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Fri, 2014-12-05 11:00Mike Gaworecki
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George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary Of State, On Climate Change: "The Potential Results Are Catastrophic"

George Shultz, who served as President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, is not only willing to buck the Republican Party's orthodoxy on global warming by acknowledging climate science, he's outright calling for action. And he's even willing to walk the talk.

Shultz, a former University of Chicago economics professor and president of Bechtel, has installed solar panels on his house and drives an electric car around the Stanford University campus, where he’s a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.

According to Bloomberg, Shultz’s climate awakening came when a retired Navy admiral showed him time-lapse footage of disappearing Arctic sea ice and “explained the implications for global stability.”

“The potential results are catastrophic,” Shultz says to his fellow Republicans. “So let’s take out an insurance policy.”

Fri, 2014-11-28 12:33Mike Gaworecki
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Walmart’s Reliance On Dirty Energy Responsible For 8 Million Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution Per Year

Recent revelations that the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart, are funding attacks against the rooftop solar industry called into question the big-box retailer’s very public “100% renewable energy” commitment. A new report by the Institute on Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) documenting Walmart’s massive carbon emissions is likely to add even more fuel to that fire.

According to ILSR, which also exposed the Walton Family’s anti-rooftop solar initiatives, Walmart is one of the heaviest users of coal-fired electricity in the United States, resulting in 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution produced every year by the mega chain’s operations.

Since making its environmental commitments in 2005 with great fanfare, Walmart has done little to honor its pledge to transition to renewable energy and “be a good steward of the environment.”

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, wrote in April that Walmart's use of renewables peaked in 2011 and has slipped since then.

“Walmart’s progress on renewable power is particularly pitiful when you look at other retailers,” she added. “Staples, Kohl's, and Whole Foods, along with numerous small businesses, have already passed the 100 percent renewable power mark.”

Today, just 3% of the electricity powering Walmart’s U.S. stores comes from renewable sources.

Fri, 2014-11-21 10:54Mike Gaworecki
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EPA’s Clean Power Plan Could Leave A Lot Of Renewable Energy Gains On The Table

Many states are already on track to meet or beat the renewable energy targets laid out for them by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, according to a new report from Earthjustice, which is calling on the agency to strengthen the plan in order to promote more ambitious renewable energy growth.

The Clean Power Plan sets out different emissions reduction levels for each state to reach by 2030, and suggests renewable energy targets as one means of achieving those goals. But Earthjustice has found that many states have already adopted their own renewable energy standards that either meet or even exceed the suggestions made by the EPA.

Three extreme examples are California, Colorado, and Hawaii, some of the states that have done the most to embrace renewable energy. California ranks first in installed solar capacity and third in wind—it even set a record earlier this year for single-day solar photovoltaic energy generation—and has set a mandatory goal of generating 33% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Yet the Clean Power Plan sets a standard of 21% by 2030 for the Golden State.

Colorado has a similarly ambitious self-imposed goal of 30% by 2020, but the EPA’s suggestion is also 21% by 2030. And Hawaii, which is aiming for 40% by 2030, is being urged by the Clean Power Plan to hit just 10%.

Here’s how several other clean energy early adopter states' own commitments stack up against the goals called for in the Clean Power Plan:

Sun, 2014-11-16 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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Walton Family, Owners of Walmart, Using Their Billions To Attack Rooftop Solar

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Perhaps it was that threat to its long-term strategic plan that led First Solar CEO James Hughes to publish an op-ed in the Arizona Republic voicing his support for a proposal by Arizona Public Service, the state's biggest energy utility, to charge owners of rooftop solar installations a fee of $50 - $100 a month, which would effectively wipe out any economic benefits of generating one's own power. A compromise was eventually reached to adopt a lower fee of roughly $5 per household, but even that has had a chilling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in Arizona, as residential solar installations subsequently dropped 40% in APS territory.

Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said at the time that First Solar's move was unprecedented: “no solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar did it.”

Having collected its scalp in Arizona, First Solar is now attacking policies that foster rooftop solar in California and Nevada, according to the ILSR report.

Mon, 2014-11-03 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Utilities Couldn't Kill Distributed Solar, So Now They're Co-Opting The Business Model

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they… steal your business model?

Solar energy is booming: More than half a million US homes and businesses have gone solar, some 200,000 in just the last two years alone. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that in the first half of 2014, a new solar installation went up every 3.2 minutes.

That scares the hell out of the electric utilities, who have been fighting rooftop solar tooth and nail.

Utilities are right to be scared—the rise of distributed solar energy generation presents an existential crisis to their business model. But solar's steady march has not slowed down, so now the utilities are taking a different tact: they're simply trying to co-opt the rooftop solar business altogether.

“You have to question their motives,” Will Craven, a spokesman for the Alliance for Solar Choice, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They’ve been attacking rooftop solar for years at this point, and they’ve tended to lose most of those battles. This is just the latest tactic.”

Thu, 2014-10-23 09:00Mike Gaworecki
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Uncertainty Over Tax Credits Causing Turmoil In Renewable Energy Sector

Uncertainty over the future of the wind production tax credit and the solar investment tax credit—and Congressional inaction on both matters—could pose a serious challenge to development in the renewable energy sector.

Wind energy had a huge year in 2012, with 13,128 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity installed, but has failed to get anywhere close to matching that number since. The fact that the wind production tax credit (PTC) expired last year might have something to do with that.

Wind energy developers only need to have made minor investments by the 2013 deadline to qualify for the tax credit, so there are still a number of new installations in the works, and 2014 has so far seen a fair amount of growth in wind energy capacity. But that will not be the case for long if Congress doesn't act.

According to the American Wind Energy Association's latest quarterly market report, some 711 turbines capable of producing 1,254 megawatts of wind energy were installed in the US during the first three quarters of 2014, which is more than in all of 2013.

But while there are more than 13,600 more MW of wind capacity currently under construction, that number is expected to drop off sharply as projects are brought online and fewer new projects are started due to the expiration of the wind production tax credit (PTC).

Fri, 2014-10-10 09:53Sharon Kelly
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A Shift from Fossil Fuels Could Provide $1.8 Trillion in Savings, Two New Reports Conclude

A worldwide transition to low carbon fuels could save the global economy as much as $1.8 trillion over the next two decades, according to two reports published Thursday by the Climate Policy Initiative.

By switching to renewable energy sources, the high costs associated with extracting and transporting coal and gas could be avoided, the reports, titled Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Financial Impact of the Low-Carbon Transition, and Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Impact of Different Policy Pathways on Fossil Fuel Asset Values, conclude.

This would free up funds to bolster financial support for wind, solar and other renewables – with enormous sums left over, the reports conclude. Following an approach aimed at capping climate change at 2 degrees Celsius will require walking away from massive reserves of fossil fuels, stranding the assets of major corporations, many researchers have warned. The new reports give this issue a closer look, demonstrating that more than half of the assets at risk are actually owned by governments not corporations.

This finding could be double-edged, since that means taxpayer money in many countries is at stake and those governments have the power to establish policies that could promote or repudiate the fossil fuels they control. But the reports' conclusion that trillions could be freed up if governments and private companies abandon those assets could make it easier for governments to leave those fossil fuels in the ground.

Wed, 2014-10-01 09:56Mike Gaworecki
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Solar Could Be Our Biggest Source Of Energy By 2050, If Politicians Make it Happen

The sun could be our biggest single source of energy and prevent 6 bilion tonnes of climate-warming CO2 pollution by 2050, according to two new reports.

Issued by the International Energy Agency, the two “Technology Roadmap” reports conclude that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could supply 16% of the world's electricity needs and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could provide another 11% by the mid-point of the 21st century.

Underscoring these findings, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven says, “The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades.”

To get there, however, the reports warn that “clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers” must be provided in order to inspire confidence in investors, as both PV and solar thermal electricity technologies like CSP require big up-front capital expenditures.

“Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps,” Van der Hoeven adds.

Mon, 2014-07-14 11:39Mike Gaworecki
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California And Texas, Pioneers In The Mainstreaming of Renewable Energy

California and Texas continue to break new ground in making electricty generation from renewable sources a vital part of the United States' energy mix.

California, for its part, is following up on the huge year solar energy had in 2013 by breaking the record for single-day solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generation back in March, and then breaking its own record on June 1. The new record in California — 4,767 Megawatts of utility-scale solar PV energy fed into the grid in one day — is the national record, as well.

California installed some 2,261 MW of solar capacity in 2013, more than any other state, and looks to be on track to post up even bigger numbers this year. PV Magazine reports that “California’s solar footprint is growing bigger with each passing day, week and month, with May recording three times as much solar generation as recorded during the same month in 2013.”

Texas may seem like a strange bedfellow for California when it comes to the mainstreaming of energy sources that aren't oil, but the Lone Star State set a new record for itself on March 26 when 10.2 GW, nearly a third of the state's electricity generation that day, came from the wind. State regulators don't expect that record to last long, either.

These two examples point to a clear trend of renewable energy scaling up nationwide in blue states and red states alike.

Tue, 2014-03-04 21:01Mike Gaworecki
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Solar Power Had A Huge Year In 2013

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.

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