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News roundup: Defending the RPS, clean energy now, businesses driving development

News roundup: Defending the RPS, clean energy now, businesses driving development
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With the end of the weekend comes a flurry of great news about wind power, including a take on changing energy landscapes nationwide, a call for more clean power, and private sector companies driving renewables forward.

Steve Mufson and Tom Hamburger at The Washington Post wrote over the weekend to report on the strides made in clean energy in states across the country, in the face of fierce attacks from powerful opposition groups:

  • The measures, which have been introduced in about 18 states, lie at the heart of an effort to expand to the state level the battle over fossil fuel and renewable energy. The new rules would trim or abolish climate mandates — including those that require utilities to use solar and wind energy, as well as proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
  • But the campaign — despite its backing from powerful groups such as Americans for Prosperity — has run into a surprising roadblock: the growing political clout of renewable-energy interests, even in rock-ribbed Republican states such as Kansas.
  • Kansas might be the best place to see how these dynamics are unfolding.
  • The growing number of wind farms not only generate power but royalties for landowners. Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project, said that Kansas landowners receive more than $13 million a year. “This issue is an issue that touches rural Kansans, and we have a lot of rural Kansas legislators,” she said.
  • Wind proponents cite manufacturing jobs, too. At a plant in the state, Siemens is making nacelles, the automobile-size units that contain wind-turbine gearboxes and electronic control equipment, for the biggest turbine order ever for wind farms in Iowa.

Elliott Negin at the Union of Concerned Scientists showcases clean energy’s ability to fight carbon dioxide emissions in a column for the Huffington Post:

  • Solar panel prices have plummeted more than 75 percent since 2008, and the cost of generating electricity from wind turbines declined more than 40 percent over [just four] years, sparking a construction boom. Last year, solar installations in the United States amounted to a record 5.1 gigawatts, boosting the national total to nearly 13 gigawatts — enough to power nearly 2.2 million typical American homes. And by the end of December, there were enough wind turbines across the country to power 15.5 million homes and cut annual electric power sector carbon emissions by 4.4 percent.
  • Given solar and wind's exponential growth, experts see tremendous potential. The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for example, projects that wind and solar could produce 15 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, 27 percent by 2030, and 50 percent by 2050.
  • Ramping up renewables not only would cut carbon emissions, it also would diversify the national electricity system and make it more resilient, according to a new UCS report. That system — which includes power plants, transmission lines and fuel delivery networks — was not designed to withstand all of today's extreme weather events, many of which have been linked to climate change.

Companies like Google, Intel, and Whole Foods are transforming their place as major power consumers, adding clean, renewable energy to their electric portfolio:

  • A ravenous consumer of electricity, Google knows it must find a way to become more efficient and cleaner. Hundreds of thousands of its servers are partially dependent on fossil-fueled power. So just as it gained experience constructing and designing large-scale data centers over the years, the global leader in Internet technologies is now applying the same lessons to expand its use of renewable energy.
  • This past week, Google announced its seventh and biggest “green” investment yet: the purchase of renewable energy certificates from MidAmerican Energy that equate to 407 megawatts of electricity, which increases the amount of renewable energy that it essentially finances by more than 60 percent. Google has also invested $1 billion in hard assets, owning a piece of actual renewable projects.
  • Eco-minded businesses are snatching up the [renewable energy] credits. Whole Foods, for example, says that it was the first major retailer to offset 100 percent of its electricity use by buying wind energy certificates. Meantime, software manufacturer SAP says that it will do the same while Microsoft says that it gets 80 percent of its electricity from renewables.

Sources:

Steve Mufson and Tom Hamburger, “A battle is looming over renewable energy, and fossil fuel interests are losing.” 25 April 2014.

Elliott Negin, “The Time for Wind and Solar Energy Is Now.” Huffington Post. 25 April 2014.

Ken Silverstein, “Google's 'green' energy plan: Build, learn, expand.” Christian Science Monitor. 27 April 2014.

 

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