Solar Energy Is on the Rise – Join the Movement!

Join the solar revolution!

 

Solar Energy Is on the Rise!

The solar energy industry in the United States is exploding! According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the number of solar installations grew by 34% in 2014. Residential installations accounted for a large part of that growth, increasing by 51% from 2013 to 2014. 2015 is growing at even higher rates. SEIA’s research shows that in the first quarter of 2015, the amount of installed solar power in the U.S. grew by 76% as compared to the first quarter in 2014, and the second quarter of 2015 set a new record for residential rooftop solar installations in particular, a category that saw 70 percent year-over-year growth.

 

What Is Driving All the Demand for Solar?

Prices for solar energy systems have fallen over 80% in the last five years alone! When combined with attractive federal and local incentives, the financial benefits of going solar a quite staggering! In many parts of the country, homeowners are enjoying a five to seven year payback on a solar energy system investment – driven by the electricity cost savings and other incentives for solar energy production. To put that into finance terms, that represents a 14% to 20% annual return on your money! Hard to beat! (See how much solar can save you!)

For those who would rather not shell out the cash for a solar system, a bunch of attractive financing solutions have emerged that allow homeowners to go solar with no money down and still enjoy significant financial savings! These financing arrangements – ranging from zero down loans to leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) – make solar much more affordable and have helped over 70% of the nearly 650,000 solar customers to go solar on a budget. (Learn more about solar financing options)

 

Solar Helps the Economy Too!

The increase in demand for solar has also had a very positive impact on our economy by creating jobs! In many cases, these are high paying jobs, including sales, marketing, engineering and management positions. In its most recent survey from 2014, The Solar Foundation (TSF) estimated that the US solar industry employed nearly 175,000 people, over double what it was in 2010! According to Fortune Magazine, the solar industry now employs more people than coal mining! You can help contribute to the solar wave and protect our planet by going solar today!

EPA Speaks Out on Keystone Pipeline  

The Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry roughly 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast in the US, has been one of the most polarizing issues in American politics over the past few years. Environmentalists recognize that the pipeline will do little more than encourage continued tar sands extraction, one of the most carbon-intensive oil production methods on the planet. Supporters of heavy industry see the pipeline as a crucial piece of infrastructure that will create a more robust economy including jobs and increased energy security (although the Keystone would produce very few permanent jobs). President Obama has stated that the future of the pipeline project depends on whether or not it will contribute further to climate change.

Protestors oppose the Keystone Pipeline at a Rally
Protestors oppose the Keystone Pipeline at a Rally in Washington, DC

This week, the EPA weighed in on the State Department’s environmental impact statement, using authority granted by the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The letter sent to the State Department from the EPA outlines their findings that the pipeline would indeed contribute to climate change. The production, transport, and refining processes, and the burning of the final product would result in an additional 1.3 -27.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year. On the high end, that’s equivalent to the GHG emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 7.8 coal-fired power plants. With oil prices currently lower than most economists expected, construction of the pipeline would make it cheaper to transport tar sands oil than the current method of shipping it by rail, and would most likely result in increased tar sands production.

Although Congress has voted many times in attempt to pass the pipeline without presidential authority, the project remains to be approved. The President has vowed to veto any attempt to force the pipeline into construction before environmental assessments were turned in and considered. The EPA’s comments all but confirm that the pipeline will contribute to climate change, in the face of massive skepticism and denial from supporters of the project. The letter may give the president the confidence he needs to stand up to fossil fuel interests and knock down further attempts at its passage. To learn more about the effort to block the construction of the pipeline, click here, here, and here. You can also take action with Green America, urging President Obama to veto the pipeline

Methane Leaks Prompt Calls for Regulation

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” touted by industry as the technological saving grace to our nation’s energy woes, has caused much concern to the environmental community during recent years. Amidst claims that burning natural gas is a less carbon-intensive source of electricity and heat, frackers have had to defend their business against assertions that their activities cause earthquakes, air and water pollution, and contribute to climate change. A recent NASA satellite study of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and Colorado confirms what environmental researchers have long suspected: delinquent methane emitted from over 40,000 gas and oil wells has been accumulating in the atmosphere, where it will remain trapping heat for years to come.

gasThe Delaware-sized methane plume observed in the study floats above the San Juan Basin, trapping 80 times as much heat as CO2 in the atmosphere. Methane, the main component of natural gas, accounts for about 9% of US greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA states that 30% of this methane comes from industry, while the rest enters the atmosphere by ways of agriculture, human-generated waste, and natural sources. Equipment used to produce, store, and transport natural gas, often old and outdated, is dangerously prone to leaks. This study is one of the first to demonstrate the size of the problem.

The problem of methane emissions resulting from gas production isn’t just apparent to the climate-focused. Energy companies are seeing nearly $2 billion worth of their product drift away into the atmosphere, nearly 8 million metric tons per year (enough to power every household in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Despite the large financial incentive to capture this gas and bring it to market, aging infrastructure and poorly regulated implementation and operation of gas production technologies continue to be largely responsible for escaped methane. In many cases, natural gas and oil are located in the same shale formations. When a company drills for oil, they often flare excess methane into the atmosphere, where it will trap significantly more heat than its GHG counterpart, CO2.

While the energy industry claims that it is well aware of its leakage problem and taking measures to install updated equipment aimed at slashing the delinquent natural gas, environmental groups are calling for tighter regulations on oil and gas producers. According to a report by the Clean Air Task Force, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, there are existing technologies that will significantly reduce the gas that escapes from wells across the country. Requiring oil and gas producers to use them, however, has elicited a predictably negative response from the energy industry. According to the Washington Post,

“The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.”

Methane in the atmosphere is a serious climate concern. While there will certainly always be methane in the atmosphere from sources such as volcanoes and livestock (and we can reduce the latter), the additional emissions from our fossil fuel industries are unnecessary and preventable. Despite the obvious economic reasons to capture escaped gas, reducing methane emissions is imperative to meeting the climate goals set forth by the Obama administration, which we are far from meeting. We urge you to take the time to contact the White House, your representatives and the EPA to let them know you support regulations to decrease methane emissions from the energy industry.

Amazon Takes a Step Forward on Climate?

Amazon has added a line to the sustainability page of the Amazon Web Services site stating: In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint. It’s always good news when a large company recognizes that it needs to shift to renewable energy. Since Amazon has not provided a timeline or any evidence of new investment in clean energy (current or planned), nor have they answered press queries, it’s hard to know if it’s time to break out the champagne. For years, Amazon has been the holdout in the tech industry on making any commitment to clean energy or even disclosing its carbon emissions. By comparison, competitors like Apple, Google, and Facebook have taken measurable action, and most companies disclose the carbon they are emitting and the steps to reduce their emissions. And, according to Clean Technica, Amazon is planning to build a new data center in Ohio that will largely be powered by coal. Clean Technica estimates the data center will use enough energy to power over 70,000 homes. So, while Amazon clearly understands that their customers want to see them adopt renewable energy, it is essential that we keep the pressure on them to be more transparent about their emissions and how they are planning to reduce them overall (Amazon’s climate footprint goes well beyond its data centers). Take action with Green America to urge Amazon to:

  • Issue a sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative guidelines
  • Respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project so that Amazon can report out on and reduce their climate emissions. Nearly 70% of S&P 500 companies and more than 80% of Global 500 companies disclose climate related data through the Carbon Disclosure Project.
  • Make a real commitment to increase the percentage of renewable energy powering their servers with actual investments in clean energy and a clear timeline, to make good on Amazon’s pledge of 100% renewable power. Also, immediately halt construction of data centers that rely on coal-fired power.
  • Institute a take back program to responsibly recycle electronics.

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.