June 2015
Volume 2, Issue 5
 
   
 

Can "renewable" energy do more damage to the climate than the fossil-fuel heavy electric mix it replaces? That's what we're finding as we look at a decade of compliance with Maryland's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -- one of the dirtiest in the nation. Energy Justice Network is building a coalition to clean up this dirty law, where the majority of mandated "renewable" energy has come from supporting smokestack technologies from twelve states, as far as Wisconsin and Tennessee.

Other state RPS laws are also supporting many polluting sources, though not all to the extent that Maryland's does. We'd love to work with any of you interested in cleaning up such laws in your state and could use your support in this work.

These next few years are critical to determine the future of how electricity is made in the U.S. The electric utility industry is freaking out that their days are numbered due to rooftop solar becoming dirt cheap. They're attacking state net metering laws, which enable rooftop solar, claiming that it's bad for black people, though the national NAACP has been pushing back. We've helped NAACP and Our Power Campaign develop a net metering toolkit to help you defend and expand net metering programs.

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Net Metering: Giving Communities "Power Over Power"

- by Our Power Campaign

Net Metering is a "distributed energy" policy that allows families, businesses, or small groups of people to reduce electricity bills by generating some or all of their electricity through rooftop solar panels or other technologies that are tied into the electric grid.

In a nutshell, solar panels or other renewable energy systems are hooked up to a meter that shows how much energy the system contributes to the utility grid, and how much the customer draws down from the grid each month.

The customer receives a credit on their utility bill for excess electricity produced by their system. The customer pays the utility for the "net" amount of energy they use in a month. If their system contributes more energy to the grid than the customer used that month, the customer gets a credit that can be applied to future bills.

The use of solar and other emerging technologies in this way -- at both the family and the community level -- is catching on. Net metering is now a program in 44 states, and growing.

The move to distributed energy production through things like net metering has the potential to be transformative for the health and economic security of low income and communities of color. The shift to renewable energy will help rid our communities of illness, disease and other social ills associated with energy pollution.

READ MORE

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Does Solar Energy Really Harm Communities of Color?

- by Lee Fang, The Intercept

Politic365, a media website that touts itself as "the premier digital destination for politics and policy related to communities of color," has emerged as a leading online critic of home solar energy, publishing nearly a dozen articles about how policies to promote solar energy-powered homes will harm minority groups, particularly African Americans.

The website looks and feels like a traditional media outlet, and in many ways it is. It  covers a range of issues, from policing to the 2016 presidential campaign. But when it comes to energy policy, readers of the site may not realize that Politic365 is maintained by a public policy consulting firm that serves the utility industry.

The issue at hand is "net metering," a rule that allows homeowners to claim credits for the electricity they generate and send back to the grid. Electric utility companies view the proliferation of such rules as a threat to their bottom line and are lobbying to repeal net metering policies throughout the country.

Politic365 has published article after article criticizing net metering, arguing that the policy leads to regressive rate hikes.

READ MORE

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Maryland's Dirty "Renewable" Energy Bills

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

Maryland's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is one of the nation's dirtiest renewable energy mandates. From 2004 to 2014, 58% of the Tier I "renewable" energy came from smokestack sources: the burning of trash, trees, black liquor (toxic paper mill waste), wood "waste," and toxic landfill gases. In 2014, smokestacks still provide more than half (52%), while wind power just declined for the first time, now providing only 27% of the state's "renewable" energy.

Incineration in any form is not clean, green or renewable. Maryland communities should not fear increased asthma and cancer, or deeper hits to their pocketbooks from these expensive and polluting "renewable" energy sources.

In 2011, pro-incinerator legislators passed SB 690, which made Maryland the first and only state to elevate trash incineration to "Tier I" -- equivalent to wind power, allowing it to grow and earn more valuable renewable energy credits, rather than be phased out as a "Tier II" technology.

Shockingly, this "renewable" energy mix in Maryland is worse for the climate than the dirty energy mix it's replacing, and these combustion sources are as bad as (or worse than) coal by many measures.

Some climate groups have been pushing bills to double the RPS from a 20% goal to a 40% goal without cleaning it up first. They claim that the increase will only come from wind and solar, even though the 2014 data in the chart above shows that dirty energy sources, even without the expanded goal, still predominate and can expand.

We've opposed legislation that would expand this dirty renewable energy mandate without cleaning it up or putting a lid on the use of smokestack technologies. Thankfully, these bills haven't passed so far, but they keep coming back each (January to early April) legislative session.

READ MORE


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 DOT net.

Check out our archive of back issues of Energy Justice Now.

Photo: B. Monginoux, photo-paysage.com

Graphic: Our Power Campaign

In Solidarity,

Mike Ewall, Josh, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, Energy Justice Now

Please donate and join Energy Justice Network.


   

States with Renewable Portfolio Standards

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Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), setting goals or mandates for a certain percentage of the state's energy to be "renewable."

While emissions-free energy sources like solar and wind are components of state RPS laws, so too are polluting biomass and trash incineration.

Currently, the #1 form of "renewable" energy in the U.S. is bioenergy, which includes burning trees, crops, manure, and trash for electricity, heating and transportation fuel.

RPS laws that encourage solar, wind, and tidal energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, limit air pollution, and protect land and water. However, RPS laws that support landfill gas, biomass and trash incineration -- the low hanging fruit of alternative energy -- can do more harm than good.

It's important for clean energy advocates to ensure states have strong RPS laws, but it's only a step forward if combustion sources aren't part of the mix.


 Clean Power Plan

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The Clean Power Plan (CPP), released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June, seeks to reduce carbon emissions from existing power facilities.

The CPP proposes a federal framework, though states have some flexibility in how to achieve carbon reduction goals.

Energy Justice Network is involved in the process, supporting aspects of the Clean Power Plan, while having serious concerns about others. We don't want to see states develop implementation plans that primarily throw money at nuclear power and support a transition from coal to fuels worse than coal for the climate: natural gas, trash and biomass, as the CPP encourages.

Are you, or any local/state organizations you're affiliated with, planning to advocate around the implementation of the Clean Power Plan in your state over the next year?

Would you like to be part of a coordinated effort to help strengthen the plan for your state?

To engage on this issue, please contact Mike Ewall, director, at mike@energyjustice DOT net.


Supreme Court Kills Mercury Rule

On June 28, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down EPA's regulations to limit mercury from coal and oil power plants. This is bad news, but we hope this creates some economic uncertainty for the 300+ proposed gas-fired power plants, allowing some time for wind and solar to fill the gap.


Hawaii to Go 100% Renewable
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You've probably heard the big news that Hawaii plans to go 100% renewable by 2045. 

Overall, this is a positive development, yet to ensure that genuinely clean energy is used, we must pressure legislators -- and even some environmental groups -- to do the right thing.

Of the 1,305 Gigawatt Hours of renewable energy produced in Hawaii in 2013, 38.6% came from wind, 34%  from biomass, trash incineration and biofuels, 22% from geothermal, and only 2.6% from solar. Despite this reality, in the vast majority of the media stories, solar is typically front and center.

While Hawaii has the highest proportion of residential solar installed (12% of homes), antiquated utilities are starting to ban new residential solar installations. Wind power has been challenging to site, and floating off-shore wind plans will be costly.

Geothermal has been particularly damaging and controversial in Hawaii.  Without a stronger effort to beat back proposed biomass and waste incinerators, Hawaii's "renewable" energy supply will come from a mix of wind, solar, destructive geothermal, and highly polluting biomass, landfill gas and waste incinerators. 

While we strongly support Hawaii's intention to move towards a clean energy future, it's important to remember that not all "renewable" energy is created equal.