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Category: Environment

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Geothermal-heated hotel planned for Mammoth Lakes


An eco-friendly hotel and housing complex heated by geothermal water will be built in Mammoth Lakes, a London-based developer said.

Public officials have approved construction of the 5.5-acre Handmade Hotel Mammoth View, developer Britannia Pacific Properties said. Britannia will now put together architectural plans with the intention of breaking ground by 2013.

The boutique hotel would have 54 rooms. The project would also have 28 cabins and 24 lofts, all for sale at prices ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Radiant heating for the buildings and some surface areas of the complex would come from a well 1,500 feet deep that would pump and circulate hot water. After circulating, the water would be pumped back into the ground through a second well.

Other planned green features include capturing rain and snowmelt for irrigation and using timber cut at the site.

“Mammoth’s amazing natural resources, particularly the hot springs, inspired us to research ways to utilize them for the good of the environment.” said Britannia Pacific President Eva Hill.


Nevada seeks to loosen California's grip on Tahoe development

Lake Tahoe clarity second-worst on record

U.S. hotels beginning to rebound from recession with report of profits

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: Hot springs near Mammoth Lakes. Credit: Los Angeles Times


Coca-Cola beefs up green fleet

The world's largest soft-drink maker, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., wants you to know that your beverages may be delivered by a new hybrid or electric truck.

Coca-Cola hybrid electric truck Coca-Cola has nearly doubled the size of its greener fleet of trucks since 2010, company officials said, and they are making the claim of having the nation's largest low-emissions bottling fleet at a 1 p.m. event in downtown Los Angeles today.

The event will be held at Coca-Cola Refreshments of Southern California at 12th and Birch streets in downtown Los Angeles.

"We as a company are working very hard to get sustainability into our business practices, so we are transforming a good portion of our fleet with green technology with the intent to push our carbon footprint down and get better fuel efficiencies," said Tim Heinen, vice president of field operations for Coca-Cola's western region.

"By the end of the year, we will have more than 740 alternative-fuel vehicles operating throughout North America, and about 40% of them will be right here in California," Heinen said.

The Coca-Cola fleet currently has 691 hybrid electric medium-duty trucks, for example, with 43 more on order, he said

The total Coca-Cola fleet has about 10,000 trucks, Heinen said.

Ron Stassi, fleet manager for the company's western region, added that Coca-Cola hopes to be rolling out other new technologies, such as forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells for use in its warehouse in San Leandro.

He said the newer trucks have helped the company reduce its fuel costs by 22%.

Heinen said that more customers care about sustainability practices and are making purchases based on the efforts that businesses put into reducing their emissions footprint.

"We know that it does matter to people, and we want to show that we are trying to make a difference. We are committed to it," Heinen said.

-- Ronald D. White


Seaports take delivery of hydrogen fuel cell truck

Electric cars about to cost more in California

Interest in renewable energy may surge

Online calculator estimates savings from home solar systems

Ever wonder just how much benefit can be gained by adding solar panels to a new or existing home? Well, now you can go online, fill in the requisite details such as the address and the size of the solar system you're contemplating, and get an answer.

Logo The California Energy Commission has launched the Solar Advantage Value Estimator, or SAVE, officials said, to provide a long-term and cost-effective method for calculating the added value of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

"This changes the perception of solar in the housing industry that benefits homeowners. Today's changing real estate market requires a credible method to determine a home's value with solar and this tool is an example of California's leadership to develop new methods to cultivate clean energy," said Energy Commissioner Carla Peterman.

Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Energy Commission, added: "This is a tool for the homeowner. They may be looking to purchase a solar home or they may be selling one. This calculation will give you a monetary value to show potential buyers."

The SAVE calculator will offer an estimate of annual energy savings by using the address and solar system size by automatically combining it with specific climate zone data and local electric utility rates. The calculator is also designed to be used by real estate professionals, appraisers and builders to provide information to potential clients.

On the same Web page, visitors will find other calculators that may provide them with useful and related information. The Clean Power Estimator "calculates the potential costs and benefits of installing a PV system at your home or business."

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's PVWatts calculator "determines the energy production and cost savings of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) energy systems throughout the world." Just launch the viewer and enter a ZIP code to begin.

--Ronald D. White 

U.S. airlines say EU emissions plan could cost them billions

Airlines LAX The trade group that represents the nation's airlines predicts that a new European Union emissions tax could cost U.S. carriers at least $3 billion through 2020.

The Air Transport Assn. has called the European cap-and-trade emissions plan illegal and predicts it will hurt the industry if implemented on U.S.-based airlines next year.

The European Commission launched the cap-and-trade plan in 2005 and has targeted utilities and manufacturers. Starting next year, carbon dioxide emissions from airlines will be capped at 97% of their average 2004-06 levels and 95% in 2013.

Airlines that don't use all their emissions allowances can sell the excess to other carriers that exceed the limits. The fine for violating the plan is 100 euros, or about $142, for every ton of carbon dioxide that airlines emit above the limit.

The trade group estimates the fines could add up to $3.1 billion for all U.S. carriers between 2012 and 2020.

The airline industry generates about 2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Air Transport Assn.

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: Airplanes taxi at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times

PACE green home retrofit program could be revived by Congress


A program that helped property owners install green upgrades before it ran into government roadblocks last year may be resuscitated by Congress.

A group of legislators introduced a bill Wednesday to jump-start the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE. The program used low-interest government financing to help fund installations of energy-efficient solar panels, insulation, water conservation systems and more.

More than half of the country had approved some version of the program, which was a magnet for stimulus funding. Retrofits were mostly financed with bonds issued by local governments and then applied as a regular surcharge on homeowners’ property taxes, lightening the heavy upfront costs of such improvements.

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency balked at a component of the program that, in a foreclosure, prioritized the PACE lien over an existing mortgage.

The housing authority warned last summer that PACE posed “unusual and difficult” financial risks. The agency directed mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which it regulates, to tighten its underwriting criteria for participants or steer clear entirely.

Homeowners were told that the program could be a violation of their mortgage terms and grounds for foreclosure.

Since then, the program has lain dormant. But the PACE Protection Act from Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) would compel the housing finance agency to back down and allow PACE to proceed.

“We’ve tried everything to work with them, but they’re just being stubborn,” Thompson said of the agency. “It’s come down to introducing legislation, which is not the route we wanted to go. These guys are just pigheaded.”

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BMW adds to 4-cylinder parade with 2012 528i sedan

007_530d Hoping to tap into a growing pool of fuel-conscious car buyers, BMW is offering a new four-cylinder option.

The 2012 BMW 528i sedan will come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo engine, the German automaker said Friday. BMW said earlier that it would also offer a four in its new Z4 sports car.

More than a decade ago, BMW stopped selling the engines because the company assumed its luxury buyers wanted the bigger V-6 versions. Now, the four-cylinder in the 528i will have more power and 30% more torque than the 2011 model’s 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder.

To further spruce up the vehicle, the 2012 version will also have all-wheel drive and a function that limits idling by switching off the engine when the car is stationary at traffic lights or in slow-moving traffic. There’s also a mode that can adjust heating and cooling inside the car to minimize fuel use.


The vehicle will arrive in the U.S. in the fall.



Leaving the V-6 behind

New fuel economy labels for cars and trucks are unveiled


-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo (top): The 2012 528i.

Photo (bottom): TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine. Credit: BMW USA.

First Solar wins $4.5 billion in federal support for California sun-power projects

CstSte_6281_FS_CA_WB_M Sun-power developer First Solar scored big Thursday as three of its projects landed nearly $4.5 billion in long-anticipated conditional loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy.

The awards for the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1, Desert Sunlight and Topaz Solar thin-film photovoltaic facilities –- all in California -– cap a blockbuster month for solar installations seeking financing. 

The government doled out $680 million in conditional commitments to the 230-megawatt Antelope Valley installation, which is to produce enough power at its western Mojave Desert site to power 54,000 homes.

The 550-megawatt Topaz plant, based in eastern San Luis Obispo County, is expected to generate enough electricity for 110,000 homes. Desert Sunlight in eastern Riverside County, which is to be the same size as Topaz, got a partial commitment $1.88 billion. 

The projects, which all are to use cadmium telluride thin-film photovoltaic modules made mostly at First Solar’s U.S. factories, will create 1,400 jobs at the peak of construction, the company said.

First Solar, an Arizona-based panel maker that earlier this week was embroiled in a tussle with Riverside County supervisors concerning potential fees on the Desert Sunlight project, had anxiously awaited news of the loan guarantees. Without financing, executives said, the projects could have been indefinitely delayed. 

So far, the Energy Department's loan programs have handed out $16 billion in conditional commitments for 15 solar projects and are also involved in geothermal, wind and nuclear efforts. The renewable-energy industry, still heavily dependent on subsidies, is dreading the programs' expiration later this year.

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Consumer Confidential: Confidence drops, food prices to soar, teens get smart

Confpic Here's your tell-it-to-the-Marines Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Consumers just can't get a fix on how they feel about the economy. Last week came word that we're feeling a bit more upbeat. Now comes the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index falling to 60.8, a sign of the toll that high gas prices, a choppy job outlook and a moribund housing market are taking on people's psyches. Economists had expected an increase to 67 for May, but this was the lowest reading since November. The index is far from the reading of 90 that indicates a healthy economy. It hasn't approached that level since the recession began in December 2007. This is a big deal because consumer spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity and is critical for a strong rebound.

--Need another reason to feel gloomy? The nonprofit organization Oxfam is predicting that within 20 years, the cost of crops could increase by up to 180%. "The food system is pretty well bust in the world," Oxfam CEO Barbara Stocking tells reporters. "All the signs are that the number of people going hungry is going up." She calls for changes in the food system to cope with climate change, higher food costs and a scarcity of land and water. Oxfam says food prices will increase by something in the range of 70% to 90% by 2030 before taking into account the effects of climate change, which would roughly double price rises again. Although wheat prices have remained stable in 2011, they are 70% higher than a year ago. Prices for corn have more than doubled in the last 12 months.

--A silver lining: Times may be tough, but at least young people are learning to cope. According to a new survey from brokerage Charles Schwab, nine out of 10 teenagers say they were "affected by the recession." Those surveyed say the economic crisis has caused a major shift in their perspective that includes a greater appreciation for what they have and an increased awareness of financial hardship. The recession also taught teenagers to not be so materialistic. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they are more grateful for what they have, the majority (58%) report they are less likely to ask for things they want and 56% say they now have a greater appreciation for their parents’ hard work. That's something.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Consumers (OK, maybe not these two) are feeling down about the economy. Credit: Associated Press


Consumer Confidential: Better car labels, easier e-banking, CPK's new daddy

Stickerpic Here's your howlin'-wolf Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- If you're shopping for a new car, you'll soon have better info for making a purchase. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation have unveiled new fuel economy labels for cars and trucks -- the most significant update since 1975, when the feds first required fuel economy data. Designed to provide more detailed information about vehicles' fuel efficiency, estimated annual fuel cost and environmental effect, the new stickers will be rolled out with 2013 model year vehicles, although some manufacturers may voluntarily adopt the new labels for the 2012 model year. The labels will, for the first time, allow consumers to compare energy use and cost for new-technology cars such as plug-in electrics. They will include estimates on the amount of money consumers will save or spend on fuel for the next five years compared with an average new vehicle. And they will estimate how much fuel or electricity is required to drive 100 miles.

-- E-banking is getting easier. Three of the four largest banks are launching a system that lets customers transfer money from their checking accounts using only a mobile number or e-mail address. The banks say the service, called clearXchange, will make payments easier than traditional money transfers, which require a bank routing number and move through a system controlled by Federal Reserve banks. The service is a joint venture between Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo. The banks expect to add other financial institutions, eventually creating an industry-wide utility for moving money. ClearXchange is an attempt by the banks to retain fee-weary customers who have embraced alternatives such as prepaid debit cards and EBay's PayPal money-transfer service.

-- CPK has a new daddy. Golden Gate Capital is buying California Pizza Kitchen for about $470 million in cash, ending a sales process that had gone on for more than a year. Under the terms of the deal, Golden Gate will pay $18.50 a share, or almost 11% more than CPK’s closing share price on Tuesday. "We have great respect for the California Pizza Kitchen brand," says Josh Olshansky, a Golden Gate managing director. "The business that the CPK team has built, with its great product offerings, makes it an ideal fit with our long-term oriented approach to investing." California Pizza Kitchen put itself up for sale in April 2010 after receiving interest from several buyout firms.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: New cars will soon have more informative stickers. Credit: Stephen Morton / Bloomberg News


Brown appoints former banker to Public Utilities Commission

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a former international banker turned charity executive to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Mark Ferron, 52, of Mill Valley is the senior partner at Silicon Valley Social Ventures, a donor network  that, according to its Web page, "leverages its financial, intellectual and human capital to make a meaningful, measurable impact in Silicon Valley and beyond."

From 2001 to 2009, Ferron was chief operating officer for the global markets division of Deutsche Bank in London and had responsibility for all trading in the fixed income, currency, commodity and equity markets. Prior to Deutsche Bank, he worked for Salomon Brothers and Bank of America.

"His background is finance and operations," Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said. "There was a feeling that this is something that the PUC would benefit from."

Ferron is Brown's third appointment to the PUC since taking office in January. The panel, which regulates private sector electric utilities, water companies, natural gas suppliers and other businesses, now is fully staffed with all five constitutionally designated members.

Ferron, who has served as an informal counselor to Brown, is not well known in the utility, energy or environmental community groups with considerable interests at the PUC.

"We don't know anything about him," said Bill Magavern, California director of the Sierra Club. "We've been calling for Jerry to appoint someone who is strong on energy efficiency and renewable energy and we hope this guy fills the bill."

The PUC needs leadership on clean energy, Magavern said.

Ferron's appointment comes at a difficult time for the PUC. The agency has come under fire for its alleged lax regulation of natural gas pipelines. The explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno last September killed eight people and destroyed about 50 homes.

"Mr. Ferron will join the commission at a pivotal time. The commission has been under a great deal of criticism for being too cozy with the utility companies and too soft on PG&E," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group. "It desperately needs to change direction if it is going to restore public faith in its effectiveness."

Ferron was unavailable for comment on his appointment.

-- Marc Lifsher

Electric utilities close to meeting renewables goals

The state's three biggest investor-owned utilities, led by Southern California Edison Co., are edging closer to meeting their mandated goal of producing 20% of their electric power from renewable energy sources.

Edison at the end of 2010 generated 19.4% of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources, up from 17.4% in 2009, according to a report issued Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., based in San Francisco, produced 17.7% of its electricity from renewable sources, compared with 14.4% in 2009, while San Diego Gas & Electric Co. hit 11.9% last year, an increase of 1.4 percentage points over 2009.

California law originally required the three utilities to produce 20% of their power from non-fossil-fuel sources by the end of 2010, but none of the companies could reach that goal. The PUC subsequently extended the deadline to the end of 2012.

But meeting the 20% goal in the next two years would not be enough to satisfy California policy makers. Two years ago, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order demanding that the three electric companies and their municipally owned counterparts produce a third of their power from renewables by 2020.

At least two efforts to write that requirement into law either failed to get out of the state Legislature or were vetoed by the governor.

Lawmakers this year are again trying. Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has introduced a bill that has a good chance of passing and being signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

-- Marc Lifsher



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