UCS Blog - Clean Energy (text only)

White House Attacks on ARPA-E Endanger US Energy Innovation

The America First Budget Blueprint released by the White House last month proposes to eliminate the Advanced Research Project Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) of the US Department of Energy. The only reason given is that “the private sector is better positioned to advance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

My reaction:  They’re kidding, right?

No, this is a serious threat. According to recent news stories and my own reliable sources, the White House is now preventing ARPA-E from spending money that Congress appropriated to ARPA-E in earlier federal budgets.

These moves could quickly kill ARPA-E, an energy innovation agency that is effectively applying methods developed by DARPA (the Defense Department’s ARPA) over its 50 years of success in disruptive technology research and development.

The White House rationale for cutting ARPA-E is simply wrong. I was a Program Director (PD) at the Agency for three years. I know firsthand that the technologies we funded would not have had a prayer of attracting private sector funding at the early stage we supported them.

This blog explains a bit about ARPA-E. In the indented passages I describe a few of my own experiences fostering energy innovation during my term at ARPA-E.

Every ARPA-E project builds on an innovative idea that has the potential, if successful, to transform the way energy is generated, transformed, stored, used or transported. Huge markets await.

So why wouldn’t the private sector foot the bill for the research, as the White House suggests?

The reason is that every market sector starts with many competitive ideas, but only a few will deliver in the end. ARPA-E funds teams to make first prototype of disruptive commercial products. These first few years of directed work help winnow the field to those ideas that have a chance of market success.

ARPA-E is similar to DARPA in its willingness to fund high risk projects with huge potential rewards: DARPA has certainly funded a lot of risky projects that did not go big. But DARPA also launched the Internet, GPS, stealth technology and drones, to name a few of their biggest successes. We will not know for a few more years which ARPA‑E project will make such big impacts.

However, even a successful ARPA-E project may take 5 to 15 years to reach profitability. Venture capitalists and corporate vice-presidents represent impatient capital and will only invest if they have high confidence that there is a big pot of gold at the end of such a long rainbow.

In short, when ARPA-E invests, the projects are too risky for the private sector to fund. For a team with an early-stage idea, reaching technical and market success is like doing a complicated jigsaw blindfolded while riding a horse. The team must fit many puzzle pieces together, though the shape and number of all those pieces is not even known.

ARPA-E funds a portfolio of project teams so that each can attack the most scientifically risky pieces of their own puzzle, while defining and sorting as many other pieces as possible. At that point, the private sector might consider investing.

Having reluctantly left behind my life in Colorado, I arrived at ARPA-E in 2012 with a sense of urgency.  My three-year term in DC meant I had to move quickly to help launch a few great energy technologies.

By my third day at the Agency, over 4000 short Concept Papers arrived in response to the 2012 OPEN solicitation, with about half on deadline day. Teams from academia, industry and national labs proposed to transform every corner of the energy landscape, from transportation fuels to industrial efficiency, and from carbon capture to fusion reactors. 

I was one of four lead Program Directors, with about two months to choose which submission should be encouraged to submit a full proposal. The numbers and breadth were terrifying. Some concepts were obviously crazy, but most needed serious consideration.

Assisted by an eager technical staff and a fleet of reviewers from the scientific community, we battled a decided lack of sleep to sort, study, devise algorithms to get at reviewers’ wisdom, debate and finally decide. We searched for very original concepts that didn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics or known facts, favored ideas that had not been heavily investigated by the scientific community, and sought advances with potential to make huge impact if successful. We winnowed the piles to those proposals that had at least one extremely enthusiastic reader.

Finally, each PD made the hard decisions in their own assigned area. This was not a committee consensus exercise although we were empowered to teach, debate and challenge each other. Many cups of coffee later, we defended our selections to ARPA-E’s leadership and invited full proposals from the survivors. 

Program Directors are accomplished scientists and engineers who usually have both academic and industry experience. Based on the DARPA model, ARPA-E PDs have considerable independence and autonomy, tempered by a healthy culture of challenge and review based on technical arguments. Three-to-four year term limits mean PDs have no time for building empires.

I joined an ARPA-E staff that is technically superb and committed to getting big things done. I was amazed at how well ARPA-E culture promoted innovation, risk-taking and big-picture thinking about the energy future. PD autonomy avoids compromise to the least risky option and lets wild and transformative, but plausible, ideas get funding.

Aside from the OPEN solicitations, PDs are empowered to imagine the future and create focused Programs (with a capital “P”) that fund 10 to 20 teams to address a specific energy technology need with transformative new concepts. Proposing teams must meet challenging metrics; rigorous technoeconomic analysis at ARPA-E suggests that these metrics would open up new energy-related markets and create new industries. Good Programs often require interdisciplinary collaboration attack an applied problem. This breaks down the artificial separations among scientific disciplines and often creates new scientific subfields.

About six months after I got to ARPA-E we completed all our expert review panels and selected our OPEN 2012 awardees. The 66 winning teams received an average of about $2 million to pursue their dreams.

All the funded teams seemed enthusiastic and capable. Some of the winners had identified how the newest technical advances could revive a long-abandoned approach to a key energy problem. Others had a lab result that suggested a completely new technological opportunity. Most winners were selected despite bad marks from at least one reviewer who was quite certain the novel approach would never work.

Some OPEN 2012 projects would be cut in their first year for lack of performance. Others would go on to start new funded companies, revolutionize fields and launch new industries.  I spent the next two years traveling the country to manage and support the teams I had selected. I became their head cheerleader and harshest critic.  I had to decide whether or not they had reached their array of technical and technology-to-market milestones—and whether the project should continue to receive our funding.

The most successful one-fifth of ARPA-E’s projects have already attracted private sector funds after reaching their first technical triumphs. Together, these 74 projects have raised $1.8 billion in private funding and launched at least 56 new advanced technology startup companies. That first $1.8 billion is more than the total funding ARPA-E has given away in its seven years of existence.

These startups are already selling new products, creating jobs and ensuring U.S. technical dominance in the world’s energy marketplace. These successes are what the National Academy of Sciences hoped for when it recommended formation of ARPA-E and why President George W. Bush authorized the agency in 2007 with robust bipartisan support in Congress.

I wouldn’t trade my years at ARPA-E for anything. I had the privilege of studying both details and the big picture. I learned from some of the smartest minds in U.S. energy innovation. I saw technologies that make me confident in our ability to face the challenge of providing the energy people need without raising global temperatures or destabilizing the climate system. 

The Paris Climate Agreement shows that the world is acting on the established climate science by deploying new energy technologies. The pressure for an improved global energy system based upon low-carbon technologies will not abate and energy will continue to be one of the world’s biggest industries. To succeed, we must deploy the low carbon technologies we already have and invest in transformative technologies that will minimize the cost of remaking our energy system.

Our country faces a critical choice: Defy the White House and fund U.S. ingenuity through ARPA-E or let our global leadership in advanced energy technology slip away.

Photo: Slimdandy/CC BY (Flickr)

On Top of a Wind Turbine, On Top of the World

Stand atop a wind turbine and you get some powerful perspective. When you’re 280 feet off the ground, your feet clinging to the deck, the breeze blowing past, you’ve got a clear view of the power of wind energy. This past summer, I experienced it first-hand.

It’s a view that’s out of this world, and in it.

Out of this world, and in it

It’s easy to get excited about wind power when you see the latest figures—so many new wind turbines installed, so much more under construction. The excitement amps up even more when you see the costs of wind power continuing to drop, making wind a virtual slam dunk for electricity generation in broad swathes of our nation.

To help you feel that excitement, the Union of Concerned Scientists set out to capture some of it in visual form, too.

Our destination: the New York communities of Lowville and Martinsburg, home of the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm. We talked with local residents and community leaders about what the Maple Ridge project has meant for their community, how it has fit in. We checked out the wind farm from a range of angles and perspectives. And, yes, we climbed a turbine.

A whole new perspective. Photo: UCS

What it’s like to climb a wind turbine

The mechanics of ascent are simple enough, in theory at least. In our case, we scaled five separate ladder sections inside the tower, most 60 to 80 feet at a stretch, each topped by a platform. We then climbed into the nacelle, the central part of the wind turbine where the hub and blades connect. And then we made our way out the hatch in the ceiling of the nacelle to get on top.

Though my heart and knees didn’t always seem to know it, we were never in any danger, of course. The Maple Ridge operators, like wind industry professionals across the country, take safety seriously. We were well educated ahead of time with an instructional video, written materials, and an in-person orientation.

Once on the site, we were harnessed, hooked up, or on solid footing every step, rung, and roof of the way. The harness lets you hook into a cable running up the ladder, so that even if you lose your footing on the way up or down, you don’t go very far. At each platform I shut behind me the hatch I had just come through so I couldn’t go anywhere unintended while transferring my hookup from the ladder cable to rings in the tower wall, to catch my breath and wait for the rest of the group. And before climbing out on top, I hooked into a ring on the roof. Plenty safe.

It is a long way up. though—hard on the muscles and unsettling for the novice soul.

One small step for a human… or not. The way up inside the turbine tower. Photo: John Rogers

It’s not magic, it’s engineering!

But the climb gives you some time to reflect on the miraculous engineering that makes it all possible. Some 8,000 components have to come together in perfect harmony to create a working wind turbine. And with 52,000 turbines now installed in our country, companies in America have assembled that combination of components many, many times.

It all adds up, one megawatt (MW) at a time. A single turbine can generate enough electricity to supply hundreds of typical US homes. The 195 turbines at Maple Ridge add up to 322 MW, generating enough electricity to power some 10,000 homes. On an average single day, the electricity from Maple Ridge would be enough to light more than 50 million light bulbs for the evening.

Taking a break at the top, with Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel of EDPR. Photo: Audrey Eyring/UCS

Nationwide, the 82,000 MW of wind power now gracing US lands supply more than 5 percent of our electricity, or enough for more than 20 million homes.

And those wind turbines do it without polluting the air or water, without consuming water, and with no emissions of CO2 or other gases that cause climate change.

All with the unstoppable power of the wind. Exciting indeed—even without the turbine climb.

“A godsend”

The excitement in the surrounding community, though, isn’t fueled by light bulbs or heart-palpitating ascents. It comes from having those turbines as an important part of everyday life.

Tom Schneeberger, who sits on the school board and whose wife owns and runs Gary’s Restaurant, a local diner (and, with local schoolkids, put out a book on the project), talks excitedly about Maple Ridge. There’ve been “all kinds of ways that the [wind] project has helped to sustain our way of living here,” he says—in the school, for road maintenance, even for upgrading the grandstand at the local fairgrounds.

Tom Schneeberger and I “Catch the Wind” (and spin, spin, spin) at Gary’s Restaurant, Lowville, NY. Photo: Audrey Eyring

Local School Superintendent Cheryl Steckley, who works on the front lines of school budget issues, speaks about the positive effects of the wind project’s annual payments (known as “PILOT” payments), half of which go to the school district:

In the initial year of the PILOT, taxes were dropped. For the next seven years taxes were held stable. We had two years where our taxes increased less than two percent. And we are now stabilized again. So the true tax rate to our residents has been cut in half from what it was… in the initial stages of the pilot. So it’s had an amazing impact on our school district.

For her, Maple Ridge has meant stabilized taxes, better school facilities, and expanded school programs.

For Martinsburg resident Terry Thisse, the project has meant income for hosting turbines on his land, increased activity for his local business, and lower taxes and better municipal services for the people he serves as town supervisor. When he and other decision makers were considering the costs and benefits of the project when it was first proposed, he says, “it turned out to be a no-brainer.”

Bill and Patty Burke host seven wind turbines on land that’s been in his family for five generations. Bill is particularly effusive in his discussion of the wind farm (which may explain why he also works part time for the wind farm giving tours). He talks glowingly about the check that arrives every three months in the mailbox—“income off the land where there’s no expenses involved.” The turbines “have been a godsend to our being able to stay in this house,” he says. “A great asset… a blessing to our goals in life.”

And at an even larger scale, Maple Ridge, says Tom Schneeberger, “has put Lewis County on the map.”

“A godsend” – Bill Burke and turbines. Photo: Audrey Eyring

Motherhood, apple pie, and wind power

Along with the tax benefits of the PILOT payments, the wind farm has meant jobs, both during construction and after. Local businesses get extra business from project-related activity, and the lease payments to local farmers and other landowners become dollars that circulate through the local economy, creating even more jobs.

And that brings up another thing that’s visible—or not visible—from on top of a wind turbine, or from nearby. None of this looks like a partisan issue. Few people would object to getting quality public services funded by something other than homeowner and business taxes. Jobs and land use payments make sense whatever your political affiliation.

It’s all just about making good use of local resources in ways that build community, rather than tearing it down.

And that’s what communities across America have discovered about wind power. In rural areas that have lost jobs and people and ways of life, wind projects like Maple Ridge have meant jobs, economic development, and more cash in the community. Another chance to help make farming and ranching viable even in this day and age.

Photo: Audrey Eyring

The view from here

Maple Ridge is exceptional, but it’s not unusual given this incredible time for wind. Forty-one states now have utility-scale wind farms, and taller towers and longer blades have meant that wind power is a viable option in even more locations around the country. And a whole new sector of wind power launched last year, when the first offshore wind farm in the Americas turned on next to Block Island, Rhode Island.

We’re hoping our new video helps convey some of that excitement.

Because from atop a wind turbine, you can see communities that are doing better because of what wind farms bring with them. Whatever your vantage point on the US wind industry, you can see a sector that is imbued with a whole lot of momentum from recent years’ progress, and a whole lot of promise for the days ahead.

As for me, I’ve visited wind farms and geothermal power plants, toured a nuclear power plant, and climbed onto plenty of roofs to put on solar panels. I’ve spent a quarter century working on expanding access to clean energy at home and abroad. I’ve watched plummeting costs and skyrocketing installation numbers herald a revolution in the electric sector the likes of which America has never seen.

But never had the future of energy been quite so visible to me, quite so present, as when I checked it out from 300 feet above the ground. The mechanics, the markets, the politics, the community—nothing makes that all quite so clear as a clear day, a brisk wind, and an out-of-this-world view of beautiful kinetic sculptures spinning their way to our energy future.

Have I mentioned that I love my job?

To get a good sense of the wind sector’s bright future, you don’t have to climb hundreds of feet up. But it’s good to look at this powerful and exciting technology from a range of perspectives. And if you do make it up on top, the view is well worth the climb. (Even if it does make you look really small.) Photo: UCS

For help with the video project, we owe a big thanks EDP Renewables, Avangrid Renewables, and the Maple Ridge Wind Farm, particularly Bob Burke, Matt Carpenter, Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel, Seth Kaplan, Paul Copleman, and Caron Martin, for their help in making our trip and this video possible.

We also owe lots of appreciation to the people of Lowville, Martinsburg, Watson, and Harrisburg, NY, including Cheryl Steckly, Terry Thisse, Bill and Patty Burke, and Tom and Ann Schneeberger.


Valorous Congressmen, Tilting at Windmills

Tilting at windmills. Illustration by Charles A. Doyle.

Over the past few years, under the banner of preserving military readiness and strengthening homeland defense, legislators at the state and federal level have pushed bills aiming to ban wind turbines from vast buffer zones around military installations. Given that wind turbines and radar can interact, you might just think it appropriate to be grateful for their foresight.

The trouble is, before anyone earns a final spot in the pantheon of patriots, a pesky little thing called facts can trip up even the best of heroic narrative arcs. And these legislative Quixotes? They’re trying to “save” us from an issue the military has already solved. In the process, they’re threatening to cause actual harm to our nation’s military standing.

So here, a quick fact-check about wind and radar, including clear and strong assurances that yes, we have a process in place that works, and no, the proposed remedies don’t help military readiness—they hurt it.

Back story: Wind! Where’d that come from?

Wind power has been on a total tear these last few years. We admittedly talk about this transition a lot, but it bears repeating because it’s: 1) still just incredible, and 2) how this story begins. To wit:

Installed wind power has sky-rocketed in the past decade. Over the past five years alone, wind has represented nearly a third of all new installed generating capacity. Credit: AWEA 2016 Market Report, U.S. Capacity and Generation Summary.

When any new technology bursts on the scene, it can take some time for our institutions to catch up. Just so for wind and military siting protocols.

In the early to mid aughts, the military reviewed wind farms as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) review process of projects over 200 feet in height. There was a steep learning curve, and as more and more projects were proposed, the uncoordinated case-by-case review process became increasingly unwieldy. This led to long lag times, late-stage decisions, and a general sense of uncertainty about procedures and outcomes.

Parties on all sides grew frustrated.

How to fix a problem? With a solution.

In response, the Secretary of Defense established the Department of Defense (DoD) Siting Clearinghouse in 2010 to create a “timely, transparent, and repeatable process” of project review. Congress followed shortly thereafter with legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011 (Sec. 358) that formalized the roles and responsibilities of the Clearinghouse, including—critically—shifting the burden of proof from developers to the military.

Specifically, the new law required that the military issue a “determination of unacceptable risk” (i.e., reject a permit) only after showing that a proposed project—including with the addition of any possible mitigation measures—would result in an “unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.”

With the push to coordinated review, and the shift in emphasis toward developing solutions that allowed for the dual achievement of military and national energy priorities, resolutions quickly sprang forth. These have included turbine siting and design modifications, as well as radar hardware and software upgrades or adjustments.

Status check: Green on go

How has the system fared? Remarkably well. A quick cruise through a report to Congress on 2014 Clearinghouse activities provides an illustrative example.

In 2014, the military formally reviewed 2,594 energy-related projects, and cleared 2,332 (the report notes that a staffing hang-up caused a temporary lag in processing, but that by January of the next year the backlog had been reduced).

Of these, 22 percent were wind projects.

Under the provisions of the Mission Compatibility Evaluation Process, if an initial screen suggests that a project poses a potentially adverse impact to military readiness, a Mitigation Response Team (MRT) is formed. An MRT involves convening relevant military stakeholders and project applicants to identify and consider possible mitigation options. In 2014, 14 MRTs were formed, and 5 binding agreements were established. Of the final public agreements, mitigation solutions included applicants:

  • Adjusting the siting of specific turbines, or paring down the number,
  • Paying for the addition of hardware or software to radar systems to mitigate impacts, and/or
  • Agreeing to curtail turbines (i.e., temporarily halt operations) should an emergency event occur.
So why are we having this conversation again?

The program works. Review timelines have been dramatically reduced, transparent formal (and informal) review processes exist, and—crucially—applicants and affected military stakeholders have an outlet for discussing concerns and mitigation options. If either finds the solution unacceptable, they can walk away.

So why, then, are a select number of state and federal legislators now proposing new siting requirements in the name of military readiness, when the military is saying (in its characteristically understated manner) that things are working well?

DoD continues to meet the objective of section 358(a) by ensuring “that the robust development of renewable energy sources and the increased resiliency of the commercial electrical grid may move forward in the United States, while minimizing or mitigating any adverse impacts on military operations and readiness.” [emphasis added]

Still, were we to entertain for a moment the critics’ take that the military has simply been saying things are okay to be “politically correct,” we would immediately see the fallibility of their proposed fixes.

  • Bad idea #1: Alert the DoD to development plans and evaluate potential military impacts. This would be a good idea, except for the fact that the requirement already exists. The current permitting process requires that the military screen projects. These new proposals would waste time and generate redundant paperwork and processes for the military and applicants alike, all in service of achieving that which already exists.
  • Bad idea #2: Ban the development of any wind turbine within a set distance of military installations. This idea, according to the military itself, is wholly unhelpful, with the DoD stating: “generic standoff distances are not useful.” By comparison, the present method of targeted, careful assessments of individual proposals has allowed the military and wind developers to find implementation pathways for the vast majority of projects. Further, when the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conducted an analysis of the proposed 30 to 50 mile standoff buffers, they found that 35 percent of the current wind fleet operates within these zones without having harmed military operations, and that:
    • $33 billion – $51 billion in private capital investment would not have been made,
    • $50 million – $79 million in annual land lease payments would not be distributed to people like farmers and ranchers, and
    • $3 billion – $9.5 billion in additional capital investment for under-construction projects would have to be abandoned.
  • Bad idea #3: Ban tax credit eligibility for any wind project falling within a standoff zone. If the banning of turbines in a standoff zone is unhelpful, then simply discouraging such development by eliminating tax credit eligibility for projects in these areas is, quite obviously, even more of a sham. These proposals would not provide the military with any more power than it already has, nor would it necessarily stop wind development in these areas.

The mission of Cape Cod Air Force Station, home to a PAVE PAWS (Phased Array Warning System) radar, is newly supported by onsite wind turbines. Credit: Daniel Piraino (flickr).

These obstructionist proposals will succeed in wasting people’s time and jeopardizing vast sums of investment capital, but they won’t improve military readiness. Worse, they directly undermine the military’s stated mission of decreased energy dependence, including through increased renewable energy development. Perhaps more than any other entity, the military recognizes the cost of fossil fuel dependence, from supply chain vulnerabilities all the way up to conflict repercussions from the real and serious threat multiplier of climate change.

The military wants to make this work. So instead of hurting their efforts, help them. Support the build-out of renewable energy resources by calling for more investments in the research and testing of mitigation solutions, not by undermining the mission compatibility evaluation process that the military supports.

Drop the misplaced gallantry, and come back to reality. We need our legislators to put their trust in facts, not myths, and help our nation overcome real challenges, not imagined.

Is Progress Stalled on Clean Energy? Nah. Look at What States are Doing.

There is a lot of discouraging news coming from Washington DC these days when it comes to addressing climate change. The Trump administration has vowed to repeal key policies to lower greenhouse gas emissions (such as the Clean Power Plan), and is re-opening, which may mean “weakening,” others (such as fuel economy standards for cars). The head of the EPA (the EPA!) is urging President Trump to pull out of the international Paris Agreement. And his budget director thinks that funding climate science research is a waste of money.

Yet, when one leaves the beltway, one sees progress. From many businesses that are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and bringing products and technologies to market that make cleaner forms of energy available and cost-effective. From cities that are using their powers of planning, zoning, and municipal purchasing to create sustainable cities.

And from state governments, which have all the tools they need to transition to clean energy. States can establish overall greenhouse gas reduction goals, and back those goals with laws, regulations and incentives. States can put a price on carbon, either acting individually (California) or regionally (RGGI). States have pervasive control over electric generation through their regulation of utilities, and can use energy efficiency standards, renewable portfolio standards, long-term contracting requirements, and net metering rules to mandate or incent efficient and renewable energy.

States issue building codes, which they can use to make buildings more energy efficient. States can directly invest in infrastructure, such as mass transit and EV charging stations, to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. And if they follow California’s lead, they can require cars sold in their states to be fuel efficient and/or electric.

As UCS’s Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking shows, many states are using these tools effectively, and making dramatic progress on the ground. And while many of the leaders are the blue coastal states you might expect, it is very heartening to see that success has geographic and political diversity.

Some salient examples: South Dakota has the highest percentage of in-state generation from renewables, while Wyoming has the most renewable energy coming on line in the next few years. Iowa does the most to help businesses purchase renewable energy. Arizona is a leader in efficiency. Texas invested $7 billion to build transmission lines, making it by far the largest generator of wind energy in the country.

It is clear that on the state level, in sharp contrast to Washington, DC, there is bi-partisan support for clean energy. Whether motivated to avert climate impacts, reap air quality benefits, create new jobs or diversify the energy supply, a large and growing number of states are using the tools they possess to make progress. And that is at least a partial antidote to the bad news coming from Congress and the Trump administration.

That being said, the state ranking also reveals the need for improvement. Many states do not have greenhouse gas reduction goals or a set of laws to achieve them. Sales of electric vehicles as an overall percentage of the fleet are low in all states. Many southern and southwestern states are not taking advantage of a resource—plentiful sun—and have very low penetration of rooftop solar. Many northern states are wasting energy and money because they don’t have strong energy efficiency targets.

My hope is that this new analysis, and the pressure that can be exerted by active and engaged citizens, will help broaden the areas in which all states can succeed, and turn the state laggards into leaders. At a time when progress in Washington, DC has stalled, this is our best path forward.

Who’s Driving Clean Energy Momentum? Ranking State Progress

Clean energy has been having a really good run in recent years: costs falling, scale skyrocketing, millions of people enjoying its benefits. And the future is looking bright in a lot of ways, with technologies, customers, and policies coming together in beautiful harmony for a whole lot more progress to come.

When it comes to the role of our 50 states in creating this great clean energy momentum, which ones do we have to thank? That’s what the new Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking from the Union of Concerned Scientists set out to discover. As for how to figure out who’s tops, that title says it all… if you just look at each piece.

Let’s break it down, build it up, and see what we get. (And some of the answers just might surprise you.)

Gauging leadership on clean energy momentum

The map gives a sneak peek at the results from the new analysis.

And here’s how the pieces of the title come into play:

Clean energy. Our focus was the electricity sector, but that turns out to include a range of pieces, and it’s important to think about the multiple dimensions of “clean energy”:

  • Renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and bioenergy—is an obvious component, but certainly not the only one.
  • Energy efficiency figures in strongly in terms of how we make progress: Doing more with every electron means needing less electricity from some of our dirtiest sources, and having our renewable electricity take us further.
  • Transportation electrification is an increasingly important piece of the power sector picture, and cleaning things up. For most US drivers, electric vehicles (EVs) give strong environmental benefits. And those benefits are going to keep going up as the country’s electricity mix gets cleaner.

Our new analysis includes all three sectors.

Momentum. This is one of the things that’s unique about this analysis. We were interested in capturing not just where states are now, but also where they’ve come from recently, and where they’re headed.

Clean energy momentum covers “now” things like the renewable electricity fraction of a state’s generation, its electricity savings, its EV sales, and its clean energy jobs.

But it also includes the “where ya coming from?” piece, like how much a state’s renewables fraction has increased recently, and how much its power plant pollution has decreased.

And momentum in the clean energy space is about the “still to come” part—how much renewable energy is happening in the near future, and what kind of policies (for renewables, efficiency, and carbon pollution, for example) will give clean energy oomph in the years to come.

Our analysis measures all that.

For clean energy, the best direction is up (Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL).

State. Why focus on the states, when we need the federal government to be doing its thing? It’s clear that we need both.

States have been a powerful, positive force for progress on clean energy, through different political climates and different federal administrations. Given the uncertainty of leadership from Washington, D.C. (to put it mildly), we definitely need states to continue to lead in each of these areas, to keep the momentum going—and growing.

That’s why focusing our analysis on state performance made sense… not as the whole picture, but as a key part of the picture.

Ranking. We wanted to keep this simple, easy-to-understand, while covering the bases that needed covering. So our ranking incorporates a dozen metrics covering that range of sectors and time periods.

And we wanted to keep it grounded. The assessment gauges how states are doing relative to a really important yardstick: their peers. For each of the metrics, states could earn up to 10 points. We let the best-performing state define that top end, and set the zero-point level based on the worst-performing state. States got their points for that metric based on where they were on that worst-to-best scale.

The envelope, please

So, all together, those pieces give us Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress. And when we put it together and look at the numbers, here’s what we find.

The top performers overall include a mix of West Coast, Northeast, and Midwest states (see graph).

One surprise is who ended up on top. Yeah, I get that California might not seem like a shocker. But we were really careful, in designing the analysis, to make sure the metrics didn’t give extra credit to big states, so that we’d have a level playing field for measuring leadership. All the figures were “normalized” in some way, with calculations per capita, per household, as a percent of generation or car sales or whatever. And yet California still tops the rankings.

Interestingly, the Golden State gets there not by being at the head on a bunch of metrics—it is #1 only on one (EV sales as a percent of overall car sales last year)—but by being a stellar, all-around performer. It shows up in the top-five list for a total of seven metrics, and top-10 for still another.

In spot #2 is Vermont, which leads on two of the metrics: clean energy jobs per capita and carbon reduction target. But it also has a total of five top-five appearances, in electricity savings, energy efficiency policy, and EV adoption. Its record of 10 top-10 appearances is the most of any state.

Massachusetts captures #3 with the strongest energy efficiency resource standard (a leading policy for driving efficiency), and top-five performances also in residential solar capacity per household, electricity savings, clean energy jobs per capita, and carbon reduction targets. And it earned nine top-10s.

Rhode Island, #4, is in there because of its top electricity savings numbers, and its top-five-ness in pollution reduction and policies around renewables, efficiency, and carbon reduction.

And Hawaii rounds out the top five. The Aloha States tops our residential solar metric (by a long shot) and is a strong performer for EV adoption and renewables policy.

Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York, and Iowa round out the top 10 states. And those states are followed by Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada.

Solar is hot! Thank leading states near you (Credit: Derrick Z. Jackson).

Metric surprises

But the results are a lot more than the top overall states. The nice thing about the multiple metrics is getting to see not just who leads overall, but who leads on different pieces. And looking at it that way produces some surprising findings. For example:

  • South Dakota may not be the first name that comes to mind when you’re thinking about renewables, but it turns out to have the highest renewable energy portion of its in-state generation—hydro, yes, but also wind. It also ties with New Hampshire for the top spot in our power plant pollution reduction metric. That makes SD one of only two states (with Vermont) to get two #1s.
  • Wyoming might bring to mind coal, not clean energy, but it tops our metric on new renewable energy capacity—how much is being built around now and in the near future, per capita and as a percentage of new power plant capacity.
  • Those who know wind might not be surprised to see Kansas somewhere on the leader board, and indeed it is: #1 for the increase in its renewable energy generation percentage, based on a tripling of its wind (from 8% of its in-state generation to 24%).
  • For clean energy jobs per capita, the basis for another metric, Vermont tops the efficiency piece (along with overall clean energy jobs per capita) and Nevada leads on solar, but tops on wind jobs is North Dakota.

While our main focus is on the states that perform well across metrics, it’s helpful to see who’s moving forward in different ways.

Pedal to the metal

Overall, the range of metrics incorporated in the UCS Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking paint a picture of state successes and a 50-state race for clean energy leadership. And the analysis points to recommendations for states as they build on clean energy momentum and continue strong progress toward a new energy future, like these:

  • States have to continue to drive clean energy momentum by adopting policies for continued progress in a whole lot of areas, from renewable energy and efficiency, to vehicle electrification, to economy-wide reductions in global warming pollution.
  • States should focus more on making sure that everyone shares in the benefits of clean energy, particularly low-income households and communities of color, those who are most affected by power plant pollution and other imbalances in the electricity sector.
  • States have got to push the federal government to accept its own responsibility for leadership in the clean energy space, given the value of strong national policies in a lot of these areas.

But, however we do it, we need, as a society and a country, to be picking up the pace. For clean energy jobs. For clean air and better public health. For a more just energy system.

And with an administration in the White House that seems more enamored of the brake pedal than the accelerator, where states are willing and able to lead on clean energy, we need them to be even more solidly in the driver’s seat.

To clean energy momentum, then—and step on it!

Click here for more on our clean energy momentum analysis from colleagues on the Midwest results, the California perspective, the big picture, and more.

Clean Energy Momentum in the Midwest

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists ranks state leadership on clean energy momentum across the country. Here’s a look at how the Midwest fared.

The analysis for the new report, called Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress, uses 12 metrics, which assess key trends in the state deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the electrification of vehicles. The metrics also gauge progress in areas of job creation, pollution reduction, and the state policy environment for driving clean energy.

Midwest findings

Jobs are one really important aspect of progress on creating clean energy momentum. Wind jobs are rapidly growing in the Midwest. In terms of raw numbers, Iowa is number one in the region, with over 6,000 people employed in the industry (the fourth highest in the country), followed by Kansas, Illinois, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The jobs metric in the UCS analysis looks at per-capita figures for each technology; for wind per-capita, North Dakota is first in the region and the country, with almost 3.8 wind jobs for every thousand residents, followed by South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.

For solar jobs, Ohio is first with 5,831 solar jobs, then Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. For energy efficiency jobs in the Midwest, Illinois is by far the winner with 89,830 total energy efficiency jobs in the state and is number three nationally. For energy efficiency per-capita, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Kansas did very well.

For a look beyond jobs, let’s dive a little deeper into some key Midwest states—what UCS’s new analysis suggests they’re doing well at, and where they might be able to build up their scores.


The Iowa State Capitol

Iowa is the shining star of the Midwest, coming in at number 10 nationally. Iowa has always been strongly committed to renewables, and was the first state to implement a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in 1983. Iowa currently generates over 36% of its electricity from wind power, and has 6,911 MW of installed wind capacity. And the Hawkeye State certainly isn’t done; they came in second place overall based on new renewable energy capacity under development.

Iowa also scores well on the analysis’s metric that focuses most strongly on the corporate piece. States can make it easier for businesses to purchase and use renewable energy in various ways. Iowa is number one nationally in this, based on the ease with which in-state companies can buy clean energy from utilities or third parties.

UCS’s analysis also suggests ways Iowa could improve its ranking. Iowa could create a global warming emission reduction target, for example. Vermont scored first place in this category, with their GHG reduction goal that calls for a 50% reduction in emissions from the 1999 level by 2028, and a 75% reduction by 2050. Iowa could also increase their installed residential solar capacity.

Iowa currently only has 39 MW of installed solar capacity, compared to leading states that have thousands of megawatts of solar.


Minnesota is second in the Midwest in UCS’s new analysis, scoring number 12 nationally due in part to its success in reducing power plant emissions. This is a reflection of Minnesota’s progress in renewable energy generation, with 21 percent of its energy coming from renewables, and it reflects the state’s shift away from less efficient fossil-fueled power plants. Last fall, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Xcel Energy’s 15-year resource plan that will retire nearly 1,400 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity and move the state’s largest utility towards 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Minnesota scored 8th nationally on their state target for reducing global warming emissions. This is due to the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which set a goal for reducing GHG emissions in 2015 to a level 15% below the 2005 level, 30% below in 2025, and 80% below in 2050.

Minnesota could improve on the amount of installed residential solar capacity per household. Possible increases in renewables in the state could be achieved through increasing the states renewable energy standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030. Doing so would build on the success of the previous standard as well as get more solar on roofs in Minnesota.

Another area of needed improvement is electric vehicle adoption. How quickly a state is harnessing the public health and environmental benefits of electrifying the transportation sector is another important dimension of clean energy momentum. In 2016 less than half a percent of the cars sold in Minnesota were electric vehicles. This metric could improve with the adoption of a zero emission vehicle regulation, incentive programs, or infrastructure investments for EVs.


Source: Peter Juvinall – NREL.

Illinois ranks number 19th nationally, but number two (behind Iowa) in corporate renewable energy procurement. The Land of Lincoln is also doing well on reducing harmful power plant emissions by retiring coal plants, and focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

And Illinois has set itself up for a lot more clean energy, thanks to the recent passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) which will help the state continue to decrease emissions, and increase the adoption of solar in the state. Illinois currently has 70 MW of installed solar, which will greatly increase thanks to the FEJA.


Michigan came in at number 27, but performed better than any other Midwest state on electric vehicle adoption.

Michigan has had numerous coal plant closures in the state in recent years. And it looks like progress in that direction will continue; DTE Energy has already shuttered three coal-fired coal plant units, and has plans to close another eight by 2030.

Areas for improvement included the amount of installed residential solar capacity. The estimated distributed solar photovoltaic capacity in the state is 31 MW, which is equal to 8.2 W per household (way below the leading states, which have many hundreds of watts per household).

Thankfully, Michigan recently strengthened its renewable portfolio standard to 15% by 2021, from 10 percent by 2015, with requirements to build renewable energy resources within the service territories of Michigan utilities.

Next steps

With the Trump Administration’s focus on undercutting action on climate policy at the federal level, state leadership is more important now than ever. States must focus on a range of policies to keep momentum and continue to reap the benefits of clean energy including economic development, job creation, and cleaner air and reduced public health risks.

An Earth Day Salute to States Leading the Clean Energy Transition

Earth Day is Saturday. The annual event always inspires me to reflect on where the country has been and where it’s headed in terms of protecting the land, water, air, plants, and animals that share our planet with us humans.

In an age where basic environmental issues are becoming hyper-political, I am encouraged by a new analysis UCS just released that proves just how much progress we’ve made across the country to lower pollution—both the kind that makes us sick and the kind that warms our atmosphere—by investing in electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and clean, renewable sources of electricity.

Wind power on the San Gorgonio Pass. Source: Flickr/Clark

The report looks at clean energy progress across all 50 states, and ranks them in terms of leadership on a number of policies and programs, including advancement of renewable energy and energy efficiency, jobs created in clean energy, and programs that limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, California earned the top spot overall by performing well in a number of categories that were analyzed, including placing first on electric vehicle adoption and second on the amount of residential rooftop solar per capita. It also ranked high on other metrics, such as electricity savings, clean energy jobs per capita, and the strength of its renewable energy and global warming emissions policies.

Following California were Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York, and Iowa. Progress was so widespread that 35 states demonstrated enough clean-energy momentum to score in the top 10 in at least one metric, while 21 states scored in the top 10 in at least three categories.

While California’s leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency already serve as a model for other states, the Golden State should not rest on its laurels. The state has a large economy—the sixth or seventh largest in the world depending on the year. Investments we make here ripple throughout the world. With so much at stake or stalled at the federal level, California will play an extremely important role in making sure clean energy momentum across the country does not lose ground.

La energía limpia, el progreso de los estados y qué podemos hacer

Un nuevo análisis de la Union of Concerned Scientists clasifica el progreso de los estados en la transición hacia la energía limpia. ¿Por qué es importante?

Hablé con mi co-autora del informe, Paula García, sobre las razones principales por las cuáles es importante la energía limpia, así como para entender cuáles son los estados líderes.

¿A qué nos referimos con energía limpia?

John Rogers: Paula, el informe se llama “El progreso de la energía limpia: Clasificación del avance de los estados”. Hablemos de cómo lo hicimos. ¿Puedes describir para nuestros lectores el análisis que llevamos a cabo?

Paula García: Por supuesto. Para nuestro análisis nos enfocamos en la energía limpia desde tres perspectivas. La primera incluye la energía renovable como la solar y la eólica. La segunda aborda la eficiencia energética, la cual nos permite hacer mejoras en edificaciones para reducir el consumo de electricidad, aumentar la comodidad y ahorrar dinero, tanto en la casa como en el negocio. Y la tercera tiene que ver con los vehículos eléctricos.

JR: Y esos los incluímos porque representan una importante área de avance de la energía limpia, debido a los beneficios medioambientales que traen, y el hecho de que son un área de rápido crecimiento en los Estado Unidos.

PG: Así es. Entonces incluímos estas tres áreas. Y la forma en que analizamos el avance que han logrado los estados es usando indicadores para medir su progreso reciente, dónde se encuentran en este momento y hacia donde se dirigen.

¿Por qué es importante la energía limpia?

JR: Excelente. Entonces, ¿Podrías explicarle a nuestros lectores porqué consideramos que es importante la energía limpia?

PG: Hay muchas razones por las cuales como sociedad necesitamos tener una mayor representación de la energía limpia en nuestra vida diaria. Por ejemplo: la energía limpia es una fuente sólida de generación de empleo. Y estos empleos no solo benefician a quienes trabajan en esta área, sino también a la economía del lugar donde residen estas personas.

JR: Y el hablar de la energía limpia sugiere que hay razones que tienen que ver con la salud pública…

PG: Sí, las centrales eléctricas por décadas han emitido agentes contaminantes como el dióxido de azufre y óxidos de nitrógeno. Estos contaminantes son sumamente nocivos para la salud pública por cuanto tienen serias repercusiones, por ejemplo en enfermedades pulmonares como el asma.

El uso de la energía limpia en este caso es una herramienta fundamental para reducir el uso de esas centrales, y por ende los niveles de agentes contaminantes.

JR: Y esos efectos dañinos no afectan por igual a los residentes dentro de un mismo estado…

PG: Así es. Las estadísticas nos muestran que las personas más expuestas a esa contaminación son aquellas de bajos recursos y que pertenecen a grupos minoritarios étnicos y raciales. Esto tiene unas implicaciones muy negativas afectando desproporcionadamente la salud pública de estas comunidades. Por ejemplo, las personas puertorriqueñas tienen la más alta tasa de ataques y muertes a causa del asma.

JR: Esos contaminantes tienen un efecto directo lamentable en la salud de muchas comunidades. ¿Y el dióxido de carbono?

PG: Totalmente. Este es otro de los agentes emitidos por las centrales eléctricas—

JR: —especialmente las plantas de carbón

PG: Sí. Y esas emisiones de dióxido de carbono son una de las principales fuentes que generan cambio climático. Y los efectos del cambio climático lamentablemente a quienes afectan de forma más drástica es a las mismas comunidades de bajos recursos y de grupos étnicos y raciales minoritarios.

JR: Los efectos de que hablamos son inundaciones u olas de calor, por ejemplo, para los cuales comunidades de menos recursos están menos preparadas para responder, tanto físicamente, en cuanto a la infraestructura, como financieramente, en cuanto a tener los recursos económicos como para reconstruir sus viviendas, recuperarse y prosperar.

PG: Por esto la transición hacia la energía limpia es tanto y más importante en términos de que sus beneficios lleguen a todo las personas.

JR: Y hablamos aquí no solo de la reducciones de los contaminantes que mencionaste y el cambio climático, sino que también de los trabajos, los cuales pueden ser de gran beneficio también en nuestras comunidades más necesitadas.

¿Quiénes son los líderes?

JR: Entonces, en cuánto a los estados y el progreso de la energía limpia, ¿qué hallamos?


PG: Lo primero que encontramos es que el avance de la energía limpia está pasando a lo largo de todo el país; desde la costa pacífica hasta la costa atlántica, así como en el medio oeste, encontramos estados que están a la vanguardia.

California ocupa el primer lugar en la calificación general, debido a sus esfuerzos en muchísimos frentes. Desde la adopción de vehículos eléctricos, el gran desarrollo de la energía renovable, la amplia generación de empleos en energía limpia y su liderazgo en políticas energéticas y climáticas.

En el noreste Vermont, Massachusetts y Rhode Island van a la cabecera por sus esfuerzos en temas de eficiencia energética, y desarrollo de energía renovable.

Y en el medio oeste encontramos a Iowa dentro de los 10 primeros estados que están liderando esta transición hacia la energía limpia.

¿Por qué es importante enfocarnos en el progreso de los estados?

JR: Hablemos de la importancia del liderazgo de los estados en el avance dado la situación política nacional en que nos encontramos.

PG: Bueno, es vital entender que están haciendo los estados para que esta transición hacia la energía limpia sea una realidad, especialmente en este momento en que existe una gran incertidumbre con respecto a cuál va a ser el liderazgo desde la Casa Blanca. Hasta el momento es difícil percibir acciones federales favorables en temas de energía limpia.

Por tanto, ahora más que nunca es fundamental entender cuáles son los estados líderes en energía limpia y como replicar y multiplicar sus éxitos. Esto sin duda contribuirá a mantener y acelerar el ritmo de adopción de la energía limpia. Y por ende el que podamos compartir sus beneficios con todos y cada uno de nosotros.

¿Cómo puedo contribuir con esta transición?

JR: ¡De acuerdo! ¿Qué pueden hacer, entonces, nuestros queridos lectores para mantener e impulsar el avance de la energía limpia?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian

PG: Hay muchas formas de contribuir con esta transición. Empezando con participar activamente en los procesos de toma de decisiones a nivel local, estatal y federal. Es importante informarse sobre qué acciones sus representantes están tomando en temas de energía limpia y exigirles que activamente presionen por un mayor progreso en esta área.

Así mismo, justamente la próxima semana vamos a tener una gran oportunidad para expresar de forma contundente nuestro poder como sociedad para exigir acciones inmediatas “en defensa de nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud”. El sábado 29 de abril vamos a tener la Marcha del pueblo por el clima en Washington, DC, y todos y cada uno de ustedes están invitados a unirse a este movimiento. Yo estaré ahí marchando!

JR: ¡Ahí voy a estar yo también!

Y vale la pena mencionar otra importante forma para que nuestros lectores participen en la solución de los grandes desafíos que enfrentamos, tanto en el campo energético como en el de “los problemas más apremiantes de nuestro planeta”: únanse a la Union of Concerned Scientists. Así podrán estar al tanto de lo que está pasando y de cómo pueden apoyar nuestros esfuerzos.

PG: ¡Completamente de acuerdo!

Photo: Black Rock Solar/CC BY 2.0, Flickr

Why One Midwestern Scientist Will March for Climate Justice in Washington

With the Trump Administration’s recent attacks on climate policy, the proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget, and numerous attacks on science it’s no surprise that people are outraged and want to stand up for science and fight for climate justice.

That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists joined the Steering Committee of the People’s Climate Movement, which is a project of dozens of organizations working together to solve the climate crisis. The People’s Climate March will be held on Saturday, April 29 in Washington DC which marks Donald Trump’s 100th day in office. We must push back against the Trump administration’s agenda and at the same time push forward on our vision of a cleaner and safer world.

So why should scientists and science supporters attend the march? To answer that question I recently interviewed UCS Science Network Member Tim Gerrity for his take on how scientists and others can get involved to fight for climate action. The interview is recorded below.

 Jessica: Thanks for talking with me today, Tim. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your work?

Tim: I have a long background in different areas of scientific research. I have a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago and I’m currently a medical technology consultant. I was previously the Chief of the Clinical Research Branch/Health Effects Research Laboratory at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the EPA, I researched the acute health effects of air pollutants. In addition to my research, I provided scientific input to the EPA on the quality Criteria Documents required under the Clean Air Act. I have a deep seated concern for the protection of the environment and the setting of standards to protect human health.

 Jessica: Why are you attending the People’s Climate March on April 29?

 Tim: First, climate change is a fact, it is caused by humans, and we must act to protect the environment and human health. Last month, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a report showing that increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like floods, heat waves and droughts are influenced by human-induced climate change. I care as a citizen, a human being, and as a scientist.

Second, I am attending the march to fight back on the current attacks on science and Donald Trump’s harmful statements questioning the validity of climate change. Climate change is happening, and since it is human caused, we may be able to mitigate the worst impacts of it by taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Trump and Congress must fight to limit carbon emissions. Trump’s recent Executive Order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth”, seeks to unravel critical public health and climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Additionally, with the proposed cuts to the US EPA’s budget, scientific research is threatened, as well as the health and safety of all Americans.  I was a witness to similar budget cuts to the U.S. EPA during the Reagan administration, and research was targeted. Scientific research is crucial for our government to make informed and unbiased policy decisions.

Jessica: Why is it important for scientists, like you, to engage in public policy at the state and federal level?

Tim: Engaging in policy is extremely important because scientists must inform the political establishment and the broad public on the implications of science in driving policy.  Not just in the area of climate.  I am very concerned about rollbacks in various areas of research that have impacts on human health and reflect a misunderstanding of science and the use of science to benefit society.  Science is essential for government policymaking.

Jessica: We are actively working to increase clean energy in the Midwest. Do you think our current political climate threatens the development of clean energy in the region?

Tim: No, but we have a lot of work to do. Educating policymakers and the broader public is vital. President Trump claims he is going to bring back coal jobs, but the truth is, there are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the United States. We know that coal is becoming less and less competitive as a source of energy, and power companies want to get away from it for economic reasons. The notion that we are going to bring back jobs is an ill-informed notion and it’s cruel. At the same time Trump’s proposed budget is cutting job training programs for coal communities. Our nation’s power sector is already rapidly transitioning away from coal and toward cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar, which has experienced record growth in recent years.

Jessica: At UCS, we’re encouraging our members to get involved and take action and demand climate justice. What would you say to encourage other folks to attend the Peoples Climate March on Saturday, April 29 in DC?

Tim: I have never in my life seen such a dramatic reversal in thought and understanding on the part of government leadership on air quality and the health of the people and the planet. We are going to hit a point where there is no return. It’s easy if you aren’t going to be around in 2100 when we could see some of the most dramatic effects, but we can’t ignore it. Generations to come will look back at us and judge us by our actions today. Climate change is one of the most important societal issues nationally and globally. And the United States cannot pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to do more for the public and public health that is based on scientific fact. It is the job of the federal government to protect human health. We need to think of this not as regulations but as human health protections.

How to get involved

Join us on April 29th as we march for climate justice and march to protect our communities. UCS will be chartering a bus from Chicago to Washington DC, and there are still spots left—reserve your spot today!  You can register to attend the People’s Climate March here.

Photo: Michael O'Brien/CC BY-NC (Flickr)

Here’s What the EPA Budget Cuts in a Leaked Memo Mean for Health and Environmental Justice

Recent news reports point to a leaked memo that provides more details about the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) budget. If the details are officially confirmed, it would clearly show that the administration is preparing to undermine health protections nationwide, and especially in low income and minority communities. The administration is also seeking to undercut the role of sound science at the agency.

Congress should refuse to allow these harmful cuts to go forward.

How the budget cuts hurt the EPA’s work

Here’s the big picture: If implemented, the deep budget and staffing cuts proposed by the Trump administration would undermine the core mission of the EPA to protect human health and the environment. There is simply no way for the agency to continue to do its job well while losing about a third of its overall budget, with even deeper cuts to many critical programs.

Here are just three of the many important aspects of the EPA’s work that are harmed by the proposed budget cuts outlined in the leaked memo:

1. Programs critical for public health, the environment and the economy of states.

The Trump administration is attempting to cut budgets and funding for programs that are critical for states. These include:

  • Cuts to grants for state, local and tribal management of air and water quality. These grants are critical for state and local authorities to monitor and enforce air and water pollution safeguards. UCS President Ken Kimmell, former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, recently explained how states are in no position to make up for shortfalls that arise from EPA budget and staffing cuts. This will inevitably threaten public health protections.
  • Cuts to Children’s Health Program resources. The leaked memo says “This decision reduces Children’s Health program resources by $2,391K and 14.9 FTE to prioritize core environmental work.” Wow, that’s stunning! So protecting children’s health is NOT core work for the EPA? That would be news to the American public.
  • Total elimination or cuts to many EPA regional programs, including ones focused on the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, South Florida, San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound. All these programs not only help reduce pollution, they are also vital for the regional economies. The Chesapeake Bay program, for example, is a collaborative effort between Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the EPA, focused on reducing the pollution load in the historically beleaguered Bay and thereby supporting local economies, fishing, swimming, tourism, and protecting drinking water sources (with benefits accruing in waterways well beyond the Bay itself.)
  • Major cuts to the budget of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, including cuts to Civil and Criminal Enforcement and Compliance Monitoring. It’s really hard to see these cuts as anything but a sellout to polluting industries. Robust enforcement is what gives teeth to our nation’s pollution laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
  • Cuts to Superfund enforcement. Superfund sites are among the most polluted sites in the country and EPA works to help clean up hazardous waste and monitor these sites. Take a look at this map and see if you have one of the Superfund sites that made the National Priority List for clean-up near where you live. Just to give a sense around the country: Alaska has 10 Superfund sites, Tennessee has 28, Alabama has 18, California has 112, and Maine has 16. If you live in or near one of the sites that still need remediation, cuts to the EPA’s budget could directly affect you.
  • Cuts to programs that help reduce the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt has already set a bad precedent through his decision not to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that poses a clear risk to children, farm workers, and rural drinking water users. Cuts to budgets for programs that limit pesticide risks would just continue down that misguided path.
2. Protections for environmental justice communities, especially low-income, minority and tribal communities

Because EPA’s core mission is the protection of public health, its activities are especially important for communities that bear a disproportionate burden of health impacts from pollution. Many of these environmental justice (EJ) communities are low-income, minority and tribal communities. Harms to these communities will be especially pronounced if the EPA’s overall budget is slashed.

As a quick reminder, here’s how the EPA defines environmental justice:

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. 

The agency says this goal will be achieved for all communities and people when everyone enjoys:

  • the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and
  • equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

It’s hard to see who would be opposed to these fundamentally fair and commonsense goals, but it’s entirely in keeping with an administration that has shown itself to be hostile to concerns about racial justice across the board.

In addition to overarching budget cuts that will disproportionately hurt EJ communities, the administration is also proposing to cut specific EPA programs targeted at disadvantaged communities. That’s gratuitously cruel, especially given the small budgets associated with these programs.

Here’s a list of some of the most egregious cuts to EJ priorities: elimination of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance’s Environmental Justice program (and its small grants program); cuts to budgets for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, elimination of the lead risk reduction program and state grants for lead monitoring and enforcement; and cuts to the Brownfields program that helps remediate contaminated sites and revitalize communities.

Consider the cuts in funding for lead risk reduction programs. States and local jurisdictions simply do not have the funding or the expertise to make up for cuts in federal funding for these vital programs. According to the CDC, which maintains the latest county-level data for lead levels:

Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

Lead exposure has serious consequences for the health of children, and can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. What’s more, according to the CDC, African American children are three times more likely than white children to have elevated blood-lead levels, amounting to a public health crisis in some places.

Or consider the work the EPA is doing to help address air quality concerns in tribal communities in Alaska. Pollution from diesel emissions, indoor air quality concerns, and emissions from burning solid waste and from wood-burning stoves are among the serious challenges these communities face.

Just last year the EPA provided grants totaling over $500,000 through the Brownfields program to Chattanooga and Knoxville, TN. These grants will help disadvantaged communities clean up and revitalize contaminated sites, which in turn will boost the local economy and improve public health. There are many Brownfields success stories around the country.

The recent resignation of Mustafa Ali, a key leader of the EPA’s environmental justice program, is a sad commentary on where this work is likely to be headed under Administrator Scott Pruitt. In his resignation letter addressed to Administrator Pruitt, Ali said:

“When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1,400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most.”

3. Scientific research and data, most prominently climate science

Many aspects of the EPA’s scientific work are under attack, including all of its work related to climate change. Perhaps this is only to be expected under an administration that is peddling a new form of climate denial, but that doesn’t diminish how outrageous these actions are.

(In case you missed it, watch EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s widely-panned appearance on Fox News where he continued his dissembling on the “CO2 issue.” The relevant excerpt starts at the 5:08 mark.)

The Trump administration is aiming to eliminate the Office of Air and Radiation’s Climate Protection Program. This program works with state, local and tribal entities to provide expertise on climate solutions including energy efficiency, renewable energy and adaptation to climate impacts. At a time when the seriousness consequences of climate change are so clear, this type of help is sorely needed.

But that’s not all: Trump’s budget proposes to cut funding for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), a source of independent peer review for the agency’s scientific and technical information and scientific advice for the EPA Administrator. Congress directed the EPA to set up the SAB in 1978 and it has served a very important role through multiple administrations to help ensure science-based policymaking. The leaked memo literally says that cuts to the funding and staffing for the SAB “reflect an anticipated lower number of peer reviews.” I suppose that means this administration has arbitrarily decided to deprioritize independent science and scientific oversight, a losing proposition for the American public.

In addition, the EPA’s Environmental Education and Regional Science and Technology programs are targeted for elimination. The RS&T program works together with a network of regional laboratories around the country to bring good science to bear on environmental protection measures.

My colleague Dave Cooke highlights other important harms related to potential loss of funding for the EPA Vehicle Lab. And Karen Perry Stillerman has written about the impacts of loss of funding for EPA’s work on clean water.

Congress must resist harmful cuts to the EPA budget 

Some of the broader details of the leaked memo accord with the budget blueprint released by the administration last month, which would indicate that these are likely to be real threats. Senators and Representatives should consider the destructive impacts on their constituents in their home states and speak out against the decimation of the EPA’s budget and staffing.

It’s especially important to elevate the concerns of communities that have historically been sidelined and face a disproportionate burden of pollution. Let’s not have another Flint water crisis, or Elk River chemical spill, or Kingston coal ash spill.

Mustafa Ali’s resignation letter, addressed to Administrator Pruitt, also says:

“I strongly encourage you and your team to continue promoting agency efforts to validate these communities’ concerns, and value their lives.”

Ultimately, that’s what this is about: Not just budget and staffing numbers at the EPA, but the impact on the lives and well-being of people around the country. Congress, which has the final say on the federal budget, must strenuously resist these cuts to the EPA’s budget.

Photo: EPA

Made in America: Trump Embracing Offshore Wind?

While publicly pushing fossil fuels, the Trump administration seems to be quietly embracing offshore wind power and its economic potential. 

In March, the Interior Department auctioned off 122,405 acres of water off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to the Spanish-based Avangrid for $9 million. Avangrid, a division of Iberdrola, beat out three competitors, including Norway’s Statoil and Germany wind farm developer wpd.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hailed the auction, affirming that offshore wind is “one tool in the all-of-the-above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence, and bolstering the economy. This is a big win.”

That followed the equally stunning announcement a week prior by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that it plans to stage another competitive lease auction in 400,000 acres of New England waters, triggered by unsolicited applications for the same area by Statoil and the U.S. wing of Germany’s PNE Wind.

The parcels are adjacent or near areas off Massachusetts and Rhode Island already leased by Denmark’s DONG Energy, Germany’s OffshoreMW and Rhode Island’s Deepwater Wind.

Those two developments signal that the Trump administration takes the economic potential of offshore wind energy far more seriously than might be assumed from the president’s past disparagement of wind turbines. Trump told the New York Times shortly after his election, “We don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan.”

Already big business in US

But it may have dawned on the Trump administration that offshore wind is actually much more an American industry than most people realize.

In 2015, Boston-based General Electric made the biggest purchase in its history, acquiring the French energy infrastructure giant Alstom for $10.6 billion. The deal included Alstom’s offshore wind turbine manufacturing operations, including a plant in Saint Nazaire, France, that made the five turbines spinning in the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, the 30-megawatt Deepwater Wind Block Island project.

GE proceeded last year to purchase the world’s largest turbine blade manufacturer, Danish-based LM Wind, for $1.65 billion. Last month, the LM Wind division announced it is building a blade manufacturing plant in the Normandy region of France, providing at least 550 direct and 2,000 indirect jobs as that nation ramps up its offshore industry. The factory will be capable of making the longest turbine blade in the world, nearly 300 feet long, for new-generation 8 MW turbines.

Besides GE, New York-based Blackstone, one of the world’s top investment firms, was behind the 2011 funding of Germany’s 80-turbine, 288-MW Meerwind offshore wind farm. Blackstone, with the help of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, last year sold its 80 percent stake to Chinese investors.

New York-based Goldman Sachs also has a 7 percent stake in DONG, the first company to cross the 1,000-turbine mark. Europe has a total of 3,600 turbines spinning, providing 12.6 Gigawatts of power, enough for 13 million homes, according to industry advocate Wind Europe.

Photo: Derrick Jackson

Critical mass close

It is clear that the offshore wind industry now wants to cross the water, with rocket-sized components that are too long and too massive to economically import long term from Europe. If it does, it could easily blow to our shores the skilled local construction and technical jobs and large-scale manufacturing President Trump has promised.

Deepwater Wind was recently cleared to begin a 15-turbine project off Montauk, Long Island, in waters where Deepwater could eventually construct up to 200 turbines. In December, Statoil won the federal lease for a 79,000-acre area of ocean off Long Island’s Jones Beach for a record $42.5 million.

Besides the competition in North Carolina, Maryland is in the approval stage of offshore wind proposals. And with Massachusetts now mandating 1,600 MW of offshore wind in its energy portfolio by 2027 and with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushing for 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030, the U.S. is about to become part of “the brightest spot in the global clean energy investment picture,” as Bloomberg New Energy Finance put it.

Job engine, port revivals

The inspiration points in Europe are endless. Last year saw a record $26 billion of investments, as the industry is on track to double the 12.6 GW by 2020.

The United Kingdom has approved construction of the largest wind farm yet, the 174-turbine, 1.2 GW Hornsea One Array. DONG says it expects Hornsea to generate 2,000 jobs during the construction phase and 300 operational jobs thereafter.

DONG and the British government have begun planning a second wind Hornsea wind farm that would be even bigger, 300 turbines and 1.8 GW, adding another 2,000 construction and nearly 600 maintenance jobs.

In Germany, the offshore wind industry is responsible for nearly halving unemployment in Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, towns northwest of Hamburg, were hit hard in the late 20th century by the decline of fishing, shipbuilding and the closing of US military facilities. Local officials likened Bremerhaven to Detroit for its 25-percent unemployment rate.

Today, with a downtown core gleaming with new museums and hotels, those same officials call offshore wind their regional “moon shot.” Up in Cuxhaven, Siemens is putting the finishing touches on a giant turbine plant that should go into operation in the middle of this year, bringing yet 1,000 more jobs to the region, adding to the 20,000 jobs claimed by the German offshore wind industry.

Denmark, despite having only the population of Massachusetts, remains a per-capita titan in offshore employment with 10,000 jobs. The UK, which has 41 percent of Europe’s installed capacity, had at least 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to UK Renewables and is obviously adding thousands more with oncoming projects such as Hornsea.

In December, Siemens completed a $381 million turbine-blade plant in Hull that will employ 1,000 people when fully operational.

Unlike much of modern manufacturing, The Guardian’s story on the plant’s opening noted: “Surprisingly, the manufacturing process is almost entirely done by hand, rather than robots. The workforce includes former supermarket workers, aerospace industry experts on second careers and builders who learned fiberglass skills locally from fitting bathrooms and making caravan parts.”

And Hull and other British port towns, according to newspaper features, are experiencing rebounds akin to Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven. A January Sunday Express story recalled how Hull declined from the overfishing of cod into a “rundown backwater” that topped the list of worst places in the UK to live in 2003. With redevelopment strategies that included the investment of offshore companies like Siemens, the city has rebounded to be a popular tourist destination.

Grimsby, a 33-mile drive from Hull, already has 1,500 offshore wind jobs and, with the planned Hornsea projects, has plans to grow and become the biggest offshore wind industry cluster in the world. DONG said in 2015 it plans to invest $7.4 billion in the Grimsby/Hull region by 2019.

Elsewhere in the UK, another massive offshore wind project, the 102-turbine, 714 MW East Anglia One, promises 3,000 jobs.

Photo: Derrick Jackson

The American potential

The building of house-sized nacelles and football-field-length blades, the manufacture and laying of miles of underwater cables, the building of jack-up installation barges and maintenance vessels, the welding of foundations and towers, port rehabilitation and all the nuts and bolts in between should rise from its current 75,000 jobs to between 170,000 and 204,000 jobs, according to Wind Europe.

A recent New York Times feature on the industry said, “Offshore wind, once a fringe investment, with limited scope and reliant on government subsidies, is moving into the mainstream.”

According a joint report last September by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, a robust U.S. offshore wind industry could employ up to 34,000 workers by 2020, up to 80,000 by 2030 and up to 181,000 by 2050.

The industry would be making $440 million in annual lease payments and $680 million in annual property tax payments for local economies. Better still, a University of Delaware study last year calculated that just 2 GW of projects in the pipeline in Massachusetts waters would ignite such an efficient local industry supply chain that the price of offshore wind energy should be even with other energy options by 2030.

“At that point, the technology presumably could continue to compete on its own without any continuing legislation,” the study said.

Onshore bipartisan success

The onshore wind industry is now at such cost parity that it is booming across America, from liberal California to the conservative Great Plains and Texas. In fact, 80 percent of U.S. wind farms are in Republican congressional districts, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Wind energy surpassed hydroelectric power in generating capacity for the first time last year.

According to AWEA, the U.S. counterpart to Wind Europe, there are now more than 500 blade and turbine factories and supply-chain manufacturing facilities making the 8,000 different parts that go into one machine.

Domestic wind industry jobs have crossed the 100,000 mark and the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists wind service technician as the fastest-growing job through 2024, with a current median pay of $51,050.

Wind service technicians are a huge reminder that this is an industry where many jobs are skilled working-class crafts that can be learned in technical colleges, providing a fresh employment pathway for individuals, families and low-income communities where 4-year college is often seen as unaffordable.

Despite his planned sweeping rollbacks of environmental regulations he decries as “job killing,” offshore wind offers exactly the kinds of jobs President Trump has said he would bring back to areas of America where other forms of manufacturing have disappeared.

The Perry Factor?

Another reason for optimism for offshore wind during the Trump administration is that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry oversaw Texas becoming the nation’s leader in onshore wind when he was governor.

Today, 12,000 turbines provide 13 percent of the state’s electricity, powering 4 million homes, and providing more than 24,000 jobs, according to AWEA.

The state’s transmission grid completed a $7 billion upgrade to accommodate wind. As governor, Perry boasted that Texas as a nation would rank sixth in the world in onshore wind installed capacity.

Late in his administration, he began to invest in offshore. In 2014, his Texas Emerging Technology Fund awarded $2.2 million to Texas A&M University to explore offshore wind. That grant was matched with $64 million of federal and industry research investments.

When Mr. Perry was confirmed as Energy Secretary, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said, “The Texas success story with wind power has now become a model for America … we look forward to working with him at the Department of Energy to keep this success story going.”

The first signs are that the success story will include offshore wind, spinning with jobs, and revitalizing towns dimmed with decline.

Without officially saying so, the Trump administration is deciding that the windmills can be made here after all.

This post first appeared on The Daily Climate.

Photo: Derrick Jackson Photo: Derrick Jackson Photo: Derrick Jackson

Despite Trump’s Climate Rollbacks, Renewables Charging Full Steam Ahead

President Trump’s recent Executive Order on Energy Independence is a cynical and dangerous assault on common sense policies to address climate change. His efforts will put Americans in harm’s way, and we must resist the president’s anti-science agenda at every turn. One of those turns is in our nation’s power sector, where the transition away from coal and toward cleaner, lower-carbon energy resources is well underway. Solar and wind power, especially, have experienced record growth in recent years, and there are multiple avenues—through utilities, states, corporations, and individuals—to keep the momentum going, with or without President Trump’s support.

It’s the market, stupid

Non-hydro renewable energy sources accounted for nearly 9 percent of our nation’s power supply in 2016, more than double 2010 levels. Since 2010, more than 86,500 megawatts (MW) of new wind and solar power capacity has come online, far more than their fossil fuel competitors. In fact, 2016 marked the first year that more solar power capacity was installed—14,762 MW—than any other power source.

Much of this rapid development has been aided by state policies and federal incentives, but simple market economics is playing an increasingly important role. Costs for wind and solar have dropped so dramatically in recent years that a recent comparison of power sources shows new wind and solar to be cheaper than new fossil fuel generation. As a result, more and more utility planners are opting to add renewables—and close aging coal generators—based largely on economics.

Consider Xcel Energy’s recent announcement to build 11 wind projects in seven states, totaling 3,380 MW of new capacity. In a statement Xcel executive David Hudson said, “The decision to add additional wind generation is purely in the economic interest of our customers.”

New Mexico’s largest utility, PNM, also recently released an analysis showing that closing their San Juan coal plant would result in “long-term benefits for consumers” and provide “an opportunity to increase renewable energy production.”

And in Ohio, Dayton Power & Light announced in March it will close two coal plants because they “will not be economically viable beyond mid-2018.” The utility also plans to invest in at least 300 MW in new wind and solar projects over the next five years.

‘Yuge’ competition among states

In addition to today’s market forces, policy drivers have been—and will continue to be—critical to ensure the swift transition to a renewable energy economy. And with the Trump Administration laying waste to federal solutions, the onus on states to step up and deliver has never been greater. Fortunately, many states are rising to the challenge through increasingly stronger renewable electricity standards (RES).

Indeed, there is stiff competition brewing among states to be a national leader in terms of commitment to renewable energy development. Just a few years ago, having a target of 25 to 30 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources would put a state among the pack of leaders. Today, six of the 29 states with existing RES policies have requirements of at least 50 percent, including Hawaii, which has set its sights on achieving 100 percent renewables by 2045.

During this legislative season, at least eight states have actively pursued significantly stronger targets. Among them are three states—California, New York, and Massachusetts—that are seeking to match Hawaii’s 100 percent target. Even in a more conservative state like Nevada, legislators are considering an increase in their RES from 20 percent to 50 percent by 2030.

If successful, these collective state actions will help ensure there is a robust market for renewables over the long term.

This Bud’s for you!

It’s not just states and prudent utilities that are driving the renewable energy revolution. Corporate demand for renewables is also a rapidly expanding market opportunity in the clean energy industry. In 2015, corporate power purchase agreements for wind outpaced new wind investments by utilities for the first time in the United States, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). RMI also estimates that at least 60,000 MW of new wind and solar will be needed by 2025 to serve the US corporate market.

Competitive pricing and increasingly stringent sustainability goals are leading many of the largest U.S. (and global) corporations to invest directly in renewable energy. A recent Advanced Energy Economy survey found that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies (and 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies) have set renewable energy or sustainability targets. Of this list, at least 23 corporations have set renewable energy goals of 100 percent, including giants like Amazon and Walmart.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser beer, has joined the growing list of companies committing to sourcing 100 percent of their power needs from renewable energy. Photo: Jack Snell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The latest multi-national company to make a 100 percent renewable energy commitment is Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser and Corona beers, among others. In rolling out its announcement, the company said, “We do not expect our cost base to increase. Renewable electricity is competitive with or cheaper than traditional forms of electricity in many markets.” We can all raise our glasses to that!

(Renewable) Power to the People

Citizens all across the country also have the power to stand up against the President’s climate rollbacks and demonstrate their support for renewable energy. Thanks to a combination of falling costs and state and federal incentives, solar PV installations in the residential sector have experienced steady growth over the last six years. At the end of 2016, there were 1.3 million solar households in the United States, more than twice the number from 2014! California leads all states with a 35 percent share of the solar PV market, but all states have solar homes and tremendous potential to grow.

What’s more, you don’t need to be a homeowner to get in on the renewable energy revolution. Community solar is an exciting and burgeoning option for consumers where investing in a rooftop system may not be a viable option. In addition, anyone can sign-up for certified green power either through their utility’s green power pricing program (if they have one) or through a national green power marketer.

Despite President Trump’s misguided actions to undermine climate progress, we must keep pressing forward toward a clean and low-carbon energy future. Thanks to the emergence of wind and solar as affordable and reliable sources of power, we can.

Solar Panels vs. Gromdars—Battle of the Century, or No Contest?

Two technologies have been going head-to-head to capture the public’s imagination. Both represent wholly new ways of doing things, and both hold tremendous potential. But what’s the reality behind the headlines? Which one really deserves the limelight?

As with so many issues, facts and data are the way to find out. So, here you have it: Solar Panels versus Gromdars, 2017 edition.

Solar’s costs keep falling; can’t tell about Gromdars.

One obvious point of comparison between products such as solar and Gromdars is the cost trajectory for each.

Solar has made incredible strides in just the last few years. The costs of residential solar systems fell by more than half from 2009 to 2015, and fell another 17% last year. That’s incredibly good news for would-be customers.

Solar’s costs keep coming down (Data source: LBNL 2016).

In terms of data on Gromdars’ cost trajectory, all we’ve got is this, from the inventor:

‘The question isn’t whether you can afford to buy a Gromdar; the question is whether you can afford not to.’

Actually, the question is how much they cost, and whether they’re getting cheaper. I really think we’re going to need something more specific than that, data-wise, if we’re going to build it into our economy in a meaningful way.

Solar keeps spreading; Gromdars…?

Scale and costs go hand-in-hand. Gromdar, it seems, has a goal “not only put a Gromdar in each home, but in each room of each home.” The company’s initial surge reportedly saw it “selling thousands of Gromdars.” There are no more recent public numbers, though, to back up any ongoing claims of success.

So solar is apparently way ahead on that score. Last year, another 370,000 solar systems got installed in the US, mostly on homes. The 2016 additions brought the residential total to almost 1.3 million solar households—more than double the total from just two years earlier.

Another home goes solar (Credit: J. Rogers)

And real-world experience bears out that sense of the relative progress of the two technologies. Think about the people you know who have gone solar, the houses you’ve passed by with solar on their roofs, the stories of people feeling empowered by solar. My kids and I make a game of pointing out every solarized home as we drive around areas where it’s taken hold.

Gromdars? Not so much. My kids almost never shout out from the back seat, “Look, Daddy — a Gromdar!”

Everyone loves solar; Gromdars are… working on it.

While there are some indications of demand for Gromdars, there are also indications that they aren’t a slam dunk, as far as the market is concerned:

Responding to concerns about the marketability of home Gromdars, the tech entrepreneur acknowledged that most new products face resistance from the consuming public when they are first introduced.

Solar, on the other hand, I think it’s fair to say has seldom faced public resistance. That is, people have always loved the idea of a beautifully silent space-age technology calmly churning out electrons for each of us whenever sunlight comes around. It was just a question of affordability.

And now solar is the most popular energy option around: According to the Pew Research Center, 89% of Americans would support getting more of our energy from the sun.

Everybody loves solar! (Source: Pew Research Center 2016)

Pew apparently didn’t include Gromdars in its survey, though we can hope they remedy that oversight.

Solar means jobs; no news on Gromdars.

Employment prospects are another reason that someone might love one or both of these technologies. Alas, no indication of how Gromdar jobs are faring.

Solar, though, is doing amazing things in that department. The 2016 solar jobs census found last year solar employment increased by 25 percent, to 260,000 people. Solar accounted for a stunning one out of every 50 new jobs in 2016. That’s real progress.

And the winner is…

It’s not always a good idea to compare two such interesting technologies head-to-head like this. But if we do (and we have), we find (and have found) that—sorry, Gromdar—solar wins, hands down.

Don’t you, though, put your hands down. Put them up, in celebration, and cheer solar’s progress.

At a time when many key decisions in Washington about our climate and energy future seem like jokes, not serious policy, we’d be fools not to.

Happy April 1.



Photo: Black Rock Solar/CC BY 2.0, Flickr

President Trump’s Executive Orders Promise Energy Independence, But Deliver Trouble

As President Trump and the Republicans on Capitol Hill are quickly learning, developing real public policy is a lot more complicated than repeating popular slogans to excited fans on the campaign trail.  And this holds true not just for health care, but for taxes, energy, environmental and transportation policy.  Earlier this week President Trump signed an executive order, instructing agency heads to take several steps toward “promoting energy independence and economic growth.”

Energy independence and economic growth sound like good goals—just like everyone wants health care insurance with better coverage, more competition, and lower premiums.  But since the campaign is over and the work of actual policy-making is getting underway, let’s consider how the measures proposed in this executive order and other recent actions stack up against the promises.

Looking for energy independence in the wrong places

My colleague Rachel Cleetus reviewed the broad implications for the planet of President Trump’s All-Out Attack on Climate Policy. I’ll focus on the transportation specific implications.  President Trump’s executive order talks about “energy independence,” but, in reality, the Clean Power Plan that the President’s order seeks to repeal focuses on electricity generation.

Virtually none of the resources used to make electricity — coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables — are imported.  The United States is a net exporter of coal, and imports a trivial share of its natural gas, mostly from Canada.  Wind and solar energy, meanwhile, are clean, non-depleting domestic resources.  That means that electricity is about 99 percent domestically produced.  The vast majority of our energy imports are oil and the Clean Power Plan has nothing to do with oil.  Eliminating the Clean Power Plan will have no impact on energy independence.

Historical data and projections from the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017 show that the US does not import coal, and imports very little natural gas. Oil has been and is expected to remain the main energy import.

Oil Imports = Oil Use – Oil Production

It’s simple arithmetic, but the Trump administration seems to have forgotten that the amount of energy (mostly oil) that the United States does import depends on how much oil Americans use, less the amount the nation produces.  So, we can reduce imports by either using less oil or by producing more.  Of the two options, using less oil solves a lot of other problems; producing more causes more problems than it solves.

Cutting oil use through efficiency is the smart path to energy security

Cutting demand for oil is a long-term process, because we all have places to go and, on any given day, we don’t have an unlimited set of choices for transportation.  Over the last decade, the United States has made major progress improving the efficiency of the cars we drive.  A decade ago an average new car got about 20 miles per gallon (mpg), and that figure is 25 mpg today.  We are on the road to new cars averaging 35 mpg or more a decade from now.  This means that while a new car used 600 gallons of gas a year in 2005, a new car is using 480 gallons to drive the same distance today and this will fall to less than 350 gallons in 2025.

With similar improvements in the efficiency of big rigs, planes and other vehicles, this adds up to substantial oil savings as the current inefficient fleet is replaced by more efficient cars, trucks and planes.  Efficiency improvements don’t just help reduce oil use, they save drivers billions of dollars and reduce global warming pollution.

But that’s only if our efficiency programs are fully implemented. Instead, the Trump administration has signaled its intention to weaken our federal fuel efficiency and vehicle emission program. Weakening these standards would cost drivers more money, increase our consumption of oil and hurt energy independence, as well as increasing global warming pollution.

Every additional electric vehicle cuts oil use, energy imports, and slows climate change

Replacing a typical 2015 25 mpg car with a 35 mpg car in 2025 saves 130 gallons a year.  But replacing it with a plug-in electric vehicle cuts US oil use to zero.  And since electricity is 99 percent domestic, the impact on energy imports is dramatic.  In addition, electric vehicles are less polluting than gasoline powered cars, even when electricity generation is included, and are getting steadily cleaner over time. The smartest path to energy security, as well as a low carbon future, is to electrify transportation as quickly as possible.

US oil production increased rapidly in the last decade, so what problem are we trying to solve?

The administration claims that Obama-era policies have choked off the oil industry, but this does not square with the facts.  Domestic oil production grew 80 percent between 2005 and 2015, almost entirely because of expanded production of so-called tight oil from fracking, which now accounts for more than half of US oil production.  US oil production fell in 2016 because of low oil prices, and future domestic oil production depends mainly on the global price of oil, rather than on regulations.  Indeed oil companies’ financial statements make it clear that recent and proposed environmental regulations have “no material impact” on their business. What does matter is global energy prices.

The Energy Information Administration projects that if oil prices rise enough to bring gasoline retail prices to $5 per gallon, the U.S. may indeed become a net oil exporter as consumption falls and production rises.  But if oil prices are low, imports will rise.  If you are worried about Americans struggling to pay their fuel bills, investments in efficiency will do much more to protect them from volatile oil prices than will weakening regulations that protect the public from oil industry pollution.  And while many factors influence global oil prices, cutting demand for oil by accelerating the progress of efficiency and electrification will certainly help push oil prices down and protect consumers.

The administration’s proposals have nothing to do with responsible energy production

The term “energy independence” is never defined in the executive order, but the emptiness and cynicism with which it is used is clear.  This order, together with other recent energy related measures the administration is advancing, allow oil and gas producers to waste natural gas instead of collecting it, to weaken fuel efficiency standards, and permit construction of a pipeline that will encourage expansion of some of the dirtiest crude in the world.  These measures will harm many people and set back efforts to reduce global warming pollution.  They primarily remove energy producers’ and automakers’ obligations to consider the consequences of their actions on climate change, and they will not reduce US energy imports.

Real energy security means energy that does not harm our security (or health or economy)

Energy in many different forms is essential to our lives, but just because energy is important does not imply that energy companies should not be responsible to minimize the harms caused by the production and use of their products.  Climate change poses a profound threat to our health, prosperity and security, so meaningful energy security must include a path to climate stabilization.  Transportation recently surpassed electricity generation as the largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States, and these emissions come overwhelmingly from oil.  Cutting transportation emissions means using less oil, through improved efficiency and rapid electrification of transportation.  Transportation fuel producers also have an important role to play, and oil companies no less than biofuels or electricity producers must reduce the pollution from their operations.

Companies and countries that lead the way towards a low carbon future will have a competitive advantage as the world inevitably moves to grapple with climate change.  The winners will be vehicle manufacturers that produce the most efficient vehicles and lead the way towards electrification, and energy companies that avoid the most polluting fossil fuels and reduce avoidable emissions from their operations.  Smart policies will help American companies lead the way, but the short sighted regulatory rollback the Trump administration is pursuing will leave American industry uncompetitive.  Responsible industries understand that protecting their customers and the communities in which they operate is key to maintaining their social license. While the Trump administration is actively facilitating irresponsible behavior, the world is watching.  The future will ultimately and inevitably favor companies that live up to their responsibilities.

President Trump’s New Anti-Climate Executive Order Threatens Our National Security

Yesterday, President Trump signed the Presidential Executive Order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” which, as my colleague states, represents an all-out attack on climate solutions.

While policy watchers had been expecting the Administration’s attack on climate policy for some time, what many of us are still amazed at is that President Trump’s anti-climate science and policy flies in the face of the American people, who on average believe global warming is happening (70%), is caused by humans (53%), is harming people (51%), and will harm future generations (70%).

Even more amazing is the Administration’s failure to understand the climate connection when it comes to our national security.

The Military has connected the climate and security dots











During his recent visit on March 2 to Newport News Shipbuilding in Hampton Roads, President Trump was flanked by Defense Secretary Mattis and two Republican congressmen Reps. Scott Taylor of Virginia Beach and Rob Wittman.

Aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford he “lauded the Navy and the shipyard’s workforce” and underscored that he will be strong on defense (pledging to increase defense spending).  In a region that is a sea level rise hotspot, where municipalities along with military bases are taking steps to cope with rising seas, the obvious, glaring omission from his speech was climate change.

 While the omission was jaw-dropping, it’s not surprising, as he continues to fail to connect the climate and security dots. He has called climate change a hoax and as many people have pointed out, even President Trump’s own “Winter White House” aka Mar-a-lago, located at what can be argued as a hot spot of sea level rise, hasn’t helped him make this connection. And finally, not even the long history of the military recognizing climate change as a threat nor President’s Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, have helped.  In Mattis’ unpublished testimony, he swiftly connected the dots on climate change & national security stating that climate change is a national security issue, it requires a whole of government approach, and the DoD needs resources to adequately prepare for these changes.

President Trump’s ‘Energy Independence’ Executive Order comes in stark contrast to the military’s record on climate change and binds the hands of the Department of Defense (DoD) in ensuring our nation’s readiness in the face of climate change. The Executive order revokes the 2016 memorandum on Climate Change and National Security which established an agency-wide working group to set priorities and recommendations on addressing climate change impacts to our national security.

Alice Hill, who served in the Obama administration as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience Policy for the National Security Council (and who led the working group) underscores that in addition to the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the National Intelligence Council (NIC) all recognize that climate change is a threat and that we are already feeling the impacts.

The NIC’s September 2016 report, entitled Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change, finds six key pathways in which climate change will threaten national security:


ONE:  threatens the stability of countries.

TWO:  heightens social and political tensions.

THREE:  adversely effects food prices and availability.

FOUR:  increases risks to human health.

FIVE:  negatively impacts investments and economic competitiveness.

SIX:  increases risks of abrupt climate change or “climate discontinuities and secondary surprises”.


Indeed, this is all too true and we have an abundance of evidence on these six pathways:

  • On the stability of countries: the risk of armed-conflict outbreak is increasing and that social and political tensions are fueling armed conflicts around the world particularly prone are North and Central Africa and Central Asia (also see G20 Policy Brief on Climate and Displacement)
  • On heightened social and political tensions: we know that climate change is swelling the numbers of displaced persons (in fact one person every second is displaced by climate change).
  • On food prices and availability:  studies show that climate change is already affecting food prices and scarcity, take for instance northeastern Syria from 2007 to 2010 when the worst drought on record caused crop failures and mass migration all of which were contributing factors that led to the civil war in 2011 (see this link for more evidence on climate change causing Syrian instability).
  • On risks to human health: the American Public Health Association has dubbed 2017 as the year of climate change and health and the Medical Society Consortium recently released their “MEDICAL ALERT! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health” report indicating among many other facts that children bear a greater burden of climate-associated health impacts.
  • On investments and economic competitiveness: Schroders climate change survey found that climate change represents a significant threat to the global economy in the current century and will have an inflationary impact on the world economy.
  • On abrupt climate change: The Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics published a paper by James Hansen and many others, who warn that the current climate mitigation targets don’t go far enough and will actually lead to a more dangerous climate with stronger storms, rising sea levels among other impacts (click here for a “101” on abrupt climate change).



Our recent study, US Military on the Frontlines of Rising Seas, drives home how our own military installations are at risk to being mostly underwater in the near future due to sea level rise.



Moreover, the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission  finds that “sea level rise risks to coastal military installations will present serious risks to military readiness, operations and strategy.”


While President Trump has hit the “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” on climate science and climate policy, he can’t delete the stark evidence of the impacts of climate change that are happening now (more and longer-lasting droughts and wildfires, more frequent and heavier downpours, more severe floods, to name a few) and that billion-dollar disasters are increasing across the nation and worldwide.

Nor can President Trump press the Ctrl-Alt-Delete buttons on the hard-wired role of the military to ensure its readiness to any threat, including climate change.


The Union of Concerned Scientists Flickr National Intelligence Counci Center for Climate and Security NOAA

The Clean Power Plan Has Already Accomplished One of Its Most Important Tasks

Tuesday’s attack on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) did not exactly come as a surprise. Since the day President Trump was elected, the rule’s fate has seemed near-well sealed—when CPP lawsuit ringleader Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA administrator, all lingering doubts were reduced to specifics about how and when. Well here we are, and now we know.

But here’s the thing. Though the administration spoke of “relieving the burden” of the rule, and though there had been much braying when the CPP was first announced, there has been a conspicuous absence of utilities leaping to change course after the lifting of the (supposed) crushing yoke of the CPP. Today, in fact, most utilities seem much as they did yesterday: increasingly comfortable with, and confident in, the idea of serving electricity in a carbon-constrained world.

It turns out that Tuesday’s actions relating to the CPP may well be moot: while the administration is clamoring to throw things in reverse, the power sector itself is pushing full-clean ahead, kick-started in part by the CPP but now rolling with a momentum all its own. More policies will be needed to accelerate the transition, but this train has undoubtedly left the station.

The CPP is all-important, unimportant, and somewhere in-between

As my colleagues and peers have made clear, a rollback of the rule would hurt our country, from the environment, to public health, to businesses, to foreign policy. It would also ignore the tremendous value derived from the very existence of a mechanism that can continue to push our climate goals forward.

We must fight hard for the EPA to do the job it is legally required to do: put limits on carbon emissions from power plants and other major emitting sources that are contributing to climate change and harming our health and welfare.

At the same time, others importantly highlight that market forces are currently pushing the deployment of renewable resources to unprecedented levels. And where there exist market gaps, state policies have been skillfully bridging them, using tools like renewable portfolio standards and support for distributed generation. Independent of any power plant rule, an enormous amount of progress is being made.

But beyond the debate about the relative importance of the CPP in driving near-term emission reductions, there is one clear benefit that the rule has already provided and that no rollback can now reverse: the triggering of a fundamental shift in power sector perspectives. By requiring stakeholders to consider what it might mean to walk a cleaner, greener energy path, the CPP has illuminated for a wide-ranging audience that the route was not only eminently achievable and affordable, but also beneficial.

Once you can see that future, there’s no more pining for the past.

Why did things change? The CPP got people talking… and listening

Since the CPP was first proposed in June 2014, the rule has generated significant discussion at all levels of society. The initial draft generated more than 4.3 million comments, an incredible volume for a rulemaking. And while everybody had an opinion—too weak, too strong; readily attainable, impossible to achieve; an economic boost, an economic drag—it also meant that stakeholders were engaged. This was in no small part facilitated by the agency itself, which went to tremendous lengths to conduct public hearings and listening sessions and trainings, and provided a range of tools and guidance.

Over time, as quick-takes evolved into deeper considerations of impacts and outcomes, stakeholders continued to be repeatedly exposed to the CPP debate. From joint discussions between energy and environmental regulators, to regional collaborations of regulators and power generators and environmentalists, to assessments by (and between) regional energy markets, to collaborations between federal energy bodies, discussion and analysis was unrelenting.

This, in turn, meant growing comfort and fluency, even when unintended.

As a result, though the rule’s fate has been dangling in legal limbo since last February, stakeholders from across the political spectrum have long-since acquiesced to the motivations driving it—a noted departure from when the rule was first proposed. Here, a few:

Clean energy means jobs.

  • “We’ve always had a point of view at Southern that there’s a reasonable trajectory in which to move the portfolio of the United States to a lower carbon future. There’s a way to transition the fleet now.” Tom Fanning, CEO, Southern Co.
  • “And to me, a utility commissioner isn’t doing their job, given that they make a long-term projection, if they’re not including resource diversity that includes non-carbon resources.” Ted Thomas, Chairman, Arkansas Public Service Commission
  • “We do recognize that if it’s not this, it’s going to be something else, because the Supreme Court has given the EPA the jurisdiction to do something [to control greenhouse gas emissions].” Tom Heller, CEO, Missouri River Energy Services
  • “[Under the Clean Power Plan] there has been struck a comfort level among many states and between stakeholders with regards to how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. […] I think there are states who feel far more comfortable engaging in regional solutions than they ever were before the Clean Power Plan was developed.” Bill Becker, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies
Keeping our eyes on the clean energy horizon

Tuesday’s claw-back of the CPP came as part of the broader Energy Independence Executive Order, which establishes a policy directive to increase US energy independence, including by winnowing out policies that present “impediments” to domestic energy production. In the process, the order seeks to lay waste to a bevy of climate and clean energy policies, including the CPP.

But though its scope is far-reaching, the order still managed to fail to catch the biggest impediment to domestic energy production of all: this administration’s pitifully small vision of what our nation’s energy future can be.

As we move forward—clean energy resolve intact, federal clean energy rulemaking in question—it’s critical that we keep supporting those states, utilities, and regulators that see the bigger picture, and keep making the case for those who don’t.

Because here’s the thing: while the Trump administration may have a blinkered view, the vast majority of those implicated by the CPP now see the full clean energy horizon, and have no interest in looking back.

Critically, as the map below illustrates, they also have the strong support of the American public—a new study shows over 80 percent of Americans support funding research into renewable resources, three-quarters support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and more than two-thirds support strict carbon pollution standards for coal plants, even if it costs them more.

And so we persist.

Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults believe that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant. Here, rates are displayed at the state level. Credit: Yale Climate Opinion Maps (2016)


President Trump’s All-Out Attack on Climate Policy

Today President Trump launches an all-out attack on our country’s policies to address climate change, via an Executive Order expected to be signed this afternoon. We’ve known for some time that something like this was in the works. Yet that doesn’t take away from the shock of the order’s destructive details, which were previewed yesterday by administration officials. It doesn’t just seek to undermine efforts to cut carbon emissions; it also rescinds commonsense measures to help protect people from the impacts of climate change.

This much is clear: Our president has so little regard for science that he is blind to the risks Americans face from unchecked climate change. He is so beholden to fossil fuel interests that he’s willing to stand in the way of the economic opportunities provided by a transition to clean energy. And he does not at all understand our deep moral obligation to limit the dangers of climate change for future generations, who will be left to face the consequences of our failure to act.

A battering ram of an executive order: What it means and doesn’t mean

This Executive Order (EO) is a serious blow to our country’s hard-won progress on climate action. Its aim is to dismantle, halt, or slow down many policies that have been years in the making. But most concerning is that there has been no responsible alternative plan proposed to address climate change, showing a real lack of leadership.

Obviously, this EO doesn’t change the reality that climate change is happening, it’s caused by us, and we bear the responsibility to act now or put current and future generations at grave risk.

Nor does it change the market factors that are driving a clean energy transition, or the considerable public health and economic benefits that would accompany this transition. Recent studies of the Clean Power Plan, for example, show that Americans would reap billions of dollars in health co-benefits, such as reduced cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, from the reductions of harmful emissions from power plants. We shouldn’t have to wait on those benefits, especially when renewable energy is becoming cheaper by the day.

And that’s why many states are determined to forge ahead despite this about-face at the national level. Power sector emissions will continue to decline because of state policies and the falling costs of renewable energy and natural gas.

But at a time when we need to accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy and work harder to protect communities from the growing impacts of climate change, this administration is choosing to step back and slow down our progress. Without national leadership to boost state and local efforts, our country’s efforts to address climate change are bound to fall short.

Rolling back limits on power plant carbon emissions

President Trump’s Executive Order takes aim at core elements of our country’s efforts to cut carbon emissions: the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which limits emissions from existing power plants; and standards to limit emissions from new power plants.

To be clear, President Trump cannot just undo these standards via executive order, which is why today’s EO calls for a process of reviewing of the rules that could take an indefinite amount of time. As legal experts have pointed out, the EPA will now have to undertake a long process of unwinding these standards through a proposal and comment process, much like the process it took to finalize them. And the agency is sure to face legal challenges along the way. This is likely to be a years-long process—which is, of course, of little comfort to those who recognize the need for urgent climate action now versus some uncertain future date.

The CPP, promulgated under the Clean Air Act and finalized by the EPA under the previous administration in August 2015, is firmly grounded in law and science and has been years in the making. Among other things, it is underpinned by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling (Mass v. EPA), and the EPA’s Endangerment and Cause and Contribute Findings, which established that global warming emissions threaten public health and welfare. The process of drafting and finalizing the CPP involved an extensive comment period and stakeholder engagement. This was no “midnight” rule.

What’s more, the CPP’s goal of reducing power sector emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is modest at best. EIA data show that national power sector emissions were already about 21 percent below 2005 levels at the end of 2015. Many states are well on their way to meeting their CPP targets. This standard could clearly have been made more ambitious over time in a cost-effective way, given the progress to date and the declining costs of clean energy.

So all the talk about the EPA’s regulatory overreach are clearly at odds with reality. It’s just one more instance where facts do not seem to matter for the Trump administration.

Taking aim at commonsense climate protections

There’s a lot at stake with this executive order, including commonsense measures to protect people from climate impacts and ensure a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Early reports indicated that the EO might roll back a recent update to the federal flood risk management standard (FFRMS). The FFRMS, recently updated for the first time in over 37 years, would have helped ensure that federal agencies use protective design standards to guard against flood risks when they build or rebuild in flood-prone areas. With this recent update, communities around the country would be better protected from flood risks and taxpayer dollars would be more wisely invested.

Agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have already published rules (a circular in the case of USACE) for implementing the updated FFRMS, which were accompanied by a robust public comment process. If this rollback is included in today’s EO, that would force agencies to reconsider those rules.

The EO is also expected to repeal efforts by federal agencies to help states, local, and tribal governments prepare for the climate change. We’re talking about valuable planning resources including the data and tools available through https://toolkit.climate.gov/ and https://www.data.gov/climate/, as well as better coordination across federal agencies. State and local officials are counting on leadership and resources from the federal government to help them face the many challenges posed by climate change—including heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and flooding—and make their communities more resilient.  Now they will be left in the lurch.

Further, the EO will overturn guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality that required federal agencies to take into account the climate implications of their actions in their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. At a time when agencies from the Department of Defense to the US Army Corps of Engineers already understand and are preparing for the risks of climate change to their operations, this guidance would seem like a basic commonsense measure with no downside.

Looking beyond our borders, the EO is expected to roll back support for climate-resilient international development, which is just plain cruel. Many of the world’s least developed countries—which bear little responsibility for rising global carbon emissions—are at the forefront of climate impacts including drought, famine, and forced migration, which can also contribute to civil unrest and war. Millions of people in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are at risk of starvation and death from famine right now.

Helping ensure that agencies like USAID incorporate climate resilience in their good work is a small, but meaningful, way in which our nation can help countries cope with these types of crises. Arguably, that’s a responsibility in keeping with the fact that the US leads the world in cumulative global warming emissions since the industrial revolution.

Dialing down the social cost of carbon

The EO takes aim at the social cost of carbon, a metric that federal agencies use in rulemakings to ensure that they take into account the monetary benefits of cutting carbon emissions.

This action shows that the administration does not seem to care about the very real costs of climate change that Americans are already bearing. Just ask the ranchers who have lost livestock in recent wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Or local planners in Miami Beach trying to hold back the rising seas with multi-million dollar pumps. Costs like these will rise as temperatures increase and climate impacts worsen, so we have to take them into account as we make decisions about policies to cut carbon emissions today.

Instead of building upon the current social cost of carbon based on the latest science and economics, as the NAS has recommended, the administration is seeking to artificially lower its value.

Setting the record straight on some facts related to the executive order

An advance White House briefing on the Executive Order was filled with a load of fact-free rhetoric from the administration that simply does not accord with reality. Let’s set a few things straight for the record:

  • Human-caused climate change is real, serious, and requires immediate action to cut emissions. There is no putting off the urgency here if we want to have a chance of limiting truly dangerous climate impacts, as numerous scientific bodies have stated. It’s deeply troubling and disingenuous for the administration to seemingly acknowledge man-made climate change and then cast doubt on how serious it is and whether and to what extent we need to act now.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) core mission is to safeguard public health and the environment—and that includes a responsibility to help address climate change, as well as protect clean air and water. The Clean Air Act is pretty clear on that and the courts have upheld EPA’s role on addressing climate change. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt even admitted as much in his nomination hearing but he seems to be flip-flopping now. It makes no sense for the administration to claim it is returning the EPA to its mission, but then undermine its work on climate change.
  • Putting the brakes on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is not going to bring back coal mining jobs, so let’s put that trope aside once and for all. The reality is that coal-fired power is becoming increasingly uneconomic relative to cheaper, cleaner alternatives like natural gas and renewable energy, pluus coal mining jobs have been lost to mechanization over decades. Regardless of what happens to the CPP, those fundamental underlying market dynamics won’t change. What coal communities need now are real solutions that help diversify their economies and provide transition assistance for workers.
  • Claims that the CPP would lead to huge electricity price increases are false, despite the administration’s parroting of talking points from bogus industry studies. The CPP’s emission reduction goals are modest. We’ve already seen power sector carbon emissions come down substantially over the last few years and at the same time in 2016 power prices hit record lows because of cheap natural gas and rapidly falling costs of renewable energy.
  • Halting the CPP does nothing to promote so-called “energy independence.” The US already gets most of its electricity from domestic sources so this argument doesn’t hold water.
  • Finally, the administration should stop hiding behind misleading economic arguments in defending its inaction on climate change. Make no mistake: This EO is about protecting the profits of fossil fuel companies, not protecting the American economy. The real long-term threat to our economy is unchecked climate change. Just to give a few examples of the types of economic risks that climate change contributes to: Sea level rise threatens millions of people and billions of dollars of real estate along our coasts; recent wildfires have caused millions of dollars in agricultural damage in Texas; and California’s recent drought cost the state billions of dollars. What’s more, ramping up renewable energy would provide significant economic benefits to our country.
The world is watching

Climate change is a global problem, of course. It’s going to require ambitious action by all nations across every sector of their economies to actually hold down the global average temperature increase to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

That’s why it’s illogical to suggest, as the administration has, that because the CPP wouldn’t achieve that goal by itself by 2030, it’s useless. No single short-term policy by any one country will make a noticeable dent. But by adopting ambitious, comprehensive policies and acting together over the next few decades, we have a chance.

And we have made hard-won progress on the global front in securing the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. While today’s EO is silent on US participation in the Paris Agreement, it should be considered an assault on the spirit of Paris.

The Paris Agreement relies on a ‘pledge and review’ framework where countries volunteer commitments and then aim to live up to them by implementing domestic policies. The US has pledged to cut emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. We’re already more than a third of the way to meeting that goal based on the latest US Greenhouse Gas Inventory, but there’s more work to be done to get all the way there.

The Trump administration is attempting to roll back national policies that were meant to deliver on that pledge, even as it doubles down on an energy plan that prioritizes fossil fuels. That’s a recipe for turning up the spigot on emissions at time when sharp cuts are urgently needed.

Yes, state policies, the federal renewable electricity tax credits, and market forces will continue to drive progress on renewable energy and help cut emissions. But, no, that’s not enough.

In fact the next phase of the Paris Agreement was supposed to encourage country’s to ratchet up the ambition of their emissions cuts to bring them more in line with a long term goal of net zero emissions later this century. We need the US government to show more leadership so the world can trust that we fully intend to live up to both the short and the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, and by the same token create the conditions for other countries to do the same.

While the Trump administration dithers, China is showing that it intends to not only meet, but likely surpass its Paris commitments. China’s National Energy Administration forecasts that the country’s carbon dioxide emissions will fall 1 percent in 2017, marking the fourth year in a row that its emissions have fallen or remained stable. The country aims to invest over $360 billion in renewable energy through 2020, and create over 13 million jobs in the sector. Of course, the massive public health benefits alone make the switch to cleaner energy worthwhile for the people of China.

Fighting for climate action

President Trump is ignoring science—and, even worse, he’s ignoring the long-term interests of the American people and the global community. In a democracy, that type of arrogance inevitably has consequences. Congress too will ultimately need to answer to the public if it continues to duck its responsibility to act on climate.

Despite the setback from today’s executive order, our fight for climate action will continue. In cities, states, and at the national level. In town hall meetings, legislatures, boardrooms, and in courts. With businesses; labor, faith, and environmental justice groups; students; scientists; and everyone else who cares about the future of our planet and our economy.

We’re building a movement for positive, transformative change that will bring benefits to everyone in our country, and we will ultimately hold our nation’s leaders accountable.

You can be part of it. On April 29, the People’s Climate Movement will march in force in Washington DC. Please join us!


Here’s an Energy Savings Plan: Buy When Prices Are Lower

Shopping for a discount makes sense, right? Let’s see what we can save if we try this with electricity.

TOU rates can promote adoption of electric vehicles and strategic electrification. credit: M. Jacobs

The typical utility company offers the same price for electricity no matter what time of day, or even what season. This would make sense if the cost to provide electricity were the same at all times, but that is not how it works. Times of higher overall demand require more equipment, and higher fuel costs.

There’s lots to like about a rate for customers that allows some savings based on the time of the day. This can help in the current debate about changes in the energy supply and what energy supplies should be added. A time-varying, or time-of-use rate (TOU for short) for consumers can improve the picture.

On top of that, a report this week by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy finds that TOU rates are a better choice than a fixed charge or a demand charge for continued engagement and support of residential energy savings efforts.

Prices and markets help decisions

Using prices to signal to the consumer and the market is a widely-recognized tool for market forces to guide investment. A utility regulator can better judge a new utility company expense, such as a proposed power plant or gas pipeline, if the costs to meet peak demand are not hidden in a single average price for energy.

When planning for new supplies, the utility companies now have more ways to communicate the costs and consumers have more ways to manage their use. The benefits of TOU rates should be measured in these decisions in terms of both the energy cost savings, and the savings for avoiding capital investment on more capacity.

Past investments help, too

TOU rates can allow energy consumption to be shifted to low-priced electricity. Credit: UCS and SEPA 51st State Initiative

The electric utility industry has made TOU rates possible through a 10-fold increase in the installations of “smart” meters in the United States. These digital meters measure electricity use at least hourly, and are expected to be serving 70 million households. Utilities have shown how these meters can help reduce the length of outages, and can be used to manage the voltage on each line so as to keep the whole system more efficient.

As so often happens with better information, evermore improvements can be found when you can get the data.

TOU rates provide prices on-peak and off-peak, which can promote savings in energy costs and capacity costs. By offering a discount on energy, innovations that use energy on a flexible schedule are more attractive. Utilities can use TOU rates to promote charging up more electric vehicles, or switching away from fossil and inefficient fuels, and making greater use of wind and solar. Knowing there are discounted prices at some times will lead to people and product manufacturers making changes in a few areas, and reaping big gains in return. (See a UCS white paper on this here.)

In fact, TOU rates aren’t just adding a cost allocated to paying capacity needs, but open the door for ideas that allow the time of energy use to be shifted. When these TOU rates are the normal practice, utility needs for new energy supplies will be lower. This makes sense for policymakers looking at rate designs, because reducing the hours of highest demand can lower everyone’s rates.

But just as important, the reduced demand for energy can be part of the integrated planning for all types of resources. Making the smart meter and the timing of energy uses part of the energy supply tool box can help solve society’s energy needs.

A technical note

Regulators considering the value of TOU rates should measure the benefit from shifting loads every day from higher-priced energy to lower-priced energy. Typical demand response practices are applied to very few hours, so there are minimal amounts of energy to be considered. TOU rates are in place on all days, and thus will lower energy consumption when electricity is produced by less-efficient generation.

People Still Care About Science: California Commits to Using Climate Science in Water Decisions

People still care about science even in today’s anti-truth, post-fact political maelstrom. And it’s not just scientists (who will soon be marching in the streets). It’s also the people entrusted with ensuring basic services, like clean drinking water. People like California’s State Water Board members, who passed a resolution this month to embed climate science into all of its existing work.

California represents the cutting-edge on many environmental issues so it often comes as a surprise to people that a significant part of my job is focused on incorporating existing climate science into California’s water policy. Water management is backwards-looking in many ways, using the past to plan the future – even when we know the past will be wrong.

That’s why the adoption of a climate resolution for water management is such a big deal. This resolution is the first commitment by a water-related state agency to use climate science in all permits, plans, policies, and decisions. It doesn’t just apply at the state level but also to the 9 regional boards that make more local decisions.

Federal rollbacks can be resisted by local resolutions

In the coming days, President Trump is expected to announce plans to dismantle the nation’s climate change policy framework, which was created in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. A forthcoming draft executive order gets rid of a requirement that federal agencies take climate change into account in environmental permitting.

California Department of Water Resources employee Bryan Wonderly, left, and members of the California Conservation Corps are unloading bucket loads of road base material along the walkway on the outer edge of the Oroville Dam spillway after it failed in early 2017. Photo: California DWR

This requirement has ensured that plans and infrastructure account for climate impacts – many of which we are already experiencing from more severe flooding, to more intense and destructive wildfires, to longer droughts. Without this requirement, projects are more likely to fail in the future, wasting money and potentially threatening lives. Failures like those documented in our blog series Planning Failures: The Costly Risks of Ignoring Climate Change, including:

Science can help make better decisions. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed: to use science to help create a healthy planet and safer world. This recent climate resolution is just one example of what can be done at the state level to counter federal rollbacks that threaten science and safety.

Photo: Zack Cunningham / California Department of Water Resources

Why the Time is Right for Nevada to Raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard

It’s an exciting time for renewable energy advocates in Nevada. The state enjoys world-class renewable generation potential, and state residents are widely interested in clean energy development and jobs.

Unfortunately, the state’s clean energy progress has stalled, as loopholes in the state’s main policy driver, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), have been exploited by a major utility.

Fortunately, there’s a proposed bill that could help. Assembly Bill (AB) 206 would increase Nevada’s RPS from 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030 with a pathway to 80% by 2040. Passing AB 206 would place Nevada in the camp with other clean energy leaders like Hawaii, Vermont, California, Oregon and Maine, and send a strong signal to the clean energy and clean technology industries that Nevada is open for business.

A solar PV array in Gerlach, NV. Photo: BlackRockSolar

There are several reasons why the time is right for Nevada to take the next step on clean energy:

Nevada has one of the best solar resources in the country. This Department of Energy map showcases how strong the solar resource is in Nevada. Costs of solar generation have fallen by 78% since 2009 and there is no question that Nevada can and should take full advantage of this clean energy resource.

The state is over-reliant on natural gas. In 2015, Nevada relied upon natural gas to meet almost three quarters of its electricity needs. Relying on one type of generation is never a smart idea, especially gas, whose price is notoriously volatile. The degree to which Nevada relies on natural gas exposes utilities and its customers to price spikes, and adds significantly to carbon emissions and air pollution. Bringing a diverse supply of renewable energy technologies online will help reduce reliance on costly and polluting natural gas.

Reducing natural gas generation will help Nevadans most vulnerable to pollution from fossil fuels. Most of the gas-fired power plants in Nevada are located in low-income communities whose residents are disproportionately impacted from pollution from fossil fuels. Ramping up renewables will reduce the amount of natural gas and air pollution generated in the state.

Nevadans want more clean energy. According to the 2017 State of the Rockies poll (see question 30), 80 percent of Nevadans want to encourage the use of solar energy.

The grid can handle more renewables. Opponents of clean energy like to say that wind and solar generation depend on the weather, so they will make the grid unreliable. This is not true. Grid operators are constantly managing for fluctuations in both the supply of and demand for electricity. Large quantities of renewables on the grid make balancing supply and demand more challenging, but we have the tools to do it.

Making sure renewable installations are spread out, creating financial incentives to shift electricity demand towards times of the day when renewable generation is abundant, and investing in energy storage like the batteries Tesla is building in the Gigafactory near Sparks are all examples of these tools. I’ve written a lot about grid integration solutions for the California RPS and all of the same issues apply to Nevada; folks interested in learning more should check out this blog.

It’s truly time for Nevada to turn its world-class renewable energy resources into sources of clean energy generation that will benefit its economy and environment. I’ll be watching AB 206 closely and hope that the Legislature supports this effort, which will help Nevada realize it’s potential as a clean energy leader.