Pages tagged "renewableenergy"


The True Cost of Coal

(Photo: Emrah Gurel, AP) This week a double tragedy has struck the coal mining industry.

On Monday night in West Virginia, a coal outburst at a Patriot-operated mine killed two miners. And on Tuesday an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Western Turkey  killed at least 245, with hundreds more still missing.

Our hearts and minds are with the miners and their families.

These disasters underscore the horrific cost of “cheap” and dirty energy.  Miners’ deaths such as these are preventable. We call on coal companies to immediately improve labor conditions, and on the governments of Turkey and the United States to strengthen their regulatory oversight of the coal industry.

At the same time, here at Rainforest Action Network, we are reflecting on the less noticed human cost of coal.  Every year, more than one million people die of the air pollution that comes from burning coal. 150,000 more die from the extreme weather events aggravated by climate change–and coal is the single biggest driver of global warming.

All of this points to an obvious conclusion. We must not continue to make these sacrifices in order to produce energy from such a dirty and unsustainable source. Coal is a dangerous and outdated fuel, and in the 21st century we should not be using it to power our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It is past time for us to shift our energy production to clean, safe renewable power.


Solar Power Had A Huge Year In 2013

800px-Solar_Plant_klThis post originally appeared on DeSmogBlog. A new report out from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that solar power came an incredibly long way toward asserting itself as a key part of the U.S. energy mix last year. The U.S. now has a total of 12.1 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) installations and 918 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP), enough to power 2.2 million homes. Here are some of the other highlights from the Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013 report: • PV installations increased 41% over 2012 to reach 4,751 MW; these new installations have a $13.7 billion market value. • 410 MW of CSP came online in 2013, increasing total capacity in the U.S. more than 80%. • Solar accounted for 29% of all new electricity generating capacity, making it the second-largest source, exceeded only by natural gas. • The cost to install solar fell throughout the year, reaching a new low of $2.59/W in the fourth quarter and ending 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012. But these statistics don't tell the whole story. “Perhaps more important than the numbers,” says Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research, “2013 offered the U.S. solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status. The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms, and public market successes displayed clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community.” There's certainly something to Kann's claim that solar is on track to become mainstream, and some facts in the report bear this assertion out. While California continues to lead the way, installing more than half of new solar energy generating capacity in 2013 (some 2,261 MW), red states Arizona and North Carolina were the second and third top states (421 MW and 335 MW, respectively). Given that political polarization and obstructionism have stalled progress on a number of important issues in recent American history, the fact that solar is appealing to folks on all ends of the political spectrum may speak more to solar's bright future than anything else.

Walmart: King of Greenwash

walmart_greenwash_frntThis week I have watched in horror as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded slammed into the Philippines. Fueled by a warming ocean, Typhoon Haiyan has killed an estimated 10,000 people, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. It’s a stark reminder that climate change is happening now, that we need to act urgently to stem the extreme impacts of global warming. We need leadership from our politicians and a dramatic change in behavior from our biggest polluters. So when companies like Walmart talk about their responsibility to act to address climate change, I absolutely agree. The stakes are already too high. Walmart calls itself a leader in global environmental responsibility, but when you take a look at the real picture the halo quickly fades, as a new report out today from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reveals. Since 2005 the company has invested millions to promote itself as an environmental champion. Perhaps you have seen their ads with wind turbines and sunshines, designed to illustrate a ‘green’ Walmart? [youtube Iwvy8I_uukw 550] The harsh reality is that, far from reducing its global climate impact, Walmart’s pollution is on the rise. And dramatically so. Walmart’s own reported climate emissions have grown 14% since the company launched its sustainability campaign in 2005. That step backwards is even after some selective reporting. Walmart chooses to ignore its biggest impacts, including the emissions in its supply chain and in its big-box retail store expansion. In fact, if Walmart were included in the Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index, a list that is limited to heavy industry firms such as oil companies and power plants, Walmart would rank at #33, alongside Chevron. But what about those wind turbines and sunshine-powered solar panels? In 2005, Walmart announced an aspirational goal to use 100% renewable energy. Back then this sounded ambitious. But fast forward to 2013 and there are competitor companies, like Whole Foods, Staples and Kohl’s, that are hitting this target and sourcing all of their electricity from renewable sources. Meanwhile, Walmart? Seriously lagging the leaders at a miserly 4%, which is even less than Best Buy. In fact, Walmart’s use of renewable energy overall declined in 2012. [youtube qnkGF5Xx3uw 550] Behind all of Walmart’s slick greenwashing is a business model that is fundamentally unsustainable. And that is why Rainforest Action Network supports Walmart workers’ efforts to reform this company and force it to start putting people ahead of its bottom line. From worker safety to global environmental responsibility, this company has a long way to go. If you want to learn more, read this open letter from leading environmentalists calling for change at Walmart.

Beautiful Resistance at Rio+20

Nearly 1500 people used Rio’s Flamengo Beach as a canvas today, their bodies forming the lines of an enormous image promoting the importance of free-running rivers, clean energy sources like solar power and including indigenous knowledge as part of the solution to climate issues. Giant text below the image read, “Rios para a vida” (“Rivers for life”), signifying that rivers should be dedicated to supporting the life of the millions of humans who depend on them and that they should remain undammed. View more photos of the protests going on here in Rio at JungleDispatch.com.

Top 5 Reasons The Obama-GOP Debt Ceiling Agreement Is A Bad Deal For The Environment

[caption id="attachment_14691" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher."][/caption] President Obama just signed the debt deal into law. Just in time too — there were about 10 hours to spare before the midnight deadline, after which our government would most likely go into default. As bad as default would have been, the deal doesn’t appear to be a whole lot better. As Andy Kroll explains over at Mother Jones:
The Obama-GOP plan cuts about $917 billion in government spending over the next decade. Nearly $570 billion of that would come from what's called "nondefense discretionary spending." That's budget-speak for the pile of money the government invests in the nation's safety and future—education and job training, air traffic control, health research, border security, physical infrastructure, environmental and consumer protection, child care, nutrition, law enforcement, and more.
Our country's environmental laws and the agencies tasked with enforcing them have certainly taken a huge hit, which is especially troubling because the record-breaking heatwave we’re currently witnessing is only the latest projected impact of our warming climate to become all-too-real. We need strong climate policies and a clean energy revolution right now in order to avert runaway climate change. Instead, this deal jeopardizes even the most basic environmental protections, like the right to clean water and air. The full implication of the Obama-GOP debt deal won't be clear for some time, as the cuts it calls for are just the first round. The deal also mandates the creation of a 12-member “SuperCongress” committee that will determine where to make cuts totaling another $1.5 trillion. But given how things stand right now, environmental protections in this country have taken a severe blow.
  • Guts Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act enforcement
The nearly $1 trillion in immediate cuts means a lot less money going to fund the important work done by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy and Interior departments, and other domestic agencies. If the SuperCongress fails to pass a bill making the required $1.5 trillion in further cuts by this December, that would automatically trigger another $1.2 trillion in cuts from various sectors, including energy and environmental programs. What that means, essentially, is that the EPA and the Interior Dept. will have less money to enforce existing environmental and climate regulations. "There just won't physically be the funds available to protect drinking water and to ensure there's clean air to breathe," says the Sierra Club’s Melinda Pierce (subscription required).
  • Less money for states to enforce environmental laws, too
Slashing the EPA budget will have a drastic ripple effect, as the agency also provides funds for states to enforce their own environmental protections. Whether or not it will still be able to do that is very much in doubt.
  • Lets Big Oil keep taxpayer-funded handouts
Glaringly absent from the deal is an end to the billions in taxpayer handouts Congress continues to give to Big Oil. Americans overwhelmingly support ending these subsidies, and it’s not like the oil companies need them: the top five Big Oil companies just announced obscene profits of $35.1 billion for the second quarter of 2011. Ending these taxpayer-funded subsidies would not raise gas prices, as Big Oil and its apologists in Congress like to claim, but it would save us somewhere between $30 and 40 billion over the next decade. This deal literally lets the oil and gas industries keep their taxpayer-funded welfare money while forcing Americans to accept diminished protections for public health, clean air and clean water. So much for shared sacrifice.
  • Dries up investments in renewable energy
Ben Schreiber, a tax analyst with Friends of the Earth, says the deal could also “drive a stake through the heart of investments in wind, solar, and other clean-energy technologies,” according to Mother Jones. "The clean-energy revolution becomes a casualty of these cuts," Schreiber told MoJo.
  • Further diminishes chance of establishing a carbon tax
As lopsided as the cuts may seem, both Democrats and Republicans made some token concessions in the deal. Republicans gave up on their insistence that there be a second vote to raise the debt ceiling again next winter, no doubt a cudgel they were hoping to wield closer to the 2012 presidential election. Democrats, meanwhile, completely caved on tax increases, or “revenue” in budget-speak. That sends a clear signal that imposing a tax on carbon emissions will be harder than ever to pass, no matter how much it could contribute to paying down our nation’s debt. According to the findings of a debt commission led by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Alice Rivlin, a Democrat who was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, a carbon tax could raise about $1.1 trillion by 2025 while cutting carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent below 2005 levels. But perhaps worst of all: The deal emboldens and strengthens the dirty energy apologists and climate deniers of the radical right who have been gunning for environmental protections all along. And, as Robert Reich wrote, “[T]he largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands.” But I don’t want to end on such a sour note. All is not lost. The Hill reports that Democrats are planning to revive the fight over subsidies for Big Oil in the SuperCongress committee. And the Center for American Progress points out that this second round of cuts “presents progressives with an opportunity to channel their anger over the first round into relentless action to push for the kind of progressive second round of deficit reduction that America wants — and needs.” Onward, environmental soldiers.

A New Kind Of Co-Op: Ending Dependence On Nuclear Power (VIDEO)

[caption id="attachment_14215" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image: Goldman Environmental Prize"]Ursula Sladek[/caption]Communities around the globe are taking control of their power and switching off dirty energy to clean renewable sources instead. Here's the first in a series of posts to share these inspiring stories. One mother’s dedication can make a difference. Ursula Sladek was spurred into action after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. A mother of five small children from Germany’s Black Forest region, Ursula was alarmed by the detected radiation in local produce and even on neighborhood playgrounds. Her concerns for her children’s health and the safety of their daily activities inspired her to seek out alternative sources of energy. Germany was, and still is, largely dependent on nuclear energy. But, the good news is that the country just last month passed a law which will close all of their nuclear plants down by 2022. Initially, Ursula focused on behavior-changing practices piloted within her own home, then spread the changes by educating her neighbors throughout the farmlands of Schoenau, a small town in Black Forest, Germany. Ursula recalls seeing her son turn off a light even with his cut finger before he was whisked away to the hospital for stitches after a run in with a kitchen knife. Conserving energy was ingrained into her children’s brains. Eventually, Ursula took her energy independence goals a step further and started installing solar panels on her own home and some others within her community. Ursula worked with her neighbors as a group to urge the local power company, KWR, to increase their renewable energy sources, but KWR wasn’t keen on the proposals and refused to budge. [caption id="attachment_14216" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image: Goldman Environmental Prize"]EWS Power Company[/caption] So the group took matters into their own hands. They formed Schoenau Power Supply (EWS), and vied for the license to operate the power grid when KWR’s license went up for renewal in 1991. KWR requested an inflated price, but Sladek’s group raised the exorbitant purchasing cost and took the license in 1998. They even sued KWR for illegal price fixing, after the fact. Today, Schoenau Power Supply is collectively owned by 1000 citizens. Schoenau’s energy sources are 100% green, primarily hydropower, but also sourced from solar panels, wind turbines, and co-generation plants. Residents have individual units that power their own homes, but can also sell surplus energy to the grid. In total, EWS provides over 400 million KwH to 100,000+ customers. (For a quick comparison, Pepsi Bottling Group uses 426 million KWh annually) Ursula Sladek focuses on the big picture as well — she educates her customers on how to conserve energy, build their own solar plants and co-generators, and provides financial support and incentives. EWS is another inspiring example of combining community, business, and green initiative to provide a better future. Sladek’s success is a testament to the fact that huge corporations don’t always have to win, and they certainly aren’t the only answer. [youtube oz4XpBkR7tM 550]

What Does Japan's Nuclear Meltdown Mean for our Energy Future?

Energy Shouldn't Cost LivesJapan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster have dominated headlines around the world since news broke last Friday. Thousands of people have died in Japan over the past few days, and many more are at risk of radiation sickness from the ongoing nuclear power plant meltdown. My heart aches for all of the families in Japan who are suffering this week. Of the hundreds of news reports covering these one-after-another disasters, one Bloomberg article caught my eye with a very interesting question: how will Japan's nuclear meltdown impact the future of energy? As the nuclear meltdown in Japan continues, the conversation about the impact this disaster will have on our energy choices is an interesting one. There seem to be two competing answers: expand the use of coal as a clear alternative to nuclear power, or push for clean energy, like wind and solar, that does not explode, spill or meltdown. Which would you choose? Apparently, two of the biggest coal mining companies in the world, Siberian Coal Energy Co. and OAO Mechel, have responded to Japan's energy crisis with a plan to increase coal shipments to Japan by 3 million to 4 million metric tons a year. The stock market also seems to point to coal as a good alternative to nuclear, at least at this moment in the news cycle. The Wall Street Journal reported that coal companies including Peabody Energy, Consol Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, Cloud Peak Energy and International Coal Group are trading higher since the nuclear plant explosions. However, the New York Times is reporting that solar and wind stocks are surging amidst nuclear fears as well. The demand for renewable energy is picking up. With Bloomberg reporting that: "Equipment makers for solar and wind energy climbed as much as 27 percent, rallying for a second day on speculation that clean energy will benefit in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear-reactor accident." It is disgusting to think that any company, dirty energy or clean, would "benefit" from this disaster. However, it is also horrifying to imagine that as a global community we would not heed the warnings that disasters like the BP oil spill and this week's nuclear meltdown are sounding. As country's like Germany and Switzerland suspend plans for nuclear plants and fear over this unstable fuel justifiably surges around the globe, we have two paths for our energy future: to stay the course, pumping our countries full of coal, oil and nuclear energy, or transition to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. In my estimation, replacing nuclear energy with energy from burning coal is a foolish path. Coal has a long and shameful history of devastating accidents, including the TVA coal ash spill in December 2008, which dumped 2.6 million cubic yards of fly ash across hundreds of acres just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, and Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April of 2010, which killed 29 miners. These are just two recent examples from the United States. It would take a much longer blog post to cite all the recent accidents at coal plants and mines around the world. The debate around the future of nuclear energy will surely rage for many months. It is critical that those of us who have been watching the disaster in Japan unfold not let pundits, politicians and journalists decide to replace one dangerous power source for another.  Energy shouldn't cost lives.

Obama: make green jobs the No. 1 priority in Appalachia

Listening to the Obama’s State of the Union address last night, I was encouraged to hear that job creation is the President’s number one priority for 2010. Well, here is some required reading for achieving that aim: last week’s report from Downstream Strategies in Morgantown, WV: “The Decline of Central Appalachian Coal and the Need for Economic Diversification” This report sets out the stark reality of the huge job loss in Central Appalachia since mountaintop removal coal replaced more traditional methods. The good news is that there is an easy solution to replace the jobs and energy production – by stimulation local-owned renewable energy projects, through these five steps: 1) require that 25% of each state’s energy portfolio come from truly renewable energy sources by 2025; 2) incentivize the investment in and production of renewable energy resources, using mechanisms such as a Renewable Energy Production Incentive; 3) provide grants, tax credits, clean energy bonds, or low-interest loans to support the development of energy projects and the manufacture of component parts; 4) finance the development of fine-scale resource maps to identify locations for developing projects; and 5) create state-funded wind anemometer and Sonic Detection and Ranging loan programs to facilitate the measurement of local wind resources and support distributed wind energy development.

Shell dumps wind and solar for agrofuels

Money speaks louder than... Oh, yeah--just about everything, including a renewable energy future or attempts to reverse climate change. In a not so surprising, yet utterly short-sighted and outdated move (circa 20th century, not new Millenium), Shell Oil has decided to abandon all their investments in renewables such as solar and wind energy, and transfer that business to what they have deemed more economically promising.  What have they decided to invest in?  Agrofuels--industrial scale biofuels. Linda Cook, Shell's executive director of gas and power, said:  "If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it."  She went on, "We do not expect material investment [in wind and solar] going forward." Despite an ever-growing and indisputable range of scientific evidence that links agrofuels to massive deforestation, increased food prices, and establishes that over their lifecycle, agrofuels are in many instances more greenhouse gas emitting than petroleum (i.e. climate negative), Shell has chosen to put their money where their mouth is--in an industry that at first glance appears to be a good business proposition, but will do nothing in the short or long term to combat our climate crisis, or addiction to fossil fuels. Now, more than ever, as we work to reduce our own consumption, we must also hold our government and businesses accountable to invest in the solutions and alternatives that are tried, tested and true--solutions that will turn the tide on the serious situation we all face.  Investment in real solutions are a better business proposition, and investments that harm the planet and people are a liability.  It's our job to make sure that Shell, its shareholders, and every other company out there understands this.

Public Interest Groups Oppose Carbon Capture Scam

In conjunction with the international release of a report by Greenpeace today – that identifies the ridiculous risk, uncertainty and cost associated with industry-driven plans for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS),

Public interest groups (from across the country) sent the following letter to Congress, demanding that taxpayer subsidies be disallowed CCS, and that safe, affordable and market-ready energy technologies such as wind and solar be funded instead.

Dear Members of Congress

On behalf of our members and supporters we are writing to express our opposition to any policies that promote or provide taxpayer subsidies for carbon capture and storage (CCS), the practice of trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and storing it below the sea or beneath the surface of the earth.

As you know, global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing the planet today. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming scientists have warned that we need to reduce global warming pollution by at least 80 percent by 2050. Climate stabilization, national security and economic prosperity depend on substantially reducing our use of fossil fuels. That means no new investments in major infrastructure that increases fossil fuel dependence. Every dollar invested in CCS is a dollar unavailable for investment in renewable energy, efficient vehicles and energy efficiency.

CCS raises a number of serious financial, environmental and safety concerns:

· CCS cannot deliver in time. The best-case scenario is that the technology would be ready by 2030. Every decision made about new power plants today influences the energy mix for the next 30-40 years. We need to make the smartest choices to address the global warming crisis and invest in proven solutions as soon as possible.

· CCS is cost intensive. It increases the cost of power generation by 40 to 80 percent compared with conventional coal plants. Current research shows electricity generated from coal equipped with CCS will be more expensive than other less polluting sources, such as, wind power.

· CCS technology reduces the efficiency of power plants. Up to 30 percent more fossil fuel must be burned when CCS is used to achieve the same power output.

· CCS poses a risk of carbon dioxide leakage. Continuous leakage, even at very low rates, could undermine the climate benefit of CCS and large releases of carbon can also pose significant risk to human health.

As evidenced by mountain-top removal and dangerous emissions, CCS cannot make coal clean. Renewable energy sources are already available without the negative environmental impacts that are associated with fossil fuel exploitation, transport and processing. It is renewable energy together with energy efficiency and energy conservation that has to increase so that the primary cause of climate change – the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas – is stopped.

We strongly urge you to oppose any policies that provide mandates or taxpayer funded incentives for CCS. We should instead fund clean, renewable, domestic sources of energy, energy efficiency and conservation. Congress must prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants that are inconsistent with an energy future that is good for the economy, the environment, national security, and safe for communities.

Sincerely,

ActionPA Alliance for Appalachia Appalachian Voices Black Mesa Water Coalition California Communities Against Toxics Canary Coalition Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation Center for Coalfield Justice Co-op America Chesapeake Climate Action Network Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana Clean Power Now Coal River Mountain Watch Cook Inletkeeper Energy Justice Network Environmental Alliance of North Florida Environmental Research Foundation • Friends of the Earth Global Exchange The Grand Canyon Trust Green Delaware Greenpeace Heartwood Help Our Polluted Environment Indigenous Environmental Network Jefferson Action Group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Meigs Citizen Action Now Mountain Watershed Association North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network Nuclear Information and Resource Service Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition • Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition Protect Biodiversity in Public Forests Rainforest Action Network Residents Against the Power Plant Rising Tide North America Save It Now, Glades! Save Our Cumberland Mountains Southern Energy Network Valley Watch