Celebrating One Million Solar Installations

#millionsolarstrong

They say the first million is the hardest… Based on the increasing rate of solar installations coupled with the continuously decreasing cost of solar, we’re thinking that saying is true when it comes to solar, and we are SO excited for what’s ahead!

Today we are joining thousands of individuals and organizations across the country to celebrate #MillionSolarStrong – a social media celebration of one million completed solar installations in the USA. This is an important milestone, one marked with incredible advances in technology and an optimistic look towards the future. These first million have been a fascinating ride through what has been a trailblazing journey of market changes, policy challenges, and an incredible opportunity to provide clean, affordable solar energy for people throughout America.

It’s inspiring to think of all the lives that have already been changed for the better because of solar. Thousands of jobs have been created, local economies revitalized, energy costs lowered – The word “SOLAR” has gone from an environmentalist pipe dream to a mainstream reality. Today is worth celebrating.

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South Carolina Leads Southeast in Coal Ash Cleanup; NC and TN Taking Action

The Waccamaw River is home to an astounding array of species and is used for drinking water, fishing and recreation. Santee Cooper's removal of coal ash at three plants is good news for the Waccamaw River as well as the Cooper River and Winyah Bay.

This post is part one of a two-part series exploring the state of coal ash regulation and clean up in the Southeast. Part one focuses on North and South Carolina and Tennessee. Part two focuses on Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. SACE staff member Angela Garrone contributed to this post.

Between 2012–2015, South Carolina’s three utilities committed to excavate roughly 20 million tons of coal ash at all waterfront coal ash pits in the state and remove it to lined, dry storage. Already, one excavated site shows a dramatic reduction of arsenic contamination in groundwater.

Cleaning up coal ash works. What are our southeastern states doing to make it happen?

In short, not enough, and some are better than others. North Carolina’s regulators are requiring excavation at some of Duke’s sites, but they could allow the company to leave nearly 100 million tons of coal ash where it is, polluting groundwater presumably forever. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was ordered by the state to investigate and take steps to clean up its coal ash mess, but it’s far from certain that regulators will require removal of the ash and proper storage.

Read more…

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By Any Other Name… The Battle Over “Community Solar”

What’s in a name? When it comes to solar, a whole lot. In any industry, accurate use of terminology is pretty important. In the rapidly solar installation ground mountevolving and policy driven solar industry, it is especially critical. Misuse of terms can lead to confusion among current and potential solar customers and solar advocates, therefore compromising and slowing down quality development of a strong and mature industry.

We are seeing this misuse of terms and subsequent confusion today with the  name “community solar.” Noting the buzzworthy-ness of the term and the warm fuzzies associated with the very idea of community solar, utilities are currently spending significant time and money in an attempt to co-opt the term for themselves as a new name for what is already known as “utility scale” solar.

In January, CEOs from major investor owned utilities around the country discussed how they could use the term “community solar” to improve their image at a board meeting of Edison Electric Institute (EEI). (EEI is a trade organization that represents this group of utilities.) Well aware that the public image of many utilities has taken a recent beating over the numerous utility-led attacks on rooftop solar and net metering policies, EEI explained the new strategy to help fix the utilities’ solar-image: work with hired consultants to help shift the public language of “utility scale solar” to the much more popular name “community solar.” You can read more about their strategy in this expose article by the Huffington Post.

Read more…

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Congress Must Prevent Utilities From Skirting Coal Ash Landfill Requirements

The Southeast is home to 40% of the nation’s coal ash impoundments, according to the EPA.

U.S. Representative Hank Johnson (D) of Georgia recently introduced a bill, H.R. 4827, that would close a dangerous loophole in a federal coal ash rule by extending it to cover household garbage landfills that receive coal ash. The southeast has more coal ash per capita than any other region of the country, so we hope Rep. Johnson’s southern colleagues will co-sponsor and publicly support this bill.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the federal coal ash rule to limit the health threats of coal ash pollution, but the rule doesn’t apply to household garbage landfills, or “Municipal Solid Waste” (MSW) landfills in official terms. Utilities are already trying to use this loophole to dump millions of tons of toxic ash in landfills that aren’t designed for it. Rep. Johnson’s bill would ensure communities near household waste landfills get the same protections as people who near coal ash disposal sites covered under EPA’s coal ash rule, including groundwater monitoring and cleanup requirements.

Will you send a letter to your members of congress asking them to support this important bill?

The Landfill Loophole

Rep. Johnson’s bill, the Coal Ash Landfill Safety Act (CALSA; H.R. 4827) eliminates the exemption of MSW landfills from EPA’s coal ash rule. CALSA ensures that at MSW landfills, coal ash isn’t stored within five feet of groundwater, groundwater monitoring programs are in place, fugitive dust is controlled, and that communities have critical information on spills and groundwater monitoring data, just like at other coal ash dumps. The bill is a response to utilities looking to existing MSW landfills as they explore options for dealing with decades of coal ash waste.

While utilities like Georgia Power and Duke Energy may still be allowed to leave millions of tons of ash in unlined, leaking pits, they will also excavate some of it to dry storage in landfills. Done properly, landfills are generally a safer storage solution because they keep ash away from water, which leaches and spreads its contaminants.

EPA’s coal ash rule sets requirements for many landfills that store coal ash in order to safeguard nearby residents. If congress fails to take action and close the loophole for MSW landfills, it’s possible that millions of tons of coal ash could be stored in these dumps, threatening the health and safety of people living nearby.

Growing Concerns Over Coal Ash Stored in Southeastern Landfills

The best way to reduce the threat of coal ash is to stop burning coal, but in the meantime the ash that already exists needs to be properly stored and handled. Coal ash contains dangerous toxic substances like arsenic, lead, and mercury, and makes for a lousy neighbor. It’s no surprise that people living near landfills are concerned that coal ash might be headed their way. In fact, communities with landfills in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are already taking action.

Georgia: Residents of Jessup, Georgia have been up in arms since learning that Republic Services plans to accept coal ash into its Wayne County landfill. Republic plans to expand the Broadhurst landfill over a wetland and build a rail yard to accept coal ash, among other wastes. The community is concerned that coal ash waste could leach into their groundwater and endanger their health. They are calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to deny a necessary permit.

Underscoring community concerns, a recent investigative report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that coal ash already leaked from now-closed coal ash facilities at the Broadhurst landfill, though the leak was not reported to residents at the time. In response to the revelation, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill to ensure that Georgians are notified of toxic leaks at landfills. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on Tuesday. The General Assembly also created a committee to study coal ash disposal issues more broadly.

South Carolina: Controversy erupted in Pickens County, South Carolina when an out-of-state landfill company attempted to develop a landfill that would accept coal ash. MRR Southern, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, had its county permit to build revoked after public outcry elevated the issue to the County Commission. The company is currently suing the county. Community outrage sparked South Carolina’s General Assembly to pass a bill, recently signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley, that prevents out-of-state coal ash from being dumped in some Class 2 landfills (which includes the landfill in Pickens County). Instead, out-of-state ash must be dumped in lined, Class 3 landfills with more protective standards.

Congress Must Close the Loophole!

As utilities respond to EPA’s coal ash rule and begin looking for permanent storage options for their coal ash, it’s critical that we ensure they aren’t allowed to dump ash in landfills that weren’t designed to handle the waste and manage its risks. Southeasterners are already struggling with the impacts of toxic ash, especially in communities of color like Uniontown. Their voices and stories should be elevated, not silenced.

Rep. Johnson’s leadership should be applauded as he and other members of Congress work to close this dangerous loophole in EPA’s coal ash rule. However, Congress is simultaneously considering S.2446, a bill that would undermine EPA’s rule and EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash. We need congress to act with urgency to ensure that every community has adequate protection from coal ash waste, instead of eliminating protection on behalf of utilities. You can help make it happen. Send a letter to your members of congress asking them to support this important bill!

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Climate Feedback: Scientists Collaborate to Sort Fact from Fiction In Media’s Coverage of Climate Change

The following guest post is from Climate Feedback, a global network of scientists who analyze and critique articles about climate change in the mainstream media, holding publications accountable for accurately reporting on the issue.

Last year was the hottest year in human history, and last week we learned that the Great Barrier Reef is already heavily suffering the consequences of warming oceans. Yet some media are still reporting misleading information that sows doubt about the science of climate change, which confuses the public and undermines democratic support for dealing with the issue.

Scientists are now collaborating to tackle this issue and support accurate journalism. Climate Feedback is a global network of scientists who sort fact from fiction in the media’s coverage of climate change. It works like this:

When an influential story on climate change breaks, scientists with relevant expertise comment on the article using the new web annotation platform Hypothesis. They also rate the article’s credibility so that people know right away whether they can trust what they are reading. Climate Feedback then publishes an accessible summary of the scientists’ comments and provides feedback to reporters and editors so they can improve the accuracy of their reporting.

This approach has already had impacts, leading journalists to improve their articles or, in one particularly misleading case, to issue a public correction. In just over a year, Climate Feedback has gained a reputation as a trusted reference. Last week, for instance, one of Climate Feedback’s analyses was used as a reference by members of the House of Lords in the UK,who asked The Times of London to report the reality of climate change more accurately.

Climate Feedback has also started to build a record of news outlets’ scientific accuracy: The “Scientific Trust Tracker.” It aggregates scientists’ comments and scores into an index that rates major news sources on the scientific merit of their climate change coverage. This will provide a healthy incentive for better reporting and guide the public to information they can trust.

To increase its impact, Climate Feedback has launched a crowdfunding campaign, with a minimum goal of $30,000, to support the growth of the project and allow a substantial increase in the frequency of scientists’ reviews. If you would like to see more accurate reporting of the realities of climate change, please consider supporting this initiative and spreading the word!

You can find Climate Feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

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A somber 30th anniversary – Chernobyl’s legacy

The 30th anniversary of the devastating accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet Union in the town of Pripyat is not something to celebrate, especially given that the site is still struggling with properly containing the destroyed Unit 4 reactor that exploded on that fateful day. This anniversary date is especially somber given that the populaces here in the West were told that our reactor designs couldn’t suffer such a fate, which was proven false just five years ago when a GE reactor design used here in the U.S. also experienced a triple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant reactor number 4, the enclosing sarcophagus and the memorial monument. Photo: Matti Paavonen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Though many have heard nuclear power proponents talk about “inherently safe” nuclear technologies, especially recently in terms of small modular reactors (SMRs), the reality is that nuclear power can be inherently unforgiving.  Thankfully, energy technologies have advanced over the past thirty years to the point where there are a plethora of low- to no-carbon choices available today, such as wind, solar and energy efficiency, among many others, that are safe, affordable and without the serious, some experts would say insurmountable, risks posed by nuclear power.

In commemoration of today’s somber anniversary, please take time to learn more about the Chernobyl accident via the brief commentary and resources below. And make a pledge to contact your elected officials and demand that your local, state and federal governments and your power utilities move towards safe energy choices that offer a clean energy future for generations and generations, not a legacy of contamination and suffering.

  • A look at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in numbers” in the Washington Post. Such as, More than 2 billion euros ($2.25 billion): The amount of money being spent by an internationally funded project to build a long-term shelter over the building containing Chernobyl’s exploded reactor.
  • 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Chernobyl” by Greenpeace International’s Celine Mergan in EcoWatch. For instance, did you know that Chernobyl caused what the United Nations has called “the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity.”
  • 30 Ways Chernobyl and Dying Nuke Industry Threaten Our Survival” by Harvey Wasserman in EcoWatch.
  • Register here for the next #NuclearIsDirty series webinar from the Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS): “Chernobyl +30: A Look from the Inside, with Lucas Hixson” on Monday, May 2 at 2pm Eastern – get an inside view on the impacts and ongoing mitigation efforts at Chernobyl.

Note: If you’re in Atlanta, you can take part in an action at noon today protesting the under-construction nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle along the Savannah River. Learn more about what happened at the action here.

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Amendment 4 on August’s Ballot Seeks to Lower Solar Energy Costs in Sunshine State

Want to know the best-kept secret in Florida about one of the biggest barriers holding back meaningful solar development? It’s not the lack of sunshine – Florida has best solar resource east of the Mississippi. So, what is it you ask? Taxes – really burdensome taxes whose impact drives up the cost of solar power. The Sunshine State should not be taxing the sun.

Taxes are big reason that Florida – a state with no solar incentives – has 9 million energy customers and yet only a mere 8,500 rooftop solar systems. By comparison, New Jersey has over 40,000 rooftop systems with half the population and less sun. The Sunshine State can and should do better.

Florida voters will have an opportunity to change that by significantly lowering solar energy costs on August 30th – simply by voting YES on Amendment 4. The proposed amendment, if passed, will exempt solar systems from the tangible personal property tax – the most burdensome of the taxes – for a period of 20 years. For you tax wonks, we’ll dig into the details of the tax in a moment.

A YES vote on Amendment 4 lowers solar energy costs by lowering taxes on solar installations – because the tangible personal property tax is passed on to customers in the form of increased solar power prices of up to 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). That’s a big deal in Florida where a couple cents can make or break the economics of going solar. Better solar economics means more solar development, which lays the groundwork for cleaner air and a more sustainable future for the next generation.

The title and summary of the amendment below can sound complicated, but the concept is simple: lower taxes = lower solar energy costs. Read more…

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Just Energy Memphis Coalition Works to Ease Energy Burden

Executive Director of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, Madeleine C. Taylor, welcoming guests to the Just Energy Memphis luncheon.

This Earth Day, we take a moment to recognize that clean energy solutions can not only help save our planet from the devastation of extreme climate change, but also help save families from suffering due to high energy costs. Just this week, Memphis, TN was named one of the top 10 cities with the highest energy burden in the country in a new report, with Memphians spending an average of just over 6% of their income on energy bills. This percentage more than doubles for low-income families in Memphis, with those families paying over 13% of their income on utility bills – the highest in the country! Families with high energy burdens suffer significant negative health impacts and economic hardship. They face greater risks for respiratory diseases and increased stress, and too often have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their lights on.

Coincidentally, the day before that report was released, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, in partnership with the Memphis Branch of the NAACP and Sierra Club, hosted a luncheon meeting at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation around our Just Energy Memphis project aimed at finding energy efficiency solutions to help ease low-income communities’ energy burdens.

The Just Energy Memphis meeting brought together leaders from county and city government, local service agencies, community development groups and Memphis Light, Gas, and Water staff to discuss how to work together to reduce high utility bills for low-income communities. This event was the first step in developing a city-wide coalition that can help educate and empower low-income communities and identify who is not being served by current bill pay assistance and weatherization programs.

Read more…

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TVA Puts Solar In its Place – Just Outside Memphis!

Where’s the best place for solar energy? It may not seem obvious to many readers, but Memphis, Tennessee is one of the smartest places to put solar energy in the Southeast. Just this week, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) showed how it is following this kind of smart siting by signing a a 53 megawatt (MW) solar facility power purchase agreement (PPA) with Nashville-based renewable energy provider, Silicon Ranch Corporation, who will construct what is soon-to-be Tennessee’s largest solar array in Millington, TN, just north of Memphis.

What’s so smart about putting solar in the western part of TVA’s service territory? It turns out that on hot summer days, TVA can rely on the sun shining on West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi late into the day – producing solar energy just when air conditioners across the entire Tennessee Valley most needs this clean energy to keep folks cool. The maps below show two ways of mapping the output of a solar farm. The left represents the “usual” view, which emphasizes how much solar energy is actually generated. On the right, the “utility” view, which emphasizes how much energy is produced during the hours that TVA has the highest demand.

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North Charleston, SC Brewery Wants to Save Paradise, Says “No Drill, No Spill” to Offshore Drilling

This is the third post in our Green Spirit Awards monthly blog series, highlighting breweries, wineries and distilleries in the Southeast using clean energy to create tasty, sustainable beverages. You can read the other blogs in this series by clicking here. Cheers!

Holy City Brewing Company in North Charleston, South Carolina released a beer this month dedicated to the paradise that is our Southeast coast: Paradise Session Ale. The ale is light, sessionable (meaning very drinkable for many rounds), and would be enjoyed by a variety of people, even if each had different palates. Paradise, therefore, is crafted to be a perfect beer for enjoying while hanging out for hours with friends on the beach and enjoying the coast we are blessed with.

It is this picture of quintessential coastal life that motivated Holy City to make a statement with Paradise Ale: “Help save paradise. No drill, no spill. It’s not worth the risk.” Paradise Ale seems to me to be equal parts celebration and protest–a celebration of the coast we love, and a protest of that which would jeopardize it.

Offshore drilling and seismic blasting, which have been proposed for the Atlantic coast (although the most recent Atlantic offshore drilling proposal was canceled last month) indeed threaten some fundamental reasons why we choose to call this place home. They risk both the ecology–the beaches, marshes, and wildlife–and the economy, a $7 billion coastal tourism economy. Read more…

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