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The Sunset Trail Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians - see more photos here.
In the past week we've received good news on major proposed coal projects that pose a threat to communities and beautiful places, from both the eastern U.S. and the western U.S.
First, last Friday a federal court cited climate change as a major reason for rejecting federal agencies' approval of a coal mine expansion plan that would bulldoze roads through the pristine and beautiful Sunset Roadless Area wilderness in Western Colorado.
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand Arch Coal's West Elk Coal Mine. Last year Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, High Country Conservation Advocates, and WildEarth Guardians, filed suit to overturn that authorization on the grounds that they had failed to adequately consider the environmental harm the project would cause.
"BLM's federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy," said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado. "For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions -- even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal -- have no impact on our climate. That assumption is out the window."
On the other side of the country, mountaintop removal coal mining opponents received good news when the Federal Highway Administration announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through southwest Virginia.
The Coalfields Expressway project, which I described as a "mountaintop removal coal mine in disguise" in a prior post, is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway's proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal coal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life.
"VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project," said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. "We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy."
Coal projects like these continue to threaten wilderness and communities nationwide, but more and more often, they are being met by robust opposition from local residents whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment. Americans want clean air and clean water, and they don't want communities and beautiful places devastated by coal mining.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Climate disruption has been a polarizing issue in the political sphere, with many Republicans in Congress staunchly opposing any efforts by President Obama or Congressional Democrats to combat the global crisis. Most recently, Republican elected officials have been the loudest opponents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards.
With the midterm elections just around the corner, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication released a new national poll examining how voters across the different political parties feel about climate disruption.
This research has implications for political candidates vying for voter support in the coming months. Researchers at Yale University and GMU found that American registered voters are more than two times more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports taking action to combat climate disruption. Conservative Republicans are the only political group studied that would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. And, conversely, registered voters are three times more likely to vote against a candidate that opposes climate action.
Researchers at Yale University and GMU also found that many registered voters are willing to get involved politically outside the ballot box. More than one-in-four (26%) indicate they would be willing to join or are currently participating in a campaign to call for elected officials to take climate action.
Researchers also found deep and consistent divides within the bloc of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents; liberal or moderate Republicans are significantly more convinced that human-caused climate disruption is occurring and more supportive of climate action (and those politicians who call for it) than conservative Republicans are. While Democrats are the most concerned about climate disruption, this study suggests that liberal or moderate Republicans’ views on climate issues are more similar to Democrats than to some of the more-conservative factions of their party.
Two-thirds of the 860 registered voters surveyed say they think “global warming” is happening, including 88% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and a majority (61%) of liberal and moderate Republicans (which the report calls “establishment Republicans”). The same cannot be said of conservative Republicans; just 28% of these registered voters accept that climate disruption is occurring. Majorities of every political segment are concerned, but liberal/moderate Republicans are more than twice as likely to be worried than conservative Republicans are (51% versus 19%, respectively).
Based on the numbers in these polls, political candidates, no matter what their party, who deny the existence of climate disruption or impede government action to combat it may ultimately be working against their political interests. The public support for climate action and political candidates who support it is overwhelming, especially among Democrats. But there is more diversity within the Republican Party on these issues than one might think. Many Republicans appear to now believe in the existence of global climate disruption, and just a small percentage of Republicans oppose mitigation efforts outright. These divisions within the party serve as an encouraging sign that the topic of climate disruption is become less political, and potentially more likely to encourage action in the months and years to come.
--Christopher Todaro, Sierra Club Polling and Research Intern
How are we going to mitigate climate disruption? By planting more trees, according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
In an effort to undermine the first-ever standards to clean up carbon pollution from power plants proposed this month as a part of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Abbott is attempting to join forces with the “like-minded” right wing leaders in the UK, New Zealand, and Canada.
Their goal? Stop the global effort to address climate disruption -- at places like the upcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia -- and completely shutter all efforts to make curbing carbon pollution a global initiative.
Instead of outright denying the facts of climate disruption -- like many Republicans in the U.S. -- these right wing leaders at least recognize that climate disruption is an issue and are looking to energy efficiency as one way to realistically sustain their energy use for the future. But the progress stops there. Instead of taking the definitive action needed to protect our planet and public health, Abbott and his allies would rather protect the interests of big polluters than listen to their own citizens.
In fact, Abbott believes that the best way to mitigate the severe effects of climate disruption -- including the recent unprecedented droughts, floods, and wildfires that have been plaguing Australia -- is “to cultivate better soils, to plant more trees, to take the kind of direct action measures which we certainly intend to take in Australia.”
But by ignoring the harmful effects carbon pollution from coal, oil, and natural gas on both our public health and our planet, Abbott is not only completely failing to take direct action, he is ultimately helping to further the climate disruption that is so drastically affecting Australians.
And this isn’t the first time Prime Minister Abbott has prioritized big business over the fragile and priceless environment in Australia. For years, he has worked to revoke the World Heritage Site status of both the Tasmanian forest and the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to increase logging and dredge for coal exports. It is at the expense of some of the world’s greatest natural treasures that Abbott has tried to leave his legacy.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abbott hasn’t been alone in this quest to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has been planning to open massive coal mines in Australia’s Galilee Basin and dredge one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. If their plan comes to fruition, not only will Abbott make money off the Reef’s destruction, but your American tax dollars will have helped him do it.
Luckily, many people down under are fighting back against Prime Minister Abbott’s extreme views.
Just recently, activists were able to save the Leard State Forest from the needless clear cutting by the Whitehaven Coal company. In this major victory for environmental champions, instead of building a new coal mine in this critical habitat, the coal company has been ordered to stop clearing during the winter when many threatened species are hibernating, thus protecting these species and this important forest.
Even more, these Australian environmental champions come from all backgrounds, including the Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Shorten touted climate disruption as an across-the-board issue that will affect not only the environment but also national security and the economy.
That’s why it is so crucial for Prime Minister Abbott and his allies to not only address climate disruption in their home countries but at every major international forum, including the G20 Summit. It is only through global cooperation in the fight against climate disruption that we can protect our futures for generations to come.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
Just about every day, I'm hearing about new innovation in electric vehicle (EV) technology on the market or in the works.
Sustainia, an annual guide to innovative sustainable solutions worldwide, just announced its 100 top picks. Among the companies were at least five in the EV space. One is Proterra, the electric bus company about which we've blogged before, for its EcoRide Fast Charging Electric Buses. Proterra says these buses get the equivalent (in terms of efficiency and emissions) of 20.8 mpg as compared to 5.25 mpg for hybrid, 3.86 mpg for diesel, and 3.27 mpg for CNG. These e-buses are seriously cleaner!
Honeywell & Safran made the Sustainia 100 list for its new electric taxiing system for airplanes, which is expected to equip A320 aircrafts with autonomous taxiing technology from gate to runway to save the CO2 equivalent per plane of planting 835 trees or eliminating 717 automobiles.
ChargePoint was on Sustainia 100 for the company's technology at 17,000+ EV charging stations nationwide. ChargePoint is clearly charging ahead -- with millions more in venture capital support recently secured and a new partnership with French electrical systems giant Schneider Electric.
Finally, there were two battery technology companies on the Sustainia list; Aquion Energy and Ambri are both making strides in renewable energy battery storage. My Sierra Club colleague Reed McManus wrote for the current edition of Sierra Magazine about research underway for EV batteries that will allow electric cars to charge faster and go further.
So is it competition or collaboration that is enabling these kind of advances? Tesla recently surprised many by announcing that it would open up its 172 current patents to any company that works "in good faith" to advance the EV market. When we read that "Nissan wants a three-way with Tesla and BMW" (not my words!) for supercharger technology, we know this kind of collaboration could mean that EV drivers are soon enjoying big benefits from this kind of corporate love-in.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Today the Supreme Court turned the screws a little tighter on working Americans who are struggling to get by. In its 5-4 decision in the Harris v. Quinn case, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the Court made it harder for home health care workers in Illinois to band together for a voice at work, and signaled they intend to do the same to all public sector workers when they get a chance.
Home health care workers are the people who take care of our parents and grandparents. They are usually paid so little they have to depend on public assistance to survive. They are most often women, people of color and immigrants. One of the reasons they are paid so poorly is that the state and private agencies that profit from their work have been quite adept at denying these workers the right to have a voice at work through a union. They have done this by assigning home care workers to a bureaucratic "no man's land" in which they are neither public nor private employees and thus have no real employer with which a union could negotiate about their wages and working conditions.
The Supreme Court made that abusive limbo state the law of the land today, finding that the Illinois home care workers could not adopt a "fair share" requirement to ensure that all workers share the cost of union representation, because those workers are not "full-fledged public employees." The decision threatens to undo years of organizing to build a system of consumer-directed home care in Illinois that has proven successful in raising wages, providing affordable health care benefits, and increasing training.
As the SEIU's Mary Kay Henry said in response to the ruling,"The number of elderly Americans will increase dramatically in the coming years. States need to build a stable, qualified workforce to meet the growing need for home care--and having a strong union for home care workers is the only approach that has proven effective."
Even worse than the immediate impact on the rights of home care workers, Justice Alito signaled that, if he has his way, the Supreme Court will overrule the 37 year-old landmark Abood decision. If they do, that will make it illegal for any public sector union to collect "fair share" fees (equivalent to dues) from workers they are legally required to represent who decide to become "free riders" by not joining the union.
So what does this have to do with protecting the environment? As it turns out, quite a bit:
The case was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an extreme anti-worker group whose funders include climate science denying fossil fuel billionaires like Charles Koch, and climate disrupting global polluters like the Walton family (which owns Wal-Mart).
The case is the latest in a decades-long attack by some of the worst polluters on the planet on the rights of working people to join together to improve their jobs and the quality of services they provide.
If this attack by on the ability of public sector unions to pay the bills and keep the lights on goes the way Justice Alito wants it to, the Court will soon add another link in the Citizens United and McCutcheon chain of cases that turn the free speech protections of the First Amendment inside out, using Orwellian double speak (corporations are people, money is speech) to clear the way for corporate polluters to seize even more power in our democracy.
That's why it is critical that those of us in the environmental movement stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector unions. Attacks on these workers are at the core of the corporate polluters' strategy to erode our democracy and distort our government's priorities toward polluters and away from the people. Because private sector union density is now so low (six percent), public sector unions are one of the last institutional bulwarks against the handful of billionaires pushing to drown out the voices of everyone else.
In the environmental movement, we are all about building healthier communities. Among other things, healthy communities thrive on clean air and water; they have good, safe jobs that pay enough to sustain families; they are part of a functioning democracy, which includes the right to participate in and influence decisions that affect their residents' lives, regardless of their wealth, race, religion, or immigration status. We understand that reality.
This Supreme Court may have had its say today, but no court case will stop us from joining our allies in fighting for the democratic protections that allow people to build healthier and more just communities -- including a strong voice at work.
-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program
This week the University of Dayton made news when it announced that "it will begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool." UD joins a growing list of universities choosing to divest endowments due to concerns about climate disruption and sustainability. But what's unique about UD's case is that it is the first Catholic school to take this step.
"This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campuswide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment," University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said.
"We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world's most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet."
Christian denominations nationwide are divesting or considering divestment. Last year the United Church of Christ (UCC) made the news when it approved a divestment resolution brought forward by many of its member churches
Full disclosure - I'm a member of a UCC church and helped with that resolution and a quote from one of the resolution's writers - the Rev. Jim Antal of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC has stuck with me since he and I first connected on divestment: "If we believe it is morally wrong to wreck the planet, then it follows that it's also morally wrong to profit from wrecking the planet."
Christian fossil fuel divestment has made other news this summer: Earlier this month the Presbyterian Church (USA) discussed a divestment resolution at its general meeting, although it was referred back to a committee for further consideration. Several United Methodist Church conferences are pushing it as well.
And while the Unitarians probably wouldn't call themselves Christians, they are a major religious group and it appears that the Unitarian Universalist Association is discussing a divestment resolution at its General Assembly this week!
Meanwhile, many individual churches are divesting as well - for example, the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence just voted to divest.
The divestment movement is catching fire, so to speak, amongst religious organizations. I thought these words from Green Faith director Fletcher Harper explained the movement well: "(t)he fossil fuel divestment movement is advancing because it is small and unafraid. We need the courage and conviction of our faith that is not just limited to legislative or incremental gain. The audacity of faith in God and the power of God's love will make the creation and God's people whole."
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
In North Omaha, Nebraska, local residents just won a powerful, inspiring victory to move their utility beyond coal. After years of amazing community activism from local parents, business owners, residents, citizen groups, and community leaders, last week the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve plans to not only phase out the use of coal at its North Omaha coal-fired power plant, but also to ramp up energy efficiency.
What's more, thanks to the continued work from concerned citizens, OPPD cited its decision to phase out coal and invest in energy efficiency as the best path forward for its ratepayers. This is a big victory in the struggle for clean air, a safe climate, and healthy communities.
"OPPD has finally answered our calls to clean up our air," said Vernon Muhammad, a father and resident of North Omaha. "My children and I will breathe easier knowing that cleaner air is coming."
OPPD has made tremendous strides in changing its energy mix in just the last two years, and it was grassroots organizing and increased community involvement that made the public power district actually answer to the public. For almost six decades, the North Omaha coal plant had polluted the neighborhood with soot, smog, mercury and other toxins, damaging public health for generations. North Omaha faces myriad challenges: high crime, food deserts, lack of access to health care, and a long legacy of pollution. It is the birthplace of Malcolm X and has long been the center of Omaha's African-American community.
Over the course of two years, Sierra Club organizer Graham Jordison and members of several community groups became more and more involved in OPPD meetings. Eventually, people from North Omaha began showing up to OPPD board meetings, held monthly at 10am. What were once sleepy, perfunctory 15-minute affairs quickly became the forum where the community of North Omaha demanded change from board members, calling on them to reduce air and water pollution, address climate disruption, and build a cleaner and more equitable utility.
"We have a moral obligation to ensure that every person in our community and beyond has the same access to clean air and clean water," said Laurie Gift with community organization Omaha Together One Community (OTOC).
Over the course of those two years, OPPD voted to add 200 megawatts of wind in 2012, and another 400 megawatts in 2013. The community cheered each of these victories as the utility announced that its energy profile was now 33 percent clean - and at no cost to ratepayers! But the 645MW North Omaha coal plant was still pumping out dangerous air pollution.
The culmination came at a May 15 OPPD meeting, which was packed by members of the League of Women Voters, Black Men United, Malcolm X Foundation, Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light, Omaha Together One Community, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Farmers Union, and the Sierra Club, along with many other community leaders.
"Around 30 people testified about how OPPD's coal pollution impacts them and their families, and that it stands as a towering example of what holds the North Omaha community back," said Holly Bender of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Many in the room were moved to tears."
And then last week came the announcement - no more coal for OPPD, and much more energy efficiency! At its June board meeting, OPPD committed to retire the North Omaha plant (three units in 2016, two in 2023), add 300MW of energy efficiency, and update its Nebraska City plant. The board of directors embraced this path forward with enthusiasm calling the plan bold, historic, and good for clean air.
"This decision shows that 'public' still has meaning to Nebraska's public power utilities," said Jordison. "OPPD's decision to stop burning coal and choose clean energy is a smart investment that is responsive to the demands of the public while still safeguarding our economic and energy future. We look forward to collaborating with OPPD to create a responsible timeline for the transition of the plant that focuses on our best opportunities to build a strong clean energy economy here in Omaha."
This is yet another inspiring, ground-breaking example of grassroots community activism. David beats Goliath one more time - the 167th coal plant announced to retire since 2010, taking a big 68,000MW bite out of air pollution and climate disruption. Just look at this achievement by the numbers:
- 900 megawatts of clean energy added during our campaign
- 645 megawatts of coal slated for retirement
- 33 percent clean energy portfolio
- 49 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions
- 74 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide
- 68 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide
- 85 percent reduction in mercury
- 0-2 percent cost impact to customers
- 180 fewer asthma attacks each year
Congratulations, North Omaha!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign director
Already feeling impacts of climate disruption, American small business owners support more government action
Perhaps the most-common complaint about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed carbon pollution limits for power plants is that such regulations will hurt small businesses, which employ half of all private-sector employees in the United States. But new national polling turns this common notion on its head, finding that strong majorities of small business owners are already feeling the impacts of climate disruption on their businesses and expect the government to take more action -- including limiting carbon pollution.
A poll released today by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) finds that nearly nine-in-ten (87%) U.S. small business owners fear the consequences of climate disruption will harm their business in the future. A majority (53%) expect their business to be hurt by higher energy costs associated with climate disruption, closely followed by outages due to stress on the power, severe storms and higher healthcare costs. The scientific, national phone survey of 555 owners of small businesses (2 to 99 employees) was conducted this month by Lake Research Partners. A strong plurality (43%) of respondents identified themselves as either Republican or Independent-leaning Republican; 29% identified themselves as Democratic or Independent-leaning Democratic; and 19% identified as Independent.
Not only are small business owners concerned about the future, but nearly one-in-five (19%) say extreme weather events associated with climate disruption have already hurt their business. An additional 34% believe extreme weather could impact their business in the future. And despite arguments to the contrary, the survey found that nearly two-in-three small business owners (64%) agree that government action is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, which are the largest single source of carbon pollution causing climate disruption. Support is found across party lines, with 81% of Democrats, 65% of Independents, and 55% of Republicans saying we need government action. Just 29% think that industries would regulate themselves and reduce carbon emissions sufficiently on their own.
In many ways, America’s small businesses are on the front lines of climate disruption. Increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather are already threatening the supply chains and infrastructure that small businesses depend on. And while many small business owners are learning to do more with less and are finding innovative ways to reduce their own carbon emissions, they expect the federal and state governments to step up and lead the fight to mitigate future impacts of climate disruption. While more research should be conducted on this topic, this ASBC poll is a fascinating first look at what small business owners are thinking about climate disruption, its impacts on small businesses, and various approaches to mitigate further impacts.
The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards are a historic step in the right direction, but small business owners understand that there is much more to be done. After all, climate action is not a political issue for America’s small business owners; it is simply good for business.
--Grace McRae, Polling & Research Director, Sierra Club
A Tale of Two Policies: House GOP Launches 500th Attack on Environment As President Celebrates Climate Action Anniversary
President Obama (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
This week marks the one year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s historic speech at Georgetown University, where he outlined his ambitious plan to tackle the climate crisis.
Since the speech, the Obama administration has done more than just talk, making climate action a priority. These actions culminated in the recent release of the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan. Centered around new standards that will clean up carbon pollution from power plants for the first time, the plan is expected to reduce climate disrupting carbon pollution by 30% within the next 15 years. The plan will also improve the quality of the air we breathe by reducing the emission of pollutants that create soot and smog by 25%, curbing the pollution that sickens children and seniors, resulting in 150,000 fewer asthma attacks, 3,300 fewer heart attacks, and 6,600 fewer premature deaths.
And the plan makes economic sense too. By cleaning the air, the Clean Power Plan is expected to reduce healthcare costs and save families, on average, $8 on their monthly electricity bill. It will also create jobs by incentivizing investment into home-grown clean energy.
It's a hopeful sign coming from one part of Washington, but at the other end of the street, Republicans in the House of Representatives are making their own kind of history -- the kind we'd just as soon forget.
Congressional Republicans remain obstinately opposed to common sense energy policies. Instead of working to clean the air we breathe and protect local communities from the ongoing climate crisis, House Republicans took their 500th vote to undermine the environment of the last four years.
The most recent attacks on clean air and clean water were efforts to gut permitting requirements for pipelines and electrical grids and efforts to curtail the approval process for natural gas exports. But them come on the heels of literally hundreds upon hundreds of attacks on the safeguards that protect our air, our water, and our communities, assaults American clean energy jobs, and obstruction of any and all efforts to curb the climate crisis.
“The President and businesses across the nation are moving forward to confront the challenges of climate change, while House Republicans are trying to drive in reverse,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, who has been compiling this ignoble record in a database you can see here.
Congressional Republicans didn’t always stand so opposed to cleaning up our air and water. But they also hadn't always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the same fossil fuel polluters who have been spending millions on their political campaigns. Now, they are spending more time pushing a dirty fuels agenda than actually proposing solutions to the myriad problems our country faces.
So, instead of doing anything substantive, Republicans will be taking their 500th vote to deny the existence of climate change and prevent action on the climate crisis - another pointless volley that will die as soon as it leaves the House. In contrast, President Obama is moving forward with the Clean Power Plan, acting to enforce the Clean Air Act -- legislation passed by the House back when it functioned as something other than a proxy for polluters.
The proposed Chuitna coal mine in Alaska is the largest climate fight you've never heard of, says Laura Comer of Alaska Beyond Coal.
If allowed, the mine would produce more carbon pollution than the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. And beyond that shocking statistic, it would also set another dangerous precedent.
"It would be the first mine ever allowed to mine through an active salmon stream," says Laura. "The Chuitna River is one of the few streams left in Alaska that is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon."
The site for the mine is roughly 40 miles west of Anchorage, and is near a native Alaskan tribe that uses the river for subsistence.
Laura says that most Alaskans haven't heard of the plan because so much attention is paid to the fight over the Pebble gold and copper mine proposed for the Bristol Bay watershed.
"This project won't benefit Alaska: This whole Chuitna mine is solely for coal exports. It would have its own eight-mile-long conveyor belt to its own export facility on an island in the Cook Inlet -- home to the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whale," Laura says.
So Laura and Alaska Beyond Coal are busy educating residents about this destructive proposal. Laura just spent a week with a coalition partner and a Sierra Student Coalition volunteer camping and canvassing door-to-door in Juneau to get Alaskans to take action against the Chuitna mine. That trip alone garnered 226 petition signatures.
"Any Alaskan who knows about Chuitna adamantly opposes it," says Laura. "Salmon is our #1 resource and our #1 source of jobs. We'll be trading away those jobs, tourism, restaurant industry for coal mine jobs for people flown in from out of state. We're joining a local group called Alaskans First to visit fishing communities this summer to broaden the fight against the mine."
Laura says unfortunately state officials have been no help against the mine, but rather are encouraging its construction. From the Department of Fish and Game, to the Department of Natural Resources, to the Department of Environmental Conservation - all are giving the green light to it. "The state hopes that opening this would open up even more coal mines in these areas," Laura says.
Alaska Beyond Coal activists have helped defeat bills (written by the Governor!) that would help the mine get built by eliminating residents’ water rights, but the fight is far from over.
"This is a national issue," says Laura. "Think about the fishing, restaurant, and seafood jobs across the country that depend on Alaska's fish. And now we’re set to deliver the blow that could tip salmon populations from surviving to disappearing. The idea that we would trade that salmon for coal mining and exporting -- which will then be burned in Asia and return to us in the form of air pollution and mercury, which further harms our salmon -- is not the direction Alaska should be headed. "
Alaska Beyond Coal and coalition partners will hold a salmon day of action August 23rd to continue to raise awareness and fight the mine.
For now, you can help stop the Chuitna coal mine by taking action here.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
While the Republicans in the House of Representatives are great at making sure almost every week is chock full of terrible legislation that would please their Big Oil and King Coal buddies, this week is their official "Energy Week." And it's just as awful as you could imagine from the party that regularly denies climate disruption while lining their pockets with money from the dirty fuels industry.
Take a look at some of the bills the House GOP is pushing:
The "Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014," HR 4899, prioritizes oil and gas development over any other uses of America's public lands, be they conservation, hunting, hiking, wildlife habitat, or historic preservation. It also pushes the Department of the Interior to open up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration if the State of Alaska supplies matching funds to carry out an exploration program.
The "North American Energy Infrastructure Act," HR 3301, which would allow Congress to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and any other pipeline that crosses the U.S. border.
The "Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act," HR6, which would expedite liquefied natural gas exports and exponentially increase natural gas fracking nationwide.
There are others, including bills that would increase offshore oil drilling and block solar and offshore wind. Meanwhile the GOP also suspended several bills that would protect rivers and increase energy efficiency.
The GOP even used their weekly response to the President's Radio Address on Saturday to talk up energy….like nuclear, coal, and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Maybe this push shouldn't be a surprise from the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in history - one that's taken almost 500 votes against clean air and clean water in four years.
Yet on the heels of more and more stark climate stats (NOAA just announced that May was the hottest month on record, for example), seeing our supposed "leaders" continue to push the dirty fuels that are causing climate disruption is upsetting, to say the least.
Thankfully we have the environmental firewall of the Senate, where these fossil-fuel-loving bills will die.
Now's the time to be investing in more clean energy like solar and wind power, which won't pollute our air and water or fry our planet. When will the House GOP stop wasting time on fruitless dirty energy support when it could be creating clean energy jobs with the wind power production tax credit?
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
Students and Administration look toward a clean energy future for Ohio University
Two days ago, the Ohio University administration announced its intent to cancel plans for a brand new gas plant that would have cost the university upwards of $75-100 million and locked the university into a 50-year contract with the natural gas industry. This comes on the heels of years of student organizing against dirty fuels that threaten public health and contribute to climate disruption.
In 2009, students at Ohio University launched a campaign to stop burning coal on campus. They were among thousands of students on campuses across the country engaged in the Sierra Student Coalition's Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign, which aims to retire the more than 60 on-campus coal plants across the country.
After a successful two year long student-led campaign that brought together more than 2,000 students, Ohio University’s Administration announced their commitment to stop burning coal on campus.
In large part thanks to grassroots student organizing like that of the Ohio students, Ohio University is one of 24 universities in the country to announce the end to coal use on campus. To date, more than a third of the nation’s on-campus coal plants have been retired or are slated for retirement -- including recent announcements from University of Cincinnati and Wooster College.
While the University's choice to move beyond coal was certainly a commitment to protect the health of its students and the climate, the University began planning for a transition to natural gas, another fossil fuel that contributes to climate disruption, air, and water pollution.
So the students continued their call for clean energy solutions. A project from the Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition, Bobcats Beyond Gas, stepped in to organize against the proposal for a new natural gas plant.
On June 17th, Bobcats Beyond Gas celebrated a decision by their Board of Trustees and Department of Facilities to discontinue the construction of the proposed natural gas plant.
The University's most recent announcement is a testament to the ongoing hard work of the Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition and their many supporters. The students have reason to celebrate their incredible accomplishments from the past five years, and to celebrate this opportunity to collaborate with their Administration for 100% clean energy.
Now, the University must continue an aggressive transition off of fossil fuels and onto 100% clean energy.
Campuses do not need to continue to purchase dirty energy that makes students sick and destroys the environment; rather, universities have a moral obligation to their students and the larger community to lead in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
--Anastasia Schemkes, campaign representative for the Sierra Student Coalition
Big news. This week, Hillary Clinton became the most recent high profile supporter for a transition to clean energy. The former US Secretary of State, First Lady, and U.S. Senator has cemented her status as a respected leader whose earned a spot in international headlines daily. And now she’s using that platform to call for the U.S. to become a global leader in transitioning away from dirty fuels. What’s even more laudable is that she made this call while visiting the heart of Canada’s oil country - Edmonton, Alberta.
The Global Post reported Clinton’s comments on clean energy on June 18, as she stopped in Edmonton as part of her “Hard Choices” book tour.
"We should set the global example for transitioning in some more orderly way away from fossil fuels," Clinton said. "And given the innovation, given the research capacities, given the experiences on both sides of our border, we're in a perfect position to do that."
We couldn’t agree more. Clean, renewable energy is the choice for cleaner air, cleaner water, a more stable climate, and good-paying jobs. And more innovation has helped lead to the price of solar dropping 60 percent and the price of wind energy falling more than 40 percent in just the last three years, the price of solar has gotten 60 percent cheaper and the price of wind energy has fallen more than 40 percent. At the same time, investments in these clean energy choices are creating three times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels.
There’s no doubt that American-made clean energy can drive the global market and help tackle the climate crisis at the same time. And it’s exciting that a leader like Hillary Clinton is taking this message across the continent, recognizing both the obligation and the opportunity we all have together to create a sustainable and healthy future.
--Sierra Club Media Team
The recent ouster of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) from his Congressional seat has shaken Washington Republicans and rattled open several leadership positions. And - as hard as it is to believe - the House Republican conference apparently hadn’t even hit bottom yet.
You’d think that it’d be hard to get much worse than Eric Cantor’s record when it comes to clean air,
clean water, and action to tackle the climate crisis. As Majority Leader, Cantor worked side by side with Speaker John Boehner on pushing a destructive legislative agenda for what has been called the most anti-environmental House in history. Cantor himself earned just a 4% positive lifetime environmental voting rating from the League of Conservation Voters. In other words, he was among the lowest of the low when it came to doing the bidding of big polluters.
Cantor led the way on votes that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from acting to curb climate-disrupting pollution, force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, gut clean energy investments, take support away from job-creating clean energy projects and voted over and over again to give tax handouts to big oil companies. And all the while, he’s tried to open up our public lands to drilling and make it harder for the President to designate National Parks. Still, while it is no tragedy to see Cantor go, its no comfort to look at the records of those who will replace him.
Current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) just won an election among his colleagues to be promoted to Majority Leader. That’s the saem McCarthy who somehow scored lower than Cantor on an environmental voting scorecard, garnering just 3%. In fact, between 2013 and 2014, McCarthy did not make a single pro-environment vote. Instead, he stood alongside Cantor in rallying support and votes for one of the most toxic agendas ever.
As Majority Whip, McCarthy spearheaded House Republican efforts to take nearly 500 votes attacking critical clean air and water safeguards, public lands protections, and clean energy initiatives over just the last four years. And, now, with his eyes on a promotion, he’s flip-flopping on one of the few issues he was strong on by abandoning the Wind Production Tax Credit, better aligning his position with the right wing political ATM that is the Koch Brothers. Its no surprise -- as Sierra Club’s Dave Hamilton explained.
“For years, Congressman McCarthy strongly backed the Wind Production Tax Credit as it supported thousands of California jobs, including many in his own district. He even pushed for the PTC to be extended to 2020,” said Hamilton. “But unfortunately the path to Republican leadership appears to now go straight through the Koch Brothers’ office. McCarthy is toeing the line by joining their call to kill competition from the wind industry by killing the PTC and American jobs right along with it."
While McCarthy is trying on a new brand of extremism, his promotion means a vicious fight broke out to fill his old Majority Whip post. And it was a race to the bottom.
The winner? Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), who has been spending much of his recent time attacking the EPA’s first-ever carbon pollution protections. You know -- that policy supported by 67% of the American people. Why? Well, Scalise is notoriously chummy with fossil fuel lobbyists in Washington. According to the Republic Report, Former Congressional staffers from his office have gone on to work for trade groups that have made it a priority to attack clean air safeguards and push offshore drilling. And the Republican Study Committee that he chairs held meetings inside the office of the lobbying firm hired by the Koch Brothers to fight efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
In public, Scalise is just as bad. For example, he’s rejected climate science as a “myth.” His evidence for ignoring the calls for climate action resonating from 97% of scientists, the U.S. Military, and NASA? Barack Obama wore a coat for his January 2013 inaugural address when he discussed the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.
In other words, don’t expect a new era of reason from the Republican-led House despite the new faces in leadership. Instead, Scalise and McCarthy stand for the brand of extremism that’s been well practised there over the last four years, which puts polluters in the driver’s seat while everyone else is trying to catch a ride.
--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team
The clean energy economy is shaking up the system - 74 percent of all new power generation in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014 came from solar, and public transit ridership continues to soar.
Hearing about solar and transit in the same sentence may be unusual, but in fact, they're part of the same story. Both solar energy and public transportation are key parts of the clean energy economy that’s moving the country beyond fossil fuels at the same time it is creating good, green jobs.
Transit saves America 4.2 billion gallons of gas and 37 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year while creating jobs for transit workers and operators along with the people who build, fix, and maintain our transit systems - not to mention transit as an economic catalyst in and of itself. Case in point? All the people that transit brings to and from work every single day.
Demand for transit is here and it’s not going away. In fact, transit use has been on the rise, with 10.7 billion trips via transit in 2013. That’s the highest number of transit trips taken in the country in 57 years. Another way to look at this is that in the past 20 years, transit ridership has risen more than 37 percent, both outstripping population growth and the rise in number of miles people are driving.
As good as this is, we also know that there’s room to do much better. Just like with the solar industry’s impressive growth and even more impressive goals, that doesn’t mean it’s time to rest on the laurels.
Too many communities across the country still do not have access to convenient, reliable, affordable public transportation. And as a result, we’re missing opportunities to move beyond oil while building the clean and just economy that this country deserves.
Recently, the Sierra Club joined with our friends in the Jobs to Move America coalition to make sure that our current investments in public transit are maximizing opportunities to build the clean economy here at home.
From the coalition:
And today, the Sierra Club is joining with the American Public Transportation Association to celebrate the 9th annual Dump the Pump Day to celebrate transit and its role in moving the country beyond oil. Transit agencies across the country are hosting events to promote transit and to highlight its benefits, and we’re proud to partner with them.
In an ideal world, the country would just do the things that make sense. Transit is better for the climate and air quality, it saves people money, it provides a vital link to the community for residents, it reduces congestion, it creates jobs, transit riders can text all they want when riding the bus or train without endangering their communities...and so much more!
Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of entrenched interests and outdated laws around public funding for transportation that make doing the smart thing a challenge. So that’s why we have events like Dump the Pump Day, to help create more space for conversation around doing what’s right.
Because really, America, there’s a better way. It's time to invest in transit, invest in our communities, and dump the pump.
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
One in five people around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people, lack access to electricity.
Today, the Sierra Club is releasing a new report –- Clean Energy Services For All (CES4All) -- showing that off-grid clean energy is the right tool for the energy access job. That’s because it’s the fastest, cheapest, and most effective means of ending energy poverty - and it’s going to create a $12 billion annual industry by 2030.
Working with Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Stewart Craine of Village Infrastructure Angels, we have provided one of the first estimates of future growth for the rapidly expanding clean energy access market. Today, excluding grid extension, this market is estimated to be a $200-250 million industry annually. However, we project a 26 percent compound annual growth rate that will enable growth that reaches a $12 billion annual market by 2030 – when universal electrification is achieved. To put that in perspective, the U.S. residential market for solar in 2013 was only $3.76 billion.
It turns out our central thesis has been right all along – small is big.
Figure 1 - Estimated value of future markets of household energy access products
Central to our ‘CES4ALL’ model is the notion that energy efficiency unlocks the energy access ladder. Energy efficiency measures that are currently available allow energy access to be delivered for 50-85 percent less energy input, which enables dramatically reduced capital expenditure.
From off-grid LED lighting to "Skinny Grids," we can now provide energy access with a fraction of the amount of power we used to need. More importantly, we can unlock affordable initial interventions -- like lighting, mobile phone charging, fans, and TVs plus a small amount of agro processing -- to help people get onto the energy ladder today rather than forcing them to wait decades for a grid extension that may never come.
As incomes expand and markets evolve, these populations will upgrade and expand their energy services, in turn creating a bottoms up, distributed, democratized grid.
It’s important to understand that we aren’t just imagining this clean energy market growth – it’s already happening. The fact is that the off-grid energy market is growing rapidly, with estimates of 95 percent compound annual growth rates in sub Saharan Africa alone. In Bangladesh, 80,000 solar home systems are being installed every single month while neighboring India has promised solar for all by 2019.
Similar to how solar leasing unlocked the market for residential solar use in the United States, this off-grid market has been unlocked by business and financial model innovations, like mobile money-enabled “pay-as-you-go” systems. These innovations have primed the off-grid sector for further rapid growth, similar to what the mobile phone industry experienced a decade ago.
Figure 2 - Estimated future usage of energy access products by households
But if there is one message we need to leave you with it’s this: show us the money!
In order for the market to reach its full potential by 2030, entrepreneurs need financing now. We estimate that financial need to be roughly $100 million in new investments in off-grid clean energy manufacturers over the next three years. The investment needs of consumer finance companies in this market will require even larger investments -- $400 million over roughly the same time period.
Combined, approximately $500 million is needed in the next two to three years, consistent with a letter from industry to the World Bank.
Figure 3 - Estimated future total demand for capital for the off-grid energy access markets
In short, this off-grid energy market has a tremendous opportunity to catalyze a solar revolution for the masses -- one that will help democratize energy, create local jobs, and decarbonize new power systems in one fell swoop. The only thing standing in its way is access to the financing to make it happen. Private investors are already stepping up to the plate with $45 million invested in just the past four months, but international financial institutions like the World Bank are nowhere in sight.
It’s time we held these development institutions accountable. It’s time they finally built the equitable, sustainable, and democratic systems that distributed clean energy make possible. It’s time for clean energy access for all.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
Lurking beneath the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s clean energy exterior is a dirty secret: despite their promises to bring clean energy in the Asia-Pacific region, ADB continues to be one of the main supporters of dirty coal projects overseas.
This week, the ADB is hosting the Asia Clean Energy Forum at its headquarters in the Philippines. While the Bank is sure to talk about its investments in clean energy in the Asia-Pacific region, they will, unsurprisingly, fail to mention that while the rest of the multilateral community actively moves away from coal finance, they continue full steam ahead.
Between 1994 and 2012, the ADB was the third largest public international financier of coal-fired power plants, investing $3.9 billion in 21 projects. Over the past six years, the institution invested $1.69 billion in five coal plants, including $900 million in the Jamshoro power plant in Pakistan, $450 million in the controversial 4,000-megawatt Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Coal plant in the Indian state of Gujarat (a project even the IFC has said it won’t help expand), and $120 million in the equally controversial 200-megawatt coal plant in Naga City, Philippines.
To fully understand the current state of the ADB’s support for coal, take the case of the Jamshoro power plant.
Just last year, over the objections of key stakeholders in the ADB, the Bank’s board voted to support the 600-megawatt Jamshoro coal project, despite the conflict with the Bank’s own environmental policy and without a comprehensive analysis into clean energy options to meet Pakistan’s energy needs. The environmental policy alone requires that for projects with high greenhouse gas emissions (like that of a coal-burning power plant), the borrower must evaluate “technically and financially feasible and cost-effective options to reduce or offset project-related greenhouse gas emissions during project design and operation, and pursue appropriate options.”
But that didn’t happen.
All of this is coming just months after the World Bank sent an unequivocal signal to other multilateral organizations that the time for financing new coal plants is over.
That’s why a coalition of 71 civil society groups from 19 countries, including many from Asia, released a statement this week calling on the ADB to get in line with its peers and stop funding dirty coal. Over the past year, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have all introduced policies restricting funding for coal projects. Several governments have done the same. Yet the ADB remains conspicuously silent.
This should be an easy call for ADB to make. The Bank has significantly stepped up its investments in clean energy and energy efficiency over the past six years to comply with its own commitment to funding $2 billion per year in clean energy. ADB claims that it exceeded this target in 2013, with “clean energy” investments of over $2.3 billion, which includes some cutting edge investments in off-grid clean energy to industry leaders like Simpa.
While the increased support for clean energy sources and energy efficiency is admirable, we unfortunately can’t rely on what they consider ‘clean.’ But, we in the non-governmental organization world know: “clean coal is a dirty lie.”
Apparently the ADB disagrees. In 2013, it counted $109 million from the Jamshoro coal project as a “clean energy” investment for “supply side efficiency” improvements. In 2008, 20 percent of the $450 million loan to the controversial and massively polluting 4,000-megawatt Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in India was also counted as “clean energy.” Many other coal, natural gas, and destructive big hydropower projects have also been counted towards the Bank’s clean energy targets.
It’s time the ADB realize that the world’s dirtiest fuel can never be considered clean. By continuing to invest in coal with public funds, institutions like ADB are putting not only our climate and planet at risk but are also jeopardizing the health of millions of people around the world. If the Bank is serious about being a clean energy institution, it must get rid of its dirty little coal secret.
It’s time for ADB to align itself with the international community and end support for new coal projects.
--co-authored by Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Aviva Imhof, The Sunrise Project Australia
President Barack Obama delivered a commencement speech Saturday to graduates at UC Irvine highlighting the need for climate action. Calling climate disruption “one of the most significant long-term challenges that our country and our planet faces,” the President retained hope for tackling this crisis even in the face of some climate claims that are totally out of line with reality.
President Obama did not let climate deniers go unshamed. Pointing to the moon landing as a parallel, the President offered the following sentiment:
“When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.”
The President continued, criticizing those politicians who stand in the way of action on the climate crisis by trying to excuse themselves from discussions on the grounds that they are not scientists.
“Now, I’m not a scientist either, but we’ve got some really good ones at NASA,” President Obama remarked of that agency’s warnings about the ongoing crisis, as he called for bipartisan action to address climate change.
“After all, it was Republicans who used to lead the way on new ideas to protect our environment,” the President said, citing Teddy Roosevelt’s national parks, Richard Nixon’s Clean Air Act, and George H.W. Bush’s 1990 statement on man-made climate change.
Harkening back to these days where climate science reigned across the aisle, President Obama declared that the American people possess the ingenuity to dig themselves out of this mess -- particularly young people like those graduating in Irvine.
“You’re going to have to push those of us in power to do what this American moment demands. You’ve got to educate your classmates, and colleagues, and family members and fellow citizens, and tell them what’s at stake. You’ve got to push back against the misinformation, and speak out for facts, and organize others around your vision for the future,” he said.
Referencing the Fossil Free movement, President Obama told the audience, “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.”
And if President Obama -- the president who has been faced with the most anti-environmental House of all time -- believes we can achieve meaningful action on climate, then its far too soon to abandon all hope.
As he reminded UC Irvine graduates, “Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or started a business, or fed a young mind, or sent men into space. Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice.”
--John Doherty, Sierra Club Political Team
When it comes to the off-grid solar market, the South Asian countries you normally hear about are India and Bangladesh. One is home to the largest potential market in the world, the other is home to the world’s most successful and booming market to date.
But the elephant in the room, the potential off-grid solar leader you never hear about, is Pakistan. We’ve heard rumblings of off-grid solar companies eyeing this market for some time, so we sat down to talk with Jeremy Higgs of EcoEnergy to find out the latest on this pivotal country’s off-grid solar prospects.
Before we delve into the market, it’s important to understand the context in which these companies operate. That energy situation can be summed up in one word: crisis.
As Carl Pope pointed out, Pakistan really has two energy problems: 1) most of the rural population still has no access to the grid, and 2) the population that does have access to the grid is struggling with power cuts and supply shortages caused by climate disruption-induced drought. This ultimately affects the use of hydropower while the skyrocketing prices of oil further reduce affordability of the existing supply.
In fact, 36 percent of Pakistan’s electricity comes from oil, an outdated and incredibly costly form of electricity production. This means that throughout Pakistan, nearly 40 percent of the population -- an estimated 65 million people -- lack access to electricity, which is an enormous potential market for off-grid solar services.
The problem, of course, is that the Pakistani government’s response to their energy crisis has been painfully familiar, with a focus on large scale supply and grid extension.
And while grid supply and grid shortages need to be addressed, what makes no sense is for Pakistan to start building new coal-burning power plants to supply their energy. Any new plants that are built will be designed to be powered with imported coal, which Pakistan can't afford. In fact, the government of Pakistan just released a new tariff schedule for coal-burning electricity -- which is evidently the ‘most expensive coal tariff in the world.’ That’s why some experts predict that a coal bubble is brewing.
It’s in the midst of this energy crisis, and confused response by the Pakistani government, that EcoEnergy is seeking a different path. They’re trying a progressive new approach - putting solar power directly in the hands of the people. And the lessons they’ve learned have implications far beyond Pakistan’s borders.
Lesson #1: Giving away solar leads to market spoilage
EcoEnergy is one of only a handful of off-grid energy companies in a market dominated by large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and foundations. They started operations in response to the Sindh Province floods of 2010. Like many other organizations, EcoEnergy initially began as an NGO, giving away solar lanterns for free. And like many before them, they received a lot of negative feedback about the quality of their product and concerns over long term sustainability. In response, EcoEnergy quickly pivoted into a hybrid social enterprise by aiming to use a market approach - which is a reflection of the general transition this market has seen over the past decade.
The products that EcoEnergy sells now are not the same low-quality products that were given away for free. Today, EcoEnergy sells high-quality portable solar powered lights -- like those from d.light -- and they are continuing to experiment with different business models to find the best organizational structure.
Lesson #2: Pay as you go finance is the future
After trying free distribution, EcoEnergy started selling products through retailers, but they quickly realized that their products were too expensive and that they would need to restructure payments to match customer cash flow and expenditure on lighting products. This naturally led to the extension of consumer financing, which unlocked affordability for their target market.
Customers now pay a monthly fee to EcoEnergy in order to pay off their lantern over time. This essentially acts a “manual” version of popular pay-as-you-go solutions in which similar solar devices with circuitry enable customers to make discrete payments. In addition to their “manual” approach, EcoEnergy is also starting to experiment with similar payment-enabled devices through support from the GSM Association MECS Fund.
Lesson #3: Word of mouth marketing is key
Then came the real game changer: instead of just focusing on retailers, EcoEnergy started using their own existing customers as brand ambassadors to spread the word about their product. As the graph below shows, this led to skyrocketing sales. The sharp drop after the peak is a result of several factors, including the fact that farming communities in Pakistan tend to have less disposable income at certain times of the year -- February, March, and April -- and the fact that EcoEnergy faced challenges with payment collection in one district. They have since recuperated by focusing on payment collection, not sales, in that particular district, which has lowered the overall sales rates.Graph courtesy of EcoEnergy
Lesson #4: Market information is scarce
Despite these initial successes, challenges still exist. The customers EcoEnergy works with tend to have unpredictable, seasonal income and are not always able to reliably make payment deadlines. Field staff have to balance sales and payment collection, and they aren’t always able to effectively do so.
To continue addressing these challenges, EcoEnergy is gathering information about marketing, effective sales tactics, demographic information, and statistics on kerosene, torch, and solar use. Additionally, EcoEnergy is looking at a range of products, including Greenlight Planet lights with Angaza-designed technology and BBOX systems with their new “SMART” technology as well as working to partner with microfinance institutions for alternative means of financing.
In sum, EcoEnergy reflects a number of hard-learned lessons for this nascent market -- lessons that are no doubt being learned by companies and organizations the world over. But if EcoEnergy is able to build and grow a company in such a challenging setting, it says a lot about the robust future off-grid solar companies have in in store.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access