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.

You Don’t Have to Be a Rockefeller

It’s not often at Green America that we highlight members of the 1% as an example to follow, but recent action by the Rockefeller family now serves as a model for many Americans. The Rockefellers have instructed the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to divest its holdings of fossil fuels, joining a growing list of foundations that are taking this stand against irresponsible fossil-fuel polluters. Since the family’s wealth — much of which is now in charities — was made from Standard Oil (now Exxon), the move is particularly meaningful.

The divestment decision comes after years of the Rockefellers engaging with Exxon and trying to encourage the company to be more sustainable, without much success (for 10 years Green America and its members also put direct pressure on Exxon). Exxon and the other major fossil fuel multinationals have made it clear that they plan to pursue a strategy of increasing the production of fossil fuels for decades. That means increased drilling in fragile ecosystems, with the inevitable major spills on land and seas. That means more fracking and more tar sands fields. It also means pumping way more carbon into the atmosphere and warming the planet to levels it hasn’t experienced in millions of years, creating massive disruptions to civilization as we know it, and speeding the extinction of thousands of species.

ThatFossil Free’s why more and more philanthropies, universities, houses of worship, and individuals are saying “enough is enough” and moving their money out of fossil fuels and reinvesting in a green economy.

You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to take part. Here’s four steps to take action with your money:

  1. Divest from climate polluters and reinvest in clean energy. 
    Green America’s Fossil Free Investment campaign has the most complete resources available.
  2. Break up with your megabank.
    Megabanks continue to invest billions in coal and other fossil fuels, even after pledging to go carbon free.  Green America’s Break Up With Your Megabank Campaign has all the resources you need to move your money to banks and credit unions that invest in local communities and green companies.
  3. Take the Divest/Invest Pledge.
    The Divest/Invest coalition is asking people to take their pledge to divest to demonstrate the growing numbers of individual investors who are saying no to fossil fuels in their portfolios.
  4. Share this information widely.
    Encourage family, friends, your house of worship, school, etc. to divest their money from fossil fuels as well.  The faster the movement grows, the more pressure there will be on polluters.

The People’s Climate March – 400,000 strong – demonstrated that Americans are willing to take action for climate change and are not going to wait for Washington or all Street to take action. We can all take action with our money for the climate. In the 1980’s the divestment movement made a huge impact on ending Apartheid in South Africa. Now, it’s our turn to divest our money from fossil fuels and invest in the clean energy economy we need.

Take action today!

Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014 Introduced by Reps Lofgren & Matsui

Today, US Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Doris Matsui, along with 15 original co-sponsors, introduced the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. The bill is now before the House of Representatives, and not a moment too soon.

ImageThe Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014, or CEVB for short, is modeled after one of the most successful fundraising efforts in US history. In World War II, millions of Americans purchased over $185 billion (over $2 trillion in today’s dollars) worth of Victory Bonds issued by the United States Treasury, in order to fund the war effort. The bonds allowed citizens to invest directly in the materials and technologies needed to achieve victory in one of the most destructive wars in human history.

Today, however, we face different problems – a rapidly changing climate, rising sea levels, and more intense weather events like Hurricane Sandy put our infrastructure and economy at risk. Our outdated energy systems continue to inefficiently burn fossil fuels, and the extraction of these fuels continues to degrade ecosystems across the planet. Renewable energy and energy efficient technologies are a promising solution to these crises, but a lack of funding makes them unappealing to industrial-scale investors.

The United States also risks losing its position as a clean energy leader.  China, Germany and other nations are outspending the US in the clean energy race and are already seeing the benefits of increased jobs and plentiful clean energy.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, will allow any American to invest in a clean energy future for as little as $25. The sale of the bonds is projected to raise up to $50 billion, which would leverage an additional $100 billion from private investors. The money raised would fund essential tax credits to renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as energy-efficiency programs. Continued support of these industries will reduce the demand for fossil fuels, reduce the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere, and create at least 1 million well-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. With oil companies still receiving massive government subsidies, a fundraising effort of great proportions is needed to level the playing field for clean energy technologies.

If you want to invest in our nation’s energy future by purchasing CEVBs, call your Representative in Congress and tell him or her to co-sponsor the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. With your help, we can transition our economy from one that relies on dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy that provides real opportunities for our citizens, all while protecting our homes from catastrophic climate change. For more information, please visit www.cleanenergyvictorybonds.org.

New Financing for Clean Energy – Clean Energy Victory Bonds

As climate change and rising fuel costs, especially natural gas prices, generate headline news, it becomes ever more apparent that we need to invest in renewable energy. Clean Energy Victory Bonds can play a crucial role in securing the financing necessary to shift our energy sourcing to cleaner options.  This bond evokes the spirit of one of the greatest fundraising efforts in our nation’s history. During World War II, over 80% of American households bought at least one victory bond, raising the equivalent of over $2 trillion in today’s dollars. Inspired by the efforts of previous generations, the victory bond is being rebooted to face the energy challenges of the 21st century. The Clean Energy Victory Bond would support solar, wind, second generation biofuels, and energy efficiency programs needed to build the clean U.S. economy that the times require.

Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.
Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.

Americans are increasingly aware of just how large a challenge climate change poses to our communities, as well as the role of fossil fuels in creating this global crisis. Fortunately, the shift from dirty energy to clean sources is well underway. For example, in 2013, a new solar energy system was installed every four minutes. By the beginning of 2014, the US had installed 12 gigawatts of solar capacity, producing as much energy as 14.5 coal-fired power plants. Wind power in the United States has been rapidly increasing as well, with over 14.2 gigawatts of capacity installed since 2012. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the projects currently under construction have the potential to power 3.5 million American households, or all the homes in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas combined.

Financing for clean energy like wind and solar complements these observed increases in capacity. Annual solar installation, both residential and commercial, has grown by more than 1,600% since the Investment Tax Credit was implemented in 2006. Funding for large-scale solar projects announced in 2013 reached $13.6 billion, up from $8.7 billion the previous year. Similarly, the US Wind industry has attracted nearly $90 billion of private investment into new infrastructure over the past five years. The Production Tax Credit has been instrumental in encouraging this growth – in December of 2012, wind producers installed 5.5 gigawatts of capacity as the expiration of the PTC neared.  Both wind and solar energy employ significant sections of the American workforce. Wind power currently employs more than 75,000 Americans, and for the first time ever, the US solar industry now employs more workers than the US auto manufacturing industry. [1]

While this growth is monumental in its own light, it still pales in comparison to the portion of our energy mix that fossil fuels provide. From 2002-2008, traditional fossil fuels received $70.2 billion of federal subsidies, while renewables received just $12.2 billion over the same time period. Legislators allow federal incentives like the Production Tax Credit to expire and then retroactively reinstate them, creating uncertainty in renewable energy markets. This limits growth in sectors like wind energy, and shifts support to more favorable countries like China and Germany.

The Clean Energy Victory Bond will protect the tax incentives essential to clean energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives, while simultaneously offering a reliable investment vehicle backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. By fostering these sectors of the green economy, the bill stands to create more than 1 million high-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

Thousands of Americans have already pledged to purchase the bonds once they become available, and you can too. You can also call your representative and urge him or her to support the bill once it is on the floor. We must work on both sides of the aisle to reduce our dependence on dirty, imported fossil fuels, create jobs for millions of Americans, and protect our environment with clean, American-made energy sources. As Green America’s CEO and President Alisa Gravitz put it, “Clean energy is joyfully bi-partisan.” The only side you need to choose here is the one that leads the US into the future running on clean, safe, domestic power!


[1] U.S. Energy Information Administration and Solar Foundation

Can Crowd Funding Kickstart Clean Energy?

Solar PowerCrowd funding refers to the collective contributions of many individuals to fund a larger effort by other people or organizations. Internet platforms like Kickstarter are the most common vehicles for collecting donations for projects, but recent legislation may begin a shift to a new method of actual financing, where investors can potentially see a return on investment. The JOBS Act of 2012 removed several limiting regulations from the Securities Act of 1933, which would allow average Americans to invest directly in small business.  This increased access to financing would allow small businesses more freedom to grow and achieve their goals. For example, the JOBS Act included provisions that increased the number of shareholders a company may have before it must register its common stock with the Securities Exchange Commission. It also allowed the use of government-registered funding portals, or websites used to collect investments, on the condition that investments are capped at a level based on the investor’s net worth. These provisions will allow average investors to easily invest in small businesses for the first time, and will offer protections from the risks involved with investing in new companies.

The JOBS Act took a few steps towards freeing up capital for small businesses, but the provisions allowing average investors to get involved won’t be approved until 2014. In the meantime, companies such as Mosaic Inc. have used existing legislation in approved states to finance clean energy projects that have been largely successful. However, until the SEC implements crowdfunding regulations nationwide, it will be difficult for a startup company to sell shares to the general public nationally.

Some states are not waiting for the federal government to act, and have implemented intrastate (state residents funding state businesses) equity crowd funding. Using provisions in the Securities Act of 1933, specifically a federal exemption for intrastate offerings, Kansas and Georgia have both passed initiatives that would allow companies to sell equity to non-accredited investors to a limit of $1000 (KS) and $10,000 (GA) per investor. Companies would be allowed to collect up to $1 million before they would need to formally register their stock, and they would only be permitted to sell shares to investors who were residents of the same state in which the company was registered. They would also be allowed to advertise the fact that they were seeking funds from new investors. In theory, this would allow the public to invest in whatever business they see fit. This would incentivize small business owners to carry on with their ideas, knowing very well that with enough support, access to capital would not be as big of a problem as it is now. The North Carolina state legislature is on the road to pass a similar initiative in the form of its own JOBS Act. It currently sits at the state senate waiting for the next session to begin, where many are confident that it will be passed.

In the first two years of crowd funding in Kansas, only six companies took advantage of the opportunity, and only one company has taken advantage of crowd funding in Georgia.  So what’s keeping ordinary people in Kansas and Georgia from crowdfunding their way to an economy envisioned by local business owners? There are a number of factors that keep this financing tool from really taking off. First, the types of small businesses that could rely heavily on crowd-sourced capital are often the least interesting to investors. The investment caps of $1 million limit the potential for initial revenues, forcing technology and other high-growth industries to seek other sources of capital. And perhaps most importantly, a very small number of people (both business owners and potential investors) actually understand the new regulations and what is allowed under their provisions. Education for small business owners and potential investors alike, as well as platforms that connect businesses with sources of capital, will be necessary to make crowdfunding work at the state and national level.

While achieving a more formal vehicle for non-accredited investors to purchase equity in startup businesses may still lie ahead, the idea of sourcing donation funds from many small contributors is steadily gaining steam. Many projects are funded by online platforms for donations, including software development, political campaigns, art, disaster relief, and small businesses selling a wide range of products.

Globally, crowdfunding has been used successfully to finance some impressive renewable energy projects. A Dutch company Windcentrale recently set a new crowdfunding record, selling €1.3 million worth of shares in the electricity from a Vestas V-80 2MW wind turbine in a matter of 13 hours. In the U.S., Solar Mosaic has created an innovative crowd funding platform that has already raised funds from 2,200 investors in solar installations nationwide.  Solar Mosaic has generated extensive interest from investors nationwide who want to create a clean energy future. This serves as proof that there is a high public demand for renewable energy, and when presented the opportunity to invest in projects that would bring clean power to homes, people won’t think twice about buying shares.

It is the hope of Green America that crowdfunding at the state and federal level can become a vehicle for growth of the renewable energy sector in the United States. Clean, inexpensive, and renewable power is something a large majority of Americans support. Given the opportunity to easily and safely invest in a project that would aid in the shift from a fossil fuel – based economy to a green energy-based one, the general public could play a crucial role in the propagation of wind, solar, and other renewable energy technologies.

This blog posting was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.

July 2013 “Faces of the Green Pages”: Solar Service, Inc.; Niles, IL

As a regular featured speaker at our Chicago Green Festivals, Solar Service, Inc. owner Brandon Leavitt enjoys seeing his customers from 36 years of Chicagoland solar installations drop by to say hello.

“We’ve counted more than a dozen of our customers at the shows, some of them clients from 30 years ago whose solar systems are still going strong,” says Brandon. We asked him to tell us more about his first solar installation and about his inspiration to start his solar company…


Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?

Brandon Leavitt: Solar Service designs and installs both solar PV and solar heat and hot water systems for new and existing residential, commercial, municipal and multi-family buildings in the Chicago area.  Today, our most popular products are multi-family solar hot water systems and residential and commercial grid connected PV.

What makes Solar Service green?

Brandon: Obviously, by selling and promoting the use of renewable energy systems we are a green business at our core. Also, Our solar thermal panels are made in Florida and Minnesota.  The solar storage tanks are manufactured in the USA. The vast majority of our PV panels are produced and/or assembled in the USA.  We have never purchased PV panels made in China.

We are a ’family friendly’ company where our employees’ needs for flexible work time are respected.  We have always recycled our in-office plastics, glass, metals, batteries and paper.  We pay our refuse hauler extra for a bin to recycle cardboard.  Every year our holiday party is financed by the proceeds from the sale of leftover scrap copper, steel and aluminum from our installs.  Our crew plants a vegetable garden each spring outside our warehouse.  All our drinking water is purified on tap.  Our sales director drives a company-owned Prius.  And of course, all three of our company buildings are solar powered…both PV and thermal!

Laundromat

This Solar Service installation for HarvesTime Foods in Chicago incorporates PV panels as a part of the store’s awning.

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