the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment visited the country’s National Nuclear Energy Agency, which is known as Batan, during the weekend.

“Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future,” said Teuku Riefky Harsya, chairman of the commission, in a statement.

Coal is estimated to account for 44 percent of state-owned utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara’s total energy production this year with natural gas another 26 percent.

Hudi Hastowo, head of Batan, told The Jakarta Globe the agency wouldn’t operate nuclear plants but would act as a supporting partner in providing technical advice.

Building a nuclear plant was a long-term project for Indonesia, Hastowo said, that could take at least 10 years.

“We now have to convince all stakeholders to support the plan,” he said.

The agency has carried out a feasibility study on the construction of nuclear plants in Indonesia, covering such issues as safety and the environment. Batan said the country’s uranium reserves in Kalimantan are capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electricity for 150 years.

As for safety, Hastowo said that Indonesia would carefully evaluate safety measures in building nuclear power plants because the agency is party to the 1994 Vienna Convention on Nuclear Safety.

Noting that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency is “very strict” in issuing permits for a country to build a nuclear power plant, he said that an IAEA inspector last November unofficially endorsed Indonesia’s capacity to build a nuclear power plant.

While Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration has yet to present a detailed proposal to Parliament on the building of nuclear facilities, the Antara news agency reported the president as saying, “I believe that nuclear power plants will not leak if managed properly.”

But the nuclear option “carries high-level risks for which Indonesia is not well prepared,” said Richard Tanter, an expert on Indonesia’s nuclear program at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“There are very serious volcanic and seismic risks,” Tanter said.

Indonesia, faced with increasing electricity needs, encounters regular blackouts that hamper industrial production and discourage investors.

Hikmat Soeriatanuwijaya, a campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said it was too early for Indonesia to embark on the nuclear path, the Globe reports.

Soeriatanuwijaya said the government should first explore geothermal energy. Indonesia’s untapped geothermal energy accounted for 40 percent of the world’s total reserves, he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Electric Power Execs Lean Toward Nuclear

OVERLAND PARK, Kan., Feb. 19 (UPI) — A survey of U.S. electric power industry leaders reflects the impact of the weak economy and indicates their support for nuclear energy.

In its fourth annual Strategic Directions in the Electric Utility Industry Survey, engineering and consulting giant Black & Veatch found that nuclear energy is the utility industry’s preferred “environmentally friendly” technology, followed by wind power and natural gas.

“Contrary to many ‘experts’ who talk about the utility industry today, most insiders still view nuclear energy as the best way to achieve environmental improvement while meeting the capacity and energy needs of the future,” the authors of the report, released Thursday, wrote.

Still, more than 75 percent of the 329 executives who participated in the survey said respondents said there is a future for coal-fired power plants.

Industrial and commercial sales for many utilities have been “severely or seriously eroded” by the recession, the study shows. Less than one-quarter of those surveyed said they expect electricity usage in their area to rise by more than 1.5 percent annually in the next 10 years.

“The times are tough, so the industry is returning to its Job One: maintaining reliable service and preserving financial health, William Kemp, who leads Black & Veatch’s management consulting services around strategy and sustainability, said in a release. “Reliability and regulation popped back to the top of the major issues of concern for industry managers.”

The survey shows that electric utility spending on programs for energy efficiency and demand-side management is rising, to almost 2 percent of revenue. Black & Veatch, which has headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., said survey results indicate that the industry is spending an amount equivalent to approximately 15 to 20 percent of pre-tax earnings to get customers to use less of its product.

As for renewable energy, 79 percent of those surveyed said wind power projects are under way or planned within the next five years, while 73 percent of respondents reported solar projects under way or planned in the same time period.

A majority of those surveyed said they expect some form of carbon legislation to be in place by 2012 but more than 70 percent oppose the cap-and-trade system contained in current legislative proposals. Some 52 percent said the United States cannot afford carbon legislation.

“Utilities are facing increasing demands to spend more money on basic infrastructure, energy efficiency, the Smart Grid and cybersecurity,” Kemp said. “Their expected leading role in curbing carbon emissions would hit utility costs very hard.

“Yet their sales are declining or relatively flat, and regulatory commissions are reluctant to approve rate increases when the economy is down. Electric utilities will be hard-pressed to satisfy both customers and investors over the next few years.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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