Archive for December, 2010

Chevron’s “Human Energy” Spent Pioneering New Form of Pollution – Cleantech Washing

Posted By Lowell F. on December 10th, 2010

By Mike Casey and Lowell Feld

As part of its campaign to defeat the climate legislation that was beginning to move in Congress a few years ago, the oil industry in November 2005 announced a $100-million-a-year “repositioning campaign that was “aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.” As we’ve written about previously, part of that capacity is now being pushed into an aggressive – and escalating – campaign by dirty energy to undercut clean energy’s momentum and market.

A prime example of that “repositioning” is Chevron’s Orwellian “Human Energy” campaign. The main purpose of this campaign, apparently, is to tell us about the delightful range of things Chevron is “getting behind” when it comes to energy. Thus, we are informed that Chevron’s great work includes everything from building “strong communities” to encouraging us to “leave the car at home more.”

Amidst this warm embrace of “all of us” is the new “We Agree!” series, with one specifically on renewable energy. This campaign pioneers a new propaganda form, “Cleantech Washing.” Just like the more common and better-known practice of “greenwashing,” Chevron-invented Cleantech Washing is fundamentally hypocritical, as the company promotes something (clean energy) with one hand while completely undercutting it with the other.

Chevron does have an atrophied renewable energy arm, but it spends far more doing all the things that you’ve come to expect from heavily subsidized, dirty energy companies. It helps fund climate deniers. It is a dues-paying member of the aggressively anti-clean energy American Petroleum Institute. And it is a pro-fossil-fuel-subsidies force, with hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal to lobby and propagandize accordingly. While it’s not busy doing all that, Chevron is working hard to keep us addicted to oil, to ensure that billions of dollars in corporate welfare keep flowing toward the highly profitable oil companies, and even to help kill the electric car (at a time when American could have laid a bold claim to the lead in the product for that emerging market).

But Cleantech Washing is an evolution of greenwashing. It damns with the same hand that appears to praise. No other hand needed.

In the renewable energy episode of its “We Agree” series, we are introduced to a helpful “Chevron Environmental Operations Specialist” named “Steve,” who informs us that:

  • “[R]enewable energy is vital to our planet.”
  • “At Chevron, we’re investing millions in solar and biofuels technologies to make it work.” Renewable energy “has to work in the real world.”

Alternating with “Steve” is a young teacher, named “Iris,” who asks, “You hear about alternatives, right? Wind, solar, algae…so, where are they?” After “Steve” chimes in with his “It has to work in the real world” line, “Iris” concludes, “We gotta get on this now.”

So, here’s the one-handed trick: The ad appears to cheerlead the possibility of renewables, but by emphasizing that we need to get them ready, it puts several million dollars behind the implication that they aren’t ready, that they don’t “work in the real world.”

Sound familiar? It should, because the effort to push clean energy off into the (distant) future is part of a consistent, disciplined message coming from the dirty energy companies about how clean energy isn’t “ready.”

Ah…Steve, Iris? I don’t know if you get out much “in the real world,” but clean energy doesn’t really need you or Chevron to make it “work.” It works now. It’s creating jobs. It’s plenty real.

According to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):

  • During the first 8 months of 2010, U.S. wind power consumption in the United States grew 23.6%. Even more impressive is the 2,300% growth for wind power consumption in the United States since 1990.
  • Solar/PV consumption in the United States has grown by about 80% since 1990.
  • According to EIA’s latest Annual Energy Outlook, total U.S. renewable energy consumption is expected to increase from about 7.7 quadrillion BTU (quads) in 2008 to 16.1 quads in 2035, an increase of about 8.4 quads over that period.

In addition to creating jobs and helping the environment, clean energy is also getting us off the system where, as VoteVets pointed out last spring, every time the price of oil goes up $1 per barrel, anti-American dictators like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gets another $1.5 billion to use against us. That includes money to build a nuclear weapons program or to attack our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet somehow, Chevron’s “Steve” and teacher “Iris” seem to have missed all of this, despite an undoubtedly enormous research budget from Chevron at “Steve’s” disposal. Maybe “Steve” and “Iris” know better, but they just get paid a lot of money to spew this nonsense. Or maybe they really don’t know better. For “Iris,” that’s concerning because she is presumably sowing this same nonsense in students in her classroom, minus wearing the dunce cap that comments like this should require you to wear at all times.

Or, maybe “Iris” or even “Steve” is just an actor, not really a teacher, which would not be the first time such a tactic was used which is why which would not be the first time such a tactic was used.

Several days ago, we attempted to contact ”Steve” and “Iris” to ask them which of the above scenario was unfolding. We called and emailed Chevron Corporate Media Relations for Steve’s and Iris’ full names, positions with the company, and what their opinion are regarding the massive welfare checks Chevron and other oil companies continue to receive. Several days later, we still haven’t received a response. Nor has the Rainforest Action Network, with whom we’re working to get to the bottom of this story.

“Steve,” “Iris,” we’d love to hear from you. Responses published here in full. Until then, we’ll keep trying to find out if you are who the ads say. Stay tuned.

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Fossil Energy Knows It’s a Full Contact Game – Does Cleantech?

Posted By mikec on December 6th, 2010

Cancun - When I started working on solar energy issues several years ago, I repeatedly heard: “Everyone loves solar.” Back then, many people in solar and other cleantech sectors saw long-term meritocracy in the energy business. Public demand, technological advances and an inevitable price on carbon were going to drive cleantech to dominance over time. “Renewable energy,” it was often said, “will soon become just plain ‘energy’.”

From the gridlocked global warming treaty negotiations here in Cancun, however, the picture seems starkly different. The Congressional climate bill fight ended in disaster, the recession tightened credit markets, and the coal and oil industries bought themselves a new Congress last month. And that global carbon market many were counting on? The most optimistic note offered by top U.S. treaty negotiator Jonathan Pershing was, “maybe next year.”

Still, cleantech possesses a great combination of assets that many industries spend considerable time and money trying to generate:

Policy momentum: California’s anti-cleantech Proposition 23 lost by a huge margin last month, and the offshore wind industry has been greenlighted by the Obama Administration.

Business success: Solar is now the fastest growing energy sector, creating jobs in all 50 states.

Wide and deep public support: Over 90% of Americans support solar energy, while 87% believe we should build more wind farms.

However, that asset combination has also moved solar, wind, battery storage, and energy efficiency technologies from being cute niceties to potentially serious market disruptors for traditional dirty energy players.

The dirty energy guys know that, and they are acting accordingly. I’m not sure clean energy can say that.

Cleantech investors, executives and leaders have a lot at stake, and they should pay attention to dirty energy’s increasingly aggressive attacks:

Virtually all of these attacks push three, interlocking memes about cleantech: 1) It’s not ready; 2) It’s too expensive; and 3) It’s unreliable. And the message discipline and sheer number of these attacks make it very likely they are being underwritten and coordinated by people with a vested interest in undercutting support for clean energy.

But if you invest or work in cleantech, should you really care? After all, customers and project financers make rational decisions, immune from a technology’s market position… don’t they?

Not according to a panel of cleantech communicators we convened during the recent Solar Power International (SPI) trade show. There, RenewableEnergyWorld.com founder and publisher Oliver Strube; pollster Jeff Levine of Gotham Research Group; Kimberly Kupiecki of Edelman; and Greentech Media editor-in-chief Michael Kanellos joined us to discuss two new polls and steps cleantech should take in the face of dirty energy attacks on cleantech.

These experts agreed:

  • Cleantech is now in a full-contact game with dirty energy, which is playing accordingly.
  • The attacks by dirty energy are serious, coordinated, and are beginning to get traction in public opinion research.
  • By generating, stimulating, or exacerbating customer concerns about readiness, cost and reliability, they are affecting the marketing and sales environment for large and small companies.
  • More than probably any other industry, cleantech has a strong interest in collective brand defense.
  • Individual cleantech businesses and investors can’t rely solely on their trade associations, much less on environmental groups or on simple public goodwill, for their advocacy. It’s in each cleantech player’s financial interest to help to mount a more concerted effort to push back against detractors.

Our panelists recommended at least three steps for cleantech to take.

1. Clean energy needs to capture peoples’ imaginations, not just their intellects

Emory University psychologist Dr. Drew Westen conducted groundbreaking research in 2004, finding that people make decisions first and foremost at the emotional level, and only then do they begin rational consideration. In fact, Westen found, humans are incapable of doing otherwise. The cleantech community should assume there’s a reason why deep-pocketed Chevron and the coal front group, America’s Power Army, have spent huge sums on advertising and marketing materials with a certain feel to them.

2. Individual companies should advocate for the cleantech industry – it’s in their individual interests

A great recent example of this is SPG Solar CEO Tom Rooney’s piece making the case why political conservatives should support clean energy. Mr. Rooney is busy running a company, but he took time to do a thoughtful, spot-on piece that generated a lot of traffic, comments and conversation. It also raised SPG Solar’s visibility and thought leadership, at very low cost.

We need more of that type of effort across the board. A lot more, in fact. At our panel, Edelman’s Kimberly Kupecki said, “One of the biggest challenges is helping solar companies talk about the context – why they matter and how they’re affecting their industry in the broader picture. It’s another way we can simply and cheaply be our own advocates.”

3. Welcome a conversation about cost

Cleantech voices need to frame the cost argument properly by relentlessly pointing out that fossil fuels’ supposed cheapness is underwritten by massive taxpayers subsidies.

The dirty energy lobby has proven highly sensitive to this counter-argument. On October 12, 2010, Solar Energy Industry Association CEO and President Rhone Resch called for cutting the “grotesque” subsidies to fossil industries. “Every year, the toxic fossil industries receive $550 billion in subsidies worldwide,” he said.

Just two weeks later, ExxonMobil ran a remarkably defensive ad in the form of an obfuscating quiz on subsidies (see below) at the bottom of the front page of the New York Times.

Our panelists were in full agreement that it’s time for the solar industry to wade into the cost conversation. If we aggressively frame that conversation accurately, we’ll win.

Bottom line: Cleantech managers and investors are busy trying to build thriving companies, but their growing victories have drawn the opposition of status quo players who don’t want them to succeed. That’s why the dirty energy industries are now spending significant resources to harden the marketing and sales environment against cleantech’s success. All the facts, figures and solid product offerings in the world won’t overcome that problem if this emerging threat isn’t faced.

Dirty energy is playing full contact. Are we ready to do the same?

“The Dark Lord of Coal Country” to Retire; the Damage He Did Will Endure Forever

Posted By Lowell F. on December 5th, 2010

Late last week came word that Don Blankenship CEO of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in central Appalachia – will retire at the end of this year. You may recall that Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed back in April, the worst coal mining accident in the United States since 1970.  The Upper Big Branch disaster was far from an isolated incident.  In fact, Massey has a long history of environmental and worker safety violations going back many years. In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, one of Massey Energy’s largest shareholders called on Blankenship to resign immediately, citing the company’s “cavalier attitude toward risk and callous disregard for the safety of its employees has exacted a horrible cost on dozens of hard-working miners and their loved ones.”

That would all be bad enough, but unfortunately there’s much, much more.  In this video, for instance, listen as Blankenship declares, “I don’t believe climate change is real.”  Then there’s the current Rolling Stone magazine’s brutal expose on Blankenship, which calls Blankenship “The Dark Lord of Coal Country” for having “destroyed the region’s mountains, polluted its waters and overseen the worst mining disaster in 40 years.” According to Rolling Stone, Blankenshipis a rich hillbilly who believes that God put coal in the ground so that he could mine it, and anyone — or any law — that stands in his way needs to be beaten down, bought off or tied up in court.”

The fact is, Don Blankenship is good at what he does, and he is well compensated for his efforts, pulling down $17.8 million in 2009.  Another thing Blankenship’s good at “pulling down” is mountains, lots and lots of mountains.  In fact, Rolling Stone reports, “Blankenship helped popularize the style of mining known as mountaintop removal, in which the mountains are removed from the coal, rather than the coal from the mountains — a practice that has destroyed 2,000 miles of streams and damaged more than a million acres of forest.” He also “has injected toxic coal slurry near underground aquifers, a practice that has allegedly sickened hundreds of residents.”  The bottom line? “All in all, Blankenship has probably caused more suffering than any other human being in Appalachia,” according to United Mine Workers of America president, Cecil Roberts, “who has battled Blankenship for nearly 30 years.”

Perhaps just as damaging as what Blankenship has done to Appalachia’s mountains and environment directly, is the large-scale support he’s provided to anti-environmental and anti-clean-energy politicians and policies.  Rolling Stone reports:

A right-wing Republican in a traditionally Democratic state, Blankenship has also used his wealth and influence to go after anyone who opposes him. “Unlike the old coal barons, who mostly shunned the limelight, Blankenship is a very flamboyant character,” says Robert Rupp, professor of political science at West Virginia Wesleyan College. When it comes to politics, Blankenship doesn’t waste time twisting arms: Massey spent less than $20,000 on federal lobbying last year and has contributed only $300,000 to federal candidates since 1990. Instead, he goes for a more direct bang for his buck. He spent more than $3 million electing a state Supreme Court judge who would provide a favorable verdict in a lawsuit, funneled nearly $1 million into advertising this year to improve coal’s image, and served on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association, which has attacked the Obama administration for waging a “regulatory jihad” against coal.

Blankenship’s views on energy conservation, global warming, and clean energy would be laughable if he weren’t such a major force in American politics.  For instance, Blankenship has stated that energy conservation and things like mass transit are akin to “socialism and the elimination of capitalism and free enterprise.”  Blankenship has stated that the “true enemies are the environmental ‘greeniacs’ who recognize that burning coal has dangerously overheated the planet.”

Of course, it’s not just Don Blankenship that’s the problem here, it’s a lot broader than that.  Appalachian Voices Legislative Associate J.W. Randolph explains it this way:

…Singularly, as bad as his leadership was, Don Blankenship was never the problem. He was the product of an entire coal culture that puts executive profits and cost cutting ahead of worker safety, economic diversification, human health, Appalachian culture, ecologic integrity, and America’s energy future. We’re not sad to see Don Blankenship go, but his example of corruption and community endangerment should be a clear example of why the Appalachian people need the help of Congress and the President to end practices like mountaintop removal immediately.

In the end, Rolling Stone concludes, the story of Massey Energy under the leadership of Don Blankenship is “is a deeply tragic one.” That’s because Blankenship could have, theoretically at least, been a force for good, helping “West Virginia turn toward the future and imagine itself as something more than a landscape to be raped and pillaged by greedy industrialists.”  Instead, Massey Energy, under Blankenship’s leadership, spent years blowing up mountains, poisoning people’s drinking water, operating dangerous mines that ended up causing people to die.  That is Blankenship’s responsibility and legacy – ruined lives, ruined communities, a ruined environment.  As I said in the headline of this article, Don Blankenship may be retiring from Massey Energy at the end of this year, but the damage he did will endure forever.

Posted in Fossil Fuels, coal
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Venture Beat Editor: Google is “a solution looking for a problem”

Posted By mikec on December 3rd, 2010

Last week, Venture Beat Executive Editor Owen Thomas spoke to the staff of Tigercomm about social media, energy, politics and sustainability.  It was a fascinating discussion, chock full of ideas, by someone who knows what he’s talking about.  This Tuesday, we posted on Scaling Green about Owen’s thoughts on marketing the cleantech sector in a “visceral” manner, not just in a dry, intellectual way. Today, we’re going to give you a flavor of Owen’s observations on why Google is interested in the energy space, and how successful it might be there.

First, a bit of background. Recall that earlier this year, Google created a subsidiary called “Google Energy,” which is “looking to buy and sell electricity on federally regulated wholesale markets.” Then, in October, came big news – Google’s investment in a “massive” offshore wind farm, “ the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), a plan to erect a 350-mile stretch of wind turbines 10 to 15 miles off the United States’ Atlantic coastline, where waters are relatively shallow.”   With that, the firm known primarily for searching the internet has moved big-time into the energy sector.  The question is, why?

Owen Thomas’ first observation appears to answer that question: Google as a solution looking for a problem.” With Google, of course, the “solution” has been “massive amounts of computing power, database crunching like you couldn’t believe, distributed computing power around the world, massive amounts of bandwidth.”  The question for Google is, what to do with all this power?  According to Owen Thomas, the degree of data crunching ability that Google controls isn’t needed for most things. For instance, social applications like Groupon rely more on “creative and smart and savvy” human beings, as opposed to “algorithms.”  Which means that the ongoing challenge for Google is to find a problem that can use its proprietary solution – “massive amounts of bandwidth” and all the rest.

Enter, energy.  According to Owen Thomas:

Energy is interesting to Google in a couple ways. The #1 reason why Google is interested in energy, is interested in clean tech, is that they buy a lot of energy…these data centers just consume like a city’s worth of energy…

So, Google wants to control its costs, Google wants to lower its carbon footprint because they’re at heart California do-gooders, and they’re just seeing a world as a pragmatic matter where the cost of carbon rises and they don’t want their costs to rise with the cost of carbon, so they’re looking for renewable energy that’s cheaper than carbon.

Now, that’s why they’re in clean tech. Now, the question is, what do you do with all this energy? Well, with this energy you run computing power, with this computing power, well now what do you do?

…they make search faster and better.  But as far as the next big thing, Google is kind of trying to figure that out. And that’s I think part of why they’re struggling. They’re really oriented around massive computing power, and they’re not oriented around creating coming up with problems that can be solved with that computing power.

In sum, Google’s getting into energy for three main reasons: 1) its own energy consumption needs (and the cost that entails); 2) its desire to lower the firm’s carbon footprint; and 3) the search for the “next big thing” – namely, a “problem” big enough to match up with Google’s massive “solution” capabilities.

Will Google succeed in this endeavor?  Owen Thomas doesn’t know, and we wouldn’t venture a guess either, but it will be fascinating to watch in coming months and years. Stay tuned!

Posted in Renewables
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New Report Indicates Huge Offshore Wind Potential Along the Atlantic Coast

Posted By mikec on December 3rd, 2010

new report by the National Wildlife Federation once again illustrates the potential for wind power off the U.S. east coast. According to the report, “up to six gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind projects have been proposed along the Atlantic coast – the equivalent of about five coal plants and enough to power about 1.5 million average U.S. homes.” Even more impressive, “the Atlantic Ocean has significant offshore wind potential, with over 212 GW of wind resources in shallow waters where current technology is best suited.”

Despite this, however, “984 offshore wind turbines are spinning right now in Europe and not one in the Atlantic.” Obviously, that needs to change – and fast.

Just to illustrate the potential here, the report estimates that one state alone – Virginia – has 26.1 gigawatts (enough to power about 5 million homes) of wind power generation capacity potential in shallow waters off its coast. To put this in perspective, And, unlike the dirty coal that currently dominates Virginia’s power generation mix, wind is clean and doesn’t require that’s nearly 3 gigawatts (enough to power about 600,000 homes) more electric generating capacity than currently exists in Virginia as a whole! ruining the Appalachian Mountains to produce. And, of course, unlike offshore oil drilling, wind doesn’t spill and cause environmental disasters as we saw in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer.

In the end, the National Wildlife Federation report concludes, offshore wind “holds great potential to create jobs, cut pollution, and reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels.” To realize these objectives, however, we will need “a coordinated and comprehensive effort of government and the market to bring these and other projects over the finish line in a way that values the precious Atlantic Ocean ecosystem and its fish and wildlife resources.” That’s the challenge that lies ahead, and the one that we must meet if we are to move forward as a nation.

Posted in Renewables
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