Clean Energy Victory Bonds Gaining Momentum

Building on growing bipartisan momentum, Green America, the nation’s leading green economy organization, will continue to promote Clean Energy Victory Bonds in Congress. An amendment to the Senate Energy Bill (S. 2012) proposed by Senator Udall (D-N.M.) that would advance Clean Energy Victory Bonds did not achieve 60 votes as needed, but did receive growing bipartisan support yesterday in a vote of 50-47.  A separate Clean Energy Victory Bonds bill was introduced in the House in 2015 by Representatives Matsui and Lofgren and is supported by a growing list of sponsors.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds would allow all Americans to invest as little as $25 in Treasury Bonds and raise $50 billion to advance the clean energy economy nationwide.  Tens of thousands of Americans and over one hundred businesses and organizations support the passage of the bonds.

“Clean Energy Victory Bonds will allow all Americans an opportunity to invest through Treasury Bonds in a clean energy economy powered by solar and wind,” said Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Consumer and Corporate Engagement Todd Larsen. “We get frequent calls from consumers asking us when they can invest in Clean Energy Victory Bonds, and as public interest continues to grow, we know that Congress will respond and authorize the bonds.”

“The U.S. needs to grow the clean energy economy in order to remain competitive,” says Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Business, Investing, and Policy Fran Teplitz. “The clean energy economy fueled by Clean Energy Victory Bonds will provide over one million well-paying jobs, and provide a significant boost for businesses nationwide, keeping the U.S. a leader in clean energy worldwide.”

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis. Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough. The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.

The news from Paris this weekend was huge.  Nearly 200 countries agreed to take action on climate to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or an even more aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.  The deal has many positive aspects. Nations will be transparent about their emissions reductions, and that transparency should help to shame laggards.  Rich countries are pledging $100 billion per year in assistance to poorer nations.

Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough.  The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.  That is why climate scientist James Hansen has ridiculed the agreement for being insufficient to address the problem at the scale that’s needed. And, developing and poor nations are justifiably concerned that assistance from rich countries will not be enough and isn’t even guaranteed.

Of course, the flaws in the agreement reflect the political realities of the major polluter nations, particularly that of the United States.  The U.S. Congress is under the control of politicians who still question whether climate science is real, favor lavish subsidies for fossil fuels, and fail to adequately support renewable energy development.  As a result, the Obama Administration had to negotiate a deal that did not need Senate approval, and the Paris Accord, with all its strengths and weaknesses, fits the bill.

Since the goals of the Paris Accord are aspirational, it is up to citizens and progressive business leaders worldwide to push for strong measures in their countries to move to a clean energy economy.  This transition needs to protect human rights alongside environmental priorities. An important place to start the transition process is eliminating the vast subsidies for fossil fuels.  Worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels represent an astonishing $10 million per minute, or over $5 trillion per year.  These subsidies are distorting energy markets worldwide, making highly polluting fuels appear to be “cheap,” when they actually have huge environmental and health costs that will be borne by citizens for generations. And, compare subsidies for fossil fuels with those for clean energy – currently only $120 billion per year worldwide. Fossil fuel subsidies are an incredible 125 times greater than clean energy ones.  Despite these imbalances, clean energy is developing quickly around the world, but if there were a level playing field, it would increase even more rapidly, and at the rate we need to address climate emissions.

Here in the U.S., government incentives for clean energy are expiring and failing to be renewed, while fossil fuel subsidies that have been locked in for decades continue without any opportunity for public debate.  Green America is working to correct this issue by promoting Clean Energy Victory Bonds, legislation that would provide $50 billion in dedicated Treasury bonds that support only clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the U.S. This legislation would create over one million good paying jobs in the U.S., and help accelerate wind, solar, and energy efficiency installations across the country. As we work to pass Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green Americans can take action with us to divest their money from climate polluters and invest in clean energy solutions instead.

It is also essential that the citizens of wealthy countries assist poor countries in adopting clean energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.  It is only fair that the countries that have benefited from over 100 years of unrestricted carbon emissions that helped generate tremendous wealth, agree to help developing countries build their economies with low-carbon technologies.  It is also in the interest of rich countries to do so for their own sake.  For example, if climate change continues on its current path, the United States could experience sea level rises of 10 feet on its East Coast, destroying the homes and businesses of millions of people.

Climate change demonstrates clearly that we are all in this together, and that there is no place for privileging one nation above others.  As the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. has a special obligation to be a leader, creating a future for its own citizens and people worldwide.  We can all play a role, as consumers, investors, business owners, and voters to ensure that the U.S. is the leader we need it to be.

Solar Industry Continues to Grow Faster than Anyone Imagined

Growth in the solar industry continues to surprise even the most optimistic supporters of the technology. In a world still dominated by fossil fuels, clean energy advocates have had a hard time describing the litany of benefits of a power source that doesn’t involve the combustion of hydrocarbons and the release of greenhouse gases. But now, according to a new report from Deutsche Bank, getting your electricity from the sun seems to be catching on across the world. The bank predicts that solar will reach grid parity with other sources of electricity in all 50 states by 2050.

What is grid parity, you might ask? It occurs when the price of an alternative source of power is equal to or less than the price of electricity from the traditional utility grid. In 10 states, the price of powering your home with rooftop solar panels is already lower than the price of grid electricity. With the 30% investment tax credit (see below) currently in place, it is estimated that 47 states will reach grid parity by 2016. Even if the tax credit were reduced to a level of 10%, Bloomberg predicts that by 2016, at least 36 states will have reached grid parity for solar.

(Credit: EIA, GWEC, Deutsche Bank Estimates)
(Credit: EIA, GWEC, Deutsche Bank Estimates) Click to Enlarge.

The investment tax credit for solar (ITC) plays a large roll in the plummeting costs of acquiring customers, financing and installing residential and commercial solar systems. The government offers a 30% credit for residential and commercial solar systems. Since the credit began in 2006, annual solar installation has grown by over 1,600%. The ITC is slated to drop to 10% in 2016, and is an important driver of the growth and cost reductions solar has enjoyed over the past decade. Though the clock is ticking for the ITC, Deutsche posits that the cost of financing will fall from 7-9% to 5.4% in 2015. It is unclear whether or not an expiration of the ITC will lead to a reversal of the recent growth observed. A ten-year extension of the credit at 30% would all but guarantee that the solar industry will continue its upward trend.

As fossil energy becomes more expensive relative to alternative sources and more people turn to the possibility of producing energy from the sun, new sources of mainstream funding should begin to find the solar industry. The fragmented, latticed network of installers, financiers and producers will begin to consolidate and drive growth even further. According to the International Energy Agency, more than half of the electricity generated in 2050 will likely come from solar. China represents the largest market for the growing solar industry, with the US coming in second. Other emerging markets such as India are stepping up with plans to invest heavily in solar energy in the coming years as well.

Falling oil prices are stirring concern that clean energy advancement is at risk, but oil is not a major generator of electricity and does not directly compete with solar power. Recent growth in the solar industry is unprecedented and does not appear to be at risk of slowing down in the near-term.

The transition to a solar-dominant electricity landscape is good news for the climate-minded. There are obvious emissions involved with the production, transport, and installation of panels, but the fact remains that solar represents a technology and not a fuel. Once in operation, a rooftop equipped with solar panels will produce emission-free electricity for its entire lifetime. The climate benefits of solar energy can only go as far as the industry can, and now is the right time to show your support. The Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act, sponsored in part by Green America, seeks to extend the ITC, along with several other key tax credits for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency updates for a ten-year period so that clean technologies can continue to compete and grow in the global energy marketplace. To learn more, please visit. www.cleanenergyvictorybonds.org.

Update – US Banks Still Investing Heavily in Coal

Banktrack.org released an updated review of various financial institutions’ holdings in dirty coal energy. Green America promoted a scorecard earlier this year outlining the banks that were the strongest supporters of coal extraction and electricity production. The lowest marks went to Wells Fargo (D+), Bank of America (D-), Citi (F) and Chase (F). Of course, each of these banks has committed to reduce the carbon impact of its investing and to increase investment in clean energy, but that has not weakened their support of coal. Based on Banktrack.org’s latest data, not much progress has been made.

CoalJP Morgan Chase (scoring the lowest among the coal-loving US banks) remains one of the largest offenders, providing $27 billion in coal financing from 2005 to 2014. Other American institutions, including Citi, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo are also featured in the top 20, securing the USA’s spot as one of the largest financers of the global coal industry. The USA contributed 23% of global coal financing between 2011 and 2013, second only to China’s 28%.

You can read all about the methodology used in the report here to get an idea of just how pervasive coal power is in the financial world. Coal is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to humans, and has been the fast growing energy source worldwide over each of the past ten years. The international Energy Agency asserts that 44% of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels come from coal, about 7.9 billion tons annually.

For an example of the destructive nature of the coal industry, we need not look further than the Appalachian Mountains, running from New England to the Southeast. Every financial institution mentioned by the report has a stake in coal mining operations in Appalachia, where mountaintop removal is the preferred method of production. Ancient mountains and the ecosystems they harbor are systematically blasted and carved away to access the coal below the surface. Mountaintop removal threatens not only the wildlife and ecosystem services endemic to this region, but the surrounding communities and the global climate as well. Similar destruction is happening worldwide, and accelerates as the demand for energy grows.

Without a way to viably and effectively provide energy to billions in the developing world, coal and its enormous associated emissions will remain the primary source and continue to grow globally with the help of large financial institutions. Even as the US and China have entered into an historic agreement on climate, they are both still financing coal overall. As a consumer of financial services, however, you have the opportunity to let these megabanks know that you reject their support of dirty energy. By Breaking Up with your Megabank, you can leave the coal financiers behind and support a local financial institution that works to serve communities and the environment.

US and China Set Climate Goals Together

http://mrg.bz/3auKnaBig news comes from Beijing last week, where Chinese President Xi Jinpeng and US President Barack Obama publicly announced an agreement of intention to collaborate in reducing global carbon emissions by 2030. The two leaders struck the deal amidst broader economic negotiations, in which the US will plan to emit 26-28% less CO2 in 2025 than it did in 2005. In turn, China will plan to stop further growth of their emissions by 2030. President Xi also announced the goal to have solar and wind comprise 20% of china’s power supply by 2030.

The two nations are the largest single emitters of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas mostly responsible for changes in the climate. To reach the globally agreed upon safe limit of 2o Celsius average temperature increase before the end of the century, total annual emissions should stay below the threshold of 30 billion tons by 2030. Even if the US and China adhere to the goals outlined in the recent deal, they will have already emitted more than half of this amount (about 16 billion tons).

The remaining 14 billion tons per year will need to be split amongst the rest of the world, including the developed nations of the European Union and rapidly growing economies like India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Fossil fuels remain a key driver of growth in developing countries, and the agreement between the two largest producers of carbon pollution seeks to set the precedent of taking climate change seriously.

Carbon emissions reduction is well within reach of the two largest polluters. According to the Washington Post, “to meet its target, the United States will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2025.” China’s prescription is a bit different. The country “must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the United States.”

Social Media Response to the deal has carried an excited tone from climate activists all over the globe. The deal is lauded by environmentalists as a significant step towards a global climate agreement. Green America sees the agreement as an historic step forward, especially due to China’s proactive embrace of carbon reductions. The goals set out in the agreement, however, could certainly be more robust and achieve greater reductions by 2030.

It is important to remember that the agreement between the two countries is not binding, but a statement of intention to continue addressing carbon emissions and climate change in a serious manner. The US has already taken ambitions measures to confront the problem of carbon pollution, most notably through the EPA regulations of new and existing power plants proposed earlier this year. A newly Republican-controlled Congress will likely attempt to halt or otherwise impede efforts to reduce emissions (opponents of carbon emission reductions argued that the US shouldn’t act unless China does as well), but China’s willingness to step up and announce their intentions to work on the task themselves has taken considerable steam from their arguments. The deal has the potential to create an international momentum that could truly shift the global understanding of the climate crisis. As more major players consider their impact on the environment, downplaying or outright denying the impacts to natural and economic systems becomes a politically undesirable move.

Indeed, the way we power the modern world needs to change in profound ways, and the US-China deal is a powerful first step. It takes a collective effort to make a difference, and as Americans we can continue to urge our leaders to support policies that advance the production and implementation of renewable energy sources as well as tighter regulations for sources that pollute.

Now is the time to rapidly accelerate clean energy and energy efficiency technologies in the US. We’re calling on you to urge your representatives to cosponsor the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014, a bill that seeks to provide up to $50 billion new financing mechanisms for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies in the US, while giving every American a safe investment. And support the re-introduction of this legislation in the new Congress in January.

President Obama clears the air on Keystone XL

KXL

 

For many months, it’s been hard to determine the President’s exact position on the Keystone XL pipeline.  The President has frequently said that he is relying on the State Department’s review of the pipeline in order for the Secretary of State to decide whether to approve or reject it, and that review has been delayed several times.

However, with the House of Representatives’ vote today in favor of the Keystone XL, the President made his clearest statement yet on the pipeline, and it was breath of fresh air.  According to the Washington Post:

In a news conference Friday in Burma, the president rejected two of the most frequent arguments the project’s proponents have made on its behalf, saying he had “to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices.”

“It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold to everyone else,” he said. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

These are two of the most potent critiques of the pipeline, and are completely based in fact.  Analysis from Cornell Global Labor Institute demonstrates that the Keystone XL will only produce 35 permanent jobs.  No one disputes that oil produced by the Keystone XL is destined for boats that will take if overseas. The Keystone XL will provide no benefit for average Americans or the American economy as a whole. The statements likely mean that President Obama will veto any legislation requiring that the US move forward with the Keystone XL.

The President could have gone even further and noted that the Keystone XL will also expand tar sands production, a technology that has devastating local impacts and huge climate impacts. He has said that his administration will reject Keystone if it will “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” which it certainly will do. In light of the historic US-China agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the US needs to invest in rapidly escalating clean energy, not projects that increase carbon intensive energy worldwide.

Hopefully, the next announcement on climate from President Obama will be about scaling up clean energy in the US.  Here at Green America, we’d recommend that the President get behind Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which will allow all Americans to safely invest in the clean energy economy, and provide $50 billion for solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Exxon Feels the Heat and Responds to the Divestment Movement  

The global fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining a lot of steam over the past year, enough to elicit a response from one of the largest oil companies in the world – ExxonMobil. In a blog posted to their website, the oil giant attempted to explain why the continued use of oil, gas, and coal to power our economies is the only viable way forward, while dismissing both the potential of renewable sources of energy and the costs imposed by a changing climate. The reality is that fossil fuels still provide the lion’s share of the global energy supply, but the assertion that it has to be this way couldn’t be farther from the truth.

WindSolarIn the blog post, Exxon outlines their case for fossil fuels, stating “divestment represents a diversion from the real search for technological solutions to managing climate risks.” Exxon’s idea of a technological solution to managing a climate risk, of course, is the natural gas boom currently underway in the United States. In addition to creating plenty of jobs along the supply chain and accounting for a sizeable chunk of the nation’s GDP, natural gas is supposedly responsible for the return to 1990’s emissions levels that the US has experienced over the past few years. Even ignoring the obvious environmental risks to soil, air, and groundwater associated with natural gas production, fugitive methane emissions from drilling sites are often understated and likely have a greater impact on climate change than fossil fuel advocates would like to believe. And, now that the US economy has started to gain ground, tracked greenhouse gas emissions are rising rapidly.

Exxon’s other main argument is that “A moral imperative exists – for policymakers as well as large energy companies – and it is to seek economic ways to expand the use of modern energy sources to the billions of people around the world currently living without them.” Certainly, access to electricity for cooking, heating, and pumping clean water is one of the key factors in reducing widespread poverty. The post cites an IEA study that projects renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal will account for only 15% of energy production by 2035, leaving the fossil fuel industry to pick up the slack for the other 85%. What the post fails to mention, however, is that the study did not consider policy changes in support of renewables over this time period. Other studies indicate that renewables in developing nations are poised to grow much faster than in countries with established fossil fuel energy infrastructure. With the correct policies in place, it will be cheaper and faster for developing countries to implement renewable technologies that provide the electricity they need while minimizing environmental damage.

The main problem with Exxon’s argument is that while they claim to be helping and protecting the least advantaged in impoverished nations, the very nature of their business is causing harm. The developing world is often environmentally ravaged by fossil fuel production, which generates massive economic and political corruption. Developing countries will also have to increasingly devote resources to damages from climate-change related issues, like coastal flooding or droughts. In the absence of severe climate-related damages, developing countries could focus on education, healthcare, or building new infrastructure. In a future where the climate implications of continued fossil fuel use are ignored, these countries will bear the highest costs.

It’s easy to understand why Exxon is pushing back against the growing divestment movement. To date, over 181 institutions and local governments, and 656 individuals have pledged to divest over $50 billion from fossil fuels. This number is not nearly enough to halt production of fossil fuels in the years to come. That is not the intention of the divestment movement. Divestment is not about suddenly severing the world from the availability of fossil fuels; it’s about putting pressure on oil and gas companies to adopt better practices, treat developing nations and their natural environments with more respect, and devising and executing a plan to move the world and the way it consumes energy forward while confronting the reality that Exxon and its competitors’ products put the global climate at serious risk.

Clearly, the fossil fuel divestment movement has caught Exxon’s attention. We need to build pressure – both from individuals and institutions. To learn more about fossil Fuel divestment and how you can invest your money towards a greener world, visit http://www.greenamerica.org/fossilfree/.