Week in review: Green power plays

Amid flurry of end-of-the-year docket-clearing, Congress passes energy bill and Google's DoubleClick acquisition gets the green light from the FTC.

Amid a flurry of end-of-the-year docket-clearing this week by public policy bodies, Congress passed a monumental energy bill later signed by President Bush, and the Federal Trade Commission gave Google's DoubleClick acquisition the green light.

Known officially as the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, the new law sets higher fuel efficiency standards and boosts production of domestic biofuels to ultimately cut production of gases scientists blame for global warming. It also introduces the first increase in mileage standards since 1975, when mandates were first instituted.

The measure also calls for ethanol production--both from corn and other sources, such as woodchips and switchgrass--to increase nearly fivefold over the next 15 years. And it sets higher standards for efficiency of lighting and household appliances, with a goal of phasing out incandescent bulbs in 10 years.

What didn't make the legislation is notable as well. Tax incentives and utility mandates for renewable power generation were cut by the Senate under the threat of a White House veto.

Some critics, including some CNET News.com readers, contend the bill unfairly punishes the automakers instead of the oil companies.

"I will no longer be able to purchase a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugati, park them in my garage and walk to work and the grocery store. But I will be able to buy a Honda Civic and needlessly drive it hundreds of miles a week destroying the environment with green-house gases," said Joe Ippolito, commenting through News.com's Talkback feature. "Tax fuels that destroy the environment and subsidize those that don't before we lose this planet!"

Also on the green energy front, wave power is going commercial, at least in Northern California anyway. Regional utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced this week that it has signed a power purchase agreement with Finavera Renewables for 2 megawatts of electricity that will come from a wave farm, which Finavera will build 2.5 miles off the coast near California's Humboldt County.

Ideally, the wave farm will start producing power in 2012. It will offset 245 tons of carbon dioxide annually, and if it succeeds, Finavera will expand the wave farm to 100 megawatts.

Several companies and university laboratories are experimenting with ways to harness tides and waves to produce power. Some small-wave and tidal-power devices exist, but it's mostly been an industry in the experimental phase.

Speaking of experimental, the Burning Man festival also made some clean energy news this week, with the unveiling of a nonprofit the festival is supporting to bring no- or low-cost solar power to public institutions in disadvantaged or financially depressed communities in Nevada and beyond.

The idea behind Black Rock Solar is to find worthy recipients for whom to donate fully installed solar arrays that can then provide a source of free power for years to come. Black Rock Solar is partnering with MMA Renewable Ventures and Nevada utility company Sierra Pacific Power to provide the labor, expertise, and equipment necessary to get the solar arrays on line.

In other green technology news this week: DSM, a Dutch giant that makes everything from food enzymes and pharmaceuticals to plastics and chemicals, has invested in Novomer, which has a process for converting carbon dioxide to biodegradable plastic; HelioVolt, which plans on producing thin film solar panels made from copper indium gallium and selenide, will build a 20-megawatt factory in Austin, Texas, that will start popping out panels in 2008 ; and Validus on Tuesday announced that it has raised $10 million from Oak Hill Venture Partners to further develop its data center power supplies that use direct current to lower power consumption. Products are expected to be released in late January next year.

Clearing the dockets
Regulators want to be home for the holidays, too. So to do so with a clear mind, the FTC ended an eight-month antitrust review and announced that Google's controversial $3.1 billion merger proposal with DoubleClick can proceed, despite earlier complaints raised by competitors and privacy advocates.

Google announced plans in April to acquire the online ad-serving company. The commission, in issuing its decision to let the merger move forward, said the companies are not direct competitors in any relevant market.

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