By Tara Lohan
How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?
According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.
The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.
And that's just a start: The report found that there's so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.
So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)
The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
The Revelator spoke with Maria McCoy, a research associate at the Institute and report co-author, about what's changed and how to turn all the potential into reality.
What's changed in the 10 years since you last looked at the potential for instate renewable energy?
There's definitely been technology improvements in all the energy sources, but especially solar. Obviously there's the same amount of sun, but the solar panels themselves have a higher percentage of solar photovoltaic efficiency. Most states, on average, had 16% more solar potential this time around than they did a decade ago.
And for the other technologies, it's a matter of either more space being available or the technologies themselves improving. Wind turbines now can generate a lot more energy with the same amount of wind.
Where do you see the most potential?
There's been a lot of development in offshore wind and I think it's on the cusp of really becoming a big player in the clean energy field. But regulations, including at the federal level, have blocked it from happening at scale in the United States. Whereas in Europe there's already some incredibly efficient offshore wind farms that are generating a lot of electricity. Those companies are just starting to move into the U.S. market.
But it's onshore wind that has the biggest potential. Our research found that some states could generate over 1,000% of their energy with onshore wind if they really took advantage of it.
Your report didn't consider the potential of large-scale solar. Why?
We looked at the potential of rooftop solar rather than large-scale solar because as an energy democracy organization, we're really focused on distributed and community-owned energy. But it's also because pretty much every state has enough capacity to completely be powered by large-scale solar. It just then becomes an issue of land-usage debates and other challenges.
Your research shows there's a ton of potential for renewables across the country. How do we realize that potential?
Graphic: ILSR, Energy Self-Reliant States 2020
Continued support for renewable energy is a big one. There are a lot of credits that are phasing out and without renewing those, it will make it a little bit tougher for the market.
We were looking at just the technical ability to produce the energy and not necessarily the cost effectiveness, but we did recognize in the report that the costs have come down. The cost of solar PV, for example, has dropped 70%. So this is not really a pie-in-the-sky goal. It's definitely gotten a lot more feasible and many cities are already doing it or planning to in the near future.
I think the will is there and people want renewable energy, it's just a matter of fighting the status quo. A lot of these utilities have been using the same business model for decades and they're not really keeping up with where things are going and where the community wants things to go.
They're holding on to their fossil fuel infrastructure and their business model that profits off building more fossil gas plants when solar plus storage is already a cheaper energy source for customers. And wind is very cheap. If utility regulators and state and national policy could hold these utilities accountable to serving the public, which is their job as regulated monopolies, we could finally get to see some of this potential becoming a reality.
Having the ability to generate energy locally and store it and use it locally will create jobs and provide a lot of resilience to the grid and communities. And with climate change, I think that's becoming more and more important.
Was there anything that surprised you about your findings?
We definitely expected things to be better but I don't know if we expected them to be this much better in 10 years. Seeing all this potential and these ridiculously high percentages — I mean, being able to generate greater than 1,000% of the electricity we need with renewables in some states is just a sign of how abundant clean energy is.
And it's kind of sad, I guess, that some states aren't even able to get to 25% or 50% clean energy goals in their renewable portfolio standards. I would hope that the train starts rolling a little faster.
And I hope our research can inspire others who think maybe their state doesn't have a lot of renewable energy capacity in their area to realize that they do, and it could provide for all that they need and more.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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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.
On Tuesday, hundreds of flights were grounded, and schools were closed as Molave churned over the South China Sea. When Molave hits Vietnam on Wednesday, it will be the fourth storm to strike the central region in October. Those successive storms have caused floods and landslides that killed 130 people. Many are still missing, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"This is a very strong typhoon that will impact a large area," said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, as Reuters reported.
Molave is moving over a part of the South China Sea with warm waters, which creates favorable conditions for the storm to strengthen, according to AccuWeather.
Vietnam has a long coastline, which makes it particularly vulnerable to storms and coastal flooding. Phuc ordered boats to be brought ashore and for security forces to ready themselves for humanitarian efforts.
"Troops must deploy full force to support people, including mobilizing helicopters, tanks and other means of transportation if needed," he said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The storm is expected to move over Vietnam quickly and weaken as it moves inland, but its heavy rainfall will likely trigger widespread flooding and weaken mountain slopes, which increases the risk for mudslides. AccuWeather predicts up to 16 inches of rain in areas of the country that have already experienced extreme rainfall and flooding since Oct. 11.
"We must keep our guard up to protect the lives of the people. That is the utmost important task to get people to safe places," Phuc was quoted as saying in a meeting with disaster response officials, as the AP reported.
People in low-lying areas, who are vulnerable to the winds and coastal flooding, will head for shelter inland, according to the AP.
Typhoon Molave blew away from the Philippines on Monday, leaving flooding and a trail of destruction in its wake. There are 13 people missing in the Philippines, including a dozen fishermen who sailed out to sea over the weekend in violation of a no-sail order, according to the AP.
The storm, which traveled south of Manila, displaced at least 25,000 villagers. Its heavy rains swamped farming villages and the winds downed trees and power lines, according to Humerlito Dolor, governor of an affected province, as Deutsche Welle reported.
"Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs," he said, as Deutsche Welle reported.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
Worrisome environmental headlines have become all too common. Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. And, in 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset?
First thing's first: what is a carbon offset program?
Consider it this way: Every day, you are engaged in activities that leave an environmental footprint behind. Specifically, you're adding to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Climate Offset Programs
Mischa Keijser / Getty Images
While there is much that is admirable about investing in these carbon offset programs, consumers may naturally have some questions about which of these programs actually do the most good.
There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 7 Best Carbon Offset Programs
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images
Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
The era of building large dams in the United States, which defined so much of the 20th century, is over. The prime spots for development were cemented decades ago, and the ensuing harm to fish and other wildlife has been well documented. Attention is now focused on removing obsolete dams and retrofitting existing hydroelectric dams to reduce ecological harm and increase energy efficiency.
Many other countries are in the same boat. Across Europe and North America "big dams stopped being built in developed nations because the best sites for dams were already developed, and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable," found a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Canada appears to be the exception to that.
Large dams are still being built across Canada, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the generically titled "Site C" in British Columbia, despite cost overruns, outcry from some First Nations and even environmental concerns from the United Nations.
Hydroelectric power already supplies 60% of the country's energy. But the dam building isn't just to feed Canada's power needs. It's also become a hot export commodity.
As U.S. states look to meet new clean energy targets, imported low-carbon hydropower from across the northern border has become a larger part of the conversation — and the grid. New England already gets 17% of its energy from Canadian hydropower, Midwest states around 12% and New York 5%.
That number is likely to jump.
A new transmission project to bring 250 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the United States just came online in Minnesota. Two more are in the works for Massachusetts and New York.
Proponents say we need large-scale hydro to grease the wheels of the clean energy transition. Others caution that it comes with a larger environmental cost compared to wind and solar and could open the floodgates for more dam building.
There's one shared bit of common ground, though: We need to act quickly and wisely to tackle the climate crisis.
"This is the decade for getting 50% of the way there on renewables, but also proving out the pathway to get to net-zero by mid-century, if not before," says Peter Rothstein, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
How hydro figures into that process is still a complicated issue.
Clean Energy Demand Surges
The Northeast is one place where the energy transition is off and running.
All six New England states have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% over 1990 levels by 2050, and some are aiming higher.
Neighboring New York is also keeping pace. Last year the Empire State committed to achieving an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 70% renewable electricity by 2030.
How will those goals be achieved?
For some, imported Canadian hydropower looks poised to play a big role, and two new projects appear close to breaking ground.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 330-mile-long transmission line, would deliver 1,000 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New York metro area and could supply about a million homes — helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The project — a joint venture of the province-run Hydro-Québec and Transmission Developers Inc., a subsidiary of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — has already received the necessary permits for construction, but no contracts for the power have been signed.
Construction, however, could still start next year, with the project scheduled to come online in 2025.
Massachusetts has an even bigger project in the works. New England Clean Energy Connect would bring 1,500 megawatts of capacity through a 145-mile-long transmission line running through Maine from Canada to Massachusetts. It too would come from Hydro-Québec, this time working in conjunction with Central Maine Power.
The project, which is projected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons a year in New England, has received its necessary permits from the state of Maine but still awaits federal permits from the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Opposition groups, including some environmental organizations, are also challenging various aspects of the project in court. And a coalition of First Nations communities that have seen dams built on their ancestral lands have voiced their opposition. (You can read more about that transmission line in Part I of this series.)
More could be on the way. Nalcor Energy — the province-run hydro company of Newfoundland and Labrador — is nearing completion on its 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydro project on the Churchill (or Grand) River. Costs have just surpassed $13 billion — twice what was first estimated.
Some of the energy is already slated to be sent to other parts of Canada and then — hopefully, according to Nalcor — to New England.
What's the net impact of these planned projects? That's hard to say. Tallying the environmental benefit or harm from large-scale hydro is complicated.
One of the biggest metrics of assessing environmental impact is greenhouse gas emissions.
The first phase of emissions comes just from building its infrastructure. Large-scale hydropower involves the construction of generating stations, and often accompanying dams and reservoirs. And then there are hundreds of miles of transmission lines that need to be constructed to move that power.
What comes next, once a project comes online, depends on multiple factors. Research has shown that hydropower emissions vary widely based on the location, climate and area of land flooded. Hydro emissions are also highest when a reservoir is first flooded and then decrease in the following years.
All told, over the life cycle of a project, most hydropower is cleaner than fossil fuels, although not always as clean as wind and solar. A study in Nature Energy on the projected life-cycle emissions of energy sources put solar at 6 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour and wind at 4. The researchers estimated typical hydro at 97, but there's great variation between sites.
A 2014 report prepared by the research group CIRAIG on behalf of Hydro-Québec found the average life-cycle emissions of the company's fleet of 62 generation stations was between 6 and 17 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
Alain Tremblay, Hydro-Québec's lead scientist on greenhouse gas emissions, says tracking from their most recent complex of dams on the Romaine River shows emissions between 5 and 10 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
There are other environmental considerations beyond greenhouse gas emissions.
The nonprofit Natural Resources Council of Maine opposes the New England Clean Energy Connect, in part out of concern about fragmented habitat and critical wildlife populations, including brook trout. The transmission line would require clearing a 53-mile stretch of forest through the North Maine Woods.
In New York the nonprofit Riverkeeper reversed its earlier support for the Champlain Hudson Power Express and has now come out against that project, which would send its electrical cable down the length of the Hudson River.
"This sets a precedent that the Hudson is a conduit for extension cords from Canada or from anywhere," says John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's vice president of advocacy. "It should be off limits to that kind of thing."
The Hudson contains legacy pollution from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dumped decades ago and other contaminants that could be turned up as the cable is dug in the riverbed. Over the years some of that pollution has been remediated, but not all. And plans to avoid putting cable in the areas of the worst-known contamination aren't sufficient to protect the ecosystem, he says.
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
There's also concern that imperiled fish species, like endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon, could be harmed by the electrical cable. The river was designated as critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon, but no Endangered Species Act review has been initiated to assess if the cable could threaten fish populations.
"Both of these fishes have nervous systems similar to that of sharks, which are incredibly sensitive to electric signals," says Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "It's a huge experiment to suddenly put an electrical signal down the backbone of this river."
Lipscomb shares this concern. After all the work that's been done in recent years to help restore the Hudson and its estuary, he says "it's heartbreaking that we still think of this river as a resource."
Hydropower may be renewable, he says, but from an environmental perspective it isn't sustainable. "Unless a river's value is zero," he says. "If a river has any value as an ecosystem, as a host for life, then hydropower isn't even a consideration."
Upstream Justice Concerns
In 1990 a group of Cree and Inuit protestors paddled the Hudson River to Manhattan to ask New Yorkers to oppose a power purchase agreement between the state and Quebec and the construction of a second dam in the James Bay hydroelectric project in northern Quebec.
They were successful. Now, 30 years later, a different group of First Nations is making a similar plea.
On October 7 the First Nations of Pessamit, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy stating their opposition to the Massachusetts transmission line. The groups wrote that one-third of Hydro-Québec's installed power is "produced in our respective ancestral territories from reservoirs, dams, power plants and various other installations, without prior consultation, without our consent and without compensation."
Over the decades of hydropower buildout in Canada many First Nations communities — but not all — have been consulted on projects and struck agreements with power companies.
Major hydroelectric projects have altered the flow of rivers and in some cases, the food and cultural resources used by Indigenous communities.
There are also health concerns.
A 2016 study by Harvard University researchers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that flooding reservoirs for hydroelectric projects in Canada would increase the risk of mercury poisoning in Indigenous communities at 90% of the dam sites.
When land is flooded for a reservoir, the microbes in the soil convert naturally occurring mercury into more dangerous methylmercury, which then works its way up the food chain. That puts anyone who relies on local wildlife such as fish, birds and seals at risk. In the northern reaches of Canada, that's largely Indigenous people.
The researchers looked at how three Inuit communities downstream of Nalcor's Muskrat Falls project would fare. And they found that, on average, risk of exposure for community members would double after the area was flooded. That could translate to higher risks for cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays for children.
The more people rely on local food sources, the more harm they're exposed to. And in this remote region where store-bought food is very expensive, that's a serious concern.
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
"People have a very high prevalence of economic insecurity and that translates into insecure access to Western foods at the grocery store," says Ryan Calder, a co-author of the study and now an assistant professor of environmental health and policy at Virginia Tech. "Traditional food systems account for a smaller and smaller fraction of overall calories, but a wildly disproportionate fraction of nutrient intake."
Despite this, he doesn't think their research should be taken as a commentary on whether hydroelectric power itself is good or bad. "We really just criticized [the company's] risk assessment," he says.
Earlier studies by Nalcor claimed the effect on the Inuit would be negligible as the mercury would quickly dilute in downstream waters.
"They had no basis for saying there was going to be no impact," says Calder. "It was clear that they were trying to ignore their obligations — if not legal, then certainly moral — to Indigenous people."
The researchers also found that about half of the other sites they studied would have equal or greater concentrations of methylmercury than Muskrat Falls.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, who lives near the Muskrat Falls project, says she wasn't surprised by Nalcor's position. "Aboriginal people don't count to this government and so we have to make the Aboriginal people count," she says.
She has spoken to environmental organizations in the United States to help raise awareness about some of the local effects of dam development in Canada.
"I want people in the United States to understand that when they flip their light switch, if they accept these power lines from Canada, they're poisoning northern communities," she says.
New York and Massachusetts have been eager for hydropower from Canada as long as it doesn't mean the construction of new dams for the transmission projects.
Hydro-Québec says it has enough reserves for export to New York and Massachusetts without redirecting power from its existing United States or Canadian customers.
It's nearly finished with the last dam in the complex of four generating stations on the Romaine River, which along with other projects, has added 5,000 megawatts of capacity over the last decade. Although it does has the lowest reserve margin of utilities in the region, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's 2019 assessment.
In previous years Hydro-Québec did preliminary work to explore the possibility of new dams on the Little Mécatina River, but company spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent says they currently have no plans for new dams and that project is no longer in their strategic plan.
Gary Sutherland, director of strategic affairs for northeast markets at Hydro-Québec, says that additional energy demand for export could be met with increased energy efficiency in Quebec and more wind projects. Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted last week that the province's next addition of capacity, if needed, would be the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind farm.
Elsewhere in Canada, however, dam building continues.
Manitoba Hydro and four First Nations are in the process of building the Keeyask project, a 695-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River.
British Columbia also continues to muddle along on development at Site C, a 1,100-megawatt dam on the Peace River that has faced mounting problems and protests.
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
This includes, according to a report in The Narwhal, legal challenges from "landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 128 kilometers of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting Indigenous burial grounds, traditional hunting and fishing areas, habitat for more than 100 species vulnerable to extinction and some of Canada's richest farmland under up to 50 meters of water."
New research by energy analyst Robert McCullough, who runs a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm, found that if the project continues its likely to have surplus energy that will need to be sold outside the province at a loss to ratepayers.
But a poor financial outlook doesn't always mean the end of dam projects in Canada.
In Labrador Nalcor also has another large project planned — the 2,250-megawatt Gull Island dam, farther upstream from Muskrat Falls, which could be built if there's a buyer for the power.
It's a prospect Benefiel finds shocking, considering the company's most recent project was so over budget that it prompted a provincial Commission of Inquiry, which found that Muskrat Falls put the financial health of the entire province at risk.
Is Hydro Needed?
Considering all the complexities of hydro projects and the related transmission infrastructure, is it necessary to move U.S. states off fossil fuels and toward clean energy goals?
That depends on who you talk to.
Despite investment in wind and solar, "hydro has a couple of things going for it," says Rothstein of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. The first is that it's able to compete on costs, and second is the "dispatchability."
Thanks to decades of dam building, Canadian hydropower is ready to go — pending transmission capacity. It's also seen as less variable than wind and solar, although hydropower does fluctuate by season and by year, depending on precipitation.
"I think hydro will play a role, but it's not going to be the only resource," says Rothstein. Offshore wind holds the biggest potential for large-scale projects in the region, he says.
New York has already awarded contracts to procure 1,700 megawatts of offshore wind and in July put out a call to solicit another 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,500 megawatts of land-based, large-scale renewables.
Massachusetts is making strides toward wind energy, too. In 2016 Gov. Charlie Baker signed an energy bill requiring the state's utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and could soon double that.
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
All told around a half a dozen major projects now await a green light, pending permitting decisions by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
All down the East Coast, "there's a whole constellation of projects close to breaking water," says Rothstein.
In the past offshore wind has been stymied by NIMBYism, but he says both the public perception of wind has changed and so have costs. New projects being proposed are farther offshore and out of view. And more established, global wind developers are competing for projects, helping to bring down prices.
Sierra Club's Downs thinks northeast states could meet their goals without imported hydro. Instead he'd like to see more focus on large-scale solar installations in upstate New York on brownfields or fallow farmland, and more offshore wind.
"And then we need to be doing more and more programs for smaller, community-based wind and solar," he says.
Whatever mix of low-carbon power is secured, Downs hopes it doesn't turn rivers into transmission corridors and does account for the full environmental and social costs of power generation.
"We have an obligation to protect cultural rights, Indigenous rights and also the vast Canadian wilderness," says Downs. "We shouldn't be exporting our environmental problems."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Jo Harper
Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
The study, published in research journal Nature Energy, found that of the 3,000 utilities studied most remain predominantly invested in fossil fuels. And of those prioritizing renewable energy growth, 60% had not halted expansion of their fossil fuel portfolios.
The companies with the slowest transition tended to be larger and from outside Europe, Alova told DW. "The renewables-prioritizing cohort of utilities that I identified comprises companies that are overall larger and own a larger market share in the countries where they operate, compared to the other companies," she said. "The key issue is that the majority of these companies continue in parallel to expand their fossil fuel-based capacity, although they do so at a slower rate."
Her research highlights a gap between what is needed to tackle the climate crisis and "the actions being taken by the utility sector," she added. These companies face the risk of carbon lock-in, given that a third of their fossil fuel capacity has been added in the last 10 years, so is here to stay for decades. "Unless it is retired early, it will render significant shares of their portfolios stranded," Alova said.
"Although there have been a few high-profile examples of individual electric utilities investing in renewables, this study shows that overall, the sector is making the transition to clean energy slowly or not at all," she said.
Alova believes inertia in the electricity industry is one key reason for the slow transition.
The Matter of Gas
The report found that 10% of utilities favored growth in gas-fired power plants, dominated by the US utilities exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, followed by Russia and Germany.
"Renewables and natural gas often go hand in hand," Alova said, adding that companies often choose both in parallel. "So, it might be just in media reports we are getting this image of investing in renewables, but less coverage on continued investment in gas."
It might also be the case that gas is viewed as a transition fuel, relatively less carbon emitting and providing load-balancing services to intermittent renewables generation, Alova said.
Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for independent climate think tank Ember, agrees with Alova that utilities have hindered the transition by "misunderstanding the future of gas." Utilities have a mindset to build big centralized power plants, replacing a coal power plant with a gas power plant, he said. "Fortunately, most of the gas hype across the world is now dying down, as wind and solar now provide cheaper options for generating electricity," Jones said.
Green Movement Taking Place
Over a fifth of Europe's energy was generated by solar panels and wind turbines in the first half of 2020, according to a report by Ember. Denmark came out on top, generating 64% of its energy from these renewable sources, followed by Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%).
In Ember's half-year review released in July, renewables exceeded fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, producing 40% of the EU's power, with fossil fuels contributing 34%. However, globally only a tenth of all energy was generated by these sources during the first half of 2020.
Last year saw the use of coal to generate electricity around the world fall by a record 3%. In part due to COVID-19, coal generation in the first half of 2020 again broke records with a drop of 8.3%. In the EU, the drop was higher, as coal energy generation fell by nearly a third.
With many projects delayed by the pandemic, the global capacity to produce electricity from renewable sources is predicted to drop by up to 13% overall this year according to the International Energy Agency.
Slowly Getting There?
Utilities have been slow to understand how quickly wind and solar would drop in price, and also how quickly governments would want to move away from coal. "Many utilities have been caught off guard by the speed of the transition, and have suffered financially ever since," said Jones.
The world this year has generated one-tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, double from the 5% in 2015, and that increase has led to a fall in market share of coal generation, Jones added.
Valentina Kretzschmar from consultancy Wood Mackenzie says BP's recently announced strategy has created a new industry benchmark. BP plans to increase investment in its low-emission businesses, including renewable energy, by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion (€4.5 billion) a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40%.
In July, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands, while France's Total has agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain. Shell has said it will delay offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea.
US giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, however, have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate goals.
"I have seen a substantial shift between companies in the fossil fuel clusters toward renewables," Alova said. "This signals that the companies that have been growing fossil fuel portfolios in the earlier time periods might be switching to renewables more recently."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By James Bruggers
In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.
The Trump administration may have pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, but most states and many rural areas in America have developed their own plans for reducing carbon emissions and moving away from fossil fuels as they maneuver—often aggressively—to address the threat of climate change.
"Even if the U.S. government has decided to leave the Paris Agreement, we see in the U.S. an enormous movement in favor to climate action," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with Covering Climate Now on Monday. "We see companies, we see cities, we see states, we see the civil society fully mobilized."
Many state and local officials, including those in rural areas, hope stimulus funds aimed at helping rebuild economies ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic will support renewable energy and other "climate smart" initiatives that cut carbon emissions, while often creating more jobs in emerging industries than traditional infrastructure spending.
The plans for decarbonizing America have been sown and exist like seeds in a parched field, waiting for a drenching rain.
Here are five examples.
In Maine, Federal Funding 'Would Make a Big Difference'
The fingerprints of climate change are all over the state of Maine, from the invasion of temperate species into the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine to summers that are now two weeks longer than they were a century ago. But despite all this change, one thing will stay the same: Winter in Maine will still be cold.
In a state that uses more home heating oil per capita than anywhere in the nation, Maine's climate hawks are looking to make a major change in the way people heat their homes, and help mitigate climate change at the same time.
In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill with the goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps into homes in Maine by 2025. This would represent nearly a fifth of the homes in the state.
"It's clearly the electrification strategy," said Hannah Pingree, the state's director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. "Electrify homes, electrify transportation. That's a strong theme of the Climate Council."
Maine's Climate Council—a group of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials and residents—is charged with figuring out how Maine will meet a trio of ambitious goals: reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050; increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and making the state carbon neutral by 2045.
Heat pumps—which also cool homes—draw in air from outside and use the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to keep a home comfortable. They are run on electricity, and can be paired with clean energy sources like solar or wind power to eliminate the carbon footprint of home heating.
Mills' plan offers incentives for installing the pumps, thanks to state funding that's being supplemented by some federal low-income housing funds. The program is up and running, but it's something that Pingree said could benefit from an infusion of federal funds.
"The governor's heat pump program is already ambitious and innovative, but to really get to the full scale and take it even further, federal investment would make a big difference," said Pingree, who co-chairs the Climate Council. "Especially when it comes to people's homes, investments in transportation and housing stock, the federal government's participation is extremely helpful and it helps put people to work."
The heat pump program is part of a bigger picture of state and local governments working to get consumers to move away from using fossil fuels for heating. Some local governments in other states are banning natural gas hookups for new construction, and some electric utilities and clean energy advocates are asking California regulators to enact a statewide ban as part of the next update of the state's building code.
Heat pumps are just one part of Maines's strategy, which will likely include a massive expansion of offshore wind and community solar projects and a push to electrify the transportation sector. At a meeting earlier this summer, more than 230 people from six working groups presented ideas to the council—more than 300 actions in all—which are being weighed now.
"If you look at the recommendations from the working groups, one of the cross-cutting ones is finance. We do need to raise revenue, and we also need the federal government to step up," said David Costello, the clean energy director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. "It's going to be hard for Maine to implement many of the actions that we'd like to implement without increased funding."
California's Grants for 'Climate Smart Agriculture' Are Successful—and Threatened
To say California farm country is central to its ambitious plans to combat climate change seems redundant. The $50 billion agricultural sector is a pillar of the state's economy, the world's fifth largest, encompassing 70,000 farms and ranches.
With such a vast and vital industry (which includes parts of every county in the state), California has created a suite of "climate smart agriculture" programs. The first-of-their-kind programs, launched in 2014 and expanded in 2017, are helping farms become more resilient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve land and protect ecosystems and communities.
The programs provide grant funds and technical assistance to farms in four key areas: conserving agricultural land against non-farm development; increasing on-farm water efficiency; improving soil health and managing manure to mitigate its climate impacts. The programs, popular with farmers, are receiving at least twice as many applications as there are grants.
They are also popular with nonprofit environmental and agricultural advocacy organizations. The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), evaluated the programs' climate benefits and found impressive results. To date, the programs collectively have funded more than 1,250 climate smart agriculture projects and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) over the life of the projects, the equivalent of removing 67,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. The water efficiency programs have saved more than 110,000 acre feet of water (the equivalent of more than 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
They are also affordable, costing between $43 and $100 per metric ton of CO2 reductions. In a pre-pandemic California, one with a budget surplus and climate policy priorities, the programs would be expanding. Instead, climate smart agriculture funding is in jeopardy. The state, still partially wracked by the coronavirus, is in a worsening recession. Supporters of climate smart agriculture programs worry the state will spend its funding on other priorities.
This at a time when the coronavirus has exposed the need for greater investment in farm country, said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN's policy director. "We're seeing the pandemic impacts on farmers is clearly a major disruption," she said, "and it's a disruption that can point to weaknesses in our current system. We're taking the lessons learned from the pandemic and applying that to how we can prepare for greater climate extremes. Investing in resilient farming is key."
Across Appalachia, a New Post-Coal Economy Beckons
Coal mining jobs have been crashing for decades in eastern Kentucky, from roughly 30,000 in 1984 to about 3,000 now, undercutting what has long been among the most impoverished regions of the country.
For a long time, elected leaders held what turned out to be false hope that the coal industry would come back.
But a nonprofit based in Berea, Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, has been working toward a post-coal economy since 1976.
Among its programs: training entrepreneurs and providing low-interest loans to small businesses. In the past dozen years, MACED added energy efficiency and solar power to its mix of programs, saving clients money and cutting carbon emissions at the same time.
It's an ironic twist that rural Appalachian counties that helped power the nation with cheap—though dirty and climate warming—coal have seen residents' electricity bills skyrocket as coal has given way to cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar. Utility customers have been shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind, while the power companies doubled down on more expensive coal.
Since May 2015, MACED has helped with 30 solar installations, saving almost $400,000 in energy costs, said Ivy Brashear, MACED's Appalachian transition director. And since 2008, MACED has helped hundreds of homes and businesses reduce their energy bills by scrutinizing them for errors and helping to pay for energy efficiency retrofits, she said. She added that it included, for example, helping a grocery store stay in business to prevent a rural area from becoming a food desert.
"We listen and collaborate with people who are living and working in these communities, and help advance that new economy in ways that are really just and really equitable," Brashear said.
In solar work, MACED has focused on Letcher County, with a population of about 22,000, where businesses, faith communities and nonprofits are tapping their cultural strengths to create a new economy.
Whitesburg-based Appalshop, the 50-year-old arts and education nonprofit, for example, partnered with MACED to put solar panels on its new outdoor performance pavilion, which opened a year ago, to power its headquarters building and reduce electricity bills.
"In the last decade, our energy costs have gone up by 50 percent and were expected to keep rising," said Alexandra Werner-Winslow, Appalshop communications director. "That was not sustainable."
MACED, she said, "was tremendously helpful with our construction," and with the low-interest loan. At the same time, Appalshop sees solar development and energy efficiency as an important economic engine for eastern Kentucky.
MACED's funding includes grants from government and philanthropic foundations. With Congress weighing further ways to help the nation recover from an economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus, it could further a transition to cleaner energy and energy savings in rural areas through targeted investments and tax rebates, said Peter Hille, president of MACED.
"Anything that can (bring) down the front-end cost makes a big difference since that also reduces interest cost on financing over the life of the loan," he said.
Mountain Towns in the West Hope for a 'Green Pathway' Stimulus
Jessie Burley is the sustainability director for the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a posh, outdoorsy community in the Tenmile Range. Not only is Breckenridge a member of the statewide Colorado Communities for Climate Action but the town is also part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade, and one of many tourist towns focused on clean energy long before the coronavirus pandemic.
And the resulting economic downturn hasn't changed the goal, said Burley. Sustainability-minded communities recognize that jobs and businesses ought to be a focus of the Covid-19 recovery, since the pandemic has revealed how exposed existing economic systems are, she said.
"Whether it's a virus or whether it's global warming or whether it's some other kind of disaster, we are more susceptible," she said. "We also can't lose sight of the fact that going back to business as usual is not going to be enough."
Members of a Mountain Towns 2030 task force on Covid-19 are pressing for any new stimulus package to include provisions supporting "green pathway" programs, such as green infrastructure, electric vehicle charging or renewable energy jobs. In that spirit, although Breckenridge has suffered steep, pandemic-related revenue losses, a community solar program is pressing forward this year, its grants scaled back from 25 to 20.
Similarly, in Montana, where revenue from natural resource industries makes up 12 percent of the state's general fund and paychecks for 1.2 percent of the workforce, a task force is finalizing a statewide climate change plan this month, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics and a member of the governor's climate task force. Planning is still underway to decarbonize Montana's electricity sector by 2035 and to decarbonize Montana's economy by 2050, he said.
"A lot of this needs to be done in recognition of the fact that [the energy transition] is already happening," said Haggerty, noting that the task force is diverse, including everyone from conservationists to energy officials.
"It is a broad-based challenge, and everyone is affected regardless of where you live or what your political affiliation is," he said of the new climate goals in a world also dealing with Covid-19's economic fallout. "But, also, we need everyone to buy into and ultimately benefit from the changes that we can enact and that will benefit the entire state."
Virginia is the South's First State to Commit to Carbon-Free Energy
In the wake of a political upheaval that put Democrats firmly in control of state government, Virginia in 2020 became the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy and to join the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Most of the state's coal power would have to shut down by 2024 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which also lays the groundwork for a burst of new renewable energy construction. Lawmakers declared large amounts of solar and wind energy and energy storage to be "in the public interest," sweeping aside the regulatory barriers to new renewable energy projects.
This transition to renewable energy already has a footprint in the Hamptons Roads area, where the state plans to develop a wind industry hub to be overseen by a newly created state agency aimed at fostering offshore wind farms. The bill that created the agency stated Virginia's opposition to offshore drilling.
About 25 miles east, Virginia Beach is considering an array of plans to protect homes and businesses from increased climate-related flooding, storm surges and sea level rise, hoping for either state or federal funds to do everything from buying out flood prone homes to possibly building large floodgates to protect its shoreline.
In Norfolk, the state is supporting construction of new reefs using crushed concrete and granite that can serve as a habitat for the eastern oyster and also help shield the city against storm surges and erosion. The effort enabled state officials last year to declare the Lafayette River fully restored under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement.
The Legislature, meanwhile, considered, but rejected, the idea of a Virginia "Green New Deal" public works-style program. Instead, lawmakers opted for a business-friendly approach that had the support of the state's big utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, by the time the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 11.
The new Clean Economy Act makes it easier for rooftop solar to spread across Virginia, by expanding "net metering" for households—giving electricity customers credit for the excess solar energy they produce and sell back to the grid. It enables Virginians for the first time to save money on their monthly electric bills by going solar.
If utilities fall short on their obligations to cut carbon energy and expand renewables, they will be subject to penalties that will go into an account to fund job training, with priority given to historically disadvantaged communities, veterans and individuals in Virginia's coalfield regions. Some critics note that this set-up means there is no assured funding for worker transition programs, which could be provided by stimulus programs from the federal government.
Virginia already has more solar jobs (4,489) than coal jobs (2,730), and the latter are concentrated in the rural southwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold which has lost political power to the state's burgeoning northern suburbs. Diverse, highly educated and tech-heavy communities in the northern part of the state helped Democrats take full control of Virginia's Legislature in 2019, paving the way for passage of Northam's clean energy agenda. A chief challenge in implementing the law will be ensuring that the Republican-dominated, fossil fuel-dependent rural regions that have been resistant to change don't get left behind.
This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Autumn Bordner and Caroline E. Ferguson
Along U.S. coastlines, from California to Florida, residents are getting increasingly accustomed to "king tides." These extra-high tides cause flooding and wreak havoc on affected communities. As climate change raises sea levels, they are becoming more extreme.
King tides are nothing new for the Marshall Islands, a nation made up of 29 low-lying coral atolls that stretch across more than a million square miles of Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia. By 2035, the U.S. Geological Survey projects that some of the Marshall Islands will be submerged. Others will no longer have drinking water because their aquifers will be contaminated with saltwater. As a result, Marshallese would be forced to migrate away from their homelands.
This scenario is not inevitable. As part of our research on climate justice, we visited the Marshall Islands and interviewed leaders and community organizers in 2018 and 2019. We learned that large-scale adaptation measures that could save both these and other islands are still possible, and that Marshallese leaders are committed to adapting in place. But their nation's colonial history has made it hard for them to act by leaving them dependent on foreign aid. And, to date, outside funders have been unwilling or unable to invest in projects that could save the nation.
Most of the world's other island nations share similar colonial histories and face comparable climate challenges. Without swift and dramatic adaptation, entire island nations could become uninhabitable. For the Marshall Islands, this is expected to occur by midcentury.
The Marshall Islands span over 1 million square miles of ocean in the North Pacific. Autumn Bordner
A Radioactive Legacy
The Marshall Islands were settled at least 2,000 years ago and fell under colonial rule during the 19th century. The U.S. captured the islands during World War II and became colonial administrator through the United Nations, accepting "sacred trust" obligations to protect the health and welfare of the Marshallese people and promote their political and economic self-determination.
Instead, from 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons on inhabited Bikini and Enewetak Atolls, forcing these and other exposed communities to evacuate their homelands. Thousands of Marshallese remain in exile to this day, largely on tiny islands that are extremely climate-vulnerable or in the United States. Others have returned to their atolls, where radioactive fallout still contaminates the land. All of those exposed to radiation continue to face long-term health risks.
Residents board a U.S. Navy ship, forcibly evacuated in March 1948 from Bikini Atoll for U.S. nuclear weapons testing. U.S. Navy
The Marshall Islands gained sovereignty in 1986. But the U.S. retains full authority and responsibility for "security and defense matters in or relating to the Marshall Islands," including the right to use Marshallese lands and waters for military activities.
Moreover, while the islands were a U.S. trust territory, the United States did not foster a self-sufficient economy. Instead, it injected large amounts of aid under the assumption that the islands were, in the words of Pacific scholar Epeli Hau'ofa, "too small, too poor and too isolated to develop any meaningful degree of autonomy." The bulk of this aid went toward providing social services rather than promoting economic development, resulting in an economy based almost entirely on financial transfers from the U.S.
It's Not Rocket Science
What options does the Marshall Islands have for protecting its citizens from climate change? When we met with former National Climate Advisor Ben Graham in 2019, he told us that it will take "radical adaptation" to remain in place.
To control flooding driven by rising seas, the nation would need to reclaim and elevate land and consolidate its population in urban centers. Doing so is "not rocket science," Graham told us. "China is building islands by the acre every day, Denmark is planning to construct nine artificial islands. … It's not new, but it is expensive."
Breaking: Earlier today the town of Jenrok, Majuro, Marshall Islands experienced a flooding that’s affected a numbe… https://t.co/DQn9u0Bimm— 350 Pacific (@350 Pacific)1574844378.0
According to Graham, implementing the forthcoming National Adaptation Plan will cost on the order of US$1 billion. That's money the country doesn't have.
But one atoll is likely to be saved: Kwajalein, which is occupied by the U.S. military. Already, the U.S. has made substantial investments to understand how sea level rise is affecting its military assets on Kwajalein.
Radical Adaptation or Forced Migration?
Like most island states, the Marshall Islands relies heavily on external funding, often from former colonial administrators. Outside aid, primarily from organizations like the World Bank and donor countries like the U.S. and Australia, accounts for more than 25% of its gross domestic product, which in 2018 was $221.3 million.
These funders exert outsized control over the development agendas of the nations they support, including the power to decide which climate change adaptations are appropriate. In particular, funders tend to impose strict social and environmental safeguards, which limit the range of adaptation options the Marshall Islands and other aid-dependent sovereigns can pursue.
To date funders have only supported small-scale short-term projects, such as flood warning systems and improvements to tidal forecasting. And many have come to view migration as a suitable alternative to the type of large-scale adaptation that would allow nations to survive and people to live and thrive in their homelands. As Ben Graham put it to us, "there are those who say … your population is too small to spend half a billion dollars on it. Just relocate. It's not worth keeping your culture and your sovereign status."
But international law indicates that funders should not have the power to decide whether sovereign nations can survive climate change. The international norm of self-determination requires that decision to lie with the affected nation and its people. Yet unless the status quo is changed, the Marshallese face a forced migration caused by outside powers, just as they did 74 years ago as a result of U.S. nuclear weapons testing.
Island Climate Justice Leaders
The Marshallese face overwhelming challenges, but they are not passive victims. The Marshall Islands was the first nation to increase its greenhouse gas reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement. Its representatives have served as tireless advocates for climate action and human rights on the international stage. And the Marshall Islands spearheaded the successful campaign to include a "well-below 2 degrees" warming target in the Climate Accords.
But they can't fight alone. The nation's president, David Kabua, recently called upon wealthy nations to live up to their Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize the funding that vulnerable nations need to survive.
For years, the U.S. and other developed nations have failed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to meet targets in the Paris climate agreement that are intended to avoid warming on a catastrophic scale. They have also failed to meet their pledges to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change. The U.S., meanwhile, has refused to provide over $2 billion that an independent nuclear claims tribunal awarded to the Marshall Islands as compensation for damage caused by nuclear testing.
The incoming Biden administration has a chance to change course. We believe that the U.S. should provide direct support for Marshallese climate adaptation efforts. This would help to redress the long history of use and abuse, broken promises, and unfulfilled obligations that has left the Marshall Islands so exceptionally climate-vulnerable today.
Autumn Bordner is a Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley.
Caroline E. Ferguson is a PhD candidate in Environment and Resources, Stanford University.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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In April, he claimed they caused cancer, and he sued to stop an offshore wind farm that was scheduled to go up near land he had purchased for a golf course in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. He lost that fight, and now the Trump Organization has agreed to pay the Scottish government $290,000 to cover its legal fees, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
News of the settlement, which comes four years after the Trump Organization's defeat and nearly nine months after it was ordered to pay the costs, was first reported by The Scotsman.
Friends of the Earth Scotland Director Dr. Richard Dixon reacted to the news by praising the Scottish government for "resisting repeated attempts" to stop the "popular and much needed" wind farm.
"A positive gesture would be for this money recouped from Donald Trump to be committed into programmes which support the growth in community-owned renewables," Dixon told The Scotsman. "Scotland needs to continue its growth in clean, reliable renewable energy as we transition away from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy."
Trump launched the lawsuit in 2012 over the Scottish government's decision to approve an 11-turbine wind farm two miles from his golf course, The Guardian explained.
During the fight, Trump lashed out against both wind power and the Scottish government. He called the project "monstrous" and referred to then Scottish first minister Alex Salmond as "Mad Alex" in a 2013 op-ed for the Scottish Mail, according to The Washington Post.
"I am going to fight him for as long as it takes — to hell if I have to — and spend as much as it takes to block this useless and grotesque blot on our heritage," he wrote in the same op-ed.
But the UK Supreme Court unanimously rejected his suit in 2015 and, in February of this year, his organization was ordered to pay Scotland for the cost of the litigation. The Scottish government said payment was delayed because the Trump Organization would not agree to an amount. But Trump employees told The Guardian in October that they had not refused to pay.
"This is not in our control. The matter is in the hands of the auditors of the court of session and the Scottish ministers," Executive Vice-President of Trump International Golf Links Sarah Malone told The Guardian at the time.
The fact that the organization has settled now means that the issue will not pass to the auditor of the Court of Session, which would have added to the Trump Organization's legal bills, The Scotsman explained.
"Trump has attempted to avoid any responsibility over the impact of his developments and bullied anyone who has tried to stand in his way, so I'm delighted his business is being forced to compensate Scotland for his failed legal challenges," Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie told The Scotsman. "Hopefully this high-profile case will encourage all developers to consult, include and listen to communities rather than bully them."
The wind farm Trump failed to block began operating last July. It features some of the most powerful turbines in the world and has a capacity of 93.2 megawatts.
Meanwhile, Trump's golf course has operated at a loss for seven years in a row. It lost $1.4 million in 2018, The Washington Post reported.
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
Trump's withdrawal benefited oil executives, who have donated millions of dollars to his reelection campaign, and the small, strange fringe of climate deniers who continue to insist that the planet is cooling. But most people living in the rational world were appalled. Polling showed widespread opposition, and by some measures, Trump is more out of line with the American populace on environmental issues than any other. In his withdrawal announcement he said he'd been elected "to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris"; before the day was out, Pittsburgh's mayor had pledged that his city would follow the guidelines set in the French capital. Young people, above all, have despised the president's climate moves: Poll after poll shows that climate change is a top-tier issue with them and often the most important one—mostly, I think, because they've come to understand how tightly linked it is not just to their future but to questions of justice, equity, and race.
Here's the truth: At this late date, meeting the promises set in Paris will be nowhere near enough. If you add up the various pledges that nations made at that conference, they plan on moving so timidly that the planet's temperature will still rise more than 3 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels. So far, we've raised the mercury 1 degree Celsius, and that's been enough to melt millions of square miles of ice in the Arctic, extend fire seasons for months, and dramatically alter the planet's rainfall patterns. Settling for 3 degrees is kind of like writing a global suicide note.
Happily, we could go much faster if we wanted. The price of solar and wind power has fallen so fast and so far in the last few years that they are now the cheapest power on earth. There are plenty of calculations to show it will soon be cheaper to build solar and wind farms than to operate the fossil fuel power stations we've already built. Climate-smart investments are also better for workers and economic equality. "We need to have climate justice, which means to invest in green energy, [which] creates three times more jobs than to invest in fossil fuel energy," United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in an interview with Covering Climate Now in September. If we wanted to make it happen, in other words, an energy revolution is entirely possible. The best new study shows that the United States could cut its current power sector emissions 80 percent by 2035 and create 20 million jobs along the way.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris haven't pledged to move that quickly, but their climate plan is the farthest-reaching of any presidential ticket in history. More to the point, we can pressure them to go farther and faster. Already, seeing the polling on the wall, they've adopted many of the proposals of climate stalwarts like Washington Governor Jay Inslee. A team of Biden and Bernie Sanders representatives worked out a pragmatic but powerful compromise in talks before the Democratic National Convention; the Biden-Harris ticket seems primed to use a transition to green energy as a crucial part of a push to rebuild the pandemic-devastated economy.
Perhaps most important, they've pledged to try to lead the rest of the world in the climate fight. The United States has never really done this. Our role as the single biggest producer of hydrocarbons has meant that our response to global warming has always been crippled by the political power of Big Oil. But that power has begun to slip. Once the biggest economic force on the planet, the oil industry is a shadow of its former self. (You could buy all the oil companies in America for less than the cost of Apple; Tesla is worth more than any other auto company on earth.) And so it's possible that the hammerlock on policy exercised by this reckless industry will loosen if Trump is beaten.
But only if he's beaten. Four more years will be enough to cement in place his anti-environmental policies and to make sure it's too late to really change course. The world's climate scientists declared in 2018 that if we had any chance of meeting sane climate targets, we had to cut emissions almost in half by 2030. That's less than 10 years away. We're at the last possible moment to turn the wheel of the supertanker that is our government. Captain Trump wants to steer us straight onto the rocks, mumbling all the while about hoaxes. If we let him do it, history won't forgive us. Nor will the rest of the world.
This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Douglas Broom
Artificial reefs play an important role in protecting offshore installations like wind farms. Unprotected, the turbine masts are exposed to tidal scouring, undermining their foundations.
Engineers often use undersea concrete "mats" composed of large blocks to protect the bottom of these towers on the seabed. There are 40,000 of them in the waters around the UK alone.
Wind farms are an important part of our transition to a low-carbon economy. But many of the concrete defenses submerged to protect them contain plastics and are considered by environmental groups to be marine litter. This often needs to be removed, recycled or disposed of.
So one start-up has developed an alternative. ARC Marine's reef cubes are made from recycled aggregate and sand that is a byproduct of the quarrying industry. The company says this reduces carbon emissions by 90% compared to the processes used to make common types of cement.
The cubes interlock, leaving larger living spaces for fish, crabs and lobsters, and their porous surface is designed to allow marine plants to establish easily and grow. The aim is for these alternative reefs to protect vital offshore installations from storms and erosion while also encouraging marine biodiversity.
Home from home: Reef cubes encourage marine biodiversity. ARC Marine
The cost of removing the existing concrete mats is estimated at $32 million for each gigawatt of a wind farm's output, according to ARC Marine. Reef cubes are designed to be left in place even after a farm has been decommissioned.
The company says the cubes will also help to restore marine habitats devastated by human impacts on the environment.
It's an urgent problem. Around 70% of coral reefs are under threat, while rock reefs also suffer from damage due to practices like trawling and dredging. The United Nations warns that half of all marine species could be on the brink of extinction by the end of this century.
Tom Birbeck, CEO and founder of ARC Marine, calls the reef cubes "building blocks for the ocean" and says they were inspired by the belief that every offshore and coastal project can have a positive impact on ocean health. The company adds that it can help with meeting five of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals – primarily goal 14: conserving life below water.
"Reef cubes accelerate reef creation and help repair ecosystems that have been destroyed from centuries of bottom trawling and dredging," he says.
"The global increase in offshore wind demand provides an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild rocky reef habitats around offshore construction projects which historically have caused damage and often deploy toxic and plastic-laden materials."
By restoring the marine environment, the cubes can also encourage sustainable fishing and eco-tourism, he says. And if coupled with a ban on trawling in areas where they are submerged, they could help fish stocks to recover.
The team behind the cubes was shortlisted for the 2020 Offshore Achievement Awards – often dubbed "the offshore Oscars" – for their work on the project.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
By Declan McAdams and Tore Angelskår
Until recently, microplastics that enter the ocean from paint have not received a lot of attention. There has been very little focus on the fact that unless paint residuals are collected during surface preparation and the maintenance process, they will largely end up in the ocean as microplastics.
Uncertain Emission Estimates
The most quoted source of data on how much microplastics from paint enters the ocean each year gives a figure of 60,000 tons per annum. While this is still a big figure – the equivalent of six billion empty plastic bottles being dumped in the ocean every year – it falls short of the real size of the problem. This is because:
- It only includes marine coatings, representing 4% of all paint volume, and does not include Industrial Maintenance (IM) and Protective Coating (PC) which represent another 11% of all global paint volumes sold;
- It works with the 2009 OECD estimate that assumes 1 % of paint applied falls off each year (meaning an average paint life of 100 years), while industry experience shows that, in fact, industrial and marine paints have an average life of approximately 20 years or about 5% of paint falls off each year.
For these reasons, the real level of paint microplastics entering the environment and ocean each year could be much, much higher than 60,000 tons. Other reports also conclude that paint is the second-largest source of microplastics in the ocean.
The pathway by which plastic enters the world's oceans. Our World in Data
Let's look at it another way and see what happens to all of the paint on steel assets. It is estimated that more than six million tons of paint are applied to industrial and marine steel structures every year.
*Coatings World, **assuming 1-1.2 kg per liter of paint and 40-50% plastic content, ***assuming 50-75% of the paint residuals are not collected.
Therefore, based on the actual level of paint applied to industrial and marine steel assets each year, it is estimated that the real level of paint microplastics emissions to the ocean every year could be as high as 1.5-2.25 million tons. This is based on the assumption that 50-75% of the paint residuals are not collected. Given we know that open blasting without collection holds a higher market share of surface maintenance than this, the actual level of emissions is probably at the higher upper end of the range.
Putting these new figures in context, they are a very meaningful percentage of the 8 million tons of plastic that enters the oceans each year. In addition, it can also help us better understand where some of the estimated 12-21 million tons of microplastics in the Atlantic Ocean, as highlighted in a recent study, have come from.
What are the risks from all of these paint microplastics? Ingested microplastic particles can physically damage organs and leach hazardous chemicals – from the hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) to pesticides – that can compromise immune function and stymie growth and reproduction. Both microplastics and these chemicals may accumulate further up the food chain, potentially impacting whole ecosystems, including the health of the soils in which we grow our food. Microplastics in the water we drink and the air we breathe can also hit humans directly.
Harmful open sandblasting and water jetting are the predominant methods of surface maintenance. These are used at an industrial scale worldwide with various, but very limited, degrees of waste collection and recycling. There is a certain level of collection inside controlled environments like shipyards. Offshore, however, on oil rigs, ocean wind farms and ships, and in many situations on-shore, such as bridges, there is considerably less waste collection.
Using innovative solutions in surface maintenance, such as circular sandblasting, can reduce the emissions of microplastics to zero. In addition, the zero-emission, circular solution also recycles the blasting material, reducing grit consumption by 80-90%, which generates significant reductions in CO2 emission.
Microplastics in the surface ocean, 1950-2050. Our World in Data
The Need for Regulatory Awareness and Enforcement
We need greater awareness of this problem on the part of environmental regulators, and a willingness to enforce existing anti-pollution laws. There should be a requirement to collect the used blasting material, with its heavy metals and other toxic components, and most importantly, the rust and paint residuals as they are blasted off the steel assets. Otherwise, they will largely find their way, directly or indirectly, into the ocean.
Even though there is considerable uncertainty regarding the extent of emissions of microplastics from paint into the ocean, one thing is very clear: it is a significant problem that deserves a lot more research and regulatory and policy-maker attention, so action can be taken to solve it as soon as possible.
Declan McAdams is the Chairman of Pinovo.
Tore Angelskår is the Chief Executive Officer of Pinovo.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Jo Harper
Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE), there are 28 US offshore wind projects in the planning stage, with the biggest clusters along the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia. There are also 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the U.S. and if they are fully built, there is the potential to support approximately 25 GW of offshore wind capacity.
Wind energy, both onshore and offshore, is now the US's top choice for new power, with 39% of new utility-scale power sector additions at 107 GW — enough to power 32 million homes. It is also the largest renewable energy source in the country, supplying over 7% of the nation's electricity.
The domestic offshore wind market is smaller than the onshore sector, where capacity is now over 100 GW, but growing. "The shift of investment towards offshore wind in the US is due to a decreasing amount of leasable space on land because an increasing number of landowners and communities are objecting to local siting," says Annie Hawkins, Executive Director, Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA).
"From an environmental perspective, there is a limited amount of space that can reasonably be developed without significant impacts to ocean ecosystems and the existing ocean resource economy," Hawkins adds.
Europe has long been the global leader in offshore wind generation, with the U.S. focused on developing land-based wind facilities. According to industry body WindEurope, overall offshore capacity for European nations is 22 GW, with 4,000 offshore wind turbines erected in the waters of 11 countries, with a combined power generation capacity of 15.8 GW, enough to supply around 15 mid-size cities.
Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.
"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.
"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.
East Coast leads the way
"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.
Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer
"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.
In New England and New York the intense "Not-In-My-Backyard" culture (NIMBYism) also makes offshore wind potentially easier to build, Cohen adds. States along the East Coast are aiming to develop over 28 GW of offshore capacity by 2035, with 16 GW of new targets announced in 2019 alone. To help meet these targets, states and utilities selected 4,404 MW of offshore wind capacity through state-issued solicitations in 2019.
Offshore wind has also benefited from targets set by east-coast states for electrical energy. New York state aims to have 9,000 MW of capability by 2035. New Jersey has dedicated to have 7,500 MW, while Virginia's governor in April signed the 'Clean Economy Act' which requires at the least 5,200 MW of offshore wind by 2034. Massachusetts is committed to purchasing 1,600MW of offshore wind by 2027.
"The US has a vast offshore wind energy resource with a technical potential of more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW), or nearly double the nation's current electricity use," says Samuel Brock of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization
U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.
Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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