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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
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Photo: Office of Governor Patrick)
From New Hampshire to California to Hawai’i to Montana, Governors across the country are applauding the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever standards to clean up climate disruption carbon pollution. While standards exist to curb mercury, soot and smog, never before has the United States taken a stand to limit the amount of carbon pollution that power plants pump into our clean air, despite the risks. Carbon emissions are linked to respiratory illnesses like childhood asthma, and climate disruption fuels extreme weather events such as super-storms, floods, wildfires, and extreme drought.
Power plants currently account for 40% of climate changing emissions in the United States. The EPA’s national goal is to cut carbon emissions 30% by 2030, and is part of Obama’s broader climate action strategy announced a year ago.
One of the real strengths of the proposal to curb carbon pollution is that it puts states in the driver’s seat for meeting emissions reduction goals. Each state is unique, and that’s why the EPA has created individualized plans for every state’s special needs. And that’s why it’s so critically important that so many governors are standing up to say they are ready and able to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in their states right away:
California Governor Jerry Brown: “While others delay and deny, the Obama Administration is confronting climate change head-on with these new standards. Clean energy policies are already working in California, generating billions of dollars in energy savings and more than a million jobs. Bold, sustained action will be required at every level and this is a major step forward."
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on Twitter: “#Colorado already cutting CO2 ahead of @EPA's proposed rules to reduce carbon production by 30% #cleanair-cleanjobs”
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy: “It is long past time that we as a nation seriously and systemically confront the danger that carbon pollution poses to the health and well-being of our citizens. It is our solemn duty to leave the world a better place for us having lived in it. To not act would be to abandon our children and our children’s children to a planet that is unsustainably sick.”
Delaware Governor Jack Markell: “The impact of climate change is clear, from rising sea levels to more powerful and frequent extreme weather events that put Delaware families and businesses at risk. We have an obligation to address the root cause of these changes and that means limiting carbon pollution from our power plants.”
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie: “Hawaii is at the forefront of responding to climate change through our Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which serves as a substantial economic driver while reducing our dependence on imported oil. By building such flexibility into the rules, President Obama is encouraging the rest of the country to follow Hawaii’s lead in pursuing clean energy.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: “I commend President Obama for confronting this critical issue. Illinois has seen the devastating impacts of severe weather first-hand with 11 natural disasters over the past five years. Moving toward a cleaner, more reliable and resilient energy system will bring significant benefits to our communities and our state.”
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley: “Climate change is transforming the world in profound ways that continue to evolve. We still have time to become great ancestors, and we have a moral obligation to our children and our grandchildren to act now while we can make a difference.”
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick: “I applaud EPA’s new carbon rules, which will unleash clean energy innovation and reduce energy costs while protecting our environment and public health. This is a critical step in moving the nation toward a clean energy future, one that we’ve already embraced in Massachusetts with great results. The Obama Administration is showing leadership in clean energy for American citizens today, and in the future.”
Montana Governor Steve Bullock: “By the time (the rules) are finalized — a year from now — we will have the flexibility to create a made-in-Montana solution.”
New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan: “I am encouraged that the new proposed regulations provide for state-specific solutions. Programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have brought numerous benefits to the Granite State, leading to new innovations while generating jobs and saving energy costs. We look forward to continuing to work with our regional partners to ensure that we reduce the harmful emissions that lead to climate change, while also helping to reduce energy costs, create jobs and encourage innovation in the state’s clean-energy economy.”
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber: “President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy are to be congratulated for accelerating a national response to the costs and risks of climate change. Oregon is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from ocean acidification and dead zones offshore to rampant wildfires last summer that cost more than $120 million. This bold step will protect the health of citizens across the country while supporting the growing energy efficiency and renewable energy economy on the West Coast."
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I): "Thank you to the President and the EPA for taking this step forward to reduce pollution from power plants, which nationally is a large source of carbon emissions. Through this leadership initiative, our Government has committed to reducing the risks associated with climate change, and has worked to ensure clean and reliable energy."
Washington Governor Jay Inslee: “I applaud President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Gina
McCarthy for taking this critical step in setting the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Today’s announcement is a vital component of the President’s Climate Action Plan, and represents bold federal action needed immediately to address this challenge. Washington state and the Pacific Coast are moving forward on climate action, and our work will be much more effective with committed federal allies.”
Joint West Coast Leaders: The leaders of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia today applauded the Obama Administration’s newly released proposal for reducing carbon pollution as a welcome sign that the federal government is stepping up as a partner in the fight against climate change.
A flood of supportive statements from all corners of the country serve an encouraging sign that states are dedicated to making these safeguards work for a clean power future.
That’s progress worth bragging about.
--Liz Perera, Senior Washington Representative, Sierra Club
The much-anticipated safeguards to clean up carbon pollution from existing power plants have finally been announced, and just as expected, both support and opposition for the protections is all over the airwaves.
The Sierra Club has joined other environmental groups, health experts, and elected allies to applaud the announcement. But when it comes to opposition, the usual suspects are fractured.
Even before the Clean Power Plan was proposed, the conservative Chamber of Commerce came out punching with debunked, inaccurate attacks about the plan, claiming we’d see rate hikes and job losses while ignoring the massive economic and public health benefits.
This rhetoric shouldn’t come as a shock, especially since the Chamber, which purports to represent the interests of businesses, has long been funded by some of the country’s biggest and dirtiest polluters and attacked any effort to implement clean air and water safeguards for about as long. Not surprisingly, the coal industry was right alongside the Chamber, quick to push out false claims. In advertisements, the National Mining Association claimed that electric bills would nearly double because of the proposed plan -- a claim found by the Washington Post’s fact checker to be “bogus.”
As for the actual utilities affected by the rule, many aren’t singing the Chamber’s tune and are instead beating back false attacks and welcoming this cornerstone initiative of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Take a look at a sampling of the comments that stand in direct opposition to the Chamber’s doom and gloom:
At a Denver Business Journal event, David Eves, CEO of Minneapolis-based utility company Xcel, debunked the Mining Association’s false claims, rejecting the idea that these first-ever carbon standards would increase electric bills upwards of 80 percent.
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported that Robert Flexon, CEO of Houston-based Dynegy viewed the carbon standards as an opportunity — not a threat.
Calpine, another Houston-based utility, came out in full support of the Clean Power Plan on Monday, saying the company serving customers in 20 states and Canada was “ready to meet this challenge head on.”
According to the New York Times, FirstEnergy, an electric utility with power plants in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, also welcomed the news. Anthony Alexander, president and CEO of FirstEnergy, said the utility will be better off.
The Edison Electric Institute - a trade group representing investor owned utilities - said it was already on their way to making carbon pollution reductions. Senior Vice President Brian Wolff explained "We're already voluntarily reducing carbon emissions 14% based on 2005 baseline, so optimistically you could say we're headed in the right direction."
In other words, don’t believe the hype.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that utilities have diverged from the Chamber’s outlandish attacks. In 2009, utilities Exelon and PG&E actually left the Chamber of Commerce over its opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a bill aimed to generate millions of jobs, increase clean energy production, and reduce carbon pollution.
These utilities have it right -- it’s time to clean up and modernize the way we power our homes and businesses. These protections are the first to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, and they’ll be one of the most significant steps ever taken by any administration to address climate disruption. The Sierra Club will work to ensure these standards are strong, so that everyone -- from utility companies to the communities they serve -- can thrive in a clean energy economy.
For years, the Sierra Student Coalition along with many other youth environmental activist groups have been engaged with Power Shift, an online community of young people working across the U.S. to empower one another to act on climate. And next month, Power Shift is going global. The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement and the Ghana Youth Climate Coalition will initiate Power Shift Ghana.
The three-day summit will be the largest gathering of youth coming together to call for clean energy in Ghana’s history. Young people will gather to learn how to run clean energy campaigns and implement environmental policy. The event also seeks to give voice to those who have been affected by climate disruption. Agbobloshie, a neighborhood in Accra, Ghana, has been named one of the 10 Most Polluted Places in the world, highlighting the urgent need to shift from coal plants, illegal mining, and dangerous oil exploration to clean energy.
Power Shift Ghana seeks to pressure the Ghanaian government to make necessary change, but emphasizes that Ghana does not face these issues alone. A keynote address by a UN Special Envoy on Climate Change as well as Q&A Sessions from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, & Innovation, the Ministry of Energy & Petroleum, and the Ministry of Land & Natural Resources will give Power Shift Ghana major momentum towards their goals. But there is still much left to do.
Here’s how you can support Power Shift Ghana:
Spread the word about their project and goals by e-mailing 10 friends.
Tweet and share this blog post on social media.
- Visit Power Shift Ghana’s IndieGogo fundraising site and donate. If the groups are not able to raise their target funding, they will have to cut down on the number of participants for Power Shift.
President Obama just set the first-ever limits on climate disrupting carbon pollution from all U.S. power plants. Now we must continue this incredible momentum by working toward international climate action.
Power Shift #Ghana is ready to #ActOnClimate. Here's how you can help: http://sc.org/PSGhana
Agbobloshie, Ghana is in 10 top most polluted places in the world. Power Shift #Ghana can change that: http://sc.org/PSGhana #ActOnClimate
Power Shift #Ghana will be the largest gathering of youth to #ActOnClimate in Ghana's history. Here's how you can help: http://sc.org/PSGhana
--Victoria Keller, Sierra Student Coalition and Online Organizing Intern
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider Senator Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to finally exclude big money from politics and return power in our democracy to the people. Udall’s amendment would overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates to big campaign money, like Citizens United v. FEC and, more recently, McCutcheon v. FEC.
Since Citizens United, big money donors have been free to pour enormous amounts of money into campaigns. Between 2008 and 2012, outside spending from big polluters increased 11,761%. And their lobbying expenditures earned a staggering $59 back from every $1 invested. McCutcheon made a terrible situation much worse.
Udall’s Amendment seeks to turn the tide, slam those floodgates shut, and keep big money from drowning out the voice of the American people.
The hearing brought out some of the Senate’s most powerful members, spurring a heated debate between Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and others, who disagreed vehemently on the issue.
"American families cannot compete with billionaires," Reid said at the opening of the hearing. "Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances."
Reid and others referenced big money campaign donors like the Koch brothers, a pair of oil barons with famously deep pockets that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns and front groups to push their agenda nationwide.
"I defy anyone to determine what the Koch brothers are spending money on today politically," Reid declared. "They must have fifteen phony organizations that they use to pump money into the system to hide who they really are: the two wealthiest men in America, interested in their bottom line."
McConnell, who himself received $58,550 from Koch Industries in 2012 alone, unsurprisingly spoke in opposition to the amendment, calling references to the Kochs a distraction from what he characterized as "how incredibly bad this proposed amendment is."
But there was mounting evidence that Udall’s legislation is needed now more than ever. Testifying before the committee, North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick spoke about his state’s recent experience in the post-Citizens United political landscape. Awash in outside spending pouring in from a handful of big money donors like the Kochs and North Carolina businessman Art Pope, the state’s legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive voter laws, gutting provisions that expand ballot access for everyone from low-income votes to African-American votes to elderly voters to disabled voters to young people, even removing an early voting period and eliminating same-day voter registration.
"It got harder for ordinary people to vote," McKissick said.
And, of course, this legislation received backing by the Kochs, Pope, and those politicians who came into power thanks to their financial support.
It’s one of the most egregious examples of a national trend that’s found big money campaign donors not just trying to drown out the voices of everyone else with their millions, but actively seeking to keep those who disagree with them from the ballot box.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois backed him up and went on to cite staggering figures that proved just how difficult it can be for an ordinary citizen to have a voice. In 2012, just 159 Americans accounted for 60% of super PAC donations. In 2010, one third of outside spending in North Carolina alone came from Art Pope, who subsequently received an appointment to Republican governor Pat McCrory’s administration.
"This is going to discourage mere mortals from participating in the political process," McKissick said. "Today it seems that big money and big donors pull the strings while ordinary citizens find it harder and harder to make their voices heard."
That’s exactly why the Sierra Club and so many others, like Public Citizen, People for the American Way, the Communications Workers of America and Common Cause, are backing Senator Udall’s amendment. It’s this kind of legislation that keeps citizens involved in our government and eliminates the ability of a handful of wealthy billionaires to steamroll the priorities of everyone else.
--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team
For a while it seemed as though the Power Africa Initiative was more about powering oil and gas profits than delivering energy access to those that need it most. However, thanks to recent bipartisan leadership in the House of Representatives, this threat has passed, and the future for this initiative has become much brighter.
And while we welcome this shift in energy focus, it’s what U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced just this week that has us really excited -- the first real leadership on clean energy access from the Obama Administration by way of the Beyond the Grid initiative.
This new dedicated off-grid clean energy access program includes 27 new investors who, over the next five years, will have committed a combined $1 billion exclusively for off-grid and small scale energy access solutions to African energy poverty. This increased energy access will reach homes, businesses, schools, and public places and will ultimately benefit the more than 240 million Africans currently living without electricity.
It’s hard to understate just how big a shift this is for Power Africa. When it was first announced last year, less than two percent of the $7 billion in energy investment was earmarked for off-grid solutions. At the same time, large corporations like General Electric (GE) were eyeing it as an opportunity to increase their investments in dirty fossil fuels and not expand energy access. Many in civil society were openly skeptical about Power Africa’s motives.
Beyond the Grid changes all that. It begins to align the Power Africa Initiative with what the International Energy Agency (IEA) has made clear is necessary to achieve universal electrification - diverting over 60 percent of all new energy access finance to off-grid and mini-grid solutions. Now, thanks to Beyond the Grid, not only are those investment flows looking more balanced but the international community also has its first major political leadership recognizing the cheapest, fastest, and most effective tool for the energy access job -- off-grid clean energy solutions.
That’s critical because while the off-grid clean energy sector has posted eye popping growth rates (an estimated 95 percent compound annual growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa according to Lighting Africa) and rapidly growing private investment, it’s had very little help in the way of policy support. Instead, policymakers have continued to dump billions of dollars into centralized power plants and grid extensions that have done little to alleviate energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs have been seemingly banging their heads against a brick wall of institutional inertia and are demanding $500 million for their sector.
Now, this rapidly expanding energy sector finally has political momentum and a legacy-defining initiative behind it. If nothing else, Beyond the Grid will be a success for casting a spotlight on a booming market that has been under the radar for far too long.
But that’s not nearly enough given how important this is to the president’s legacy. While this is an important first step, it’s time the Obama Administration put some skin in the game and announce a new loan guarantee program to back up Beyond the Grid. That will potentially unlock billions of dollars in private sector investments that will enable these entrepreneurs to finally deliver where the centralized grid has failed.
And at the end of the day, this isn't just about climate, it's about 21st century technological progress. Remember, mobile phones have leapfrogged centralized landline networks in Africa. That’s why nearly every household in sub-Saharan Africa has access to a mobile phone and no one is proposing land lines for all to solve communications needs. The same can be true for the hundreds of millions of people that lack access to a centralized energy extension.
Beyond the Grid is the very first initiative to recognize that it’s time to make a break with the status quo and finally light the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Here’s to moving beyond failure, and here’s to moving beyond the grid.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
By Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign Organizer
"No Tar Sands!" That's the message the activist light brigade delivered to attendees of the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego this week when they crashed the corporate beach party -- via kayak flotilla. You read that right: light brigade via kayak flotilla.
The activists weren't invited to the corporate beach party at the conference, but they came anyway because the message is so important.
America’s biggest corporations are also America’s biggest consumers of oil -- meaning that unless they institute policies to avoid the dirtiest sources of oil, they’re also the largest consumers of fuel derived from tar sands.
Mining, refining, and transportation of tar sands -- one of the dirtiest and most destructive sources of oil on the planet -- is an environmental and human catastrophe. But some companies, it seems, have not yet gotten the memo.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as owner/operators of some of the largest private carrier vehicle fleets in North America -- with more than 100,000 cars and trucks combined -- haven't yet made the commitment to do the right thing and say no to tar sands.
So, activists came together in a 20+ kayak flotilla -- along with a giant neon banner reading, "Coca-Cola and Pepsi, stop driving tar sands destruction!" -- to show the thousands of representatives from major U.S. corporations who are attending this year's conference that it's time to make the commitment to get off tar sands.
Of course, we crashed their party after having already shown up uninvited at lunchtime to unveil Coke and Pepsi tar sands can designs, taken to the tweets through messages on the conference's hashtag, and slipped "Tastes Like Tar Sands" materials under conference participants' hotel room doors earlier in the week.
We know that the message has been getting across, and many conference participants conveyed their support for the campaign or expressed interest in learning more about tar sands. On the ground and online, more and more people are asking these companies to take responsibility for their actions.
So, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, it's your move. Until then, the pressure's on.
This week, the committee of experts that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on air quality standards gave its recommendation on an acceptable range for protecting public health from smog pollution. The good news is the announcement means we’re one step closer to stronger protections from this dangerous air pollution. Unfortunately, the recommended range includes levels at the high end that are known to be unhealthy. For those of us fighting for clean air for all children, this means we’ll have to double-down on our efforts to ensure EPA adopts a standard that will protect all kids.
As a mom, I can only imagine what it feels like to watch your child struggle for breath. Summer has begun, and while many families are looking forward to vacations and spending time outdoors, hundreds of thousands of parents are also dreading the dangerous, sometimes deadly air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks in kids on hot days. That’s why the Sierra Club has created a new tool that will send you a text message every time there is an air pollution alert in your area - sign up here.
Ground-level ozone (also known as smog) robs hundreds of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments of quality of life. It sends thousands of children to emergency rooms each year and costs us billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity, and premature deaths.
The seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is charged with advising the EPA when the agency updates air quality standards every five years, as required under the Clean Air Act. The committee's new recommended range for smog is between 60 and 70 parts per billion. This may sound like a narrow range, but when it comes to the health effects of smog pollution -- especially on children whose lungs are still developing -- in the gap between 60 and 70 parts per billion, there are many children’s lives at stake.
Americans deserve to know if our air is clean or not, and we count on these EPA experts to recommend standards that will truly protect our families. This process is not only about requiring polluters to clean up, but also about updating the standard so families know when the air is unsafe for their kids.
Thousands of lives are on the line. Modeling of smog pollution health effects looking at 12 cities across the country showed that lowering the acceptable level of smog to 60 parts per billion would save 4 to 5 times as many lives as 70 parts per billion.
Numerous medical associations and public health organizations have endorsed 60 parts per billion as the standard for ground-level ozone that is consistent with protecting public health. Even the experts on the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee acknowledged that a standard below 70 parts per billion would better protect the health of our families.
Activists nationwide -- including parents, healthcare workers, business owners, members of the faith community, and even one 11-year-old girl -- are fighting to clean up the ozone-forming pollution from nearby coal plants that, right now, is threatening the very health of their communities.
Even President Obama, in his visit to Children’s National Medical Center this week, acknowledged our need as a nation to address air pollution and reduce childhood asthma.
If EPA follows the advice of those medical and public health experts and chooses to set the acceptable level of smog at 60 parts per billion, this new standard will go a long way to clean up the air we breathe. But with such a wide range on the table, we are going to have to work hard to push EPA to adopt a strong standard. The EPA will create its draft proposal by December and should finalize new smog protections by the end of 2015. EPA needs to get this right -- literally, children's lives hang in the balance.
Over the coming months, all of us will have an opportunity to weigh in and speak out to ensure that the final proposal from EPA creates strong protections for children from dangerous smog pollution. Tens of thousands have already called on EPA to create the strongest possible safeguards -- add your voice now!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
and where we need it to be: clean energy services for all 1.2 billion people currently without energy access around the world.
But to deploy this finance, we need to marry supply and demand. While the industry continues to beat the drum for a new $500 million dollar fund to solve the former, the latter is just as important -a pipeline of companies capable of deploying it. With $45 million flowing into off grid solar in just the past four months, a pipeline clearly exists. But Embark Energy is taking a stab at a longer term - upstream and downstream - solution for deepening that pipeline with a potentially important innovation - an off-grid Angels Investor list.
Embark has a pretty simple mission: empower “thousands of clean energy entrepreneurs to sell and service clean energy products around the world.” They uniquely achieve this mission by offering trainings, one-on-one coaching, and links to seed funding for their entrepreneurs through an incubator program. By using this incubation program, companies are able to graduate into more mature investments from partner institutions thereby creating a pipeline of viable companies in this rapidly growing market. It’s the last step of this process that is particularly interesting.
The match-making role Embark would like to play is particularly important for this sector. If you talk to any entrepreneur in this market, they’ll bemoan the lack of transparency and information that ultimately make raising money an incredibly time intensive task. No one knows where the money exists, let alone how to tap into it. So it’s easy to see how this kind of clearinghouse that Embark Energy has proposed would be enormously beneficial for startup companies.
But it’s not just their creative approach to this problem that makes Embark Energy an important company to know. It’s also their history.
Embark Energy emerged as a successor to E+Co (founded by Philip LaRocco), a nonprofit financial institution which financed over 250 small enterprises during its nearly two decades of existence. For those who know, the market E+Co worked in for many years was sowing the seeds for the distributed off-grid solar revolution we are currently watching unfold.
Embark is now leveraging that history and expertise in finance, energy, and development to fill a pipeline gap by “connecting the dots” from seed to incubation to long term investment.
Once the expectations of investors align with the different stages of market growth, a more robust version of the Angels list will emerge. From their perspective, if you want to pick cherries later, you first need to invest in a portfolio of seedlings now and understand that some of the resulting cherry trees will grow and succeed and some will remain small and grow more slowly.
Of course that’s not the only value Embark plans to provide. They also offer a web-based, highly-interactive training curriculum for entrepreneurs called MyBusinessPlan which helps in the creation and scaling-up of clean energy businesses. This training incorporates strategic examples from around the world drawn from the experience of the four founders. This unique program also offers one-on-one coaching and provides seed capital matchmaking in addition to access to products and technologies.
But at the end of the day, with so many cash-starved startups already in existence, Embark Energy filling this matchmaking and clearinghouse role could be incredibly valuable. With Embark drawing on its history of connections to impact investors and foundations who care about the space, we might just see an off-grid version of an Angels Investor list emerging soon.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
Funny how the universe works sometimes. Like the long overdue carbon pollution standards coming out the same week moms go on strike against Walmart in dozens of cities across the country. Two totally unrelated phenomena, you say? Not so fast.
In the words of Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, "this action by the Obama administration is a starting point in a much-needed effort to address both climate change and the need to keep and create good jobs in our communities."
We have to do both things. Neither is optional. We have to reduce the carbon pollution that is threatening the viability of human civilization by disrupting our climate, and we have to create and keep good jobs as we do it.
If we follow the path of the Walmarts of the world, we will fail on both counts. A devastating report last year laid out how Walmart's business model is making global climate disruption worse:
- The world's largest retailer is failing to cut its carbon pollution. Walmart's own accounting shows that its carbon pollution has risen by 14 percent since the 2005 launch of its sustainability PR campaign, when it promised to lower its emissions across the board.
- Walmart's failure to cut its carbon pollution is even more devastating because the company excludes shipping across its global supply chain, new store construction, and sprawl from its calculations.
- Walmart is failing on clean energy. Only four percent of the power Walmart uses to power its stores comes from renewable sources.
- On transportation, the company's reliance on extreme fuel sources like oil from tar sands ties it to the world's dirtiest sources of energy.
- Worst of all is Walmart's generous financial support for climate science denial and extreme anti-environmental politicians.
This same business model has made Walmart one of the world's worst violators of the human rights of working people, especially disabled people and women. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka points out,Retailers like Walmart are the root cause of income inequality. Walmart keeps the wages of its employees low while it rewards its owners - the Waltons, a family whose wealth is equal to the combined wealth of 42 percent of Americans. . . [T]he moms going on strike this week . . .know, even if the Waltons don't, that this is not how one of the largest companies in the world is supposed to act. A company shouldn't illegally retaliate against those who want to improve their working conditions! And a company should not allow about two-thirds of its employees to make less than $25,000 a year and schedule irregular hours so most of its workers cannot earn enough to support their families.
Together with our allies in the labor movement, the Sierra Club is committed to building a clean energy economy that works for working families. The new carbon pollution standards will protect the health of working families and communities by reducing asthma and helping calm the extreme weather which is one of the most immediate visible effects of climate disruption. We are proud of the Obama Administration's decision to ask Jason Walsh to help us make sure those standards build a clean energy economy that protects working families' economic health as well.
The clean energy economy will be an engine of job creation, resulting in millions of new jobs. These jobs tend to pay a lot better than jobs in the dirty energy economy. But the market alone will not drive a just transition for America's working families. It's up to us to make sure clean energy jobs are family-sustaining careers, not Walmart-style jobs where workers have to turn to public assistance and food drives around the holidays while the owners become obscenely rich. To make sure they are good jobs, we need protections that assure it, including living wages, project labor agreements, trade and manufacturing policies that protect workers and the environment and encourage domestic job-creation, and labor law reform that truly protects people's right to organize.
To get those kinds of changes, we have to fight together to reform a political system that allows well-funded opponents of democracy to suppress the votes of working people, communities of color, the elderly, the disabled, and immigrants -- the same people who are the most economically insecure, who are exposed to the most pollution, and who are hit first and hardest by climate disruption.
That's why the Sierra Club has joined allies like the AFL-CIO in the Democracy Initiative, which seeks to restore the core principle of political equality. Whether it's coming from families like the Waltons or the Kochs, the corrupting influence of pro-polluter, anti-worker money in politics needs to be stopped.
And stop them we will. We may be outgunned financially, but we have a few factors in our favor. Beginning with the moms of Wal-Mart. Their vocal advocacy already has made a big difference for Walmart employees. Recently, Walmart improved its pregnancy policy after mothers, and OUR Walmart members submitted a resolution to the company about its discriminatory pregnancy policy. And, after OUR Walmart called on the retailer to improve workers' hours, Walmart introduced a new system that allows workers to sign up online for available shifts in its stores.
These are big victories but there's a long way to go. Let's travel together on the journey.
To support the Walmart moms, go to WalmartEconomy.com and post a picture of what the #WalmartEconomy means to you. Or sign up to donate your Twitter and/or Facebook account for one tweet/post, so Walmart workers can instantly respond to the company.
-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program
This week, some of the biggest companies in the world are coming together for the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego, where companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo want to showcase a shining environmental image.
On the ground at the conference and online, activists are making sure that these companies can't hide from the fact that by using tar sands fuel to power their tens of thousands of delivery trucks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are worsening climate destruction.
The first night of the conference, a team of activists made sure that conference participants got the message - literally - by slipping it under their doors. The message reads,
"Coke and Pepsi say they're doing something to affect climate change. In fact, they're making it worse."
The good news is that the message is getting across - the Coca-Cola representatives at the conference definitely saw it. We know because at the conference this week, one of our activists had a conversation with a couple of Coca-Cola executives, including a featured conference speaker.
When one of the execs was asked about the flyer under the door and the company's use of tar sands fuel in its delivery vehicles - his response was:
"I don't even want to go there."
The second Coca-Cola exec had gotten the flyer under his door (see a pic of it here), and in talking with an activist, seemed concerned and even shocked to learn about the impacts of tar sands extraction on the climate, water resources (PDF) and on First Nations whose ancestral home is being ransacked by industrial development.
This is exactly why we are pushing Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as owners of some of the largest vehicle fleets in the country, to take responsibly for their actions and stop using fuel from tar sands. A recent Sierra Club report even outlines for companies how they can step up and do the right thing.
So, it's time to keep the pressure on. This won't be the last that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are hearing about tar sands - and you can help make sure that's the case by taking action here!
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
Just one day after the Obama Administration and Environmental Protection Agency proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants, signals from China indicate that country may be preparing to follow suit with a similar game-changing announcement.
He Jiankun, chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change, declared that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is planning to adopt an absolute cap on its carbon emissions by 2016 as part of its next five year plan. While Professor He is not an official government spokesperson, these top-level comments are earth-shaking in their own right.
This announcement falls in line with the recent revelation that the Chinese demand for coal is dropping and the overall Chinese coal boom is finally over. If China is able to successfully cap their emissions completely, it will represent a huge step forward for not only public health and the environment in China, but all around the world.
It is impossible to imagine that we’d be hearing about this significant energy move by China without the newly-announced, first-ever carbon pollution standards in the U.S. By taking action to combat climate disruption, the U.S. has demonstrated the power of President Obama’s leadership on climate in the world’s largest economy -- and it clearly shows that when America takes the initiative, other major carbon emitters will act as well.
Historically, U.S. climate inaction has been a major impediment to global climate progress. Many other major emitters have not been willing to take assertive action until the U.S. takes the lead. They’ve even used U.S. inactivity as an excuse not to act on climate in their own countries. It’s an excuse that’s even been picked up by opponents of action on the climate crisis in the U.S., as they’ve argued that the U.S. shouldn’t act if China and India do not. But with the release of the new carbon standards, pressure is clearly increasing on these countries to announce bold actions of their own -- and it sounds like China is listening.
Now it's time for other major emitters like India to follow suit. The Obama administration’s actions will better enable the U.S. to exert diplomatic leverage on countries that remain reluctant to do their part. As we’ve known for many years, it will take a global effort to fully curb carbon emissions and protect our environment for the generations to come. This is just the first step.
-- Steve Herz, Senior International Climate Policy Advisor/Attorney
In recent days, eight states came together to release a 'Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan;' it fleshes out their governors' commitment last fall to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get 3.3 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2025.
Making up 28 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maryland will "drive economies of scale, lowering prices and creating more options for consumers," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in response to the action plan. He continued, "When it comes to fighting climate disruption, EVs are where the rubber hits the road."
The action plan, promoted by a number of government, environmental, and public health groups in the news and social media, reads like a celebration of EV programs already making a difference on the ground. For example:
- In Rhode Island all new state vehicle purchases will be electrics or hybrids wherever possible.
- California Governor Jerry Brown met with 40 Fortune 500 executives to announce corporate commitments to PEV workplace charging.
- The West Coast Electric Highway has developed a network of charging stations that will provide charging from Canada to Mexico.
- The Maryland Public Service Commission has created a ‘time of use’ utility pilot program designed to incentivize off-peak charging.
- Massachusetts has announced a new EV rebate program, to start this summer, that will slice $1,500-2,500 off the purchase or lease of any plug-in vehicle.
The plan lays out 11 types of actions that it recommends for state government –in conjunction with other partners. These include everything from consumer incentives to government fleets, from workplace charging to EV marketing and availability. I encourage you to check out the plan. It's chock full of great examples and recommendations. It also has some compelling factoids, like a study showing that EV drivers are more satisfied with their vehicles than conventional vehicle owners. Additionally, the document shows, the five-year cost of ownership of a typical EV is actually thousands of dollars less than that of a conventional vehicle.
But I think this action plan begs some important questions. If we can't put our all into each and every one of the dozens of action items and recommendations, what are the most effective types of programs and strategies that will most rapidly escalate EV sales in the years to come? What are the pieces of low and medium-hanging fruit, and how does that vary by location? What are the most important studies that show what strategies are working best?
The Sierra Club will be evaluating questions like these in the coming months so we can determine how to best scale up our electric vehicles advocacy and outreach work around the country - and in turn work with these eight states and others to successfully implement this exciting ZEV action plan. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you: What have you found to be the most successful EV programs in your area? What do you think is most needed? What studies do you think best point to important lessons learned in the plug-in electric vehicles market thus far?
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Narendra Modi has secured India’s prime minister position with a sweeping mandate.
What that mandate will bring is an open question. Many have serious concerns about Modi’s human rights record in Gujarat, while environmentalists worry about his administration’s desire to speed environmental clearances for dirty fossil fuel projects. How Modi uses his mandate leaves the fate of India’s future energy mix precariously perched between 19th century fossil fuels and modern clean energy technology.
Modi’s energy policy is still heavily reliant on dirty fuel sources, with a special emphasis on increasing coal expansion. However, there is a silver lining - he’s all in on solar . With a freshly minted pledge to bring solar power to all 400 million Indians living in the dark, Modi has elevated solar to the prime time - and made an important break with the fossil fuel status quo that the international community will do well to watch.
However, the first and most important thing to realize about Modi’s pledge to bring power for all is that it’s nothing new. Prime minister after prime minister have promised complete energy access since India’s independence in 1947, and all have failed miserably. That’s why there are roughly 80 million households still without power. Yet, Modi’s pledge is different in one important way - the type of energy he has chosen for the job.
Rather than relying on ineffective, expensive, and slow centralized grid extension, Modi has chosen the most appropriate power source for this job - distributed solar. Of course, breaking with the past failure of fossil fuels by no means ensures future success. But what Modi is promising is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. So, just how ambitious is this promise, and can Modi really deliver? To answer those questions, we need look no further than neighboring Bangladesh - a hot bed for off-grid solar installations.
Bangladesh is home to a whopping 2.8 million off-grid solar home systems, and every single month, the country pumps out 80,000 new installations. That’s thanks to the wildly successful Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) program, a model India would be wise to replicate. IDCOL has led to surging 60.86 percent compound annual growth rates (CAGR) over the past decade, increasing the number of solar home systems installed from 25,000 in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013. That’s a CAGR investors here in the U.S. would drool over.
Let’s compare that growth to what Modi needs in order to deliver on his pledge. According to the 2011 Indian census, there were approximately one million households using solar. In order to increase from that small base of one million to total access for 80 million people in five years, Modi needs to increase the solar sector at a 71.07 percent CAGR. While that seems like a steep demand, judging by Bangladesh’s success, it is eminently doable. Especially if you compare it to the 95 percent growth rates the World Bank’s Lighting Africa program has clocked for sub-Saharan Africa.
In sum, Modi’s goal is not only achievable, it’s already working in both Bangladesh and Africa. If he is able to stay on track, every Indian household may be seeing a brighter solar future very soon.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
As dire warnings from climate scientists continue to escalate and what were once rare extreme weather events become increasingly common, we at the Sierra Club applaud today's announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency outlining its proposed protections from dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants. These standards won't just take a big bite out of climate disruption, they’ll also help us tackle other serious power plant pollution that threatens our health, air and water - pollutants including soot, smog, and mercury.
I've been thinking about this news all weekend, and I keep coming back to one thing - this new standard gives my daughter, and all today's kids, a fighting chance at a safe and promising future. We are the last generation of people who have the chance to turn the corner on climate disruption. I want my daughter and all kids to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water, to enjoy snow days and fishing trips. I don't want them to face more massive wildfires, droughts, superstorms, food insecurity, breakdowns in infrastructure, and all the other unthinkable outcomes that our climate crisis could bring. As parents, we all want a better life for our children, and we now have to stand together to deliver that for them.
For decades, dirty power plants have been allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air, making them our single biggest source of the pollution that's pushing our climate to the brink. Right now air pollution is making our children sick and costing us billions of dollars every year. Some dirty and desperate polluting companies would like to keep it that way, which is why they're spending big to try and stop these standards from getting across the finish line. We need to join together and make our voices heard in support of these new standards, which you can do right here.
These costs -- to our health and our wallets -- will only grow unless we act. Climate and weather disasters cost the US $100 billion in 2012 alone, according to the EPA, the second most expensive year in US history for natural disasters.
Curbing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants will save billions of dollars (up to $93 billion, to be exact) - but more than that, it will save lives. The new standard is poised to prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children. EPA's new safeguards will also spur innovation and accelerate the clean energy economy to create good American jobs.
That's why the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters stand with President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's in their action to cut harmful carbon pollution. We’ll do everything we can to ensure a strong and just standard to save lives, boost the clean energy economy, and help American families thrive.
I’ll write more in the coming days about the specifics of the standard, and how far it goes in moving the needle on climate change and air pollution. But big polluters are wasting no time in trying to stop these standards in their tracks, so let's join together today and make one thing crystal clear - Americans want to turn the corner on climate disruption, we want safe air and water for our kids, and we want action now!
I encourage you to contact your governor and other elected officials. Urge them to support EPA's carbon pollution standards for power plants and put strong state plans in place to implement the standards, to give our kids a fighting chance and a safe and promising future.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
When I was a law student working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the ‘80s, we sued a company that had been polluting a Maine river for years. Back then, EPA calculated penalties based on theamount of money a polluter saved by ignoring the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The idea was to take away the economic benefit of pollution so that companies would make out better by installing treatment systems than by imposing their toxic waste on the community.
Not surprisingly, the company’s lawyers tried to prevent their client from having to pay a penalty for all those years it had been dumping pollution into the river. But their reasoning was interesting. Faced with the lawsuit, the company overhauled its industrial process and eliminated most of its waste products, which turned out to be a money-saving move. Thus, said the lawyers, the company hadn't gained any competitive advantage by polluting the river; it had actually lost money doing so. Really, they'd have made a lot more money if we'd forced them to clean up their act sooner.
Needless to say, the argument didn't fly, and the company paid a fine. But its experience turns out to have been a common one. When it comes to environmental regulation, industry screams that the sky is falling, but then it gets to work to solve the problem, and frequently ends up stronger than ever.
This is one reason to be skeptical of ad campaigns from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association trying to convince the public that the EPA's new standards on carbon pollution from power plants, to be announced on June 2, will destroy the American economy. They’ve cried wolf so many times they have lost all credibility.
And in case you are of a generous nature and inclined to forgive previous false alarms, it’s worth noting that the National Mining Association campaign earned the maximum four Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact-checker—meaning, it’s a pack of lies. The EPA has been scarcely kinder in its analysis of the Chamber’s campaign, and the economist Paul Krugman says the Chamber’s own numbers actually prove compliance with the carbon rule will be cheap.
The fact is, there is little reason to fear the economy will suffer by cleaning up carbon pollution and transitioning to clean energy. To the contrary, we have already paid dearly for lack of pollution protections in the form of rising health care costs for asthma and heart disease, in premature deaths, and in babies born with neurological damage from mercury in their mothers’ bodies.
All the while, other energy industries are growing and flourishing. The breathtaking pace of advances in wind, solar and battery technologies make it clear that the age of fossil fuels will end in this century. There will be winners and losers, as there always are in a free market, but the new energy economy offers so many opportunities for American companies and workers that one wishes the fear-mongers at the Chamber and the NMA would stretch their necks out of their bunker far enough to see the horizon.
As for society in general, we have seldom seen a limit on pollution that didn’t make us collectively better off, and carbon protections will be no exception. It is always easier and cheaper to stop pollution at its source than to clean it up later or pay for the damage. That will be true here in spades, where the damage includes hotter summers, more crop losses, more disease, more destructive storms, and whole communities swamped by rising sea levels. These are already happening, and they affect both our health and our wallets.
-- Sierra Club Virginia Volunteer Leader Ivy Main
Kathy Mohr-Almeida and her daughter Anna (pictured at the right) - along with millions of others in Arizona and surrounding states - could breathe a little easier if the Environmental Protection Agency steps up to enforce the Clean Air Act protections for Navajo Generating Station, one of the biggest polluters in Arizona.
Kathy and Anna are superstar volunteers for Arizona Beyond Coal who are working to transition Arizona away from the Navajo Generating Station coal plant (NGS) and replace it with clean energy. The 2,250-megawatt NGS, near Page, Arizona, is the largest and dirtiest coal plant in the state. Today Kathy and Anna joined a crowd of parents marching and delivering more than 10,000 petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency office in Tempe demanding strong clean air protections at NGS.
"People who live near NGS are suffering from health concerns - the families on the Navajo reservation are sick because of the coal plant's pollution," says Kathy, a mental health counselor in Phoenix. "Many of the people with breathing problems are kids."
The EPA is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to enforce the Clean Air Act at NGS and require reduced pollution through the retrofit technology. The Clean Air Task Force estimates that pollution from Navajo Generating Station contributes to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year, with total annual health costs of more than $127 million.
"The plant also has a negative impact on the Grand Canyon," says Kathy, referring to the pollution haze that clouds the Grand Canyon many days. "These places draw people to the northern part of the state, which economically benefits the entire state. If the air is too dirty to enjoy the most spectacular site on Earth, how long will people continue to visit?"
Kathy's daughter Anna sees the realities of bad air quality around her every day.
"Many of our family members have breathing difficulties," says 11-year-old Anna. "My cousin, Ricky, has been hospitalized for breathing difficulties, and my dad also has difficulty breathing when the air is dirty. Six kids in my class suffer from breathing problems, which get worse when the air is dirty."
The fight to clean up NGS for Kathy and Anna is also about the huge amount of climate pollution the plant spews into the atmosphere.
"Climate change is the biggest concern human beings currently face," says Kathy. "All other issues pale in comparison to mitigating the impact of human activity on the environment now."
Kathy also became an activist because of her daughter. "I cannot imagine looking Anna in the eye down the road and telling her I did nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Mitigating the negative impact of human activity on the climate is a very important value in our home - more important than personal goals."
Anna has been so inspired that she's started a nonprofit environmental organization called Kids Climate Action Network (Kids CAN!), to empower the youth voice in the climate change conversation. Her mom says Anna is working with renowned climate scientists, community leaders, and others on climate and clean air issues. Anna will also be attending the Sierra Student Coalition summer training program in July.
You can hear the pride in Kathy's voice when she talks about her daughter. "(Anna's) organization is by kids for kids, and her website includes a video forum for kids from around the world to share ideas, activities, and action steps."
Anna's crusade for climate action and clean air has had her testifying at numerous public hearings and speaking at rallies. Her passion is contagious.
"Young people should care about having clean air and a stable climate now because we - my generation - will be most harmed by the poor choices adults have made," says Anna. "I think burning a fossil fuel like coal is like having a cancer, because the problem continues to get worse and worse without any help. We are ready for a serious treatment to stop climate change. The longer we put off taking our medicine, the worse the fossil-fuel-caused cancer will get. We are already very seriously sick."
This is why the solution for Arizona (and beyond!) is clean energy. Activists working to clean up and transition NGS are big advocates for solar and wind power - and we're with them every step of the way.
If you're in Arizona, you can help by taking action here.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign
Last night the Louisiana House approved a bill that retroactively kills a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Agency-East against 97 oil and gas companies for the industry's pollution and damage to the state's wetlands.
As Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley put it, "this ends our latest effort to restore Louisiana's democracy and take down the Exxon flag flying from our Capitol building."
Malek-Wiley and so many other Louisiana residents and activists are floored by this political move - and they're tired of Big Oil running the state's politics.
It turns out that is sound advice for off-grid solar companies as well. In just the past four months, the off-grid solar market has seen a $45 million wave of new investment largely outside traditional venture capital players. From high profile institutions like SolarCity and Bloomberg Philanthropies, savvy investors are enjoying the pick of the litter thanks to a space literally exploding with cash-starved companies. With a new investment from Khosla Impact, SunFunder is not only joining the fray, it’s planting a flag for perhaps the most important financial innovation to date: venture debt.
SunFunder is based in San Francisco and Tanzania and seeks to unlock capital for emerging market solar. With a goal of catalyzing over $1 billion for financing solar companies and projects in emerging markets by 2020, SunFunder has its work cut out for it.
Ambitious as this goal is, SunFunder is led by seasoned solar finance veteran Ryan Levinson who cut his financial teeth as the vice president for Wells Fargo’s environmental finance division and oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in solar finance deals. If there is anyone who can bridge the world of big finance and off-grid solar, it’s Levinson and his team.
That team began by raising capital through a crowdfunding platform with incredible success. In less than two years, they have financed 24 project loans with 10 solar companies in six different countries. This has already helped over 115,000 people gain access to affordable solar energy. On top of all that, they’ve done it with a 100 percent repayment rate.
While it was this rapidly growing crowdfunding platform that first got us excited -- and taught us four simple lessons about the value of crowdfunding and the off-grid solar market -- it’s SunFunder’s evolution toward more sophisticated financial offerings that could be truly revolutionary. Their progress has allowed them to bridge the institutional investing world and the off-grid market by providing the last piece of the finance puzzle: $20 million in venture debt by 2015.
SunFunder’s empowerment fund provides that debt by tapping into the large pools of capital sitting with accredited and institutional investors. The empowerment fund serves as a private debt offering for these investors who seek exposure to a diversified, vetted, and high-impact portfolio of solar projects in emerging markets. SunFunder has already raised and deployed $250,000 through its first offering. Now they are opening a new solar empowerment fund and have already raised $1 million with a goal to close $5 million by the end of the year and $20 million by 2015.
All told, SunFunder offers two types of important capital: “Catalytic” First Loss Capital and Senior Capital.
Catalytic Capital is a subordinate debt that assumes slightly higher risk of default in return for a slightly higher return. This capital helps unlock senior debt and is perhaps most attractive to foundations and others willing to take higher risk for social return. Though with 100 percent repayment rates, the risk is clearly perceived, not real.
Senior Capital is protected by the First Loss Capital and offers a lower risk investment opportunity that appeals to a larger audience of investors.
Combined, these new offerings demonstrate SunFunder’s ability to bring sophisticated off-grid solar offerings to institutional investors. Bridging the worlds of big money and small solar could finally unlock solar for all. This fortuitously aligns with India’s new Prime Minister's goal of providing solar for all 400 million Indians lacking power. Unsurprisingly, the company’s new investment from Khosla Impact will help increase the focus on investment growth in India.
All said and done, SunFunder’s investment marks a milestone in the rapidly expanding off-grid solar market. This market is maturing rapidly, but companies like SunFunder are just beginning to scratch the surface. The opportunities that will be created by the off-grid solar market hold the promise of addressing both climate disruption and energy poverty by disrupting the systems that produce them and replacing them with equitable outcomes for people and the environment.
The smart money is on SunFunder, and the hundreds of off-grid solar companies it seeks to bankroll, to do just that.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Pennsylvanians (and folks from around the country) will be out enjoying themselves on some of our state's 2.2 million acres of public forests and parks. Yet Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has just issued an executive order that paves the way to expanding fracking in those same state forests and parks. It is a shockingly shortsighted and dangerous move.
The governor, in an Orwellian stroke, has portrayed this order as offering some kind of protection for state forests and parks. In fact, it's a Memorial Day gift to the fracking industry. This is not, as some have reported, a kind of new moratorium on drilling; the order will actually expand fracking in and around our state forests and parks. Thousands of acres of public lands are at risk of being industrialized, including critically important headwaters, forests, and landscapes.
This move is a mistake for the governor and a disaster for the forests.
Pennsylvania's forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife and offer important recreational opportunities for millions of people yearly. They are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. These landscapes are essential to the character and biodiversity of Pennsylvania, and they are the rightful heritage of generations of future Pennsylvanians. But here we are, the day before a holiday weekend, and Governor Corbett wants to sell these public lands to the highest bidders.
That is not executive leadership. Rather, today's action by the governor is wildly irresponsible and a blow to countless generations of future Pennsylvanians who might otherwise one day enjoy these public lands. On June 17, the Sierra Club, along with our allies, will be rallying at noon at the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to tell Governor Corbett that we don't accept his plan. We'd love to see you cast a vote with your feet and join us.
-- Robert Gardner, campaign representative, Beyond Natural Gas, Pennsylvania