Writing for a Bluer, Greener World
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27
January
2014

New Jersey used to be clean energy and climate leader.

We’re not anymore. But we can be again. (Newsroom!)

Here are 5 things that have changed since Governor Christie first took office in January 2010.

(I’m indebted to Scott Dodd’s Nov. 2013 Slate and Katherine Bagley’s Dec. 2013 InsideClimate pieces. They connected a lot of the dots for me and provided important links in this post.)

1. We used to have an office of Climate and Energy.

It was dismantled by Governor Christie soon after he was inaugurated in January 2010. But thanks to the Internet, we can see how Global Warming used to have a prominent role on the state government’s website, with links to the Office of Climate and Energy. See, the old page is still there.

Solution: Sign the “Create Office of Clean Energy” bill that was approved by both houses of our Legislature but pocket vetoed by Governor Christie on Wed, Jan. 22.

2. We used to be part of RGGI.

RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is a multi-state cap-and-trade system that creates jobs, brings clean energy investment to the state, and moves us closer to NJ’s mandated 2020 GHG emissions goals.

Its current members are the nine states that surround NJ: CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, RI, and VT.

And we used to make 10. Governor Christie pulled NJ out of RGGI in 2011 and has twice vetoed efforts to let the voters decide. We’re missing out on good jobs, cleaner air, and clean energy growth.

Solution: Let’s rejoin. The best move on the table right now is to sue, and that’s what’s happening.

On Jan. 8, three NJ appellate court judges heard testimony from Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council based on the lawsuit they filed in 2012.

Here’s a good article from Environment New Jersey on what’s at stake.

3. We could have been part of the NE “Clean Air” coalition.

The governors of our neighboring Northeastern states decided that it’s not OK for states West and South of us to spew their coal-plant air pollution our way.

So, the Governors of those states are asking the EPA for help to stop it: DE, CT, ML, MA, NH, NY, RI, and VT.

Gov. Christie decided that NJ didn’t need to be part of this effort so he didn’t sign on.

Solution: Come on. Let’s join all our neighbors in fighting for cleaner air.

4. We used to be #2 in solar installations.

Now we’re #6. That’s right, NJ was the #2 state for solar for several years behind gigantic, sunny California.

You want to know why solar is such a good fit for NJ’s clean energy needs? Because we have so many darned big flat roofs on our commercial buildings. Not to mention, a bevy of formerly-industrial brownfield sites that are perfect for solar arrays. And close to the all-important power distribution grid.

So what changed? It’s complicated but it has to do with how NJ set it up financial incentives called SRECs, federal cash grants, state incentives, and the 2008 financial crisis. (This July 2012 Star-Ledger article will help.)

As well, Christie raided dedicated clean-energy funds to balance his budget. Like $1billion.

Solution: Let’s reestablish the Office of Clean Energy (See #1) and let them do their job.

5. Our Governor used to believe that taking action against human-caused climate change was a state priority for his office.

As recently as 2011, Governor Christie said: “In the past I’ve always said that climate change is real and it’s impacting our state.”

Not anymore. His equivocations around using the words Sandy and climate change in the same sentence are well documented. One long but well-worth-it read.

Solution: Governor Christie can step firmly and decisively on the right side of history and even be a leader for climate change action.

* * *

Remember the slogan “Trenton Makes, the World Takes?” That’s not just a slogan.

New Jersey has a proud history of getting the job done.

There’s no more important issue facing us today than preparing for climate change impacts. We can and should be doing it right now.

Want to be part of the solution?

Come to the Feb. 20 NJPPN event with Geoffrey Feinberg from Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication and Climate Nexus. It’s called America’s Future: Communicating with our Neighbors on Climate Change.

RSVP today.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Government - (0 Comments)
14
January
2013

What a great, memorable, accessible concept.

Think Bright. Not Brown.

“Brownfields into Brightfields” means means transforming unproductive industrial spaces into energy-producing solar power installations.

As a NJ native, I grew up on the concept of brownfields. These are spaces that have already been used for commercial or industrial use. They are “brown” in that they are usually cemented over.  They aren’t green, haven’t been for a long time and they won’t ever be again.

No trees. No shade. Cracked cement. High chainlink fences.

Often contaminated, making them unsuitable for many purposes.

Usually close to densely populated areas, but not in the middle of things.

Which makes them perfect sites for energy-producing, job-creating, renewable energy projects.

The EPA has been on this idea for years.

Via epa.gov:

Brightfields Initiatives

Brightfields is a revolutionary concept that addresses three of the nation’s biggest challenges — urban revitalization, toxic waste cleanup, and climate change — by bringing pollution-free solar energy and high-tech solar manufacturing jobs to brownfields.

The Brightfields approach offers a range of opportunities to link solar energy to brownfields redevelopment and thereby transform community hazards and eyesores into productive, green ventures.

This unprecedented campaign will help our nation put its hundreds of thousands of brownfields back into productive use and at the same time create high-tech jobs in blighted urban neighborhoods, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With thanks to National Geographic writer Christina Nunez, I learned about about a Brightfield project in Hackensack, NJ.

Via theenergycollective.com:

Turning Brownfields Into Brightfields With Solar Energy

Thousands of contaminated tracts of land labeled brownfields by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may eventually provide the valuable real estate needed for renewable energy projects, and New Jersey is at the forefront of using such sites to bolster its status as a leader in solar energy.

The utility PSE&G is installing 4,000 solar panels on a six-acre site in Hackensack, N.J., that was once the home of a gas plant and then gas storage facilities. For this site and many others, cleaning up the land for traditional development is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

This is another one of these private-public-industry partnerships that have the power to actually work.

I wrote about a similar project back in May 2012.

Green Government: NJ Dump Gets New Life as Solar Farm

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.

Brownfields seemed like places beyond repair. Turns out they are part of a brighter future.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Government | Green Links | Green Science - (0 Comments)
26
September
2012

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.

 

 

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Shift - (0 Comments)
25
July
2012

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Government | Green Politics - (0 Comments)
15
June
2012

Pony up for a stable, strong solar sector in NJ.

With tax subsidies.

That’s essentially the gist of the conversation in Trenton right now.

It’s pretty clear that the sector will collapse without financial support from taxpayers.

The question is, how much?

And will that cost be worth it?

Here’s a solid round-up of the issues and major players:

Via AsburyParkPress.com:

Solar Subsidies Raise Questions

Proponents say it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, noting solar energy has the promise of meeting a reasonable balance of environmental, reliability and economic objectives.

The Governor is aligned with major industry players who say that supporting solar subsidies is the right move now.

Pay a little bit now, get a lot of jobs and future revenues later.

Opponents claim that it’s time to stop propping up solar and let market forces (aka “survival of the fittest”) decide.

I’d be down with the let-the-market-decide if it were a level playing field.

It’s not.

Oil enjoys tremendous government subsidies. The thing is, we’ve all gotten so used to it that we forget to account for it in the math.

Here’s a nifty infographic on what oil and solar would look like with comparable support.

Via Ecopreneurist.com:

What if Solar Power Had Fossil-Fuel like Subsidies?

Governor Christie knows that too many people have skin in the solar sector to let it go down.

For once, I’m in agreement.

 

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Government - (0 Comments)
12
June
2012

The coolest city in the world has a new claim for being hot.

As in, solar energy hot.

New York City has announced it will be a Solar Energy Hub.

What’s that?

It’s basically the whole city being a  living laboratory to figure out the best, more cost efficient ways for cities around the world to get solar-powered.

Through a partnership with IBM, CUNY, and the City of New York, the Hub will track, measure, implement and then share best practices for deploying large-scale urban, networked PV power grids.

All online. All in real-time.

Note the triple-win partnership: business, academic, government.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

NYC Solar Hub to Bring Solar to Cities Worldwide

Using IBM’s intelligent software platform for Smarter Cities, the output of every solar system in the city can be seen in real time, giving crucial information on whether that’s enough energy to offset costly upgrades to the grid or use fossil fuel  generators during peak usage periods.

CUNY Ventures, a City University of New York (CUNY) Economic Development Corporation, will be able to monitor and analyze solar production and capacity through the NYC Solar Portal on the web. They’ll be able to fine-tune current resource use, quickly identify barriers, foster inter-agency permitting and tracking, solar empowerment zones, and a NYC Solar Map – which shows existing solar PV and solar thermal installations in the city and estimates the solar PV potential for every, single rooftop (1 million in NYC).

Included in the individual calculations for every building is how much solar can be installed, how much power that will generate, how much can be saved on an annual electricity bill, how many pounds of carbon emissions can be reduced each year, and what the equivalent would be in planting trees.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Government - (0 Comments)
5
April
2012

It’s a beautiful thing when the right thing is the easiest (and cheapest) thing.

Here’s a new idea (to me):  It’s called a “Solar Garden.”

Think of it as a community garden for renewable energy.

The energy company puts up solar panels, you buy one, and each month you receive credit for the power generated by “your” panel off your bill.

Via doe.gov and WindsorBeacon.com:

Solar garden planned for Poudre Valley REA

The project will encompass more than 400 solar panels generating 115,000 watts of electricity.

. . .

The solar garden concept allows all consumers to participate in renewable energy, including renters, those with poorly sighted properties and individuals of all income levels, without having to build a costly system of their own, and reap the benefits directly on their monthly electric bills through the utility.

What I love most is that this is a joint venture between a for-profit company that facilitates replicable, scalable clean power generation with real-time Smart Meters,  and a not-for-profit member-owned electric power cooperative.

Upsides:

1. Fair, Affordable, Accessible: Levels the playing field for renters, low-income folks, and those with non-solar-friendly homes.

2. Consistent Production: Colorado receives 300 days of sunshine a year for dependable generation.

3. Load Responsive: System generates more energy during times of peak demand (hot summer days).

4. Scalable: The utility has space and ability to grow with demand.

5. Aligned Interests: Both entities and consumers have skin in the game to produce the most clean energy for the lowest cost.

Win. Win. Win.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
21
March
2012

The Trenton Times covers recent and upcoming New Jersey solar farm developments, including how neighbors feel about living next to one.

What could be greener than a field of local, clean-energy producing solar panels? Well, a productive agricultural field, for one.

I’m interested in these cases and the public conversation about them for the intersection of private property rights, commercial enterprise and municipal oversight and control.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy environment for citizens, business owners, and the environment, today and for the future, what constitutes a “good” outcome?

Via NJ.com:

Even solar power has its detractors — especially when fields of glass replace fields of green

Once found only on the roofs of an eco-conscious few, solar panels are now popping up on business campuses, school roofs and, increasingly, on farm fields and next to homes or neighborhoods.

There are several large ground-mounted solar sites in the Mercer County area and more in the pipeline. A few, like the Lawrenceville School’s 25,000-panel project scheduled to be switched on next month, are used to offset the energy costs of an institution. The 6.1 megawatt project, located on 30 acres of farmland owned by the school, will eventually produce up to 90 percent of the school’s electricity.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Politics - (0 Comments)
24
February
2012

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Government | Green Politics - (1 Comments)