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Would you eat oranges grown with oil wastewater? You might be already without knowing it.

Wonderful Citrus, the U.S.'s largest citrus grower and the company behind the popular Halos mandarins and Bee Sweet Citrus, another huge citrus grower, are using leftover wastewater from oil companies to irrigate their citrus—while also using pink ribbons to sell them.

The use of oil wastewater for food irrigation is expanding rapidly in California—the U.S.'s third largest oil-extracting state, which also produces more than a third of the nation's veggies and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. Oil corporations are increasingly supplying their wastewater to California-based agricultural companies like Bee Sweet and Wonderful to use for food irrigation during an historic drought. As this type of irrigation is set to expand, we believe this is an urgent public health issue because of the potentially hazardous chemicals associated with the oil extraction process.

Companies use pink ribbons to gain customer loyalty and increase their sales. After all, pink ribbons are profitable. But companies shouldn't put their profits before our health.

Bee Sweet Citrus puts a pink ribbon on their Sweetheart Mandarin labels "to achieve prevention and find a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime." And Wonderful Citrus participates in an in-store cause-marketing promotion called Pink Ribbon Produce, aimed at "uniting the produce industry in the fight for breast cancer."

Both of these companies claim to care about women with breast cancer and are using pink ribbons to sell their products—all while failing to protect farm workers and the public from the potential health risks of using oil wastewater to irrigate their citrus. We call this pinkwashing.

Oil companies use hundreds of chemical additives during the oil extraction process—to drill, maintain and clean their wells. In addition, the oil extraction process releases chemicals that are trapped underground. So when oil is extracted from underground reservoirs, wastewater comes back up with it and can contain all sorts of chemicals. Oil wastewater used for food irrigation has been found to contain the chemical benzene, a known human carcinogen linked to breast cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for benzene in drinking water is zero, which means "there is no dose below which the chemical is considered safe."

In a new report released earlier this month by PSE Healthy Energy—Healthy Energy, University of California—Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific, researchers call for a more thorough investigation of the potential health risks associated with using oil wastewater for crop irrigation in light of the potential health harms and gaps in safety testing.

The report finds that despite oil corporations being required to report chemical additives, 38 percent of the chemical additives could not be "sufficiently identified for preliminary hazard evaluation" because oil corporations are concealing them as trade secrets. Of the chemicals these scientists were able to analyze, they found that "43 percent of them can be classified as potential chemicals of concern from human health and/or environmental perspectives." They found that 10 chemicals are known or potential carcinogens. And they didn't even evaluate which chemicals are hormone disruptors, a class of chemicals which is linked to increasing our risk of breast cancer.

Current tests of oil wastewater used for food irrigation only look for some of the chemicals used in the oil extraction process. Because of the gaps in testing and treatment, an independent council of scientists commissioned by the State of California recently recommended that wastewater from fracking operations should not currently be used to irrigate our food. But the potential public health risks of the chemicals in oil wastewater are not limited to the fracking process and this report extends the recommendations to include wastewater from any oil operations. We, along with other public health groups and scientists, believe that wastewater from all oil extraction processes should not be used to grow our food, to protect both farm workers and the public from potential public health risks that have not been adequately studied.

Using oil wastewater to irrigate our food has not been proven safe—neither for the health of the public nor for the health of farm workers, who are exposed firsthand to these chemicals. In fact, an expert panel is currently reviewing the potential health risks associated with using oil wastewater for food irrigation—while the state is still permitting this type of irrigation. A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates the role of our everyday exposure to toxic chemicals in increasing our risk of breast cancer. We need to put the brakes on this process immediately.

In August 2016, we joined with 350,000 concerned people who wrote to California Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to end the use of oil wastewater for food irrigation. To date, he has failed to do so. In the absence of strong government action, we're calling on Bee Sweet Citrus and Wonderful Citrus to stop using oil wastewater to irrigate their crops while using pink ribbons to sell their citrus—a practice we call pinkwashing.

Instead, these two companies, which are huge players in their local water districts, should stand up for women affected by breast cancer. We believe they have the power not only to stop using oil wastewater to grow their own citrus crops, but also to stop the use of oil wastewater for growing food altogether.

Send a letter to Bee Sweet Citrus and Wonderful Citrus to tell them to stop pinkwashing. Tell them to stop irrigating their produce with oil wastewater and to use their power to ensure that oil wastewater is not used to irrigate any of our food.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Karuna Jaggar
Insights Writers
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

If you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you're a business owner renting a commercial space, a community solar project may help you save on electric bills. Community solar power is a great option for individuals and businesses who can't install their own solar panels.

You can join a community solar project by purchasing a share or by paying a subscription. Then, the electricity production that corresponds to your ownership percentage or subscription will be measured and subtracted from your power bills. This is possible even if the community solar panel installation isn't located in your neighborhood — by investing in the project, your share of the solar generation is simply subtracted from your bill.

In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of community solar subscriptions and help you decide whether to invest in your local program.

What is Community Solar?

Community solar is a term used to describe photovoltaic systems that are shared by many consumers, including homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Electricity savings and other benefits from the solar project are split among its shareholders and subscribers at a rate based on the level of investment.

When starting a community solar project, developers will establish the geographic area from which consumers are eligible to join. Some programs have installed multiple solar power systems in the same area, allowing a larger number of shareholders and solar subscribers.

Community solar power is possible thanks to virtual net metering. Through this process, a percentage of the electricity produced by the community solar panels is subtracted from the total amount of power you use in your home even though the panels aren't located on your property. Here are a few key things to note:

  • The kilowatt-hours produced by a community solar project are measured for each billing period and are divided based on ownership shares.
  • If a community solar array produces 10,000 kWh of electricity and you own 5% of the project, you get 500 kWh for that billing period.
  • The value of those 500 kWh will be subtracted from your power bill, so if you use, for example, 750 kWh of electricity in your home, you'd only pay your utility company for 250 kWh.

Benefits of Community Solar

The main benefit of community solar is saving on power bills, especially in places with high electricity prices and abundant sunshine. However, the concept of sharing a solar array brings many other benefits, both technical and economic. These include:

  • Community solar can be used by homeowners or renters who can't install rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels. Some roof structures are not suitable for solar panels, and others are too shaded from surrounding buildings or objects to be effective. Community solar may also be an option if you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you simply don't like the appearance of rooftop solar panels.
  • You can easily take your solar savings to another home or apartment. If you install solar panels and decide to move in a few years, you must either sell them or take them with you. On the other hand, when joining a community solar project, you can simply assign the savings to your new address.
  • You can sometimes sell or donate your community solar share (depending on program conditions). This is useful if you move to a location that is not covered by the community solar program or if you decide to install your own solar panels in the future.
  • Community solar supports a more diverse customer base. To install your own solar panels, you must have the cash for an upfront payment or qualify for a loan. This financial barrier is eliminated with community solar — consumers can pay a monthly subscription or can purchase a small share according to their budget.
  • With community solar, you can forget about maintenance and part replacements. Solar panels need regular cleaning to stay productive, and components like inverters and solar batteries must usually be replaced after about 10 years. However, you don't have to worry about maintenance with community solar, as there is a project developer in charge.
  • Community solar shareholders are eligible for the federal solar tax credit. When purchasing a share of a community solar project, you can deduct 26% of your investment on your next tax declaration. Just keep in mind that this benefit is not available when joining as a subscriber, since technically you don't own a part of the community solar farm.

Community solar is an easier alternative to installing your own solar power system. The project developer is responsible for financing, installation, operation and maintenance, and you can reduce your electricity bills by simply buying a share of the project or subscribing.

However, installing your own solar power system also brings many benefits. You save the full economic value of the electricity generated, for example. Onsite solar power also increases the value of homes and commercial buildings, and many incentive programs are only available when you buy solar panels directly.

If you're weighing each option, it can be helpful to get a free quote for a home solar installation. Fill out the form below to get connected with a top solar company near you.

How Does Community Solar Work?

In a few words, community solar lets you save on power bills with a shared photovoltaic array, instead of having your own system. However, not all community solar projects are alike, and they can be classified into several types:

  • On-site vs. off-site
  • Ownership vs. subscription

Community solar should not be confused with group purchasing, which happens when many homeowners or businesses purchase individual solar systems at bulk prices. This does not count as community solar, since the project is split into many private installations.

On-Site Vs. Off-Site Community Solar

Many real estate developers use on-site community solar projects in their residential, commercial or mixed-use projects. The electricity generated by solar panels reaches consumers through a private power system, without depending on the local electric grid. On the other hand, off-site community solar is supplied via the grid.

Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of community solar project:

On-Site Community Solar Off-Site Community Solar
Pros On-site community solar systems often achieve higher savings — because they don't use the local electric grid, they don't pay transmission and distribution fees to a utility company. Off-site community solar projects can serve a larger number of customers. You can also keep your ownership share or subscription when moving to another address, as long as you stay within the project's service area.
Cons On-site community solar is only available for local property owners and tenants of communities that have installed these energy projects. Depending on limitations with your local power grid, you may not yield as high of savings with off-site community solar.

Ownership Vs. Subscription Model

Community solar projects offer ownership shares and subscriptions. Some projects only have one option available, while others let you choose. You can save on power bills with both options, but understanding the differences between them is important:

  • When you purchase an ownership share in a community solar project, the corresponding percentage of power generation is yours for the entire service life of the project. Also, since you're a partial owner of the system, you can claim 26% of your investment as a federal tax deduction. However, owning part of a community solar project means you must have the capital to pay upfront.
  • When you subscribe to a community solar project, there is no upfront investment. Instead, you pay a monthly fee. This means there is an ongoing cost, but the corresponding power bill savings are higher than the subscription fee. Keep in mind that subscription costs may increase over time, while an ownership share represents a single upfront payment.

Each option has pros and cons — you will generally save more when you become a shareholder in a community solar project, but a subscription comes with zero upfront cost. Also, consider that you must sell your share if you move to a location not covered by a community solar project, while a subscription can be easily canceled.

Is Community Solar Available Near You?

Community solar offers many benefits, but it is not available nationwide. To scale these types of projects, state governments must first enable this business model by law. Also, developers are more likely to invest in community solar projects if market conditions are favorable. Generally, the best states for solar power are those with incentive programs, abundant sunshine and/or high electricity prices.

There are currently 40 states with at least one community solar project in operation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that 3.1 GW of community solar were online and operational by the end of Q1 2021. There is an optimistic outlook for community solar, and the SEIA has forecast a growth of 4 GW over the next five years. Each gigawatt of solar power can cover the electricity needs of around 186,000 American homes.

If you're interested in community solar power, you can check local government and utility websites — there could be several projects available near you.

FAQs: Community Solar

Is community solar legit?

Like all power generation projects, community solar systems are subject to laws and regulations. If you look for a developer that uses high-quality solar components and qualified installers, community solar is a reliable option to save on power bills for many years.

Is community solar a good deal?

To join a community solar project, you must become a shareholder with an upfront investment or pay an ongoing subscription. The power bill savings achieved will be higher than your monthly utility payments in both cases, but depending on the pricing model of your community's program, one option may present a better deal than the other.

What is community solar, and how does it work?

Community solar is an alternative to installing your own solar panels: You participate in a shared solar project as a shareholder or subscriber, and you get part of the electricity produced. This is a great option for individuals or companies who can't install their own solar panel systems due to lack of space or other limitations.

How does community solar make money?

Based on your ownership share or subscription type, you get part of the electricity produced by a community solar array. The kilowatt-hours generated are subtracted from your power bill — just like when you own solar panels directly.

Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.

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