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 business.  “We are on the cusp of a new solar revolution in the U.S., driven by the rapid expansion of distributed generation,” according to Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research.

Here is another dose of good news before I move on to the less satisfying bits of information.  Newly-appointed Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz plans to increase his Department's focus on energy efficiency.  This is good news because we could  reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and a destructive grid if we take advantage of opportunities to make our homes and businesses more efficient, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  The 30 cities with the most potential energy efficiency savings could cut a combined 261,107 gigawatt hours (GWh).  To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of shutting down dozens of dirty fossil fuel plants.  That energy savings is also the equivalent of nearly 241 desert-destroying solar projects like BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar facility, which has already decimated 5.6 square miles of pristine Mojave Desert habitat.

What is frustrating is that the good news we receive is always in small morsels, and we cannot expect policymakers to commit to a more sustainable path.  The framework of econimic growth is deeply rooted in the exploitation of our wildlands.   Public lands and wildlife are a currency traded by our policymakers as a favor to big industry, and we are even reminded of that when the White House talks about clean energy.  A White House official expressed concern during a speech in April that  climate and environmental stability are a priority for the White House, but most of the transcript boasts about how the United States has increased oil and gas production; the bulk of the speech discussed fossil fuels in a proud fashion.  This should signal that newly-appointed Secretary Moniz's interest in energy efficiency is unlikely to be the centerpiece of the Obama administration's energy policy;  instead, fossil fuels are likely to reign supreme for decades to come as Washington helps industry invest billions in exploration and extraction of carbon resources.   The White House official's speech makes it clear that we will be a nation hooked on natural gas once we kick our coal habit.  Not long after the speech,  Washington's "Arctic Strategy" was unveiled, and ironically focuses on taking advantage of melting ice caps to find new places to harvest fossil fuels, instead of seeking ways to limit or ban extraction of oil there.

The past few weeks have also shown that Washington makes its decisions affecting wildlands and wildlife after viewing the problem set through the same distorted political prism through which it views its energy decisions; the same prism that led it to permit the southern half of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and allow wind companies to kill California condors and golden eagles.   We received a jolting reminder this past week when the Department of Interior announced plants to strip the gray wolf of endangered species protection, even as local policies have unleashed hunters and trappers against the animal.  We almost drove these creatures extinct, then invested in their recovery, and now we are about to hunt them down again.

This administration lacks an overarching environmental strategy.  It is sadly reactive to many agendas, without an ability to reconcile conflicting principles.  We can create jobs through more natural gas fracking, and we can clean the air by destroying golden eagles and condors. Wolves are a political inconvenience, not a keystone species that we should seek to restore to our wildlands.   But the most obvious indicator of the White House's neglect for sustainability as an overarching framework is the fact that distributed generation and energy efficiency remains a talking point backed up only by weak Federal action. The Federal Housing Finance Agency continues to block property assessed clean energy (PACE), a financing tool for rooftop solar.  Tax credits mostly benefit big utility companies.  New rules favor big transmission infrastructure and the streamlining of corporate destruction of wildlands. 

Many national environmental groups are as reactive and piecemeal in their approach to sustainability as Washington, and their frameworks tend to favor big industry development.  Some have begun to advocate more vocally for distributed generation and energy efficiency, but their primary communications continue to boast about the production tax credit for a wind industry that builds new projects in the way of golden and bald eagles.  Or they express pride in the White House's desire to build even more transmission lines across the country.  All of this plays into industry's continued control of an energy paradigm that will keep us stuck in the past, with a significant and unhealthy dose of fossil fuels.  It will be a tiresome path, but we will need to keep advocating for energy efficiency and distributed generation as the centerpieces of a broader environmental strategy that prioritizes sustainability of our natural resources.  To do so, we will need others to become more aware of their impacts, and aware of the corporate interests that currently dictate policy priorities and set the status quo.


  1. The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020

    FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:
    Photovoltaics (PV)
    Solar thermal
    Fuel cells
    Tidal and wave power.

    So long as the payment levels are differentiated appropriately, FIT policies can increase development in a number of different technology types over a wide geographic area. At the same time, they can contribute to local job creation and increased clean energy development in a variety of different technology sectors.

    FIT policies are successful around the world, notably in Europe. This suggests that they will continue to grow in importance in the United States, especially as evidence mounts about their effectiveness as framework for promoting renewable energy development and job creation.

    With the worlds carbon levels at 400-410 parts per million and rising, globally emitting over 32 Gigatons of CO2 each year, causing Global Warming and life changing pollution, Renewable Energy will address these issues and start us on the road back to 350 parts per million of carbon, Thank You Bill McKibben

    California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems

    Allowing homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems, is a true capitalistic tool, that will give us the potential to challenge the utility monopolies, democratize energy generation and transform millions of homes and small business into energy generators, during Sandy, Solar homes where not utilized to their full potential, because there was no disconnect and or transfer switch, to turn off incoming grid and start in home Solar power. how comforting it would be, to have mandatory transfer switches on all residential and small business renewable energy installations.

    We don't even take into account the tremendous health cost to us and our planet, when we burn oil, coal, and natural gas, which would make them more expensive than Renewable Energy.

    Since 2000-2001, according to the California Energy Commission, power plants with maximum output totaling about 20,000 megawatts have become operational. An additional 3,900 megawatts are under construction and 4,700 more have been approved and are in pre-construction phases.

    The new plants should boost California's energy independence. The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

    Natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of California's power generated in-state in 2011. Nuclear power from San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 18.3%, large hydropower 18.3%, renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

    We need a National Feed in Tariff, for Renewable Energy, with laws that level the playing field, this petition starts with homeowners in California.

    Japan, Germany, and our state of Hawaii, will pay residents between 21- 52 cents per kilowatt hour, here in California they will pay a commercial FiT in a few counties at 17 cents per kilowatt hour, No Residential FiT and they wont let us oversize our Residential Renewable Energy systems.

    Want to change our Feed in Tariff? Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition ?



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