January 2015
Volume 2, Issue 1
 
   
 

The most exciting news is coming sooner than we expected. The moment where the biggest fights become where to put all of the wind and solar, rather than having to endlessly fight off plans for nuclear, coal, oil, or gas power plants, or biomass or waste incinerators.

The lines are already crossing. These are the economic lines where the cost of wind and solar actually becomes cheaper than the cheapest of dirty energy sources (which, at the moment, is natural gas). In the past handful of months, research has shown that -- even without subsidies -- land-based wind power is now cheaper to build than natural gas combined cycle power plants which, themselves, have been undercutting nuclear, coal, biomass and trash incinerators in recent years, causing some to close because they can't compete with the momentarily cheap gas.

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Solar power is on a path to undercut fossil fuels within five years, leading to headlines about how solar power could "slay the fossil fuel empire" by 2010 and whether new super efficient affordable solar panels could trump fossil fuels. The Boston Globe recently reported on how renewable energy is starting to win on price.

The most amazing chart is this one published in Bloomberg in October, titled "Welcome to the Terrordome." It shows solar prices coming down from the sky like a lightning bolt in the last few years, shooting down to levels under Brent (oil) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices, and fast approaching U.S. bituminous coal and Henry Hub (natural gas) prices....

And it's just in time, since we'll soon be running short on natural gas. As fracking for natural gas takes over in recent years, the myths about gas supply echo that of coal -- supposedly hundreds of years of supply left. However, coal production in the U.S. has peaked and U.S. gas production is likely to peak by 2017. When a resource peaks, we've used up the cheap half. This means costs will rise as production can't keep up with demand, and more extreme extraction methods become necessary.

Thankfully, nearly all of our energy needs can be met by a combination of conservation, efficiency, wind, solar and energy storage. Demand reduction must be prioritized, cutting use at least in half, which would put the U.S. on par with per capita energy use in Europe. A 2012 study out of the University of Delaware showed that wind, solar and energy storage can meet our electricity needs with 99.9% reliability by 2030, cost effectively, with no government subsidies. Stanford University researchers have shown that all energy (including transportation and heating sector use) can be provided by conservation, efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower (including ocean power) by 2050, while saving money, improving health and creating jobs.

Of course, there is no free lunch. Normal wind turbines use about two tons of a rare earth metal, neodymium, which is mined in horribly destructive ways in China, yet neodymium-free turbines exist and could be something we demand. Solar has a toxic reputation, for good reason, yet solar technology keeps evolving. Some newer types (like nanotech varieties) could be highly toxic, while others reduce or eliminate use of toxic materials. Even energy efficiency can be wasteful where it involves having to replace materials in buildings, lighting, appliances and motors. Material shortages can limit the clean energy dream, and it's hard to say where this limit may be. However, the status quo is terribly worse. This transition must be done as soon as we can, and as just and as democratically as we can.

This clean energy revolution is freaking out the energy utilities, who are seeing the writing on the wall if wind and solar are produced in a decentralized way where their centralized business model isn't needed. Some are even organizing and getting states (like Arizona) to make it more expensive for people to put solar on their roof and are using race-baiting tactics such as encouraging the Congressional Black Caucus to see net metering as harming their constituents (a claim that NAACP and other environmental justice advocates are pushing back against).

Ultimately, we need our movement for energy justice to be a movement that not only stops dirty energy in its tracks, but builds solutions that are decentralized, publicly-owned, and democratically controlled. Public utilities must truly be public to have economic incentives to use less. We can do this. We must.

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Bioenergy (electricity, transportation and heating) is the #1 "renewable" 

Energy Storage and Solar Inspiring Customers to Drop Utilities?

- by Lisa Cohn, Energy Efficiency Markets

To hear the Rocky Mountain Institute tell the story, it’s not a question of whether utility customers will start defecting from their utilities in favor of off-grid solutions that involve energy storage and solar energy. It’s a question of when.

Truth is, it’s already happening in Hawaii—where solar plus storage are cost-effective when compared to utility electric prices, says Jon Creyts, a managing director at RMI. Along with Homer Energy and CohnReznick Think Energy, RMI just released a report detailing the potential for customer defection from the electric grid in major markets by 2025. And customers could do this without incurring higher costs, the report says.“The economics for grid parity today are already happening in Hawaii. A very robust set of developers and suppliers entered and were doing quite well,” Creyts says.

However, the utility experienced troubles taking in high levels of solar from independent solar producers. The power was overloading some of the transmission lines. So regulators took action to restrict developers’ activity, he says.

It makes sense that this is happening in Hawaii, where utility rates are three times higher than the average rates in the US. But what may come as a surprise is the speed at which off-grid solar, combined with energy storage, may be cost-effective in other parts of the US, particularly California and New York City, says Creyts.

READ MORE / COMMENT

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Destruction of Demand: How to Shrink Our Energy Footprint

- by Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

The human economy is currently too big to be sustainable. We know this because Global Footprint Network, which methodically tracks the relevant data, informs us that humanity is now using 1.5 Earths’ worth of resources. 

We can temporarily use resources faster than Earth regenerates them only by borrowing from the future productivity of the planet, leaving less for our descendants. But we cannot do this for long. One way or another, the economy (and here we are talking mostly about the economies of industrial nations) must shrink until it subsists on what Earth can provide long-term. 

Is it possible, at least in principle, to manage the process of economic contraction so as to avert chaotic collapse? Such a course of action would face daunting obstacles. Business, labor, and government all want more growth in order to expand tax revenues, create more jobs, and provide returns on investments.  

Nevertheless, managed contraction would almost certainly yield better outcomes than chaotic collapse—for everyone, elites included. If there is a theoretical pathway to a significantly smaller economy that does not pass through the harrowing wasteland of conflict, decay, and dissolution, we should try to identify it. The following modest ten-point plan is an attempt to do so.

READ MORE / COMMENT


Energy Justice Now provides critical reporting on the full spectrum of the Dirty Energy Resistance, highlighting the voices of community organizers battling fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass and waste incineration from sea to shining sea. We are accepting submissions at Josh AT energyjustice.net.

Cartoon by: Mike Peters

In Solidarity,

Mike Ewall, Josh Schlossberg, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, Energy Justice Now

Donate here (please & thanks!): http://www.energyjustice.net/donate



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Energy Justice Network is one of the few national nonprofits in the U.S. organizing with grassroots communities to say NO! to all forms of dirty energy, from fracked gas, to coal plants, to biomass and waste incineration, to nuclear power.

We know there are a lot of organizations out there clamoring for your financial support, yet here's what's different about Energy Justice Network:

1) Grassroots - We offer our organizing expertise to communities fighting dirty energy proposals, empowering their advocacy, not taking it over.

2) Bang For Your Buck - Our lean and mean staff of six means the vast majority of your donation directly funds grassroots community support work, instead of wasteful organizational overhead. 

3) Taking the Hard Line - We believe that any energy source requiring a smokestack or cooling tower does more harm than good to the community that hosts it.  We work to develop national solidarity to support only genuinely clean energy projects.

You can scour the nation and not find as focused, effective, and efficient organization as Energy Justice Network to support with your tax-deductible donation. We hope we can count on your help this year!


TOOLKIT

Where Does U.S. Energy Come From?

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If the goal for U.S. energy consumption is to reduce demand and transition from dirty to clean, where are we now?

Energy Justice Network has compiled a series of helpful, easy-to-read charts depicting various aspects of U.S. energy use. Charts are based on U.S. Energy Information Administration's Monthly Energy Review data through September 2014.

2014 U.S. Energy Consumption

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Trends Since 1950

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"Renewable" Energy

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Electricity Sector

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"Renewable" Electricity

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Industrial Heating

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Residential Heating

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Commercial Heating

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Transportation

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Bioenergy by Sector

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Bioenergy Over Time

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Natural Gas by Sector

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Coal by Sector

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