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!

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.

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

Is Wind Power Dangerous?

Recently, Green America posted an action to our website, encouraging members of the public to ask Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a program which has helped wind power rapidly grow in the United States.  Several people wrote to us, questioning whether we should be promoting wind power due to its impacts on birds, forests, and humans. We have looked into the impacts of wind power versus other sources of energy through the years, and repeatedly found that wind power has far lower environmental impacts than traditional sources of energy (fossil fuels and nuclear power), and that the impacts of wind power continue to decline, as turbine designs improve, and the turbines are better situated.  Here’s what we’ve found:

Bird fatalities:  While, wind turbines do cause bird fatalities, these are lower than fatalities caused by other human activities.  The rates of fatalities caused by turbines vary greatly across the country, and can be related to the relative abundance of species, as well as the type of turbines in use and how they are sited. However, it is important to note that the impacts of wind turbines on birds are often overstated, and are much lower than fatalities caused by other human activities.

A 2007 report from the National Academies of Science found that bird fatalities from wind power are much lower than from other anthropogenic sources, and found that turbines have little or no impact on bird populations overall. By contrast, feral cats (and house cats let outdoors) kill millions or even billions of birds per year.  Collisions with building and other structures also cause millions of bird deaths per year, as does poisoning from chemicals and fertilizers. The various anthropogenic causes of bird deaths are clearly compared to each other on the Sibley Guides website, which demonstrates that wind turbines are amongst the lowest causes of bird mortality.

It is very important to understand that bird deaths caused by coal and gas power generating facilities are higher absolutely and per megawatt than bird deaths from wind.

Since the National Academies of Science study was published, wind turbine designs continue to improve, further reducing the likelihood of negative impacts on birds. The wind industry is also working collaboratively through the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative to assess the risks of wind turbines to wildlife, and to create solutions to reduce fatalities. It turns out that bird flight, especially migratory bird flight, is very predictable, and by collaborating with bird experts about where to site wind turbines, wind builders have been able to dramatically reduce bird death. Similar efforts are underway to understand the impact of wind turbines on bats, and to reduce fatalities.

By contrast, fossil fuel sources are estimated to produce ten times the number of bird fatalities as wind power per unit of power generated. In light of the relatively low impacts of wind power on birds as compared to other anthropogenic factors, and in light of the measures the wind power industry is taking to reduce those impacts, singling out wind power for its impacts on species, while ignoring the greater causes of species losses, makes little sense.

In short, if you care about saving birds and still use electricity, the best strategy is to work to close coal, gas and nuclear power plants, and encourage greater use of wind and other renewable energy sources.

Forest clearings:  Most wind farms are situated on land that has already been cleared. However, in some locations, the installation of wind energy farms can result in deforestation, including on mountain tops (including in the Mid-Atlantic region).  Locating wind turbines in forested areas can also cause bat fatalities in migrating species, although the number of bat fatalities from wind power is vastly lower than from habitat destruction, pesticides and white-nose syndrome.  

It is noteworthy that environmental activists in these regions actually advocate for wind farms on mountain tops, because their environmental impacts are quite obviously less than those of mountain top removal coal mining (which completely destroys the forest and much of the mountain beneath it, and creates massive water pollution), and because wind energy produces greater economic benefits for the region as compared to mountaintop removal coal mining.  In addition, increases in technology have made it possible to install wind turbines in forests while leaving much of the tree cover in place, and mitigating impacts on species. Germany, a leader in wind technology, has demonstrated that wind turbines can be situated in forests with minimal impacts

Here too, when it comes to forests and their inhabitants, wind is a significant improvement over coal when it comes to the water and air pollution, the climate, and economic benefits.

Impacts on humans:  For the most part, the impacts of wind farms on humans arise from noise and aesthetics.  Both impacts have been lessened by modern technologies that require fewer turbines spinning at slower rates of speed.  Of course, any impacts of wind power on humans has to be compared to that power from coal, gas or nuclear. 

When it comes to coal-fired power, the Clean Air Task Force estimates that coal causes over 13,000 premature deaths per year in the United States, just from coal combustion.  Full Cost Accounting for the Lifecycle of Coal, a study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, found that coal costs the U.S. an estimated $300 billion to over $500 billion per year in health and environmental costs. 

Of course, there is also increasing concern regarding the impacts of natural gas fracking nationwide (including impacts on drinking water), and Fukushima reminds us of the potential for disaster from nuclear power. 

Wind power’s human health impacts are negligible by contrast.  When looking at climate change emissions alone, wind power is a clear winner, with a vastly lower rate of emissions as compared to fossil fuels and even nuclear power (there are some small emissions generated from the construction and installation of wind facilities).  As the impacts of climate change increasingly devastate human communities, the importance of wind power will only grow.

Of course, there is no source of energy that produces absolutely no environmental risks or impacts, which is why the best environmental action is to reduce energy use through energy efficiency.  However, for the electricity we still use, wind power clearly has much lower impacts than the primary sources of electricity in use today.  Wind power relies on a renewable resource to make energy, and it clearly makes sense to lessen the already low environmental impacts of renewable energy sources rather than rely on energy from fossil fuels, which can never be clean or environmental sound. That’s why Green America supports wind, and other renewable energy technologies, to meet our electricity needs, and that’s why Green America supports renewal of the PTC.

Yet Another Senate Vote to Advance the KXL – and Yet Again It Fails

Five days ago the Senate defeated a measure aimed at requiring the Keystone XL to move forward…and today the vote was repeated. The Senate just can’t stop voting on the issue…how many defeats are needed? The repeat vote was part of a broader package of issues promoted by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) who sought to win approval for constructing the KXL, to expand offshore oil and gas leasing, to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and to allow oil shale and tar sands leasing, among other provisions. Fortunately the measure failed 41-57.

The Keystone XL struggle isn’t going away…and neither are its opponents.

This morning before the Senate vote, Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute released a new report: The Impact of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills on Employment and the Economy. This is clearly a must-read for all legislators. The report reminds us: “The largest tar sands oil spill in theU.S. occurred on theKalamazooRiver inMichigan in 2010. This spill affected the health of hundreds of residents, displaced residents, hurt businesses, and caused a loss of jobs. The Kalamazoo spill is the most expensive tar sands pipeline oil spill in U.S. history, with overall costs estimated at $725 million.”

Why risk more of the same?

The time for investing in renewable energy has never been greater.

Keystone XL – New Plan to Move Forward Piecemeal, Dangers Remain

Just last month President Obama determined that further research is required on the diverse impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline before permission to construct it can be considered. Such research, the Administration affirmed, would take until 2013 in order to ensure that a thorough report is produced. So what happened next? A few weeks later, on February 27, 2012, the Administration states “We look forward to working with TransCanada to ensure that it [the KXL] is built in a safe, responsible and timely manner, and we commit to take every step possible to expedite the necessary Federal permits.” It’s a topsy turvyAlice in Wonderland situation…..to the detriment of human and environmental health.

TransCanada is now planning to build the K XL in piecemeal fashion, beginning with the segment running from Oklahoma toTexas that does not require State Department approval since it is fully within the United States. For the segment between Canada and the US, TransCanada will re-apply for a cross border permit and will devise a new route through Nebraska where major concerns have been raised about the previously proposed route.

A pipeline for tar sands from Oklahoma to the Gulf will raise U.S. oil prices, send tar sands overseas and be bad for our climate and waters — just like the full Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of international programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

President Obama’s position in January was a move in the right direction – we must let him know that reversing his stance and supporting Big Oil at the expense of the American people and the environment is not leadership.

Green America Applauds President Obama’s Rejection of Keystone XL Pipeline

Green America strongly commends President Obama for his wise decision, announced this afternoon, to reject the dangerous Keystone XL pipeline. This Canadian project poses severe consequences for human health and the environment while further entrenching the dirty fossil fuel economy and failing to generate lasting jobs. Investment in clean energy generates 3-4 times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels.

“This is the right decision, a brave decision, and one that shows the President took into account profound concerns about the pipeline’s impacts on health, climate change, the environment, and the need to build a clean energy economy that can create lasting U.S. jobs,” said Fran Teplitz, Green America’s director of strategic outreach.

Last November, the Obama Administration pushed the deadline on its pipeline decision into early 2013, determining that current impact studies on the pipeline were insufficient. A fair and measured period of scrutiny for the proposed pipeline is exactly what Big Oil and Republicans in Congress don’t want, because this project fails on every score. Congressional Republicans pushed legislation in December designed to force a presidential decision on the pipeline in February 2012.

“The President made the right call today,” stated Alisa Gravitz, Green America’s executive director. “Green America and our allies will continue to work to oppose tar sands pipelines at every turn. We will continue to lend our voice and our organizing power to this issue which has dire consequences for Native communities, the earth, and the clean energy future that the times demand we create,” she affirmed.

Proponents of the pipeline tout it as a major job creator. Data show, however, that the Keystone XL pipeline can actually be a jobs killer in theU.S., through pipeline spills and increased fuel costs in theMidwestas current tar sands oil gets diverted. Moreover, with a significant portion of the Keystone XL oil intended for the export market, there is no credibility to the claim that tar sands oil represents a “friendly” oil source for the United States.

President Obama has used his decision-making power on the Keystone pipeline in a prudent and sensible way that will benefit current and future generations. Big Oil should not determine the direction of our energy future when we need a new direction based on clean and renewable power.