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Duke Energy has been tipped into supplying the North Carolina Google Data Center with renewable energy.  Google is going to pay the power company a “Green Source Rider” for the clean electricity; in other words a tariff.  The Search Company said it made more sense for Duke to provide the renewable energy than to build it themselves.  Evidently, the plan is going to be used by other big Duke customers that want to go green.  Duke said it might match some of the applicants with third-party solar and wind suppliers through Power Purchase Agreements.  In all, 700 megawatts of solar could be added in Duke’s North Carolina territory alone.

Google may already be more invested in solar and wind than any other company.  But fortunately, there is competition for that honor.  Apple, Facebook, Walmart, IKEA and others are putting out $billions to power their shops with clean energy.  Facebook wanted clean energy for their data center in Iowa.  Their utility has now invested $1.9 billion in wind farms.  Of course we want to thank Duke but let’s not forget their environmental record; coal ash spills and eagle deaths on poorly located wind turbines.  North Carolina should boost Duke’s RPS requirement as part of the settlement for those offenses.

The term corporate power has not always been associated with good things.  The influence of corporate money and their lobbyists have usually worked against the interests of citizens, especially in delaying beneficial health regulations.  We are witnessing now the decline in influence of coal companies but the Goliaths of oil and gas are still standing.

Now the 21st century twist.  We have large corporations influencing a better choice of energy supplied by the entrenched electric utilities.  For years, concerned citizens and environmental groups have asked utilities to close down their coal and nuclear plants and “go solar.”  Corporate money still speaks the loudest but this time the voice is sweet.  Investor owned utilities are finally finding ways to get into the solar business and this is going to bring the cost of PV down even more.

What corporation is going to squeeze more solar out of Florida Power and Light?  Last week FPL introduced their own version of a Green Source Rider and we can only wish it had been the result of corporate pressure.  They’re going to see how many of their customers will be willing to pay an extra $9 on their monthly bills to finance solar energy projects.  A company spokesman said polling indicated that enough customers will volunteer to fund 2.4 megawatts of solar perhaps in three years.  FPL announced this program a short while after a bill designed to promote solar on commercial buildings such as warehouses and data centers was killed in the Florida legislature.

Only .06% of the FPL fuel mix currently comes from solar.  This modest pilot program on the backs of solar volunteers will hardly improve that percentage.  Combine this half-hearted initiative with the Florida legislators who oppose common-sense solar policies for businesses.  Add in the legislators who want to exempt Florida from the proposed EPA carbon pollution standards for new power plants.  This is corporate power in the sunshine state.

Sam Kendall

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On the website Think Progress I found an interview with representative Ron Desantis (R-FL).  He used the word “crass” to describe the all-night session in the senate last week where members of the Climate Action Task Force brought much needed attention to the present and future dangers of climate change.  Desantis claimed the event was just a gimmick devised by senators to show their big Silicon Valley donors that they were doing something about the issue.  Their real intent was to raise taxes, he said, but they knew the House would block any such effort.  His contradictory performance left me wondering if he understands the science which describes how greenhouse gases contribute to overheating and disruption of the atmosphere.

One piece of evidence presented during the session was a map showing recent average rainfall amounts compared to the past.  Virtually one quarter of the country is presently experiencing 25% less than average rainfall.  The drought extends from what has been one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas in California across the southwest into most of Texas.  Florida looks green on the map with some areas showing above average amounts.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson pointed out that low-lying Florida is vulnerable to too much water.  Hurricanes can move higher sea levels further inland than previously.  The result will be catastrophic, as we saw with hurricane Sandy up north.  Nelson mentioned also that our state is one of the most susceptible to heat-related deaths.  We can also expect a reduction in tourism dollars as businesses are forced to close by extreme weather events.  You can find brief summaries of all the senators remarks here.

For an up-to-date understanding of the present costs related to rising sea levels Mr. Desantis should visit his local government colleagues in south Florida.  Thoughtful and pragmatic municipal and county officials have been working on the problem there for four years.  In a bi-partisan consensus the county commissions of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe have come together to form a Regional Climate Change Compact.  Salt water flowing over their lawns and streets and intruding into their fresh water supplies convinced them to begin collaborative action.  Together the commissioners and staff members are moving forward to implement greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaptation strategies for their region.

Sam Kendall

 

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President Obama might get a reprieve from the politically fired Keystone XL decision.  Last week a Nebraska judge ruled that the governor didn’t have the legal right to grant the pipeline company eminent domain.  She said that authority rested with the Public Service Commission.  Appeals will be filed but that all takes time.

Moving tar sands oil through a pipe is not going to produce much CO2.  Moving the oil by rail would be less efficient and would produce CO2.  The rail option has more problems.  There are not enough tanker cars presently available to transport the more than 800,000 gallons of bitumen anticipated every day.  Up to six times as many cars will be needed to do the job.  Last year’s tanker car accident up in Canada and a more recent one in Montana spotlight the inherent dangers.  I doubt that towns along the route will be happy to have six times as many trains rolling through.

A decision to block the pipeline will probably delay the movement of the tar sands oil into the US for a while. Approving the pipeline will accelerate the rate of energy intensive tar sands extraction, CO2 emissions and ecological destruction.  The possibility for polluting pipeline spills has already been shown to be a reality in existing infrastructure.

Meanwhile England is having historic flooding, California and Brazil are having historic droughts, a polar vortex stranded motorists and slowed winter economic activity from Atlanta to New York and Olympic skiers have petitioned the UN to take action to save the source of their sport.  Are members of congress hearing anything from their constituents about these extreme weather events?  How much time is left before the weather straight jackets all of us at once?

The president has moved aggressively to promote clean energy alternatives.  New CAFE standards are improving emissions per driven mile.  Regulations will soon go in place on coal power plants.  California and the states in the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are meeting their goals with cap and trade policies.  Cities are taking action to reduce greenhouse gases.  Greenlighting the production and burning of tar sands oil would be stepping back from the path established toward carbon reduction.

The president’s best action to reduce CO2 emissions from tar sands exploitation would be to impose an import tax on this toxic gunk.  Money from the tax would not accrue to the government.  It would not be a revenue source but a pure pollution abatement tax.  Money raised would be distributed out to taxpayers and not used to fund any government program.  Last year respected republican economist and more recently a climate activist, George Shultz, urged lawmakers to adopt a revenue neutral tax on carbon from all sources.  Revenue neutrality would give concerned republicans a way to take action on climate change.

The president should turn down the Keystone pipeline application.  This would keep the tar sands exploitation process a present levels and force the oil barons to build more cars and contend with the public’s new awareness of safety issues.  Then he should work with any members of both parties to build support for a carbon tax.  A pollution tax barrier is necessary now because climate disruption is upon us.

Sam Kendall

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President Obama renewed his commitment to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  His welcome words in the inaugural address committing to action on climate change and his nomination of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State certainly indicate he still feels strongly about this issue.  Senator Kerry has a long record of environmental protection.  In 1992 he attended the first world summit on climate change in Rio.

In June of 2012, the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit, Kerry delivered a powerful speech on the Senate floor.  He denounced the current “conspiracy of silence and denial on climate change” which “empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail.”

The Rio Summit organizer, Republican President George H. W. Bush said at the time, “The United States intends to be the world’s leader in protecting the global environment.”  Kerry’s concern was that we now find ourselves in a place the former president wouldn’t recognize; the conspiracy has “demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue.”

Three of Kerry’s demons were on the Senate committee that recently approved his nomination.  These three are supporters of the proposed Keystone pipeline down from Canada.  They evidently fear that Mr. Kerry is serious about reducing dependency on carbon fuels.  The State Department must approve the pipeline application before it goes to the president.  Mr. Kerry promised he will look at the science of the request and not the ideology.

Why should the US encourage continued fossil fuel combustion while risking pipeline spills?  Would it be to support the Canadians’ economic interest by having an ocean port in Texas to market their resources to the world?  The issues continue in Canada: tar sand mining ravaging the Boreal Forest, emitting tons of carbon dioxide with energy intensive extraction and contaminating water with chemical residues.  Tar sand partisans tell us building an oil refinery in Canada’s  back yard would be more expensive than plowing an 1,179 mile pipeline through the United States’ back yard.  Is something rotten in the state of Denmark?

These environmental and economic concerns go beyond our friendship with the Canadian people.  They too have a large environmental constituency which opposes tar sand mining.

On February 17, environmental and clean energy advocates will rally in Washington to “give their back” to the President and new Secretary of State.  The green grassroots need to get out and demonstrate support when national leaders challenge long-standing, powerful interests.  You can sign up for the rally HERE.

Both these men have stood up to big oil and the legacy of dirty, liquid fuels that have been a barrier to progressive change.  Rally organizers believe an historic showing of massive public support will break the old energy regime’s back.  Hope to see you in Washington.

Sam Kendall

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Candidate Mitt Romney said, ” President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.  My promise is to help you and your family.”  What exactly was he trying to tell us when he concluded his acceptance speech with these words?

My first thought was that he was letting us down.  His own capacity and fortitude in the face of challenges doesn’t seem to match that of the American public.  It sounded like he was saying that climate change is too overwhelming for him and so he’s going to stick to the issues he can comprehend; namely, the fossil-fuel-based society he and the rest of us grew up in.  If I understood him correctly I was greatly disappointed.  I hope he clarifies his position soon.

Foremost climate scientist, Richard Hansen, just released a report demonstrating the virtual impossibility that the extreme weather events of recent decades could be caused by natural variability.  He has tracked the predictions he made in the 1980s concerning future weather events with observations made during the past few decades.  Those predictions have become facts for all of us to observe: the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, the droughts in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and the agricultureal disaster across the US in 2012, when 60% of the country experienced drought.

Richard Muller, a scientist long in denial that human activity is affecting climate, recently announced a change of mind.  Refusing to rely on existing research, he did his own work going back 260 years and found that temperature rises always accompany increases in CO2.  His report is interesting because he addresses and refutes all the “legitimate” objections to climate change theory.

I suppose Mr. Romney could “help you and your family” by providing government financial support for the farm families who saw their corn fields dry up this summer or he might put a cap on food prices when this years shortages drive up food prices in the future.  He could have the Corps of Engineers build a sea wall around Norfolk, Virginia, where rising sea levels have flooded streets and home basements consistently for the past six years.

Dealing with climate change is going to take committment, imagination and perhaps sacrifice.  The immensity of the problem requires that all of us, working through government, prepare for the consequences and act with the greatest urgency to slow and stop GHG emissions.

Mr. Romney leaves me questioning whether he can provide the leadership for what may be the most problematic environmental challenge the nation and world has ever faced.

Sam Kendall

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A new survey in March by the Yale Project on Climate Change and Communication indicates that more Americans are now taking a serious look at the implications of an overheated atmosphere.  Democrats, Independents and Republicans will all be listening to what candidates have to say about Climate Change in the upcoming contests.  Survey administrators say the increased interest in the phenomenon is probably due to the fact that impacts are no longer viewed as happening somewhere else around the planet.  Americans are having to deal with droughts in Texas, Flooding in New England, rising sea levels in Norfolk and and more extreme and devastating heat lasting longer.  Climate Change is no longer seen as “global” but happening in our own back yard.

The most surprising survey result for me was the answer to whether greenhouse gases should be regulated.  Sixty-seven percent of Republicans now say they should be.  The Obama Administration has toned down its use of the words global warming during this term.  Instead, it is working behind the scenes on renewable energy research and implementation including loan guarantees.  However, some Republican legislators and presidential candidates are still ridiculing the concept.  They might be wise to start listening to their constituencies.  Sixty-three percent of Republican registered voters now say the government should provide tax rebates for clean energy projects and fifty-four percent say fossil fuel industries should be held accountable for “hidden costs.”

This is encouraging news.   It’s possible that the end of this recession will be the beginning of a new society made safe and sustainable by a growing renewable energy attitude and implementation.

Read the survey results here:  Yale Survey

Sam Kendall

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Ellen Vancko, nuclear energy project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes in the Tampa Bay Times that Florida Citizens would be better served by investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy than by investments in nuclear plants. In fifteen years, ratepayers are going to be stuck paying high rates for nuclear power plants while consumers and states that are concentrating now on improving energy efficiency and converting to renewable, distributed energy sources will have lower stable rates and all the energy needed. Efficiency upgrades, Solar PV, biomass and waste conversion, landfill gas and offshore wind are the proven technologies that are changing the dynamics of energy. The “cost recovery” idea, where ratepayers have been forced to start paying for expensive nuclear plants before the land is cleared or the permits granted, is going to lead to greater financial hardships for everyone.

Take a look at the video on the FREA home page by Jeremy Rifkin. Mr. Rifkin talks about the economic misconceptions and unresolved health risks of nuclear and he adds some new issues I don’t think many legislators have considered.

Photovoltaic production by the dominating Chinese has brought down prices worldwide. American investors have not been reluctant to get their money into the Chinese market while Energy Secretary Chu continues to funnel grants to American PV manufacturers. Photovoltaics will soon be economically preferable even in the short term. Whether on rooftops or solar farms, PV installations only take months to install, not years.

Utility spokesmen say we are in a period of “flat” electricity demand. This is the time for Public Service Commissions to be concentrating on energy efficiency so that consumers can be saved the cost of building new plants. As the price of uranium increases in years ahead, electric monopolies will still probably find a place to operate in the new world of distributed electricity production. They just won’t be able to rely on increased sales for their regulated profits. The risky, nuclear financial demon is going to be divided and conquered by each and every safe, local, job-creating PV installation.

Sam Kendall

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