The environment in the news Colorado Senate bags plastic shopping bag ban proposed by high school students

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Colorado Senate bags plastic shopping bag ban proposed by high school students


Associated Press Writer

3:04 AM CST, February 25, 2009

DENVER (AP) — Colorado shoppers will be able to keep using plastic grocery bags after lawmakers balked at what would have been the nation's first statewide ban on the synthetic sacks.

A state Senate bill banning the use of plastic bags by large retailers by 2012 was defeated Tuesday after a handful of Democrats joined with Republicans in voting against it.

Critics argued that the ban would inevitably lead to increased use of paper bags, which they argued take more energy to produce and take up more room in landfills than cheaper, lighter plastic bags.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said no other states have passed such bans yet and thinks Colorado lawmakers were wary of being the first. She said many were also contacted by constituents who didn't want to have to give up their bags.

The original bill proposed that stores charge customers 6 cents for every plastic bag they use between now and 2012. But the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee got rid of the fee at the request of Veiga.

Dick Brown, executive director of Colorado Recycles, had feared the ban could hurt new efforts to recycle other kinds of plastic bags not covered by the ban, such as newspaper delivery bags and dry cleaning bags. He said many supermarkets now accept all kinds of bags, in addition to their own, for recycling but that could end with a ban.

Lawmakers in several other states — Hawaii, Missouri, New Jersey and New York, among them — are considering similar bans this year.

Nine others are considering adding fees to plastic bags, ranging from 3 cents in Vermont to 25 cents in California, said Douglas Shinkle of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Colorado's measure was opposed by supermarkets, big box stores and department stores. It wouldn't have applied to smaller stores and franchise operations.

Veiga countered that plastic bags pose a bigger problem than paper ones because they're used more widely, they're made with petroleum products, and they aren't recycled as much as paper.

She introduced the bill at the urging of high school students at Kent Denver School, who watched the debate from the gallery above the Senate floor.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said their intentions were good but said banning plastic bags wouldn't help the environment.

"Human nature says that people will go toward the most convenient product, and that is the paper bag," said Harvey, who said his family uses canvas bags when shopping.

San Francisco has passed a plastic bag ban, as has China, Rwanda, Ireland and Bangladesh. Bag fees also have been considered in New York and Boston.

Plastic shopping bags will be banned from stores in Los Angeles beginning July 1, 2010. Shoppers can either bring their own bags or pay 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag.

A citizen's group in Seattle also is challenging that city's 20-cent bag fee and has collected enough signatures to send the matter to voters later this year.

In Maine, a bill that would require retailers to charge 10 cents for each plastic bag distributed to customers is being discussed by a legislative panel.

Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, argued that his state shouldn't follow the example of China, which also bans religious gatherings and having more than one child.

Three of the Kent students who lobbied lawmakers by phone and at the state Capitol remained upbeat after their defeat. They said they were glad the issue was debated for the public to see and that more people, including some of the bill's opponents, use reusable bags.

"I think people are changing, but they're not changing fast enough," said Julia Wedgle, who was joined by Katie Imhoff and Krista D'Alessandro.

All three are sophomores and said they would be back next year to try again.


Pacific Gas & Electric will add 500 megawatts of solar power in California

The San Francisco utility plans to spend $1.5 billion of ratepayers' money on the photovoltaic project, which is expected to generate enough electricity to supply 150,000 homes when completed.

By Marla Dickerson

February 25, 2009

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Tuesday that it would spend $1.5 billion of ratepayers' money to add 500 megawatts of photovoltaic power in California, one of the largest such deals in the country.

Plans call for the San Francisco utility to invest at least half of that in solar panels placed on commercial rooftops and on ground-mounted modules that PG&E would own and operate. The other half is earmarked for long-term contracts with private-sector solar companies. Those firms would build medium-size photovoltaic projects, ranging from 1 megawatt to 20 megawatts, selling the power to PG&E.

If the plan is approved by state regulators, PG&E would add around 100 megawatts of photovoltaic power annually under the deal, with completion slated for 2015. At full build-out, this patchwork is expected to generate enough electricity to supply 150,000 homes.

The program "will speed the delivery of clean, renewable energy to our customers," said Peter A. Darbee, chief executive of PG&E and its parent, PG&E Corp.

This clean energy comes at a price. Costing about 24.6 cents a kilowatt hour -- about double the price of similar contracts for conventional natural-gas-fired power -- the plan would boost the electricity bill of an average PG&E ratepayer by 32 cents a month, company officials said.

PG&E is just the latest California utility to jump into the solar business with a plan to own and operate a vast network of photovoltaic systems. Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. have large projects awaiting approval with the California Public Utilities Commission. Los Angeles residents will vote next month on whether to allow the L.A. Department of Water and Power to construct 400 megawatts of solar panels on their dime.

Tough state mandates require California utilities to boost their use of electricity from clean sources -- 20% by 2010 for PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. All are scrambling to meet the targets. Urban projects involving solar panels offer a quick way to boost their totals. The technology is proven. No new transmission is required. Construction can be completed in just months.

The utility-financed deals also underscore the toll that the U.S. credit crisis has taken on the renewable energy sector. Green start-ups are having a tough time getting financing. Analysts expect that some will go bust or will be late in delivering on contracts to provide clean electricity that utilities were counting on to meet their mandates.

Power companies, in contrast, have strong balance sheets and a captive base of ratepayers. PG&E and others are looking to taking matters into their own hands by constructing their own projects.

"With many renewable projects delayed, we can't afford business as usual," Darbee of PG&E said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and solar industry officials praised the deal Tuesday.

However, consumer advocates have criticized these projects as too costly to ratepayers, who already are seeing rates increase for other purposes. Under a three-year deal approved last year by state regulators, PG&E is allowed to raise rates by $213 million annually through 2010.

Higher rates helped PG&E Corp. post a fourth-quarter profit that more than doubled to $517 million, the company said Tuesday. A tax settlement also helped boost earnings. For the year, the company earned $1.34 billion, up 34% from net income in 2007.

Some consumer advocates contend that customer money would be better spent boosting residential subsidies to help homeowners install solar panels to cut their utility bills, instead of asking them to pay more for utility-owned solar.

"Are we going to spend ratepayer dollars to build up the utility monopoly?" said Sheila Bowers, a Santa Monica attorney and environmental activist.

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