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Showing posts with the label energy efficiency

Clean Power Plan Requires Grassroots Polishing

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The Environmental Protection Agency this week rolled out a Federal rule - known as the Clean Power Plan - that is designed to reduce toxic emissions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan is a necessary top-down step to cut fossil fuels and toxic emissions, especially in states where policymakers are climate deniers and shills for the coal industry.

But let's be honest - the easiest path for most states to achieve the relatively weak targets set by the Clean Power Plan will be profitable for most utility companies and power plant owners, and destructive to wildlands and wildlife.  And the states that have the most work to do on emissions reductions are the ones least likely to prioritize sustainability or local ownership in how they respond to the plan.

As the President said of the Clean Power Plan, "this is our moment to leave something better for our kids...let's make the most of it."  We have more work to do to ensure that the Clean Power Plan unleashes sustaina…

California Does Not Need More Fossil Fuels

The California Public Utilities Commission is considerng whether to offset the loss of the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant with new natural gas power plants.  San Onofre's twin reactors generated over 2,250 megawatts of electricity.  We will need to take affirmative steps to offset the loss of that generating capacity, but we should find the most sustainable way to fill this gap without creating more environmental problems. 

As the Sierra Club notes, replacing San Onofre with natural gas plants is unnecessary because energy forecasts for California indicate that roughly half of San Onofre's generating capacity will be offset with energy efficiency gains; we can fill the rest of the gap with improvements in transmission or added rooftop solar capacity in the Los Angeles basin.  Consider that solar panels on California rooftops already generate over 1,880 megawatts of  clean energy.  Instead of wasting ratepayer money on new fossil fuel plants that will pollute our commu…

Solar Decathlon Where It Belongs

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The Solar Decathlon is being held in California at long last.  The competition was first held in 2002, and features homes powered by rooftop solar panels, and built by teams from across the country and overseas competing to be the most sustainable in various categories.  The overall winning team must design and build a home that meets the following general criteria:

Is affordable, attractive, and easy to live inMaintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditionsSupplies energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainmentProvides adequate hot waterProduces as much or more energy than it consumes. Consider the "DesertSol" entry designed and built by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).  The DeserSol house uses a solar thermal system to heat water and the home itself, photovoltaic panels to supply energy, and advanced engineering that reduces framing materials by nearly 20%.  The entry will be on display at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve …

Demanding Sustainable Clean Energy in Nevada

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Industry leaders, government officials, and environmentalists gathered today in Las Vegas at the National Clean Energy Summit to discuss policy and business developments affecting the renewable energy industry.  The Sierra Club's national office used the occasion of the Clean Energy Summit to celebrate K Road's Moapa solar project, which will destroy three square miles of intact desert habitat located over thirty miles from the energy guzzling Las Vegas strip.   In a Facebook posting earlier this evening, the Sierra Club thanked its followers for supporting the "large solar farm" outside the city, featuring a photo of Sierra Club members rallying in front of the desert lands that are destined for the bulldozer.   The Sierra Club could have celebrated plans to close the dirty Reid Gardner coal plant, and the announcement of one of the largest rooftop solar projects in the world planned for a Las Vegas resort.
It is sad when a government official is quicker to promote s…

How Much More Transmission Do We Need?

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All of the transmission cables you see strung across the western United States and Canada could wrap around the Earth four and a half times.   New Federal policies and a utility industry emphasis on connecting cities to some of the most destructive energy projects on remote wildlands has resulted in plans to add up to seven thousand circuit miles of new transmission lines in the west, alone, including several new lines in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  The White House's latest directive on transmission seeks to institute a fast-track approval system for these lines, ostensibly to reach renewable energy projects, but fails to establish an institutional incentive for the energy industry to invest in efficiency or distributed generation as a less costly alternative to new transmission and remote power plants.

Abusive RelationshipThe transmission system is complex, and we will be mostly dependent on a healthy grid for quite some time, even under an ideal scenario with aggressive dep…

How To Avoid An Ecological Disaster While Solving Another

President Obama announced today his administration's Climate Action Plan, which includes a long overdue directive to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, calls for improving vehicle fuel economy standards,  and raising the bar for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.  All of these are urgent and smart ways to fix our destructive energy paradigm.  In a surprisingly positive shift,  the President also signaled that he may not approve the Keystone oil pipeline if it results in a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the President also outlined plans for continued utility-scale renewable energy expansion; these plans must be reconciled with his administration's unfortunately overlooked effort to protect wildlands and wildlife. The Climate Action Plan only vaguely refers to the fairly comprehensive National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy released by the …

Wolves, Watts and Washington

The past few weeks have brought a depressing onslaught of "more of the same" from Washington, but I will start with a couple nice morsels of good news.  A new report from GTM Research provides some relief in the form of good news on distributed generation.   I'll give you a gist of the research - in the first three months of 2013, the United States added over 405 MW of solar panels to residential and commercial rooftops.   In addition, many of the utility scale projects completed over the past few months probably were built on already-disturbed lands, judging by the report's description of the general sizes and locations of the installations.   It's nice to know that somehow there is a segment of the energy market that is on a sustainable and clean path, and it makes companies that destroy pristine desert habitat look bad (ahem, like BrightSource Energy, K Road, and Next Era).  The report also reiterates that rooftop solar is going to change the way we do busines…

Nevada Embraces the Bridge, Not the Solution

The Nevada legislature introduced a bill (S.B. 123) that would drastically reduce the state's dependence on coal power plants, but introduce an equal amount of natural gas generation and additional transmission lines that will continue to wreck Nevada's wild landscapes.  The bill proposes to eliminate no less than 800 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity, but requires utility companies to acquire or construct 700 to 800 megawatts of natural gas generation, in addition to 600 megawatts from renewable energy sources.  The bill does not contain specific provisions that would encourage distributed generation,  and offers only meager encouragement for utility companies to improve energy efficiency.

So not only will Nevada continue to draw a large portion of energy from fossil fuels, Nevada's most significant step into renewable energy is almost certain to be guided by utility companies that profit the most when they build destructive infrastructure on public lands, inste…

Solutions at Home

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How often do you find yourself looking outside for solutions to our environmental crises -- Federal regulation, conservation of wildlands, and the greening of industry.  These are all efforts that need to be pursued, but I end up spending so much time reading NEPA analysis or sending in public comments on proposed projects that I may lose sight of what is truly within my power to change.  That is why it was refreshing to learn that the US Green Building Council, and the Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign and San Gorgonio Chapter sponsored a home energy efficiency seminar in Southern California.  The seminar is part of a series that will focus on increasing awareness of efficiency and local clean energy (i.e. rooftop solar) solutions in underserved communities.  I hope to have advanced notice of future seminars in this series, and I will advertise them here on the blog.

In the face of environmental disaster -- particularly energy sources that destroy our wildlands and pollute ou…

Rooftop Solar Reaffirmed

I wrote last weekend about a last minute motion by three Los Angeles City Council members who sought to kill a feed-in-tariff proposed by the city's utility company, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).  I am happy to report that the motion was not approved, and the feed-in-tariff will survive (thanks to the folks who went to the council meeting and spoke up, and for the supportive council members!).  The feed-in-tariff is hopefully one of LADWP's initial steps toward generating more clean energy locally, and relying less on far away power plants that destroy desert wildlands.

Wall Street Eyes Rooftop Revolution
Also this week, a report released by financial services firm UBS made waves.  The company assessed that rooftop solar's growth in Europe is about to boom (keep in mind, Germany alone has already installed thousands of megawatts of rooftop solar). Because the cost of energy from rooftop solar panels is now cheaper than energy from the grid in some Eur…

Cost of Coal

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The Sierra Club launched its Cost of Coal campaign, taking a look at the toll of this fossil fuel on our communities and ecosystems.  One of the videos features Kami Miller, who lives in the northeastern Mojave Desert town of Moapa, Nevada in the shadow of the Reid Gardner Coal plant.  A study by the Sierra Club earlier this year found that energy efficiency investments by the utility company -- NV Energy -- would allow them to shut down all four coal burners at Reid Gardner, and save customers $59 million over 20 years.  Efficiency, distributed generation, and larger solar facilities on already-disturbed land can responsibly and sustainably break our addiction to coal.

Five Reasons to Let the Wind PTC Expire, And Reinvest in Solar and Efficiency

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The Production Tax Credit (PTC) -- a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit for wind energy corporations -- is set to expire at the end of 2012, and a bevy of corporations and environmental organizations are calling on Congress to renew it immediately.  The tax break costs $1 billion dollars a year, which is much smaller than the subsidies Congress is giving to the fossil fuel industry, but has still drawn opposition from Congress and, of course, the fossil fuel industry.

We should oppose the Wind PTC, but for much different reasons than those put forward by its traditional opponents.  The bottom line is that wind energy does not meet even a modest "green" standard, and we should be putting our money to much more sustainable energy generators.  Our energy choices (mistakes?) so far have ensured that we will feel the effects of climate change for hundreds of years -- rushing to deploy a destructive and subpar "bridge" technology will only cost us more in the long r…

Hurricane Sandy's Battle Cry

Are we fighting to save our way of life, or the planet we live on?  Hurricane (and post-tropical cyclone) Sandy left lives, communities, and ecosystems scarred from the Caribbean up through the Ohio Valley.  People are measuring damage in lives lost, boardwalks destroyed, subway stations flooded, and homes without electricity.  The storm is front and center for those warning about the dangers of human-induced climate change -- weather patterns have become more extreme and unpredictable as the planet warms, leading to  frequent "100 year" events -- storms like Hurricane Sandy, the "derecho" wave of thunderstorms that knocked out power to thousands earlier this summer, the unusual rainfall in parts of the southwest, and prolonged "drought" in the Midwest.  Extreme is the new normal.

We are drowning our planet in toxic emissions, taking puffs from fossil fuels every time we turn on a light switch, or turn the key on an internal combustion engine. But are we …