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EESI Director Carol Werner's Outlook for Climate Action Post Elections
With the elections now behind us, both parties are expressing interest in working together. Bipartisanship is sorely needed to address the key fiscal, energy and environmental issues confronting our country today – including climate change.
Clean energy and climate change got short shrift during the 2012 elections. Both candidates emphasized increased domestic oil and gas production, but spoke little of the enormous potential and gains of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Climate change had become a highly-charged partisan issue, with the overwhelming scientific consensus often being brushed aside. For the first time since 1984, climate change didn't surface in any of the three presidential debate cycles.
This must change. Mitigating and adapting to climate change will only become more expensive as time goes by. In any case, a cleaner environment – and more secure, healthier, and sustainable energy supplies – are in everyone's interest.
Climate change did make a late entry into the presidential campaign as the October surprise, when Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, causing widespread devastation and a record storm surge in New York City. Stretching to 580 miles – twice the size of Texas – Sandy was the strongest Atlantic storm ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, and left a record 8.5 million Americans without power. Many Caribbean islands were also hard hit, with 54 dead in Haiti alone. Climate scientists are nearly unanimous in saying that such "superstorms" have been made more likely by warming temperatures. Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bloomberg have called for action: Sandy is a wake-up call.
So is the drought that continues to afflict large swathes of the Midwest. In our last Update, I commented on Washington's beautiful but unusually warm spring. But soon thereafter, that beautiful spring turned into a historic, torrid heat wave and drought across more than half of the country, a drought that still persists across the Plains. From the long, intense wildfire season across the West, to the depleted grazing lands in Texas, to the crop failures across the Midwest, the human, economic, and environmental costs are extensive and mounting. Again, scientists are finding evidence that climate change is a key driving factor in this drought, and that we are likely to see more extreme weather like this in the future. In July, when I returned to Iowa for a family reunion, the drought was in full force; the previous July, thousands of acres of crops were lost to extreme flooding that lasted for months.
What can we do about it? Over the past several months, EESI has explored and proposed a wide range of policy solutions, including:
- Preserve and strengthen energy and conservation programs in a new Farm Bill during the "lame duck" session. EESI is working with broad-based coalitions to promote a sensible five-year Farm Bill that would continue to invest in essential bioenergy and other renewable energy programs initiated in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.
- Provide transportation planners and local officials better access to information and tools to integrate climate change impacts into their decision-making (see Climate Adaptation & Transportation: Identifying Information and Assistance Needs, the joint EESI and Center for Clean Air Policy report released in May). Superstorm Sandy has made this urgent: recovery dollars should be leveraged with adaptation knowledge to rebuild transportation systems that are stronger and more cost-effective.
- Reduce the dependence of the U.S. military, the largest institutional energy consumer in the United States, on fossil fuels – especially climate-polluting petroleum. EESI has helped advance this idea through our Congressional briefings, and through networking, research, analysis, and timely publications such as our weekly e-newsletter, Sustainable Bioenergy, Farms and Forests (SBFF).
- Maintain the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to help develop and deploy more sustainable, climate-friendly, advanced biofuels. In response to serious challenges to the RFS, EESI submitted comments urging EPA to stay the course. The good news is that EPA announced very recently that the RFS would be maintained.
Of course, the government's first order of business will be dealing with the fiscal cliff. But fiscal reform can also be an opportunity to fight climate change: many are calling for a carbon tax, which would both increase revenue and reduce harmful emissions (see our last article). Our new fact sheet, Carbon Pricing around the World, shows that many countries are already moving in this direction.
Thank you for all your ongoing support and commitment. In his victory speech, President Obama said “we want our children to live in an America […] that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Working together, we can do it!
South Carolina Energy Efficiency Pilot Releases Initial Findings
EESI is partnering with rural electric cooperatives (co-ops) in South Carolina on an innovative residential energy efficiency pilot program. As part of their Rural Energy Savings Program, the co-ops implemented an “on-bill financing” pilot, in which loans made to co-op members for energy efficiency upgrades are repaid through their monthly electric bills. The pilot project was launched in 2011 by the Central Electric Power Cooperative, the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, and eight South Carolina co-ops, with technical and policy support from EESI. Marketed as the “Help My House” program, the pilot concluded its implementation phase in February with efficiency improvements made to 125 homes.
In July, the South Carolina co-ops and EESI released preliminary findings and projections from the "Help My House" pilot. The results are very promising. The participating households are projected to save an average of more than $400 per year (after loan payments) by reducing their electricity use an average of 35 percent. Because the pilot emphasized a comprehensive energy retrofit approach, the program is projected to produce an average energy savings of more than 11,000 kWh/year per home. The average loan, for $7,200 over a 10-year term at 2.5 percent, has a projected simple payback of 5.8 years. The net financial benefits are expected to be immediate, particularly during energy-intensive summer and winter months.
The projected energy savings from the pilot are substantially higher than the savings achieved by many traditional rebate-based residential retrofit programs. Further, a subsequent survey revealed that 96 percent of interviewed participants indicated that they were satisfied with the program and found their homes to be more comfortable. One year of data is currently being collected on the participating homes to confirm the energy savings projections.
In related news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans in July to establish an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program that would support scaled-up versions of the South Carolina pilot across the country. The program is to be managed by USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), which had provided a loan to support the Help My House pilot in South Carolina, the first such energy efficiency program funded by USDA. The proposed rule would authorize RUS to provide up to $250 million per year in loans to rural electric co-ops for energy efficiency improvements, including on-bill financing programs. Announcing the proposed rule, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated, "This energy efficiency effort can help rural Americans reduce energy costs while simultaneously expanding business and investment opportunities in rural communities."
EESI submitted comments on the proposed rule, urging USDA to give co-ops greater flexibility when implementing on-bill financing-style programs. Greater flexibility would make the USDA loans more attractive to co-ops and increase the long-term viability of local programs. More than 100 national and local organizations signed on to EESI’s comment letter, including 70 energy efficiency small businesses certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). EESI now awaits the final rule, expected to be published before the end of the year.
Co-Founding Board Member Jerry Decker Retires
After nearly 30 years of dedication to EESI, one of EESI’s co-founding board members, Gerald Decker, is stepping down. Decker – fondly known to his friends as Jerry – celebrated his 91st birthday this October. Recognizing the need for energy conservation and sustainability, as well as the need to coordinate and work with Congress on such matters, Decker worked closely with former Representative Dick Ottinger (D-NY) and a bipartisan group of visionary members of Congress to create EESI nearly 30 years ago.
Decker’s career has always revolved around the energy business, and he has been particularly keen on renewables. Indeed, he left a 38-year career at one of America's leading companies, Dow Chemical, to launch his own renewable energy company in 1982. At the time, recent regulatory changes had made it easier to build smaller-scale, biomass-fueled power plants, and Decker jumped on the occasion, founding Decker Energy International (he sold the company to Canada's Alta Gas earlier this year).
Decker explains that Decker Energy International grew out of a study ordered by former governor of Michigan, William Milliken, to examine the potential of cogeneration for electricity production (cogeneration is when a power station simultaneously generates both electricity and useful heat). Upon completing the study, Decker became a convert and sought to spread the word. He traveled to Washington, D.C., to report his findings, and this eventually led to the creation of Decker Energy International and to his role with EESI.
"Federal energy policy, Decker Energy International, EESI, they fit together like a glove," explains Decker. Indeed, he credits Carol Werner, EESI’s executive director, for helping Decker Energy succeed: she set up a critical early meeting between himself and Senator John McCain’s office, during which he introduced projects that led to the creation of Decker Energy International. EESI "made my career in energy" says Decker, and that’s why Decker Energy was an EESI Associate – a group of donors that provide significant general support for EESI’s mission – before its sale.
Decker believes that "the federal government needs to make it a high priority to conserve energy" and that EESI has been a big motivator in this field, succeeding in "getting across the need to consider the environmental aspects of power production and the need for energy conservation."
Carol Werner is quick to return the compliment, insisting that "Jerry is wonderful, he's helped EESI so much, in so many ways. Despite his retirement from our board, he will be on our Advisory Board, so we hope he’ll stay involved. There’s still so much to do!"
EESI stands as one of Decker’s many great lifetime achievements. Yet his passion for clean energy and conservation is also exemplified by his many other career achievements. Along with former Congressman Ottinger, Decker helped lead the development of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), a key energy conservation law promoting domestic use of renewable energy and a part of the larger National Energy Act of 1978. Until 2011, he served as vice president of Midland Energy, LLC, a company focused on the development of wind power and landfill gas power plants for renewable energy. Decker has served on the Environmental Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Energy and has worked as a consultant, advising companies on environmental improvements and conservation.
In recognition of Decker’s commitment to sustainable energy, he was awarded the Secretary of Commerce's Special Medal, the National Energy Resources Organization's Distinguished Service Award (1979), and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Service to Society Award (1979).
EESI Welcomes New Energy and Climate Policy Associate Blaise Sheridan
This July, EESI welcomed a new Energy and Climate Policy Associate, Blaise Sheridan. Blaise comes to us from Philadelphia, where he was finishing thesis work for his graduate program in renewable energy policy at the University of Delaware and serving as a fellow for Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and as a grant manager for a Department of Energy grant looking at the transmission challenges of offshore wind.
You're originally from Tucson, Arizona. What brought you to the East Coast?
I came to the East Coast for college, as an undergraduate at Swarthmore. I wanted that small, liberal arts college experience, but I also wanted the option to study engineering. I wasn't sure if I was going to like engineering, but I ended up loving it [Blaise graduated with an environmental engineering degree]. I also wanted to swim in college, and I was able to swim all four years at Swarthmore.
How do you like DC?
So far so good. DC attracts so many people; it can make for some stimulating discussions. It is definitely the most cosmopolitan city I've lived in. I love all the diverse food options here.
What else are you looking to do around the city?
This is apparently the fittest city in the U.S. I want to get back into running and biking. Maybe do a couple of triathlons next summer when I'm more settled.
I also want to check out the cultural events, the plays and concerts they have around here. Especially the classical concerts, since I used to play the cello. And the museums since they are all free, or mostly free.
So you've lived in Philly, Tucson, and now D.C. What is the most energy friendly place you've lived in?
I'd have to say Lewes, Delaware, where I lived as a summer researcher in graduate school. The university had a 2-megawatt wind turbine that powered the entire coastal campus and sold extra power to the Lewes grid. The money the university saved on electricity was funneled into research projects for the turbine. I was living on 100% renewable power.
We heard you used to climb the wind turbine there?
The University of Delaware has a utility-scale turbine that it built in partnership with Gamesa in 2010. It's on their coastal campus in Lewes and serves as a research lab for the University and Gamesa. Because of my engineering background I was able to become a research climber for the turbine. I installed sensors and cabling for grant-funded research projects.
How many climbs did you make? How high is it?
I made 6 or 7 trips out there with a few climbs each time. I've probably climbed it 20 times. It's 264 feet [80m] up to the top.
What was the climb like?
It was a lot of fun, I had a blast. You're going hand-over-hand up a ladder in all your gear. There's a guide wire that you're clipped into to catch you in case you fall. The ascent takes about 15 minutes, so you stop along the way. The descent is a lot faster. When you are climbing up, it can get really hot inside. The turbine serves as a big chimney. But when you get to the top, open the hatch to get some fresh air, and see the view… that was by far my favorite thing. The view was amazing.
How did you find out about EESI?
Some of my colleagues subscribed to Climate Change News, but the connection didn't register until I interviewed for the job. But I'm honored to have cited Board Chairman Emeritus and former U.S. Representative Richard Ottinger's work in my thesis about the social costs of electricity. And my graduate thesis advisor, Prof. Willett Kempton, spoke at a couple of EESI's briefings.
What appealed to you about EESI?
I came to EESI because it shares my goals and ideals. EESI has a great reputation and plays a crucial role in forming innovative solutions to the current energy and environmental problems facing our nation. I was also looking for an organization where I would have a fair amount of responsibility and autonomy and be able to make a difference immediately.
What difference do you want to make?
America's currently at an impasse with its climate change and energy policy. I want to help bring people together. EESI can play a crucial role in finding solutions that matter, showing the benefits of diversifying our energy portfolio, and inspiring action and discussion on common ground, such as reducing our military’s dependence on foreign oil.
What direction would you like U.S. energy policy to go in?
I'd like to see an overhaul of the tax code… something that includes a carbon tax, either revenue-neutral or with some money going to deficit reduction, and that includes a phase-down of existing subsidies for traditional energy. I think we should extend incentives for renewable energy. Natural gas is currently very cheap, but the externalities of extraction and production are ignored in the private-sector costs. I believe that natural gas extraction must be performed responsibly in an environmentally sensible manner and it cannot be used as an excuse to delay deployment of renewable energy. I also think the research and development budget for basic research and programs should be greatly expanded in order to find solutions that bring down the cost of renewables and improve battery storage.
Two EESI Board Members Go Electric
Two EESI Board Members Go Electric
EESI board members are demonstrating their dedication to the environment and sustainability by turning to electric vehicles (EVs). The most popular EV model in the United States is the award-winning Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle first released in December 2010. Chairman of the Board Jared Blum (who also heads the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association) bought his Volt in August and EESI board member Roger Duncan (the former general manager of Austin Energy, a municipally-owned utility) has been driving his since January 2011.
In that time, Duncan proudly notes that he has driven 11,000 miles on a mere 26 gallons of gas in both cities and hilly country (that's the equivalent of 423 miles per gallon!). Furthermore, he attests that his Volt drives "more like a sports car" suggesting that energy efficiency is compatible with quality performance. His experience isn't an outlier: according to Chevrolet, "Volt drivers who drive regularly are averaging 900 miles, or about a month, between fill ups."
With the price of gasoline on the rise and growing awareness of the negative effects of carbon emissions, EVs are becoming an increasingly attractive option for many people looking to go green and save money. As well as being more cost efficient, PHEVs are also cleaner – even when powered by a coal grid.
EESI examined EV deployment in an October 2 briefing, which explored different ways to foster more rapid PEV adoption and the rationale for doing so. The five speakers emphasized that EV technology tackles economic security, national security, and environmental responsibility concerns, and so merits public support. To speed EV deployment, policymakers must address market hurdles and update regulatory structures. The briefing’s materials are available online.
To learn more about plug-in electric vehicles, see the incentives that come with purchasing an EV, and discover the different models currently available on the U.S. market, check out our recent fact sheets on plug-in electric vehicles and electric vehicle deployment.
Finance Director David Robison Turns Disaster into Opportunity
Part 1 in a series on EESI staff’s personal commitment to sustainable energy
On the morning of August 28, 2011, EESI's finance director, David Robison, woke up to a loud gust of wind and a shaking house. He looked outside to find his 150-year-old, 100-foot-tall, 5-foot-thick white oak tree lying across his yard and neighbor’s garage, victim to Hurricane Irene. Although initially devastated by the loss of the tree, he realized he now had the opportunity to install a solar power system!
Though benefiting from good southern exposure, David had never given photovoltaic (PV) power much thought, as the tree had shaded the entire back yard. Following its loss, he soon started thinking about the best way to quickly replace the shading benefits that the tree had once provided while producing renewable energy. A study by the University of California, San Diego, showed that solar panels act as roof shades – they can reduce the amount of heat reaching the surface of the roof by 38 percent, keeping the building’s ceiling on average 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler during the day. They also help keep heat indoors during the winter. The researchers found that total building energy reduction is equal to getting a 5 percent discount on the price of the solar panels over their lifetime.
Confident that solar was the way to go, David was nevertheless a bit daunted by the prospect of diving into a field he knew little about. Fortunately, David works in an ideal place to learn more about solar installations! EESI’s Director, Carol Werner, and its Policy Director for high performance green buildings, Ellen Vaughan, were particularly helpful, offering advice and directing him to resources. David was also able to bounce ideas off them, to better navigate through his options.
Once David had a firm grasp of the basics, he started interviewing solar panel vendors and doing his research. Maryland, where he lives, provides good state incentives for solar power. After crunching the numbers, David found that it made sense to purchase a solar system (rather than lease it). He found that for every 1,000 Kilowatt hours produced he would be awarded a solar renewable energy credit (SREC), which is currently trading at $150. Along with state and county incentives totaling $6,000, federal incentives covering 30 percent of costs, and the $929 in savings from no longer needing metered electricity, total payback time for the PV system was calculated at 3 years. David’s 5kw system is designed to offset 100 percent of his home's electricity use.
Since July 11, 2012, when the system was switched on, it has produced a total of 1,850 kWh and offset 1.3 metric tons of CO2 – the same amount of carbon sequestered by 33 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
“My goal is to retrofit this older house – built in 1933 – making it as energy efficient or more so than recently built homes and as close to net zero energy as possible while retaining the vintage features," states David. With the help of the Maryland Home Performance Rebate Program, David first had a home energy audit done and then made energy efficient improvements, particularly comprehensive attic and door air sealing, and increased attic insulation to R-49 (the R-value, or thermal resistance measure, recommended for the D.C. area). During the blower-door test of the energy audit, David went from room to room searching for air leaks around the baseboards, closets and door frames and then attacked them with a caulk gun. On his own, he installed pulley seals for the original double-hung windows; increased insulation in the knee walls, and installed a chimney balloon. All of this work resulted in an air leakage reduction of 60 percent, an incredible level (even for an older home, which are notoriously leaky) according to a quality assurance technician contracted by the State of Maryland.
Additional improvements include a 96 percent efficiency condensing natural gas boiler, which has reduced his gas consumption 30 percent for home heating, and a small duct, high-velocity central air conditioning system to replace window units.
"It’s a good time to consider solar," states David, explaining that the cost of panels has dropped significantly – especially in the last couple of years – and that federal, state and local incentives make solar more affordable than ever. He notes that his neighborhood is laid out in a grid pattern, so "everyone’s home is oriented in a favorable position for solar." Indeed, many of David’s neighbors and community members have expressed curiosity and interest in his solar system. He hopes his experience with solar will encourage others.
David and his family reside in Catonsville, Maryland. You can visit David’s blog at vintagegreenhome.wordpress.com and check out these resources for more information:
- Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), a comprehensive source of information on state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency.
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts calculator estimates the energy a PV array can produce in a given location, helping homeowners easily calculate the performance of hypothetical installations.
You Are Key to Our Transition to Sustainable Energy!
Federal policy can be a key driver to technology innovation, efficiency enhancements, and policies that foster sustainability. You are the key to making innovative environmental and energy solutions possible!
From weatherization to a debate about the farm bill or new transportation bill, our nation’s policymakers need EESI’s fact-filled briefings, newsletters, and one-on-one discussions to make informed policy decisions.
You can help our country transition to sustainable energy when you make a tax-deductible gift to EESI in the way that’s right for you:
Thank you for putting your commitment to sustainable energy to work in so many ways – including support for EESI!
Has the Time Come for a Carbon Tax?
A carbon tax, long ruled out as dead on arrival by many, has made a surprising comeback and is now being discussed in policy circles throughout Washington as part of a possible solution to the fiscal crisis. Superstorm Sandy has put climate change back on the agenda, and the looming fiscal cliff is focusing minds: a carbon tax could address both issues, by raising revenue while discouraging carbon emissions.
A carbon tax works by taxing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted when carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline are burned. These CO2 emissions are the biggest contributor to climate change. A tax putting a price on carbon would be a straightforward way to discourage carbon emissions. Economists estimate that a tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions would increase the price of gasoline and electricity by up to 10 percent, but the extra revenue could be redistributed to households in the form of lower tax rates. In any case, we are already indirectly bearing the cost of carbon emissions in many ways (through health expenses, the cost of oil imports, restoration costs after extreme weather events...).
Another option, which has had more traction in the United States, is cap and trade, in which the government sets a maximum allowable level of carbon emissions, and pollution permits equal to that limit are exchanged on a private market. But a cap and trade bill died in the Senate in 2010, and shows no signs of being revived.
Most economists believe that a carbon tax, by providing more stability and predictability, is preferable to cap and trade. Increasingly, policymakers on both sides of the aisle are warming up to the idea. Several congressmen have introduced bills in the 111th and 112th Congresses, including Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and Sen. Pete Stark (D-CA). In 2009, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bipartisan cap and dividend bill, a hybrid cap and trade and carbon tax scheme that would make CO2 emitters pay a dividend to the American public. Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-WA) Managed Carbon Price Act, re-introduced this August, would tax energy producers at the point of extraction (where coal is mined, for instance) and would refund 75 percent of the additional revenue to American taxpayers.
Many think tanks and editorial boards have joined the carbon tax bandwagon. Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), a strong proponent of a carbon tax, has launched his Energy & Enterprise Initiative in part to promote it. Carbon taxes have been endorsed by former Reagan economic adviser Arthur Laffer, and are supported by companies such as ExxonMobil.
The Obama administration has said a carbon tax is not part of its plans, and pundits agree that it remains a long shot. But as Al Gore, who has been pressing for a carbon tax for decades, puts it, "We should tax what we burn, not what we earn."
A special thanks to our amazing interns!
Much of EESI’s work would not be possible without the dedication of our interns! For information on EESI internships, visit the Employment section of our website.
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The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. Our work on climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, buildings, and urban planning issues is made possible through financial support from people like you. Your tax-deductible contribution will help EESI develop innovative policy solutions for a healthy, secure, and sustainable future. Please click here to make a secure, online donation. Thank you for your support!