Memphis Wins BIG in the Solar in Your Community Challenge!

Memphis Heritage Solar Uprising - one of the local teams moving forward in the Solar in Your Community Challenge

Summer is just around the corner and the sun is already shining on Memphis, TN. Five Memphis teams are moving forward to the next phase of the SunShot Prize: Solar In Your Community Challenge, a Department of Energy initiative aimed at increasing opportunities and access to solar resources in lower-income communities (The State University of New York Polytechnic Institute will administer the Challenge). Memphis is prime real estate for solar projects, thanks both to geography and the long hours of sunlight we get throughout the year. Couple that with a high number of communities living in poverty and in need of cheap power – the SunShot Challenge is a perfect fit for Memphis.

Several Memphis teams worked to submit proposals for the SunShot Challenge, with the following five teams selected to move forward to the next round – Memphis Heritage Solar Uprising, New Chicago Community Partnership Revitalization, Rozelle-Annesdale Community Initiative, AimsSolar and EnLIGHTen Soulsville.

The SunShot Challenge supports teams across the country as they work to develop solar projects and programs and prove that their specific business models can help expand access to underserved communities. A team must be working on a solar project or program that will serve at least 20% low- to moderate-income households (LMI) or 60% non-profits. The Challenge officially began this month and will end in October 2018.

The Grand Prize, $500,000, is expected to be awarded in January 2019 and will go to the team that most effectively demonstrates an innovative and scalable solar model that can help expand access across the United States. Over the course of the entire competition timeline, $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance will be awarded, including up to $2 million in seed prizes and $2 million in technical assistance.

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Re-cap from Climate Marches in Asheville, Charleston and South Florida!

Climate action was in the air on Saturday, April 29th at various climate marches held throughout the Southeast. SACE staff was excited to participate in four sister events this year. Here’s a short re-cap and photos from those events. See SACE’s photo albums from the events on Facebook here and on Flickr here.

Asheville, NC – “from 8th graders to elected officials”

Pack Square in downtown Asheville, NC hosted about 1,000 climate activists last Saturday. Several local speakers took to the mic, calling out the Trump administrations’ efforts to roll back climate policies and removing public climate data from the Environmental Protection Agencies’ website. By far, the most inspiring speakers were two local 8th graders, named Eliana and Cleo, who shared with the crowd their own personal “aha” moment on climate change (which involved a local science teacher!) and the importance of youth engaging on climate change. Re-live their adorable speech here.

Another note-worthy speaker for Asheville’s event was Buncombe County Commissioner, Brownie Newman (right photo), who articulated several impressive local initiatives (in the face of uncertainty at the federal level) aimed at lessening carbon pollution: WNC’s first micro-grid, Buncombe County’s retired landfill repurposed as solar farm, and a local Energy Innovation Task Force working together on clean energy and energy efficiency efforts for Western North Carolina. Read more…

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Pruitt EPA’s Water Pollution Delay Extends Uncertainty for Southeast Coal Plants

A pipe dumps runoff pollution from a coal ash pond at Alabama Power's Plant Gorgas into a popular fishing area.

UPDATE: Send your comment to EPA by July 6.

Since 1982, little has changed about the toxic pollution coal-fired power plants are allowed to dump in water, although change was on its way. Unfortunately, if EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prevails, our waterways and our health will remain threatened by our nation’s leading source of toxic water pollution: coal fired power plants.

We will have to keep on waiting for modern, updated protections, and coal plant operators face continued uncertainty over their compliance obligations – uncertainty that may actually accelerate coal’s decline. In early May, environmental groups challenged the legality Administrator Pruitt’s stay.

In the Southeast, many power plants’ operators were already preparing to meet new 2015 standards, which would go into effect in 2018, updating pollution control technology at their plants and working with state agencies to update state water discharge permits. The 2015 Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs), which represents the first update to these regulations since 1982, nearly eliminates dumping of ash-contaminated wastewater, and for the first time, limits the discharge of heavy metals that come from removing toxics from the air pollution stream and trapping them in a watery sludge.

We’ve waited 35 years for updated pollution control standards for coal plant water pollution, while coal companies have enjoyed the freedom to cut costs and increase pollution discharges into our rivers, streams and drinking water. The new ELG standards were created with input from the public and the coal industry, even including a long compliance timeline that wouldn’t have required compliance until 2023 – 41 years after the 1982 ELG standards.

Coal plant operators were already moving ahead with compliance, with at least one southeastern plant obtaining a final operating permit that reflects the 2015 standard. Others are either in the process of draft permit review, or have yet to receive an updated permit due to state regulators’ delays in addressing a permit backlog. All of these plants are now on an unclear path, thanks to Administrator Pruitt’s rush to stay implementation of the new ELG standards.

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Solar Sunday at Highland Brewing Company!

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SACE is excited to partner with Highland Brewing Company for Solar Sunday on May 7th. Bring the family for a tour of Highland Brewing’s impressive rooftop solar system, complete with a rooftop bar! Enjoy music by local band Chalwa, enter to win local raffle prizes (listed below), and mingle with SACE staff, who will be on hand to chat about clean energy in western North Carolina. This event is family-friendly!

When: Sunday, May 7th, 12-6 p.m.

Where: The Meadow at Highland Brewing Company, 12 Old Charlotte Highway, Asheville, NC 28803

RSVP & INVITE your friends on Facebook!

Thank you to the local businesses that donated the following raffle items: Eno hammock from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Spiritex gift certificate, Well.Fit 5-class pass, Bun Intended Food Truck gift certificate, chocolate from French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Town Mountain Massage Therapy session, and more!

SACE is partnering with Highland Brewing throughout the month of May and will receive $1 for every pint sold on Solar Sunday, so help us pack the brewery with clean energy enthusiasts!

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City of Atlanta Commits to 100% Renewable Energy Goal

On Monday, the Atlanta City Council passed a resolution that commits the City to meeting 100 percent of their electricity consumption with clean energy resources and associated technologies by 2035.  The goal also includes a near-term goal that will commit the City to powering their own facilities with 100 percent clean energy by 2025. The vote on the resolution was unanimous.

SACE clean fuels director, Anne Blair, testifies on the benefits of clean energy

SACE testified in support, specifically highlighting the benefits of renewable energy to public health and the climate as well as the co-benefits of clean, renewable energy combined with electric vehicles and energy storage in creating a more flexible and resilient energy grid. As noted in the press release by our partners at Environment Georgia, Atlanta is now the largest city in the Southeast with a 100 percent clean electricity goal and is the 27th city nationally to commit to the 100 percent goal. St. Petersburg, FL and Boone, NC are the only other cities in the Southeast with a similar goal.

Georgia Power serves as the electricity provider for the city. While they are phasing out their coal dependence and increasing their renewable energy generation, they continue to rely heavily on nuclear and natural gas with just 2 percent of Georgia Power’s portfolio of energy sources coming from renewable energy.

In a letter sent to the Atlanta City Council from multiple organizations in Georgia, including SACE, we expressed our concern about the negative consequences of continued reliance on these dirty energy sources and the disproportionate impacts to our most vulnerable communities: lower-income Americans and communities of color.

Through the city’s new 100 percent goal, the plan will also seek to create “structured mechanisms” that will engage these communities including job development, equitable access, and affordable energy options. Supporters included a wide range of interest groups including SACEEnvironment Georgia, Spelman College, Partnership for Southern Equity, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Mothers & Others for Clean Air, EV Club of the South, Sierra Club as well as solar companies, academic and faith-based groups.

The plan will be developed by the City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability and will include interim milestones, budget estimates, equity metrics, estimated financial impacts, financing mechanisms, and the percentage of clean energy that shall be locally distributed. The plan will be completed by January 2018. Read more…

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How To Get A Solar Job

Sundance Solar installs panels in Asheville, NC

“How can I get a solar job?” As I speak with groups and community members throughout our region about clean energy, this is by far one of the most frequently asked questions I hear, and for good reason! With headlines like Solar Creates 1 Out of Every 50 Jobs, and the reported $154 billion in economic impact in 2016 (according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Job Census), it’s no surprise that the solar industry is catching the attention of job seekers.

In an increasingly diverse industry, the solar industry is building a reputation for providing well-paying jobs in a rapidly expanding market. With 67 percent of these jobs not even requiring a bachelor’s degree, this means one thing for a lot of people: opportunity! According the Solar Foundation, the median wage is $26 an hour for solar installers, however the industry also includes a wide range of job types such as manufacturing, sales, project development, finance, and marketing, just to name a few. The solar industry has also become a great fit for military veterans, with veterans currently making up 9 percent of the solar workforce as opposed to 6 percent of the national total.

All of that sounds great, but the question remains: How can somebody break into the industry if they don’t already have a foot in the door somewhere or any “solar” experience? Here are some answers and insights I’ve gained from asking those same questions myself, talking with local solar companies, and diving into the data provided by The Solar Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy and Employment Report.

For starters, job seekers generally find that a lot of their existing job skills transfer well to the solar industry. On the installation side, for example, this is essentially construction work, so experience in areas related to building trades such as construction labor, contracting, permitting, structural engineering, and design tend to be great skills to have on the solar side of things. Given the nature of solar installations, roofing and electrical work are also helpful skills to have, and many solar contractors began as one or the other. Stemming from these local contractor roots, it’s interesting to note that about half of the solar installers currently working in the US are from small companies of 10 or fewer employees. This is especially impressive when you put that stat next to the fact that installation jobs still represent the majority of positions in the industry, totaling 53 percent of all solar jobs.

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Wind Power in 2016? Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs.

Credit: AWEA

Last week, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its 9th edition of the U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report. It’s a comprehensive look at the U.S. wind industry’s market trends in 2016. The key takeaway? Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.  In 2016, the wind industry added nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs, helping the industry surpass over 100,000 total American jobs. Last year, the industry added jobs over 9 times faster than the overall economy. 2016 was a record breaker for wind power job growth, and the fastest growing occupation in the country is wind turbine technicians.

The wind industry is taking off, recently surpassing hydropower as the number one source of renewable energy generation in the country. This strong growth is due to a host of factors which includes improved turbine technology efficiency and decreasing costs. Additionally, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal tax incentive, was extended at the end of 2015, which provided the industry with a level of long-term certainty and stability in 2016. (Although it’s important to note that the PTC has begun phasing out, and will decrease by 20% in value each year until it is completely eliminated for new wind farm projects that begin construction in 2020). 

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Solar Amendment Implementation Moving Along

Amendment 4 Lawn SignThanks to lots of hard work by solar supporters across the state of Florida, legislation to implement Amendment 4 – which passed with 73% of the vote on the August ballot – is moving along in the State Capitol. Voters strongly supported removing barriers to solar by reducing taxes on solar systems.

Both Senate and House versions of bills have cleared all committee stops and will head soon to the floors of their respective chambers.

On the Senate side, SB 90 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is the clean version of the implementation bill. It has the full support of solar advocates.

The sponsor of the House Bill (HB 1351), Ray Rodrigues (R-Ft. Myers), voiced concerns over consumer protections so he drafted his bill with some troubling provisions. At the Commerce committee, the last stop in the House before the floor, a strike-all amendment vastly improved the bill but some in the solar industry are still raising concerns about the remaining disclosure requirements calling them needless regulatory overreach designed to create barriers to solar.

The bill sponsors are still in negotiation and we will see some changes when the bills hit the floor. The House and Senate bills will have to be reconciled.

Thanks for all you are doing and we will keep you posted on progress in Tallahassee.

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Deepwater Horizon Anniversary Reminds Why Offshore Drilling Should Be Phased Out, Not Expanded

Deepwater Horizon in Flames

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Today is the seventh anniversary of the tragic Deepwater Horizon blowout. On April 20, 2010, the drilling rig sparked a massive explosion, which killed 11 people and set into motion 87 horrific days of pollution and destruction. Day-by-day, painful uncertainty persisted as more than 200,000 gallons of oil gushed into the ocean each day while attempts to stop the flow of oil failed. The fears of coastal residents and businesses came true as a total of 200 million gallons of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, oiling over a thousand miles of coastline from Texas to Florida.

Livelihoods were jeopardized and even lost. For some oystermen, harvests went down by 75 percent or more from pre-2010 levels and shrimpers saw catches down by 80 percent or more. Tourism-based businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and tour companies reported very difficult years along the Gulf in 2010, despite hoping for a big year to recover from the poor performance of the 2009 season. For example, Gulf Shores, AL and Orange Beach, AL reported a 41 percent decline in the number of tourists in 2010, compared to 2009, and lodging revenue for Baldwin County, AL dropped 33 percent ($58 million) during the summer of 2010 compared to 2009. Compared to 2009, Walton County, FL’s hotel occupancy levels in May 2010 were down 6 percent, food and beverage revenue was down 16 percent, and revenue from additional tourism-related products and services sold was down 32 percent. BP helped the tourism industry recover with major advertising campaigns, however much damage had already been done.

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People’s Climate Movement Marches Forward on April 29

On April 29, people all over the country will rise up to demonstrate the political will for serious action on climate change. There will be a major march in Washington, D.C. to show that regardless of political rhetoric, the majority of Americans favor fact-based action over denial. Dozens of sister marches will take place all over the Southeast for those who cannot make it to D.C. Please plan to attend your local event or hop on one of the many buses heading to D.C. Together, we will show our strength in numbers and demand accountability from our elected leaders.

Peoples Climate March on 4/29 in Washington D.C.

Join thousands of your fellow Americans for the historic march in our nation’s capital, which will likely be the largest ever mobilization of people to support climate action. April 29th will be the 100th day in office for President Trump, a known climate denier and fossil fuel proponent. The timing for the march is very significant, given the Trump administration’s recent executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan. Our hard work towards climate action is seriously in jeopardy and there’s just no time to sit back and watch the seas and temperatures rise because we are now under a leader who denies the science behind climate change in favor of “alternative facts.”

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