West Virginia

Extractive energy industries have dominated West Virginia for years. These extractive industries have bough off the legal system and continue to poison people and essentially destroy the environment.  The data is horrific:

  • Over 100,000 coal miners have been slaughtered in mining accidents
  • Over 1,500 miners die of black lung disease each year
  • Over 500 mountains have been destroyed by strip mining, destroying over 1.5 million acres of forest and trees
  • Valley fills have buried or polluted over 2,000 miles of headwater streambeds

The biodiversity of central Appalachia is threatened by the pollution.  Human residents struggle with contaminated water and dangerous dams like the one that exploded in Buffalo Creek in 1972.  The explosion killed 125 people and left over 1,000 people injured.  Four-fifths of the population was left homeless. The company that owned the dam, Pittston Coal Company, referred to the explosion as “an act of God.”

One would think that it would be easy to convince the people of West Virginia to fight for a cleaner environment but the ironic thing is that it is not so easy. Their resistance comes down to survival instincts. The way these industries have bought off the government and the people is that they have minimized access to healthcare, education and other social services, which has kept tax rates low.  Some corporations don’t have to pay taxes at all.

A movement away form coal must include unionized employment with living wages and benefits for all people that would be economically displaced.  Healthy jobs could be created through building a green national power grid linked to wind and solar power systems.

What is happening now is that the hand that feeds the people in West Virginia is the also the hand that bites them, essentially deceiving them and keeping them disillusioned.  This same hand continues to pollute our air and water and damage our environment.  It is also the hand that is holding out national government hostage.   Unfortunately the greater environmental movement has not yet come up with a plan to make cause recognized as common to the nation.  How to obtain political influence? It seems the only way is to have enough money to purchase politicians and elections.  Or we could build a constituency of voters so large they will be impossible to avoid at polls.  Environmentalists will have to rally up enough resistant people/voters who trust them.  If we cannot get environmentalists in office, we are unfortunately slaves to these big industries.

In addition to getting environmentalists in office, it may also be necessary to partner with organized labor.  Bringing the labor movement on our side is key to developing any modicum of power that could influence the current election system.

Why unions? You’ll find more on this next month.

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U.S. Solar Energy Industry Achieves Record-Shattering Year

America’s solar energy industry currently has more employees than tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined.  Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review report.  This report shares installation data, forecasting and policy analysis for the U.S. solar market.  Newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity for the year reached 6,201 megawatts (MW), which is record and 30% more than in 2013.  767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) came on-line in the same period.

In 2014, solar accounted for one-third of our nation’s new generating capacity.  Solar beat out wind energy and coal energy for the second year in a row.  Natural gas was the only one with a greater portion of new generating capacity.

The solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) helped to fuel the solar industry’s growth.  ITC was passed in 2006 and since then, over 150,000 solar jobs have been instituted in America.  $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide.  Today we have 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, which is enough to power 4 million U.S. homes, and we’re focusing on reducing harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year.  The ITC has been extremely helpful for both our economy and the environment.

SEIA breaks down their analysis of solar energy installation into three segments: commercial, utility and residential.  And for the first time in history, each of the three major U.S. market segments installed more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of PV.

The U.S. utility-scale segment broke the GW mark in 2011 and has been growing by about 1 GW per year since.  But in 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale PV projects joined another 14 GW of projects.

The commercial segment installed more than 1 GW in 2011 but has not been on the same upward trend as the utility segment.  In 2014, the commercial segment installed a little over 1 GW, which was actually 6% less than 2013.  Tight economics could be a reason for the decrease in use of solar energy.  GTM Research expects 2015 to reverse the recent trend in the commercial segment because of a resurgence in California.

The U.S. resident segment installed 1.2 GW in 2014, breaking over 1 GW for the first time.  Residential is the fastest-growing market segment in the U.S.  The last three years have shown over 50% growth from the previous year.

More followings from 2014 that are included in the Year in Review report are as follows:

  • Over 1/3 of all cumulative operative PV capacity in the U.S. came on line in 2014
  • By the end of 2014, 20 states eclipsed the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating solar PV installations.  California is solely responsible for 8.7 GW.
  • Growth is primarily driven by the utility solar PV market, which installed 1.5 GW in Q4 2014, the greatest quarterly total for any market segment ever.
  • PV installations are forecast to reach 8.1 GW in 2015, up 59% in 2014.
  • 2014 was the largest year for concentrating solar power.  Notable project completions include the 392 MW Ivanpah project, Genesis Solar project’s second phase of 125 MW and Abengoa’s Mojave Solar (250 MW).
  • All projects completed in 2014 represent $17.8 billion in investment.
  • As of the end of 2014, total operating PV in the U.S. is 18.3 GW.

The growth of solar energy is extremely beneficial for our environment.  One reason could be that it is becoming more and more affordable.  According to SEIA and GTM Research, the average of system prices has dropped 53% since 2010.  Solar energy is a great solution to power homes, businesses, schools and governments with clean, reliable, and affordable electricity.

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Record Year for Solar, California Leading the Pack

2014 was a great year for the solar industry and California was the driver of record-breaking growth of solar industry in the country.

Over 6,200 megawatts of traditional solar capacity came online in the U.S. in 2014. This is 30% more than in 2013 and enough to power over one million homes.  California was actually responsible for over half of that growth, about 3,550 megawatts.

Solar was responsible for 32% of new electricity generating capacity in the US in 2014.  Solar was the second greatest generator following natural gas, responsible for 42%.  Wind was responsible for 23% of new capacity and coal was responsible for less than 1%.

A huge reason for this boom in solar energy is that the cost of solar fell substantially in 2013 and 2014.  Cory Honeyman, a solar analyst for GTM Research, a clean-tech consulting firm, remarks are the solar industry, “There really was this growing up process over the past 24 months, where I think a lot of drivers of growth really expanded beyond regulatory-driven reasons.”

California has been the nation’s leader in the solar industry for the past eight years.  In 2014 the state installed over three times as much solar power as it did in 2012 and nine times more capacity than the second leader in the industry, North Carolina.

California’s rooftop solar industry has also dappled with diverse methods of solar power.  73 cities in Southern California installed at least one megawatt of rooftop solar in 2014.  In 2013 it was 56 cities and in 2012 it was only 22 cities.

The Solar Foundation reported that the solar industry employed almost 55,000 people in California in 2014.  California’s boom in the solar industry could be a result of a few things: a plethora of sunlight, open spaces to build these projects, the decrease in price of solar in general and legal mandates intended to limit California’s contribution to climate change.  The state’s major utilities are intending to purchase 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, a new requirement by the state.  Policymakers are actually considering increasing this mandate to 50%!

Even though 2014 was record-breaking for the solar industry, we cannot be sure if things will continue on this trajectory.  A federal investment tax credit for solar power is scheduled to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016.  This could have a huge slowing effect on the current growth of the industry.  The solar industry is predicting an 84% drop in large-scale solar installations in 2016 to 2017.  The report also projects that the industry could be able to recover by 2020 without the 30% tax credit if overall solar photovoltaic installations come close to 2016 levels.

The falling prices of solar overall could also help to balance out the decreasing tax credit.  The solar association still plans to attempt to convince Congress to extend the 30% tax credit.  If they fail, 2017 could be a difficult year, according to Ken Johnson, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industry Association.  According to Ken, “No one knows how for sure this is going to shake out.”

Three concentrated solar plans emerged in 2014 and so far there is only one planned for 2015.  A few have been “delayed indefinitely.” Concentrated solar power has an advantage over traditional solar panels.  They have the ability to store energy, which means they can generate energy after the sun goes down.  However, concentrated solar technology is more expensive.  While we have seen certain cost reductions, hopefully there are more to come.

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Public Education

Some people believe that more scientific reports are equated to a greater knowledge of climate change, which in turn supports policies that keep fossil fuels in the ground. Social science suggests that these high-profile studies are actually increasing the gap between those that understand the science and those that deny the occurrence of climate change. When one cannot accurately interpret the scientific studies, it is easier to deny the fact that climate change exists.

Dan Kahan, Yale University professor, found that polarization increases in the public as a result of science literacy increase. Kahan also found that an individual’s feelings on climate change are affected more by that individual’s interests and beliefs than by easier access to scientific facts. This is a huge problem when we are spreading climate science, even if accurate.

A great quote that is applicable in this situation was said by Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

This addresses a good question of who will bear the costs of carbon fuel use? And the better question- are the costs measured in money or energy?

Converting from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources will be expensive, too. The whole physical infrastructure of the way the public receives energy will have to be completely redone. Currently the use of fossil fuels provides a great number of jobs for Americans. These Americans are extremely dependent on their income generated from fossil fuels. And unfortunately they are too familiar with being jobless and poverty.

What should a national climate policy include economically, educationally and how should it address those coalfield communities that currently depend on fossil fuels for work.   Caring about our environment includes caring about the people who co-exist on it, too. Coming up with a climate plan if we are going to change anything includes addressing the economics of this shift. Someone needs to figure out a way to address of these concerns. After all, aren’t we trying to improve our earth for everyone?

Unfortunately environmentalists seem to not care about coalfield communities. But it is crucial for environmentalists to be careful with how they frame their arguments. They should not be insulting to coal miners. Coal miners are simply trying to feed their families. It is the coal companies that are the real enemies. Environmentalists should also be thinking about jobs and protecting the union. It is all related. If we can fix the environment while also protecting the union and our fellow workers, that will be a much better solution. And while the shift may be expensive, in the long run, it will be extremely cheaper in terms of money and resources.

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Is it Partisan? Is it education? Is it both? Part 2

Sasha Issenberg lays out the Democrat’s problems here and one of those includes that 127 million Americans vote every four years in presidential elections and only 78 million vote every two years in the other off-year elections.  And those who tend to miss out on the off-year elections happen to be the young, diverse, urban, and mobile voters who would help send Democrats to the White House.  The trick is to figure out how to get those Democrats to commit to voting.  And then of course we have to hope or rely on the fact that if this one party is in office, they will actually carry out huge social, economic and political changes on America.

It seems more likely that the way the issue of climate change will really be addressed is if we first address the problem of the influence of money in politics.  It was once recognized in an interview conducted by Sally Ranney, co-founder and president of the American Renewable Energy Institute.  In 1979 she interviewed Jimmy Carter, president at the time and cited something he had said in an earlier speech: he said Americans lacked a moral responsibility when it came to protecting the environment.  She asked if he still felt the same way and Carter responded, “I think it is a lot worse now; the country was not divided into red and blue states then and money didn’t completely control the campaigns.”

This interview was conducted in 1979 and things are only getting worse.  The public is not being educated properly.

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