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Three decades after the worst nuclear power plant catastrophe in history, a site in Chernobyl is being reimagined as a solar energy farm—one that would be the world's largest once built.

Thirty years after the nuclear disaster Greenpeace revisits the site and the Unit 4 with the New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter). Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

The 1986 meltdown, which released radiation at least 100 times more powerful than the radiation released by the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, rendered roughly 2,600 square kilometers of the area unsuitable for habitation. Greenpeace found that animals living within the exclusion zone have higher mortality rates, increased genetic mutations and decreased birth rate.

But in a twist of poetic justice, the Ukrainian government has expressed ambitions to turn 6,000 hectares within Chernobyl's "exclusion zone" into a renewable energy hub. The proposed plant would generate 1-gigawatt of solar power and 400-megawatts of biogas per year, the Guardian reported. The country is pushing for a six-month construction cycle.

According to PV-Tech, ecology minister Ostap Semerak has visited the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with the plan. The proposal has since been issued to investment firms in the U.S., Canada and the UK. If it gets the green light, the renewable energy farm will generate about a third of the electricity that the former nuclear plant generated when it was running.

“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy," Semerak said during an interview in London. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants. We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions."

Three decades after the worst nuclear power plant catastrophe in history, a site in Chernobyl is being reimagined as a solar energy farm—one that would be the

Semerak said that two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies have already expressed interest in the Chernobyl's solar potential, the Guardian reported. The project is estimated to cost between $1 and $1.5 billion.

"The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank's satisfaction," an EBRD representative said.

However "nothing is imminent," the spokesperson added. "We are keeping an open mind. But it's important not to read too much into it at this stage."

"The Ukraine has indicated it will open the exclusion zone, and we welcome that. Renewables are one of our priorities, and as soon and as long as they secure investment then we will discuss the project and provide co-financing," the bank rep said.

The renewable energy project isn't just good news for the environment, it will provide Ukraine some energy independence, as the country currently gets the bulk of its natural gas from Russia, Business Insider pointed out.

If construction is approved, Chernobyl's solar farm will hold the title of "World's Largest Solar Plant" before Dubai's massive concentrated solar plant catches up to it.

The under-construction Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai will produce 1 gigawatt of electricity by 2020 with ambitious expansion plans of 5 gigawatts by 2030.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The British government astonished the nuclear industry late last night by refusing to go ahead with plans to build the world's largest nuclear plant until it has reviewed every aspect of the project.

The decision was announced hours after a bruising meeting of the board of the giant French energy company EDF, at which directors decided by 10 votes to seven to go ahead with the building of two 1,600 megawatt reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, southwest England.

A computer-generated image of what the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant would look like. EDF Energy / PA

One director, Gerard Magnin, had already resigned in protest before the meeting, saying the project was "very risky." All six union members, who are worker directors, said they were going to vote against because they believed that any new investment should be directed at making ageing French reactors safer.

So certain were EDF that a signing ceremony with the British government would take place today to provide the company with 35 years of subsidies for their electricity that they had hired marquees, invited the world's press and laid in stocks of champagne to toast the agreement.

Myriad Voices

But EDF Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz, who had pushed for the deal, cancelled a trip to Britain on hearing the government announcement.

Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, who had never publicly endorsed the project like her predecessor David Cameron, has clearly heeded the myriad voices outside the nuclear industry that say this is a bad deal for British consumers.

Her new business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, in a brief statement, said the decision was deferred until "early autumn" while the "government reviews all the component parts of the agreement" to build what is the most expensive power plant the world has ever seen.

Hinkley Point C, as the new station would have been called, is estimated by the company to cost £18 billion, take nine years to build and provide 7 percent of the UK's electricity via two 1,600 megawatt reactors.

This is a new type of reactor, of which four are being built—one at Olkiluoto in Finland, one at Flamanville in France and two in China. All are years behind schedule and costs in France and Finland have trebled. None are expected to produce power until 2018, although what is happening in China is not clear.

Because of these delays, the French were not actually going to start pouring concrete for construction until 2019 and there were already severe doubts that the timetable proposed by the French for Hinkley Point could be met.

Some have even suggested that the delays elsewhere have shown that the design is flawed and that the reactors may never work efficiently. This may concern the British government, but the sticking point is more likely to be the staggeringly high cost that consumers will have to pay for electricity produced by the plants.

Up in the air: the controversial Hinkley Point project has been the focus of many past protests.Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament via Flickr

In 2012, the previous government agreed to pay £92.50 for each megawatt hour of electricity produced—a price that would rise with inflation.

With wholesale prices going down, that is already three times the current price of electricity and it is calculated that it would cost every bill payer in Britain £10 a year for 35 years just to keep the station open—and it could be more.

If Theresa May is anything like her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who did not think nuclear power was value for money, the project will be in jeopardy.

EDF already runs 15 ageing nuclear reactors in Britain and was looking to build the two at Hinkley and another two in Essex to replace the old ones as they close down. The Chinese, Japanese and Americans were being encouraged to build reactors in other parts of England and Wales. All these look less likely now.

The problem for nuclear power is that new stations cost billions to build and take a decade before they get any income back. This has brought EDF huge debts and borrowings, which has put the company in financial difficulty—hence the internal controversy about the Hinkley decision.

Claire Jacobson, head of climate, energy and environment policy at EEF, the British manufacturers' lobby group that supports the nuclear industry, said the government's decision was "yet another blow to a decision that has been hindered by many delays and uncertainties."

Emissions Targets

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, warned that failure to go ahead with the project would risk the lights going out and missing the country's carbon emissions reduction targets. He said ministers "need to act quickly to endorse the decision [to go ahead]."

However, critics of the controversial project were delighted. John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said: "Theresa May now has the chance to stop this radioactive white elephant in its tracks."

"She should look at the evidence and see that this deal would be a monumental disaster for the taxpayers and the bill payers. Countless experts have warned that for British families this power station will be terrible value for money, Sauven added."

Until last night, the UK was the most positive country in Europe about nuclear power and planned to build a total of 10 nuclear power plants, Hinkley Point being the first of them. This was despite the fact that nuclear costs continue to escalate while its main competitors—renewables of all kinds—fall in price.

The Hinkley Point project is now more expensive than offshore wind power, which is the most expensive renewable and is far more costly than solar and onshore wind. Biogas and small-scale hydro projects in Britain, all so far underdeveloped, are also cheaper than nuclear.

Safety Fears

The price of all renewables is going down as they develop, while the price rises for nuclear power, with safety fears and threats from terrorism pushing costs up.

It is also argued, even by the UK's national electricity grid, that the day of the large power plant is over, to be replaced by small local generators providing electricity near to homes and factories—something that renewables are ideally suited for.

Even France, which has 58 reactors and is building a Hinkley prototype at Flamanville in Normandy, has no plans to build any more. All its new energy projects are renewables and it has plentiful supplies of untapped wind and solar power, which are cheaper.

China, which is currently building more nuclear plants that any other country, is also hoping to build new plants in Britain, and China General Nuclear Power had agreed to fund one-third of the Hinkley Point project to get an entry to the UK market.

They were due to be at the celebrations in Somerset today, but in a statement said: "We respect the new government's need to familiarize itself with a project as important to the UK's future energy policy as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the government in this respect." They then flew home.

Trending

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Three decades after the worst nuclear power plant catastrophe in history, a site in Chernobyl is being reimagined as a solar energy farm—one that would be the world's largest once built.

Thirty years after the nuclear disaster Greenpeace revisits the site and the Unit 4 with the New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter). Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

The 1986 meltdown, which released radiation at least 100 times more powerful than the radiation released by the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, rendered roughly 2,600 square kilometers of the area unsuitable for habitation. Greenpeace found that animals living within the exclusion zone have higher mortality rates, increased genetic mutations and decreased birth rate.

But in a twist of poetic justice, the Ukrainian government has expressed ambitions to turn 6,000 hectares within Chernobyl's "exclusion zone" into a renewable energy hub. The proposed plant would generate 1-gigawatt of solar power and 400-megawatts of biogas per year, the Guardian reported. The country is pushing for a six-month construction cycle.

According to PV-Tech, ecology minister Ostap Semerak has visited the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with the plan. The proposal has since been issued to investment firms in the U.S., Canada and the UK. If it gets the green light, the renewable energy farm will generate about a third of the electricity that the former nuclear plant generated when it was running.

“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy," Semerak said during an interview in London. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants. We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions."

Three decades after the worst nuclear power plant catastrophe in history, a site in Chernobyl is being reimagined as a solar energy farm—one that would be the

Semerak said that two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies have already expressed interest in the Chernobyl's solar potential, the Guardian reported. The project is estimated to cost between $1 and $1.5 billion.

"The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank's satisfaction," an EBRD representative said.

However "nothing is imminent," the spokesperson added. "We are keeping an open mind. But it's important not to read too much into it at this stage."

"The Ukraine has indicated it will open the exclusion zone, and we welcome that. Renewables are one of our priorities, and as soon and as long as they secure investment then we will discuss the project and provide co-financing," the bank rep said.

The renewable energy project isn't just good news for the environment, it will provide Ukraine some energy independence, as the country currently gets the bulk of its natural gas from Russia, Business Insider pointed out.

If construction is approved, Chernobyl's solar farm will hold the title of "World's Largest Solar Plant" before Dubai's massive concentrated solar plant catches up to it.

The under-construction Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai will produce 1 gigawatt of electricity by 2020 with ambitious expansion plans of 5 gigawatts by 2030.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The British government astonished the nuclear industry late last night by refusing to go ahead with plans to build the world's largest nuclear plant until it has reviewed every aspect of the project.

The decision was announced hours after a bruising meeting of the board of the giant French energy company EDF, at which directors decided by 10 votes to seven to go ahead with the building of two 1,600 megawatt reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, southwest England.

A computer-generated image of what the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant would look like. EDF Energy / PA

One director, Gerard Magnin, had already resigned in protest before the meeting, saying the project was "very risky." All six union members, who are worker directors, said they were going to vote against because they believed that any new investment should be directed at making ageing French reactors safer.

So certain were EDF that a signing ceremony with the British government would take place today to provide the company with 35 years of subsidies for their electricity that they had hired marquees, invited the world's press and laid in stocks of champagne to toast the agreement.

Myriad Voices

But EDF Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz, who had pushed for the deal, cancelled a trip to Britain on hearing the government announcement.

Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, who had never publicly endorsed the project like her predecessor David Cameron, has clearly heeded the myriad voices outside the nuclear industry that say this is a bad deal for British consumers.

Her new business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, in a brief statement, said the decision was deferred until "early autumn" while the "government reviews all the component parts of the agreement" to build what is the most expensive power plant the world has ever seen.

Hinkley Point C, as the new station would have been called, is estimated by the company to cost £18 billion, take nine years to build and provide 7 percent of the UK's electricity via two 1,600 megawatt reactors.

This is a new type of reactor, of which four are being built—one at Olkiluoto in Finland, one at Flamanville in France and two in China. All are years behind schedule and costs in France and Finland have trebled. None are expected to produce power until 2018, although what is happening in China is not clear.

Because of these delays, the French were not actually going to start pouring concrete for construction until 2019 and there were already severe doubts that the timetable proposed by the French for Hinkley Point could be met.

Some have even suggested that the delays elsewhere have shown that the design is flawed and that the reactors may never work efficiently. This may concern the British government, but the sticking point is more likely to be the staggeringly high cost that consumers will have to pay for electricity produced by the plants.

Up in the air: the controversial Hinkley Point project has been the focus of many past protests.Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament via Flickr

In 2012, the previous government agreed to pay £92.50 for each megawatt hour of electricity produced—a price that would rise with inflation.

With wholesale prices going down, that is already three times the current price of electricity and it is calculated that it would cost every bill payer in Britain £10 a year for 35 years just to keep the station open—and it could be more.

If Theresa May is anything like her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who did not think nuclear power was value for money, the project will be in jeopardy.

EDF already runs 15 ageing nuclear reactors in Britain and was looking to build the two at Hinkley and another two in Essex to replace the old ones as they close down. The Chinese, Japanese and Americans were being encouraged to build reactors in other parts of England and Wales. All these look less likely now.

The problem for nuclear power is that new stations cost billions to build and take a decade before they get any income back. This has brought EDF huge debts and borrowings, which has put the company in financial difficulty—hence the internal controversy about the Hinkley decision.

Claire Jacobson, head of climate, energy and environment policy at EEF, the British manufacturers' lobby group that supports the nuclear industry, said the government's decision was "yet another blow to a decision that has been hindered by many delays and uncertainties."

Emissions Targets

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, warned that failure to go ahead with the project would risk the lights going out and missing the country's carbon emissions reduction targets. He said ministers "need to act quickly to endorse the decision [to go ahead]."

However, critics of the controversial project were delighted. John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said: "Theresa May now has the chance to stop this radioactive white elephant in its tracks."

"She should look at the evidence and see that this deal would be a monumental disaster for the taxpayers and the bill payers. Countless experts have warned that for British families this power station will be terrible value for money, Sauven added."

Until last night, the UK was the most positive country in Europe about nuclear power and planned to build a total of 10 nuclear power plants, Hinkley Point being the first of them. This was despite the fact that nuclear costs continue to escalate while its main competitors—renewables of all kinds—fall in price.

The Hinkley Point project is now more expensive than offshore wind power, which is the most expensive renewable and is far more costly than solar and onshore wind. Biogas and small-scale hydro projects in Britain, all so far underdeveloped, are also cheaper than nuclear.

Safety Fears

The price of all renewables is going down as they develop, while the price rises for nuclear power, with safety fears and threats from terrorism pushing costs up.

It is also argued, even by the UK's national electricity grid, that the day of the large power plant is over, to be replaced by small local generators providing electricity near to homes and factories—something that renewables are ideally suited for.

Even France, which has 58 reactors and is building a Hinkley prototype at Flamanville in Normandy, has no plans to build any more. All its new energy projects are renewables and it has plentiful supplies of untapped wind and solar power, which are cheaper.

China, which is currently building more nuclear plants that any other country, is also hoping to build new plants in Britain, and China General Nuclear Power had agreed to fund one-third of the Hinkley Point project to get an entry to the UK market.

They were due to be at the celebrations in Somerset today, but in a statement said: "We respect the new government's need to familiarize itself with a project as important to the UK's future energy policy as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the government in this respect." They then flew home.

Trending

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Methane emissions have decreased by 11 percent in the past 24 years, but they could pick back up by 2030 if actions aren't taken to combat them. That's why the powerful greenhouse gas is the center of a newly announced strategy by the White House.

Released Friday as a new layer to President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan, the methane emissions strategy aims to bring economic and health benefits to the country while fighting climate change by removing a gas from the atmosphere that, by the ton, has about 20 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.

The president's newly announced methane emissions strategy will address emissions sources and investments to improve measurement technologies. Photo credit: KQED News/Flickr Creative Commons

“When it comes to preventing the most serious impacts of climate change, we don’t have any time to waste," Earthjustice Vice President of Policy and Legislation Marty Hayden said in a statement. "Today’s important announcement by the White House signals that the President is poised to take action on several fronts."

The strategy identified a few key methane emissions sources that the country needs to focus on: 

  • Landfills: This summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose updated standards to reduce methane from new landfills while taking public comment about possibly updating  standards for existing landfills. The EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program will attempt to partner with industry leaders who use methane waste to power their communities.

  • Coal Mines: Next month, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will gather public input on the development of a program for the capture, sale or disposal of waste mine methane on lands leased by the government. The EPA will continue to partner with industry through a voluntary program to reduce what it calls "institutional, technical, regulatory and financial barriers to beneficial methane recovery and use at coal mines."

  • Agriculture: In June, in partnership with the dairy industry, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) will lay out a “Biogas Roadmap” to reduce the dairy sector's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

  • Oil and Gas: The EPA will solicit input from independent experts on how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016. The EPA will also work with the industry to expand voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions through the Natural Gas STAR program.

Lauren Pagel, policy director of Earthworks, says the country's methane strategy will have the best chance of working if it requires the EPA to directly regulate methane pollution from fracking. In Colorado, where there are more than 51,000 fracking wells, groups recently launched a state ballot initiative that would give residents control over whether to allow fracking in their communities. 

"Unfortunately, when it comes to the downsides of fracking-enabled oil and gas development, so far the Obama administration has had its head in the sand," Pagel said. "We hope that this plan signals a shift for this administration, putting their words into actions to limit the harms from oil and gas production.

"But, no matter how stringent the methane pollution controls, they are no substitute for dropping dirty fossil fuels like fracked gas and replacing them with truly clean alternatives like conservation and renewables."

The plan also calls for new methane measurement technologies and an additional $8 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to add towers, enhanced measurement capabilities and stronger aircraft-based frequency for the nation's network of methane monitoring sites. 

Julian Boggs of Environment America said he hopes the plan will grow to include tougher laws for those who are not reducing methane in accordance with the national plan, as well as better addressing of drinking water, forest acres and other resources that are damaged by methane fracking.

"The president needs to drop his ‘all-of-the-above’ rhetoric," Boggs added. "This ‘whatever’ approach is not only wrong-headed policy, it is a misuse of the president’s bully pulpit that distracts from the need to move away from all fossil fuels to a clean energy future.”

Meanwhile, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) President Fred Krupp applauded Friday's announcement.

“This strategy has the potential to deliver the federal regulatory oversight that is needed to complement state efforts and make sure that all of the oil and gas industry meets basic, commonsense standards to deploy readily available technologies," he said in a statement. "The most important work of turning this strategy into action lies ahead, but we are confident that the case for action is strong and will prove out in the end."

Earlier this month, the EDF and ICF International concluded that the onshore oil and gas industry could collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 40 percent below 2018 projections. In a joint report, the organizations said that could be accomplished by adopting nearly a dozen emissions control strategies across 19 different sources within five years.

The most economical of these measures could save the industry a combined $164 million per year.

[blackoutgallery id="324098"]

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———

As if the fact that, in the U.S., we waste 40 percent of our food isn’t shocking enough, a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that total emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane are almost twice as high in the U.S. as previously thought. More potent than carbon dioxide, methane is a deadly contributor to global warming.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all that uneaten food accounts for 23 percent of methane emissions as it rots in landfills. Other sources include livestock operations and oil production. And yet, properly captured or, better yet, generated in anaerobic digesters that break down food waste before it ever reaches landfills, methane represents a cleaner energy source for use in heating homes, running engines, and generating electricity. Yet challenges to the widespread availability and use of biogas remain.

Photo credit: FirstEnergy Corp. on Flickr

Enter FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, where a new partnership with the Cleveland Browns and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has implemented a new system to will divert an estimated 35 tons of stadium food waste from landfills into biodigesters for conversion into energy. The system, called Grind2Energy, is a technology from Emerson’s InSinkErator, a brand many associate with in-sink disposals found in kitchens across the U.S. Far more than an industrial-strength garbage disposal, it’s an integrated system that includes leasing, installation, and service coverage of a closed system that grinds up food waste into a slurry and transports it to an anaerobic digestion facility where it is converted to energy.

Slurry from FirstEnergy Stadium travels to an anaerobic digester operated by Quasar Energy group at the Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center where it will generate enough electricity for a single family for a full year, produce enough natural gas to heat 32 homes for a month and recover enough nutrients to fertilize three football fields of crops.

As well as diverting food waste from landfills, the system at FirstEnergy Stadium will reduce carbon emissions by 28,000 pounds per year, generate enough electricity for a single family for a full year, produce enough natural gas to heat 32 homes for a month, and recover enough nutrients to fertilize three football fields of crops.

Graphic credit: Sustainable America

 

Graphic credit: Sustainable America

 

Graphic credit: Sustainable America

The closed nature of the system eliminates odors and enhances kitchen hygiene, decreasing reliance on cleaners and pesticides. The setup creates savings in waste removal because storage tanks can compactly hold three to four weeks of organic slurry. In some cases where such systems are in place, facilities have the opportunity to buy renewable energy and biogas back from anaerobic digester facilities.

The project’s partners hope that the systems’ implementation in a sports arena will fuel public awareness, in keeping with the U.S. Deparent of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA’s U.S. Food Waste Challenge, and encourage producers, manufacturers, communities, and government agencies to reduce and recycle food waste. According to David Krems, Business Development Manager for Grind2Energy, the system’s implementation in Cleveland has generated a lot of interest.

“We have the NFL asking us how do we do this at every NFL stadium," Krems said.

Currently the company has three Grind2Energy systems operational in Ohio, and one deploying in Milwaukee. They’re working to meet high demand for the system in the coming year, especially in the Northeast where many biodigesters are being built, making Grind2Energy a priority for global conglomerate and green housing innovator Emerson. Emerson is satisfying an existing demand. According to Sustainable America’s March 2013 survey, U.S. consumers support “stronger efforts to reduce food waste in restaurants and grocery stores”. And yet the survey found that the perceived importance of these issues lagged behind others—jobs and the economy, for example.

While a food-waste-to-fuel system doesn’t prevent food waste, according to Dana Gunders, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which partnered with the Green Sports Alliance to promote sustainable practices in the sports world, “It’s a great way to reach people who are often difficult to reach through typical environmental channels . . . I think it’s one more block in the domino effect that will eventually lead to change.”

While the widespread integration of anaerobic digesters into the energy grid continues to face hurdles like viable partnerships with energy providers and high initial capital costs for building facilities, they have already proven their value in use by the dairy industry in all 50 states, according to Tom Gallagher, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. And hopefully the model at FirstEnergy Stadium will be replicated at stadiums, arenas, and other large venues with high levels of food waste across the country.

As director of the NRDC Sports Greening Project and Sustainable America board member Dr. Allen Hershkowitz puts it: “Anaerobic digestion is an important technology that provides great potential to manage our food waste in a more ecologically intelligent way.”

While turning wasted food into energy ranks low on the EPA’s food waste recovery hierarchy, its combined benefits, including the mitigation of greenhouse gas generation, are undeniable. As support for bans on sending food waste to landfills grows, the true potential of anaerobic digestion, through the widespread implementation of systems like Grind2Energy, will become clear.

Turning food waste into renewable energy will become increasingly profitable as relationships between biogas producers and energy providers develop. If we can turn food waste into fuel, we’d go a long way toward reducing some of the harmful linkages between the food and fuel markets in the U.S.

Visit EcoWatch’s SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS page for more related news on this topic.

Despite the demise of federal climate change legislation, cities across the nation continue efforts started under the 2009 federal stimulus act to revitalize their communities and make them sustainable. One of the most inspiring examples is right here in Ohio.

The Oberlin Project is a collaboration among the City of Oberlin, Oberlin College, the city’s municipal electric utility, as well as community and business stakeholders, to make Oberlin, Ohio the greenest little city in the U.S. and a national model for sustainable economic development. In the process, the project hopes to revitalize the ailing local economy, equip local residents with the green skills needed to do the work and create an educational laboratory for younger generations.

This effort builds off nationally-renowned environmental educator David Orr’s past success in creating the first-of-its-kind “living building” that still wins architectural and sustainability awards a decade later. The Adam Joseph Lewis Center was designed by nearly 250 students and 20 design-group members charged to do no harm in the world.

The Oberlin Project applies this same high-road approach to community-wide green development. It recognizes that past practices of the conventional energy economy and low-road economic development strategies that produce vast amounts of waste, leave workers unemployed or earning low wages, communities impoverished, residents dependent on fossil fuels imported from out of state and the environment polluted. This project seeks to forge a new way forward. An approach that balances the three E’s of sustainable development— economic development, environmental integrity and social equity—by driving demand for clean energy while leveraging green investments in a way that maximizes their value to the community.

The aggressive goals of the Oberlin Project require a holistic approach that addresses all energy-using and emissions-producing sectors. An inventory of the city’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions identified the need to reduce emissions from electric power generation, green the community’s commercial and industrial sector, develop a more sustainable transportation system and promote energy saving opportunities for residents. Participating stakeholders are divided into working groups and challenged to develop sustainability strategies to achieve these goals.

In Ohio, half of all carbon emissions come from the electric power sector. One of Oberlin’s greatest assets, however, is its community-owned electric utility that operates in the best interest of its citizenry rather than for profit maximization. Oberlin Municipal Light & Power is on track to secure 90 percent of its energy from local renewable energy resources by 2015—largely from landfill gas captured and turned into useful energy.

Doing so will not only significantly reduce the community’s emissions, it will also stabilize customer rates, promote greater self reliance on local energy sources, keep the community’s energy dollars in the region, and supply green power to local residents and businesses. Manufacturers located in Oberlin can tout that products are made with green power and a low carbon footprint. It’s this kind of commitment to sustainability that convinced GreenField Solar, a designer of high-tech solar photovoltaic cells that also capture solar thermal energy, to move to Oberlin.

The local government and its anchor institution, Oberlin College, also plan to lead by example. The city and the college are analyzing their energy usage, setting goals to increase renewable energy generation, promoting energy efficiency, and developing green, local and efficient purchasing standards. The City of Oberlin completed a climate action plan, the Oberlin public school district is studying the concept of a consolidated, green school building and the Oberlin public library has undergone a green retrofit. Oberlin College is hoping to secure two megawatts of solar energy, has adopted campus building standards and is investigating geothermal heat pumps to replace the college’s coal-fired heating plant, among other things.

To promote greater sustainability of Oberlin’s transportation system, Oberlin College is developing a13-acre green arts district in the town square and planning a 20,000 acre greenbelt around the community to grow the market for local foods and explore other agricultural opportunities such as biogas. This effort is based on two key smart-growth principles— reinvestment in downtown, Main Street and existing infrastructure to create a vibrant town center, and preservation of natural land, in part by promoting agricultural activities and supporting efforts to process rural resources.

Visions of a multi-modal transportation system that could include electric vehicle infrastructure, light rail, street cars, bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets and car-sharing services are being discussed. Innovative ideas to green the commercial and industrial sector, such as ecoindustrial parks, are on the table, as is a city-scale home retrofit program to promote energy savings for residents.

Keep your eye on this exciting project as it develops. If it can be done in a small town of 8,000 residents, where resources are limited, it can be done anywhere.

For more information, contact Amanda Woodrum at awoodrum@policymattersohio.org.