In the last week, two states—Virginia and Ohio—moved forward on policies that would significantly reduce statewide renewable energy projects. These two states show clear examples of what happens when policymakers and agencies fail to advance clean energy and instead support dirty fossil fuels.
In Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power informed environmental groups that the company has reached a tentative agreement with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to support legislation that would effectively repeal the state’s signature clean energy law. The move, environmentalists said, would not only harm the environment but also represents a de facto admission of guilt by Dominion, according to Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). The company has already accepted $77 million from ratepayers without making the clean energy investments that the General Assembly first intended with its original 2007 law.
According to a press release from CCAN:
Cuccinelli, a nationally known global warming denier who has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Virginia in the past to advance a radical anti-environmental agenda, has been critical of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law for some time. Dominion, meanwhile, has been publicly criticized for months by environmental and health leaders in the state for exploiting loopholes in the RPS energy law to gain millions of dollars in incentive payments from customers without developing a single wind farm or large solar project in the state.
Rather than work with lawmakers and advocates to strengthen the renewable energy standard and close controversial loopholes, Dominion has formed an alliance with Cuccinelli to render the law useless through a de facto repeal. As detailed to environmental advocates, Dominion and Cuccinelli are moving to repeal the performance incentive that serves as the law’s only mechanism for holding utilities accountable to fulfilling their clean energy goals. The Dominion-Cuccinelli proposal is a radical move that clean energy advocates statewide described as out of step with mainstream voters, a claim supported by recent polling.
“This is a sad, sad day for the state of Virginia,” said Dawone Robinson, Virginia policy coordinator, for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Citizens should tell Dominion and Cuccinelli to close the loopholes in the current clean energy law, not cynically repeal it completely.”
Hundreds of activists picketed Dominion’s downtown Richmond office for a week in October demanding that the company instead follow the proper intent of the law and earn its clean-energy incentives by investing in wind and solar power. Senator A. Donald McEachin and Delegate Alfonso Lopez are introducing common-sense legislation that would strengthen the RPS law by requiring Dominion to invest in wind and solar power in Virginia in order to qualify for these financial incentives, thus fulfilling the intent of the law to spur a clean energy industry in the commonwealth. A September statewide poll of likely voters showed that 63 percent of Virginians back this approach, according to CCAN.
“Kids with asthma, Hurricane Sandy victims and tourists who want to see the Shenandoah Mountains instead of smog—they all want clean energy in this state,” said Robinson. “And as in dozens of other states, our current clean electricity law can succeed if it is firmly reformed and Dominion agrees to stop gaming the rules. We need to fix the RPS law, not repeal it.”
Critics point out that the Dominion-Cuccinelli alliance to repeal the clean energy law in Virginia is consistent with nationwide efforts by the controversial and archconservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to CCAN. With funding from major oil and coal companies, ALEC has stated that it will prioritize efforts to repeal RPS laws in states from coast to coast in 2013 through its model “Electricity Freedom Act” legislation. The group is known for promoting a wide array of ultra-conservative policies, including the “stand your ground” gun law in Florida that police believe played a role in the death of an unarmed teenager in 2012.
Meanwhile, as climate scientists in Virginia and worldwide continue to document record heat, drought, sea-level rise and storms linked to global warming and fossil fuel use, Dominion Power continues to declare its overwhelming commitment to combusting dirty energy to meet the state’s future energy needs. In its most recent 15-year plan, Dominion said it still expects to generate the majority of its power for utility customers by burning fossil fuels, like coal and gas, in 2027. The company stated an astonishingly small 3.9 percent as its expected generation from clean, renewable energy sources in that year.
Last week in Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) rejected American Electric Power-Ohio's (AEP) proposed Turning Point solar farm project, a nearly 50 megawatt planned solar project that would have provided 650 jobs and been the largest U.S. solar project east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Public Utility Commission’s decision today. At a time when coal plants across Ohio are reaching the end of their lifespan, we need to plan for the future and move our state to cleaner sources of energy," said Robert Shields, chapter chair of the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club. "The Turning Point solar project would have made Ohio a clean energy leader and created hundreds of good-paying, sustainable jobs. By turning its back on this critical solar project, the PUCO has dealt a blow to our ability to compete in a clean energy economy.”
“Napoleon, Ohio just opened a new solar panel factory to supply panels for the Turning Point project, and they were planning to hire mostly veterans to fill the 300 open positions,” said Daniel Sawmiller, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “As a veteran of the Iraq War, I am frustrated and disappointed that the commission would withdraw support from a project that would have provided an opportunity for employment for so many vets.”
AEP-Ohio sought to have the Turning Point project included as a necessary project under Ohio’s state renewable energy standard, a designation which would have attracted the financial support needed to move forward. The PUCO’s decision threatens the viability of the project.
“This ruling is a slap in the face to clean energy, new jobs and Southeast Ohio” said Brian Kaiser, director of Green Jobs & Innovation at the Ohio Environmental Council. “This solar project will add hundreds of jobs in a part of the state devastated by decades of economic decline.
“Let’s be clear, by rejecting the Turning Point solar project, the PUCO and this administration is turning its back on an innovative project that will expand the footprint of Ohio’s clean energy economy,” continued Kaiser.
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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