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Give Solar Panels a Break

When I helped Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger create the Million Solar Roofs Initiative in California a few years ago, we designed it to stimulate mass production of solar panels to bring down cost. What we didn’t anticipate was that the building industry would crater around the same time and that unemployed roofers and electricians would find new jobs installing those clean energy systems, which created competition and dramatically lower installation costs. In fact, about 60% of the cost of installing a rooftop solar powerplant is tied up in the American parts and labor other than the solar panels themselves. I emphasize …

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Urgent: Tell Your Senators to Protect Public Health – Don’t Roll Back EPA’s Mercury Standards

A big Senate vote this week will determine the fate of mercury safeguards that continue to garner overwhelming support from Americans nationwide. This past weekend the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution (PDF) supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury pollution standards. This comes on the heels of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's letter to the EPA, signed by 91 of his fellow mayors, in support of these critical public health protections. Millions of Americans believe EPA is doing the right thing in requiring that coal companies clean up their act when it comes to mercury pollution. This week, …

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Fracking, Climate Action and July 28

“To address the huge threat posed by global warming, I believe it is essential to move as quickly as possible away from natural gas towards renewable energy resources, and to not further develop shale gas unless major (and expensive) steps are taken to greatly reduce methane emissions.” -Cornell U. professor Robert Howarth, May 31, 2012, testifying before the House of Representatives

“On July 28th, 2012, we invite community members and organizations everywhere to join us in Washington, D.C. for a rally at the Capitol to demand no more drilling that harms public health, water, and air. . . Elected officials and public agencies must insist that the industry stop all drilling that is dirty and dangerous, and put communities and the environment first, starting by removing special exemptions and subsidies for the oil and gas industry. Join community leaders, celebrities and policymakers and add your voice to the call for a clean, fossil fuel free energy future.”
-Call to Action at http://www.stopthefrackattack.org

There are two energy-related issues that have generated significant popular movement over the past year: the movement in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands oil extraction, and the movement against hydraulic fracturing of deep-underground shale to extract natural gas.

The stop-the-pipeline movement won an historic temporary victory, with the final decision still to be made. The stop-fracking movement has also won victories, among them many-months-long fracking moratoriums still in place, but not permanent, in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and the Delaware River basin area. However, fracking is taking place in 20 or so other states.

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1.21 Gigawatts!

New Local Solar Policy, Not DeLorean, Moving U.S. to Cleaner Future

In the past five years, a new U.S. renewable energy policy has quietly grown more popular, enabling enough solar power (1.21 gigawatts!) to send Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future.”  CLEAN programs – Clean Local Energy Accessible Now – have been adopted in 14 states and can significantly increase the deployment of local solar power, says a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

The 1.21 gigawatts of distributed solar power planned under CLEAN programs (also known as “feed-in tariffs”) represents one of the largest expansions of solar power in the country, without a focus on the largest scale projects.  CLEAN programs encourage rooftop and commercial-scale solar power located near where electricity is used.

“The rise of CLEAN programs is the answer to the question of capturing the economic benefits of clean energy development,” notes report author and ILSR senior researcher John Farrell.  “States and municipal utilities have created CLEAN programs to enable their citizens to become local energy and jobs producers.”

Read the Report

The report provides a list of the 17 operational CLEAN programs, from the tiny Farmers Electric Cooperative program in Iowa to the 500 megawatt statewide program in California, to the just-launched CLEAN programs in Los Angeles and Long Island, NY.  The report also explores the lessons learned from these early programs, so that policy makers looking to marry the energy and economic benefits of clean energy will be able to craft the most effective policy.

One of the big lessons is that state and local U.S. CLEAN programs begin to bring order to otherwise fragmented energy policy in the U.S.

“CLEAN is simple and comprehensive, unlike the hodge-podge of federal, state, and utility renewable energy incentives,” says Farrell.

“This local energy policy is getting us to a better future – and we don’t even need a time-traveling DeLorean.”

The report, U.S. CLEAN Programs: Where Are We Now? What Have We Learned? is available at ilsr.org

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

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Hot dam: Hydropower continues to grow

A version of this article originally appeared on Earth Policy Institute.

World hydroelectric power generation has risen steadily by an average 3 percent annually over the past four decades. In 2011, at 3,500 billion kilowatt-hours, hydroelectricity accounted for roughly 16 percent of global electricity generation, almost all produced by the world’s 45,000-plus large dams. Today hydropower is generated in over 160 countries.


Four countries dominate the hydropower landscape: China, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. Together they produce more than half of the world’s hydroelectricity.

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Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Must Be One of the Major Outcomes of Rio+20

twibbon-24-subsidies.pngWhat if I told you that governments around the world were spending almost $1 trillion dollars a year to subsidize activities that are driving global warming?  What if I told you that the leaders of the major countries had committed to phase-out these fossil fuel subsidies in 2009 but they hadn’t really done much to follow through on that commitment? What if I told you that countries had a chance to send a clear signal right now that it is time to finally phase-out these destructive subsidies?`  World leaders have a chance at Rio+20 to stop subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of nearly $1 trillion and make an important dent in reducing global warming.  And now you have a chance to tell these world leaders that it is time to end fossil fuel subsidies.  Join with NRDC, 350.org, Avaaz.org, and other leading groups in telling world leaders that it is time to #endfossilfuelsubsidies.

Here is why this is so critical and why important progress can be made at Rio+20.

Nearly $1 trillion reasons to change course. Countries are spending around $1 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels.

This is 12 times more in subsidies than are being provided to renewable energy* (see figure).

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EPA’s Boiler MACT Is an Economic Growth Opportunity

The new EPA air toxics standards, or “Boiler MACT” will tighten the pollution allowances for industrial (e.g., non-utility) coal boilers, and are widely and consistently being criticized as a threat to a still-fragile economy.  This criticism is coming from the usual corners (Inhofe, US Chamber of Commerce, etc.).  Meanwhile big-name engineering firms are turning out studies for affected industrials that say some variant of “you can install back end pollution controls that will reduce your fuel efficiency, you can switch your boiler to run on higher cost, cleaner fuels or you can shut down your manufacturing plant.” They’re all wrong.  …

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New Soot Pollution Standard Benefits Americans, Saves Lives

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a draft pollution standard for soot that will reduce one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of heart attacks every single year. Unfortunately, it is sure to come under attack by big polluters, so we will need to stand together to defend it. Soot, also known as particulate pollution, is the most harmful type of air pollution. Soot pollution is a significant health threat because these very fine particles, which come from burning fossil fuels, can be inhaled and lodge in the …

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Sex is better with energy efficiency

Something  must be done about the abysmal marketing of energy efficiency.  Never has such a big energy story received so little love. In the pie-throwing contest that passes for energy dialogue in our political culture, Solyndra gets the ink, while the biggest story by far goes unreported.   Keystone dominates the headlines, while new fuel economy standards languish in obscurity -- even though they'll save far more oil than Keystone will deliver and create more jobs, at a fraction of the cost.  Clean energy naysayers offer a rhetorical choice between a "Keystone economy vs. a Solyndra economy", when the actual economy …

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Mark Ruffalo & One Hulking Solar Opportunity in NY

Actor Mark Ruffalo is taking a break from playing a big, green superhero in the movies to talking about something bigger and greener happening in New York: new solar policy. With rising electricity needs, plenty of sunshine, and a local workforce primed for jobs, New York has what it takes to lead the nation's solar economy. But the state's existing policies have installed just over 100 megawatts of solar to date. By comparison, their neighbors in New Jersey have more than six times that amount. After nearly three years of hard work - lawmakers in Albany are just steps away …

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