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Green Stuff Happening Locally!

[1THING] Blog: Archive for January, 2013

[ Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035 ]

Water consumption for power and transportation will soar due to expanding coal power and biofuel production, the International Energy Agency says.


[ Biochar Cookstoves Boost Health for People and Crops ]

Innovative nonprofits are taking clean cookstoves a step further by designing them to produce biochar, a byproduct with the potential to fortify soil and fight climate change.


[ What We Can Learn From Love Canal ]

What We Can
Learn From Love Canal


Cleaning Up Love Canal / Photo: EPA


Guest post by Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of EarthShare member
charity Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)

This year, 2013, marks a very
significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.
Entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about
Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began. It was
in 1978 when we started the Love Canal Homeowners Association to respond to the
industrial waste dump that was poisoning our community in New York State. Our
work eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program in 1980.

We need to find ways to tell the
Love Canal story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. One key lesson is that a
blue collar community with few resources can win its fight for justice and open
the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental
chemicals and their effects on public health.

Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar
nominated filmmaker (Berkeley in the
), there’s now a compelling film that tells the story of Love Canal
and the history of the environmental movement: A Fierce Green Fire. The film will engage younger viewers who may
have never heard of Love Canal and re-engage those who have spent decades fighting for a
healthy planet. What’s exciting about this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, is that it demonstrates
that change really can happen when people get involved.

“The main difference between my
film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused
on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark
Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up
the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was
my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story”. The
film is narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others.

(Lois Gibbs speaking about Love Canal in A Fierce Green Fire)

As CHEJ moves forward this coming
year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show
the film in their communities and learn how to win environmental
and environmental health and justice battles. Partnering with these groups, we
hope to also bring media attention to local environmental concerns across the country
and raise funds to address these issues. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.

If your
group is interested in hosting a local viewing of A Fierce Green Fire, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take
action to protect our health and the planet.


Mini_lois-150x150Lois Gibbs
raising her family in Love Canal, near Niagara Falls in upstate New York, when,
in 1978, she discovered that her home and those of her neighbors were sitting
next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.

That shocking
discovery spurred Lois to lead her neighbors in a three year struggle to
protect their families from the hazardous waste buried in their backyards. In
that fight, Lois discovered that no local, state or national organization
existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and
technical assistance.

Lois with her neighbors on their own, by
trial and error, developed the strategies and methods to educate and organize
their neighbors, assess the impacts of toxic wastes on their health, and
challenge corporate and government policies on the dumping of hazardous
materials. Her leadership led to the relocation of 833 Love Canal households


[ Obama and Keystone XL: The Moment of Truth? ]

President Obama will soon have to decide whether he will be the “all of the above” president or the “respond to climate change” president.

In Pursuit of Hydrocarbons

Last year on the campaign stump, Obama presented himself as the “all of the above” guy on energy. Here’s an example from a speech delivered at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland:

“We need an energy strategy for the future — an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.”
(President Obama, March 15, 2012)

The operative words are “every source.” Sure, he touts and has funded the development of green energy, but he has also favored a ramp-up in production of domestic hydrocarbons — specifically oil and natural gas. At any number of occasions last year Obama trotted out the fact that under his watch domestic drilling and production were up, imports were down. Similar boasts appear on WhiteHouse.gov as well:

“Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office. In 2011, American oil production reached the highest level in nearly a decade and natural gas production reached an all-time high.”

The Climate Change Pledge

While energy was a campaign issue, it was obvious (painfully so for many) that climate change was not. No major policy speeches by either candidate and not a single question in the debates.

But after the election climate change re-entered the president’s ambit. First came his acceptance speech on election night:

“We want our children to live in an America … that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Then came an inaugural address that got the environmental community all atwitter — climate change receiving more attention than any other single issue? Could it be that Obama was positioning himself to go after climate change in a big way?

You Can’t Have ‘All of the Above’ and Address Climate Change

But here’s the problem: an “all of the above” energy policy that encourages the development and production of oil and gas flies in the face of a “climate change” pledge to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

And the stakes are too high to ignore. Greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. And there is increasing concern that we may be seeing an uptick in extreme weather events as a result of global warming.

Responding to climate change requires that production and use of hydrocarbon fuels be ramped down, not up.

So sooner or later the Obama administration will face a moment of truth — a choice between following an “all of the above” path or responding to “the threat of climate change.” And that moment could be just down the road.

The Looming Keystone XL Decision

The Keystone XL project would put into place a pipeline system that would allow oil imports to flow from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. (For more, see my post here, this NYT explainer, and this Washington Post Keystone XL interactive graphic.)

It’s been a rallying cry for both the “drill, baby drill” crowd and the environmentally minded, albeit from different positions. For the pro-drillers the pipeline is a no-brainer — a job-creating project that will bring a new, unconventional, (almost) domestic source of oil to American refineries.

For many environmentalists, stopping the pipeline is also a no-brainer — it’s a landscape-decimating proposition whose oil is among the most carbon-intensive out there. (More here, here and here.)

There’s also the issue of the pipeline itself. The initial plan had routed it through highly sensitive lands in Nebraska’s Sand Hills, which sit above the all-important Ogallala aquifer — a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for a huge swath of the United States. The potential risk to the aquifer was so grave that Dave Heineman, the Republican governor of Nebraska, urged Obama to deny TransCanada (the pipeline company) the greenlight for the project.

And finally there is the climate concern. While there is still some debate about how the size of the Alberta resource — and how much carbon dioxide would be released if it were completely exploited (see here and here) — there is little argument that on a BTU-to-BTU basis, tar sands oil is about as dirty and carbon-intensive as it comes. And so sure, if you’re an “all of the above” president, you might approve the pipeline. But if you’re a “respond to climate” one? I don’t think so.

Decision Day Approaches

The Keystone XL project has had its ups and downs, its starts and stops. (See timeline.) Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the project must be reviewed by the State Department and approved by the president. In January 2012, the State Department rejected TransCanada’s application because of concerns about environmental impacts but invited the company to re-apply with a new route that would avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

TransCanada has now submitted a new proposal whose newly proffered path for the pipeline avoids some — but not all — of the ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and its surrounds: It still passes over the Ogallala but avoids the Sand Hills.

Gov. Heineman has approved the new plan, with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality finding that the pipeline’s construction and operation along the new route would result in “minimal environmental impacts” and that any oil released “should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup.”

So now it’s up to Obama and his administration.

The State Department is said to be studying the new plan and a decision is expected this spring. So what will they do? Just-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry was cagey and non-committal on the subject during his confirmation hearings last week, promising only to make “appropriate decisions.” (Hey, at least he didn’t say he would decide for it then against it.)

Ultimately, though, the decision is in the hands of President Obama. That decision will be revealing indeed.


End Note

* Oil sands produce bitumen, a thick tarry hydrocarbon that is either “upgraded” into a synthetic blend or diluted so it flows like oil.


[ A Model Net Zero Home by the Numbers ]

The community of Serenbe, a multi-use development outside Atlanta in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, was founded with sustainability in mind. Seventy percent of its 1,000 acres is preserved natural space, and many of its buildings use geothermal heating and water-conserving appliances. But one of its greenest homes might be one that was built specifically as a model to showcase energy-efficient technologies. (See related post: “Energy Efficiency on the Farm and Beyond“)

The Bosch Net Zero home, which is designed to accommodate a family of four with zero annual energy costs, opened to the public last summer and went on the market in September. The details:

Price: $499,000 (unfurnished)

Square footage: 1,650 (three bedrooms, 2.5 baths)

Anticipated energy bills: $0

Typical energy bill for a U.S. single-family home: $2,200

Amount of that typical bill used for heating costs: 29 percent

Estimated savings from the house’s geothermal heat pump: 70 percent

Number of solar panels on the house: 18

Amount of water used per flush with a standard low-flow toilet: 1.6 gallons

Amount used by the Net Zero house toilets: 1.28 gallons

Estimated water savings from the home’s washing machine: 5,040 gallons a year

Another Net Zero home at Serenbe, which was meant to be the original model, was sold before construction was finished. Serenbe is also the site of HGTV’s Green Home 2012, which was given away last year.

Do green features in a home make you more likely to buy? Post your thoughts on the Net Zero home at Serenbe in the comments.


[ 10 Ways to Make Your Big Game Party Greener ]

  1. Avoid sending paper invitations. Use e-mail, the phone, or an online service like evite.com
  2. Keep the decorations to a minimum. Make sure you recycle them.
  3. Serve food on reusable plates. Use mugs instead of throw-away cups. It is greener to wash and reuse than to throw everything away.
  4. Try using real forks, spoons, and knives instead of plastic ones. Quality of food service goes up and waste goes down..
  5. If you are using disposable items, pick things that can be recycled.  Recycle cans and bottles. Sett out recycle bins for your guests to toss their cans and plastic bottles. Set up a separate bin for glass as well. (Living Green and Saving Energy)
  6. Eco-friendly party host might also consider serving fresh fruits and vegetables to munch on such as non-store bought vegetable tray containing finger foods such as carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. along with a hand made dip made using fresh ingredients.
  7. Beer is on the menu find some organic brews distributed near you. If you are having a large party, think about renting a keg or growlers (a half gallon). Use washable cups/mugs, or eco-friendly plastic cups you can recycle. Brown glass doesn’t recycle as well as clear glass. Something to think about when getting beer. (Organic beer & Wine 411)
  8. Go with organic snack foods . If organic chips are too expensive or you just have to have your Lays potato chips, save the packaging and send it to Terracycle. Terracycle is a company that makes products out of consumer waste like chip bags, Capri Sun pouches and candy wrappers. A Capri Sun pouch or Lays Chips bag that you would ordinarily just throw away is worth 2 cents to schools. (voices.yahoo.)
  9. Grilling- Avoid lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal These can emit smog-forming volatile organic compounds into the air. Instead use a charcoal chimney, an electric charcoal starter or even try a newer option, the Flame Disk. If you must use lighter fluids try a petroleum free charcoal starter. This odorless fluid made from ethanol will help start your grill and is better than smoke created from petroleum. You can find some at www.realgoods.com. Choose natural charcoals or lump charcoal made from furniture scraps and waste wood without additives and binders. Other choices include Cowboy Charcoal and environmentally certified wood briquettes. These burn cleaner and reduce your pollution. Switch to gas. Gas grills are much more energy efficient than charcoal grills and produce far less pollutants. A study by the Environmental Sciences Division of the Department of Energy compared the carbon output of gas, charcoal and electric powered grills when producing 35,000 Btu’s per hour. The conclusions showed that gas produced 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide each hour, compared to 11 pounds for charcoal and 15 pounds for electric. Try Natural Gas. Many grills have a natural gas option. Natural gas burns much cleaner than propane grills and is cleaner than propane. (examiner)
  10. If choosing 100% organic isn’t an option, consult the “Dirty Dozen (PDF)” list of foods that carry the highest pesticide loads and don’t worry about the rest. Whenever possible, meat and dairy products should also be organic.

For these popular Super Bowl party foods, consider making the following ingredients organic:

  • Nachos: Corn chips, bell peppers, cheese
  • Pizza: Cheese, meat, bell peppers
  • Hot dogs: Meat, cheese (or go veggie with non-meat options)
  • Chili: Meat, cheese or go veggie using beans
  • Veggies (for dipping): Celery, carrots, bell peppers
  • Chips: Corn, potato

(Earth Eats)



[ This Valentine’s Day, show your love for the earth and go a little greener! ]

This Valentine’s Day, show your love for the earth and go a little greener!  Here are some suggestions:

  • Send recycled-content greeting cards.  Make a card from scrap paper, old magazines, or wall calendars or by attaching new backs to the fronts of old cards.  Another option is giving a card made of plantable seed paper; bury it and when the paper biodegrades, the seeds grow into wildflowers.  Consider sending electronic valentines.  Love dolphins, penguins, tigers, and polar bears? Or know someone who does? Check out these free Valentine e-cards from Ocean Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.  Before tossing your cards in the trash, consider reusing them for scrap booking, collages, picture frames or as smaller greetings for next year’s holidays. You can also try donating them to an art program, scout troop, or day care, or simply sort them into your paper recycling bin.
  • Bake cookies or other goodies for your valentine and package them in reusable and/or recyclable containers as gifts.  Home-made goodies show how much you care and help you avoid packaging waste.
  • Give her sexy green lingerie, and she’ll enjoy the comfort of organic and natural materials all year long.
  • It’s little-known, but the flower industry is pretty environmentally destructive. Pluck some peonies from your own garden or give organic(or home-grown) and fair trade flowers.  Swing by your local farmers’ market or local greenhouse for a bouquet of your favorites (make sure to ask the farmer whether what you’re buying is free of pesticides).  Flowers from your local greenhouse or farm are fresher and more environmentally friendly than those shipped, flown and trucked into the U.S. from the far ends of Ecuador.  Organic flowers, on the other hand, are easy to find online, at farmers’ markets (when not snowed in) and often at boutique flower shops in large cities.  Other options include a potted plant, live bushes, shrubs, or trees that can be planted in the spring.  They always lasts longer.  Need help? Check out this top farmers market finder from American Farmland Trust.
  • Savor organic and fair trade chocolates.  Of all crops, cocoa demands the second highest use of pesticides (first place goes to cotton). But toxicity isn’t a requirement. In fact, the sweet stuff tastes better when producers honor USDA organic standards, which prohibit the use of harmful chemicals.  Ensure that you’re supporting the most responsible confectioners by buying organic, local, or shade-grown. If you can, resist the convenience of that frilly heart-shaped box with all those individual paper wrappings tucked into a plastic mold. Instead, go for a less packaged (but just as romantic) option.  Not sure which organic chocolate to choose for your sweetheart? Check out these picks. Remember, fair-trade, shade-grown chocolate is nice, but a homemade treat can be even sweeter.
  • Pour USA-grown biodynamic organic wines. They don’t cost much more, they don’t travel as far grape to table, and organic wines are made without added sulfites, which makes them more friendly to people with asthma and those who are allergic to the common vino additive.
  • Treat your honey’s taste buds at a restaurant specializing in local, seasonal, organic, regional cuisine and has lots of vegetarian options.  If all the best restaurants are booked and you can’t get that coveted February 14 reservation, whip up a candle-lit dinner at home. Find out what foods are being grown where you live and then hit your local farmers’ market. Gather up fresh, local ingredients for an intimate home-cooked meal or romantic picnic.  Can’t cook? Keep it simple with a romantic picnic, a formula that’s endured for hundreds of years: a jug of (organic) wine, a loaf of bread–and thou.  (Check out some local foods stats, learn more about sustainable low mercury fish, and find sustainable recipes from celebrity chefs.)
  • If you’re planning a multi-day getaway, consider a staycation, camping, or a green hotel.  Think about taking the train to a nearby town to take part in low-impact activities like hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  Wherever you go, coordinate to take public transit–or a bicycle homebuilt for two.
  • Consider eco-friendly jewelry, antique or recycled jewelry.  Vintage jewelry is a great choice for romantic souls who don’t romanticize the environmental and human-rights problems associated with mining diamonds and gold. For a bold (and not necessarily bank-breaking) statement, consider a distinctive piece made from recycled metal, paper, or other repurposed materials.
    • Purchase natural soy candles to set the mood.
    • Create digital playlists instead of packaged CDs.
    • If you give your Valentine a tchotchke or doodad, consider how soon it may end up in a landfill. Instead, plan a hike and a picnic in your mutually favorite nature spot. Other memorable small-footprint ideas include a day at a spa(many big city spas have organic or all-natural options for their treatments), a gift certificate to a vegetarian restaurant, a cooking or dancing class, tickets to a nearby concert or play, or a subscription to a local CSA. You can even adopt a national park in your sweetheart’s name.
    • If you must wrap your gift, consider alternatives to store bought wrapping paper and planet-friendly options.  Leftover fabric, lightweight wallpaper, colorful scarves and even the Sunday comics work just as well.  Recycle used ribbons, bows and decorative wrappings.  Store used paper and accessories in a convenient place for the next holiday occasion.
    • Remember how much fun Valentine’s Day was as a kid? For some special Vday kid’s craft projects, check out these nature-inspired ideas from National Wildlife Federation.
    • Single this Valentine’s Day? Find your perfect mate at Defenders of Wildlife’s Online Adoption Center.

Sources:  www.thedailygreen.com

Sierra Club



New home of the San Francisco 49ers to be the first professional football stadium to open with LEED certification and the first professional sports venue to achieve net zero energy performance in California during 49ers home games

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – NRG Energy, (NYSE: NRG), the Santa Clara Stadium Authority and the San Francisco 49ers today announced an agreement to bring sustainable energy to the new Santa Clara Stadium. Through this unique partnership, NRG will help the new facility become the first professional football stadium to open with LEED certification, the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability.

As one of the first Founding Partners for the new stadium, and the exclusive sustainable energy provider of the 49ers, NRG will install a number of state-of-the-art solar elements, including three solar array-covered bridges, a solar canopy above the green roof on the suite tower portion of the stadium and solar panels over the 49ers training center.

The arrays will have a total peak capacity of about 400kW and will provide enough power over the course of a year to offset the power consumed at the stadium during 49ers home games. As a result the stadium will be the first professional sports venue in California to achieve net zero energy performance.

“NRG is much more than a Founding Partner, they are providing the energy leadership, infrastructure and expertise to help us achieve the vision of making the new Santa Clara Stadium an economically and environmentally sustainable showcase for innovation,” said Jed York, Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco 49ers. “As we strive to build a stadium that embodies all that is unique and special about both the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, this partnership with NRG will make very lofty goals become realities.”

The new stadium in Santa Clara is the next generation of stadium design.  One of the most unique features of the facility is the green roof atop the suite tower on the west side of the stadium. The three solar bridges, connecting the main parking area to the stadium, will include hundreds of solar panels.  In keeping with NRG’s philosophy of creating iconic solar elements at NFL stadiums, the solar bridges will be the first in the NFL.

“The 49ers are not only one of the leading and most successful franchises in the history of the NFL, they have also been for decades community leaders in the Bay Area and with the entire 49ers fan base. Today and going forward, we are honored to support the 49ers as they extend their off-the-field community leadership into the critically important arena of clean and sustainable energy,” said David Crane, President and CEO of NRG Energy. “And NRG is proud to partner with the San Francisco 49ers and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority in the pursuit of another milestone, the LEED certification of their new stadium.”

In addition to the solar array, the stadium’s green initiatives include public transit access, convenient bicycle parking, a walking path from the San Tomas Creek Trail, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, recycled materials and a long list of other sustainable design elements.

As the sustainable energy partner of the 49ers, NRG will continue to explore other opportunities to help enhance the stadium’s sustainability efforts such as installing electrical vehicle charging stations to the new stadium.  NRG is currently building the nation’s first comprehensive, privately funded electric vehicle charging network.

NRG, the nation’s largest competitive power generator is a leader in providing safe and reliable energy solutions in new and innovative ways to American businesses and consumers.  It is also the largest solar power company in the United States with more than 900 megawatts of solar generation in operation.

About the new Santa Clara Stadium

The Santa Clara stadium will not only be the new home to the San Francisco 49ers, but it will also serve as one of the world’s best outdoor sports and entertainment venues.  It was designed by HNTB and is being built by Turner/Devcon. The $1.2 billion venue will have 1.85 million square feet, seat approximately 68,500 and will feature an expected 165 luxury suites and 9,000 club seats.  It was designed to be a multi-purpose facility with the flexibility to host a wide range of events, including domestic and international soccer, college football, motocross, concerts and various civic events, and will be expandable for major events such as the Super Bowl.  For more information, go to www.newsantaclarastadium.com.

About NRG

NRG is at the forefront of changing how people think about and use energy. We deliver cleaner and smarter energy choices for our customers, backed by the nation’s largest independent power generation portfolio of fossil fuel, nuclear, solar and wind facilities. A Fortune 300 company, NRG is challenging the U.S. energy industry by becoming the largest developer of solar power, building the first privately-funded electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and providing customers with the most advanced smart energy solutions to better manage their energy use. In addition to 47,000 megawatts of generation capacity, enough to supply nearly 40 million homes, our retail electricity providers – Reliant, Green Mountain Energy and Energy Plus – serve more than two million customers. More information is available at www.nrgenergy.com. Connect with NRG Energy on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nrgenergy.

About the San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers, owned by Denise and John York, currently play in the NFC West division and won each Super Bowl contest it entered, earning five Super Bowl trophies including Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX.  The franchise also has six conference championships and 19 divisional championships and was the first major league professional sports franchise to be based in San Francisco over 60 years ago. Please visit www.49ers.com and follow the 49ers on Facebook and Twitter @49ers.

From left to right: 49ers President Gideon Yu, President and CEO of NRG Energy David Crane, and 49ers Chief Executive Officer Jed York



[ When Efficiency Is Not Enough ]

This past week I attended and had the pleasure to speak and debate at the 2013 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  This was the sixth such summit, and the third I have attended.

The stated goal of the meeting is to:

bring together global leaders in policy, technology and business to discuss the state of the art, develop new ways of thinking and shape the future of renewable energy.

For me, the meeting did just that.  At each of the past meetings lectures, panel discussions, and extensive exhibitions of energy technologies provided one element of the dialog, and the evolving shape of Masdar City provided the other.  Masdar City is intended to eventually house over 40,000 people and be the working environment for another 50,000 commuters, all in a site that produces its own energy and is a platform for the newest ideas of sustainability.

One of the most important ideas to get across to everyone thinking about sustainability issues is that we are failing to live up to our potential to match the scale of the challenges with sufficiently creative solutions.

I was particularly interested to attend the World Future Energy Summit this time because it the first year that the International Water Summit was to be held in conjunction with the World Future Energy Summit. The International Water Summit is, in fact, the only event – so far — that focuses specifically on the water energy nexus and the challenges of this within arid environments. The event will include a political summit, expert conference and exhibition for delegates and water experts from all over the world.

This nexus – energy and water – is part of a growing theme of researchers and research themes that look at the intersection of key challenges.  I am particularly concerned that these linkages spread rapidly to other areas to flesh out our understanding of what ‘sustainability’ actually means (Casillas and Kammen, 2010).  There are many that we need to explore: energy-water nexus; the energy-poverty nexus; the climate-culture nexus; the biodiversity-resilience nexus; the energy-justice nexus, and so forth.

These are each critical efforts to frame elements of what sustainability science will need to capture.  In Abu Dhabi, a place overflowing with both fossil fuels and solar energy, the inclusion of water in the equation is vital.  Without it, energy presents no local challenge, as long as linkages – in this case to greenhouse gas emissions and global sustainability, are ignored.  Water for Abu Dhabi is provided through desalinization, driven by energy.  A nexus.

At the meeting I listened intently at sessions on the energy side where global carbon budgets were discussed, and I listened equally intently at sessions on the water side of the summit where the shortages of water for mega-cities, for the rural poor, and for cooling fossil-fuel power plants were all discussed.

The most telling assessment of the myriad of sessions of our currently unsustainable energy and water practices was that we simply were not innovating and deploying new, superior ideas fast enough.  Instead of taking this as a rallying cry for a hugely expanded and accelerated path to finding new and better ways to do things, one headline from the meeting captured where we are today, “If not sustainable, then at least efficient”!

A true but troubling conference conclusion. (Photograph by Daniel Kammen)


The fact is that we are becoming too good at finding improvements – even significant ones – that are not tipping the balance fast enough.

That new agenda – committing to innovations that truly lead to sustainability – needs to get the political backing and the backing of resources needed to turn the corner on truly new ways of doing things.  The search for solutions at in the ‘nexus’ areas is one part of that story, but our pace must accelerate dramatically.


[ Alleged Mafia Ties Cast New Shadow on Italy’s Renewables ]

Italy’s attempt to drive growth in its renewables sector has given rise to a new line of business for the Mafia, and the government is trying to crack down, according to a fascinating report in The Washington Post.

Italy, along with many other countries in Europe, has been ramping up the development of renewable energy over the last few years, partly in response to targets set by the European Union. In 2011, Italy led growth in solar power and was second only to Germany in total installed solar capacity. (See quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Solar Power.”)

But that growth offered little price relief to Italy’s electricity consumers and sparked a battle with competing oil- and gas-powered plants. As a heat wave pounded the country last summer, its parliament passed new regulations that cut incentives for renewables while offering new subsidies to fossil fuel plants. (See related photos: “Eleven Nations With Large Fossil Fuel Subsidies” and interactive map: “Fossil Fuel Burden on State Coffers.“)

“Without this decree, [oil-fired] plants would close down,” an official from the state-run utility, Enel, said in a Financial Times report on the new scheme. Italy was forced to activate some of its oil-fired plants last winter, when its reliance on natural gas imports from Russia resulted in a shortage.

The exposure of alleged Mafia ties adds a new layer of adversity for many renewable power projects. The Post account says that about one third of Sicily’s wind farms and several solar plants have been seized by authorities in the wake of a sting that also involved the freezing of $2 billion in assets and at least a dozen arrests. Prosecutors said that the wind and solar industries — new sectors of growth and profit for the country, thanks to government subsidies — became a lure for crime families who strong-armed their way into land leases, elbowed out competition, and bent regulations in an effort to control the industry.

The mob may not be the only entity that was moved to impropriety by Italy’s renewable energy boom. An affiliate of the Chinese solar panel manufacturer Suntech is battling criminal charges that its subsidiaries skirted regulations while building five solar plants in Italy; Suntech is also claiming that it was the victim of fraud in financing its Italian solar projects, and in December said that it would need to revise its financial statements for the past three years, taking a hit of between $60 and $80 million because of a funding guarantee that it discovered “does not exist.”

In Sicily, the Post reports, most new construction of renewables projects has stopped. But a slowdown had been on the horizon already, thanks to the new regulations. In December, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) sent a letter to EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger decrying recent policy measures in a number of countries, saying that “lack of confidence in the support measures heightens the perceived risk in investments in renewables.” Italy, it said in a background paper, has had three different incentive systems in less than two years.

“These sudden changes of  legislation [in Italy] have generated many uncertainties on the part of operators and in some cases limited access to credit,” the EPIA wrote. As investigations into the wrongdoing in Italy continue, continued generation of uncertainty seems more likely than generation of new solar or wind energy, for now.