Archive for October, 2010

Time for Solar to Push Back

Posted By mikec on October 12th, 2010

Solar now enjoys a powerhouse set of assets that many industries spend dearly to acquire: explosive growth, wide and deep public support, and a base of authentic citizen advocates – many of whom aren’t in the industry but see it as a key part of America’s future.

Those assets have converted solar from a nice curiosity to a real long-term threat to the fossil fuel industries.

The coal and oil companies see that, and they are acting accordingly. Solar isn’t responding at nearly the level needed.

Roughly five years ago, the dirty energy lobby geared up to stop Congressional climate change legislation. The American Petroleum Institute announced that it was going to spend roughly $100 million a year on a “repositioning” campaign, and the coal industry did the same at about half that level.

That meant hiring dozens of lobbyists, front groups and public relations firms to move propaganda and cut into solar’s overall market position. You can see signs of this in the escalating, concerted attack on solar’s market position that’s being conducted through:

  • Well-tested messaging about solar’s reliability, cost and readiness
  • Disciplined, repeated message delivery through multiple media channels
  • Extensive use of “experts” and front groups to form an echo chamber

Don’t take my word for it. My firm tracked anti-solar rhetoric on the editorial and opinion pages of the Washington Times, which has attacked solar 17 times in the past seven months.

This type of rhetoric was also on full display in three Wall Street Journal editorials (which you can read here, here and here) in a 55-day span. The themes are pushed even further by a recent quote from the Institute for Energy Research in this Bloomberg News story; an entire anti-renewables book by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce; and the e-book from the Cato Institute that equated scaling the clean economy with government waste.

How can solar and other renewables possibly push back against the fossil fuel industries, which have so many more resources to commit to the fight? We released a poll today that suggests an answer, particularly on the cost argument.

Our poll not only confirmed that solar’s support is wide and deep, but showed that 80 percent of Americans don’t know how much of their taxes are given each year to highly profitable corporations in the coal and oil industries.

When people learned that $10 billion of their money is given to the guys claiming they are “cheap” energy, just 8 percent wanted things to stay that way. In fact, over 70 percent said they wanted half or all of that money repurposed to promoting solar and other renewables.

One poll isn’t going to stop the fossil industries’ attacks, but it tells us that we shouldn’t shy from the debate on costs – we should see it as a strength.

We’re the cheap and abundant (in fact, infinite) energy source, not the fossils. If the fossil fuel defenders want to talk about how cheap they are, then they need to tell Americans why they depend on so much government welfare. If they want to say that solar’s policy support is somehow a sign of our adolescence, then we need to point out – repeatedly and aggressively – that 150 years of subsidies makes fossil fuels the oldest toddlers in America.

And, we should push policymakers to do what consumers and taxpayers want by overwhelming majorities – cut fossil fuel subsidies and replace them with expanded policy support for renewable energy sources.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard over the last several years: “We’re solar, everyone loves us.” That’s true, but it won’t stay true unless we make our case far more forcefully, aggressively and frequently. Industry players need to step up their advocacy game considerably, both individually and through greater participation in the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Despite our strong, shared interest, solar is still depending far too much on goodwill to get by.

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Obama Administration Installing Solar on White House

Posted By admin on October 5th, 2010

President Barack Obama has demonstrated his commitment to the clean energy economy

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced this morning that the administration will be installing solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House this spring. The announcement was made on the one year anniversary of Obama’s Executive Order 13514 that calls for his agencies to set an example for the country by improving their carbon footprint and energy efficiency standards.

The system, whose installer has yet to be chosen, will provide electricity and hot water for the White House Residence. Secretary Chu wrote in a blog post this morning that the project symbolizes the availability, reliability, and necessity of solar technology here in the United States

This announcement signals a victory for the Globama campaign, run by a coalition of solar stakeholders, including the Solar Energy Industries Association, climate change advocacy group 350.org, and the private solar company Sungevity. The campaign raised thousands of signatures in the past few months urging the administration to install solar panels on the White House and demonstrate leadership in clean technology.

Sungevity is also responsible for a similar project in The Maldives, where President Nasheed  installed panels on the roof of his residence alongside Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy. These two initiatives demonstrate the widespread acceptance of solar technology as an economically viable solution to combat climate change and begin the transition to a clean energy economy.

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“Cheap and Abundant” Fossil Fuel Myth Exposed

Posted By mikec on October 5th, 2010

A steady stream of recent stories continues to undercut the dirty energy lobby’s claims of “cheap and abundant.”

First up, “Study: World’s ‘Peak Coal’ Moment Has Arrived,” offers up yet another study on how Big Coal is running out of mountains to blow up and cheap coal seams to mine.  Instead, production of this dirtiest fuel will begin a “long, steep decline” next year, despite coal industry propaganda to the contrary.

The next day, The New York Times quoted Former BP chief executive John Browne, now a managing director of a private equity firm dedicated to renewable energy, complaining about his old industry’s permanent hand in the government cookie jar.

“No politician can stop subsidies to fossil fuels overnight, but I think governments could be leveling the playing field a great deal faster,” Browne said. He cited estimates by the International Energy Agency that show highly profitable dirty energy companies get over $500 billion in welfare a year – more than 10 times the amount spent on subsidizing renewable sources. Browne also pointed to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as “a reminder of the significant local risks to extracting fossil fuels.”

The week ended with a Reuters story on the stark realities around the pie-in-the-sky notion of carbon capture storage (CCS). A refinery in Norway now estimates it will cost $1.02 billion, nearly nine times as much as planned, to build a CCS facility. Never mind the fact that all these boondoggles will capture is carbon, not the dozen plus other toxic pollutants from burning coal.

The jury keeps coming in and saying the same thing – dirty energy isn’t cheap, and it’s not abundant. It’s just heavily propagandized and even more heavily subsidized. We again challenge the “cheap and abundant” crowd to join us in saying that dirty energy lobbyists need to be kicked off welfare. If they are cheap and abundant, then it shouldn’t be a problem, right?

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Fighting for Solar in Historic Georgetown

Posted By admin on October 1st, 2010

In the ongoing battle to expand solar technology in our cities and towns, aesthetics is often the biggest stumbling block. Claims that PV panels are an eyesore, and detract from the stylistic character of surrounding architecture, often prevent projects from getting off the ground. Here in Washington, DC, nothing proves this point better than the neighborhood of Georgetown.

Georgetown Energy works with residents and local agencies to help put more solar on area buildings, such as this one on Georgetown University's campus.

All renovations, new building projects, and additions to existing structures that lie within the limits of historic Georgetown must comply with the rules and regulations of the Old Georgetown Board. An arm of the Commission of Fine Arts, the board ensures projects comply with standards of historic preservation in Georgetown.

These standards include a regulation that requires all solar panels installed in Georgetown to be out of sight to bystanders or pedestrians at the street level, creating restrictions in the size and placement of panels on homeowners’ roofs. Beyond the specific restrictions, the approval process for additions and renovations can be time consuming, which discourages undecided residents from considering solar technology as a viable option.

However, there is a bright side to this story. A small non-profit called Georgetown Energy, started by a group of Georgetown University students, is promoting solar technology in the community. Through partnerships with local installers, and by acting as a liaison between residents and the Old Georgetown Board, the group is slowly making the process more user friendly, and helping community members join the millions who are choosing solar energy as the solution to their energy needs.

Georgetown Energy is hosting an event on October 10th for 350.org’s 10/10/10 Global Work Party, where they will be unveiling the community’s first solar installation. I’ll be there to help support solar and will publish a new post with details of the event.

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