Archive for the 'Renewable Energy' Category

After the State of the Union, What the President (and We) Can Do on Climate Change

Picture 26

This piece was originally published by Good

Yesterday’s State of the Union address could go down as a watershed moment in America’s transition to a clean energy economy. Two years ago, the president wouldn’t mention climate change. Last night, he spoke honestly about the issue to 40 million people and vowed that if “Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” The question is: Just what can President Obama do, and what will it mean for our economy and energy system?<--break->

Recent experience provides some clues. Even without a Congressional climate bill, the United States has doubled renewable electricity production over the past four years, and reduced carbon emissions to a 20-year low, even as the economy has rebounded from the worst recession since the Great Depression. We’ve also built substantial new energy industries. Solar power alone now accounts for 119,000 American jobs, spread across 5,600 companies in all 50 states. Economy-wide, there are some 2.7 million green jobs, and green job sectors are growing faster than other parts of the economy.
Some of these accomplishments are directly attributable to Obama Administration policies. The stimulus package, for instance, injected more cash into green investments than any piece of legislation in American history. New fuel efficiency standards will likewise save tens of billions of barrels of oils in the coming years. Other important pieces of the policy puzzle, such as state level Renewable Portfolio Standards, have come from different parts of the government, but still demonstrate the same principle that there are many ways to move forward on climate and energy, even in a tough political moment.
And so we come back to the present moment. Obama has again called on Congress to pass a big cap-and-trade bill, but also knows that he will be more successful in producing change through a variety of smaller initiatives.
In his speech and an accompanying policy document, the president put forward several specific proposals he will pursue in his second term, including calling for the Production Tax Credit for wind energy to be made permanent and refundable (a very big deal) and working directly with states to incentivize energy efficiency. He also issued a broader challenge to legislators, noting that he has directed his cabinet to “identify additional executive actions … which will be assessed if Congress does not take action.”
What would these executive actions look like? Perhaps the administration working through the EPA to tighten regulations on greenhouse gases—a major move that would put a substantial dent in the coal-fired power system. Maybe Obama using his convening powers to bring together a high-level commission on climate change and energy, so that we could shift from a debate about whether climate change is real to a debate about all the ways we can solve the problem. Or the president could slow the pace of fossil fuel development by taking a stand on a big project like the Keystone XL.
This last example highlights an important point about the opportunity of the next four years. The president’s ability to pursue aggressive executive actions depends on the strength of the popular coalition behind him. Obama is going to use the bully pulpit to take his energy agenda to the public. It’s up to us to show Obama that we want him to exercise the full power of his office, as aggressively as Lincoln on slavery or F.D.R. on reviving the American economy after the Great Depression.
So, let’s take Obama up on his promise of action. Let’s use our money and let’s use our feet. We need to weaken fossil fuel interests through divestment campaigns like that being organized by 350.org and invest in renewable energy through platforms like Mosaic. We also need to turn out. This Sunday, Washington D.C. will host what will likely be the largest climate rally in U.S. history, with a specific goal of stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a great moment to let Obama know: If he’s ready to take on Congress, or the fossil fuel industry, or both, we’ve got his back.

The Days After the Storm

By Daniel Rosen and Billy Parish, co-founders of Mosaic

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. We’ve seen the impacts of climate change in other parts of the world, but with Hurricane Sandy, we saw for the first time the places of our childhood underwater, family members without power. It is as shocking as it is frightening to see the devastation extreme weather can wreak.

We were deeply moved by pictures of firemen and nurses carrying babies in the dark from NYU Hospital out of harms way. Seeing them in action, we were filled with a fierce pride in humanity. When it comes down to it, in moments like these, we rise to extraordinary levels of bravery and sheer force of will.

But we’re also left feeling angry. The irony that the same energy system that brought us climate change and this tremendous storm also couldn’t handle its wrath makes us sick.

Let’s not mince words: The fossil fuel industry is destroying our planet and everything that we love. CO2 in the atmosphere is making our oceans warmer and making our climate unstable. The current energy system is not only bad for the planet, but also is extremely fragile. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, 12,000,000 people went without power for days. Many of them still without power today.

When you awake you will remember ev’rything, You will be. – Bob Dylan

The gravity of the situation is real. Everything is at stake. Families. Homes. Memories. Whole ways of life. All packaged up neatly and for sale to the highest bidding lobbyist The fossil fuel industry has spent $153 Million on this election so far. It’s no wonder climate change didn’t come up once in the three Presidential debates or the VP debate.

Meanwhile, the expected costs of Sandy are upwards of $50 billion. Will Exxon and Shell pay for that out of their $54 billion in profits this year? Will ConEd? Will PG&E? And what about the wildfires this summer? And the droughts across the midwest that have destroyed corn crops and farmers’ livelihoods? What about those costs? Is there math that they have that figures out the value of lives lost in the hurricane? It’s disgusting to even write that, but it begs the question.

So after the storm, what?

An Ambitious Proposal
Like the firefighters who risked their lives, we of all creeds, all ages, and all political stripes, must come together and work with the same tireless strength and courage to replace CO2-producing energy sources with clean energy and smart grid technologies. A world powered 100% with clean energy. If you don’t think it’s possible, watch this talk by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, and Executive Vice President of Rabo Bank, Marco Kraepels.

Jacobson’s team has mapped out how New York can make a total transition to clean energy by 2030. Under this plan, electricity would come from a mix of renewables and energy efficiency, reducing statewide power demand by 37%.  And talk about collateral benefits: Air pollution mortality would decline by 4,000 deaths a year. Just the cost savings from reduced air pollution would save the Empire State $33B a year, enough to pay for the needed new 271 gigawatts of renewable power.

Take Jacobson’s plan national and there you have it — clean energy delivered via thousands of decentralized microgrids. It will take planning, coordination and financing by the whole crazy lot of us, from the clean tech sector to utilities to Mosaic investors crowdfunding the next distributed solar power plant. It will take an unprecedented coalition of people and businesses mobilized to make this ambitious vision happen.

ConEd is saying that it will take 10 days to get the majority of its customers their power back, but some may be without power until the end of November. In coming months, Cuomo and others could establish an aggressive state Feed In Tariff, guaranteeing a market for renewables. They could help to structure it to incentivize back-up storage. Each house could be a solar power plant. Every rooftop a place for distributed generation.

Distributed generation (such as wind and solar with backup battery storage) and other decentralized energies would have been far more resilient than our current electricity grid. The advantage of clean power microgrids, besides curbing climate change, is that if one mini-power station goes down, it doesn’t take the whole grid down with it — had NYU Hospital been microgrid-powered, we likely would not have witnessed the grim spectacle of firemen carrying those babies to safety.

Microgrids would offer protection in the inevitable event of future superstorms and in the face of powerful solar storms predicted for 2013 that have the potential to take down the entire US grid. Better still, clean energy would help avert extreme weather events in the first place.

One of Mosaic’s projects in Oakland funded by 134 people.

The storm waters have gone back to the sea. Now begins the real work of rebuilding. The task in front of us is the most ambitious rebuilding project human civilization has ever undertaken. This is not a top down mandate. The task to transition from a CO2 based economy and energy production to 100% clean and renewable energy is a movement of movements, community of communities, network of networks.

We have the technology to make the transition. We have the know how. We have the people.  We need not wait for another superstorm to underscore our vulnerability, and we need not — must not — wait for politicians and utility executives to lead the charge. As we say at Mosaic, we got this.

Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy

Cross-posted from Solutionaries.net referencing a Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion piece published May 23: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/153296235.html

Last November, I sat down with a couple of long-time Environmental Justice organizers in Minnesota and had a conversation about Minneapolis’s energy future. I had been notified by an lawyer that the franchise agreements (20 year agreements that allow the major local utilities to use the public right of way to distribute electricity and natural gas to Minneapolis energy users in exchange for paying Minneapolis about $24 million annually) were expiring in 2014. In our conversation, we figured we should do something about it to ensure the next 20 years of energy development was founded on energy efficiency, clean energy, and community ownership of our energy system.

Fast forward six months and we have a coalition of a dozen groups leading the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, support from many of our local elected officials, and insight into the many ways that state regulation partners with utilities to limit the options cities have taking steps towards more affordable, efficient, clean, and community-based energy development. We’ve learned of the work of dozens of other cities that have moved to take control of their energy purchasing, generation, and/or distribution, whether through innovative franchise agreements with cooperative utilities, community choice aggregation (which allows a local governments to choose what power they buy, distributed by the local utility), and forming new municipal energy utilities. We believe Minneapolis should keep its options open rather than locking in 20 more years of business as usual – we want to enable the city to explore the option of municipalizing while evaluating negotiations of the franchise with an eye towards enabling Minneapolis residents and businesses to take charge.

And recently, we opened that discussion in an Op Ed in the Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/153296235.html

Read more about what we could achieve and what this means for energy action, democracy, and how movements relate to markets:

Continue reading ‘Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy’

BREAKING: Student Activists Hang Banner at MSU

Today Michigan State students took action to push their school to go 100% renewable. Here’s what my friend David Pinsky had to say about their situation last week:

The Michigan State University (MSU) T.B. Simon coal plant is the largest on-campus coal plant in the country.

The MSU coal plant burns 200,000 tons of coal every year, and is one contributor to the 31 annual deaths in the Lansing area due to coal-fired power plants.

Since 2009, hundreds of MSU students have been waking up and saying “today I am going to shut down our campus coal plant!” For nearly three years, two student groups, MSU Greenpeace and MSU Beyond Coal, have been working tirelessly to pressure their administration to shut down the coal plant and transition to 100% clean energy.

Following relentless grassroots organizing from students, the administration finally responded – with an unambitious energy transition plan that calls for 40% clean energy by 2030. The plan also contains false solutions such as burning biomass and natural gas. Greenpeace and Sierra Club energy experts have concerns about the methodology used to create the plan. The ultimate goal of the plan is 100% clean energy. However, with a current timeline that extends to 2030, meeting not even half of the 100% goal, MSU students are calling on the MSU Board of Trustees to reject the current energy transition plan.

On April 13th, the MSU Board of Trustees has the power to reject this unambitious plan and demonstrate leadership on clean energy…. ” Read the rest of Davids blog on Quitcoal.org

This is part of a week of action and students around the country are taking action in solidarity, you can too.

You can tweet about this using the hashtag #quitcoalmsu

VICTORY: Midwest Generation and GenOn Announce Coal Plant Closures

Well, folks, it seems the fight to phase out coal-fired electric generation is starting to work. Today, Midwest Generation announced that they will be closing their two dirty coal plants in Chicago, the Fisk coal plant in Pilsen will shut down in 2012 and the Crawford coal plant in Little Village will shut down by 2014. As if this wasn’t enough good news, GenOn has also announced that it will be retiring 8 of it’s plants, 7 coal and 1 oil.

These plants are some of the dirtiest in the nation, and are probably part of the reason I, and so many others, grew up with asthma. What’s more, their impact on the climate will shortly be eliminated and I hope that means the demand drives further renewable energy production.  Below are many links where you can learn more, but a huge debt of gratitude goes out to the organizations who have been fighting these, and for those who mobilized the American public to get stronger rules at EPA. In particular, the communities of Pilsen and Little Village have been dealing with the health effects of Fisk and Crawford and have been fighting for their closure for some time.

Here’s more: P.E.R.R.O, Washington Post, Greenpeace , Sierra ClubChicago CBS, Chicago Sun Times, Reuters, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge Launches

Credit: Michael Drazdzinski

Solar panels adorning the tops of Harvard buildings. A bright, towering wind turbine on the St. Olaf campus. Libraries and dormitories chock full of blue recycling options and even composting bins inside the dining halls, at the University of Washington.

Campus sustainability has come into its own over the last decade, with renewable energy, tray-less dining, and sustainability director jobs popping up at campuses across the country. While many colleges and universities can implement some or all of these programs to reduce their carbon footprint, many projects are done piecemeal, without a regular source of funding or the institutional support to make it the first step in a larger commitment.

Being a sustainable campus can be so much more than just a green garden or showcase project. Sustainability projects can often reduce the overall operating costs for the campus, saving energy and money, keeping tuition low. But high upfront costs can be a barrier to administrators experiencing steep budget cuts and rising energy costs.

One way for any college or university to achieve these results is through a sustainability financing mechanism called the Green Revolving Fund.

On the main stage at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference in Pittsburgh, PA, the Billion Dollar Green Challenge will be launched in front of the largest gathering, to date, on sustainability in higher education. The Challenge is inviting colleges to establish green revolving funds to invest in significant energy efficiency upgrades on campus.

At the time of the launch, 32 institutions have joined the Challenge’s Founding Circle. Founding Circle participants range in size from large institutions such as Arizona State, Harvard and Stanford, to small and innovative institutions such as Northland College, Green Mountain College and Unity College.

Green revolving fund projects are diverse and versatile, and can be easily adapted to a school’s priorities. Have an active student body? Consider operating a student-driven fund, like at Oberlin College’s EDGE Fund, where students work with faculty and staff to initiative sustainability projects. Want to retrofit your campus buildings? Take a page from the University of Pennsylvania’s Energy Reduction Fund, which reduces energy through building upgrades.

Existing green revolving funds prove that sustainability efforts can be profitable and even fund larger and more ambitious projects, as they have an average return on investment of 32 percent annually.

Clearly, the benefits of joining the Challenge and operating a green revolving fund are numerous. They are a bright spot in a rocky economy, helping to create green jobs in campus communities while substantially reducing operating costs. The Challenge is a broad network of like-minded institutions focused on improving campus sustainability throughout their operations.

For participating institutions, it will be a best practice forum for what kinds of projects have proven successful, what programs have had difficulties, and what programs you should consider on your own campus, based on real-life examples.

As energy prices rise and concerns about resource scarcity increase, it is a risky venture to not invest in environmental initiatives on campus. By joining the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, institutions can both save energy and grow money.

Visit GreenBillion.org for more information and see if your school might be a good fit.

———————————
Mark Orlowski is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and Emily Flynn is Manager of Special Projects at SEI.

Why Confronting Climate Injustice is Solutions Work

Lately in the climate movement I’ve been encountering an idea I believe is based on flawed assumptions: that the only real “solution” to the climate crisis is promoting clean energy and efficiency, while avoiding “problem-oriented” approaches like shutting down existing coal plants and stopping tar sands pipelines.  According to this way of thinking, the climate movement’s best bet is to focus almost exclusively on saying “yes” to things we want, and seldom or never say “no.”

I fully recognize the tremendous importance of working with communities to implement clean energy solutions.  I have huge respect and admiration for people who dedicate themselves to this kind of work.  If that’s your calling, I’m behind you 100%.  But I can’t and won’t agree that having people who are willing to take a principled stand against dirty energy is any less a part of the solution than implementing alternatives to fossil fuels.  We will never build a real movement for climate justice without being willing to say “no.”

If you don’t believe me, imagine what would happen if every US climate activist focused only on renewables and efficiency, while declining to speak out against unjust energy.  The result would be a heyday for fossil fuels.  Relieved of the inconvenience of people willing to stand in the way of injustice, coal companies would finish blowing up the last Appalachians and converting the Powder River Basin to a wasteland.  Largely unopposed, Big Oil would build its long-sought network of pipelines linking the Canadian tar sands to US refineries, solidifying US oil dependence for the next several decades.

Meanwhile we’d be installing lots of solar panels and wind turbines.  But it wouldn’t matter much, so long as fossil fuel companies could go their way unopposed and externalize the costs onto others.  When seen as one wing of a broader movement that also includes confronting injustice directly, renewable energy solutions are hugely powerful.  But if the climate movement becomes unwilling to condemn injustice where it exists, all the solutions we implement are for nothing.  They’ll be swept away in the tide of dirty energy infrastructure fossil companies would build without principled opposition from our movement. Continue reading ‘Why Confronting Climate Injustice is Solutions Work’

Tim DeChristopher: Solar Mosaic “transforms our energy system in the fundamental way” we need

Cross-posted from Solar Mosaic Energy 2.0 Blog

Tim DeChristopher understands why he’s going to jail. As he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview, “What I did was a threat to the status quo, so I understand why those in power want to put me away.”

Tim represents a new breed of disruptive, bold climate activists who are putting their lives on the line to bring about the transformational change we need. And he considers Solar Mosaic part of that transformation. Asked what it would take to fundamentally transform our energy system, he pointed to Solar Mosaic as proof that we’re on our way. For the folks at Solar Mosaic, this is both a huge compliment and a great expectation to fulfill.

A quick recap on Tim: One the eve of Obama’s inauguration, a 27-year old economics student from Utah entered an auction set up for oil and gas companies, became the top bidder, and won the lease rights. He had no intention of paying for the land; he was acting to protect public land from destructive extraction. Despite the fact that the leasing plan was flawed and has since been revoked, Tim faces up to ten years in prison for his actions. His sentencing was recently rescheduled for the tenth time and is slated for late July. To read Tim’s full story, click here.

I take a lot of inspiration from Tim, for his personal resolve and his commitment to confronting the inadequacies of the grey economy and spurring on a new energy transformation. I’m also inspired to witness this new paradigm taking hold in concrete ways around the country. Indeed, Solar Mosaic – which aims to democratize clean energy in Oakland, California and around the country – represents a radical departure from traditional top-down fossil fuel systems.

DeChristopher speaks of a future that promotes local power, justice and prosperity for all, and an economy based on human goodness. Solar Mosaic embodies these tenants, putting the energy in the hands of people, creating jobs and helping community institutions save money, and building an economy that reflects the values we strive to live by.

Youth Activists Prepare for Community-Building Journey

It’s called the Self Express: and the catchy name isn’t the only unusual thing about the 38-foot bus which a group of Northwest students and recent graduates are converting into a living space that will transport them across the country this summer.  By the time it’s finished, the former 1989 school bus will be ready to run entirely on used vegetable oil, and will be outfitted with a solar panel installation on the roof.  For the bulk of the summer it will serve as a temporary home for six youth activists determined to show that sustainable living in the twenty-first century is both possible and practical.

The Self Express project is a grassroots effort launched by youth organizers based at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon who have a vision for a better future.  Traveling across the US in an essentially carbon-neutral vehicle, they plan to create a real-life example of community-oriented living.  The group intends to connect with local nonprofits and charities in locations they visit across the United States, performing service and volunteer work that gives back to the community.  They will also travel to and participate in key events in the US climate movement happening over the next few months. 

“I’m really interested to see what’s going on in our country,” says Katie Kann, a recent graduate of Linfield College who will be setting out on the Self Express later this month.  “I’m tired of only hearing about the negative stuff in the news, stuff that makes me sad. I want to see the good things that fellow citizens are doing to help people and improve quality of life across our country.”

In this way the Self Express project connects the hands-on solutions work needed to jumpstart a transition to a clean economy with the political organizing and activism that’s essential to building the sustained movement that will get us off fossil fuels for good.  Considering the scale of the challenge we’re facing, it’s neither logical nor useful to argue about whether climate activists should be addressing problems or building solutions.  We urgently need to do both these, things, which is why youth organizers aboard the Self Express will be connecting with community solutions projects while also facilitating communication between grassroots groups fighting fossil fuel infrastructure. Continue reading ‘Youth Activists Prepare for Community-Building Journey’

Students Stand Up and Say “No More Coal”!


Yesterday more progress was made in the effort to move the state of Massachusetts beyond coal and towards a clean energy revolution. The Utility and Telecommunications Committee had open public hearings for several proposed bills which call for an end to fossil fuel dependence in the state, one of which was written by students from Students for a Just and Stable Future (http://justandstable.org/). The hearing started with an introduction of the bills by Rep. Eherlich from the 8th Essex District, who continued to explain how organizing around the coal power plant in her community is what drove her to first become civically engaged.The hearing was well attended by concerned community members, public health advocate groups as well as students from across the state.

After Representative Eherlich spoke, members from Environmental League Massachusetts and the Sierra Club outlined the health risks posed by coal power plants. The Sierra Club also offered reference to their recent publication on how renewable energy sources can replace the base load power for the grid which is presently generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power. Four members from Students for a Just and Stable Future then spoke on behalf of their drafted legislation, house docket #2625, which is entitled “An Act to Phase Out Coal Burning and Use”. Unlike other bills in front of the committee that ask for this to be done by the year 2020, Students for a Just and Stable Future believe that the issue demands more urgency and should be accomplished by 2015. The students who spoke addressed the many externalities pushed onto local communities and the environment throughout the coal commodity chain covering everything from the devastation due to mountain top removal to the effects emissions are having in the form of acid rain and global climate change.

Continue reading ‘Students Stand Up and Say “No More Coal”!’


Renewable Energy

Community Picks