3 Midwestern States That Refuse to Abandon the Renewable Energy Revolution
By Susan Cosier
On the final day of the Illinois State Assembly's 2016 session, a bill was passed that environmentalists can celebrate—one that significantly increases incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficiency requirements. Though the Democratic-led congress debated the Future Energy Jobs bill for months, legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner worked together on a bipartisan compromise. And just in time.
2 Republican governors pass major clean energy bills https://t.co/YRN5HaIAzU via @EcoWatch— EDF Climate & Energy (@EDF Climate & Energy)1482359483.0
Since the November election, the incoming Trump administration has threatened to cut back federal funding for clean energy and climate change initiatives, pull out of the Paris climate agreement and drop the Clean Power Plan (currently stalled in the Supreme Court).
But a handful of midwestern states are refusing to abandon their growing clean energy and efficiency industries, which support roughly 113,900 jobs in Illinois, 87,600 jobs in Michigan and 100,800 jobs in Ohio. Soon after the Prairie State passed its promising energy bill, Michigan enacted two of its own. And in late December, when a bill that threatened to kill Ohio's renewable dreams appeared on Gov. John Kasich's desk, he gave it the ol' Hell-naw veto.
Ohio Gov. Kasich vetoes #renewable #energy freeze https://t.co/y1gYTpqkIW via @EcoWatch #climate #globalwarming… https://t.co/tfIshBSvLQ— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1482959283.0
"We have a very interesting message coming from the heartland," said Henry Henderson, director of Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest program. "These policies come from the most energy-intensive part of the country, and there has been a bipartisan embrace of clean energy as good for the public, good for the economy and good for states."
The broad appeal of the new bills is indeed hopeful. According to Henderson, they won support from moderate Republican governors and Democratic and Republican lawmakers who were making practical, not ideologically driven, decisions.
Gabe Pacyniak, a climate change mitigation specialist with the Georgetown Climate Center, agrees that there is broad public support for clean energy. "Many states see significant economic benefits from clean energy, including in-state jobs," he said.
Here's a closer look at how Midwesterners have been sticking up for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Aside from California's energy policies, the Future Energy Jobs bill "might be the most significant state energy legislation passed in the U.S. in decades," wrote David Roberts on Vox. Though several media outlets have called the legislation a bailout for two Illinois nuclear plants, it does much more than that. Of the money coming from various provisions in the bill, just 30 percent will go to the nuclear plants. The remaining 70 percent will go toward clean energy and energy-efficiency programs, including retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient, green jobs training, and money for communities to access solar power.
Wind turbine tower segments being transported.Heritage Wind Energy
The bill keeps the state's existing requirement that utilities get 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, but it fixes certain structural barriers within the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in order to help Illinois reach that goal. For instance, the revamped RPS now redirects dollars to developing in-state renewable projects (instead of buying renewable credits from out-of-state operations) and will, at a minimum, bring 3,000 megawatts of solar and 1,300 megawatts of wind to Illinois.
The bill also protects people who generate their own renewable energy (think rooftop solar panels). Energy companies wanted to prohibit the sale of such electricity back to the utility when the homeowner wasn't using it. The practice, called net metering, doesn't just make for a more stable electric grid, but it also helps encourage more small-scale renewable energy installations. The new legislation allows net metering to continue.
And that nuclear power provision? It gives the plants money to operate for another decade, allowing time for investments in efficiency and renewables to scale. This would ease the eventual transition away from nuclear power to a more distributed grid. Previously, they were going to be phased out over the next six years as natural gas facilities, which emit more carbon, took their place.
Just two weeks after Illinois made its climate intentions known, Michigan lawmakers also passed two pieces of legislation that boost the state's solar and wind industries. Michigan's laws are more modest than its southwesterly neighbor's, but in a state where energy efficiency and renewable standards were almost removed, these bills are strong steps in the right direction. Senate Bills 437 and 438 increase Michigan's renewable energy standard, requiring the state to generate 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2021. The state reached its previous goal of 10 percent renewables in 2015 and Pacyniak said it already looks like it's on track to hit the new target.
Stoney Corners Wind Farm in McBain, Michigan.Heritage Wind Energy
The bills also offer bigger incentives for energy efficiency. The goal there is to meet 35 percent of the state's energy needs through a combination of energy conservation and renewable energy by 2025. Although this target is non-binding, it shows that Michigan is looking ahead and optimistic about its renewable energy future.
The bill Gov. John Kasich vetoed at the end of 2016 would have given electric utilities a pass for not complying with renewable energy and efficiency requirements. Ohio requires energy companies to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewables and cut consumer energy use 22 percent by 2025. In 2014, however, the state froze that mandate for two years. A bill passed by the state legislature in November would have extended the time frame of that clean energy freeze, but Kasich vetoed it, saying the bill "amounts to self-inflicted damage to both our state's near- and long-term economic competitiveness."
When more than 60 green energy businesses and advocates testified against the freeze before the Ohio Senate in November, they said the state needed to be more hospitable to renewables if it wanted more alternative energy companies to move there. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 227 solar companies employ 4,800 people in the state. By vetoing the bill, Kasich said he's also encouraging the growth of energy options prized by high-tech firms, ones that could bring jobs to the state.
On top of ending the freeze, Kasich also vetoed a bill that would have given $264 million in tax breaks to oil and gas companies. The message behind Kasich's double whammy is pretty clear: Ohio is ready for a change.
Susan Cosier is OnEarth's Midwest correspondent. Cosier previously worked at Audubon magazine and has written for a number of science and environmental publications. She's a graduate of New York University's science journalism program.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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