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Can a discount change consumer choices for the better?

Walmart and healthcare insurance provider Humana are betting yes.

In a program touted as a first-of-its-kind partnership, Humana customers will get a 5% discount on healthy food choices at Walmart.

Via PRNewswire.com:

Walmart and HumanaVitality Partner for First-of-its-Kind Healthier Food Program Designed to Incentivize Wellness in America

Beginning on Oct. 15, more than one million HumanaVitality members who shop at Walmart will be eligible for a new program which offers a five percent savings on products that qualify for Walmart’s Great For You icon, including fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.

This program is asking, will consumers buy more healthy food if we reduce the price barriers?

Which brings up what I think it a far more interesting question.

Why is it that apples are costlier than chips in the first place?

It’s not that the apples are expensive, really. It’s that the chips are cheaper, because of subsidies.

The question I’d like to see answered is:  What do consumer buying choices look like when incentives for making healthy food affordable are evenly matched with subsidies that allow  junk food to be so cheap?

While this is a little afield from my normal Sustainability posts, bear with me.

What if the question were instead, “Can a discount change consumer choices for the greener?

It takes us to the same place.

Like, say, with renewable energy sources.

We could just as easily ask : Why is clean, renewable power costlier than fossil-based fuels in the first place?

The answer is, it’s not. Fossil-fuels are cheaper because they are subsidized.

Worldwide, fossil-fuel is subsidized at six times the rate for renewables, according to the 2011 World Energy Outlook.

But grid parity–the point when renewable energy costs less than fossil-based fuels is coming, due to rapid advances in renewable energy technologies. It’s already a reality today in India, Spain and Italy.

(Update! Solar is cheaper than fossil in Massachusetts too.)

The playing field will look different once apples–I mean renewables–are on an even playing field with less-healthy, less-sustainable choices.

So, back to Walmart and Humana. What’s in it for them to discount apples?

If the bet pans out (and the research says it will): healthier, happier, loyal customers all around.

I support most anything that encourages consumers to buy healthier food. (If today’s Mark Bittman column linking Alzheimer’s disease to junk food doesn’t turn you off corn chips, I don’t know what will.)

I’m hopeful that the research that comes out of this partnership will help move Americans to buy more apples.

And by extension, support a shift towards supporting economically prudent, sustainable choices in other arenas, like energy.

Thanks to Jonathan Low for his post that alerted me to this story.

 

 

Homegrown renewable, clean energy.

Without fracking, drilling, stripmining, or pipelining.

I didn’t know that the U.S. government was planning solar sites on public lands:

Obama Administration Releases Roadmap for Solar Energy Development on Public Lands

More via renewableenergyworld.com:

Western Solar Zones to Streamline Development on Public Lands

The document, released by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, is the culmination of two years of dialogue between regulators, environmentalists, industry advocates and the public at large. On Tuesday, the DOI unveiled the much-awaited Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which sets a vision for development on public lands in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Interior has approved 17 zones for utility-scale solar energy projects on about 285,000 acres of public land with combined resources of nearly 32,000 megawatts (MW). It also sets up a process to allow development of what the DOI calls “well-sited projects” on 19 million acres outside those zones. PEIS estimates that the zones and the variance areas will eventually lead to about 23,700 MW of development.

The plan is being well-received by environmental groups and local stakeholders.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

DOI Issues Well-Received Solar Plan for US West

Leading environmental and solar industry groups issued a press release endorsing the plan, including Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon Society,  Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Solar Energy Industries Association, Southern California Edison, Vote Solar, First Solar, and Brightsource Solar.

U.S. public lands are our Commons. Deciding how to use, maintain and preserve  our country’s resources is a shared responsibility among all of us.

So is NJ solar in better shape now, or not?

On July 23, Governor Christie signed a solar-saving bill that will prop up New Jersey’s solar industry.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Christie Signs Bill to Help Stabilize Solar Sector

It took a lot longer than expected, but a much-debated bill to maintain and potentially enhance New Jersey’s efforts to develop solar energy in the state was signed into law yesterday by Gov. Chris Christie.

The bill (S-1925), a priority of the Christie administration with bipartisan support in the Legislature for more than six months, aims to ensure investments in solar do not dry up in New Jersey, which is second only to California in the number of solar arrays –with 16,000 systems installed here.

But in the same breath, the Christie administration announced plans to slash the funds that help businesses and NJ homeowners buy into the solar market.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

State May Slash Clean Energy Fund Almost by Half

The state is considering cutting its funding for new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects almost in half, a consequence of the Legislature’s and Christie administration’s decision to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from New Jersey’s clean energy program.

In a draft proposal circulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities last week, the budget for the clean energy program would allocate $339 million in new spending, a sharp reduction from the $651 million proposed by the agency last December.

The cuts are a result of the diversion of money raised from gas and electric customers to help homeowners and businesses find ways to reduce their energy use, and promote the development of cleaner sources of producing electricity, primarily solar and wind.

The clean energy fund has helped propel New Jersey to be a leader in promoting clean energy, a status underscored by the fact that is second only to California in the number of solar installations.

The cuts aren’t certain. Michael Winka, director of NJ’s Clean Energy Program is requesting stakeholders and citizen comments on the proposal.

I expect he’ll be getting a lot of mail in coming weeks.

 

 

New Jersey’s newest solar farm is located on a 13-acre closed landfill in Kearny. From fallow to flourishing, the site is expected to power 500 homes.

A key success here in my mind–and hopefully a model for future development–is that this project required a lot of people with their own agendas and motivations to work together. It could not have been easy to coordinate this first-in-class project between a state-regulated public utility (PSE&G), a joint government/business  commission, private industry, and state government officials.

Via NJSpotlight.com and Tom Johnson’s reporting:

New Jersey’s Newest Solar Farm Is a Real Dump

Large-scale solar project built on former landfill in Meadowlands produces enough power for up to 500 homes

Public Service Electric & Gas and others yesterday dedicated a new 3-megawatt solar farm on 13 acres of the former landfill, producing enough electricity to power up to 500 homes.

The $17.8 million solar farm project, a joint effort between PSE&G, the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, and SunDurance Energy, an Edison-based solar developer, is the first solar project built on a state-owned landfill.

Mr. Johnson, thank you for an informative article and a headline that made me smile.

NJ’s Franklin Township public officials are grappling with a proposed 20-megawatt solar-power “farm” on nearly 100 acres of privately held property currently zoned as farmland.

New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act grants property owners lower tax assessments for farming or otherwise productively using their land.  The law allows for up to 10 acres to be covered with solar panels.

Since this proposal is for 10 times that limit, the owner would necessarily relinquish the farmland assessment to get into a new kind of farming.

Is this a good move for the township?

What are the risks and benefits of losing 100 acres of open space relative to this project’s clean energy generation potential?

Will the land owner be permitted to build this project?

Via NJ.com:

‘Solar Farm’ Proposal Called ‘Biggest Project’ Franklin Township Has Ever Seen

Franklin Claims Jurisdiction on Evaluating den Hollander’s Solar Project

Stay tuned for the discussions this project will raise around land use, renewable energy, and private property rights in NJ, the Crowded State.

Public hearings are scheduled for late March.

Whose interests are being promoted when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on the environment? The answers are in the budget details.

First, NJ Governor Christie’s under-the-radar Clean Energy fund cut. Hat-tip to reporter Tom Johnson for reporting this scoop:

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Christie Quietly Diverts $210 Million From Clean Energy Fund
Administration justifies appropriation by arguing the money is ‘surplus dollars’

The governor did not mention the diversion in his speech to lawmakers, nor was it disclosed at a budget briefing for reporters earlier in the day. It only came to light late in the afternoon when the administration released a 145-page budget summary for the 2013 fiscal year — a single line item identifying $210 million in interagency fund transfers to the general fund.

And two links views on how the environment and clean energy might fare with President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal:

Via CleanWaterAction.org:

The President’s Budget – Do the Math

The proposal includes increased funds for the research, program development, and enforcement of health and environmental laws.  In fact, one of the biggest increases in the EPA budget is for strapped state programs which bear the day-to-day responsibility of implementing federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act.  Funding for the Agency’s drinking water program is increased, particularly important for Clean Water Action’s work watchdogging SDWA implementation. These aren’t always headline grabbing activities, but they’re critical to enabling government to carry out the intent of that law – clean drinking water from our nation’s public water systems. We’re also glad to see increased investment in small drinking water systems, who are often most challenged by the costs up-to-date drinking water treatment.

Via RealEnergyWriters.com

Obama’s Budget Good for Energy Efficiency

In all, Obama increases the Department of Energy budget by 3.2%,  bringing it to $27.2 billion for 2013. He allots $2.3 billion for both the efficiency and renewable energy programs in EERE, and maintains Energy Star spending at the same level. Funding for  high-risk research increases 27% and for manufacturing advancement 150%. Obama offers an 80% increase in programs that cut energy use in buildings and factories. He also continues to press Congress to pass the HomeStar bill to reduce household energy use.

 

 

New Jersey’s newest crop might be….gasoline?

Via NJ Spotlight:

Garden State Company Converts Biomass into ‘Green Gasoline’

A Hillsborough company is betting it can convert wood pellets and other biomass into a renewable gasoline.

Primus Green Energy, an 11-year-old company, already has produced fuel samples from a pilot plant located in a three-building complex off of Route 206, just north of Princeton. It now is building a demonstration plant at the facility and hopes to break ground next year on a commercial plant.

A commenter to the story has asked for more detail on where the raw material will be sourced. I’ll update once I know more.

Manhattan is an island. An island bounded by tidal waters.

If you want to make it on the island itself, push and never give up.

To survive on the water requires a different strategy: go with the flow.

Recreational human-powered boaters–at least the smart ones–time their travels with the tidal advantage. At peak flow, the current can reach 5 knots per hour. That’s swift enough to bring the strongest kayaker to a standstill.

In a first-ever pilot, the East River’s power will be harnessed to generate electricity.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

Verdant Gets License to Build Tidal Plant in NYC Waters

Verdant Power has been awarded a 10-year license for a tidal wave energy plant in New York City’s East River.

Verdant, which has been pushing the project forward since 2002, has tested six turbines there, which is actually a tidal strait between the New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound. The power produced by that demonstration project powered a Gristedes supermarket and a parking garage on Roosevelt Island.

This is the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has awarded a tidal wave license. This “pilot” license will allow Verdant to demonstrate commercial viability, while also determining potential environmental impacts.

Go to article.