2015 has been a big year for renewable energy in the U.S., with solar and wind power growing like crazy—providing more than 5 percent of the nation's electricity for the first time—and the country's first offshore wind power project finally under construction.
The truth is, 2015 has been one in a series of very good years for these pollution-free, renewable resources—years that are helping us get on track for the low-carbon future we need and need now.
With its dizzying price declines and impressive job gains, this growth in solar and wind power has come, in large part, as the result of smart federal policies—smart federal policies that Congress wisely renewed and reinstated last week.
These policies don't just help level the playing field for clean energy—fossil fuels have received federal subsidies for almost a century, after all—they also drive renewable energy demand, thereby speeding economies of scale, spurring competition in the marketplace and investment in new technologies. The production tax credit (PTC) for wind power, the solar investment tax credit (ITC) and the ITC for offshore wind power will keep us on the right track.
Together, these tax credits will help our country go a long way toward realizing the bold clean energy goals of a large majority of the American public, 69 percent of whom endorse federal subsidies for renewable energy.
Just how good is our clean energy situation getting? Well, recently, the U.S. Department of Energy released these very happy-making charts (below) that emphasize renewable energy's huge growth and equally huge price declines in recent years.
In 2015, those particularly excellent trends continued. Though we won't have complete data until next spring, the country will likely install 7.4 gigawatts of solar energy through Dec. 31 of this year. That's enough to juice up more than 1.6 million homes and a full 24 percent rise over 2014. Wind power is also flying, with almost 3.6 gigawatts—1 million homes-worth—coming online in the first three quarters of this year and more than 13,000 megawatts now under construction.
This year also found several regions where pollution-free, solar and wind energy became cost-competitive with conventional power. That power, fired by coal and natural gas, masquerades as cheap but actually foists expensive public health and environmental problems on us all.
2015 had some especially good news about offshore wind power, too. Not only did construction begin on the Block Island Wind Farm, off the Rhode Island coast, but the U.S. Department of Energy reported in September that a total of 13 offshore wind power projects are in advanced phases of development. With federal policies that supplement the offshore wind power ITC—its current timetable is too short for most offshore wind power projects—we can help get many of those projects off of their drawing boards and into the water.
Wind and Solar Jobs Are Soaring
In 2015, solar and wind energy employment also soared. In January, the National Solar Jobs Census reported that solar jobs had climbed to almost 174,000, up by more than 31,000 over the previous year, with another 36,000 solar jobs projected in 2015. (Industry jobs are up by a mind-boggling 80,000 since 2010.) In August, the Department of Energy reported that wind energy jobs jumped to 73,000, up from 50,500 over the previous year, thanks to a short-term extension of the PTC.
Also in August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from the nation's electric sector introduced its Clean Energy Incentive Program, designed to bring more clean energy online faster; it will begin in 2020, two years before the Clean Power Plan as a whole. Overall, the Clean Power Plan can jumpstart enough renewable energy to supply, by 2030, about 12 percent of the nation's electricity. And we can push those deployment graph slopes further upward—we can install even more wind and solar power—now that the PTC, the solar ITC and the offshore wind power ITC have been secured. They'll help us keep that momentum going until the Clean Energy Incentive Program kicks in. As they have already, incentives that increase deployment lower clean energy prices. And the cheaper renewable energy is, the more it will become of the energy source of choice, replacing polluting power.
2015: A Year of Innovation and Progress
This year has seen amazing advances in renewable energy. Here are just some of them:
• New wind power technologies, like taller turbine towers, more powerful rotors and digital innovations, that can soon make every part of the country a wind power producer.
• Huge solar growth.
• Exponential increases in energy storage that can capture excess wind and solar power and use it when it's needed most.
• Department of Energy funding for potentially revolutionary technologies, like a morphing wind turbine blade that can increase generating capacity 10 times and a new kind of offshore wind power that produces electricity much in the way a lightning cloud does, by sending an electrical charge through water vapor.
In 2015, we've made so much progress in solar and wind power. And now, with the help of smart, federal clean energy incentives, we're on track for much, much more. 2016 promises to double the total amount of solar installed in the U.S. (think about that: double!). There are more than 13,000 megawatts of wind power in the works, too and much more likely to come, now that Congress has extended the PTC. Thanks to the perceptive heads in Congress who worked out a bipartisan agreement, there's no end to that progress now.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.