Last week, Los Angeles joined the growing list of cities and towns banning, at least temporarily, gas and oil fracking within their borders. The main concerns are over public health and water resource preservation, but economic impacts and property values also come into play. The news comes on the heels of yet another article in the mainstream press that paints a picture of the fracking industry as a swelling bubble that will make a loud and messy noise when it pops.
Part of the reason why the fracking industry is so bloated right now is something that our friends over at Fuel Fix have dubbed the “Red Queen” effect, after the fictional Lewis Carroll character, so let’s take a look at the Los Angeles decision in that context.
Earlier this month, the building analytics company WegoWise launched a blog that provides the public with useful nuggets of data about building efficiency and water use, gleaned from the staggering amount of information it collects from scores of utility companies around the country, among other sources. The new blog, data.wegowise.com, focuses on concisely presented, interactive images that enable readers to get a visual grasp-at-a-glance of the essential elements before delving into the details.
As a means of helping to convince property owners that energy efficiency improvements are an investment, not a cost, the new blog is especially timely for New York City. New regulations embodied in Local Law 84 require owners of thousands of buildings in New York to start recording and publicizing their energy and water consumption, and WegoWise has launched a new service designed to help them comply.
Barely three years ago, the Obama administration launched the SunShot Initiative, an ambitious effort to transform solar power from an exotic, expensive form of energy into a mainstream fuel that can compete on price with petroleum, coal, and natural gas. In the latest development for low-cost solar power, last week Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced that the program is already 60 percent of the way toward its goal of bringing the average price for a utility-scale solar power plant down to the target price of six cents per kilowatt-hour.
In raw numbers, that’s a steep slide from an average of 21 cents in 2010 to only 11 cents by the end of 2013. That’s now less than the average price of electricity in the U.S., which is about 12 cents per kWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The trend toward low-cost solar power is nowhere near at an end. The new announcement came with word of yet another SunShot initiative that will help bring the cost of solar power down even more in the coming years: A $25 million funding package for innovative technologies that focuses on manufacturing costs.
If you’ve never heard the phrase “hero crop” before, you will soon. Relatively new to the lexicon, hero crop refers to sustainable crops that fulfill social benefit goals for the communities that grow them. That will include tea, if the global non-profit organization Forum for the Future has anything to say about it.
Forum for the Future has just launched a new initiative called “The Future of Tea – A Hero Crop for 2030″ with several of the seven companies responsible for 90 percent of the global tea market (yes, only seven). The group encompasses at least three brands familiar to U.S. tea drinkers: Lipton (parent company Unilever), Tetley (parent company Tata Global Beverages), and Twinings. A fourth company, Finlays, is a leading tea trader, manufacturer, and processor among other diverse activities including coffee, produce, flowers, rubber, and forestry products.
The longtime sustainable business advocacy organization Green America (formerly Co-op America) has just come out with a new report card that could help consumers identify banks that they want to do credit card business with, based on their record of investing — or not investing — in coal-fired power plants and coal mining.
The coal-free credit cards report is timely, given the three-in-a-row coal related disasters that recently polluted the Elk River and Kanawah Creek in West Virginia, and the Dan River in North Carolina, which have drawn national attention to the risks and impacts of coal mining.
Unfortunately, those three episodes are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg.
Citing a potential 40 percent gap between water resources and water needs by 2030, the U.K. based organization Carbon Trust has issued a new report highlighting water risk issues for business with the attention-getting pitch “adapt or die.” Though somewhat alarming, the turn of phrase is timely here in the U.S., where the West Virginia chemical spill in the Elk River and the North Carolina coal ash spill in the Dan River have dramatically illustrated the consequences of lax regulation and fossil fuel dependency.
The report is also timely for U.S. businesses because a new Ceres report on fracking and water risks has turned up the heat on water resource issues.
Rather than dwelling on risks, though, the Carbon Trust report is all about solutions and opportunities, as you can gather by the title “Opportunities in a resource constrained world: How business is rising to the challenge.”
The green investment organization Ceres has just released a new report on oil and gas fracking in the U.S., and it adds to the red flags that have been popping up over the fracking industry for the last couple of years. The report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers,” underscores the urgency of addressing the risk that fossil fuel extraction poses to water resources – and to the investment community.
The report comes on the heels of the Ceres 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk in January. That event launched the organization’s Clean Trillion Campaign, which aims to prod the investment community in a climate-ethical direction by exposing emerging risks and indicating the path to more financially sustainable strategies.
A group of 17 leading foundations has announced a new initiative to encourage fossil fuel divestment by the philanthropic community. Called Divest-Invest Philanthropy, the new effort launched Jan. 30 in support of a growing movement among other nonprofit endowments, including academic, health, pension and religious foundations.
Divest-Invest comes at a time when climate-related events are shining a spotlight on the future risks that fossil fuel investors face, as highlighted by the Jan. 15 Ceres Investor Summit on Climate Risk.
Also of interest to investors is the long-awaited State Department Keystone XL pipeline report, which was finally released on Jan. 30.
The report identified a number of risks and impacts, including several related to environmental justice issues. The next step in the review process promises to be even more interesting, as it includes a public comment period and input from the Environmental Protection Agency and at least seven other federal agencies – the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security.
The Marie Claire 2014 Prix d’Excellence de la Beauté award has gone to an algae oil company called Solazyme, making it one of only two U.S. brands to garner a prize against hundreds of entrants this year. The award indicates excellence in both innovation and performance. That’s a pretty high mark for a company better known for algae biofuel, but Solazyme actually covers four markets with its unique algae oil extraction technology: fuels, chemicals, nutritionals and personal care.
Announced earlier this month, the award was given unanimously by a panel of judges for the company’s Algenist® line of skin care products. That’s great timing for Solazyme. The company has just announced the start of commercial algae oil operations at two integrated locations in Iowa, which together showcase the company’s ability to hop nimbly from one market to another.
The Environmental Protection Agency has just released its annual Climate Protection Partnerships report, and it indicates that the U.S. is in a strong position to achieve economic growth – in other words, job growth – as it transitions to safer, healthier and more sustainable forms of energy. The report comes on top of great news for job growth in the solar industry, with as-yet untapped offshore wind energy and vast reserves of geothermal energy offering potential for even greater growth in the green jobs sector.
That’s something to keep in mind as the battle over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline gathers a new head of steam. Now that the State Department has delivered a required environmental report, it has to move forward and consult with other U.S. agencies to consider a variety of potential impacts the project could have on the public, and that includes economic impacts.
Almost three weeks after the notorious West Virginia chemical spill at the Freedom Industries storage facility contaminated the entire water supply over a nine-county area, you’d expect the crisis to be winding down, especially since authorities declared the water safe to drink days ago. However, it just keeps getting worse. In the latest developments, the amount spilled was revised upwards, water quality issues are still ongoing, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has written to the Federal Emergency Management Agency pleading for long-term help.
We noted before that the West Virginia chemical spill provides an unfortunate textbook case for what not to do in private sector hazard mitigation and disaster planning. The spill originated from private property, and it affected a privately-owned water supply system, the owner of which, West Virginia American Water, was also woefully unprepared for potential hazards to its Elk River intakes.
Combined with gaping holes in government oversight, the result was a perfect storm of corporate irresponsibility.
Back in 2012 we noted that Philadelphia was embarking on a landmark 25-year, $2 billion urban watershed project designed to transform its outdated stormwater management system into a national showcase for new green infrastructure. Now the city is ready for the next step, a newly announced $5 million urban watershed evaluation initiative that will use Philadelphia as the pilot area.
The whole project is fascinating for any number of reasons, but the overarching narrative is the transformation of urban areas from generators of waste and pollution into dynamic systems that return resources with little or no waste.
The West Virginia chemical spill has already faded out of the national spotlight but local communities are still feeling the aftereffects. The spill contaminated the water supply of a private water company serving a nine-county area starting on January 9, making the water unfit for any purpose but flushing toilets. Three hundred thousand people have been affected along with businesses, hospitals, schools, and other institutions.
State and water company officials began declaring the water safe to use and drink in some areas last week, but shortly afterward they had to issue an advisory for pregnant women. Since then, the “safe” designation has expanded to cover all of the affected areas, but the West Virginia Gazette reports that hospital admissions for chemical-related symptoms have skyrocketed, indicating that the declaration was premature.
That’s just one of the latest developments as West Virginia continues to deal with the aftermath of a major public health crisis, including a new report that the initial chemical identified in the spill may not have been the only one.
A textbook example of what not to do
GreenBiz has just come out with its seventh annual State of Green Business Report, which pulls no punches in terms of bad news. The raw numbers are nothing to shout about, some important metrics are flat or even declining. However, GreenBiz sees plenty of cause for optimism in several significant areas that are not quantified.
In particular, with the recent West Virginia chemical spill still fresh in our minds, we’d like to take a closer look at over-arching trend expressed by GreenBiz:
…a growing recognition among the public that “sustainability” isn’t just about preserving icebergs, rainforests and charismatic megafauna. It is also about public health, community well-being, food security, affordable housing and alleviating poverty.
A major CBS 60 Minutes story on the clean tech sector has been picked apart mercilessly for playing fast and loose with the facts about public and private investment in new energy technology since it first aired on January 5. If you’ve been following along you may already be very familiar with most of the rebuttals, but it’s still well worth reading an open letter to CBS written by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which he posted on the Khosla Ventures website on January 14.
Aside from rebutting the distortions, misrepresentations and errors in the 60 Minutes story point by point, Khosla’s letter provides a concise rundown of the the state of clean tech investment today, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about clean tech investment in the coming months.