Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category
17 July 14
FTER years of hype, renewable energy has gone mainstream in much of the United States and, increasingly, around the world.
Enormous wind projects are moving ahead in oil- and gas-rich Wyoming, utility-scale solar projects are sprouting up in California and Nevada and tens of thousands of homeowners nationwide are installing affordable solar panels on their rooftops.
But many communities that need small-scale renewable energy remain out in the cold — literally and figuratively.
An oil covered activist. (photo: Feminist Activism)
24 May 14
attempted to enter Canada on a Tuesday, flying into the small airport at Fort McMurray, Alberta, waiting for my turn to pass through customs.
“What brings you to Fort Mac?” a Canada Border Services Agency official asked. “I’m a journalist,” I said. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” He pointed me to border security. Another official, a tall, clean-shaven man, asked the same question. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” he frowned. “You mean oil sands. We don’t have tar here.”
Up until the 1960s, the common name for Canada’s massive reserves of heavy bitumen mixed with sand was “tar sands.” Now, the phrase is officially considered a colloquialism, with “oil sands” being the accurate name, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. But “tar sands” is not really an informal phrase in Canada as much as it is a symbol of your views. If you say tar sands, you’re an environmentalist. If you say tar sands, you’re the enemy.
“We might have to send you back to the States,” the official said, after asking if I had working papers. I didn’t, so I phoned a colleague staying at a nearby hotel. “This guy at border security says I need working papers or something and that he’s gonna send me back to the States,” I said.
“Why did you say I was going to send you back to the States? I didn’t say that,” the official said after I hung up. “See, you’re already misrepresenting what’s going on here.”
My interrogation included details about where I was going, who I was meeting with, why I wanted to see the sands. The official had me open my bag so he could see if I was carrying cameras. Then he let me into Canada. “Because I’m being nice,” he said, and gave me a certificate stating that I must leave the country by Friday.
Can’t Criticize If You Don’t Know
In all, I was delayed for about 45 minutes — a relatively painless experience — but I did get the feeling I wasn’t the only one being hassled in Canada for an association with environmentalism. Indeed, as interviews with multiple reporters and activists show, the federal government places numerous obstacles in the way of those who try to disseminate information about the Canadian tar sands. Many believe this has amounted to a full-on war.
There are logical reasons why impeding environmental journalists could be in Canada’s interest. The tar sands are the third largest oil reserve in the world, and production is currently accelerating so quickly that the government predicts capital investments will reach $218 billion over the next 25 years. Part of that investment could come from the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial proposal that, if approved, would bring up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil per day down to refineries in the U.S.
So it makes sense that Canadian officials may want to prevent environmental perspectives on Fort McMurray’s vast tar sands reserves, which have replaced thousands of acres of boreal forest with massive refineries and sprawling mining sites — shiny, black excavated deserts that sit next to glowing white ponds of chemical waste. A small portion of boreal forest remains, but it doesn’t do much to cover the scars.
CREDIT: NextGen Climate Action
From the air, you can see enormous white smokestacks 50 miles away. And from the ground, you can talk to those who have been physically harmed by accidental releases from the white ponds of tar sands chemical waste, called tailings ponds, which leech into the Athabasca river and flow downstream to First Nations communities like Fort Chip, where cancer rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years.
Stories that describe the detrimental effects of Canada’s fossil fuel boom — not to mention the high carbon-intensity of tar sands oil extraction or unlikelihood that mining sites will ever be adequately reclaimed — threaten public support for projects like Keystone XL, and by extension, speedy and lucrative development.
‘A Culture Of Secrecy’
According to Tom Henheffer, executive director of the non-profit Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Canadian federal government has been actively working for the last decade to prevent journalists’ access to information, particularly in science-related fields. The trend only got worse, he said, when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fierce supporter of tar sands development, took office in 2006.
“It’s specifically very bad in science-related fields, but it extends into every other field,” Henheffer said. “This government has a culture of secrecy that is extremely harmful to Canadian society.”
Henheffer, whose group in April released its annual Review of Free Expression in Canada Report Card, noted two main issues at play. One, he said, is an increase in the amount of bureaucracy journalists must go through to get information. The other is a gradual de-funding of research, so the information journalists want isn’t even created in the first place.
The CJFE’s report card gave a failing grade to Canada’s access-to-information (ATI) system, which saw delays beyond the legal time limit affecting almost 45 percent of information requests, and more than 80 percent of responses partially or mostly censored. That report card also slammed the government for cutting scientific research, dismissing more than 2,000 scientists and cutting 165 research programs affecting “almost every federal scientific and monitoring institution.”
The report also noted a nationwide “muzzling” of federal scientists, citing government efforts to ensure its scientists limit discussions with the media on their work — much of which includes the environmental and climate impacts of tar sands development. This was confirmed in 2007, when a leaked PowerPoint presentation from Environment Canada revealed that government scientists were told to refer all media queries to communications officers who would help them respond with “approved lines.”
The current climate, Henheffer said, is frustrating journalistic efforts throughout the country.
“They’ve essentially dismantled our access to information system,” he said. “It makes investigative journalism impossible.”
The ‘Extremist Threat’ Of Environmentalists
Along with access to information for journalists, Stephen Harper’s government has also been working to dismantle environmental groups, a fact that has been revealed, ironically, by document requests from journalists. Those documents show unprecedented attempts from agencies across the federal government to spy on, de-fund, and otherwise disrupt the efforts of environmental groups.
The most recent example of this has been a rigorous effort by the Canada Revenue Agency to target environmental groups for possible abuse of their nonprofit charity statuses, alleging they may be violating the limits on how much political advocacy work they can do. The CRA’s $8 million effort was launched in 2012, shortly after the pro-tar sands group Ethical Oil kicked off a public campaign to “expose the radical foreign funded environmental groups” criticizing the oil industry.
“There are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Joe Oliver, then-Natural Resources Minister, wrote at the time. “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”
One of the original groups targeted was ForestEthics, a British Columbia-based nonprofit with branches in Vancouver and San Francisco. One of the fiercest and more outspoken opponents of the tar sands and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the group responded by giving up its charitable status (thereby giving up tax breaks to its donors) so it could focus more on combating what it refers to as “attacks on the environment.”
“Ever since we formed the advocacy group we’ve been under further … ‘intense scrutiny’ I guess is the nicest way to put it, because the advocacy group is set up explicitly for the sake of taking on the Harper government,” ForestEthics tar sands campaigner Ben West said.
West said that since his group founded its advocacy arm, it has been a target of a recently-revealed spying effort by the Canadian federal government. That effort, revealed in November by a public records request from the Vancouver Observer, showed that officials had been sending spies to meetings of anti-tar sands groups, relaying their plans for rallies and strategies for public meetings.
What’s more, documents obtained in February by the Guardian revealed that both Canada’s national police force and intelligence agency view environmental activist protest activities as “forms of attack,” and depict those involved as national security threats. Greenpeace, for example, is officially regarded as an “extremist” threat.
CREDIT: Emily Atkin
West said the revelations have had a “chilling” effect on the groups’ volunteer and donor base.
“The word is out that ForestEthics is one of the groups that the federal government is paying close attention to, and that has an impact on people’s comfort levels and their desire to get involved,” West said. “If you look at the pieces of the documents we were able to get our hands on, they explain what was happening at meetings where you would have had to have been in the room to have known the content of that meeting.”
‘A Government Of Thugs’
In addition to the more-calculated attempts to prevent environmental criticism, multiple reporters and activists say they experience an egregious amount of defensiveness, spitefulness, and intimidation from the federal government that prevents them from doing their jobs effectively.
“We have a government of thugs in Ottawa these days who are absolutely ruthless,” said Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist who has been reporting critically on Canada’s oil and gas industry for more than 20 years. “It’s a hostility and thuggery, is the way I would describe it. That’s exactly what it is.”
Nikiforuk says he’s been shut out of government events, “slandered and libeled” by a member of the government’s conservative party, and repeatedly contacted by government flacks who criticize his reporting.
The most blatant example of government intimidation Nikiforuk can recall was when members of Canada’s Energy Resources Conservation Board actively tried to prevent the publication of his 2010 book, Tar Sands, claiming he made numerous factual errors and posting a long letter about it on its website. Nikifourk rebutted the claims, eventually winningthe Society of Environmental Journalist’s Rachel Carson Book Award for his reporting.
Documentary and satire filmmakers Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis also said they experienced government intimidation when, like me, they were detained at the Fort McMurray airport in October 2013. Unlike me, however, they were deported.
“He basically told us that the tar sands weren’t news, that he wasn’t recognizing us as journalists, and that if we wanted to come to Canada, we weren’t going to be able to do it today,” Damanskis said.
Though it seemed like at first they would be able to enter the country without working papers, Damanskis and Cobb said the border official had an “immediate change of heart” after watching a clip of their previous work — a video satirizing the infamous Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands pipeline spill.
Border spokesperson Lisa White said she was not authorized to speak on specific cases, and declined to specify whether officers were allowed to make entry decisions based on the content of journalists’ work. She did say, however, that documentary filmmakers required working papers to enter Canada, and that all entry decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
“All decisions are made in accordance with Canadian law,” she said.
Swift And Snarky Push-Back
Of course, it’s important to note that journalists like Nikiforuk, Damaskis, and Cobb are more likely to get negative feedback from Canadian government officials because they are not, and don’t claim to be, completely objective. All three are openly and fiercely opposed to the speed of tar sands development.
But even reporters who are seemingly more objective toward development have been subject to government push-back. For example, Economist correspondent Madelaine Drohan said via e-mail that Alberta’s provincial government once posted a “defensive” response on its website to an article she wrote that mentioned leaks from tailings ponds, which are large lakes of tar sands waste. That response has since been removed, but Drohan said she remembers it happening.
“It made me think that the government was even more sensitive than the industry,” she said.
As for hostility from the Alberta provincial government, one journalist pointed specifically to David Sands, a director at Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau, whose Twitter account is made up largely of rebuttals to journalism critical of Alberta government. In recent tweets, Sands compared two newspapers’ coverage of Parliament to “jihad,” among other critical responses.
“Yeah, I’m the mean guy,” Sands told ThinkProgress. “It’s definitely my personal style, but nobody told me to be mean.”
Sands said part of his job is tracking down stories that include inaccuracies about Alberta government policies. He said he’s the only one in his department with the specific mandate to do so.
CREDIT: NextGen Climate Action
Still, many have criticized Alberta for the number of people they’ve employed to hunt down stories. According to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation in April, Alberta employs 214 communications professionals at a cost of $21 million per year, a number that the National Post noted “far outstrips” the number of reporters who cover government.
Sands rebutted that story too, saying communications staff span a range of departments — healthcare, education, law enforcement — that are not all dedicated to attacking journalists.
“It’s sort of an enjoyment of the media to say we have 214 communications people who are all dealing with the media,” he said. “When reporting is challenged, people take it very personally.”
The Strategy Is Working – Or Is It?
Thus far, government push-back against environmental journalism seems to be working. As a recent survey of Canadian journalists showed, many environmental and climate stories about the tar sands often go unreported. That survey, titled “The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists, and Their Sources,” questioned 20 reporters with extensive daily experience reporting on the tar sands.
Of the 20, 14 said stories about the tar sands were not being told, and seven of those 14 said environmental issues were the main ones untouched. Environmental damage done by leaking tailings ponds and bitumen waste; toxic contaminants leeching into the water; the impact of excess sulfur produced in the mining process — all of those were included in the issues journalists perceive as under-reported.
“I hate this story,” one reporter who participated in the study said. “It’s important, but there’s no direction or progression.”
As for activist groups, Ben West of ForestEthics said the hostility has actually been helping his group’s efforts. And it’s not just the group itself. As the government’s attacks have become more and more public, West says his and other environmental advocacy groups have been obtaining record-breaking donations from individuals — what he calls a “clear sign” that Canadians want to protect their environment from the tar sands.
“I actually kind of welcome these attacks from the federal government in a sense, because they are a great opportunity to highlight how crazy our government’s acting, and use it as a reason to ask people for more support,” he said. “Many Canadians feel strongly about this. Let the government create their own disincentives.”
On Sunday, Germany’s impressive streak of renewable energy milestones continued, with renewable energy generation surging to a record portion — nearly 75 percent — of the country’s overall energy demand by midday. With wind and solar in particular filling such a huge portion of the country’s power demand, electricity prices actually dipped into the negative for much of the afternoon, according to Renewables International.
In the first quarter of 2014, renewable energy sources met a record 27 percent of the country’s electricity demand, thanks to additional installations and favorable weather. “Renewable generators produced 40.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, up from 35.7 billion kilowatt-hours in the same period last year,” Bloomberg reported. Much of the country’s renewable energy growth has occurred in the past decade and, as a point of comparison, Germany’s 27 percent is double the approximately 13 percent of U.S. electricity supply powered by renewables as of November 2013.
Observers say the records will keep coming as Germany continues its Energiewende, or energy transformation, which aims to power the country almost entirely on renewable sources by 2050.
“Once again, it was demonstrated that a modern electricity system such as the German one can already accept large penetration rates of variable but predictable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar PV power,” said Bernard Chabot, a renewable energy consultant based in France, via email. “In fact there are no technical and economic obstacles to go first to 20 percent of annual electricity demand penetration rate from a combination of those two technologies, then 50 percent and beyond by combining them with other renewables and energy efficiency measures and some progressive storage solutions at a modest level.”
Regardless, a recent analysis by the consulting firm Eclareon found that solar power has reached grid parity in Germany, meaning once all of the costs are accounted for, the price of commercial solar power is now equal to retail electricity rates.
And wind power reached record output levels last year — producing a massive 25.2 GW and accounting for 39 percent of the electricity supply on a single day in December.
The unprecedented growth of solar PV in particular has been fueled in large part by policies that incentivize clean energy. Germany’s simple feed-in tariff (FIT) policy, which pays renewable energy producers a set amount for the electricity they produce under long-term contracts, has driven the solar power boom. But as installations continued to outpace government targets, Germany announced last year that it would begin scaling back its feed-in tariff.
The FIT is financed by a surcharge paid by utility customers, but a major part of the problem stems from the fact that industry is largely exempt from the renewables surcharge — meaning the burden falls on households. Rather than adjust the industry exemption, the government instead proposed a “PV self-consumption charge” on new photovoltaic systems, something Germany’s Solar Industry Association recently announced it plans to challenge in court.
The equity of the renewables surcharge isn’t the only criticism of Germany’s power transformation. Along with cutting out fossil fuel-generated energy to a large extent, the transition to renewables includes completely phasing out nuclear power. These goals are only achievable in combination with greatly reduced energy demand. Instead, coal imports are increasing in order to meet the country’s baseload power demands. And retail electricity rates are high and rising, putting pressure on lower income individuals in particular.
But many of the criticisms are largely overblown, according to Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. The modest uptick in coal-fired generation was substituting for pricier natural gas, not representative of a return to coal as it’s often mischaracterized. In fact, last December, as renewable energy production continued to grow and energy demand shrank, Germany’s largest utility chose not to renew two long-term contracts for coal-fired power.
And while much is made of rising industrial electricity prices, Lovins points out that in fact, “giant German firms enjoy Germany’s low and falling wholesale electricity prices, getting the benefit of renewables’ near-zero operating cost but exempted from paying for them.”
And as for the impact on the consumer, “the FIT surcharge raised households’ retail price of electricity seven percent but renewables lowered big industries’ wholesale price 18 percent. As long-term contracts expire, the past few years’ sharply lower wholesale prices could finally reach retail customers and start sending households’ total electricity prices back down.”
What’s more, “in Germany you have the option of earning back your payments, and far more, by investing as little as $600 in renewable energy yourself,” Lovins writes. “Citizens, cooperatives, and communities own more than half of German renewable capacity, vs. two percent in the U.S.”
Challenges aside, Energiewende — rooted in the acknowledgement that a fossil fuel-based energy system is not sustainable — is remarkable for its scope and its widespread support, particularly in a heavily industrialized country like Germany. “Don’t forget what Germany is doing right now. It’s changing its power supply,” Paul Hockenos, a Berlin-based energy expert and journalist, told Voice of America earlier this year. “The last time when an energy supply was changed was the industrial revolution; this is something that has never been done before.”
Study shows how US could democratize systems, create jobs, and radically reduce emissions by 2050
Dramatically reduce carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels. Create millions of new jobs in the renewable energy sector and beyond. Democratize the energy system by increasing local control of production and resources.
Not only can all this be accomplished, say researchers and experts, it can be done with readily available technologies and on an expedited timeline that—if executed—would prove humanity capable of acting to address the crisis of planetary climate change before it’s too late.
Produced by both Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council, which represents the international wind industry, a new report released Monday—titled Energy [R]evolution – A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook (pdf)—details how by 2050, renewable energy sources could be producing close to 97% of electricity in the U.S. and approximately 94% of the country’s needs for heating and cooling homes and businesses.
“The driving goal of the Energy [R]evolution,” reads the report’s introduction, “is stopping global climate disruption, which is caused primarily by burning coal, oil, and methane gas. But the reasons to modernize our energy system are in numerable”.
The five key principles behind the “Energy [R]evolution” will be to:
• Implement renewable solutions, especially through decentralized energy systems and grid expansions
• Respect the natural limits of the environment
• Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy sources
• Create greater equity in the use of resources
• Decouple economic growth from the consumption of fossil fuels
Following on the heals of the IPCC’s latest review of the international scientific consensus on the perils of climate change in April and the U.S. National Climate Assessment last week, the report presents the case for a radical and rapid energy transformation and a pathway for meeting the reduced emissions that the scientific community says is urgent.
“The E[R] demonstrates that transitioning to a renewable energy economy can free resources for economic development,” said Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative for Greenpeace USA. “It means more and better jobs, greater energy independence, and it is more democratic as citizens attain more control of energy production.”
The blueprint would lead to about 1.5 million energy-related jobs in 2030, say the authors of the report, which is a full 35% more than projected under the “business as usual” scenario outlined by the Energy Information Agency in its 2013 Annual Outlook (pdf).
According to the report, the renewable energy strategy is designed “to wean the economy off dirty fuels as thoroughly and quickly as possible, and in a way that is technologically, politically, and ecologically realistic.”
Sven Teske, a renewable energy expert with Greenpeace International, says that the climate realities and the economics of “business as usual” simply cannot be reconciled and that swift action must be taken.
“Growing concerns about climate change and air pollution, along with quickly falling costs of renewable energy, are already upending the utility industry’s business model and threatening to turn fossil fuel reserves into stranded assets,” said Teske. “The Energy [R]evolution report demonstrates that the rapid changes in the energy sector could expand dramatically, with major implications for many industries.”
In order to shift the rules that govern energy production and deployment in the U.S., the report argues that the following policies—at the local, state, and/or federal level—should be enacted to make such an “energy [R]evolution” possible:
1. Abolish all subsidies, including any policies which confer a financial benefit, to fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The End Polluter Welfare Act, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) is an example of federal action that must move forward.
2. Internalize the currently socialized cost of industrial climate pollution, such as with a federal carbon fee.
3. Mandate strict efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings and vehicles.
4. Establish legally binding targets for renewable energy and combined heat and power generation.
5. Reform electricity markets by guaranteeing priority access to the grid for renewable power generators.
6. Provide defined and stable returns for investors, for example by feed-in tariff schemes.
7. Implement better labeling and disclosure mechanisms to provide more environmental product information.
8. Increase research and development budgets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
There’s a new currency here called Bay Bucks that’s helping businesses trade in services and get off the dollar. There’s a new agriculture-tech startup called CropMobster helping redistribute excess produce and cut down on food waste. And a new electricity provider, Sonoma Clean Power, just flipped on the switch May 1 to supply tens of thousands of Sonoma County residents and businesses with renewable energy.
Call it the Solutions Movement. Something is stirring in northern California and it feels a lot like the future – not the Android kind, and definitely not the Wall Street kind, but a more abundant, collective form of wealth that’s being generated in a community whose new energy, food and economic systems seem to be falling in sync. The takeaway from last week’s Sustainable Enterprise Conference, held in Rohnert Park an hour north of San Francisco, is that the future here looks sustainable because people believe it can and must be so.
As Gil Friend, chief sustainability officer for the City of Palo Alto – which delivers carbon-neutral electricity to all of its commercial and residential customers at a cheaper rate than the utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric – put it: “What we’re here to do is to transform the economy of the planet – and to do it in one generation. Cities have an enormous opportunity to drive this change [through] the policies and initiatives we enact.”
Citing the way FDR forced the U.S. auto industry to transition overnight to the war effort, and how JFK beat the Soviets in sending a man to the moon, Friend said today’s “billion dollar storms” are symptoms of a climate crisis that requires all hands on deck. Silicon Valley “is a place in the world where you don’t get to say, ‘It’s impossible.’ Here it’s: ‘How do you invent the possible?’ What if we had to?” he told the audience of several hundred. “We vote for a future every day – every time we slap a dollar on the table, we vote for the world.”
Solar – the buzzword right now in investment circles from Silicon Valley to Washington and Wall Street – got lots of attention at the 9th annual SEC where business, community, farming, energy, financial, policy and design leaders convened from across the North Bay.
Celebrating the launch of Sonoma Clean Power, CEO Geof Syphers said this 500,000-person county already had 63 Megawatts of solar energy installed, “sending a signal to the market that we want to bring more renewables, [and now] we’re talking about growing new opportunities to take it to the next level.”
Cutting carbon emissions by 30% and saving residents millions of dollars will inspire other California cities – from Lancaster in the south to Davis, Santa Cruz and Mendocino in the north – “to start their own local power agencies,” he added. “Now there’s a market for your solar power, with new fleets of electric cars and charging stations on the way.”
While local installer companies like Solar Craft and Stellar Energy were talking up their brands, the Solar Action Alliance presented itself as a new kind of advocacy and educational group that hosts workshops to teach residents the ins and outs of the solar business – and encourage them to buy local when choosing to install solar. “Tax revenue is the key. If you install locally, owners spend money locally: it’s about the community and the area,” said program manager Jenise Granvold.
Also involved in growing the local solar market were the high schoolers who showed up to the conference. Teacher Len Greenwood was flanked by a half dozen of his students who are enrolled in a novel Sustainable Practices program at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa. Several years ago, Greenwood looked around at California’s 25% dropout rate for high school students – and the same rate in vocational schools – and saw an opportunity.
“Those were the hands-on kids,” he said – the ones who could be trained in green jobs like land restoration, permaculture, environmental law and solar installations.
Now, dozens of teenagers are enrolled in the green careers trade school program that Greenwood designed, as well as a School Garden Mentor Program where students earn $9/hour in the summer taking care of gardens at 80 elementary schools across the county. Greenwood uses his off-grid organic farm as a teaching tool, and his students land green internships that often turn into steady work: in the past five years, 28 students were trained in entry-level solar installations, and today 20 of them are employed in the industry.
“I’ve always had this passion to help the planet,” said 17-year-old Stephanie Fernandez. “The course has opened up opportunities to meet people who are also in this fight. I’m not just sitting in class all day. I’ll go out to the farm and get down on my knees and do a whole bunch of work. I strive for sustainability.”
Her colleague Hunter Rinnels, also 17, said he wanted to study animation but didn’t have the patience to be in front of the screen all day. “Doing something bigger, having an impact on the world: I feel good to be at the forefront of something,” Rinnels said. “I’m into the solar and wind business. I like creating ideas, being able to organize the ideas, and then execute them – put them into action. You just have to show people there are different ways to do things.”
One panel at the SEC dealt specifically with B-Corps, or Benefit Corporations – there are more than 150 now in the Bay Area alone – which have sustainable practices built into the core business model so that even if they get sold to bigger investors, their environmental and good governance standards remain locked in.
A few companies stood out at the conference, like the Sebastopol-based clothing designer Indigenous, which features a “Fair Trace Tool” to show consumers the full production process – where and how their garments are sourced, who makes them, and what energy is involved to get them to market.
Another firm, Scope 5 from Seattle, was selling its sustainability software which gathers all of a company’s data into an online dashboard, then helps keep track of how much carbon and waste the firm produces through its entire supply chain.
And Santa Rosa-based Bijan’s Protective Equipment, Inc., or BPE-USA, came to highlight its “upcycling” program: it makes reusable bags out of recycled, locally sourced fabrics, canvas and other materials. After selling more than 4.5 million knee and elbow pads to the U.S. Army, BPE-USA turned its sights to overstock and salvaged fabrics – in some cases old truck tarps – to create new value out of used goods. The company’s COO, Steffen Kuehr, said he recently signed a deal with Sonoma County to make 10,000 reusable shopping bags from recycled fabrics – just in time for the ordinance that goes into effect here in September, which will ban stores from using plastic bags.
Resilient Food Systems
But arguably the biggest excitement at the conference emerged around the expansive, collaborative network of farms and farmers who are changing the county’s food system – the way food is grown, sold, distributed, shared, funded, eaten and diversified.
A morning panel, Eating for Success, featured Ag Innovations Network director Joseph McIntyre, who helped produce the Sonoma CountyFood Action Plan, a blueprint to convert the county’s $2 billion annual food economy into a sustainable, equitable food system “from farm to fork.”
“People not only want to know where their food comes from, but what are your practices with water conservation, are you using pesticides, are you using GMO feed for cattle?” said Rich Martin of Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, which specializes in organic goat cheese and goal milk. People are “looking at the total supply chain and creating relationships around food that reflects values for the broader community,” he said.
Evan Wiig, who founded the growing statewide Farmers Guild network, told people there are lots of ways to get beyond the grocery market, eat healthy and build a stronger food system all at once. “We go to the grocery store and think we have a lot of options, but we’re so far from the source,” he said. “Here in Sonoma County there’s an alternative food system where farmers and ranchers provide you more options than you’d ever have in your grocery store – not to be at the whims of the system, but to actively engage [with it].”
The slew of local-grown groups networking at the SEC seemed to demonstrate that – representing the region’s young, empowered, tech-savvy and resilience-minded farming community, from CropMobster and Farms Reach to the Good Food Web, the Agrarian Trust, F.E.E.D. Sonoma and Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Additionally, a pilot program recently launched under Kiva, the Bay Area non-profit that facilitates micro-loans to small farmers around the world. Called Kiva Zip, the plan is to do at home what Kiva has already done on a global scale: connect small U.S. food and agriculture entrepreneurs with investors through crowd-sourcing to get projects off the ground.
“There hasn’t been micro-lending like this in the U.S., where individuals crowd-source loans and build relationships with small farmers,” said Kiva Zip’s Arielle Moinester. “It’s exciting, the energy of people wanting to lend to local sustainable agriculture based on personal relationships and a viable business plan – not based on credit – so they can leverage $25 to support entrepreneur after entrepreneur.”
Finally, Daily Acts, based in Petaluma, announced at the conference that it’s hosting a Community Resilience Challenge on May 17-18 to inspire thousands of people, regionally and nationwide, to commit to individual actions that save water, grow food, conserve energy and build community. The idea, said programs coordinator Angelo Silva, is to “understand that many of us are doing this work. Partners are growing, we’re spreading the toolkit, we’re not alone.”
A sustainable economy of the future, and part of a growing Solutions Movement putting creative ideas into practice today, Sonoma County may soon attract others to follow. “It’s the rippling effect,” Silva said.
Google just plunked down $100 million not for the latest WhozIt app but for residential solar. The big G is teaming up with SunPower to buy solar panel systems, which the companies will lease to homeowners for cheap (Google says charges will typically be lower than an average electricity bill).
SunPower started leasing home solar kits in 2011 andhas amassed about 20,000 customers so far. Google’s official blog praises the solar company, which contributed $150 million to the fund and will manufacture and install the panels:
SunPower … [has] high-quality, high reliability panels which can generate up to 50 percent more power per unit area, with guaranteed performance and lower degradation over time. That means that you can install fewer solar panels to get the same amount of energy.
Back in 2011, Google pulled a similar move with SolarCity when it shelled out $280 million so up to 9,000 homeowners could lease solar panels. SolarCity is now America’s biggest solar provider, in terms of market value.
Americans are even hungrier for solar now, three years later, if American Solar Solution’s 400 percent bump in installations last year is any indication. Think solar will never replace coal, Forbes? You can shove it!
- Google, SunPower unwrap solar-power deal, MarketWatch
The wind, sun, and biomass are three renewable energy sources. (photo: WikiCommons)
20 April 14
he authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has left zero doubt that we humans are wrecking our climate.
It also effectively says the problem can be solved, and that renewable energy is the way to do it, and that nuclear power is not.
The United Nations’ IPCC is the world’s most respected authority on climate.
This IPCC report was four years in the making. It embraces several hundred climate scientists and more than a thousand computerized scenarios of what might be happening to global weather patterns.
The panel’s work has definitively discredited the corporate contention that human-made carbon emissions are not affecting climate change. To avoid total catastrophe, says the IPCC, we must reduce the industrial spew of global warming gasses by 40-70 percent of 2010 levels.
Though the warning is dire, the report offers three pieces of good news.
First, we have about 15 years to slash these emissions.
Second, renewable technologies are available to do the job.
And third, the cost is manageable.
Though 2030 might seem a tight deadline for a definitive transition to Solartopia, green power technologies have become far simpler and quicker to install than their competitors, especially atomic reactors. They are also far cheaper, and we have the capital to do it.
The fossil fuel industry has long scorned the idea that its emissions are disrupting our Earth’s weather.
The oil companies and atomic reactor backers have dismissed the ability of renewables to provide humankind’s energy needs.
But the IPCC confirms that green technologies, including efficiency and conservation, can in fact handle the job—at a manageable price.
“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” says Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, an economist who led the IPCC team.
The IPCC report cites nuclear power as a possible means of lowering industrial carbon emissions. But it also underscores considerable barriers involving finance and public opposition. Joined with widespread concerns about ecological impacts, length of implementation, production uncertainties and unsolved waste issues, the report’s positive emphasis on renewables virtually guarantees nuclear’s irrelevance.
Some climate scientists have recently advocated atomic energy as a solution to global warming. But their most prominent spokesman, Dr. James Hansen, also expresses serious doubts about the current generation of reactors, including Fukushima, which he calls “that old technology.”
Instead Hansen advocates a new generation of reactors.
But the designs are untested, with implementation schedules stretching out for decades. Financing is a major obstacle as is waste disposal and widespread public opposition, now certain to escalate with the IPCC’s confirmation that renewables can provide the power so much cheaper and faster.
With its 15-year deadline for massive carbon reductions the IPCC has effectively timed out any chance a new generation of reactors could help.
And with its clear endorsement of green power as a tangible, doable, affordable solution for the climate crisis, the pro-nuke case has clearly suffered a multiple meltdown.
With green power, says IPCC co-chair Jim Skea, a British professor, a renewable solution is at hand. “It’s actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living.”
UN PANEL CONFIRMS RENEWABLES, NOT NUKES, CAN SOLVE CLIMATE CRISIS
2:32 AM (12 hours ago)
By Harvey Wasserman
The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has left zero doubt that we humans are wrecking our climate.
It also effectively says the problem can be solved, and that renewable energy is the way to do it, and that nuclear power is not.
To read the rest of the story, please go to:
By Harvey Wasserman / BuzzFlash.com
High above the Bowling Green town dump, a green energy revolution is being won. It’s being helped along by the legalization of marijuana and its biofueled cousin, industrial hemp.
But it’s under extreme attack from the billionaire Koch Brothers, utilities like First Energy (FE), and a fossil/nuke industry that threatens our existence on this planet.
Robber Baron resistance to renewable energy has never been more fierce. The prime reason is that the Solartopian Revolution embodies the ultimate threat to the corporate utility industry and the hundreds of billions of dollars it has invested in the obsolete monopolies that define King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas)…..