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Thursday, October 27, 2016

With so many homeowners and businesses making greener energy choices, private utilities — along with big oil, gas, coal, and nuclear companies — see the writing on the wall.

Unlike some other denizens of the fossil-fueled set, this gang isn’t beating oil wells into solar panels, retiring nuclear reactors, or embracing wind and geothermal power. Instead, these guys are trying to coax lawmakers into rigging the rules against increasingly competitive new energy alternatives.

You see, the bulwarks of conventional energy are good at math. And the math is increasingly not in their favor.

Solar panels are growing so affordable, accessible, and popular that sun-powered energy accounted for 74 percent of the nation’s new electric generation capacity in the first three months of this year. Wind power comprised another 20 percent, geothermal 1 percent, and natural gas plus other sources accounted for the final 5 percent.

Coal didn’t even register.

OK, so that first-quarter surge was kind of an anomaly because it included the inauguration of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the world’s largest solar-concentrating power plant. Through a vast array of 7’x10′ mirrors located on federal land along the California-Nevada border, this remarkable site produces enough energy to power 140,000 homes. Another vast utility-scale project aptly called “Genesis Solar” ramped up too.

But the U.S. solar industry did install a record amount of new capacity in 2013. And once enough folks produce their own power on their rooftops and utility-scale clean energy becomes commonplace, demand for the juice generated by the dangerous and dirty oil, coal, gas, and nuclear industries will fizzle.

Can you imagine the economy weaning itself off of fossil fuels by the middle of this century? That’s what Denmark has officially pledged to do.

Besides, we all need to visualize this possibility. Unless most of humanity transitions to a new way of life powered by climate solutions, global warming could ultimately render the Earth uninhabitable.

Can you guess who is trying to manipulate legislation to squeeze a few more years out of the dirty-energy status quo instead of helping make a requisite green transition happen?

The American Legislative Exchange Council — a secretive national network known as ALEC — is stalking state capitols for just this purpose. ALEC’s lobbyists push a broad conservative agenda in statehouses through templated bills they tweak for state lawmakers.

What are these bills calling for? In states like ArizonaUtah, and Oklahoma, there are efforts to essentially tax homeowners who lease solar panels. But mostly ALEC is aiming for something bigger: gutting individual state “renewable portfolio standards.”

Those wonky-sounding regulations require utilities to provide a certain percentage of power from renewable sources at some set point in the future.

Alternative-energy leader California, for example, has committed to drawing a third of its juice from climate-friendly sources by 2020.

And who’s paying for this dirty work?

Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association for the 70 percent of the U.S. utility industry controlled by private companies, is behind it — according to the Center for Media and Democracy. It’s joined in this legislative attack by coal giant Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Koch Industries and other big fossil-fueled interests.

It may be hard to believe, but so far, foes of systematically encouraging renewable energy growth are losing. Badly. Even in Kansas. That state’s GOP-controlled legislature refused to repeal its renewable energy standard a few months ago in a 63-60 vote.

All 13 state-targeted efforts to chip away at or kill renewable energy standards have failed so far this year. Not one state rolled back its standards in 2013 either.

Who could have guessed that renewable energy would be so hard to foil? Well, anyone who pays attention to all the jobs it generates.

The solar industry now employs at least 142,000 people in the United States. Solar workers outnumber coal miners in this country. In Texas, solar supports more jobs than ranching and California has more solar workers than actors. Wind jobs are growing fast too. They hit a total of 80,000 last year.

Sorry, ALEC. Even the reddest states can’t ignore this rising tide of green jobs.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. 

Cross-posted from Other Words

Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr

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  • Dominick Vila

    Better late than never. The emergence of alternative energy industries in the USA, particularly solar and wind, may still be in its incipient stages compared to Western Europe, Japan, and other industrialized nations, but it is growing at leaps and bounds, and good paying jobs are being created while the neanderthals continue to demand Jurassic Park fossil fuel dependence and the construction of pipelines, regardless of how much damage they cause to our environment.
    This shift tells more about the way we – the people – are changing, than what the oil industry and its “scientists” say and demand. It is becoming readily apparent that more and more Americans are concerned with our dependence on foreign oil, coal-generated pollution, high energy prices, and the damage we have been doing to the environment.
    The next step is to make solar energy affordable.

    • sleepvark

      The military has been doing some interesting stuff with green energy. Faced with the reality that fuel trucks make excellent targets, with a big boom and lots of fire when they blow up, the military had to adapt to green sources in order to survive in the field.
      So support our troops and go green.

      • Dominick Vila

        That is very interesting. Thanks!

    • Independent1

      Dominick, they’ve already gotten the cost for solar to less than coal and are actually competitive with natural gas. Germany, the most industrialized nation on the planet for its size, has just succeeded in having solar and wind produce more than 75% of its power needs. It has wind turbines that will power 7,500 homes each.

      For those interested, take this link and watch the video for the latest on solar put on by the Sierra Club:

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The reality of life on planet earth is that natural resources are not, no matter how the Koch billionaires try to repaint it, limitless. Part of progress is to seek new, more advance, safer vistas for existence.

    The Koch bois would have Americans living as Neanderthals did if they have their way. Nothing but T-Rex for din din and a squalid cave heated by whatever is available.

    The reality is and has been for more than 4 decades that oil, coal and natural gas are a thing of the past.

    I live in the 2nd ranking state for the lion’s share of solar energy (NJ). I worked for 15 years in a totally solar building located about 3 miles from 4 homes in Hopewell NJ totally off the electric grid for a decade.

    This was accomplished by a former NASA engineer who got tired of Texas Big Oil stiffing NJ people.

    The GOP knew that all of that BS about Solyndra was hiding the reality that in CA and NJ, there are already thousands of solar energy companies. AND….the big news the GOP hates? Solar energy creates jobs right here in the US for many unemployed in construction, plumbing, electrical and engineering jobs. It has one other benefit people in NJ are proud of….it’s brought back small manufacturing for solar parts and …tah dah!……Panels produced more cheaply than in China…so much for GOP BS that panels can’t be manufactured in the US as cheaply as China.

    The worst part of the Big Oil Koch bois is how they suck taxpayers revenues dry. Either we pay exorbitant costs for their high pollutant fossil fuels or they force us to pay half the cost of spills and spill fines, not to mention their 3rd stream of US profit…our tax dollars for tax subsidies..It’s long past time to hand Big Oil, fracking and coal back to the okee dokes who can’t live in this century.

    • CPAinNewYork

      Very good posting, Ms. Whittaker, but I still think that you’re a sexist jerk.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        I don’t accept compliments from the WUSShood. Sorry…I am sexist and I’m proud of it. If a woman can’t support her own gender, what would make any woman believe you’d put a woman before yourself? The one thing most men possess? Selfishness..Me First to hell with the rest of the world…that’s you ole man.

        • RIGHT ON LADY!!! In a ‘patriarchal’ world in free-fall & demise, it’s philosophies like YOURS that just may save the human race & life on the planet… IF ONLY we could get more men to stop w/this ‘mirror, mirror…’ s#&t!!!

    • … which all are true, accurate observations, but we still have no business even considering life, business or environmental considerations from their perspective at ‘ALL!’ Left to the fossil fuel industry, we have to accept that they would be willing to destroy the entire global habitat, killing us all in the process, so long as they’re the very last of our species, w/any chance at all of getting off this then dead planet, w/their trillions, so long as they milked the globe for absolutely every pennys’ worth of profit. This is a frightening scenario, so we’d better all think about this REALLY CAREFULLY, b/c we don’t have many more elections before ‘point of no return’ is upon us & no matter what, all the environmental preservation & remediation we can think of, will do absolutely no good. Democracy was designed to be our ultimate DEFENSE against this very same sort of monopolistic, monarchal terrorism against the money-less, powerless masses, w/nothing else to fight against such powers. For those w/any doubt, Democracy, Justice, Law, Order, Equality, have a meaning that the corporatists & the very richest among us don’t get & don’t care to try to. Fine. But remember this, ‘finite…’ resources, life, time, opportunities. This is where we are now…

      • John Hayes

        don’t forget all the mining that is needed for the rare earth metals needed for solar

        • Not so in every case – much of these materials can be made from recycled materials, so the impact on the environment won’t be as significant as say, mountain-top-removal or digging in the ocean & rupturing pipelines. Compared w/sand & recycled plastics, I think U can rest easy that the environment can sustain itself til we can innovate even better, less costly (environmentally) materials… But great point…

  • stcroixcarp

    The more we can get off the grid, the less vulnerable we will be to terrorist attacks on our energy system. Every building has a roof and potential to produce some of its own energy needs with solar panels.

    • CPAinNewYork

      AND the less reason we will have for being in the Middle East.

      • johninPCFL

        Moving away from choices among which dark-ages regime to support for our oil needs seems like a sane direction.

  • howa4x

    this is where the conservative e argument falls flat. If the agenda is job creation then the republicans should support renewables. They don’t because they are truly not conservatives but fossil fuel activists. True conservatives would welcome an energy source that is outside government control. One that they install and run themselves. Koch money isn’t having a dent because it is out of step with the emerging economy. This should also give pause to those pushing for Keystone XL, and to all those who are anti environment because of the jobs issue. This proves that environmentally friendly energy sources are the real job creators, just like any emerging business. Get ready to squirm republicans you just lost the jobs debate and the underpinning of your economic message.

    • Independent1

      I give fossil fuels dominance in the U.S. about another 5 -10 plus years; alternative energy research triggered by Obama’s stimulus back in 2009 has scientists on the cusp of numerous options to produce energy from alternatives other than fossil fuels.

      We now have at least solar, wind, plasma, hydro and tidal that scientists are getting close to producing economically enough to surplant oil, gas and coal. And in a recent discovery, scientists at MIT and Harvard have actually discovered how to recover solar power in the dark.

      Here’s an excerpt from an article published by Yahoo News from an article that was in the Atlantic:

      Scientists Discover How to Generate Solar Power in the Dark

      Scientists at MIT and Harvard have devised a way to store
      solar energy in molecules that can be tapped to heat homes, water and used for cooking. The best part: the molecules can
      store energy for ever and be endlessly reused while emitting absolutely no greenhouse gases. Scientists remain a ways off from actually building this perpetual heat machine, but they have succeeded in the laboratory at demonstrating the viability of the phenomenon called photoswitching.

      Some molecules known as photoswitches can assume either of
      two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle, exposing them to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time. To liberate the energy, all you have to do is expose the molecules to a small amount of light, heat or electricity, and when they switch back to their other shape they emit heat. In effect, they
      behave as rechargeable thermal batteries: taking in energy from the sun, storing it indefinitely and then releasing it on demand.

      If anyone would like to read more, here’s the link:

  • johninPCFL

    I think Duke Energy may also be seeing the writing on the wall. They’ve abandoned plans for another nuke plant in FL (of course the GOP legislature passed a special law allowing them to charge the ratepayers for it anyway), and are shuttering the only other one (due to a botched repair attempt.) They’ve thrown all their weight in behind punishing (or at least not rewarding in any way) those who install solar on the residence. Astronomical hook-up fees for the feed-back alternators, new residential minimum fees (just in case you really get off the grid), and 10%-of-rate payments for energy you supply back to them (just in case you add too much solar.) Added together, these actions make incremental solar untenable. You can’t get there by adding a few thousand bucks per year to your system unless your appliances. etc. are 12VDC camper parts. It’s now a $50k buy-in.

    • Independent1

      Sorry to hear all that; looks like it’s really time to vote Scott and his corrupt political organization out of office.

  • DoctorMikeAnderson

    All the millions spent on science and economic obfuscation by the fossil fuel lobby not quite working out. Another case of “reality has a left wing bias”.

    • Independent1

      Your right! The fossil fuel industry is slowly losing out; even some Alabama and Mississippi power plants are moving away from coal. Here are some excerpts from an article in Forbes on the conversions:

      Mississippi and Alabama have long prided themselves on being anti-Washington, D.C. and pro-coal. At least, that was the case until earlier this month, when utilities there—led not by local politicians, but by their businessleaders—pulled a few plugs on coal-fired electricity. The news, which should help both the environment and ratepayers, broke on August 4. It involved Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co SO -0.09%., which operates power plants in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. The deal raises some questions about coal’s future in Dixie. It seems to signal that the region’s business executives don’t share the seemingly unshakable attachment that many local politicians have to coal. The business execs have apparently figured out that, besides being good for the environment, lowering CO2 emissions will end up driving electricity rates down, not up.

      The settlement has other facets that are, believe it or not, right down the fairway of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The deal includes an investment of $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy to Mississippi. Southern has said that as part of the deal, it plans to shutter some older-generation, natural-gas burning equipment at its Lonnie P. Sweatt electric plant in Meridian, Miss., shifting towards “more advanced technology or… an alternative non fossil-fuel source.”

      Third, there’s the $5 billion, 582-megawatt Kemper facility itself. It is no ordinary coal plant. It will use a low-grade lignite coal for fuel and its technology will strip 65 percent of the carbon from its emissions, for starters. And it will be the nation’s first coal-powered plant to employ carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). So its carbon footprint is expected to be about the same or even lower than a natural gas plant. The CO2 will then be recycled—used commercially for enhanced oil recovery.

  • ralphkr

    I live in Western Washington and my local P.U.D. is doing all it can to get people to install solar panels and to use alternate energy sources. They have even supported the building of a bio-plant to generate electricity (burns slash from timber to generate electricity instead of burning in the open to generate smog). The really strange thing is that this state considers hydro-electric power as a non-renewable resource.

    Back when California was starving for electricity our aluminum plants shut down because the profit was much higher selling their electricity than from smelting aluminum. Recently they spent millions taking out two dams here because the generators were outmoded and they were keeping fish from getting to their breeding grounds (since the 1920s). It would have been much cheaper to install fish ladders (my former neighbor used to do that) and install new turbines. The cherry on top is that the former lakes are now mud flats (fish do NOT spawn on mud) and the towns that had depended upon the lakes for water now have to use wells.

  • James Benton

    The green energy BS is just that… BS. It is a money making scam for the lying liberals. It is too expensive for the poor yield. Look at all te bankrupt gree enegy companes that obamboo endorsed. The tax money wasted on these scams of obamboo’s friends is criminal. Everyone involved witht it should be in prison.

  • Buffalo Bill

    Wow! A thread that is not dominated by right wing trolls.