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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promotes some pretty odious ideas. The right-wing think tank has been behind efforts to kill job-creating clean energy projects, penalize American homeowners who install their own solar panels, and force public schools to teach climate denial to students. They've even named the Sierra Club as one of their enemies. That's not surprising, given that their members have included a who's who of the dirty energy industry -- BP, Shell, Chevron, Peabody Energy, and the Koch Brothers.
ALEC's reckless policies extend beyond the energy and environmental realm to laws that suppress voting rights and threaten the safety of American workers, communities, and families. Now, just as the organization holds its annual conference in Washington, DC this week, the Guardian newspaper reports that ALEC is on the ropes. Its extreme policies are now so far out of the mainstream that they've sent many one-time donors running for the hills rather than have ALEC's stink rub off on them. The organization's staunch support of so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws following the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin may have been the last straw, as over 50 big-time ALEC donors and supporters like General Electric, Kraft, and McDonald's have fled -- and ALEC is crawling on its knees to try and gain them back.
But as all these companies are fleeing ALEC for fear of damaging their reputations, a few others are inexplicably signing up and signing checks to the floundering right-wing extremists even now. The most surprising among them? Google.
For a company celebrated around the world for its innovation and imagination, Google's new allegiance with ALEC doesn't make much sense. After all, Google made investments in clean energy projects across the world -- and the company has made a remarkable commitment to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
So, why is Google heaping money and support into one of the nation's most notorious opponents of clean energy and climate action? It's illogical.
As Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune said, "Google should Google ALEC's agenda. Funding right-wing extremists at ALEC is a guaranteed way for Google to undermine its own admirable clean energy goals. It's like building a new house only to set it on fire after defunding the fire department."
ALEC's list of attacks on clean energy is as long as it is dangerous. At its conference this week, ALEC representatives and supporters are plotting ways to stop the first-ever protections from carbon pollution. The Guardian reported ALEC wants to push legislation in states to levy fines against American homeowners who put solar panels on their own homes. For 2014, ALEC plans to continue its attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards that would otherwise create jobs by expanding consumers' access to wind and solar energy. They've pushed the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline. And they've successfully lobbied for oil and gas industry-sponsored fracking bills in five states.
All this -- and they are using Google's money to do it.
If Google is for 100 percent clean energy, their new pals at ALEC are for the exact opposite. That's why the Sierra Club's SierraRise community has been part of an effort including Forecast the Facts, SumOfUs, RootsAction, and the Center for Media and Democracy that has rallied more than 225,000 Americans to call on Google to keep its admirable commitment to clean energy, and leave ALEC behind. Google’s motto is "Don't Be Evil" -- but they shouldn't fund evil, either.
--Nathan Empsall, SierraRise Senior Campaigner
Activists across California continue to pressure Governor Jerry Brown and the state Public Utilities Commission to replace the retiring San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant with clean energy.
On the heels of an announcement that the plant may be replaced with new natural gas facilities, today the My Generation campaign released a new video and online petition urging the Public Utilities Commission and Governor Brown to reject a plan that would add new air pollution to Southern California and move California backwards on its climate goals.
"The retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a key opportunity to demonstrate how California can meet its future energy needs without new fossil fuels plants," said Evan Gillespie, Director of the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign. "Unfortunately, Governor Brown and state regulators are rushing through a flawed plan and using San Onofre as an excuse to build new polluting gas plants in Southern California."
On November 24, clean energy supporters protested outside the dirtiest power plant in all of California - the Mountainview natural gas plant in Redlands - to keep up the pressure as well.
The proposed new gas plants would be built in Southern California as part of a plan being supported by Governor Brown. Southern California already suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation. In the American Lung Association's 2013 State of the Air Report, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County each received "F" grades for particulate matter and ozone, the two primary byproducts from gas peaker plants.
New gas plants would lock in more carbon pollution for decades to come and would undermine California’s climate targets. According to the California Air Resources Board, greenhouse gas emissions rose for the first time since 2008 because of increased reliance on gas plants after San Onofre closed. The state is already feeling the impacts of climate change with record droughts and increased frequency and reach of wild fires.
"We cannot claim to other states and the world that California is leading the charge against climate change while permitting huge new fossil fuel plants in our backyard. That's not leadership," said Gillespie. "California can either continue to lead on climate protection, or move backwards with new natural gas pollution."
Today, Appalachian community leaders are in Washington, D.C., to protest a Virginia coal boondoggle that has set its sights on $2 billion of your federal tax dollars. Mountaintop removal coal mining is already a shocking, devastating, and destructive practice on its own - but what happens when you add in coal companies making deals with state and federal transportation agencies in order to seize private land and blow it up for coal? Well then you get the planned Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia.
The project 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.
Clearly, land and water would be ruined by this mountaintop removal coal mining project, and public health would be put at risk. But on top of all that, the companies are also gunning for $2 billion in federal funds to help make this happen.
"The Commonwealth has put our future in the hands of mountaintop removal mining executives," said Diana Withen, a high school teacher in Wise County, Virginia, where this project is located. "They're letting out-of-town mountaintop removal companies, which have no business planning our roads, redraw the route away from our communities. This isn't a highway; it’s a 50-mile-long strip mine in our backyards."
This terrible plan is why a huge crowd of people showed up to rally on the doorstep of the Federal Highway Administration today in Washington, D.C., including our partners from Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Voices. Holding photos of land devastated by mountaintop removal and shouting, "This is not a highway," people demanded that the Federal Highway Administration review the effects of the project.
Last summer more than 85,000 comments were submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation requesting that a more detailed study be conducted to investigate the social, environmental and economic impacts of the re-routed road. The Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all submitted comments strongly urging a closer look at the project.
This project is poorly planned, a threat to local public health, land, and water, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
We urge the Federal Highway Administration to stand up for Appalachian communities, and complete a full study of the threats this road would pose to local communities. There are better ways to improve transportation options in southwest Virginia.
As Diana Withen told me, "We need smart, forward-thinking transportation improvement projects such as fixing existing roads, ensuring access to existing highways for rural towns, improving public transit access and promoting multi-use trails that attract tourism and boost local economies."
Virginia's transportation agencies shouldn't be in the business of lining the pockets of multi-million dollar mountaintop removal mining companies. The Federal Highway Administration must take a hard look at this project, and it should not commit our federal tax dollars to prop up this multi-billion dollar coal industry scheme.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. See more photos of today's rally right here.
Spoiler alert: the answer is no.
This is the question that climate policy analysts, scientists, and activists have been toiling over, in great detail, since President Obama unexpectedly mentioned Keystone XL in his Climate Action Plan speech this past summer -- and even before.
On that hot day at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., President Obama said, “Our national interest will be served only if this [Keystone XL] project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” he added.The panel's Q & A session
Now, less than six months later, back at Georgetown University, NextGen Climate Action and the Center
for American Progress Action Fund hosted a summit to answer the question of whether or not Keystone can pass the President’s climate test.
Scientists, politicians, investors, and more gathered not just with a resounding “no” but to seal any cracks that might be left open by that burning question. To make it clear, they posed three main questions:
1. What is the carbon footprint of the proposed pipeline?
Climate wonks would recognize the charts and graphs that university professors and policy think-tank experts shared showing how our planet is being affected by carbon pollution, where the tipping point is for our climate, and how much the Keystone XL pipeline will make our climate crisis worse.
Dr. John Abraham of St. Thomas University, Dr. Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto, and Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute in Canada concluded that while Canada has made strides to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, approving the Keystone XL pipeline would negate all of that progress.
And approving the Keystone XL pipeline would only mean more tar sands production, Demerse said.
“The debate isn't over ‘Keystone or,’ it's over ‘Keystone and,’” she said.
More tar sands production means more carbon pollution -- and it doesn’t take a fancy graph to see that.
2. What would it take to offset the pipeline?
If the Keystone XL pipeline was to be built and leave this inevitable carbon footprint, could it be balanced out by anything or anyone?
As CEO of TerraPass -- a leading retailer of carbon credits and carbon offsets that companies use to make that kind of balance -- Erin Craig is the perfect person to answer this “what if” question.
Joined by Dr. Mark Trexler, an advocate for climate change risk management, and Dr. Michael Wara, providing a legal perspective as an associate professor at Stanford Law School, Craig made it clear that it was impossible to offset Keystone XL’s climate consequences.
The impact is too severe. There are not sufficient rules, regulators, or markets in place for that to even be fathomable, the experts said.
3. Where do we go from here?
By making it crystal clear that Keystone XL would add significantly to carbon pollution that could not possibly be offset, Governor Jennifer Granholm asked a critical question to a circle of experts -- what do we do?
Canadian and American academics agreed -- we must put pressure on our elected leaders to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. We also need to bring this conversation to our dinner tables, if it’s not already there. And, in all conversations about Keystone XL, we need to make the connection between the pipeline and our climate -- something that is so vulnerable amid a crisis so severe that we can’t afford to disrupt it any more.
--Dan Byrnes, Sierra Club Media Team
While it's potentially clean energy's next big market, off-grid clean tech suffers from an acute lack of finance. That's the barrier to ramping up efforts to finally move 1.3 billion people around the world from darkness to light.
Entrepreneurs have responded by repeatedly demanding $500 million in finance to catalyze the sector. Unfortunately, multi-laterals like the World Bank have been reluctant to join the fray leaving a yawning chasm between capital needs and capital flows. Luckily entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill this gap. One of the first to step up to the plate is Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA) – an organization worth knowing.
VIA is perhaps the world's only angel investment group solely focused on emerging market micro/village infrastructure. Their business model is predicated on the notion that finance, particularly consumer finance, is the key to unlocking this market. As co-founder Stewart Craine puts it, "I firmly believe that everything - technology, field partners, knowledge – is in place to deliver clean energy for all. Everything that is, except investor appetite for the risk of consumer lending."
Their strategy for addressing the challenge is pretty simple: mobilize the money sitting in every potential 'angel's' pocket and put it to work. That makes their founding philosophy a belief that anyone can be an angel investor and therefore a participant in alleviating energy poverty. Judging by experience they may be right. They've organized angel investors from all walks of life - from retirees to people with decades of experience in this space. They've also had some strong institutional supporters such as Rotary Club Melbourne, Rotary Club and IRENA plus early support for technical assistance and feasibility from the multilaterals such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
VIA puts these angels money to work as a project developer organizing projects end to end while providing 1-3 year loans or longer. Their model enables them to take all the risk while asking field partners to deliver the product/service to villages. That expands the payback horizon, making clean energy radically affordable for poor populations around the world.
Their financing is unlocked by initial risk guarantees that leverages private investment by covering cases of default which offers an attractive, low risk option for investors looking to use their money to reduce energy poverty while earning a return. Given the relatively short payback periods enabled by long term financing, investors can expect to see returns within the first six months to one year.
But easy as it may sound, getting long-term finance secured for these markets was anything but. The key for VIA was mobilizing debt and risk guarantees - something multi laterals like the IFC and World Bank should be providing today. Stewart believes that over time, these risk guarantees can drop away, but they are the most important form of missing finance right now. "Put those guarantees in place, and the debt will come faster, which means scale will come faster, which means equity will follow. This is how we solve energy poverty."
Of course securing the money is one thing, investing it appropriately is another. VIA's approach to the latter is also unique - rather than acting as 'micro-VCs' they place a priority on securing shares in field projects, not companies. That means they are a mini version of the World Bank - they are trying to increase the amount of project finance available to entrepreneurs. They invest this way due to the belief that long-term cheap debt is what will ultimately unlock this market. "Equity is just the oil that lubricates the engine. What we really need is gas in the tank - 'venture debt' to provide project finance and long term scale," says Stewart.
While finance is the name of the game, VIA also takes on a number of technical assistance projects to help jumpstart the industry while paying the bills. Much of that work is based on Stewart's decades of expertise in the field. Perhaps the most exciting is a campaign to map all off-grid households in the world (www.developmentmaps.org ), so the industry can better map and plan how it's going to reach everyone. That work has found village locations from existing data is badly misleading. "It will help if we can see where the people live that we're all trying to help," says Stewart.
While they have yet to unlock finance from the multi-laterals, VIA believes their studies and tools will help mobilize investment from these institutions in the next 1-2 years. But this market, and the billion plus people living in the dark today, simply can't wait. That means we need finance to fill this gap by forging ahead and investing in projects immediately. Which is exactly why VIA was formed and they have a message for you: Calling all angels - it's time to put your money to work.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
This Thanksgiving, people around the country are using the hashtag #ClimateThanks on Twitter to share who and what they're thankful for in the fight against climate disruption. As director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, I have the great honor of working with people across the U.S. who are winning big climate victories week after week, and then seeing those wins add up to real progress on climate change. From that perch, here are five things I'm thankful for this year:
1. The volunteers, staff and allies from over 100 organizations who have worked to win the retirement of 155 existing coal plants and block the construction of 181 new coal plants, including a big recent coal retirement announcement by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Thanks to their efforts, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades – and we're just getting started.
2. The rise of clean energy. As coal plants retire and new market space opens up, wind and solar are breaking records every quarter as they rush in to fill the breach, and utilities are starting to see the light, making big investments in new clean energy projects. Some states are already getting more than 20 percent of their power from wind, which was the #1 new source of electricity on the grid in 2012. Just this October, solar energy was the sole new power source in the U.S.! Bottom line – the clean energy revolution is happening now.
3. The coal exports campaign. In the Pacific Northwest, an electrifying grassroots movement has come together to oppose six new coal export terminals designed to ship coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin. Over 10,000 people have turned out to public hearings in recent months, three of the terminals have been stopped, coal export opponents swept an important local election, and the Power Past Coal coalition has put the issue at the center of public debate in the region. A record number of comments were submitted on the proposals, too!
4. Overwhelming support for Environmental Protection Agency action on climate change - the photo at the top of this post is me celebrating great turnout on the bus to the Chicago EPA hearing. This fall, more than 2,000 people turned out at EPA listening sessions to support strong carbon standards for power plants, which are the number one source of the carbon pollution that's wreaking havoc with our climate. These standards are the centerpiece of President Obama's climate plan, and a draft is due out from the Environmental Protection Agency in June of next year. Industry will be pushing hard for a weak standard, so this outpouring of support is critical if we hope to get a strong standard across the finish line.
5. Powerful new messengers. From the student movement to divest from fossil fuels to the army of young people being mobilized by actor Ian Somerhalder and his foundation, one of the most inspiring things I've seen this year is the wave of powerful new messengers working to fight climate change. Many of their stories will be featured next spring in "Years of Living Dangerously," the star-studded Showtime climate series that promises to be transformational in not only telling the most important story of our time, but also galvanizing people to action.
When it comes to climate change, we can't afford to let ourselves be overcome by despair and helplessness - there is just too much at stake. Of course we all have a lot more work to do. But you don't have to look far to find examples of regular people doing heroic things that add up to real progress in moving the carbon needle. What are your #ClimateThanks this holiday? Send me a Tweet @maryannehitt and I'll help you spread the word - and the hope.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director
International Food Workers Week: What Does the Minimum Wage Have to Do With Sustainable Food?
A holiday in which we give thanks over a shared meal is a good time to think about where our food comes from. Many of us are aware of the effect that that our globalized food production system has on climate disruption and environmental degradation, whether it is carbon pollution from transportation across global supply chains, methane emissions from the livestock industry, or pesticides, preservatives and genetic modifications to our food.
Increasing transparency about where our food comes from allows healthy, sustainable choices for some of us. However, we hear little about the workers who prepare and grow our food every day, or about communities that do not have access to healthy, fair, and affordable food. As environmentally-conscious consumers, many of us are not informed about the important connections between the food we eat and workplace and environmental justice.
With over 20 million workers, the food system is the largest and fastest-growing sector in the nation. Unfortunately, with a national median wage of $9.90 per hour, the vast majority of food workers toil under the poverty line. The low minimum wage especially affects food service workers who rely on tips to make a living (waiters, bussers, runners)--their federal minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour. When totaled up, that amounts to just $4,430 per year for a full-time worker.
Ironically, America's food workers, because of their low wages, often live in low-income communities where they don't have access to healthy and affordable food. The so-called "food deserts" tend to be the same communities that are also "job deserts" due to the lack sufficient living-wage employment, and “environmental deserts” because they suffer the most from pollution caused by nearby fossil fuel power plants, incinerators, and toxic dumping. Concentrated poverty is closely associated with severe and mutually reinforcing environmental, social, and economic distress.
Increasing the minimum wage would put money in the pockets of people who need it most, reduce people's need to rely on food stamps, increase the demand for healthy food in low-income neighborhoods, and increase people’s economic leverage to fight for healthier communities. In short, supporting good jobs and fair wages helps build strong and healthy communities. Good jobs with better wages can empower workers to engage in civic activities that hold governments and corporations accountable and promote healthy communities. Yet some still argue against increasing the minimum wage.
A study done by the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley and the Food Chain Workers Alliance looked at the impact of the minimum wage on the price of food. The study found that while the bill to raise the minimum wage, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, would provide a 33 percent wage increase for the regular worker, earnings would more than double for food service workers. As a result of these increases in wages, retail grocery store food prices would only increase by an average of less than half a percent. So what does this mean? Over the proposed three-year plan to increase the minimum wage, food prices both away and at home, would only amount to about 10 cents more per day.
America's food workers are the largest segment of the working population who desperately need an increase in the minimum wage, in order to support their families. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, a national coalition of 21 food worker organizations, is bringing awareness to this issue with International Food Workers Week during this Thanksgiving week in order to educate consumers on how food gets from farms to our forks.
During International Food Workers Week, advocates are pressuring Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to make sure that all workers have access to healthy food, including the 20 million workers in the food system. As environmentally-conscious consumers, we have choice and a voice to push for a change, not only in what food we put in our bodies, but what food we buy and therefore what systems and companies we support. The more people make a decent living, the more they can enjoy the healthy choice and experience of good food in healthy communities.
-- Dean Hubbard, Director of the Sierra Club's Labor Program
#1) THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND
Wind prices have fallen so much this year that utilities are now investing in it because wind power saves consumers money. Earlier this year, as a result of a settlement with the Sierra Club, American Electric Power announced it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma. AEP decided increase its investment after seeing how wind "would provide substantial savings to our customers."
#2) COLORADO DOUBLES DOWN ON CLEAN ENERGY
This year, Colorado took a major step toward elevating clean energy in the Rocky Mountains, when Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law new legislation that will double the state's renewable energy standard. That means 20 percent of the state's energy will come from clean sources.
#3) A SOLAR VICTORY IN MINNESOTA
Minnesota’s state legislature finally passed comprehensive clean energy legislation that will commit the state to increase its solar electricity from 13 megawatts to 450 megawatts by 2020, an increase of more than 1,200 percent. In addition, the legislation will provide new solar incentives to make solar power easier and more accessible to Minnesotans -- thanks to the hard work of grassroots activists. This past spring, more than 62 groups held a Day of Action at the Minnesota statehouse to urge elected officials to expand renewable energy in the state. More than 700 people turned out to the rally, including Governor Mark Dayton, the Service Employees International Union, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
#4) FACEBOOK "LIKES" WIND ENERGY IN IOWA
Across the Midwest, 2013 was a banner year for wind energy. In May, Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy announced a $1.9 billion investment in Iowa's wind industry, representing the largest investment of any kind in state history. Facebook announced this year that it would be building a new multi-million dollar data center in Iowa, largely due to the amount of power that the state generates from clean sources compared with neighboring states. Iowa currently gets more than 25 percent of its energy from wind, and Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy is projected to get 39 percent by 2015.
#5) NEBRASKA GETS IN THE GAME ON WIND
According to an assessment from the National Renewable Energy laboratory, Nebraska wind could supply the state's current electricity needs 120 times over. Yet despite enormous potential for wind energy, Nebraska was falling behind neighbors like Iowa in wind energy capacity. In 2013, activists from across the state, along with groups including the Sierra Club, pressured key decision makers, including Governor Dave Heineman, to get Nebraska in the game on wind energy. The efforts paid off in full when Governor Heineman signed legislation this year that will expand the wind industry in the state. Nebraska is projected to triple its amount of wind energy in just two years.
#6) MOVING FROM COAL TO SOLAR POWER IN NEVADA
For decades, the Moapa Band of Paiutes have suffered from the devastating consequences of one of Nevada's dirtiest coal plants, the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, which is next to their tribal land. While activists in Nevada were working with the Moapa to retire the polluting plant, Los Angeles leaders were charging ahead to move Los Angeles completely off coal power and expand clean, renewable energy to fill the void. In December 2012, Moapa leaders joined Mayor Villaraigosa for the signing of a historic plan to purchase 250 megawatts from a planned solar development on the Moapa reservation -- enough electricity to power 105,000 homes. Six months later, the Nevada state legislature passed landmark legislation that will commit to retiring the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, end the state's importing of coal power from Arizona, and expand local clean energy development.
#7) 150,000 SOLAR ROOFTOPS IN CALIFORNIA
California is known for many things, but perhaps none more than the sunshine that beams down on rooftops in the Golden State throughout the year. The state's abundant sunshine has been a boon for local, clean energy like rooftop solar. In June, California's growing solar industry reached a major milestone when it was announced the state had passed 150,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar installations.
#8) STRANGE BEDFELLOWS UNITE IN GEORGIA FOR SOLAR POWER
Normally, the Tea Party and environmental groups like the Sierra Club wouldn't see eye-to-eye on a range of topics. However, this year, the two groups teamed up to form the Green Tea Coalition to advocate for expanding solar power in the Peach State. The partnership proved fruitful when this summer the Georgia Public Service Commission approved local utility Georgia Power's proposal to retire 20 percent of its coal plants and add a major new program to bring 525 megawatts of solar power to Georgia by 2016.
#9) AN EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
In October, New York State took a big step toward clean energy when the Long Island Power Authority voted to invest in 100 megawatts of new solar power on Long Island -- enough to power over 20,000 homes. Just weeks later, the utility announced new plans to move forward with an additional 280 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 80,000 homes. The investment represents the single largest investment in renewable energy in New York history!
#10) MAKING OFFSHORE WIND A REALITY IN MARYLAND
For over three years, activists in Maryland have fought to push their elected leaders to harness the Bay State's most abundant natural resource: offshore wind. Local activists made hundreds of phone calls, knocked on hundreds of doors, submitted letters to local newspapers, rallied on the steps of the Maryland State Capitol, conducted town hall meetings, and engaged Maryland voters to support offshore wind in the state. Finally, on March 12, after years of organizing, the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 reached final passage in the House of Delegates, securing the future for an offshore wind industry in Maryland that will provide clean energy for the state.
President Obama made a pledge in his Climate Action Plan to lead in the fight against climate disruption when he announced an end to financing for new coal plants overseas. His pledge would end public funds – our taxpayer dollars – flowing to new coal plants except those that deploy carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS), or are in the world’s poorest countries when there is no other option, and use the most efficient technology. These exceptions are now being put to the test with a proposed coal plant in Kosovo, which the World Bank is considering funding, and the U.S. government is heavily supporting. So does the Kosovo coal plant pass this test? The answer according to a new analysis commissioned by the Sierra Club and written by former Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement Officer Bruce Buckheit is an emphatic “no.”
To understand why Kosovo is such an important test case for the President’s pledge, it’s important to understand how much momentum exists internationally to withdraw support for new coal plants overseas. Like dominos, one by one, governments and multilateral development banks are moving beyond coal.
It all started in June with President Obama’s announcement. Then in rapid succession, the World Bank and European Investment Bank rolled out new energy strategies that also ended support for coal, while the Nordic countries pledged to join the Obama Administration in ending coal financing. And this week, during the climate negotiations in Poland, the United Kingdom stepped in with its own call to end financing for coal.
With the backing of so many countries and institutions, it is hard to believe President Obama would undermine the momentum he created by supporting a new coal plant in Kosovo. So why is the Obama Administration still pushing for the World Bank, which receives funding from the U.S. government, to support a costly, dirty, and unnecessary coal plant in Kosovo? It’s a very good question because according to our analysis, the power plant in Kosovo fails every one of the three exceptions laid out in the Climate Action Plan:
Most efficient technology: Any coal plant needs to use the “best available technology” to be considered as an exception to the coal ban. The proposed power plant in Kosovo will not use the most efficient technology for lignite (the type of coal the project will burn). Instead of building an advanced ultra-supercritical, ultra supercritical, or supercritical plant, economic analysis of the project conducted for the World Bank showed the units will be subcritical Circulating Fluidized Bed boilers. The difference in efficiency? Around 5 percent. This puts local residents at increased risk from dangerous pollution coming from the plant.
World’s poorest country: Kosovo is not one of the world’s poorest countries. U.S. government agencies are, at least tentatively, using the World Bank’s International Development Association’s List of Borrowing Countries as a surrogate for poorest countries. But Kosovo's 2012 per capita gross national income is three times the threshold laid out in the World Bank’s list. The only reason Kosovo appears on the list is because it has a bad credit rating, and is therefore permitted to access loans using the International Development Association’s terms. It may not be Luxembourg, but it’s not Malawi, and the U.S. shouldn’t undermine the coal ban by saying lower middle income countries can build new coal plants with public funds.
Lack of alternatives: Let’s get something straight -- Kosovo has abundant alternatives to this dirty new coal plant. The Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, led by former World Bank Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Dan Kammen, has shown that Kosovo can meet its energy needs without constructing a new coal plant through efficiency, grid updates, and renewables. Moreover, this plan would create more jobs than the proposed coal project at a lower cost.
Given the fact that Kosovo fails the president’s Climate Action Plan test, all eyes are now on the Obama administration and the World Bank to reject funding for the coal-fired power plant. If the U.S. decides to live up to the promise of the Climate Action Plan and withdraw its support for the project, support within the World Bank is likely to dry up. This would validate both President Obama’s and the World Bank’s policies on coal. But if they force a dirty new coal plant through in spite of their policies, they will lose all credibility. With country after country signing up to the coal ban, the world is now watching this crucial test case. It’s now the administration’s choice -- will they undermine their own policy, or do the right thing?
--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program
Here in the U.S., we think about energy poverty as being oceans away, in Africa and Asia – see President Obama’s new Power Africa initiative. But while the problem in these continents is acute, it turns out we have a tremendous problem brewing in our own backyard. Several years after a cruel hurricane season in Haiti, energy issues still lie at the heart of much of the residual poverty experienced by communities and companies alike. What the country desperately needs is a new “Haiti Power” initiative to catalyze off-grid clean energy and bring light, and life to its impoverished residents.
Haiti’s struggles are closely tied to energy poverty: less than 25 percent of households are connected to the grid, and the existing infrastructure is plagued by unreliable generation, transmission and distribution, with total system losses hovering around 50 percent. At the same time, half of the country’s population still lives on less than one dollar a day, and the country has the second largest income disparity in the world. That leaves the average rural Haitian to spend 6.5 percent of his or her annual income on kerosene and candles for home lighting. Compare that to the average American family who spends 0.5 percent of their much larger annual income on electricity.
That’s not to say the government isn’t working to address its energy access problems. In 2012, President Michel Martelly announced a new rural electrification program, with the aim to electrify 200,000 households in two years. Despite a controversial reliance on new coal plants and grid extension, the program, “Ban m limyè, Ban m lavi” (“Give me light, give me life”) does include important provisions for access to end-user credit to support deployment of small solar home systems. The program also aims to install solar street lights in every municipality and repair power lines in low-income neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.
Here’s the catch: Haiti is currently constrained in its ability to borrow internationally because of the agreement made to cancel its debt following the earthquake. At the same time its private cost of capital in country remains high because of perceived political and other risks. As is the case across much of the developing world energy markets access to finance is the biggest barrier to light and life.
In order to overcome its lack of capital, Haiti needs the international community to step up to the plate and provide access to capital to expand off-grid efforts. Luckily, the United Nations Foundation (UNF) has been working to compile those financing needs and will make them publicly available in mid-November (see here). The UNF database will include a Energy Access Practitioner Network, with information on 141 network members. Ten of those work in Haiti and need $15 million, a very manageable sum.
This financing would expand the great work of many small companies and nonprofits working to deliver energy services associated with the UNF Energy Access Practitioner Network. One of my favorite, EarthSpark International, has introduced "clean energy retail" through its Haitian brand Enèji Pwòp (meaning "Clean Energy" in Haitian Creole), with a network of 102 retailers across the country benefiting nearly 35,000 Haitians. EarthSpark was one of the first organizations to become a Kiva Experimental Partner, lending clean energy products instead of money to loan recipients to help them grow their businesses. EarthSpark has also recently launched the first pre-paid micro-grid in Haiti through EKo Pwòp (meaning "Clean Community Electricity" in Haitian Creole). Launched in November 2012, the system is providing continuous electricity to 14 households, and will be scalable to 400 customers. EarthSpark expects to solarize the system in a year, and within five years, hundreds of small towns will have access to locally generated, affordable, reliable, and sustainable power.
But Earthspark is not alone. From Sirona Cares, who has been supplying basic electricity to homes in Haiti for two and a half years, to The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), which first provided solar to health centers run by Partners in Health (PIH), to Haiti’s only designer and manufacturer of solar panels Enersa, off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs are busy delivering clean energy today.
Richenda Van Leeuwen, Executive Director of the Energy and Climate, Energy Access Initiative at the UN Foundation describes the initiative’s impressive efforts as, “capital constrained and in need of a range of investment in order to scale effectively.” With finance and government backing in place; however, she believes, “energy access in Haiti should be achievable in a relatively short time delivering benefits in terms of education, income, environment and health.”
But the only way to get there from here is finance, finance, finance. And that will require political support. That’s why it’s time for a new Haiti Power initiative, focused on fixing the losses in the grid, and jump-starting off-grid clean energy. It’s the only way to bring the people of Haiti light--and life.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Climate Program
Today Ontario, Canada, is showcasing a path for a world working to prevent runaway climate change. Today, Ontario retired their last coal-fired power plant. Part of a bold plan launched by former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2003 to cut pollution in the province, this is great news for everyone who loves clean air and is working to provide a safe and liveable planet for future generations.
What's more, the steps Ontario has taken over the past decade to retire its five coal-fired power plants is a great guide for the U.S. in making a speedy transition to a modern, clean, carbon-free energy system.
What can we learn from Ontario?
2) Be bold. Long before other states and cities were talking about phasing out coal, then Premier McGuinty announced he would lead the effort to replace all the coal plants in a decade. This took a lot of courage, but also a profound belief in our scientists and engineers to imagine and build a coal-free electricity sector.
3) Invest heavily in energy efficiency. The province demonstrated that the cheapest source of power is efficiency, or reduced demand. In fact, according to Scientific American, these savvy actions made Ontario one of the first places in the world where energy demand began to decline, rather than increase.
4) Provide clear and fair rules for clean energy developers. With a clear roadmap and and balanced incentives wind power quintupled over the past 6 years in Ontario. Today wind and energy efficiency will make up much of the replacement for the retiring coal plants. A carbon-free grid is now within reach, as clean energy continues to grow and will back out the remaining natural gas.
This move by Ontario is the latest in a string of great clean energy news across North America. Last week the Tennessee Valley Authority announced the retirement of 3,300 megawatts of coal power in the Southeastern U.S. Earlier in 2013, Los Angeles and Chicago both announced they were going coal-free, with L.A. even announcing a major solar power deal with the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada. The U.S. has been ditching coal (as fast as its investors), because a mix of hard-hitting grassroots advocacy, new EPA protections, and rising coal prices, has brought about the retirement or announced retirement of 155 coal plants.
With the largest grassroot environment movement in the U.S. working together to de-carbonize the electric sector, activists are fighting for clean energy and climate solutions from coast to coast. In the past week activists in Florida and Arizona rallied for solar power; North Dakota approved a new wind farm; Sudbury, Massachusetts just flipped the switch on a solar array that will save the city $100,000 annually.
This is also the latest in a string of great clean energy news across the globe. Sparked by the President's climate action plan which called for an end to public financing of coal overseas, the United Kingdom and multilateral banks like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have also stopped throwing taxpayer dollars at dirty coal projects. These governments and institutions will instead be investing in clean, renewable energy.
While coal has powered the U.S. economy for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, we now know it is the leading source of climate disruption, it pollutes our air and makes our kids sick, and it has no place in a modern, high-tech economy. We live in the most innovative country on earth -- the first country to put a man on the moon, the nation that brought the Internet to the world. Our neighbors to the north are showcasing leadership. Let's build on their leadership, our incredible progress here in the U.S., and get to 100 percent clean energy in less than two decades. I know we can.
-- Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign
During the proceedings of the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 19), Poland has earned the nickname “Coaland” from activists. Partly because of the unprecedented move in which Warsaw hosted The World Coal Association's “Coal and Climate” conference simultaneous with COP 19.Activists giving President of the COP, Marcin Korolec, a shirt that reads “Coaland Proud Citizen.”
Civil society in Poland and from around the world is demonstrating outrage at the hypocrisy of this move with protests and actions designed to show global support for Poland's moving beyond coal. In Warsaw on Sunday, a march on climate traveled from the city center to the National Stadium where the COP is being held. Sierra Student Coalition is supporting a Polish NGO's “StopEP” campaign against the building of a new coal plant in Pomerania in northern Poland. And a rally was held outside the coal summit on Monday to show outrage at the fact that it was happening while the world's leaders were meeting to work out the newest iteration of an agreement on lowering emissions with the goal of keeping the change in climate to below 2 degrees Celsius.
The “Coaland” moniker is also earned because Poland currently produces almost 90 percent of its electricity from coal. This is in spite of the EU regulations and renewable energy directives that the country has refused to follow to such an extent that it might be levied a large daily fine until it complies.
The government is synonymous with the industry because it owns the mining and the electric utilities in Poland. Following Poland's independence from Soviet control, the country has managed to decouple its economic development from greenhouse gas emissions. But it can do much more. A recent poll of the Polish people shows the majority of the people of Poland are opposed to the country's coal reliance, but the government is not responding to this information because there is still only a small number of voices active in pushing the government in its desired direction toward renewables. Similar to places in the U.S. where mining is a large part of the economy, a large group oppose moving away from coal because they fear loss of livelihood.
I spoke with some members of Polish NGOs about their views of the situation in their country as they try to move it into alignment with the EU's and global clean-energy goals.
Tobiasz Adamczewski, the Climate and Energy Expert from WWF Poland tells me that way he looks at the numbers, the Polish government's argument that coal will give Poland energy independence is false. Even from a purely financial perspective, given the state of the existing mines in the country, it will be cheaper to use coal only if the coal is imported. Otherwise, they will have to go much deeper in existing mines, which is a safety hazard for the miners, or open up new pits, displacing the people living in those areas at great expense. And they already do import a large amount of coal from Russia and projections include larger imports as energy needs rise. Health effects of the pollution from the coal-fired plants and environmental degradation from mining increase the projected costs greatly.
A European Environmental Agency study recently found Poland's second city, Krakow, has the third worst air quality in Europe. Krakow is also the home of the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy. Based in places like this century-old institution, the Polish government's idea is that they can “innovate” with “clean coal” technology, which they can then export. Technologies such as carbon capture and storage do not yet exist in a form that is viable economically or effective environmentally, and as the atmosphere passes 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, we don't have time to wait.
Mr. Adamczewski said the free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the EU and the U.S. is going to be an important factor in the targets set by the EU in the future. He said that if the U.S. has strong protections in place around coal plants, it will help the EU maintain their more stringent standards. But it could easily become a race to the bottom with lax regulations, which is why Sierra Club is so concerned about the pact.
I asked what they would like to see in the next five years for clean energy in Poland and he replied, “We would like to see a good renewable energy law, which gives individual citizens the ability to produce green power economically, and a change in the perspective of Polish people toward climate change. And with that, a change in the mindset of policy makers so that Poland is never again a blocking country in the EU.”
Countries will conclude this round of climate talks on Friday, and despite a groundswell of support, especially for the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, we could see little outcome in the form of meaningful agreements on emissions reductions or pledges for funds for mitigation, adaptation and the new category for weather events like Haiyan, loss and damage.
--Claire Horn, Sierra Club Georgia Chapter volunteer
Mary Anne Hitt: Americans continue to demand clean energy from the local to national level, and here's yet another amazing example of quick, successful organizing by college students in Illinois. I'll let my colleagues tell you all the wonderful details:
Illinois College Students Vote Six to One in Favor of Divestment
Co-written by Anastasia Schemkes of the Sierra Student Coalition and University of Illinois Graduate Student Katie Mimnaugh.
On Friday night, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC or UofI) became the latest school (of the 300+ campuses working on fossil fuel divestment) to pass a student-wide divestment referendum. With all votes tallied, they had won with 6-to-1 in favor of divestment.
Bottom line: 86 percent of the voting student body demonstrated their support of coal divestment at UIUC!
To secure a referendum on the student ballot, the UIUC Beyond Coal group had to collect petition signatures from seven percent of the student body: 3,038 signatures in total. And right when the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign students were hundreds of miles away from campus, in the middle of Power Shift, they got the go-ahead to start collecting petition signatures –with less than three weeks to deliver all 3,000.
In the span of two weeks, Beyond Coal gathered over 4,000 signatures to get the resolution on the ballot. On Friday Nov 15, the divestment referendum passed 6-1, with 1,730 YES votes.
In a state ravaged by the coal industry, the UIUC Beyond Coal began working on coal divestment in August 2011, following an incredible student-driven effort that secured a 2017 commitment by the administration to stop burning coal at the campus power plant.
Illinois is currently ranked fifth in the country for coal production and is led by a governor with plans to double the state's coal exports by 2014. This the same governor that appoints the UIUC Board of Trustees. Even just 20 minutes away from Champaign a proposed coal mine threatens citizens in the town of Homer.
This stark reality only makes the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign that much more impressive.
Early on, the campus Beyond Coal group secured the support of the student senate, built a vast coalition on and off campus, and even climate activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin cheered on the students during visits to campus. The campaign is regularly featured in the student newspaper, local news articles and TV news.
This divestment referendum is the most recent success. The students have made their opinion clear. They voted to support removing investments from a dirty and outdated coal industry and investing instead in clean energy and community projects.
The University's vision "to create a brilliant future… in which the students, faculty and staff thrive and the citizens of Illinois, the nation and the world benefit" clearly calls on the University of Illinois to lead now in the face of climate change. U of I must protect the future of the very students it educates, and we urge the school's board of directors to choose to divest from coal at their next meeting in January.
First it was President Obama, standing before the American people at Georgetown University in June, telling us that it was time to act on climate. As one of the pillars of the climate action plan, President Obama pledged to end public financing for coal projects overseas, except in very specific situations. This was later backed up by a declaration by the Treasury Department.
Next, five Nordic countries came out with a similar plan, calling for an end to throwing money away on dangerous coal projects.
Multilateral development banks were the next to announce that they would no longer be investing in coal projects overseas. The World Bank released its new energy strategy, and and then the European Investment Bank piggybacked. Just like dominoes, public support for coal has been falling all across the world.
And today we found out that the UK’s public financing for coal is the next domino to teeter over.
At the Warsaw Climate Change Conference (COP 19) this morning, UK climate secretary Ed Davey announced that the UK would end international financing for coal projects except in exceptional circumstances.
This is a bad sign for coal but a great sign for our health, our climate, and our planet. Burning coal emits toxic pollution into the air that leads to health problems like asthma and cancer. It also releases toxic mercury that rains down onto rivers and streams and contaminates the fish that we eat. Coal burning is also responsible for nearly one-third of U.S. carbon emissions—the air pollution that is the main contributor to climate disruption.
Finally, this reality is catching on. Governments and financial institutions are facing the reality that coal kills, and our future and our childrens future depend on transitioning away from the dirty and dangerous fuel.
The UK’s banking arm, the Export Finance department has approved over $100 million for coal projects since October, 2011, according to the department's own annual reports. Those have all been in the form of coal mining projects in Russia. This new announcement would not only halt the funding for these projects, but it would also prevent any future investment in similar projects, aside from exceptional circumstances.
This is worth celebrating, and it’s not the last domino to fall. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, another multilateral development bank, should be the next to change its energy strategy and cut off spending on dangerous coal projects. It has become clear that coal is not a sound or safe investment and finally we’re putting our money where our mouth is.
--Justin Guay, Sierra Club's International Climate Program
Africa is beginning to see a new light. A solar-powered light that is. Currently 598 million Africans live off the grid in rural Africa. Many of them still use kerosene lamps to light their homes, a practice that can consume up to 20 percent of each family’s income and is harmful to both the environment and the health of the families.
To help solve this problem SunFunder and SunnyMoney have stepped in with solar power. Together, they are working to move Africa beyond the age of kerosene lamps and into the solar future. But what are these organizations, and how do they work?
SunFunder is a crowdsourcing solar energy initiative that links donors--like you--to solar businesses--like SunnyMoney--in an effort to offer affordable solar energy to the 1.3 billion people worldwide without reliable electricity. To see our pilot project with SunFunder go here. SunFunder allows donors to select the cause they want to support, collects the donations, and then loans the money to the solar company doing that work. The solar company invests the money and earns a profit. That profit is returned to SunFunder and ultimately the original donors.
Since first launching 15 months ago, SunFunder has fully funded 10 projects, made 1,200 total project investments, from more than 590 donors from 37 countries, with a 100% repayment rate. It has helped
more than 50,000 people. Not bad for a year and a halfs work.
But if that’s not remarkable enough, the loans are now being repaid in under a year. You read that
right. SunFunder partnered with SunnyMoney last year, and their first loan of $10,000 to sell solar lights to families in Zambia has been fully repaid in the first nine months.
SunnyMoney sells their solar lights and phone chargers exclusively in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania through the schools’ network. In order to create the most trustworthy system to sell solar lights and publicize their message, SunnyMoney networks with head teachers to spread the word about solar lights and phone chargers. This gives students and their families an opportunity to purchase lights for their homes with the help of a trusted source, the teachers.
The payoff has been huge. SunnyMoney has sold more than 700,000 solar lights which allows residents to have cheap, reliable, environmentally friendly lighting -- an option they’ve never had before. This benefits both the families and the students who can now more easily study and do their homework in the evenings.
“As a result of this project, the owners of new solar lanterns in the Eastern Province [of Africa] will experience significant savings in their energy costs, better light quality to study by, healthier indoor air to breathe, and easier mobile phone charging,” the SunFunder website states.
While the solar lights cost money upfront, the lights pay for themselves in the first 12 weeks and typically last five years. The benefits for families are immediate and lasting.
“A solar lamp does more than shine a light. A solar lamp protects the environment and transforms lives,” states SolarAid, the charity that owns SunnyMoney, on its website.
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
Why All Parents Should Take Action Against Dirty Fossil Fuel Power Plants
I am the parent of a lovable (and very opinionated) 9-year-old named Iskra. Like any other parent, my #1 concern is my kid's health and well-being. Did she eat her lunch? Is she watching too much TV? Is she making friends?
But how often do parents stop and wonder about how clean the air is for their kids? I grew up in Los Angeles and like thousands of other kids, I had asthma as a young child. Little did I know that LA would one day be ranked the #1 city with the dirtiest air.
I often fear that my little girl will also get plagued with asthma or some other illness because of LA's poor air quality. I have to be thankful that she doesn’t have asthma, but there are warning signs: one doctors said she has weak lung capacity, and Iskra has chronic eczema, which is linked to weak lungs.
Pio Pico Dirty Power Plant: Bad for the health of our families, bad for our pocketbooks, and bad for our climate
Because I care about Iskra's health, I am concerned about California's push to build more dirty power plants. One example is the Pio Pico Power Plant that San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is proposing to build in San Diego. Pio Pico would get built less than 1.5 miles away from the border. This is a region that already has some of the dirtiest air in the state and replicates the old pattern of dumping our dirty pollution near Mexico. If built, Pio Pico would emit over half a million tons of greenhouse gases a year. This year, we saw the disastrous impacts of large wildfires like the Rim Fire in Yosemite that will come with climate change. I don't want to leave that legacy for my daughter, either.
What's so frustrating about this dirty power plant is that my organization and our partners across the state already killed this proposal once! Together with community leaders, in 2012 we pushed the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reject SDG&E's effort to build the Pio Pico plant. They called SDG&E's bluff: California doesn’t need the power that Pio Pico would provide. But SDG&E is too worried about their profits to stick with the democratic decision made by government regulators. This proposal is about increasing their bottom line, not serving Californians.
Pio Pico comes with a price tag of $1.6 billion. If built, taxpayers in Southern California will be paying for dirty energy for years to come - Pio Pico comes with a 25 year contract. So when Iskra is 34, she would be stuck breathing emissions from this fossil fuel dinosaur rather than seeing solar panels blanket California. Our future generations would literally be paying: with their health, and from their pockets.
Every time we build a new dirty power plant, we take a step backwards. We move away from the renewable energy that power our communities, puts Californians to work, cleans up our air and prevents climate change.
Let's Say No to Pio Pico, Yes to Clean Energy, & Yes to Our Children's Health!
The truly scary part is that Pio Pico is just one example. Corporate polluters like SDG&E are lining up proposals to build more dirty power plants across California.
In early 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will decide on whether to approve Pio Pico for the second time. Knowing the damage that a single dirty power plant can have on our air quality and on the health of our children, I can't help but take action. Like all parents, I would do everything in my power to ensure Iskra’s health and safety.
Click here to join me in telling the CPUC and corporate polluters "No to Pio Pico!", "Yes to Clean Energy" & "Yes to Children’s Health!"
-- Strela Cervas, CEJA co-coordinator
I hope the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is listening.
Last week, the NRC held one of many public meetings to hear comments on their Waste Confidence Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) and their proposed rule at their headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.
The DGEIS seeks to examine the environmental costs of spent nuclear fuel. The rule was originally created in 2010, but in 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that some aspects of the NRC’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements were not met. You can read more about the ruling here.
During the meeting, dozens of concerned citizens spoke about problems associated with nuclear waste. Their testimonies were met with applause when they finished speaking.
“There’s no real justification for the creation of high level radioactive waste,” said Diane D’Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “We’re allowing continued poisoning of our planet.”
“Just because a tsunami is unlikely doesn’t mean a Fukishima can’t happen,” echoed Dr. Gwen DuBois, a member of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and founding member of the Crabshell Alliance. She addressed the possibility that 35 nuclear power plants are at risk if there are sudden dam failures, from storms like Superstorm Sandy which are more likely to occur because of climate disruption, and the need to move spent fuel to less vulnerable areas.
“We need to move beyond nuclear energy,” DuBois continued.
Among those speakers were Sierra Club representatives, ready to stand with their peers and say we need to move beyond nuclear energy and toward a more sustainable future.
“How can we have confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission if you don’t even listen to the most serious findings of your own staff?” asked Linda Seely, from the Sierra Club’s Nuclear Free Campaign.
“All we can do is move the contamination from one place to another,” Seely continued. “They don’t know how to clean up and dispose of nuclear waste except in a superficial manner.”
“Nuclear waste is a problem without a solution, and we really do not have an answer,” said David O’Leary, chair of the Maryland Sierra Club chapter. “We need to not continue with publishing a rule that enables producing more of this waste.”
“We impale in future of our descendents, and we do this, my god, to boil water,” DuBois said. “We need to transition out of nuclear and out of coal, and into efficiency, solar and wind.”
In short, nuclear energy and the waste it produces threatens our safety, our environment, and our health.
A schedule of future public comment sessions can be found here. Comments can be submitted until December 20.
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
As India reels from a perfect storm of increasing fossil fuel import bills, capital outflows, and a stagnating economic environment, attention to its current account deficit (CAD) has grown exponentially. I've written on the threat coal imports pose to energy security and CAD in the past, but the biggest threat from fossil fuel imports is clearly oil.
Currently the country imports 70 percent of its supplies at a staggering cost. The situation is only going to get worse, which has prompted high-profile calls from people like Akhil Ghupta and Blackstone for innovative solutions including a dramatic expansion of solar power. I recently caught up with Anand Gopal of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) to discuss how India tackles this oil import crisis.
If you're wondering why you should care what Anand and his colleagues have to say, it might be useful to give you a sense of their past work. Their team at the LBNL led a study that recalculated India's wind potential and found 20 to 30 times more potential than the 102 gigawatts the government had officially reported. Their findings have spurred a new wave of investment and interest in wind power in India. As they turn their sites on new challenges, it's worth understanding where they think India's energy future lies.
Here's my interview with Anand.
Justin Guay: Can India do without oil?
Anand Gopal: India has great opportunities to substantially reduce, or at least, stabilize oil consumption. Road transportation, which will be responsible for most of the growth in oil demand in the coming decades currently still accounts for a small share of total Indian primary energy demand. This is because the current vehicle fleet is a fraction of the expected fleet size in 2030 and most of the urban and road infrastructure that will support this growth has not yet been built. Therefore, India, unlike China or Brazil and many other emerging economies, presents us with the opportunity to leapfrog directly to a clean transport future with little need to change existing vehicles or infrastructure. The best part is that as advanced clean vehicle technologies get cheaper through deployment in the West, they can be deployed in India before large scale motorization takes hold.
(1) They can enable greater renewable energy penetration by offering grid balancing and other Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) services;
JG: Where do electric vehicles fit in to a 'Beyond Oil' solution?
AG: Of the many transportation technologies that use fuels other than oil, electric vehicles (EVs) appear to hold the greatest promise in India. India has such high demand for non-transport uses of biomass that biofuels are unlikely to be a major solution for India. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) can be part of the 'Beyond Oil' solution, as evidenced by the gasification of transit fleets in some cities, but India's natural gas resources are not abundant and the exploitable shale gas resource does not seem promising. Hence, large-scale deployment of NGVs may only shift India from oil import dependence to natural gas import dependence, doing nothing for the CAD.
EVs on the other hand do not suffer from the problems of biofuels and NG that we described above. EVs also offer some additional benefits:
(2) They substantially improve human health outcomes by eliminating tailpipe pollutant emissions which are one of the main causes of morbidity and early mortality in India; and,
(3) Unlike NGVs, EVs can enable very deep reductions in Indian greenhouse gas emissions because renewable electricity costs are falling dramatically in India.
JG: Why are EV's particularly suited for India?
AG: In our research, we have found that the transition from internal combustion engine cars to power-split hybrid and full electric cars results in much greater real-world fuel economy improvements in India (and China) than we see in the U.S. That's due to four main reasons peculiar to Indian driving behavior:
(2) A higher share of energy per Indian trip is lost in braking, which is almost wholly recovered in an hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) and EV;
(3) HEVs and EVs use no fuel during idling and the share of idling time in traffic is much higher in India (than the U.S.); and
(4) The average range traveled in India is much smaller than in the U.S., making EVs much more feasible and range anxiety less of an issue.
JG: What technology, business model, and financing breakthroughs (if any) need to happen for EVs to be deployed?
AG: The cost of batteries is the key barrier to EV affordability. So, these would need to drop for greater market uptake. However, the large share of two-wheelers and the smaller power needs for cars there may allow for less energy dense battery chemistries than Li-ion in EVs. We are interested in exploring such possibilities at LBNL.
India's fuel economy test procedures should be more reflective of real-world use. Currently, India uses a modified version of the New European Driving Cycle for fuel economy labels, which has no correlation to Indian driving. This test procedure systematically underrates hybrid and electric vehicles and overrates ICE vehicles.
It may also be helpful to provide incentives for EV purchases. These incentives can be designed in a net revenue neutral manner. The incentive can be set at a level where the EV purchase it facilitates results in the full recovery of costs from fuel savings over the life of the vehicle. The incentive could be even higher because of the macroeconomic stabilization effect from reduced oil imports.
Taken together these changes can finally set India on a path to break oil dependence and solve the CAD.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Off-grid applications are clean technology's next big market. Nowhere is this more true than Africa where the International Energy Agency predicts population growth will outstrip grid expansion to leave 645 million people without power. It's predictably tough for companies in this potentially vast market to stick out from the pack - unless of course you're BBOXX. I caught up with Mansoor Hamayun, the CEO of BBOXX, on the eve of a Series A investment from Khosla Impact to discuss the company's evolution and off-grid clean tech 2.0.
(click graphic to enlarge)
BBOXX is, as Mansoor describes it, a classic university start-up that began as a charity focused on one of the great problems of this century - universal electrification. The company realized early on that the grid was an economic question - even if governments provided every household with the grid, the payback period never happened because load was too low. That meant grid extension was a non-starter. As Mansoor puts it, 'I don’t see the grid expanding, and even if it did the reliability issue is huge. Remember the first source of demand for companies like ours is on-grid consumers who have terrible service.'
That meant for Mansoor the solution was a 21st century distributed 'grid.' But to his surprise he couldn't find the products required to build it out. That's because few working on the problem knew what it meant to provide an on-grid service in an off-grid environment - they were simply too focused on kilowatt hours and not service delivery. That meant the field was wide open for creating products and appliances that catered to the realities of the market.
But supplying quality products is one thing, genuine demand is another. It turns out BBOXX was fortunate to move into the African market at an ideal time - right after the Copenhagen climate change conference. That conference created a group of motivated consumers - successful African businessmen - interested in clean energy solutions. They saw off-grid clean energy as a real opportunity but lacked the ability to make it happen.
That's where BBOXX stepped in with nothing more than 45,000 in British Pounds scrounged between the three cofounders. Given their cash-starved state, and the demand driven by their African partners, they were forced to be sales driven - without cash flow they couldn't grow. They turned that motivation into $3 million in revenue and have been opening operations in a new country every six weeks. Currently they're in 14 countries and introducing their own retail network. Not bad for a few years work!
But the real innovations, those that earned them a Series A from Khosla Impact, are the evolving pay-as-you-go finance solutions backed by remote battery monitoring all delivered through their own distribution network.
Sandhya Hegde from Khosla Impact sums up their positive impression this way, "Gathering data on customers' energy usage behavior is the only way we can learn how to provide energy as a reliable service. We believe this innovation is central to unlocking the pay-as-you-go business model and making solar energy an accepted, trusted, and financeable product in the eyes of the off-grid world." This is off-grid clean tech 2.0.
Arguably the most important piece here is consumer financing. That's because entrepreneurs face a harsh market reality: Asking their customers to buy lifetime energy needs on day one. No one in the world is ever asked to do that but it's daily reality in off-grid markets.
BBOXX is responding by moving to a payment plan model supported by an in-house finance company: BBOXX Capital. The sole purpose is to finance end customers. The fund was capitalized with the help of a soft loan of $300,000 from the Africa Enterprise Challenge (funded by DFID) that was matched by franchise partners to reach roughly $1 million. The aim is to use this fund to support 200-300 payment plan products/month in two geographies (Kenya and Uganda).
With financing in place they have overcome the space's biggest hurdle. That means the biggest risk they face now is execution. For BBOXX that means increased service delivery in the form of radio, TV and other products. Because once households have even watt level energy, their demand for transformative services like the internet is enormous. As Mansoor puts it, "It's amazing when I see people streaming YouTube on their phones in rural areas. It blows me away."
In order to get there though they'll need to secure the Holy Grail: a long-term relationship with the customer with a proprietary distribution channel. Because if you own the entire chain, you have the ability to overcome the last-mile challenge and deliver the services of the future – from TV to tablet.
This means that in 21st century Africa off-grid clean tech providers like BBOXX are the future. But Mansoor is not alone. While he says his main competitor is kerosene and consumer habits, he knows other companies are not far behind. From M-Kopa to Azuri, the off-grid clean tech space is quickly filling with exciting competitive companies. But it doesn't seem to bother BBOXX. They're pioneering off-grid clean tech 2.0 and they're not looking back.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International