climate change

Climate Change Is Current Threat: Shifting Attitudes in the US

According to a recent survey from Yale and George Mason University, National Geographic reports that the attitudes towards climate change are shifting. A record number of Americans are acknowledging it, and those that believed in it before now see it as a more pressing issue.

What Changed?

  • 60% of respondents acknowledged that humans are responsible for climate change, the highest level for the annual survey since its inception in 2008.
  • Recent wildfires, hurricanes, and extreme temperature swings seem to have left an impression – most (76%) cited “extreme weather events as the most influential factor shifting their views.”

Climate Change: A Current Threat

  • Many respondents who had previously believed in climate change now see it as a pressing current issue, rather than a future threat
  • 51% of respondents said they felt “helpless”
  • A mental health phenomenon called “eco-anxiety” or “climate-anxiety” has become common, especially in areas prone to natural disasters

What’s the Solution?

  • The bright side is that we seem to have reached a tipping point; people have acknowledged the problem and are concerned enough to support solutions
  • Surprisingly, 67% of respondents supported a carbon tax, with the proceeds going to conservation and restoration work
  • Although many people report feelings of anxiety, the best antidote seems to be empowerment through action, especially within your social network
  • Rather than adding costs, some climate solutions are now money-savers as well.

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The Push For 100% Renewables

There’s new blood in the state and federal legislatures, and climate change is at the top of their agenda. Here in MA, fourteen of the twenty four newly sworn in state representatives support aggressive action on climate change. At the federal level, we’ve seen ambitious new proposals and a new committee to address climate change as a top priority.

Massachusetts Fights Climate Change

  • Over half of the incoming state representatives have formed a bipartisan group they’re calling GreenTeamMA
  • The Green Team supports 100% renewable energy sources in Massachusetts by 2050
    • This will be achieved with measures such as carbon pricing and driving up demand for energy sources such as wind and solar
  • They are focussing on a bottom up approach with grassroots action by voters and consumers who are concerned about public health and climate change

The Federal\Climate Crisis Committee

  • The midterm elections saw an infusion of progressive new representatives and a flip to a House controlled by Democrats
  • New members have proposed a “Green New Deal,” an aggressive plan which would combine action on climate change and economic inequality while creating job growth
  • Nancy Pelosi has put together a Climate Change Committee, which has a narrower scope but still emphasizes the importance of preparing for and combating climate change

A key component of all of these plans is encouraging consumers to choose greener options. Legislation is important to level the playing field for clean energy, but there are impactful choices we can make right now to fight climate change, especially here in Massachusetts.

Be Part of the Solution

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Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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eco friendly bikes

3 Easy Changes to Help New Year’s Climate Resolutions

2019: The Year to Take Action

Every January we set goals for our new year. With all the news about our environment’s future that came out in 2018, maybe one of your resolutions was to be greener. We’re here with our top picks for easy ways to fight climate change and save money.

1: Say NO to Single-Use Plastic

Plastic pollution is a major concern – from news on single use plastic bans to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we’ve all heard the scope of the problem. There are many ways we can tackle this.  First and foremost when asked “Paper or Plastic?” at the store, the answer is “Neither.”  Bringing (or buying at the store) your own re-usable bag will help reduce plastic waste. If you have to use plastic bags, try to re-use them and then they can be recycled at most grocery stores.   Another cost effective and easy switch you can make is to buy in bulk. It cuts down on packaging, even more so if you bring your own reusable container to the bulk aisle.

2: Take a Walk (Or Bike)

According to the EPA,A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” And according to the Energy Information Administration, the average household spent about two thousand dollars on gas in 2017. If you’re able to, committing to walking or biking on trips under a mile will save you at the pump, and as an added bonus you’ll make some progress on your fitness resolutions too.

3: Support the Switch to Clean Energy

Electricity accounts for twenty eight percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and residents of Massachusetts pay one of the highest rates for it. Often people like the idea of clean energy, but are concerned it’s too expensive or complicated. Community solar is a different way to “go solar,” designed to remove obstacles. By participating in communal fields of panels, residents of Massachusetts can save money, guaranteed and fight climate change with no investment and no installation. And community solar doesn’t conflict with choosing a green electricity supplier.

Get Paid to Keep This New Year’s Resolution:
Fight Climate Change

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Community Solar: Why it’s Not Too Good to Be True

Being able to choose clean, locally produced power while also saving money sounds too good to be true. But community solar is giving residents of more and more states a way to vote with their dollar for greener power that supports their local economy.

Community Solar – What is it?

  • Community solar, or shared solar, is defined by the Department of Energy Resources as a project that allows “…multiple participants benefit directly from the energy produced by one solar array.
  • It’s a way to make the benefits of solar accessible to those who can’t install rooftop solar themselves.

Community Solar Farms: A New Solar Solution

  • Only twenty percent of the people who would like to go solar have been able to.
  • Massachusetts has a Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 which aims for a twenty five percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
    • This Plan also aims to make the state more energy independent since it lacks other types of energy resources.
  • Even if everyone who could do rooftop solar did, we wouldn’t be on track for the clean energy targets we have.
  • The Department of Energy and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources both have programs in place to encourage the development of more community solar farms.
  • It’s a win-win: solar farms generate jobs, increase energy independence, offset pollution, and provide savings to residents.

That Sounds Great, But What’s the Investment?

There’s no cost to join a community solar farm – you will see savings on day one. Financial obstacles are a major barrier to rooftop solar – many people pay their electric bills every month, and would like a cleaner option, but don’t have the capital to put panels on their roof. Community Solar programs are designed to make solar more accessible.

 

Be Part of the Solution

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Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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The True Cost of Fossil Fuels

Skeptics of clean energy often cite high costs and “the need for subsidies” as a reason we shouldn’t or can’t afford to transition away from fossil fuels. But dirty energy has many costs attached to it which are not always readily apparent. Fossil fuel prices can be volatile, and we don’t always use domestically sourced products. Aside from the actual cost to consumers, the fossil fuel industry also receives subsidies, and we pay indirectly for using polluting energy sources in healthcare and pollution cleanup costs. It’s well past time to reframe the conversation around energy costs, and to even the playing field for cleaner energy sources.

While it’s true that most renewable energy sources can have high startup costs, once they’re running they’re inexpensive to keep up – after all, you don’t have to pay for wind or sunshine. In comparison, using fossil fuels for energy means we have to constantly buy oil, gas, and coal at the market rate. And this money doesn’t always stay in the US economy: “In 2007, America spent more than $360 billion importing fossil fuels, with the vast majority of that money spent on crude oil. That money is a direct transfer of wealth from American consumers to oil companies and foreign governments.” Even when we are buying within the country, volatile fuel prices can negatively impact consumers.  In comparison, prices for electricity generated from renewable sources has been shown to be more predictable.  In 2016, we spent $5.6 billion on renewable energy incentives, most of which went to biofuels.  Studies attempting to put a number on subsidies supporting fossil fuels, not including subsidies for things like fuel assistance programs, pegged them at around $20 billion dollars a year including the federal and state levels. The US has been slow to get rid of these subsidies and tax breaks compared to other developed countries, and that’s no coincidence. “In the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying and received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years.” We are already spending a lot to prop up fossil fuels, but it’s taken for granted and doesn’t get much coverage, while any changes to incentives for clean energy are often hotly debated.

While the concrete costs to buy and subsidize fossil fuels are important to look at, arguably more important are the added costs of things like health care for asthma and cancer, cleaning up pollution, and fallout from a changing climate. These are difficult to put a price on, but we do know some of the costs. For example, the BP Deepwater oil spill costed tax payers fifteen point three billion dollars. There has also been impact on agriculture: “A 2007 study by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University found that global production of three of the six largest global crops experienced significant losses due to global warming between 1981 and 2002. The study concluded that global wheat growers, for example, lost $2.6 billion and global corn growers lost $1.2 billion in 2002 alone.” Projections are that these costs will sky rocket if climate change is not mitigated.

The price we pay for healthcare on pollution-related illness is difficult to pinpoint, but we do have some studies that have attempted to put a number on it. Sarah Rizk* and Ben Machol of the Clean Energy and Climate Change Office, U.S. EPA Region 9, in San Francisco published a peer reviewed article attempting to put a concrete price per kilowatt hour that we pay in healthcare. They found costs of “…19 to 45 cents per kilowatt-hour for coal, 8 to 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for oil, and 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour for natural gas. “For coal and oil,” Rizk and Machol write, “these costs are larger than the typical retail price of electricity, demonstrating the magnitude of the externality.” This cost isn’t distributed evenly, either – places that are the site of extraction and energy generation pay a higher price in their health.

Clean energy is often dismissed as being too expensive, but really the cost of energy from fossil fuel is artificially low and much of what we pay is hidden or part of the status quo. When you really dig into the numbers, it’s clear that the playing field is uneven. There are many reasons to transition to clean energy, and now we can add the comparative cost of it to the list.

Find out how you can be part of the solution.

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The Benefits of a Green Power Grid

Skeptics of clean energy argue that more technology like solar and wind on the grid would mean instability, higher prices, and economic harm. But moving to a more sustainable power grid hasn’t caused the destabilization or issues critics predicted. In fact, the transition has come with many benefits beyond mitigating climate change. These include lower and more stable energy prices, as well as resilience to natural disasters and other interruptions.

California, Massachusetts, New York, and Colorado are a few of the states that have seen a lot of success with community solar programs. They have overcome some of the obstacles in accessibility like pricing and siting that rooftop solar faces, and community solar distributes the financial benefits of solar more equitably than rooftop solar does.

But it’s not just traditionally “blue” states that have had success integrating clean energy. Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and Idaho have also been leaders in installed capacity. Texas is a great example, it hit a milestone with 18% of its energy coming from wind and solar. “The 18 percent number matters because for years critics of renewable energy have argued that grid costs and reliability will spiral out of control before we hit 20 percent wind and solar. But in Texas, retail electricity prices have actually decreased, coming in well below the U.S. average.” If a conservative state like Texas can make wind work to their benefit, it seems like we should be able to follow suite in other states too.

And all signs seem positive that we can move beyond the twenty percent mark with no ill effects. “…a succession of rigorous studies — including a widely cited two-year study conducted by the DOE itself in 2012 — has found that renewables can provide as much as 80 percent of the nation’s energy supply without disrupting a properly managed grid. And that doesn’t mean that 80 percent is the upper limit of renewables — it indicates only that levels beyond 80 percent weren’t thoroughly investigated.” In fact, there are some aspects of solar and wind generated power that make things more stable. Once a solar or wind farm is built, operating costs are low and predictable, helping to even out electricity prices. They are also less vulnerable to major outages as they are more spread out and “modular,” meaning a natural disaster taking out some plants won’t stop overall production.

As we see more success stories, the reasons are piling up to transition to clean energy. Adding lower prices and more stable service to the benefits of renewable power makes it more broadly appealing; climate change isn’t the only motivator anymore.

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Fossil Fuel Giants Acknowledge Climate Change and Begin to Adjust

Traditional fossil-fuel-centric entities are acknowledging climate change and investing in clean energy. This marks an important turning point, and if they believe the future is in clean energy, we should take notice and build on the existing successes, for example the recent boom in community solar in multiple states.

Community solar has seen wide success. Forty-two states have at least one active farm, and there were “…1,226 cumulative megawatts installed through Q2 2018.” Nineteen states have policies and programs to encourage the growth of community solar, and while community solar benefits everyone with lowered pollution and cost savings, increasingly, there are projects that target benefits specifically to low income communities.

Exxon keeps tabs on the outlook for different energy types, and the future is bright for renewable energy. Between 2016-2040, they expect solar and wind to lead the way in global growth. The oil giant has also been in the news recently as shareholders pushed the company to report the risks climate change poses to its business model. And Exxon isn’t the only company; Chevron invested in five solar projects and has announced a commitment to renewable energy. BP has also made some moves: “…much of the company’s strategy update focused on clean energy, which BP said would amount to around $0.5bn of its $15bn-$16bn capital expenditure programme… BP recently bought a $200m stake in Europe’s biggest solar developer.” Shell, another major player in the industry, took things further, pledging to “reduce its net carbon emissions 20% by 2035, and 50% by 2050.”

Although critics correctly point out that these numbers are not large compared to these companies’ overall revenue and we need more action to get where we need to be, there’s a lot of value in what these traditionally conservative and fossil-fuel-focussed organizations are doing. The underlying lesson is that they have acknowledged climate change and the shift in our energy industry and are beginning to adjust. If even the companies that sell fossil fuels are making these changes, it seems like we should pay attention and make changes too. We have the technology and the models we can use for success.

Find out how you can be part of the solution.

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.
Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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Wildfires in California and How to Build a Resilient Power Grid

Some say the effects of climate change are already upon us. The wildfires in California this year are the most destructive on record. There are already 80 dead and 1,000 missing, and the fires are still going. Changing precipitation patterns, higher summer and spring temperatures, and earlier snowmelt are creating longer wildfire seasons and drier conditions for more intense burns. Aside from what’s going on in California right now, we can expect more droughts, fatal heat waves like the one in Europe earlier this year, more intense hurricanes, water supply shortages, flooding and erosion from sea level rise, and more impacts that we can’t yet predict. The question looms ever larger – what can be done to fight climate change, and how do we prepare for it?

We’re seeing the consequences of how we generate and use energy, and we know things will get worse if we continue with business as usual. How much carbon we emit will impact how extreme the changes we face will be. In addition to changing our fuel source and trying to mitigate future damage, we also need to increase the resiliency of our power grid. It needs to be able to respond to disruptions, bounce back from disasters, and function more independently than it does now.

Community solar solves both the short term need to cut carbon pollution, and it also increases the resilience of our power grid in the long term. Solar farms reduce dependence on the long and interruptible supply chains that currently feed our natural gas and oil power plants. It is also much more flexible to install than other types of power generation. Solar systems are increasingly being installed with batteries and in Massachusetts the new SMART program incentivizes projects that include batteries which provide backup for the grid and support production during peak demand and brownouts. Community Solar has a promising track record so far, and it’s ready to scale up and provide power to much more of our population than rooftop solar or wind farms are. Last year alone our installed capacity nearly doubled from 387 MW to 734 MW, with more in the works and encouraging signs for its growth in many states.

The impacts of climate change have begun, and they’re impacting our safety. We have solutions we can use to mitigate the damage, and we’ve started planning ahead for how to recover. It’s more important than ever to think about our energy future and take action with the tools we have.

SEE FOR YOURSELF

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Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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Solar Farms and Seeing the Forest for the Trees

The idea of using clean power is widely accepted. Solar farms are an increasingly popular solution to help combat climate change. Compared to other power generation methods they make good neighbors – emitting no emissions or noise. They can be unobtrusive and very flexible in their install sites. This all makes them a more attractive option to communities than just about any other power generation option.

Massachusetts gets most of its energy from natural gas, which means energy prices here are tied to the volatile price of petroleum. Residents here pay a higher percentage of their income for energy than most other states. Solar farms are cost effective because they enjoy greater economies of scale than roof-mounted arrays on buildings.

In terms of siting, most people can agree that putting solar panels on a capped landfill or a parking lot is a no brainer – and there are even state programs in place in Massachusetts to encourage that. Many arrays have already been built on such sites. Landfills host solar farms in Chicopee, Hudson, Amesbury and there’s an array going up on the decommissioned Mt. Tom Coal Plant in Holyoke, to name just a few projects.  There aren’t many of these so-called brownfield sites left, but we still have a long way to go on Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas reduction targets, so it’s important to evaluate sites that involve tree clearing for solar farm installations.

Massachusetts is both densely populated and heavily forested. It’s the fourth most densely populated state in the US, and has 62% forest cover. According to the Boston Globe, “…nearly 50,000 acres of forest — at a pace of 13 acres a day — between 2005 and 2013…” was used for new housing developments. Any trees cleared for solar projects would not be on conservation land. Solar farms would be hosted on private land designated for agricultural or commercial purposes. If it’s not used for solar, it will probably be used for something else.

The good news is all solar farms, even those that involve cutting down trees, help fight climate change. In fact, solar farms are a more powerful way to fight climate change than trees are. If you compare carbon offset per acre, solar wins out. One acre of solar in Massachusetts offsets about 134 tons of CO2 per year per acre, nearly ten times as much as temperate forest lands, which removes 15 tons of CO2 per year per acre.

In addition to climate change, we need to consider the impact land use has on the people living there. Forests provide recreational space for residents, maintain healthy ecosystems and habitat for wildlife, filter air and water, protect against land erosion, and provide a buffer against floods.  For those of us that want to protect forests, it’s important to look at the big picture – we’ve already seen changes in our temperate forests due to climate change. This will only get worse in the future – we can expect changes in weather patterns that native species will have trouble adjusting to. If sacrificing a few acres of trees will help preserve all of our forests, it seems like a worthwhile trade.

Then there’s the fact that we can recover the land used for solar arrays after their useful life has ended. The panels can be replaced or arrays removed and forests allowed to return.  Massachusetts has not always been as heavily forested as it is now – historically the state has had heavy industrial use. Most of the state’s forests are only 80 years old. In the 1800s, Massachusetts had used most of its timber and was down to only 28% forest coverage. We’ve bounced back since then, regenerating the state’s forest.  Finally, if we only built solar farms in wooded areas, just 6,000 acres of solar out of the state’s 3 million acres of trees – that’s only 0.2% – could supply all of Massachusetts’ power needs.

We’re in a position where we need drastic changes and actionable solutions now if we want to avoid serious climate change.  Community solar farms boost the local economy, reduce pollution, help regulate energy prices and bring cost savings to residents. Most sites for community solar are not on forested land, and proposed arrays would only require a small amount of acreage. That land would offset more carbon with a solar farm than it can now and it’s better put to use for solar than for other development. Maybe most importantly, moving to clean energy will help preserve our forests in the long term.  

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Energy Awareness Month 2018 – Take Action for a Sustainable Future

October is National Energy Awareness Month! In 1991, President Bush proclaimed the month of October a time to raise awareness and take action to manage America’s energy resources sustainably. It’s an important topic, but often energy efficiency and sustainable energy get forgotten in the background of people’s busy lives. Electricity is everywhere, but we sometimes take for granted all of the things it allows us to use.  We usually don’t stop to think about electricity unless prices go up or a power plant or a new pipeline is installed nearby. How we use energy and where it comes from has a big impact on our wallets, security, economy, and the communities we live in, not to mention what future generations will have to face, so it’s crucial to pay attention and make a concerted effort towards sustainable energy.

There are some energy savings tips that get a lot of buzz – things like upgrading to LED bulbs, replacing old appliances, or washing with cold water. Efficiency is a big part of sustainability, and for most people making these kinds of changes is not too difficult. There are also programs such as Mass Save which will do free home energy audits and install free or discounted energy saving measures such as light bulbs and insulation, as well as make recommendations and educate homeowners on the energy systems in their house.

It’s important to focus on this not just at home, but also at work. As of 2012, commercial use accounted for  “…nearly 20% of US energy consumption and 12% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.” Public and commercial buildings are often fully powered even when occupancy rates are low. Measures such as motion sensors, more efficient appliances, and encouraging participation and action by the building’s occupants can help with commercial efficiency.

Bringing usage down is a good first step towards a stable, sustainable energy future, but we still get most of our power in the US from non-renewable sources. Just shy of 63% of our energy came from fossil fuels in 2017. Another 20% came from nuclear power. Even the most efficient building can’t run forever on a finite fuel source. This is where renewable energy sources come in. Once power is generated and in our homes and businesses, it’s all the same, but where it first came from makes a big difference in the price we pay, the pollution we see, and the reliability of our grid.

In 2017, 17.1% of our energy came from “renewables” – that’s anything that can naturally replenish itself after we use it to generate power. This includes things such as wood, landfill gas, solar, geothermal, wind and hydropower. Some of these issue more pollution when they’re used than others, and it will take a mix of them to meet our power needs.