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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 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'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.

The approval for the merger came in a 4-1 vote by regulators. In her dissent, Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour said she determined that the two companies' product markets overlap in key ways that could "substantially lessen competition" down the road.

Rivals such as Microsoft have challenged the merger, complaining that it would give Google an unfair advantage in search and publisher-based advertising tools.

On Wednesday, Microsoft and entertainment media giant Viacom announced a $500 million advertising agreement that Google cited as evidence of a "highly competitive" market for online ads.

European lawmakers plan to hold a hearing next month to scrutinize the privacy implications of the Google-DoubleClick merger. The European Commission is expected to announce its decision on the deal April 2.

Meanwhile, across the way, the Federal Communications Commission released names of applicants planning to bid in the much-anticipated January auction of 700MHz wireless spectrum. And though Google may have grabbed the auction spotlight, it's not the only nontraditional player that wants a valuable piece of the airwaves; bidders might also include cable operator Cablevision, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, and satellite TV provider EchoStar.

That Google was among the 266 companies filing an application by the December 3 deadline was no surprise. Google said earlier this year that it was willing to put up at least $4.6 billion for licenses in the "C" block of spectrum--a chunk that Verizon and others would like to get their hands on. Also throwing its hat into the auction ring is Vulcan Spectrum, a venture led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

And from the courts came an important decision for peer-to-peer watchers. A federal judge ruled this week against the BitTorrent indexing service, saying that its hiding and destruction of evidence made a fair trial impossible.

A Los Angeles court agreed with the Motion Picture Association of America's attorneys that the extraordinarily harsh sanction of terminating the case was necessary because TorrentSpy operators' actions affected the ability for the movie studios to prove its case.

While the association sees the court decision as a victory for major Hollywood studios, TorrentSpy's attorney Ira Rothken said he does not believe any data was intentionally destroyed and the company will appeal the decision.

Some attempts to clear agendas for the new year were unsuccessful. After a day of back-and-forth on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged on Monday evening and announced he would postpone debate on the so-called FISA Amendments Act, a complex law that would let telephone and Internet companies off the hook from lawsuits alleging illicit cooperation with federal government spies.

That bill, which has already been approved in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would grant such corporate immunity and make it easier for the feds to snoop on phone calls and e-mails involving foreigners and Americans without a warrant, drawing rampant criticism from civil liberties groups.

The latest action is a blow to the White House, which has been pressuring Congress to enact a more lasting replacement to the Protect America Act, a wiretapping law expansion set to expire in early February.

Looking back on 2007
Like our "Week in review" features? If so, you might enjoy perusing our "Year in review" features, which offer a recap of 2007's biggest headlines, as well as insight into what those stories mean for the year to come. The feature is broken out by topics.

We'll continue publishing the "Year in review" features through the beginning of January. So far we've published: Digital kids; Web 2.0; Science; Apple/iPhone; Gadgets and TV; Enterprise software; Chips; Microsoft; Personal computers; Green tech transportation; and Newsmakers.

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