The two efforts are part of a broader effort among federal agencies to improve energy efficiency, including a joint program by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy that coordinates a wide variety of activities from the DOE Industrial Technologies Program Save Energy Now initiative, the DOE Federal Energy Management Program, and the EPA Energy Star program.
Cap and trade, carbon offsets, and RECs: On Jan.1, the country's first mandatory cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), begins. Under RGGI, 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states have jointly designed cap-and-trade programs that cap power plants' CO2 emissions, and then lower that cap by 10%. These programs allow market forces to determine the most efficient and cost-effective means of cutting emissions.
On Feb. 13, five changes to the EPA's Green Power Partnership program are scheduled to take place that will affect how Intel, Cisco, and other large purchasers of renewable energy credits (RECs) are credited.
Eyes are also on California, where on Dec. 2, the California Air Resources Board approved regulations that require electricity operators, retailers, and marketers to comply with monitoring and reporting guidelines associated with greenhouse gasses (GHG). Those affected must submit annual Emission Data Reports summarizing their 2008 GHG emissions by either April 1 or June 1. It's the first step in a multitier effort by California to reduce GHG emissions.
Energy tax credits: The year's biggest green IT story may be whether or not the federal business energy tax credits expanded significantly by the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 in October, will spur economic growth while encouraging environmental stewardship. The new law extended the duration -- by eight years -- of the existing credits for solar energy, fuel cells, and microturbines; increased the credit amount for fuel cells; established new credits for small wind-energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power systems; extended eligibility for the credits to utilities; and allowed taxpayers to take the credit against the alternative minimum tax, subject to certain limitations.
There has been speculation that a drop in oil prices in late 2008, coupled with the recession, could delay many green projects. The recession, of course, remains, though oil prices began to climb in the last week of December amid renewed armed conflict in the Middle East.
Green IT purchases: It will be worth noting how strong corporate purchases of green IT equipment are in the weak economy. Separate reports from IDC, Forrester Research, and Panel Intelligence indicate that purchases will remain strong -- not in spite of the recession, but because of it.
E-waste: Expect mounting pressure for state and federal legislators to pass new e-waste laws and tighten loopholes in existing laws. In 2008, eight states plus New York City passed e-waste legislation. That brings the total to 17 states. The pressure has come largely from grassroots environmental efforts, but there likely will be increased shareholder pressure on business, as well.