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Crowdfunding helps community power become reality

Photo by Shutterstock.

Back in April, President Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the JOBS Act), and one of the most heralded elements was so-called crowdfunding. The law sought to solve a major problem: It’s hard to finance small-scale business ventures. Wall Street only cares about multi-million-dollar plays, and securities regulations make small-dollar projects rather difficult (and costly) to jointly fund.

The act could have big implications for community-based renewable energy projects.

Right now, there are two kinds of community-based renewable energy projects, the charitable or the persistent. Solar Mosaic, for example, was founded and funded on the concept that many environmentally motivated people would help finance local solar projects with zero-percent-interest loans. They succeeded in building several projects, but the model is constrained by the limited universe of people who have money at hand and are willing to let it be used for no reward.

The other kind of renewable energy project allows participants to get some kind of financial reward through sheer persistence, overcoming enormous regulatory and legal barriers to success (some of which I covered in this 2007 report). It means finding a complex legal structure to capture federal tax credits despite needing investors with “passive tax liability” or sacrificing federal incentives for simple ownership structures like cooperatives or municipal utilities. It means having “accredited” (rich) investors or only soliciting investors through personal relationships. This community wind project is an illustration, as are several solar projects in this report.

The JOBS Act may finally allow thousands of regular folks to make a modest return (5 to 10 percent) by investing in local renewable energy projects.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The mountains weep for Larry Gibson

"Hey buddy!" Like so many others, I always got this warm greeting from Larry Gibson, followed by a big hug. Like so many others, I saw mountaintop removal coal mining with my own eyes for the first time on Larry's mountain in southern West Virginia, Kayford Mountain, and I've been fighting to end the devastation ever since. Like so many others, I then took countless more people up to Kayford with me: reporters, national environmental leaders, film crews, students and many, many others. And to every person he took up Kayford Mountain, Larry would say that if he or she …

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Can PACE Local Energy Financing Come Back?

It can with your help; submit a comment to the FHFA by Thursday, Sept. 13! After effectively suspending residential PACE energy efficiency and renewable energy municipal financing programs in 2010 and then being taken to federal court and required to do a revised rule making, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its revised ruling on PACE programs [pdf] earlier this summer. Did they repent from their 2010 assertion that PACE presented a risk to mortgage holders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? In short, no. The ruling states: The Enterprises shall immediately take such actions as are necessary to …

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Oil on Gulf Coast after Hurricane Isaac reveals risks of offshore drilling

Oil is washing up along the Gulf Coast in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, churned up by Hurricane Isaac. After discovering hundreds of tar balls at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, a Greenpeace research team joined our allies at the Gulf Restoration Network to investigate the impacts on East and West Ship Island, off the coast of Mississippi. We found tar balls on East Ship Island and several heavily oiled areas on West Ship Island, which are both part of the Gulf National Seashore.

Oil and reeds washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Miss., Sept. 4, 2012.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana is “closing a 12-mile section of Gulf coastline from Caminada Pass to Pass Fourchon after Hurricane Isaac washed up large areas of oil and tar balls at the location of one of the worst inundations of BP oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 … agency crews surveying damage from Isaac discovered large sections of viscous oil and tar balls floating along the coast.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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International Agencies Using Flawed Data to Fast-Track Kosovo Coal Plant, Put Health At Risk

While no new coal plants have broken ground here in the US since 2008, the US government is backing a huge, polluting new coal plant oversees. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and World Bank are pushing a heavily polluting, costly, and controversial new coal plant in Kosovo. As if that weren’t bad enough, new documents obtained by the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act reveal they are using inaccurate and unreliable data in order to ensure the plant is fast-tracked. They are cutting corners and recklessly endangering the health of Kosovar citizens and it’s time this …

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Moving the Kentucky Wildcats Beyond Coal

This week, I spoke at the University of Kentucky, home to a polluting coal plant, lots of coal industry money, and a student body hungry to move beyond coal and embrace a clean energy future. Many of us look to colleges and universities as pioneers of new technology and innovation, where a new generation learns and leads. That's definitely what I saw this week on the beautiful campus of the University of Kentucky. UK students want their school to be a leader, too, but unfortunately the campus remains stuck in the past due to their ties to coal. They know …

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World Forest Area Still on the Decline

By Emily E. Adams Forests provide many important goods, such as timber and paper. They also supply essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and space for recreation. Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. (One hectare = 2.47 acres.) This is down from the pre-industrial area of 5.9 billion hectares. According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation was at its highest rate in the 1990s, when each year the world lost …

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As Romney mocks climate, Obama mocks Arctic

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise...is to help you and your family. – Willard Mitt Romney, August 30, 2012

The moment Mitt Romney mocked the climate crisis will be cursed, rued, and lamented by future generations. It might even be cursed, rued, and lamented by Mitt Romney, if he looks back on that line as the beginning of the end of his flirtation with young voters and their planet. After all, America’s best and brightest youth are pouring themselves into innovation to create clean energy, to solve the climate crisis, and win the future…and Mitt Romney tonight sent the message that his America has no place for them.

But while Romney mocked the Earth with his words, President Obama is mocking the planet with his actions.

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King Coal’s Road to Nowhere: the Coalfields Expressway

A mountaintop removal coal mining site in Fork Ridge, Virginia. Photo courtesy of SouthWings and Appalachian Voices. In the tranquil, misty mountains of southwest Virginia, the coal industry is trying to build its very own road to nowhere. King Coal's latest scheme is to try and take $2 billion of federal funds -- our tax dollars -- to build the Coalfields Expressway through rural Southwest Virginia. Coal companies plan to use mountaintop removal mining to flatten the area to make way for the road, while they keep the profits from the coal they extract. While the coal companies call it …

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Albany Action a Big Boost to No-Fracking Movement

Upwards of 2,000 people attended the Don’t Frack New York demonstration yesterday, Monday, August 27 in Albany, N.Y. That’s a lot of people on a work day in the last week of August. But it wasn’t just the numbers that were impressive. It was the vision articulated by numerous speakers at the pre-march and post-march rallies that Cuomo should be rising to the challenge of history and connecting with the history of past NY state leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Instead of allowing fracking, he should embrace a green energy program to make NY a national leader in the absolutely …

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