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Jun 172010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Leaders of the wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-power, biomass, ethanol and energy efficiency industries have banded together to call for an American energy bill that would drive the nation toward a clean energy future.

Solar panel installation (Photo: Oregon DOT)

The coalition of renewable energy groups wants Congress to move quickly to pass an energy bill, with or without carbon pricing, to help create and secure jobs, stabilize the U.S. economy and develop the domestic industries that will replace fossil fuels.

Big oil, gas and coal industries have a wealth of money to lobby Congress to maintain the status quo, said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a news conference Thursday.

Yet, polls and surveys show that the vast majority of Americans support moving forward with renewable energy. Congress should listen to its constituents, he said.

“It’s going to take Congress standing up and doing something and hopefully they’ve got the guts to do so,” Resch said.

The new energy coalition wants Congress to include subsidies, incentives and policies favorable to their industries in any new energy and climate bill crafted by Congress. So far federal lawmakers have failed to pass either a major energy or climate bill, except for the Waxman-Markey measure that passed in the House in 2009 but was never adopted when the Senate’s attempts at a similar law faltered. In his Oval Office address this week, President Obama called on Congress to reach an agreement on an energy package in July. Leaders say they hope to produce a new bill, cobbled together from areas of agreement in several previous proposals.

Many believe that moving America into a cleaner energy economy will require taxing or putting fees on the carbon emissions of existing fossil fuel industries to level the playing field for new energy sources. But a carbon cap-and-trade concept has proven to be a major hurdle to passing energy legislation.

The new coalition of renewable energy associations and leadership at Thursday’s news conference said that taxing or pricing carbon emissions should be a part of American’s larger energy plan, but if elected leaders cannot agree on a carbon plan, they should pass an energy bill without it.

A bill favorable to renewable energy could still help drive the new industries forward, they said, and wouldn’t preclude Congress from taxing or pricing carbon at a later time.

“Putting a price on carbon or capping carbon is critical to driving energy to its greatest potential,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. But there are still a “wealth of provisions” that can be put in place to “start us on that path,” she said.

The members of the new coalition said it was more important to act quickly, and would prefer a pure energy package that didn’t include a cap-and-trade plan, if it appeared that carbon pricing would derail a energy plan, as it has so far in the Senate.

The Alliance to Save Energy was founded in 1977.

Wind energy, which has been spurred by production tax credits that come up for renewal every few years, would benefit from long-term clarity and supports, even if carbon pricing were not in place, said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.  A bill with strong incentives for wind would be enough to help companies hang on and prosper in the U.S., otherwise those companies will move efforts overseas to fulfill demand there, Bode said.

“We’re (the coalition) for renewable, efficient jobs in this economy,” she said. “There are companies hurting right now because there’s no (energy) policy in place.”

Among the other types of provisions – beyond a carbon fees — that can help renewable energy develop are tax incentives for homeowners that use clean energy; production tax credits for wind and solar producers; supports for manufacturing; tax abatements for new wind, solar and geothermal installations or related manufacturing, grid improvements to make room for clean energy transmission and other policies that make using domestically produced energy cost-effective.

The AWEA has argued vigorously that a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) for the United States also should be a part of any major energy bill. A RES which would set targets for obtaining a certain percentage of energy from clean sources and send positive signals to investors about wind, solar and other renewables. Several states, many of which have developed a significant base of wind producers, already have enacted renewable goals, generally referred to as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

The U.S. has 80 biomass plants in operation.

Biomass, hydropower and ethanol industry representatives emphasized at the news conference that their businesses provide American jobs and domestic power that cannot be outsourced overseas. Biomass spokesman Bob Cleaves noted that making fuel from waste wood and cellulose brings green jobs to many areas of the U.S., including parts of the hard hit Southeast U.S., suffering doubly because of job losses related to the BP Oil Spill.

“Biomass power is a clean energy jobs machine,” said Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association.

Resch and others noted, also, that if American taxpayers invest in clean energy now, they’ll at least get  a payback later in terms of cleaner air, ongoing jobs and continuing supplies of energy that don’t require despoiling the land.

He chided opponents in the fossil fuel industry for spreading the idea that a clean energy bill would be too costly, when it should bring down electricity costs in the long run.

”That’s just disingenuous coming from people who’ve  been supported for the last century with subsidies,” Resch said, noting that oil and gas companies enjoyed more than $550 billion in global supports last year.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Mar 192010

From Green Right Now Reports

With prices down and incentives still available, more and more individuals and businesses are looking into solar panels as a way to cut down energy costs and protect the environment. According to a poll released this week, support also is growing for solar on the utility scale.

Image: First Solar

A utility-scale solar plant in Blythe, Calif. Image: First Solar

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) unveiled statistics gathered by Gotham Research Group that show 75 percent of those surveyed advocate the development of solar energy plans on public lands. The survey also determined that solar was the first choice as best use of public land (38 percent).

Asked which energy sources the government should prioritize, respondents picked solar farms and wind (22 percent each), natural gas and nuclear (16 percent each), oil (11 percent) and coal (4 percent). Findings were based on polling conducted February 24-26, involving a sample of 500 American adults 18 years of age or older. The margin of error on the total sample of 500 is +/- 4.4 percent.

“When Americans talk about solar energy, they usually envision rooftop systems, which are great. But it’s important to also realize the significant role that utility-scale solar has to play,” said Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who joined a conference call to announce the results.

“Large solar installations use economies of scale to achieve significant cost savings and help Americans to get the most solar ‘bang for the buck.’ It’s great to confirm that the rest of America is just as excited about utility solar as we are.”

According to the SEIA, five new pilot plants came on line in 2009 and more than 100 utility-scale solar projects are under development. The group estimates that projects represent more than 17 gigawatts of capacity, enough to provide clean power to 3.4 million households and to create more than 100,000 jobs.

Jan 052010

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

The clock has just struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2020, and your rooftop cocktail party is in full swing. An urban garden, with potted evergreens and fruit trees, carpets the top of your downtown apartment building. The structure itself is vintage – a 1960′s brownstone that’s been retrofitted, by city-wide mandate. It operates on the new multi-source national electrical grid, which is supplied by wind, solar, geothermal power, as well as fossil fuels whose emissions are trapped underground.

Rooftop Garden (Photo: Adpower99/Dreamstime.)

Rooftop Garden (Photo: Adpower99/Dreamstime.)

In your apartment, appliances and plumbing fixtures are energy- and water-efficient – something you were able to afford with the help of government incentives that started in 2010.

As the New Year turns, friends sip mojitos with mint freshly cut from your herb garden, nibbling locally made goat cheese, accented by your own roof-grown tomatoes and cukes. A rainwater-collection system irrigates your vegetable garden, and the rooftop’s community compost fertilizes it. Solar-heated water percolates through your plumbing, and a mobile rooftop solar system heats and cools your home. Several stories below, in the building’s underground parking lot, the family car is getting its nightly re-charge.

It’s a smart, self-contained life, one that consumes no more than it requires, and produces some of its own food and energy on-site. And believe it or not, you are paying less for utilities, transportation – for life, in general – than you did a decade ago. That’s because U.S. policy-makers and legislators pushed so hard ten years before to put the country on an aggressive path toward a sustainable, renewable-energy future.

Imagine if they hadn’t pushed through the Energy and Power Bill in 2010, or the emissions Cap and Trade plan or later, the Carbon Tax bill… Imagine if progressive, quickly instituted policies and incentives hadn’t reassured manufacturers and factory owners that it was a good idea to retool and hire and train all those “green-economy” workers. …

This is the future we could see, the best case scenario we might see, if the White House and U.S. Congress and the rest of us act aggressively – now – to grow a green economy and reduce carbon emissions.

Is it Possible?

Most conservative think-tanks and government agencies foresee a longer-term conversion to green energy. According to one DOE report, the fastest we could move would be to attain 20 percent wind by 2030, while still relying on fossil fuels for up to 78 percent of  our overall power as late as 2035.

There are quicker conversion scenarios offered by groups ranging from the Union of Concerned Scientists to the American Wind Energy Association , from the Worldwatch Institute and the Renewable Energy and a Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) to former Vice President Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection/Repower America plan.

The latter suggests the U.S. could be at 100 percent renewable in 10 years,  but that roadmap doesn’t give a breakdown on which types of energy would provide what percentage of our overall electricity needs.And Gore’s and similar plans have been criticized as requiring the economy to travel at a warp speed not possible on this planet. They’ve also been challenged as risky, because they’d be based totally on today’s technologies, when solar and geothermal and biofuels are rapidly improving and coming down in price. Of course this could help us get there more quickly, but it also warns against locking in commitments.

In fact, if there’s one thing all parties agree upon, it’s that there is no single, truly reliable breakdown for a ten-year scenario that predicts specifics for how the energy pie would be divided in 10 years; 20 percent solar? 30 percent wind? 40 percent conventional fossil fuels like natural gas? Where does nuclear power fit?
No one has a crystal ball.

According to Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University civil engineering professor and co-author of a recent report in Scientific American – “Evaluating the Feasibility of a Large Scale Wind, Water and Sun Energy Infrastructure” - in theory, the United States shouldn’t have a problem converting all “new production of electricity to renewable by 2020. The issue is, what’s ‘new’? It’s not going to be a high percent of the total. Each year you can replace a certain percent, but a (pre-existing) power plant can last 40 years.”

However, Jacobson adds,  ”It’s certainly feasible in ten years - if everybody put their minds to it – to say  all new power has to be renewable. We could be at 50 percent wind, 40 percent solar and 10 percent everything else, including geothermal, hydro-electric, even some tidal wave power.”

But converting our total energy production to renewables in 10 years is not a likely scenario, he says, because that would require the U.S. government to “take away all the subsidies from fossil fuels and shift them over to renewables” – unlikely, even with a progressive President and Congress.

“These coal plants that are grandfathered in, the way to make those go out of business is to change the subsidies, change the laws, but we’ll have a battle! Getting rid of the old stuff is easier said than done. We have all these people working in the industry and they are going to complain that we’re costing the country jobs, putting their companies out of business. And we’d need a job training program to shift them into other industries.”

But is it technically possible to have all new energy be renewable by 2020?

Yes,  says the professor, adding that we might already be at 25 percent renewable for new power now.

“Right now, wind is the second largest source of all new energy, after natural gas, and if we slowly get rid of the ‘old’ power, how fast that could occur depends on”  introducing things like new laws and incentives, aggressive policies that don’t change with each election, as well as shifting subsidies to green power interests and ridding the powers-that-be of outmoded mindsets.

Jacobson concludes:  ”The scenario of 100 percent conversion to renewables in 10 years is very slim. A 90 percent conversion – maybe a little less slim. … That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. All forces should be aligned to do these things. But given there are so many confliciting interests – there are lobbyists, naysayers, competing financial interests, the economic cycles, the political cycles – so many potential roadblocks. … You can’t just shut down the existing plants and have new generation on-line in 10 years. You could imagine the law suits. The goal is there, but if you think about it as retiring existing things as they go down, there’s probably less of a fight on that front.”

And, as the civil engineer points out, ” electric power is not the only thing you’re trying to change. You’re trying to change the entire infrastructure, so you want to go down the path of least resistance. It’s better to get 25 percent across the board – for everything, for other sectors, and not just (go for) 100 percent for electric power. Those other sectors include industrial, transportation, energy efficiency” for our built-environment.

As for which type of renewable energy will create the largest chunk of power in America, no one can say. So let’s take a look at the three main ones  consistently mentioned by renewable-energy proponents. First up, wind power.

Mar 202009

From Green Right Now Reports

The solar energy sector enjoyed record growth last year, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The 2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review notes that 1,265 megawatts of solar power of all types were installed in 2008, increasing total U.S. solar power capacity by 17 percent to 8,775 megawatts. That increase included 342 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power, 139 thermal equivalent of solar water heating, 762 thermal equivalent of pool heating and an estimated 21 megawatts of solar space heating and cooling.

“Despite severe economic pressures in the United States, demand for solar energy grew tremendously in 2008,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the solar association, said in a statement. “Increasingly, solar energy has proven to be an economic engine for this country, creating thousands of jobs, unleashing billions in investment dollars and building new factories from New Hampshire to Michigan to Oregon.”

The report said grid-tied photovoltaic power led with a growth rate of 81 percent for the amount of installed power — 292 megawatts in 2008, up from 161 megawatts in 2007. Solar water heating installation grew at a 50 percent rate, but pool heating growth slowed by 3 percent in 2008.

While no concentrating solar power plants went online in the U.S. last year, 2009 projects in the pipeline will add more than 6 gigawatts of capacity. Among these are projects planned for California’s Mojave Desert, Arizona and Florida. The association says four gigawatts of solar energy can power up to a million households.

The industry also notes that several states have added or expanded incentives or requirements for solar energy, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri and Ohio. A total of 28 states have renewable portfolio standards that require a defined amount of energy be generated from renewable sources, with 19 of these states mandating a portion come from solar or distributed sources.

But the emerging industry says it must have continued support from the federal government to realize it long-term potential. A total of 42 states and the District of Columbia now have net metering rules allowing owners of solar energy systems to sell excess electricity back to the grid. However, these rules differ from state to state and solar association executives say a unified national policy is necessary.

“To maintain our industry’s growth, create jobs and meet President Obama’s goal of doubling renewable energy production in the next three years, we need smart federal policies, such as a renewable portfolio standard with a specific solar provision that help to develop and deploy vast solar resources around the country,” said Resch. “Today’s solar technology combined with the right policies will help us double solar production in the United States and move us to a clean, energy future.”

U.S. photovoltaic manufacturing capacity grew by 65 percent, creating new jobs in states such as California, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee, the report says.

“The growth of solar manufacturing jobs in the U.S. was a breath of fresh air for communities hit hard by the recession. The recently enacted manufacturing tax credit will give further incentive to manufacturers, such as my company Suntech America, to invest in new operations in the U.S.” Roger Efird, chairman of SEIA and President of Suntech America, Inc., said in a statement. “With the right policies, solar deployment will continue robust growth and thousands of new green-collar jobs in manufacturing will be created in states where jobs are needed most.”

The association noted that the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 extends by eight years the federal solar investment tax credit that has helped spur U.S. market growth in recent years. The report predicts the extension will aid long-term planning and stimulate investment in solar.

Here are the states that led in grid-tied photovoltaic installation:

  • California — 178.6 megawatts (MW)
  • New Jersey — 22.5 MW
  • Colorado — 21.6 MW
  • Nevada — 13.9
  • Hawaii — 11.3 MW

For solar water heating systems, Hawaii led states, installing 37 percent of the total U.S. systems in 2008, followed by Florida (20 percent), California (7 percent), Colorado (5 percent) and Arizona (5 percent). The Mid-Atlantic States, an important emerging region for solar, installed 7 percent of solar water heating systems.

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