Posted: 29 Apr 2012 11:20 AM PDT
clean energy subsidies
It seems that every day I?m reading (or even writing) about solar and wind energy?s price and potential without government subsidies ? but it is really ridiculous that dropping government subsidies should even be on the table.
Amongst the political right (especially politicians and media), there?s a common argument that renewable energy shouldn?t be subsidized, even though the majority of the public supports such subsidies, and even though fossil fuels have been getting subsidies for about a century (and continue to get them).
Even on the left, many people talk about the days when solar and wind won?t need any subsidies. Aside from the issue of fair dues (renewable subsidies continuing until historical subsidies of the various energy sources are more or less balanced), there?s one basic reason why solar and wind energy should receive subsidies ?forever.?
Basically, a ?free market? is an ideal that doesn?t exist in real life. Even if you take away all direct government subsidies, a free market doesn?t exist. Why? Well, there are a few reasons, but one of the most important is that some goods create societal costs that are not represented in their price (thus, distorting the market and making the market not work ?as it should?).
Coal, according to a Harvard Medical School study last year, costs the U.S. at least $500 billion a year in health and environmental costs. This is $500,000,000,000 not accounted for in the price of coal-powered electricity. If it were, coal would be priced out of the market.
Oil, similarly, has tremendous health costs, as well as tremendous military costs ? a good deal of our military resources are very clearly spent on protecting our foreign oil supplies.
Even by extremely low estimates, the public health costs of coal, natural gas, and oil come to $120 billion a year.
Now, since that isn?t accounted for in the price of our energy goods, someone should step up and correct this market failure by either putting a tax on these dirty energy options, or by subsidizing their alternatives to an adequate degree. Truthfully, I think it would be better if we just adequately taxed coal, natural gas, and oil. However, if that is never going to happen, solar and wind energy (as well as geothermal, hydro, biogas, EVs, and so on) should perpetually get government subsidies to address this inherent market failure.
Unfortunately, renewable energy subsidies are unfairly demonized by some people (i.e. FOX News and Tea Party politicians), and they are at more risk of being cut than fossil fuel subsidies? year after year. As such, I understand the strong desire many people have for clean energy options to beat dirty energy even with the referees bought and the scales heavily unbalanced in dirty energy?s favor. However, I don?t think we should condone the idea that renewable energy subsidies should one day end ? we should make it dead clear that renewable energy subsidies serve the specific purpose of correcting a huge market failure.
Image: money & pollution via shutterstock
Posted: 29 Apr 2012 08:05 AM PDT
Photo courtesy Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo announced the setting of some lofty 2020 ?green? goals last week, testament to financial industry players? growing commitments to financing renewable energy, clean technology and environmental initiatives. The San Francisco banking and financial services group April 23 announced that, by 2020, it intends to make $30 billion in ?green economy? loans and investments, $100 million in community grants for grassroots environmental initiatives and an increasing of the group?s own energy efficiency by 40%.
?Our commitment to the environment reflects our belief that Wells Fargo?s responsibility as a corporation goes beyond its mission of helping customers succeed financially. We also have a major role to play in promoting the long-term economic prosperity and quality of life of the communities we serve,? said Chairman, President and CEO John Stumpf. ?By bringing our talents and resources to these efforts, we seek to work jointly with businesses and communities in protecting and preserving this planet and its precious resources for future generations.?
The results of its own consumer research played a big role in management formulating its green economy lending and investment and community-focused environmental initiatives. ?Our research shows more than 80 percent of our consumers think environmental issues are important,? said Mary Wenzel, Wells Fargo?s director of Environmental Affairs.
?We share their values and concerns and are acting on them through a broad-based, financially powerful approach to the environmental opportunities and needs we see on the horizon. We hope to demonstrate that progress for Wells Fargo and for the communities we serve does not have to come at the expense of the planet we share.?
Wells Fargo?s ?comprehensive commitment to investing in environmental solutions for stronger communities? is focused on these areas:
§ Accelerating the transition to a ?greener? economy: $30 billion in loans and investments to promote a ?greener economy,? including wind and solar energy, clean technologies, energy efficient buildings, environmental innovation, and environmentally responsible public financing
§ An approach to environmental and social risk management focused on responsible ways of doing business together with our business customers
§ Engage its 70 million customers through marketing and communications aimed at raising awareness about products and services that can help customers succeed financially as well as protect the environment ? e.g. promotions of paperless banking services and financing for energy efficient home improvements
§ Encouraging stronger and more sustainable communities: $100 million in community grants and increased volunteerism for grassroots environmental initiatives, such as programs that bring people together to plant and care for city trees and open spaces. Grants also support ?innovation? led by nonprofits and universities aimed at promoting clean technology and breaking down barriers to a ?greener? economy
§ Target $1 billion for low- to moderate-income communities to prove the added value of community investments with environmental benefits
§ Reducing the environmental impact of Wells Fargo?s operations: Create a culture of sustainability by increasing team member environmental stewardship in our communities, at work and in our daily lives
§ Achieve measurable environmental performance goals by 2020:40% increase in energy efficiency,65% waste diversion rate, 35% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions below 2008 levels,35% of buildings will achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification,
§ Engage suppliers to enhance its environmental performance through increased accountability and transparency in its supply chain
More information is available on the Wells Fargo Environmental Forum.
Posted: 29 Apr 2012 07:54 AM PDT
NYC announces new program for green stormwater managementNew York City has just embarked on a new $4.6 million program to clean up its stormwater, and it could serve as a national model for other cities. To serve the goal of replacing pavement with rain-absorbing green spaces, green roofs and other porous surfaces, the program enlists 11 mainly non-commercial facilities and organizations that are common to many urban areas including schools, a church, a social service organizations, an advocacy group, a labor union and even a zoo.
Shifting stormwater from gray to green
The initiative is just part of an 18-year, $2.4 billion public-private plan to reduce storm runoff from the city?s streets. The general problem is that sewers and other conventional ?gray? infrastructure in older cities were originally designed simply to shunt storm runoff directly into waterways.
Over the years, New York and other cities have deployed intercepting sewers, holding tanks and other strategies to steer more runoff into treatment plants, but in many cities it is difficult if not impossible to find enough space to build this type of infrastructure up to a sufficient scale. In addition, massive infrastructure projects of this type are incredibly expensive and often involve significant community disruption while construction is in progress.
Green infrastructure has been emerging as a solution for a number of years, and the movement is now gathering full steam. The basic idea is to create more absorbent green spaces within the urban landscape not only by preserving and expanding parks, but also by exploiting rooftops and paved surfaces.
New York City expects to save billions by investing in green infrastructure over gray, and with this particular group of projects it also aims to demonstrate that the investment can result in additional benefits to individual facilities and communities that gray infrastructure simply cannot provide.
The Bronx Zoo and green infrastructure
On top of accomplishing the standalone goal of reducing polluted runoff into local rivers, green infrastructure can be deployed strategically to help advocacy organizations improve their ability to deliver on their mission. The Bronx Zoo provides a good illustration.
A major water feature of the zoo is the Bronx River, which runs for about a mile through the center of the grounds. However, runoff from the zoo?s large parking lots have contributed to poor water quality in the waterway.
Under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo will get nearly $1 million to redesign its Asia parking lot with permeable pavement and an educational exhibit, which will result not only in better water quality downstream but also an improved public profile for the zoo?s conservation mission.
Green infrastructure for better public housing
Another illustration is provided by a green infrastructure makeover for a housing project in the Bronx. The site is located within the East River watershed and it also happens to be officially rated as one of the 200 worst buildings in the city.
The redesign will include green roofs, new porous pavings and a community green space, which will benefit the river while helping to create a healthier living space for residents.
Plumbers and green infrastructure
Just one more more example will round out the concept. The Local 1 Plumbers Union building, which is another site in the East River watershed, will get a new green roof that includes a rainwater harvesting system.
In addition to reducing stormwater runoff, the new roof will help reduce the ?heat island? effect in the neighborhood. More to the point, the new system will also serve as an important best practices educational tool for Local 1, which happens to be the largest local in the U.S.
All in all, it looks like this sustainable ?twofer? strategy is the wave of the future for urban areas. New York City is not alone in its endeavors, as Philadelphia has just embarked on a major new green infrastructure partnership with the U.S. EPA.
Image: Some rights reserved by kennymatic.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 28 Apr 2012 03:58 PM PDT
Something I often think and try to often convey is that there is a huge disconnect between what Republican voters actually want and what Republican politicians push and allow. The vast majority of Americans support clean energy, support reducing pollution, and support fighting global warming, including a very large percentage of Republican voters. Somehow, though, Republican politicians have turned these things into enemy #1 (perhaps due to the fact that they get a ton of their campaign money and all kinds of other nice perks from oil and coal companies).
In yet another national poll, we see that Republican voters, in fact, don?t hate clean energy and aren?t opposed to strong action to fight global warming ? in fact, they?re for these things. They?re for energy subsidies for clean energy, they?re for regulations and even taxes on dirty energy, and they even realize that environmental regulations help the economy.
The new national poll from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that a whopping 75% of Americans support ?regulating carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) as a pollutant.? And 79% support tax incentives for buying energy-efficient cars and solar panels. 73% support a national clean energy standard of at least 20%. Why don?t we have these things?!
Here are some more details via Climate Progress (some of which are represented in the charts throughout this article):
§ 63 percent of Americans support ?signing an international treaty that requires the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050?!
§ By a margin of 3 to 1 ? 61 percent to 20 percent ? Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who supports a ?revenue neutral? tax shift, increasing taxes on fossil fuels, and reducing the federal income tax by an equal amount.
§ 61 percent said they support holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for ?hidden costs we pay for citizens who get sick from polluted air and water, military costs to maintain access to foreign oil, and the environmental costs of spills and accidents.?
§ By 3 to 1 ? 58 percent to 17 percent ? Americans say ?protecting the environment ? improves economic growth and provides new jobs? vs those who say it ?reduces economic growth and costs jobs.?
§ Asked ?When there is a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, which do you think is more important?? an amazing 62 percent supported ?protecting the environment, even if it reduces economic growth? vs. 38 percent who backed ?Economic growth, even if it leads to environmental problems.?