Pushing Forward to Build a Clean Energy Future

Jun 5, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Recently the Governor of Massachusetts gave a very inspiring speech describing both the affirmative steps that have been taken to address the challenge of building a thriving and clean economy in the Bay State and the challenges that still lie ahead.

The occasion was an event organized by the New England Clean Energy Council and hosted by high-tech startup FastCAP Systems and featured an array of interesting speakers leading up to Governor Patrick including a young woman who is the sole female crew chief at local energy efficiency provider Next Step Living, the Town Administrator of Scituate MA discussing their successful efforts to build a wind turbine and the toughest of environmentalists, Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins.

The toughest environmentalist around: Boston Bruin Andrew Ference, speaking before Gov. Patrick, May 30, 2012

Governor Patrick, as has been reported, used the occasion to respond to criticism of the energy policy that his administration, and the Federal government, have been pursuing:

Our strategy of fostering a clean tech industry is sometimes derided as “picking winners and losers.” In fact government is doing what it is supposed to do: helping the state make the most of our competitive advantages. Investing in innovation, education and infrastructure. Putting policies in place that encourage private investment to meet our shared needs, creating jobs and leaving the Commonwealth better than we found it. And as I said, it’s what Americans have always done to shape our energy future.

 And by the way, let me tell you that I have heard enough about Evergreen – and for that matter about Solyndra. We are not always going to score. But we are never going to score if we don’t get in the game. One company that comes up short hardly discredits an initiative that has spawned 5,000 thriving companies and nearly 70,000 jobs and counting. Critics would do well to remember that I used to work in the oil industry, an industry that frequently drills dry wells. When the critics are ready to talk about the massive subsidies for Big Oil even when they drill dry wells, then I am ready to have a serious conversation about the tiny subsidies we use to foster a new, American-grown industry in alternative energy.

 Whether we like it or not, there are going to be winners and losers when it comes to clean energy in the 21st century. The winners will be those places that did everything they could to be ready for change, that created an atmosphere for and a culture of innovation.

But his message went beyond recognition of the growth in the clean energy sectors of the Massachusetts economy.  He also recognized “Winners don’t stand still, and if we want Massachusetts to stay a winner in clean energy, there is much more for us to do.”

His specific action items included putting solar panels on more rooftops and closed landfills, extending contracts to large-scale renewable energy developers,redoubling our commitment to squeezing every bit of efficiency out of our energy use and continuing our support of and participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which he accurately described as “the single most successful cap and trade market in the country.”

All laudable goals, which he tied to moving forward a good energy bill in the Massachusetts legislature.

The Governor is right in taking pride in what has been accomplished in Massachusetts, most especially the ramp up in solar energy generation and energy efficiency. He is also correct in seeing these successes as a good starting point for even more action – and CLF as an advocacy organization is intently focused on this question of “what is next”, an attitude that perhaps led to the Governor’s public characterization (in response to a question at the same event) of CLF as an organization that shares his goals but “can be a bit of a pain in the ass . . . although that means you are doing your job.”

The next steps before us are clear, although not easy.  They range from appropriately funding the transit systems that provide clean and affordable transportation, to fostering urban “smart growth” to the essential (but wonky) energy policy details of expanded long term contracts for renewable energy projects across New England that supply energy to Massachusetts and expanded net metering and property tax relief for small renewable energy projects.

The time has come to have the courage of our convictions and the confidence to build on a winning record – recognizing that the struggle to build a thriving new clean energy economy that puts us a trajectory to meet the challenge of global warming will not be easy but that it is a challenge we can’t avoid, and that can bring our best.

When Global Warming Attacks, People Won’t Take Action to Stop It

Jun 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A sober, clean and depressing article from Inside Climate News details how scientists who work on climate are  grappling with the science and reality of global warming puts me in mind of a classic science fiction movie paradigm – they know something terrible is unfolding, but no one will listen ! Or in this case, as notes John Reilly co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, most scientists studying climate change today are viewing “the seemingly unstoppable rise in global greenhouse emissions” with “increasing alarm.”
 
 

When the Spirit(s) Move You

May 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A fairly accurate critique of climate advocates and global warming advocacy can be that we can be a bit depressing.  This is not surprising when we are telling a story about how current trends will lead to large portions of the world becoming uninhabitable and sea levels rising to swallow many of our coastal cities and every day another study comes out that shows even the unenforceable and aspirational pledges by our governments will not be met and we face “potentially disastrous consequences.”

But an different and reoccurring theme in work around climate is interesting interaction with “adult” beverages like wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages – and not just because it is tempting to give up and just spend the day drinking (perhaps at a Green Drinks event for environmentalists).

There is the story of a leading climate scientist who is also a wine expert – and therefore the leading voice on the impact of global warming on the production of wine – a very serious matter when you consider that changing climate will undermine the ability of centuries old vineyards to thrive. Similar concerns bedevil the world of beer, where a changing climate endangers the production of the hops that are the heart of quality beer.

But spirits may also be part of the vast bank of solutions that we will need to make the fundamental shift in our economy and society that will be needed to stop our runaway greenhouse gas emissions.  Advanced biofuels, like high energy biobutanol, may well prove to be one of the many tools we will need to power a thriving post-carbon economy and entrepreneurs and researchers in Britain are working on converting distillery waste into that fuel – creating the possibility that brown liquor could helps us to go green and save ourselves from the consequences of global warming like the sea level rise that threatens our beaches and coastal communities.

Vermont’s Clean Energy Shortfall

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Flickr

The end of any legislative session is tumultuous. Vermont’s citizen legislature, that meets part-time only a few months each year, is no different. In this year’s end-of-session tumult, progress on clean energy was left on the cutting room floor. This is a big disappointment. The same legislature that made skiing and snowboarding Vermont’s official winter sports failed to pass legislation that would keep those sports off the endangered list.

The Vermont Legislature stripped the Renewable Energy Standard from the energy bill it approved. Renewable standards require utilities to help address climate change by providing their customers with a certain percentage of power from clean, renewable sources. The more power we get from clean sources, the less power we get from older and dirtier fossil fuel plants. Twenty-nine states, including every other New England state, already have renewable standards, but Vermont is left behind in the dark ages of dirty power.

Throughout the session, CLF worked closely with other environmental organizations, business leaders and renewable developers to put in place a meaningful renewable standard so Vermont’s electric power users can do more to reduce carbon. The urgency of the climate crisis demands strong action.

There will be opportunities to move further ahead on renewable electricity next year, along with some legislation to help heating efficiency and electric vehicles, but each year we delay means more carbon reduction is needed. It is disappointing that in a year in which Vermont saw, in the form of flooding from Hurricane Irene, the kind of damage that climate change can do, and then saw one of the warmest winters on record (which wreaked havoc on ski areas and maple syrup production), we are not doing more to tackle climate change.

Join CLF at a Free Screening of the Last Mountain on Wednesday, May 9 in Cambridge, MA

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A keystone to CLF’s work to secure a clean energy future for the region is completing the transition to a coal-free New England. It is a time of historic progress: cleaner, cheaper alternatives are driving coal out of the market, and old coal plants are closing their doors. But Massachusetts remains a critical battleground for CLF’s work, with two costly old coal-fired power plants continuing to jeopardize public health and stoke climate change.

That’s why we’re delighted to tell you about an event hosted by Cambridge City Councilor Marjorie Decker entitled “The True Cost of Energy: Coal.” Councilor Decker has invited the public to a panel discussing the true costs of coal and a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Last Mountain in Cambridge, MA, on Wednesday, May 9. With stunning footage of the practice of mountaintop removal mining, the film bears dramatic witness to the social, public health, and environmental damage wrought by coal and power companies, and chronicles the grassroots fight against coal in Appalachia and around the country. The New York Times called The Last Mountain a “persuasive indictment” of coal; I think you’ll agree.

The Last Mountain producer Eric Grunebaum will be on hand for a panel discussion to discuss the film and the future of coal-fired power in Massachusetts and New England. I will be available before and after the event to answer any questions you may have about CLF’s work to secure a coal-free Massachusetts.

Please attend:
When: Wednesday, May 9, 2012. 5-8:30 pm.
Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138 (map).

Bring your friends and family, and email me at scleveland@clf.org with any questions. I hope to see you there!

You can watch the trailer here:

 

Reason to Believe In Taking Action on Global Warming

Mar 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Climate Scientist Katherine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who sees her work and the need to protect the earth as deeply consistent with her faith.

Read all about her at Climate Central.  Buy her book, co-written with her husband who, like Dr. Hayhoe, is a Professor at Texas Tech. He is also the Pastor of their church.

Given the latest science showing that the models that predict the exact march of global warming appear to be overly conservative and underestimating the effects of the warming in progress and the strong likelihood that we are about to cross an irrevocable tipping point that commits the planet to deeply damaging warming it is not crazy to suggest that we need science, prayer and action.

The need for action and steps to be taken to address this crisis is not abstract.  The latest massive compilation of science shows the very real effects that global warming is having all around us and will increasingly inflict upon us.  The need to build resilient communities that can survive (and even thrive) in these conditions is very real.  However, it is equally vital that we reduce the emissions that are disrupting the climate.  This means building renewable energy of many sizes and types, it means making our society and economy more efficient, properly planning and building our communities and providing and funding safe and clean transit and spreading and truly implementing efforts like the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and the greenhouse gas regulations being slowly rolled out by the Federal government.

The size, scale and nature of the crisis we face must spur all of us, whether we are motivated by a purely secular moral motivation to watch out for our fellow humans and/or other planetary passengers or the religious mission that guides someone like Dr. Hayhoe, to act. Because if we don’t we truly don’t have a prayer.

 

CIRC Alternatives Forge Ahead

Nov 17, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The initial short-range solutions are in.  Quick, effective and clean.  Unanimous agreement on a suite of projects to move forward to help people get around in Chittenden County. 

When Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin announced in May that the “Circ Highway” - an expensive, polluting and outdated ring-road around Burlington – would not be built as planned, he set in motion a Task Force to develop short, medium and long range solutions.  Since the summer the Task Force has been meeting and working.  Despite bumps, potholes and diversions in the form of more limited time and money because of the need to address problems that arose from managing the chaos Hurricane Irene left Vermont, the Task Force forged ahead.  

Last week we agreed unanimously on 5 short-term projects to get started in the coming year.  They include some innovative and out-of-the-box projects like expanding park & ride opportunities for commuters by leasing spaces in key locations, as well as more traditional projects of bus shelters and intersection imprrovements.  One very exciting project would re-work the street grid in Essex Junction, turning a parking lot into a downtown street, converting “five corners” into “four corners,” enhancing the streetscape and improving commerce and living opportunities in this New England downtown. 

Conservation Law Foundation is excited to be working with Chittenden County communities, businesses and state officials to get people, goods and ideas moving.  We are off to a great start. 

You can learn more about the Circ Task Force’s work at its website

A Public Meeting to discuss and learn more about these projects will be held on Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 7:00 p.m. at the  Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Colchester.

Clean Energy Solutions needed: Small, Medium, Large and Extra-Large

Nov 14, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

I often say that there are two phrases that a professional climate advocate, whether they like or not, ends up repeating.

The first one, which is not the subject of this post, is “The scary part is . . . ”  As in “The scary part is that Daniel Yergin might be right when, in his new book, he suggests that climate science is right and fossil fuels are a systemic problem AND that peak oil/gas theory is wrong and we are not running out of fossil fuels.”  But that is the subject of another and different blog post to be written and just one of millions of examples of sentences beginning “The scary part is . . .” that you can write or utter about global warming.

The second one is “We have to do that too . . . ” As in, “Yes, we need to conserve more and be more efficient but we need to build wind farms, like the one proposed off of Cape Cod, too.”   As so many folks, including the folks at Princeton who are more famous for wedges than dairy farmers in Wisconsin, will tell you big systemic problem like global warming requires a huge range of solutions.  As some like to say, there is no silver bullet, perhaps multiple rounds of silver buckshot.

This last point causes me to do something I am reluctant to do – disagree with a very smart guy who has a record of knowing how to get things built.  In an opinion piece, Jiggar Shah, the founder of the solar development company Sun Edison and CEO of the very laudable Carbon War Room disagrees with the wisdom of the “jumbo” solar projects being undertaken by large energy companies like NRG Energy that are chronicled in a recent New York Times article.

My suggestion is simple: We need to do both.  We need the vast network of distributed solar on millions of rooftops that Mr. Shah envisions.  We need to do smart development of large solar as well.  We also need to be far more efficient in how we light and heat all our buildings and how we use energy to travel.

The array of technologies we will need to address global warming range from new smart heating devices for our homes, sidewalks to allow safe travel on foot in all our communities, shareable bicycles like the one I took to work this morning, electric cars powered by clean renewable energy, trains that connect cities and neighborhoods, and intelligently sited wind farms and solar installations on land and in the water.

We need to be relentless in our search for new solutions, recognizing dead-ends like the old nuclear power plants that have proved to be an expensive dead-end while aggressively evaluating new answers.

The good news about solar electric generation, as a source of new answers, is that the price of this technology continues to descend at a very steep rate.

While this is very bad news for folks trying to build a business that depends on making a profit by selling these modules, it creates many new opportunities to deploy solar electric generation as part of a large scale clean energy solution; and to do so in the form of a whole lot of Small on many rooftops, a fair amount of Medium on large roofs and appropriate locations on the ground, some Large and, where appropriate, even some Extra Large.

Beacon Power bankruptcy: NOT “another Solyndra”

Oct 31, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The unfortunate news that Beacon Power, an innovative technology company based in Massachusetts,  declared bankruptcy has inspired a bit of a media feeding frenzy centered around analogies to the failed California solar company Solyndra,  because Beacon (like Solyndra) received  a federal loan guarantee.

This analogy simply doesn’t hold up for the following reasons:

  • Beacon Power has a fully operational facility in Stephentown New York that is an operating model of their flywheel technology, a innovative technology that provides an essential service to the electricity grid, providing stability to the power system at a very low cost.  This stability will allow smoother operation of the power grid and allow for integration of many more renewable resources like wind and solar smoothly at a reasonable price.
  • The Federal loan guarantee is structured in a way that protects the financial interests of the taxpayers – giving them the right to be repaid out of the assets of Beacon before other companies and people that are owed money.
  • Unlike Solyndra, which was effectively losing a price competition with Chinese and other US manufacturers, Beacon makes a unique product that is being developed here in the United States.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a mere 11 days ago, issued a detailed rule that requires utilities to compensate companies like Beacon that provide power system stability in a competitive manner.  This sets a clear trajectory for Beacon, and the handful of other companies providing similar services, to be economically successful.

Given the assaults on the environment and climate and continuing economic and social disruptions there is enough bad news out in the world without alarmist voices generating scary stories because of events like the Beacon bankruptcy.   While it is an unfortunate event for some private investors and employees of Beacon it is not a crisis for taxpayers and can and will not stop the development of innovative and important technologies that will be the backbone of a new clean energy economy.

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