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New Study: Clean energy “offers serious benefits for low- and fixed-income households in particular”

Posted By Lowell F. on April 8th, 2015

We already know that Americans of all political stripes overwelmingly support cutting carbon pollution while increasing emphasis on energy efficiency and clean power solutions like solar and wind. We also know that Americans support doing this for strong reasons: environmental protection, job creation, lower power costs and increased freedom from reliance on monopoly utilities, to name just a few.

Now, NRDC is out with a new report, “Bridging the Clean Energy Divide: Affordable Clean Energy Solutions for Today and Tomorrow,” which adds two more powerful arguments for clean energy to the list: economic fairness and social justice for less-affluent communities. As the report explains:

…we must consider the disproportionate health impacts of dirty, coal fired power generation on low-income communities and people of color. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), people of color and low-income families are more likely to live in close proximity to the coal plants that generate most of our electricity. People of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. population, but 39 percent of those who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant. Coal plants that are located in urban areas are overwhelmingly sited in communities of color. While 56 percent of white Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant, 68 percent of African Americans do. African Americans frequent the emergency room for asthma attacks three times as often as white Americans do.

In stark contrast, clean energy choices will disproprotionately benefit low-income Americans, people on fixed incomes, etc. A few highlights from the report illustrate why that’s the case.

*Energy efficiency “allows people to lower their energy use (and therefore their energy bills) without sacrificing services like light and heat…making bills lower for all customers, even those who did not install efficiency measures in their own buildings.” Keep in mind that energy costs “make up a significant portion of the annual incomes of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” so again, lower-income Americans will benefit disproportionately from a switch from dirty to clean energy.

*More good news on the energy efficiency front and low-income households: “Energy inefficient housing can be expensive, even if the nominal mortgage payment or rent is low, and energy efficiency can make a big difference in achieving and keeping the dream of home ownership. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Institute of Market Transformation found that mortgages secured by families in houses meeting Energy Star efficiency standards experienced substantially lower rates of delinquency and default, with 32 percent fewer defaults compared with non-Energy Star homes.”

*How about multifamily housing, which “accounts for 26.1 percent of all housing units in the United States, providing homes to more than 17 million households nationwide—including nearly one half of all very low-income renters?” The NRDC study finds that energy efficiency improvements in those building “could save building owners and residents up to $3.4 billion every year.”

*Finally, with regard to renewable energy, this report highlights what we’ve talked about repeatedly: namely, that “Renewable Energy Is Cost-effective and Increasingly Available.” As I’ve pointed out a gazillion times, “energy efficiency is the lowest-cost resource” — far cheaper than coal, nuclear or natural gas, and that’s not even taking into account the enormous subsidies (both direct and indirect) and negative “externalities” (environmental, health, etc.) of non-renewable energy sources. The next least expensive form of energy, by the way, is not a fossil fuel, but onshore wind, which is very similar to advanced, highly efficient “combined-cycle” natural gas-fired power plants.

*As for solar PV, it’s already in the cost range of coal-fired and nuclear power plants, with one huge advantage: solar power costs have been plummeting, and are expected to continue falling, while solar efficiency rates continue to increase as the technology improves. In stark contrast, as the new NRDC report points out, “A major risk in being overly dependent on fossil fuels is price volatility.”

Bottom line: there are already a wide range of strong reasons to transition rapidly off of dirty fossil fuels and onto clean energy, including the social justice and economic fairness benefits to low-income Americans — not just in the inner cities, but in other poor areas of the country, including (ironically) the coalfields of Appalachia.

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New Research: The Best Things in Life Are Also the Most Energy Efficient?

Posted By Lowell F. on December 22nd, 2014

Over the years, I’ve heard people (mostly those who make more money by selling more energy) argue that there’s a positive correlation between human happiness and energy consumption. And while there may be some truth to that assertion, new research finds that there’s actually a “surprising link between things that make us happy and things that save energy.”

Examined closely, suggests Kantenbacher, the chart is kind of like a roadmap to living a life that is both a lot happier and much healthier — accompanied with lower electricity bills and a lower carbon footprint.

“A number of the least energy intensive activities that I found — sleeping, socializing, hobbies, and so forth — are enriching personally,” says Kantenbacher. “So they make people happy to do them, but they also are relatively low consuming activities.”

Indeed, let’s take some of these activities in sequence, to unpack what the research shows about how they boost happiness and well being (while saving energy):

As you can see from the graphic, the least energy-intensive activities are things like sleep, socializing, volunteering, finding a hobby, getting more exercise, and not spending a lot of time (and energy) time commuting if possible. Even better, I’d add, would be to do that sleeping, socializing, volunteering, etc. in buildings that are as energy efficient as possible, not to mention powered by clean, renewable energy. With that, have a happy – and restful – holiday season!

P.S. To view Kantenbacher’s presentation, click here.

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NY Times Covers Legal Battle Over Demand Response

Posted By Lowell F. on November 29th, 2014

If you are interested in electricity demand response, this New York Times article highlights something you definitely want to keep an eye on. The gist of it is that an ongoing legal fight is pitting “companies that own power plants” against “companies that recruit consumers to unplug themselves when electricity use is high, in exchange for a price break.”  What happened is that in 2011, “the Electric Power Supply Association sued the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – FERC], saying that demand response should be regulated by the states, not the federal government because the transactions are retail, not wholesale.” The deeper concern by the power companies is that demand response reduces “peak prices on their busiest, most profitable days,” and “the producers say, they need that income to survive.” This past May, “the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington sided with the association.”

What happens next? As David Roberts of Grist notes, this post explains “ways that FERC, utilities, and consumers can support demand response even in light of the ruling.” Roberts further points out that “[d]emand response is coming, one way or another,” but that “this ruling could be a serious stumbling block,” possibly “cost[ing] the demand-response industry $4.4 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.” So definitely stay tuned for further developments on this case. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.

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MIT Study Finds Health Benefits of CO2 Reductions Can Save 10x the Cost of Policy Implementation

Posted By Lowell F. on August 25th, 2014

Clearly, we believe it makes sense to slash the air and water pollution that is inextricably linked to fossil fuel extraction, processing, and consumption.  We also strongly believe that moving from a dirty to a clean energy economy makes sense on a whole host of levels — economic, environmental, national security, health, etc.  Yet opponents of a clean energy transition invariably raise claims that it will cost too much to do so, even though research has shown that fossil fuels are actually FAR more expensive than they appear to be, in large part because they are allowed to pollute without having to pay for doing so. Thus, the full “lifecycle cost” of coal to the U.S. public is actually upwards of $500 billion a year, but you won’t find that $500 billion a year incorporated into the price of coal, making it artificially cheap, and strongly skewing U.S. energy markets in favor of fossil fuels. Incorporate all the health and environmental “externalities” associated with fossil fuels, while taking away the enormous subsidies they receive from taxpayers, and it’s a totally different story — one in which clean energy would win by a wide margin.

Just in case you wanted even more evidence along these lines, a new study is out from researchers at MIT which finds that policies aimed at cutting fossil-fuel pollution can more than pay for themselves.

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

…The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program…Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program…The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.

In sum, by implementing smart policies to cut CO2 emissions, not only do policymakers help head off disastrous global warming, they also reduce other forms of pollution in the process, saving enormous amounts of money on health care costs. How much money? Enough, depending on the policy, to more than pay for the policy’s implementation. Who ever said you can’t get something for nothing? In this case, you actually get MORE than that — cleaner air and water, a habitable planet for future generations, sharply lower health problems and associated healthcare costs, as well as lower energy bills for consumers and a more competitive country in the world economy. If that’s not a “win-win-win” situation, it’s hard to know what is.

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Map Shows How States Are Progressing Towards Meeting EPA’s 1.5%-Per-Year Energy Efficiency Goal

Posted By Lowell F. on August 23rd, 2014

The release in late May of EPA’s draft rules on carbon pollution at existing power plants gave individual states a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they meet the proposed targets.  For instance, a state rich in potential solar power resources might choose to focus on increasing the percentage of its electricity generated from the sun.  Same thing with wind power.  And, of course, all states can use energy efficiency gains as a key part of their plans. As the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions explains:

Through energy efficiency programs, states can drive down their total consumption, including consumption of electricity generated by fossil fuels. This in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, bringing states closer to their emission rate target. EPA projects that each state is capable of eventually reducing electricity demand by 1.5 percent each year, in line with the rate leading states have achieved. States are projected to meet this figure in varying years, taking into account how advanced each state was in 2012. This 1.5 percent projection is incremental, meaning EPA expects an additional 1.5 percent savings each year, for a much larger cumulative savings by 2030. Projections for states that currently reduce demand by less than 1.5 percent per year are designed in a way that allow a ramp-up period before reaching this level, but EPA has determined that all states have the capacity to meet this projection by 2025 at the latest. Note that under the proposal, states are not obligated to meet EPA’s efficiency projections in demonstrating compliance; provided the ultimate target emission rate is met, states could use any combination of measures they see fit.

The map above shows each state’s 2012 incremental efficiency savings as a percentage of the 1.5 percent projection. States colored with a darker shade of blue are closer to meeting this projection. Two states, Arizona and Maine, reported savings above 1.5 percent in 2012.

As we know, energy efficiency is generally considered to be the biggest “bang for the buck” when it comes to reducing energy consumption and carbon pollution, which means that this EPA goal makes a great deal of sense. Yet, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, only 21 states have mandatory Energy Efficiency Resource Standards, while 17 states have no energy efficiency standards at all.  That’s unfortunate, particularly given that Rocky Mountain Institute Chairman and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins has found that“adopting efficiency technologies aggressively yet cost-effectively, yield[s] at least a 12% annual real rate of return.” As states formulate their plans aimed at meeting their EPA CO2 pollution reduction goals, it seems like pushing ahead on energy efficiency improvements should constitute an easy, “no brainer” option.

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