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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
As a renter in Oakland, California, I'm more than a little bummed that I can't put solar on my rooftop, but thankfully that doesn't mean I can't take part in any of the exponential growth that's happening in the solar industry across the U.S.
This is why I'm thrilled that the Sierra Club is a partner in the #PutSolarOnIt day of action on June 21st - the longest day of the year. I love seeing all the churches, synagogues, homes, businesses, apartment complexes and more putting solar on their roofs - these are concrete solutions to climate disruption.
The Sierra Club is proud to be part of the coalition of groups coming together on this national day of action to show support for switching to clean energy, fighting climate change, and the power of bringing solar power to communities all across the country.
It doesn't have to just be people who own property who get to benefit from solar energy, which can cut energy costs down to zero and give us the freedom to use clean, non-polluting electricity. The Sierra Club and other solar advocates around the country are trying to get programs and rules in place that would allow for shared renewable energy or "community solar."
At least 10 states have recognized the benefits of shared renewables by encouraging their growth through policy and programs and there are at least 52 shared renewables projects in 17 different states throughout the US.
Still others are taking part in solar crowd-funding - where you can "buy" a share of solar to help get solar on a rooftop somewhere else. I did this myself through a platform called Mosaic when I invested in solar on an affordable housing complex near where I grew up in Corte Madera, California.
Solar is changing lives and producing some serious benefits. Colorado's public charter school "The Pinnacle" has one of the largest rooftop solar installations in the entire state. It will provide 43 percent of the school's electrical needs and "In its 30 year expected lifespan the array is expected to prevent 54,034,418 pounds of CO2 from entering our atmosphere!"
Farmers in the Midwest are seeing the bright side of solar, too:- one Illinois farmer installed solar and "cut the electricity bill by about 40 percent."
The solar array at Stonehill College in Massachusetts "is expected to save the school $185,000 per year in energy costs, and about $3.2 million over 15 years."
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross have a solar array at their convent that will "save them $19,000 a year on their utility bill."
Yet there are still millions of un-covered roofs in the country - schools, churches, warehouses, community centers, even landfills! - that could be generating solar energy for their communities, saving money, and reducing pollution.
Join us in this push to #PutSolarOnIt! What do you want to put solar on? Put your ideas in the comments and we'll make a funny graphic of the winner and post on June 21st. You can also add your own photos. Bonus points if it's funny AND feasible.
Beyond June 21, connect with your local Sierra Club chapter to see how you can help get a program in your community and/or educate your neighbors about existing opportunities to get a share in community solar.
Or you can check out NREL's Guide to Community Shared Solar to organize your own solar share.
Be part of the solar revolution sweeping the country!
-- Jodie Van Horn, Sierra Club
This week the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed a major secret that the Sierra Club's anti-nuclear activists have been shouting about for two years now:The Energy Department, in an effort to prop up a troubled uranium enrichment company, arranged for uranium transfers that failed to comply with laws about fair pricing, national security determinations and limits to prevent the department from flooding the domestic uranium market.
This illegal hustle stars the Department of Energy (DOE), USEC (a now bankrupt uranium enrichment company in Paducah, Kentucky), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and features these victims: Energy Northwest (a consortium of 27 Northwest Public Utilities formerly known as WPPS) and the American people.
In 2012, through some elaborate dealings, USEC sold enough nuclear fuel to last for 30 years to Columbia Generating Station (CGS), the lone nuclear reactor in the Pacific Northwest. At the time, Bonneville Power was quoted in a public announcement saying that the deal would generate $80 million for ratepayers.
They celebrated in Richland, Wash., where the nuclear reactor is located, and in Paducah, Ky., where jobs were saved for one year. Almost immediately after the fuel deal was announced, the license for CGS was renewed for 20 years without any regard to public sentiment concerning the stability of the plant.
Sierra Club volunteers working in the Northwest and Midwest recognized these moves as a plan to keep the dirtiest uranium enrichment plant running.
According to the GAO, the whole transaction was illegal. DOE did not have the authority to transfer the uranium for the fuel in the first place, Energy NW paid more than the market for the fuel, TVA got a bargain, and the DOE kept a source for tritium for weapons.
Another point of dismay for activists was that USEC is the largest emitter of Freon in the U.S. You may have thought Freon was banned. It was...except that USEC, in the name of "national security," was allowed to stockpile it.
And yet another problem with USEC is that it requires eight coal plants located at Shawnee to run full time to keep this plant operating. The Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign has been actively working to retire these coal plants because of their massive pollution.
Long before this GAO report, environmental and social justice groups in the Northwest questioned whether it was really an economic boon to buy this fuel. We asked Robert McCullough, a well-known economist to look at the long term financial aspects of operating CGS. As part of the report, he evaluated the fuel deal. In an interview with the Willamette Weekly, McCullough said we could replace the plant with cheaper power and save ratepayers $1.7 billion over the next two decades. (If you want more detail about his conclusions, his report is over 400 pages and available here.)
We are thankful for the GAO's report issued June 9 that breaks this whole hustle apart. McCullough's conclusions are supported by the GAO report.
Obviously there's no happy ending to this story. The USEC plant is in bankruptcy. DOE is accused of acting outside of their authority. The celebrating is over. All parties, including TVA, will be scrutinized when the President agrees to the outside investigation recommended by the GAO.
We ask that the investigation be done with public scrutiny and that the Hustlers be held accountable. In the meantime, Energy NW needs to regain the faith of its rate payers and separate itself from this "dirty little secret."
-- Leslie March, Sierra Club
That’s a big reason the off-grid solar market is booming, with over $45 million flowing into the market since November 2013 and a smorgasbord of start-up companies popping up for investors to choose from. Yesterday, the National Geographic’s Terra Watt Prize validated this market trend by awarding two ‘pay-as-you-go’ off-grid solar companies its top honors.
Focused on rural village electrification, the Terra Watt Prize was created to provide entrepreneurs with access to investment and the opportunity to be reviewed by credible experts which in turn provides valuable business exposure.
This year’s winners -- who were evaluated on feasibility, impact, sustainability, and scalability of their products -- are India-based Mera Gao Power and Tanzania-based EGG-energy. Each company will receive $125,000, plus the prestige of being honored by National Geographic through a rigorous process designed to add to the due diligence process.
Mera Gao Power produces and operates micro grids in rural Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states but also a hotbed of distributed solar activity. The company describes itself as a ‘lighting utility’ and lights its customers lives with highly efficient LED bulbs. Mera Gao Power collects weekly payments, and if those payments aren’t received, the micro grid systems shut themselves off via self-resetting fuses. This unique model has allowed the young company to expand power to more than 100,000 people.
EGG-energy has been working toward their mission of scaling up the solar home system (SHS) distribution in Tanzania and East Africa. EGG-energy started in 2009 as an on-grid battery business (the “Netflix of batteries”), then expanded their battery business to include off-grid areas, and eventually added SHS to their portfolio. Today, EGG-energy is focused on expanding their ‘rent to own’ 80 and 200-watt SHS across Tanzania and East Africa by using mobile money platforms that allow them to remotely monitor their systems.
As we’ve pointed out before, mobile phone penetration and off-grid solar are converging to create clean technology’s next big market. It is one of the most innovative and exciting opportunities the international community has seen in a long time. But for too long it has gone unnoticed as a silent revolution in rural parts of the developing world. Perhaps the National Geographic competition will be the wake-up call the world needs to recognize just how fast the revolution is proceeding and how profound the implications of this revolution will be.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
Believe it or not, there was a day when the Production Tax Credit for clean, renewable energy was not a partisan issue. When it cleared the House Ways and Means Committee in 1992, it was with a strong bipartisan majority. Then, clean energy was not perceived in Congress an us-versus-them issue. There was broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that developing new, cleaner energy industries would begin to level the playing field among energy sources and create more choices for consumers. It was described as good for the environment, the economy, and the nation as a whole. Members of both parties jockeyed to get projects and factories in their districts.
Alas, those days are gone, even if the benefits are not. Now there is a crusading right-wing that is happy to take fossil fuel money hand over fist and be the spear tip for that industry's efforts to sabotage its growing clean energy competition. Most Republican members of Congress are now under great pressure from the big polluters who are their big money campaign donors to actively oppose clean energy industries that have been an agent of economic growth in the nation generally and in rural Republican districts specifically.
Renewable energy is growing fast, fast enough to make some utilities, coal companies, oil and gas barons, (and some particular Koch brothers) pretty nervous about the future viability of their product.
But to be realistic, the profits raked in by many of these billion-dollar companies have never been higher. Yet, the Kochs are using their so-called Americans for Prosperity front group and its dozens of affiliates to attack federal and state laws that have brought wind and solar energy forward from infancy to create tens of thousands of jobs and power millions of homes and businesses. Whether their target is state renewable portfolios standards, energy efficiency standards, net metering laws, or incentives like the PTC, the bottomless pockets of the Koch brothers are working overtime to obliterate clean energy.
Even in 2012, the PTC benefited from a strong nucleus of support from House Republicans. But still, the credit expired again this past December 31. Today, because of the shade thrown on the wind industry by the fossil giants, more and more Republicans appear to be afraid to voice their support for the incentive even when there are serious megawatts or wind energy jobs in their very own district. Why face a reprimand from the Koch enforcers when you can just lay low, keep your head down, and weather the storm? What's the demise of a few small businesses and jobs in the district?
Well, it's a lot. Clean energy means jobs. It means safer air and water. And it means less climate-disrupting carbon pollution pumped into our air. That's why the Sierra Club is kicking off its campaign to shine a light on a number of Representatives that have a wind industry presence in their districts and states, but apparently remain content to put those jobs and assets at risk with their silence on whether or not they support the renewal of the PTC. In some places, it's a handful of jobs in supply chain parts manufacturers, small but important cogs in a manufacturing industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs nationwide. In other areas, the economic footprint is enormous.
Here's one of the ads - a TV commercial targeting Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07):
Another example: Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas has more than 4300 megawatts of wind in his district with thousands of supply chain jobs and tax base that funds schools and community infrastructure. Yet those constituents don’t seem to merit his support.
Most of the members in question have not even weighed in on the Ways and Means tax reform proposal released by outgoing Chairman Dave Camp that would actually take money back from projects that have not yet run the course of eligibility for the credit. It's one thing to say that one is willing to kill the growth of one of the few manufacturing industries in the U.S. that has grown quickly since 2007, it’s another to remain silent while the government yanks back resources that were promised in good faith to American companies and communities. Would the oil and gas industry allow that silence if the tables were turned?
There has been plenty of opportunity to support the PTC since it expired on New Year's Eve. Conservative Rep. Steve King, with whom the Sierra Club disagrees more often than the alternative, circulated a letter with fellow Iowan Rep. Dave Loebsack arguing for a straight extension of the PTC through 2015. Every member of the House had the opportunity to sign that letter. But that's the least they should have done. If Congressional inaction threatens your district you can hold press conferences, make floor speeches, organize your colleagues - make a stink. But the silence has been deafening.
Clean energy enjoys strong, broad, bipartisan support. It's time to make more citizens aware of what their elected representatives are actually doing - or not doing - to support it.
If these members believe that the survival of wind jobs in their districts and states is not important enough to merit their support, what other industries and jobs do they think are expendable?
-- Dave Hamilton, director of Clean Energy for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign
Today medium and heavy-duty vehicles - everything from delivery trucks to tractor trailers - represent one of the fastest growing sources of oil use in the transportation sector. Though our passenger cars have grown more efficient in recent years, the average tractor-trailer gets around six miles per gallon on the road, the same as it has for decades.
The Obama administration has an opportunity to propose strong efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles that can reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025. These standards will cut carbon pollution, reduce oil use, and save drivers money at the pump.
According to a new factsheet released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, and the American Council for and Energy-Efficient Economy, we have the technology to cost-effectively reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025.
Tractor-trailers, responsible for two-thirds of medium and heavy-duty vehicle fuel use, can reduce fuel use 46 percent, with fuel savings paying for new technology in just over one year. Increasing the average fuel efficiency of a tractor-trailer from nearly six miles per gallon to nearly 11 miles per gallon would significantly reduce oil use in the transportation sector. Similarly, vocational vehicles, such as delivery trucks, and heavy-duty pickup trucks have opportunities to reduce fuel use 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Strong standards will reduce oil consumption. In 2012, trucks on the road consumed roughly 2.7 million barrels of fuel each day, resulting in 530 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Setting strong standards that build on existing standards could cut fuel use by 1.4 million barrels per day - roughly equivalent to our oil imports from Venezuela and Iraq in 2011 combined.
Thanks to innovation by countries in the United States and around the world, we have the technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon pollution. From aerodynamics to automated manual transmissions and turbocharged engines, a wide range of technologies can be employed in the coming years. These technologies will save drivers money at the pump, including an estimated $30,000 in fuel savings per year for average tractor-trailer owners.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are currently developing proposed standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles, which they are expected to release in March of 2015. We know that one effective way to reduce oil use and cut carbon pollution is to set strong standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to act on trucks.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club
Residents of Holyoke, Massachusetts, are cheering the retirement of the local Mt. Tom coal plant, knowing that its significant air pollution will soon end. Last week the plant's owners, GDF Suez, announced that the plant will cease operations in October 2014.
This is a major victory for the many local clean air advocates, including Coal Free Massachusetts, of which Sierra Club Massachusetts is a founding member, and which represents more than 100 public health, environmental justice, faith, student, and business organizations including Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke (AHH!). For years members of these groups have been writing letters, holding rallies, protesting, speaking at public hearings, and more to urge the retirement of the plant because of its public health and environmental effects.
"The asthma rate in Holyoke is twice the state average and my wife suffers from terrible asthma herself," said Carlos Rodriguez a community leader in AHH! and Neighbor to Neighbor, "so, while we are very glad to know our air will be cleaner, responsible retirement also means working with our community and the workers for clean up and transition."
James McCaffrey of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Massachusetts says that GDF Suez has committed to honoring the duration of the plant's union contract which expires in October.
"This is a great start, but we still need to do more," McCaffrey said. "The state has committed $100,000 through Coal Free Massachusetts supported legislation that passed last year for reuse and planning for the host community of Holyoke, and we hope the legislature and Governor Patrick will take steps now to provide meaningful support for municipal revenues and the workers."
Community members are not only concerned about the plant's workers and the economic effect on the community, but also about making sure the Mt. Tom site is fully cleaned up.
"I am nervous about the contamination in the ground," said Carmelo Diaz, also of Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke, "back in Puerto Rico I’ve seen a coal plant that closed without cleaning up its mess."
GDF Suez is considering repurposing the Mt. Tom site as a solar farm, and McCaffrey says Coal-Free Massachusetts and the coalition are working with the administration, legislature, and GDF to assure that all regulatory and legislative components are in place to help clean up the site and possibly repurpose it for renewable energy.
McCaffrey credits the powerful group of local activists with the success over the filthy Mt. Tom coal plant. "We've pressured both the state and the Environmental Protection Agency for stronger air and water permits, engaged with grassroots and community leaders, and worked directly with the company."
They know the work isn't done yet, but the Mt. Tom retirement announcement is a great boost for lovers of clean air and clean water in western Massachusetts.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club