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Sierra Club Compass Blog
This week, some of the biggest companies in the world are coming together for the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego, where companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo want to showcase a shining environmental image.
On the ground at the conference and online, activists are making sure that these companies can't hide from the fact that by using tar sands fuel to power their tens of thousands of delivery trucks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are worsening climate destruction.
The first night of the conference, a team of activists made sure that conference participants got the message - literally - by slipping it under their doors. The message reads,
"Coke and Pepsi say they're doing something to affect climate change. In fact, they're making it worse."
The good news is that the message is getting across - the Coca-Cola representatives at the conference definitely saw it. We know because at the conference this week, one of our activists had a conversation with a couple of Coca-Cola executives, including a featured conference speaker.
When one of the execs was asked about the flyer under the door and the company's use of tar sands fuel in its delivery vehicles - his response was:
"I don't even want to go there."
The second Coca-Cola exec had gotten the flyer under his door (see a pic of it here), and in talking with an activist, seemed concerned and even shocked to learn about the impacts of tar sands extraction on the climate, water resources (PDF) and on First Nations whose ancestral home is being ransacked by industrial development.
This is exactly why we are pushing Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as owners of some of the largest vehicle fleets in the country, to take responsibly for their actions and stop using fuel from tar sands. A recent Sierra Club report even outlines for companies how they can step up and do the right thing.
So, it's time to keep the pressure on. This won't be the last that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are hearing about tar sands - and you can help make sure that's the case by taking action here!
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
Just one day after the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants, signals from China indicate that it may be preparing to follow suit with a similar game-changing announcement.
He Jiankun, chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change, declared that China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, is planning to adopt an absolute cap on its carbon emissions by 2016 as part of its next five-year plan. While Professor He is not an official government spokesperson, these top-level comments are significant in their own right.
This announcement falls in line with the recent revelation that the Chinese demand for coal is dropping and the overall Chinese coal boom is finally over. If China is able to successfully cap its emissions completely, it will represent a huge step forward for public health and the environment not only in China but all around the world.
It is important to note that we're hearing about this significant energy move by China after the first-ever carbon pollution standards in the U.S. were announced. By taking action to combat climate disruption, the U.S. has demonstrated the power of President Obama's leadership on climate in the world's largest economy -- and it clearly shows that when America takes the initiative, other major carbon emitters will act as well.
Historically, U.S. climate inaction has been a major impediment to global climate progress. Many other major emitters have been unwilling to take action until the U.S. takes the lead. They've even used U.S. inactivity as an excuse not to act on climate in their own countries. It's an excuse that's even been picked up by opponents of action on the climate crisis in the U.S., as they've argued that the U.S. shouldn't act if China and India do not. But with the release of the new carbon standards, pressure is increasing on these countries to announce bold actions of their own -- and it sounds like China is listening.
Now it's time for other major emitters like India to follow suit. The Obama administration's actions will better enable the U.S. to exert diplomatic leverage on countries that remain reluctant to do their part. As we've known for many years, it will take a global effort to fully curb carbon emissions and protect our environment for the generations to come. This is just the first step.
-- Steve Herz, Senior International Climate Policy Advisor/Attorney
In recent days, eight states came together to release a 'Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan;' it fleshes out their governors' commitment last fall to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get 3.3 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2025.
Making up 28 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maryland will "drive economies of scale, lowering prices and creating more options for consumers," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in response to the action plan. He continued, "When it comes to fighting climate disruption, EVs are where the rubber hits the road."
The action plan, promoted by a number of government, environmental, and public health groups in the news and social media, reads like a celebration of EV programs already making a difference on the ground. For example:
- In Rhode Island all new state vehicle purchases will be electrics or hybrids wherever possible.
- California Governor Jerry Brown met with 40 Fortune 500 executives to announce corporate commitments to PEV workplace charging.
- The West Coast Electric Highway has developed a network of charging stations that will provide charging from Canada to Mexico.
- The Maryland Public Service Commission has created a ‘time of use’ utility pilot program designed to incentivize off-peak charging.
- Massachusetts has announced a new EV rebate program, to start this summer, that will slice $1,500-2,500 off the purchase or lease of any plug-in vehicle.
The plan lays out 11 types of actions that it recommends for state government –in conjunction with other partners. These include everything from consumer incentives to government fleets, from workplace charging to EV marketing and availability. I encourage you to check out the plan. It's chock full of great examples and recommendations. It also has some compelling factoids, like a study showing that EV drivers are more satisfied with their vehicles than conventional vehicle owners. Additionally, the document shows, the five-year cost of ownership of a typical EV is actually thousands of dollars less than that of a conventional vehicle.
But I think this action plan begs some important questions. If we can't put our all into each and every one of the dozens of action items and recommendations, what are the most effective types of programs and strategies that will most rapidly escalate EV sales in the years to come? What are the pieces of low and medium-hanging fruit, and how does that vary by location? What are the most important studies that show what strategies are working best?
The Sierra Club will be evaluating questions like these in the coming months so we can determine how to best scale up our electric vehicles advocacy and outreach work around the country - and in turn work with these eight states and others to successfully implement this exciting ZEV action plan. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you: What have you found to be the most successful EV programs in your area? What do you think is most needed? What studies do you think best point to important lessons learned in the plug-in electric vehicles market thus far?
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Narendra Modi has secured India’s prime minister position with a sweeping mandate.
What that mandate will bring is an open question. Many have serious concerns about Modi’s human rights record in Gujarat, while environmentalists worry about his administration’s desire to speed environmental clearances for dirty fossil fuel projects. How Modi uses his mandate leaves the fate of India’s future energy mix precariously perched between 19th century fossil fuels and modern clean energy technology.
Modi’s energy policy is still heavily reliant on dirty fuel sources, with a special emphasis on increasing coal expansion. However, there is a silver lining - he’s all in on solar . With a freshly minted pledge to bring solar power to all 400 million Indians living in the dark, Modi has elevated solar to the prime time - and made an important break with the fossil fuel status quo that the international community will do well to watch.
However, the first and most important thing to realize about Modi’s pledge to bring power for all is that it’s nothing new. Prime minister after prime minister have promised complete energy access since India’s independence in 1947, and all have failed miserably. That’s why there are roughly 80 million households still without power. Yet, Modi’s pledge is different in one important way - the type of energy he has chosen for the job.
Rather than relying on ineffective, expensive, and slow centralized grid extension, Modi has chosen the most appropriate power source for this job - distributed solar. Of course, breaking with the past failure of fossil fuels by no means ensures future success. But what Modi is promising is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. So, just how ambitious is this promise, and can Modi really deliver? To answer those questions, we need look no further than neighboring Bangladesh - a hot bed for off-grid solar installations.
Bangladesh is home to a whopping 2.8 million off-grid solar home systems, and every single month, the country pumps out 80,000 new installations. That’s thanks to the wildly successful Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) program, a model India would be wise to replicate. IDCOL has led to surging 60.86 percent compound annual growth rates (CAGR) over the past decade, increasing the number of solar home systems installed from 25,000 in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013. That’s a CAGR investors here in the U.S. would drool over.
Let’s compare that growth to what Modi needs in order to deliver on his pledge. According to the 2011 Indian census, there were approximately one million households using solar. In order to increase from that small base of one million to total access for 80 million people in five years, Modi needs to increase the solar sector at a 71.07 percent CAGR. While that seems like a steep demand, judging by Bangladesh’s success, it is eminently doable. Especially if you compare it to the 95 percent growth rates the World Bank’s Lighting Africa program has clocked for sub-Saharan Africa.
In sum, Modi’s goal is not only achievable, it’s already working in both Bangladesh and Africa. If he is able to stay on track, every Indian household may be seeing a brighter solar future very soon.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
As dire warnings from climate scientists continue to escalate and what were once rare extreme weather events become increasingly common, we at the Sierra Club applaud today's announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency outlining its proposed protections from dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants. These standards won't just take a big bite out of climate disruption, they’ll also help us tackle other serious power plant pollution that threatens our health, air and water - pollutants including soot, smog, and mercury.
I've been thinking about this news all weekend, and I keep coming back to one thing - this new standard gives my daughter, and all today's kids, a fighting chance at a safe and promising future. We are the last generation of people who have the chance to turn the corner on climate disruption. I want my daughter and all kids to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water, to enjoy snow days and fishing trips. I don't want them to face more massive wildfires, droughts, superstorms, food insecurity, breakdowns in infrastructure, and all the other unthinkable outcomes that our climate crisis could bring. As parents, we all want a better life for our children, and we now have to stand together to deliver that for them.
For decades, dirty power plants have been allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air, making them our single biggest source of the pollution that's pushing our climate to the brink. Right now air pollution is making our children sick and costing us billions of dollars every year. Some dirty and desperate polluting companies would like to keep it that way, which is why they're spending big to try and stop these standards from getting across the finish line. We need to join together and make our voices heard in support of these new standards, which you can do right here.
These costs -- to our health and our wallets -- will only grow unless we act. Climate and weather disasters cost the US $100 billion in 2012 alone, according to the EPA, the second most expensive year in US history for natural disasters.
Curbing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants will save billions of dollars (up to $93 billion, to be exact) - but more than that, it will save lives. The new standard is poised to prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children. EPA's new safeguards will also spur innovation and accelerate the clean energy economy to create good American jobs.
That's why the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters stand with President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's in their action to cut harmful carbon pollution. We’ll do everything we can to ensure a strong and just standard to save lives, boost the clean energy economy, and help American families thrive.
I’ll write more in the coming days about the specifics of the standard, and how far it goes in moving the needle on climate change and air pollution. But big polluters are wasting no time in trying to stop these standards in their tracks, so let's join together today and make one thing crystal clear - Americans want to turn the corner on climate disruption, we want safe air and water for our kids, and we want action now!
I encourage you to contact your governor and other elected officials. Urge them to support EPA's carbon pollution standards for power plants and put strong state plans in place to implement the standards, to give our kids a fighting chance and a safe and promising future.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
When I was a law student working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the ‘80s, we sued a company that had been polluting a Maine river for years. Back then, EPA calculated penalties based on theamount of money a polluter saved by ignoring the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The idea was to take away the economic benefit of pollution so that companies would make out better by installing treatment systems than by imposing their toxic waste on the community.
Not surprisingly, the company’s lawyers tried to prevent their client from having to pay a penalty for all those years it had been dumping pollution into the river. But their reasoning was interesting. Faced with the lawsuit, the company overhauled its industrial process and eliminated most of its waste products, which turned out to be a money-saving move. Thus, said the lawyers, the company hadn't gained any competitive advantage by polluting the river; it had actually lost money doing so. Really, they'd have made a lot more money if we'd forced them to clean up their act sooner.
Needless to say, the argument didn't fly, and the company paid a fine. But its experience turns out to have been a common one. When it comes to environmental regulation, industry screams that the sky is falling, but then it gets to work to solve the problem, and frequently ends up stronger than ever.
This is one reason to be skeptical of ad campaigns from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association trying to convince the public that the EPA's new standards on carbon pollution from power plants, to be announced on June 2, will destroy the American economy. They’ve cried wolf so many times they have lost all credibility.
And in case you are of a generous nature and inclined to forgive previous false alarms, it’s worth noting that the National Mining Association campaign earned the maximum four Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact-checker—meaning, it’s a pack of lies. The EPA has been scarcely kinder in its analysis of the Chamber’s campaign, and the economist Paul Krugman says the Chamber’s own numbers actually prove compliance with the carbon rule will be cheap.
The fact is, there is little reason to fear the economy will suffer by cleaning up carbon pollution and transitioning to clean energy. To the contrary, we have already paid dearly for lack of pollution protections in the form of rising health care costs for asthma and heart disease, in premature deaths, and in babies born with neurological damage from mercury in their mothers’ bodies.
All the while, other energy industries are growing and flourishing. The breathtaking pace of advances in wind, solar and battery technologies make it clear that the age of fossil fuels will end in this century. There will be winners and losers, as there always are in a free market, but the new energy economy offers so many opportunities for American companies and workers that one wishes the fear-mongers at the Chamber and the NMA would stretch their necks out of their bunker far enough to see the horizon.
As for society in general, we have seldom seen a limit on pollution that didn’t make us collectively better off, and carbon protections will be no exception. It is always easier and cheaper to stop pollution at its source than to clean it up later or pay for the damage. That will be true here in spades, where the damage includes hotter summers, more crop losses, more disease, more destructive storms, and whole communities swamped by rising sea levels. These are already happening, and they affect both our health and our wallets.
-- Sierra Club Virginia Volunteer Leader Ivy Main
Kathy Mohr-Almeida and her daughter Anna (pictured at the right) - along with millions of others in Arizona and surrounding states - could breathe a little easier if the Environmental Protection Agency steps up to enforce the Clean Air Act protections for Navajo Generating Station, one of the biggest polluters in Arizona.
Kathy and Anna are superstar volunteers for Arizona Beyond Coal who are working to transition Arizona away from the Navajo Generating Station coal plant (NGS) and replace it with clean energy. The 2,250-megawatt NGS, near Page, Arizona, is the largest and dirtiest coal plant in the state. Today Kathy and Anna joined a crowd of parents marching and delivering more than 10,000 petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency office in Tempe demanding strong clean air protections at NGS.
"People who live near NGS are suffering from health concerns - the families on the Navajo reservation are sick because of the coal plant's pollution," says Kathy, a mental health counselor in Phoenix. "Many of the people with breathing problems are kids."
The EPA is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to enforce the Clean Air Act at NGS and require reduced pollution through the retrofit technology. The Clean Air Task Force estimates that pollution from Navajo Generating Station contributes to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year, with total annual health costs of more than $127 million.
"The plant also has a negative impact on the Grand Canyon," says Kathy, referring to the pollution haze that clouds the Grand Canyon many days. "These places draw people to the northern part of the state, which economically benefits the entire state. If the air is too dirty to enjoy the most spectacular site on Earth, how long will people continue to visit?"
Kathy's daughter Anna sees the realities of bad air quality around her every day.
"Many of our family members have breathing difficulties," says 11-year-old Anna. "My cousin, Ricky, has been hospitalized for breathing difficulties, and my dad also has difficulty breathing when the air is dirty. Six kids in my class suffer from breathing problems, which get worse when the air is dirty."
The fight to clean up NGS for Kathy and Anna is also about the huge amount of climate pollution the plant spews into the atmosphere.
"Climate change is the biggest concern human beings currently face," says Kathy. "All other issues pale in comparison to mitigating the impact of human activity on the environment now."
Kathy also became an activist because of her daughter. "I cannot imagine looking Anna in the eye down the road and telling her I did nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Mitigating the negative impact of human activity on the climate is a very important value in our home - more important than personal goals."
Anna has been so inspired that she's started a nonprofit environmental organization called Kids Climate Action Network (Kids CAN!), to empower the youth voice in the climate change conversation. Her mom says Anna is working with renowned climate scientists, community leaders, and others on climate and clean air issues. Anna will also be attending the Sierra Student Coalition summer training program in July.
You can hear the pride in Kathy's voice when she talks about her daughter. "(Anna's) organization is by kids for kids, and her website includes a video forum for kids from around the world to share ideas, activities, and action steps."
Anna's crusade for climate action and clean air has had her testifying at numerous public hearings and speaking at rallies. Her passion is contagious.
"Young people should care about having clean air and a stable climate now because we - my generation - will be most harmed by the poor choices adults have made," says Anna. "I think burning a fossil fuel like coal is like having a cancer, because the problem continues to get worse and worse without any help. We are ready for a serious treatment to stop climate change. The longer we put off taking our medicine, the worse the fossil-fuel-caused cancer will get. We are already very seriously sick."
This is why the solution for Arizona (and beyond!) is clean energy. Activists working to clean up and transition NGS are big advocates for solar and wind power - and we're with them every step of the way.
If you're in Arizona, you can help by taking action here.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign
Last night the Louisiana House approved a bill that retroactively kills a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for the industry's pollution and damage to the state's wetlands.
As Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley put it, "this ends our latest effort to restore Louisiana's democracy and take down the Exxon flag flying from our Capitol building."
Malek-Wiley and so many other Louisiana residents and activists are floored by this political move - and they're tired of Big Oil running the state's politics.
It turns out that is sound advice for off-grid solar companies as well. In just the past four months, the off-grid solar market has seen a $45 million wave of new investment largely outside traditional venture capital players. From high profile institutions like SolarCity and Bloomberg Philanthropies, savvy investors are enjoying the pick of the litter thanks to a space literally exploding with cash-starved companies. With a new investment from Khosla Impact, SunFunder is not only joining the fray, it’s planting a flag for perhaps the most important financial innovation to date: venture debt.
SunFunder is based in San Francisco and Tanzania and seeks to unlock capital for emerging market solar. With a goal of catalyzing over $1 billion for financing solar companies and projects in emerging markets by 2020, SunFunder has its work cut out for it.
Ambitious as this goal is, SunFunder is led by seasoned solar finance veteran Ryan Levinson who cut his financial teeth as the vice president for Wells Fargo’s environmental finance division and oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in solar finance deals. If there is anyone who can bridge the world of big finance and off-grid solar, it’s Levinson and his team, which includes Tanzania-based Audrey Desiderato of E+Co and GOOD, and Sameer Halai of the Microsoft Corp and other tech start-ups.
That team began by raising capital through a crowdfunding platform with incredible success. In less than two years, they have financed 24 project loans with 10 solar companies in six different countries. This has already helped over 115,000 people gain access to affordable solar energy. On top of all that, they’ve done it with a 100 percent repayment rate.
While it was this rapidly growing crowdfunding platform that first got us excited -- and taught us four simple lessons about the value of crowdfunding and the off-grid solar market -- it’s SunFunder’s evolution toward more sophisticated financial offerings that could be truly revolutionary. Their progress has allowed them to bridge the institutional investing world and the off-grid market by providing the last piece of the finance puzzle: $20 million in venture debt by 2015.
SunFunder’s empowerment fund provides that debt by tapping into the large pools of capital sitting with accredited and institutional investors. The empowerment fund serves as a private debt offering for these investors who seek exposure to a diversified, vetted, and high-impact portfolio of solar projects in emerging markets. SunFunder has already raised and deployed $250,000 through its first offering. Now they are opening a new solar empowerment fund and have already raised $1 million with a goal to close $5 million by the end of the year and $20 million by 2015.
All told, SunFunder offers two types of important capital: “Catalytic” First Loss Capital and Senior Capital.
Catalytic Capital is a subordinate debt that assumes slightly higher risk of default in return for a slightly higher return. This capital helps unlock senior debt and is perhaps most attractive to foundations and others willing to take higher risk for social return. Though with 100 percent repayment rates, the risk is clearly perceived, not real.
Senior Capital is protected by the First Loss Capital and offers a lower risk investment opportunity that appeals to a larger audience of investors.
Combined, these new offerings demonstrate SunFunder’s ability to bring sophisticated off-grid solar offerings to institutional investors. Bridging the worlds of big money and small solar could finally unlock solar for all. This fortuitously aligns with India’s new Prime Minister's goal of providing solar for all 400 million Indians lacking power. Unsurprisingly, the company’s new investment from Khosla Impact will help increase the focus on investment growth in India.
All said and done, SunFunder’s investment marks a milestone in the rapidly expanding off-grid solar market. This market is maturing rapidly, but companies like SunFunder are just beginning to scratch the surface. The opportunities that will be created by the off-grid solar market hold the promise of addressing both climate disruption and energy poverty by disrupting the systems that produce them and replacing them with equitable outcomes for people and the environment.
The smart money is on SunFunder, and the hundreds of off-grid solar companies it seeks to bankroll, to do just that.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Pennsylvanians (and folks from around the country) will be out enjoying themselves on some of our state's 2.2 million acres of public forests and parks. Yet Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has just issued an executive order that paves the way to expanding fracking in those same state forests and parks. It is a shockingly shortsighted and dangerous move.
The governor, in an Orwellian stroke, has portrayed this order as offering some kind of protection for state forests and parks. In fact, it's a Memorial Day gift to the fracking industry. This is not, as some have reported, a kind of new moratorium on drilling; the order will actually expand fracking in and around our state forests and parks. Thousands of acres of public lands are at risk of being industrialized, including critically important headwaters, forests, and landscapes.
This move is a mistake for the governor and a disaster for the forests.
Pennsylvania's forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife and offer important recreational opportunities for millions of people yearly. They are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. These landscapes are essential to the character and biodiversity of Pennsylvania, and they are the rightful heritage of generations of future Pennsylvanians. But here we are, the day before a holiday weekend, and Governor Corbett wants to sell these public lands to the highest bidders.
That is not executive leadership. Rather, today's action by the governor is wildly irresponsible and a blow to countless generations of future Pennsylvanians who might otherwise one day enjoy these public lands. On June 17, the Sierra Club, along with our allies, will be rallying at noon at the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to tell Governor Corbett that we don't accept his plan. We'd love to see you cast a vote with your feet and join us.
-- Robert Gardner, campaign representative, Beyond Natural Gas, Pennsylvania
It's hard to imagine a more powerful figure to want on your side than retired Army Lt. General Russel Honoré. The former head of the Hurricane Katrina Joint Task Force Hurricane Katrina who commanded the military response to the devastating 2005 hurricane is now a major environmental activist in Louisiana - and those who love clean air and water are happy to have him.
"He came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and was called that 'John Wayne dude' for his take charge style and his reminding his solders that they were he to help fellow Americans recovery from a massive disaster called Hurricane Katrina in metro New Orleans," says Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, who works with General Honoré as part of the GreenARMY.
General Honoré now heads the GreenARMY, "an alliance of civic, community, and environmental groups and concerned citizens from around the state ready to effect meaningful social, political, and environmental change in Louisiana." Their latest battle? Fracking in St. Tammany Parish.
Anti-fracking crowds from the GreenARMY (including Sierra Club activists) have packed recent public hearings on a proposed permit to frack in a wetlands area of St. Tammany Parish - with the next major public hearing coming on June 2.
Residents are worried about the proposed fracking poisoning the water in the Southern Hills aquifer - and that the local politicians have been bought off by the oil and gas industry. Check out General Honoré's take on it.
Malek-Wiley and Delta Sierra Club staffer Andy Zellinger are working closely with Honoré and the GreenARMY on this issue and helping to turn out crowds at the hearings.
"Anyone who has a chance to drink (local St. Tammany Parish's) Abita Beer knows of the current quality of the water in the Southern Hills Aquifer - it's phenomenal," said Malek-Wiley with a laugh. "But this is a serious water quality issue. Fracking, be it in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, or Louisiana is a bad news. It means pollution, health problems, truck traffic, and more. It is the wrong energy choice."
Malek-Wiley's also thrilled to be working with the environmental powerhouse that is General Honore, too.
"As a long time Environmental & Environmental Justice activist it has been very interesting working with General Honoré," he says. "After his retirement General Honoré found that there are environmental damages being caused in America and that our democracy and way of life that he fought for is being taken over by huge oil and gas companies. What's more - these industries give large amounts of money to politicians and run green-washing TV campaigns all the time."
And that's part of General Honoré's speech in the video above - who is St. Tammany has been bought off to support the proposed fracking project.
If you're in the St. Tammany area, you can help by joining the Louisiana GreenARMY and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club and attending the June 2 public hearing.
And if you're not, Malek-Wiley encourages everyone to write your elected officials about investing more in clean energy like wind and solar instead of more drilling and fracking.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Senior Content Producer
Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.
But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.
This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.
It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.
For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.
Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
An exciting new book, Pico-solar Electric Systems: The Earthscan Expert Guide to the Technology and Emerging Market, was recently released by John Keane, the managing director and a founding member of SunnyMoney, the social enterprise of SolarAid.
These revolutionary pico-solar systems, which can power appliances such as mobile phones and LED lights, are an important component of a global strategy to alleviate the energy poverty that affects 1.2 billion people worldwide. The user-friendly designs employ a small solar panel to power a battery, which in turn can operate a variety of appliances. For many people living off the grid in places like India, Kenya, and Malawi, the only power options are dangerous, outdated, and expensive fuels like kerosene, but the introduction of pico-solar systems has been changing that.
Keane is particularly familiar with the issue of energy poverty because his enterprise, SunnyMoney, has sold more than one million solar units in just the past few years. In his book, he reinforces that the pico-solar sector has arrived, and is growing rapidly. In the past four months alone, the solar energy sector has seen $45 million in investments from high-profile investors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and SolarCity. This solar boom is also a huge source for green jobs in countries like Bangladesh where 80,000 solar home systems are being installed every single month.
In his book, Keane not only explains the technology involved in solar energy production and provides tips on choosing quality products, but he highlights the work of different practitioners in the growing pico-solar sector -- including Greenlight Planet, Orb, Fosera, and SunnyMoney. The case studies he includes from around the world clearly demonstrate that small pico-solar solutions are the key to the next big energy revolution -- similar to the global mobile phone boom.
Keane’s comprehensive book takes a look at how solar power has potential to transform the lives of billions of people living off the grid. If you are an aspiring social entrepreneur, development practitioner, or just simply interested in business and technology, its worth a read. You can check it out here.
-- Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
If you watched this week's episode of Showtime's climate series Years of Living Dangerously, you saw a fantastic piece by America Ferrera called "Against the Wind" that pierced the veil of the fossil fuel industry's well-funded operation to try and dismantle state clean energy standards. The episode could not have been more timely, as that same relentless attack continues unfolding in real time this spring in statehouses around the U.S. One of the most pitched battles is taking place right now in Ohio.
As the Years episode explained, many states require utilities to provide a certain amount of power from clean energy sources that don't pollute our air and water or disrupt our climate. These state standards (which have wonky names like "renewable portfolio standards" and "energy efficiency resource standards") have been important building blocks in getting clean energy to scale. Because these policies work, they pose a real threat to dirty energy - once people realize they get cheap, clean energy from the sun and wind, while also creating jobs and benefiting the local economy, they aren't turning back to the dirty energy sources of the past.
That's why fossil fuel interests are fighting relentlessly to roll back these state clean energy standards. As the Years episode revealed, much of this work is carried out under the auspices a right-wing outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, with backing from the fossil fuel baron Koch brothers. So far, we've stopped them - in 2013 we defeated every single attempt to gut a state clean energy standard, and even strengthened a couple. But the dirty fuel industry isn't giving up just yet.
Ohio clean energy advocates are currently fighting a push to destroy the state's energy efficiency and clean energy standards. These standards support well over 25,000 Ohio jobs and the energy efficiency standard has generated $1.3 billion in energy savings for consumers so far! The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that the clean energy standard has brought more than $1 billion in private capital investment to the Buckeye State over five years -- and has created thousands of jobs.
And Ohioans love the standards as well: A recent poll by the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy showed that 86 percent of Ohio voters support the state's current energy efficiency law. The same poll showed that 72 percent of Ohio voters said "we should continue to replace traditional sources of energy like coal with wind and solar power." (Ohioans - take action here to defend the standards!)
The good news in all these dirty fuels attacks on clean energy is this: We can win. The MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes just aired this excellent piece on how the Koch Brothers keep losing in their own home state of Kansas, where they have tried and failed multiple times to roll back that state's wildly successful clean energy standard. They're failing in part because the people of Kansas are realizing the benefits of clean energy, and have no interest in turning back the clock. As rancher and wind farmer Pete Farrell puts it, as a drought linked to climate disruption threatens his ranch and his livelihood, "Wind is my most drought resilient crop."
If we are going to keep winning these fights in Ohio and around the country, we need your help. Join us!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
As the ‘airpocalypse’ news out of China continues to grow, what we predicted more than a year ago is now increasingly obvious - China’s seemingly endless coal demand is a myth, and the Chinese coal boom is over.
What we often hear about a never-ending demand for coal in China has turned out to be just a desperate attempt by a flailing industry seeking to convince investors and politicians that they have a future in a cleaner, greener 21st century. But as frustration with deadly coal pollution grows along with China’s booming clean energy industry, this looks increasingly doubtful.
Since news of the airpocalypse first broke, the Chinese public has become increasingly adamant that dangerous air pollution from coal-burning power plants be curbed. In response, China’s State Council announced a detailed plan -- The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan -- that aimed to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants in September of last year. This was the historic first step towards curbing China’s air pollution crisis - but its only the beginning.
Responding to the growing outrage over air pollution just two months ago, the Chinese Premier declared a “war on pollution.” His announcement put clean air at the top of the policy making agenda, including new efforts to reduce toxic emissions from China’s largest source of air pollution - coal-burning plants.
In doing so, the government will be directly improving the air quality in two of China’s major cities -- Hebei and Shanxi. Hebei produces 12 percent of the world’s crude steel and is inextricably blanketed in smog as a result. Similarly, Shanxi produces 12 percent of the world’s coal. Both regions surrounding the city will benefit from less pollution from coal-fired power plants, meaning cleaner, healthier lives for their citizens.
The dangers of burning coal have become increasingly clear to the Chinese public - and the country has already seen an astonishing reduction in the growth of coal consumption and total coal demand. Several high profile banks have predicted China will hit peak coal demand before 2020, and a decline in coal burning and coal pollution would be just around the corner. At the same time, China’s clean energy industry is booming, with solar production skyrocketing.
All that reinforces our main point - China’s coal boom is over, with demand falling faster than expected. And that means we finally can see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The latest data from China’s National Coal Association suggests that while China burned 940 million tonnes of coal in the first quarter of 2014, that’s only a 0.9 percent increase from last year, down from a 9.8 percent increase in 2011.
As this trend continues, China’s peak coal consumption is looming ever closer, and the decline of coal consumption is just around the corner.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace East Asia
Last week, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona took to the Senate floor to make the claim that the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a “zombie” provision that we should eradicate, arguing that would somehow bring purity to energy markets. The Koch Brothers’ front organization Americans for Prosperity echoed this theme in a release shortly thereafter.
While the oil-rich Koch Brothers and their big polluting allies have funded and waged a war on what they say are zombies, they always fail to mention the vampires that roam their own halls at night --and only at night.
Those vampires are the oil and gas tax breaks that have been in the tax code for decades upon decades, hiding under the cover of permanence, never having to stare into the light of day – or an expiration. And they have been there for generations longer than the PTC (birthed just in 1992), biting into and sucking the fresh blood of taxpayer dollars, trying to make themselves appear young and robust. Intangible drilling costs (circa 1913), percentage depletion allowances (1926), master limited partnerships and passive loss exemption (1986) -- the names of these oil and gas giveaways haunt with Transylvanian overtones. And they rarely have to surface to face scrutiny or beg to be extended -- because they are written into the tax code in perpetuity!
I gather from Sen. Flake’s statement that the thing that makes the PTC a zombie is the fact that it keeps being extended. The PTC was enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and it has been extended 8 times. It has also expired 3 different times, in 2000, 2002, and 2004. It expired again this past December 31. He characterizes the wind industry as mature, and thus no longer requiring federal help. But wind energy is booming and growing across the country, meaning its still in its adolescence. At the end of 2013, more wind capacity was being manufactured than at any time in history.
On the other hand, the oil and gas industry would qualify for Medicare. No -- They would be more like centuries old; like vampires! Yet, there is no hue and cry from the Kochs and their allies that these cash producing, big polluting Count Draculas should somehow cease to wander the centuries delivering billions to the oil and gas industry.
We recently all got the stiff one-two punch of the National Climate Assessment and the frightening news about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet being on a one-way ride to more than 10 feet of global sea level rise. That means more communities, more families, and more businesess in the crosshairs of some of the worst effects of climate disruption.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers whose carbon emissions are helping fuel this crisis are fighting any and every effort necessary to address them, like the first-ever safeguards on carbon pollution. Its no surprise that the fossil fuel industry and its allies will do everything it can to protect its massive profits and pump out limitless pollution. And that means polluter allies in Congress will continue to target the PTC simply because they want to crush the wind industry in its youth – as it is beginning to finally offer real competition to the oil, gas, and coal industries. All the while, these same polluters are as silent as midnight in a graveyard about the vampire subsidies that have nurtured the fossil industries much more handsomely for much, much longer.
--Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club
One year ago, the Sierra Club submitted comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative about a newly proposed trade deal with the European Union, warning that it could have irreversible effects on communities and the climate crisis we all face. Today, a leaked text of the proposed deal reveals that those comments were more than foreshadowing -- the health of our families, our communities, and our climate are indeed in danger.
"A trade alliance between the U.S. and the European Union could offer an opportunity to improve safeguards across the Atlantic that protect our air, water and other natural resources," I said in a press release just about a year ago. "However, a transatlantic trade and investment agreement would have devastating consequences if free trade is pursued at the expense of environmental protection and consumer and worker rights."
The Sierra Club worked with our European partner, PowerShift, a German non-profit organization working at the intersection of trade and energy, to analyze the draft of the European Union's proposal for trading raw materials and energy. Our partners at Earthjustice also published a detailed analysis of the text. Unfortunately, the text reveals a dangerous proposal that threatens our climate and hinders the ability of governments and communities to tackle the crisis.
Despite the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warning that roughly two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground and that countries must urgently scale up renewable energy development and deployment to avoid climate catastrophe, this proposal would actually:
- Expand fossil fuel exports from the U.S. to the EU, and therefore increase fracking and mining in the U.S.;
- Limit the ability of governments to set the terms of their energy policy; and
- Restrict the development of local renewable energy programs.
Let's dig inside the text to understand how it would put our climate at risk.
First, the proposal would increase trade in fossil fuels between the United States and the EU by abolishing trade restrictions on energy, which in the U.S. only exist for natural gas and crude oil. In particular, the proposal seems aimed at facilitating exports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to the EU.
Here’s what that means, concretely.
Right now, in order to export natural gas to the European Union, the U.S. Department of Energy must conduct a public analysis to determine whether exports are in the interest of the public. It’s a pretty simple policy: look before you leap. However, under the U.S. Natural Gas Act, the United States must simply deem exports in the public interest - with no review analysis - and automatically approve exports of natural gas to countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement that includes something called "national treatment for trade in gas." Apparently, the EU doesn’t believe that this flawed provision in U.S. law is sufficient. In its proposal, the EU has essentially enshrined this risky provision into the trade agreement.
Liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. to the EU would lead to more dangerous fracking in the U.S. to feed foreign demand, increased reliance on dirty fossil fuels in the EU, and more climate-disrupting pollution. In addition, U.S. exports of natural gas would raise demand for U.S. natural gas, causing an increase in domestic gas prices and, therefore, a reduction in domestic consumption in the U.S. Don’t get too excited about decreased domestic consumption of natural gas: a decrease in gas consumption would shift the energy market back toward coal, not clean energy, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Association.
Second, the EU proposal would also limit governments from setting the terms of their own energy policy and handcuff their ability to protect their own air and water. The section on "transit" expands an existing trade rule guaranteeing so-called "freedom of transit" via the routes most convenient for international transit -- not for safety. That means that if, for example, tar sands are being pushed by pipeline from Country A to Country C, but have to travel through Country B, Country B could do nothing to alter the pipeline’s route away from key drinking water sources, valuable farmland, or highly-populated areas that could be devastated by leaks or spills. While a pipeline between the U.S. and the EU isn’t likely, the dangerous precedent set by this policy threatens communities around the globe.
Finally, it’s important to note that the only section of the draft text to deal specifically with renewable energy actually would restrict the ability of governments to create their own clean energy economies and build domestic renewable energy technologies at home. That is because the EU proposal prohibits governments from using "local content requirements" in renewable energy programs.
Local content rules, also known as buy-local rules, require that companies purchase or use goods of local origin. They have been a standard policy tool used by governments to nurture and grow new industries - like the wind and solar sectors. Governments must be able to adopt local content rules supporting their own local producers and suppliers in order to create clean energy jobs, localize production, and ramp up the number of homes and businesses they power - all which are tools for tackling climate disruption. Governments must have every tool at their disposal to be able to develop, grow, and support clean energy -- and the TTIP must not close the door on these programs.
In the words of EU Commission President Manuel Barroso, "Climate change is a defining challenge of our time." And in the words of President Obama, "Someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did."
These policy makers are right. Climate disruption is the defining challenge of our time, and we must do all we can to deal with this crisis. Sadly, this trade proposal takes us in the exact wrong direction. It would hinder us from acting on climate at a time when decisive action has never been more necessary. Dirty fossil fuels must stay buried in the ground if we’re going to avoid climate catastrophe. This proposal should be buried with it.
-- Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program
Today is bike to work day, and across the country, people will be hopping on their bicycles to get to work, school, and play.
Not just today, but every day, growing numbers of people are biking as an everyday means of transportation. Cities are taking notice and starting to make themselves more bike-friendly places to ride, with protected bike lanes, bike share systems, and other bike-focused infrastructure popping up across the country, and not a moment too soon.
How people get around is one of those chicken-or-egg kind of things, and this is proven over and over again in scientific research-- with transportation infrastructure, as they say, if you build it, they will come. The term for this phenomenon is "induced demand."
To illustrate this point in a very non-scientific way, let's go on a little thought adventure. For example, let's imagine that there are no highways. This means that no one is going to drive long distances between cities, because they can't. There's no road! Now let's imagine that there are highways, but there are no parking spots at the end of the journey. People would be circling the block forever...! Or they just wouldn't take a car in the first place because there's nowhere to put it at the end. You see how this works.
So let's imagine that there is a highway, but it ends in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a cattle stampede, and then maybe starts up again on the other side of the stampede, where there may or may not be any parking spaces. Ah, transportation infrastructure!
This may seem ridiculous, but this is actually how too many cities have done their bike infrastructure for way too long. Bike lanes can disappear or don't exist in the first place, only sometimes is there bike parking, and sometimes, without the right kind of streets and protections, biking in traffic can feel like being in the middle of a stampede.
Luckily, and with no small part played by bike activists and safe transportation advocates everywhere, this is beginning to change. Cities are beginning to figure out that bicyclists are an economic engine for neighborhoods, and by making safe, welcoming spaces for people to get out and ride, everyone wins. Of course, we also know that biking is good for the climate, for decreasing air pollution (fewer cars!), for public health, and just generally fun.
So, if your trusty steed has been collecting dust, Bike to Work Day is a great opportunity to pump up the tires and give it a spin in an encouraging group, and perhaps even discover some new safe cycling infrastructure in your city. And let's face it, riding along in a stampede of bicycles on Bike to Work Day is just plain fun.
And if you can't get enough of the group riding fun on Bike to Work Day, check around to see if your city has organizations, social groups, or bike shops that host group rides and events-- and sometimes they're even in costume. Happy cycling!
-- Rachel Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign. Graphic courtesy of Point6.
Guess what - you might be living near a toxic coal ash dump that threatens your local water supply, without even knowing it. Today, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice are releasing a new report called "Dangerous Waters: America's Coal Ash Crisis" that highlights some of the most unsafe coal ash sites in the nation.
Imagine living next to an unlined waste pit that leaked arsenic, lead, mercury, and scads of other toxins into your local groundwater, streams and rivers. What's more, imagine that those millions of gallons of this toxic sludge burst through its aging impoundment and fouled your drinking water, wrecked your local economy, or even inundated your community, destroying homes and endangering the lives of your family or your neighbors?
These are the realities and threats that millions of Americans face every day living near coal ash impoundments. Coal ash is what's left behind when power plants burn coal for electricity - and it contains a toxic mixture of dangerous chemicals. Shockingly, despite decades of advocacy, there are still NO national standards in place for the safe disposal of coal ash.
This year has been marked by tragic coal pollution spills into our waterways, including the third-largest spill of toxic coal ash in U.S. history, which devastated over 70 miles of the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia. The Dan River spill was a grim reminder of the sorry state of coal ash regulation in this country. Because we lack federal standards for safely disposing of coal ash, it has been left to the states, and most of them lack either the resources or the will to address the problem.
Every year, the nation's coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the second biggest waste stream in the country, after household garbage. All that ash has to go somewhere, so much of it is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds. Coal ash waste is stored in more than 1,400 sites in 45 states.
Today's report from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, makes a powerful case for strong, federally enforceable safeguards to end rampant toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants across the nation. The report highlights dangerous coal ash sites in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia, and it illustrates the ongoing damage and risks to public health from this toxic, largely unregulated solid waste.
Most of the 1,400 coal ash storage sites across the U.S. lack adequate safeguards, leaving nearby communities at risk from potential large-scale disasters like the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008 or the Duke Energy coal ash breach into the Dan River earlier this year. If that's not enough, communities are also at risk from slow-motion disasters as coal ash toxins seep into drinking water sources or are blown into nearby communities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that people who live near certain types of unlined coal ash pond and whose drinking water source is groundwater have a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from water contaminated by arsenic-- a risk 2,000 times greater than the EPA's goal for reducing cancer risk and significantly higher than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. According to the EPA, 1.54 million American children live near coal ash storage sites.
Another harrowing statistic from the EPA: coal ash has contaminated waters at 200 sites in 37 states across the country!
As communities face toxic water contamination or coal ash blowing from nearby coal ash landfills coating their homes and yards with toxic dust, they're saying enough is enough - and the Sierra Club is standing with them. We're there as communities demand action from the EPA, and we're there as they demand action from utilities and coal companies who are risking the health of our families and the vitality of our waterways.
The EPA is under a court order to finalize national coal ash protections this December, but whether or not those protections will be strong and enforceable is an open question. We need your help - join us in calling for strong coal ash safeguards from the EPA.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign
In what’s being deemed the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history, more than 240 miners have been killed and countless more are still missing following a power transformer explosion that triggered a blazing underground fire at a Soma Komur Isletmeleri mine in Western Turkey.
In the hours following the devastating accident, families of the missing, injured, and killed miners have been anxiously awaiting any news about their missing loved ones. But Energy Minister Taner Yildiz recently declared, “Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing.”
Its an anguishing time for those touched by this tragedy in Turkey and across the globe. Unfortunately, this most recent disaster is also the latest in a long line of incidents reflecting a painful reality – coal is a deadly fuel source that has no place in the 21st century. That’s a big part of the reason why many international financial institutions (IFIs) have moved quickly and decisively away from financing new coal plant expansions around the world over the past few weeks. From the World Bank to the European Investment Bank to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, public financial institutions have overwhelmingly decided that dangerous coal investments should no longer receive public support.
One of these institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has made the transition beyond coal a cornerstone of their work in Turkey - and the importance of that step forward is only amplified by this week’s coal mining tragedy.
Straddling the Eastern and Western worlds, Turkey is home to dynamic economic growth that is driving a wave of new energy investment second only to China’s power sector. While currently dependent on fossil fuels -- mainly natural gas -- and home to the fourth largest pipeline of new coal plants in the world, Turkey is also home to fast growing efficiency, wind, and solar markets.
At the same time, the struggle to transition from fossil fuels has run head on into the struggle against an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has clamped down on environmental protests and free speech of all kinds time and time again. The historic - and violently repressed - wave of public demonstrations that spread across the country in May of 2013 was initially sparked by Turkish citizens speaking out against the removal of green space in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Now, in the aftermath of this tragedy, protesters demanding safe workplaces have been met with tear gas and water cannons.
The situation underscores a dramatic choice. Which of these divergent paths -- either a continued reliance on dirty and deadly 19th century fossil fuels or a new clean energy future -- Turkey heads down will reflect investment priorities, the chance for a healthy future for its citizens and workers, and, in many ways, the global energy transition. This is an important decision that will not only affect Turkey’s energy industry but also its environment and the people of this vibrant country. The choice should be clear: by transitioning away from fossil fuels, the people of Turkey will have cleaner air and water and will no longer be at risk of tragic accidents like Tuesday’s mine disaster.
Prior to this tragedy, I sat down with EBRD’s Director for Turkey, Michael Davey, to learn more about one of the international finance world’s most surprising transitions beyond coal to becoming a potential clean energy leader and the dynamics of this change on the ground. For this conversation, we were also joined by energy expert, Hasan Pehlivan, the principal advisor for the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT).
Justin Guay (JG): EBRD recently made headlines with its new coal finance restrictions -- restrictions that were applauded by organizations around the world. What’s the future for EBRD energy investments in Turkey now that coal is off the table?
Michael Davey (MD): Energy was a high priority from day one, but the focus was on sustainable energy. There have been a number of requests for coal, particularly in northern parts of Turkey, who have a desire to privatize and rehabilitate lignite plants. That meant a number of requests to be involved in coal. But we turned them down. There is simply so much we could do with gas, efficiency or renewables in Turkey. So in reality, this recent change in policy has made no difference to the operations in Turkey.
JG: Many IFIs claim to be demand-driven when justifying new dirty coal investments yet fail to support clean energy. Why are you so bull-ish on renewable energy and energy efficiency?
“We’re demand-driven, and the demand for clean energy is there.” – Michael Davey
MD: It’s not just our energy investment portfolio either. We’ve had deep engagement on sustainable energy policy development in the country – thanks to strong demand from the Turkish government. We’ve provided a number of background studies and technical assistance and helped with the regulatory reforms required for promoting sustainable energy. For example, we undertook a review of geothermal potential in Turkey as well as a review of potential for WTE (waste to energy), and pioneering climate change studies. Much of this is driven by the EU accession process and requirements to bring the country in line with EU norms on energy.
Shortly after we started working in Turkey, we worked on regulations to finalize feed-in tariffs and the environment for investing in renewable energy. We also created another initiative: mid-size sustainable energy and financing facility that has deployed about a billion euros of long-term money, under a securitization structure, at fairly good interest rate. We’ve also created finance facilities through local banks that have helped them develop lending for sustainable energy to SMEs and businesses. Although they’re relatively complex facilities, banks have come back after second and third rounds.
On the energy efficiency side, there’s been quite a lot. We built a framework (300-400 million euros) to get banks to engage in lending. It’s taken work to get investments moving but it’s now starting to bite. We’ve also been going around in a systematic way, offering free energy audits and using that as a basis for loan intervention to support EE investments at enterprise level.
JG: What role do you see for shale gas?
“In Turkey, we do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA” -- Hasan Pehlivan
Hasan Pehlivan (HP): Not in Turkey, no. But further potential shall be explored. There has been drilling for shale – a couple of holes to take a look at the availability of shale gas. In a country where there is no oil, likelihood of having shale gas will be a question. We won’t see a shale gas boom in Turkey. We do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA.
JG: Back to the EBRD portfolio -- Turkey has a big pipeline of wind projects, but solar is just getting off the ground. What’s next for the Turkish solar market? Do you have any projections for the size of the market? Do you see distributed gen or utility scale driving investment?
“You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar.” -- Hasan Pehlivan
MD: The solar market is starting to emerge. We’ve been sitting back and waiting. But we do expect to see a lot of solar in the future.
From the government’s perspective solar is being supported carefully. They monitor Europe and what happens in Europe, including recent experience with feed-in tariffs. There were issues when solar companies have had difficulties when government cuts feed-tariffs so they want to be careful. The relatively modest feed-in tariffs reduce the prospect of any negative regulatory change.
HP: For instance, the government started with 600-megawatts of solar in June, and there were 500 applications – a huge demand. Since then, we finalized new policies for distributed solar that eliminates the requirement for a license for new plants up to one-megawatt. That means people can install their homes, industrial zones much faster and easier so long as they’re not selling back to the grid. This has proven very popular. Since this was put in place in October, 20-megawatts have already applied.
HP: You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar. On top of every house, solar water-heating systems exist. Culture is there. Turkey has the highest solar energy potential within Europe. In next 10 years, we expect to see 3,000-megawatts with an additional capacity of 2,000-3,000-megawatts just from distributed generation.
JG: So does that mean they don’t need government approvals for establishing distributed solar systems? What about net metering?
HP: If they don’t have any ambition to sell to the grid, they can install on top of the roof. No permission needed. If they need to connect to the grid, they need to apply to their distribution company. They must agree to sell to, to provide it to the grid. In organized industrial zones, there are usually large transformer stations.
Connection to the grid is usually not an issue. For the residences, there needs to be work done (technology-wise). Metering needs to be replaced by a distribution company. There is time for the residences to sell to the grid, but if you’re not interested in selling to the grid, no worries.
Some companies want to develop large solar farms, but there is a limited availability of licenses. So companies are applying for the one-megawatt licenses –individually as separate entities, but also in aggregate, forming solar arrays as big as five to 10-megawatts. They connect to the grid, and it’s an interesting development. It is a market solution that is fine and not beating any rules.
JG: Any Final thoughts?
HP: We expect investment to double the capacity over 10 years. That’ll create a huge economy. Turkey has already received a lot of foreign direct investment – 30 percent coming from energy. Many of these sustainable energy projects are now becoming feasible, and even better things are clear on the ground.
MD: In Turkey, the underlying demand dynamics are strongly supportive of long-term healthy demand for clean energy, and its climatic and geographic elements also provide significant opportunity for substantial on-going investment into wind, solar, and geothermal.
We’re also impressed with extent and depth of engagement with the Ministry of Environment on sustainable energy issues. That combined with a very strong banking system and appetite for working on complex products like mid-sized sustainable energy is positive. All told, we have to be fairly pleased at what we’ve done in Turkey.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
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