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!

For People, Power, and the Environment — the Clean Power Plan Has Arrived

How Obama’s new plan to cut carbon emissions represents an important step in cutting energy costs and pollution while saving lives

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Image by Wayne National Forest

While groups on both sides of the aisle criticize the plan — some saying it does too little and others opposing the principle entirely — it’s going to boost the green economy, save lives, and cut costs. If the plan that President Obama calls the “single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change” sounds almost too good to be true, hear us out. While more is needed to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the plan represents the first US limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the largest source of climate-changing pollution in the United States.

The main goal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants. According to the EPA, power plants account for nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As we know by now, this excess carbon dioxide pollution contributes to climate change and a whole host of public health issues, so the CPP set out to tackle emissions at their source.

It accomplishes this by setting goals for CO2 emissions reduction in 47 states, totaling a collective 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.

Why only 47 states? Each of the reduction goals is tailored to the unique situation in each individual state.

Two out of the missing three, Alaska and Hawaii, were left out of the plan because the EPA doesn’t yet have enough data to set appropriate goals for them, though this is reportedly being addressed. Vermont (and D.C. for that matter) don’t have significant enough CO2 contributions from power plants and were consequently left out of the ruling.

In structuring it so that each state is responsible for establishing a unique plan, the EPA created a flexible CPP that is responsive to the needs of the state’s businesses and communities. Additionally, states have the option to work with other states, developing multi-state plans to help one another through the transition to a greener economy.

Most of this transition is going to entail a move away from coal, and towards renewables, nuclear, and natural gas. While this means that the CPP won’t lead to the ideal, fossil-free future we need, it is a significant step in the right direction.

This ruling isn’t just significant for its symbolic nature, rather there are very real economic implications.

The EPA estimates that the reductions associated with the Clean Power Plan will lead to $20 billion in climate benefits, $14-$34 billion in health benefits, and $26-$45 in net benefits.

Additionally, nearly 300,000 missed school and work days are expected to be avoided because of the plan. By cutting down on polluting coal plants, you decrease the amount of toxins in the air, while also reducing climate-change related health problems.

The 3,600 premature deaths expected to be saved as a result of the plan should not and can not be put second to politics and short-term economic growth.

Fortunately, decreasing days of productivity isn’t the only long-term economic benefit of a greener energy future. A recent report by energy research firm Synapse energy Economics found that a clean energy future scenario would lead to energy bills $35 lower per month in 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

Lowering energy bills, reducing healthcare burdens, and boosting productivity. Three things that anyone in their right mind would champion in a heartbeat. Why then do people shudder when this is attached to environmental policy?

Raising controversy over the issue could inevitably come back to bite those opposing the bill. The Clean Power Plan is here, whether they like it or not.

Talking about the plan is only going to ramp up interest in climate talks, and a major development like this is likely to propel greater progress in Paris later this year.

Dark Cloud Looms Over Amazon’s Innovation Challenge

Amazon’s web services hold the company back, despite its attempts to promote the innovations of others.

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A row of servers in a data center.

By Kegan Gerard

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced its second City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge today, but key changes must be made within the company before it can truly lead the innovation charge.

The City on a Cloud program, designed to recognize local and regional governments for technological developments that greatly contributed to their communities, comes at a time when its influential business clients are pressuring the tech giant to be more transparent in its energy portfolio.

“The cloud can be a powerful force to help our companies and our customers reach their greatest potential,” noted AWS clients, including The Huffington Post and tumblr in a letter to Amazon’s Senior VP of Web Services, Andrew Jassy. “But given the threat of climate change and the significant amount of electricity needed to power the cloud, we are increasingly concerned about our responsibility as companies who value sustainability and share concerns about climate change.”

By powering its data centers with unsustainable fuel sources, Amazon is missing out on key innovations in the field of renewable energy–innovations that have the potential to create thousands of new jobs, reduce healthcare costs, and improve the health of our environment.

Kegan flyering at GovCloud event
Handing out information on AWS’ energy use at it’s GovCloud conference in Washington, DC.

As a part of Green America’s Amazon: Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, we teamed up with representatives from Greenpeace to talk to attendees of AWS’ June 25th GovCloud conference in Washington, DC.

Representing governmental, educational, and nonprofit fields, these GovCloud clients have the perfect opportunity to demand greater transparency in Amazon’s renewable commitment. In refusing to be transparent about its energy usage and plans, AWS deprives these influential groups of the ability to make responsible, informed decisions about where to invest public money.

Merely committing to using 100% renewable energy, as AWS has done, is meaningless without a clear plan to achieve this goal. We’re calling on AWS customers to reach out to their AWS representatives to demand greater transparency in Amazon’s energy future and cease the construction of new data centers that rely on non-renewable energy.

Companies like Google and Apple, whose data centers are powered by renewables, have demonstrated that such a business model is profitable, and Amazon must keep up in order to remain competitive.

Help encourage AWS to deliver on its responsibility to build a cloud that works for both our communities and our environment. Take action with us by signing our petition at buildacleanercloud.com.

Environmental Costs Outweigh Corporate Profits

The 2015 State of Green Business report was just released, detailing the environmental performance of large companies around the world. The report, produced by GreenBiz and TruCost, illustrates the true costs of pollution, ecosystem depletion, and health impacts of unsustainable natural capital consumption by corporations and the alarming rate at which they are growing.

2010dirtyenergyAccording to the report, environmental costs, like greenhouse gas emissions and water abstraction (removing freshwater from the natural water cycle, and thus preventing its future use), would render most businesses unprofitable if they were responsible for paying for the impacts. The report found that environmental costs tallied up to $1 trillion (or 6.2% of GDP) for companies in the US, and $3 trillion worldwide.

The authors state, “Over the past five years, the proportion of company profit at risk consistently exceeds 100 percent of their profit… This means that, on average, companies would be unprofitable if they had to pay the actual costs associated with the commodities they consume and pollution they generate.”

It’s not all bad news, however. The report finds that the level of sustainable investment has been growing considerably in recent years. According the 2014 Trends Report published last November by US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, cited in GreenBiz’s report, sustainable assets totaling $6.57 trillion represented almost 18% of the $36.8 trillion in total assets under management, a 76% increase over 2012.

Social investors, joined by non-profits and growing consumer concern, are changing the ways that companies value natural resources. As a result, more companies are adopting the concept of ‘natural capital,’ which refers to “the stock of resources and ecosystem services on which all companies depend for their success.” Fresh water for industrial processes, and energy produced from fossil fuels (and its connected value to the clean air it pollutes) are the two largest forms of natural capital discussed in the report. Most companies are using these forms of capital at unsustainable levels. Due to rising shareholder and consumer concerns, companies are increasingly examining their businesses along their entire supply chain, where most natural capital expenditure occurs.

Additionally, science-based emissions reduction goals are becoming much more commonplace. Now, to really address the problems of overusing natural capital, corporations need to take a leadership role in reducing their imapcts. It is up to businesses to address their overall sustainability by assuming liability for their stranded assets (including certain fossil fuel reserves), adopting open and distributed sustainability systems, providing transparency along supply chains, and most importantly, supporting policies that advocate for sustainable business practices across the board.

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

Amazon Announces Wind Deal, Still has a Long Way to Go

Today, Internet retail giant Amazon announced the first steps in moving to 100% wind power for the servers that power Amazon Web Services (AWS), its hosting subsidiary. In response to activists (including tens of thousands of Green America members) calling out the company’s failure to create sustainability goals or green their energy sources, Amazon Web Services, Inc. announced a power purchasing agreement from a wind farm in Indiana. The 150-megawatt Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) project in Benton County, Indiana has agreed to supply AWS with up to 500,000 MWh (megawatt-hours) of wind-generated electricity each year for its data centers – or enough to power 46,000 homes each year. AWS hosts all of Amazon’s online operations, as well as many popular websites including Netflix, Pinterest, and Spotify.

WindFor years, Amazon has been in the rear in the race amongst technology giants to minimize their environmental impacts, coming in well behind Google, Apple, and Facebook in terms of greening its energy usage. Nearly half of AWS’s servers are based in the Northern Virginia region. Dominion, the region’s utility, generates electricity from a mix of 37% coal, 41% nuclear, 20% natural gas, and only 2% renewables.

Greenpeace has led the efforts to push Amazon to use renewable energy for its servers by publishing several reports highlighting the company’s lack of environmental and sustainability efforts. Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner

David Pomerantz greeted today’s announcement by stating, “As it invests in renewable energy, Amazon can give its customers greater confidence in its new green ambition by publishing information about its energy footprint, as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have done. Increased transparency will allow AWS customers to know where they and AWS stand on their journey to 100% renewable energy.”

Amazon’s announcement today is a step forward, but the company still has far to go. For one thing, it is not yet clear to what extent Amazon’s current and planned servers will be powered by wind. In the fall of 2014 Amazon Web Services committed to a billion dollar investment in a new data center somewhere in Central Ohio – in proximity to one of the largest coal-producing regions in the US, and where 70% of the electricity in the state is produced by coal. AWS has declined to comment on details of the proposed project, and while it is possible that this new data center will be powered by wind from Indiana, there has been no indication that the site to the company’s renewable energy initiatives.

Creating a greener energy footprint involves far more than simply purchasing power from one windfarm. A successful path towards greening operations includes measures to maximize energy efficiency, a strong commitment to long-term renewable energy generation, a departure from the renewable energy credits offered by utilities, increased investment in renewable technologies, and advocacy for policies that support renewables. As of now, Amazon is not disclosing any information regarding the path towards becoming a more sustainable company.

That is why Green America is continuing to push Amazon to be more transparent about a wide range of sustainability measures, including energy usage. Amazon recently hired a sustainability director and publicly committed to switching to 100% renewable energy. However, the company is still not reporting energy usage data to the Carbon Disclosure Project and has offered no view into their plan towards reduced environmental impacts. Their recently announced deal in Indiana is welcomed and recognized as a step forward, but there is still much more to be done.

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.