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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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Nearly 100 Mayors Speak Out in Support of Mercury Safeguards

Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office publicly released a letter signed by nearly 100 mayors from across the U.S. supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury safeguards.

From Mayor Bloomberg's release:

Cutting mercury pollution will save countless lives and help millions of Americans avoid the terrible health consequences it produces. That is why today I am proud to join nearly 100 of my fellow mayors from around the country in offering our support for EPA's new mercury standards.Twenty-two years is too long to wait for this common sense measure.

A diverse range of mayors signed onto the letter, representing big cities, small towns, and everything in between. Lots of states are represented, including coal mining states like Kentucky. I'm proud to say that the mayor of my town, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, signed the letter – maybe your mayor did, too.

If your mayor signed the letter, I hope you'll thank them through Facebook, Twitter, or letter to the editor of your local paper – you can find the full list of mayors on page two of the letter (PDF).

Believe it or not, while coal plants are our nation's #1 source of mercury pollution, until this year there were no national mercury standards in place for coal plants. None at all! Coal plants could just spew 100% of their toxic mercury into the air, which then made its way into our waterways and the fish that we eat. Expectant moms would then pass that mercury onto their babies in the womb, every year putting over 300,000 newborn babies at risk of life-long developmental problems, like lowered IQ and delays in walking and talking.

Congress required these safeguards back in 1990, but the coal industry successfully blocked them for over two decades. That loophole was finally closed earlier this year, when the EPA put standards in place that will require all coal-fired power plants to reduce their toxic mercury pollution by 90%.

As a mom, I’m thankful to these bold public officials for speaking out for public health, and I stand with them as they tell the EPA, "Clean, healthy air and water are fundamental American rights and we are eager to work with your agency to ensure these historic protections are quickly implemented."

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We Need New Action on Renewable Electricity at Rio+20

Since 2002 the amount of wind, solar, and geothermal electricity in the energy mix throughout the world has risen from nearly non-existent levels to something that shows up in energy statistics.  Despite this important increase, these sources of electricity still count for a modest amount of the electricity in the world’s largest economies. So twenty years after the first Earth Summit in Rio, it is time that world leaders return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Rio+20 Earth Summit and step up their game on renewable electricity. Countries, companies, cities, and individuals need to commit to increasing the amount of electricity production from these sources so that they account for 15 percent of total electricity produced in 2020.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is releasing a new report — Delivering on Renewable Energy Around the World — which shows the progress of each of the G20 countries since 2002.  The report concludes that significant progress has been made since 2002 – when countries last met for an Earth Summit – but much more needs to be done. When leaders meet in Rio they can help unleash the potential of renewable electricity.

Some countries are rising to the top. As of 2011, the European Union (E.U.) has the most electricity produced from these sources, with Germany the most out of the G20 countries.  Other countries like the U.S., China, Mexico, and Brazil lag behind.  While all these countries have made important progress since 2002 they are still significantly behind other countries like New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Iceland (see map).

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Solving the climate crisis means saying yes and no

A version of this article originally appeared on Grip on Climate.

David Roberts here at Grist and Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress kicked off a good discussion last week about the roles of “yes” and “no” in climate work. This would-be schism dominates Climate Solutions’ strategy sessions, so I must weigh in.

Climate Solutions is a "yes" outfit. Roberts nailed our MO: We’re all about “forging of opportunistic coalitions.” We accept “compromise, tedium, and endless setbacks.” Roberts says “it’s just more fun to rage against The Man,” but we’re actually to the point where we revel in “the boring of hard boards.” Our mission statement even makes it sound romantic, adventurous: “ ... galvanizing leadership, growing investment, and bridging divides”!

Here’s the thing, though: With no meaningful climate policy commitment -- no binding emission limits, no carbon pricing, not even a clean energy standard -- the awesome work of building a clean energy economy is proceeding in parallel to the unfolding disaster of climate disruption, rather preventing it. We can say “yes” 'til we’re blue in the face, but we can’t call it “climate solutions” unless we stop the beast.

Read more: Climate Policy, Politics