It’s that high-drama time of year again, and we don’t mean the upcoming Black Friday sales mayhem over the Thanksgiving holidays. Nope, it’s time once again for Congress to consider extending the production tax credit for wind energy.
When the wind tax credit was created in 1992, it mirrored the long history of taxpayer support enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry. The intention was to serve the public welfare mission of Congress by fostering the development of domestic energy resources. And as a matter of fact: Congress extended the tax credit for wind as a matter of routine until the past several years, when it became the subject of fierce partisan debate.
The U.S. wind industry was pretty small potatoes in the 1990s, and if it had remained that way, you could have made a good case for dispensing with continued taxpayer support. However, in recent years wind energy technology has improved by leaps and bounds, resulting in exponential growth for the industry. The U.S. wind industry is on track to become a main underpinning of the future domestic energy platform, with costs on par with — or better than — fossil fuels, and industry advocates have the stats to back it up.
Wind energy is big business
First up is a new article from Forbes, detailing the impact of low-cost wind energy on the Texas economy.
Drawing from an analysis compiled by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Forbes contributor Peter Kelly-Detwiler described how Texas consumers are saving millions on their energy bills. The commercial sector is also saving millions on hedging against fuel price volatilities, Kelly-Detwiler reported.
With costs continuing to drop, wind energy presents millions in expected savings compared to other fuel prices.
That’s just for starters. As described by Kelly-Detwiler, the AWEA analysis also embraces social benefits. Specifically, the cuts in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide pollution are expected to get a savings of about $652 million, $71 million and $1 billion respectively.
We’ve been sharing the green love for General Motors’ gas-electric Chevy Volt and the all-electric Spark, and for obvious reasons not so much when it comes to the company’s beloved but notoriously thirsty Corvette. However, the new 2015 Corvette demonstrates that a mix of technology and imagination can help preserve the identity of an iconic brand while setting a course for future improvement.
On the tech side, the new 2015 Corvette Stingray and and Z06 sport a new eight-speed automatic transmission that boosts the EPA highway rating to 29 miles per gallon, a 3.5 percent increase over the six-speed version.
What’s even more interesting is the unusual choice that GM has made for recycling leftovers from manufacturing the 2015 Corvette. Hint: Yes, it involves bats.
The tubes started buzzing earlier this week with news that leading corporations 3M, Cisco Systems, and Kimberly-Clark Corporation have partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation and the National Geographic Society to offer their employees something that we’re going to call “instant” solar financing on their home solar systems. The idea is to take advantage of bulk-order group purchasing power to slash costs, and to vet one standout solar company to manage the financing and pre-qualify reliable contractors to provide the installations.
Giving employees a great deal on home solar installations is just part of the perk. The other part is relieving individual solar purchasers from all the time, hassle, and guesswork involved in choosing a reliable solar financing and installation company.
The solar company selected by the partnership is Geostellar, which has received Energy Department funding to develop a low cost, streamlined solar purchasing process that enables it to offer one of the best solar deals, if not the best, available today.
But wait, there’s more — lots more. The excitement was touched off by a story in The New York Times on October 22, but the new solar financing partnership is just one small piece of a huge bundle of solar initiatives announced by the Obama Administration back on October 18. Somehow that slipped under our radar, so before we dig deeper into the solar financing perk let’s take a look at the whole package.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota has just entered into a first-of-its kind Clean Energy Partnership with its two utilities, Xcel Energy and the natural gas company CenterPoint. The new agreement renews the city’s franchise agreements with both utilities to include more consumer choices for clean energy, more support for renewable energy development in Minnesota, an increased focus on energy efficiency, and a more vigorous program to transition municipal facilities into more clean energy and improved efficiency.
Assuming that both of the utilities deliver on their promises, Minneapolis energy consumers can probably thank the good people of Boulder for helping to bring the Clean Energy Partnership into being. Boulder also has Xcel as its utility, but Boulder voters have taken an entirely different route toward bumping their energy supply into 21st-century renewable sources. It seems that Xcel is determined not to let the same thing happen in Minneapolis.
Carbon offsets have emerged as a key tool for businesses looking to transition toward more sustainable ways of operating. Selling them can help a company finance clean energy projects or take other sustainability measures that fit its business operations. For businesses that can’t leverage those opportunities on their own, buying carbon offsets can still help raise their green profile in meaningful ways. If your business has already gained some progress, carbon offsets can also help you embrace a broader field of action.
In other words, carbon offsets can provide your business with the flexibility to support more effective action than it could maintain individually. That all seems pretty simple, but in practice, it’s not. There are literally hundreds of legitimate carbon offsets available, and more are emerging every day. Not all of them are a particularly effective match for an individual business, especially when it comes to branding.
The good news is: Carbon offsets have been around for a while, which means that there is a vast amount of research and guidance available to assist you with your purchase.
It’s barely 18 months old, but President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative is already in position to help propel African nations into a renewable energy future. In the latest development, Power Africa has announced 22 renewable energy innovators who have received grants of up to $100,000 each under the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge. The grants are partly funded by General Electric.
If you take a peek behind the curtain, though, you’ll see that natural gas also plays a featured role in the broader Power Africa initiative. That doevetails with GE’s involvement, since aside from funding renewable energy projects the company has also begun to market a fossil-powered, transportable generating unit in Africa under its Ecomagination energy innovation program.
So, does this mean GE is competing with itself, or are there other factors at play in the Africa off-grid energy market?
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a short series on creating resilient cities, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens and Arup on October 1, where we’ll talk about this issue live! RSVP here.
As a coastal city with an inland water supply, New York City faces a unique set of challenges for climate change resiliency in a future marked by frequent, destructive coastal storms and rising sea levels.
In terms of clean water supply, New York has one advantage thanks to resiliency planning that dates back to the early 19th century. At that time, urban sprawl, commerce and industry quickly overwhelmed Manhattan’s patchwork of privately-owned wells after the Revolutionary War.
Rather than continuing to dig wells within the city, planners developed a system of reservoirs far inland at higher elevations, some as far as 125 miles away, relying almost exclusively on gravity-powered aqueducts and water tunnels. The incorporation of Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island into New York City was impelled partly by Manhattan’s lock on reliable, expandable inland water resources, as groundwater in those boroughs proved inadequate to sustain population growth. Only one group of public wells continued to serve part of Queens until 2007, when they, too, were finally put out of service.
The city’s wastewater resiliency, however, is a different story.
When your pooled assets add up to more than $600 billion, people tend to pay attention when you write them a letter about sustainable palm oil. That seems to be the case in Friday’s announcement by five major palm oil producers, which pledged to self-impose an immediate moratorium on clearing high carbon stock forests.
The announcement came a week after four of the companies received a letter from a group of investors spearheaded by Green Century Capital Management, with collective assets topping the aforementioned $600 billion. In addition to calling for the moratorium, the Green Century letter urged the producers to adopt more sustainable palm oil practices, in accordance with a growing number of industry stakeholders.
Unfortunately, that’s where things could get sticky.
New coal ash disposal regulations are slowly winding their way through the approval process, but leading U.S. waste company Waste Management (WM) is not letting any grass grow under its feet. WM is already betting the ranch that new regulations for coal ash disposal will result in a major opportunity to grow its business and create new jobs.
As a corollary to seeking new coal ash disposal opportunities, WM is also transitioning into a new, more efficient business model for its municipal waste disposal operations, particularly in the area of food waste recycling. Because of the sheer size of the company, this dual move into coal ash disposal and food waste recycling demonstrates a job-creating potential that will counterbalance the “job-killing” criticism routinely leveled at new EPA regulations.
If you’ve been following the sustainability initiatives of racing tracks affiliated with NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), the idea of a green auto racing industry is beginning to make sense. Last Sunday, the Michigan International Speedway chipped in with its own addition to the effort.
The Speedway made a high-profile pitch for renewable energy in partnership with the utility Consumers Energy, using its Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup event as the springboard for announcing a raft of new green energy programs.
As part of the historically petroleum-dependent NASCAR circuit, the Speedway’s contribution to sustainability offers some dependable guideposts for businesses seeking to transition into a more sustainable energy model, so let’s take a closer look and see what they’re up to.
The food industry has been discovering the bottom line benefits of recovering biogas from food waste, and farmers are realizing similar returns from manure biogas recovery. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture just chipped in with the new Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, part of which demonstrates how marrying food waste and manure could turn those two massive disposal streams into a valuable asset for U.S. farmers.
The Roadmap specifically focuses on the role that livestock farmers can play in reducing methane emissions while adding more renewable biogas to the U.S. energy portfolio. Since the Roadmap was prepared with considerable input from the agriculture industry including the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, let’s take a look at the manure/food waste commingling aspect from the dairy farm perspective.
The new UPS sustainability report has come out and so has the company’s latest financial report. That coincidence provides an opportunity to take a closer look at the strategies that mature companies can enlist to maintain profitability while juggling two colossal new challenges to their business model: the demands of an increasingly carbon-constrained economy and the emergence of significant new market forces enabled by online technology.
The financial report makes it clear that UPS has recognized that new online shopping trends demand new investments. The shipping giant was overwhelmed by a rush of online orders last holiday season, and it is determined to step up its game this year with a $175 million stake in new sorting infrastructure and software improvements.
That investment resulted in a short-term hit on profitability, but UPS is confident that it will pay off in the long run. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the company’s new ‘Committed to More’ sustainability report.
If you’re not familiar with Tenn-Tom now, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot more about it in the future. Tenn-Tom is the Tennessee-Tombigee Waterway, a huge public infrastructure project with a history that dates back to the earliest explorations of the North American continent in the 1500s. After literally centuries of dreaming, Tenn-Tom finally became a reality in 1984.
Built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the 30-year-old Tenn-Tom is now due for an upgrade. USACE is using the opportunity to showcase a new, energy efficient approach to infrastructure improvements. If your business is contemplating an infrastructure upgrade, this is a good one to watch for best practices insights.
As part of Triple Pundit’s sponsored series with International Paper, last week we had a chance to pick the brains of Jeff Shumaker, the company’s Manager of Regulatory Affairs, and now we get to share some of his insights into waste management with you. IP has set a medium-term waste management goal, with the aim of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills by 30 percent by 2020.
Modern papermaking faces a particular set of waste stream challenges, but given the waste management progress documented by other manufacturers the goal of 30 percent seems reasonable. However, Shumaker also articulated a pathway for his company — and perhaps yours — to achieve a much more ambitious goal of achieving zero manufacturing waste.
Fuel cells have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to beating out lithium-ion batteries for domination of the emerging electric vehicle market. “A lot” is an understatement. When you ask auto industry followers about the potential for fuel cell electric vehicles, you are likely to be met with rolled eyes and a repetition of the same old joke: “They say fuel cells are the next big thing, and they’ve been saying that for 30 years.”
However, if you take a look at what’s been going on in at least one specialty niche of the EV market, you can catch a glimpse of the possibility for fuel cells to win out, at least for some applications. That potential is illustrated by Plug Power and Ace Hardware, which have paired up to bring entire fleets of fuel cell electric vehicles into shipping and handling operations.