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More to ‘pumped storage’ than meets the eye

By Lydia Graves - Appalachian Voices, February 7, 2018

Dominion Energy has been eyeing far Southwest Virginia for its latest project — a giant, hydroelectric battery, also called pumped storage. The facility would use cheap or excess power to pump water into an elevated reservoir during off-peak hours. By holding the water until peak demand hours and releasing it to run turbines when energy is needed the most, electricity is effectively captured and stored.

Although using energy to pump water uphill may sound counterintuitive, this project could be a way to make our power usage more efficient. Often, pumped storage facilities reduce energy waste by using excess energy from coal or nuclear facilities, so-called baseload plants that generate the same amount of power around the clock. The world’s largest pumped storage facility is in Bath County, Virginia, and is owned by Dominion.

Local solar is best

It is critical that any project Dominion constructs in Southwest Virginia benefits local people directly by generating the power onsite using cost-effective solar, drawing from the existing workforce and maximizing local economic impacts. The two potential projects Dominion is considering in the coalfield counties are forecasted to be roughly ten times smaller than the 3,003-megawatt Bath County site, so using small, onsite solar installations would be appropriate.

Solar is now the cheapest form energy generation worldwide and employs more people in the U.S. than coal, gas and oil electrical generation combined. Solar panels at the proposed pumped storage facility would capture and store the sun’s energy until the power is needed most by customers.

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 15, 2018

A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

In the Shadow of Honest Journalism: GateHouse Media Publishes Atrocious Anti-Wind Article Devoid of Scientific Evidence

By Brendan DeMelle - DeSmog Blog, December 13, 2017

This week, Gatehouse Media published a long-form investigative report called “In the Shadow of Wind Farms” claiming that wind energy has caused negative health effects for residents living near wind turbines — a claim that flies in the face of actual science.

GateHouse Media’s anti-wind article leans almost entirely on anecdotal evidence compiled during its six-month long project that included interviews with dozens of people who claim negative outcomes from living near wind farms.

Meanwhile, in the realm of scientific facts, the American Wind Energy Association, the main trade group representing the wind power industry, points to 25 scientific reviews that document the safety of wind farms for human health and the environment. One health researcher has told DeSmog the GateHouse article was “simply irresponsible journalism” and actually had “potential to exacerbate the experience of anxiety and related health effects.” 

Although GateHouse, a syndication outfit that publishes 130 daily newspapers in 36 states, briefly mentions the fact that scientific evidence for these claims is nearly non-existent, it plows ahead with a lengthy article full of anecdotes and unsubstantiated claims that aren’t supported by real science.

How this piece got published in its horribly one-sided (anti-wind) approach is a question worthy of many letters to the editor. Whether GateHouse — which is notoriously quiet when asked questions by other media outlets about its operations — will answer or attempt to defend this attack piece, time will tell.

But there is no hiding that the anti-wind movement is clearly coordinated, which even GateHouse admits its reporters were told repeatedly by sources contacted for their piece.

Many of the people who do complain, several representatives said, are well-known among industry insiders and comprise a small but vocal group of anti-wind activists,” the article said.

There are a good number of people who seem to pop up in different states and fight any wind project they can find,” Dave Anderson of the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewable energy watchdog group, told GateHouse.

But the GateHouse reporters failed to disclose important information about several of their sources, including some with extensive ties to highly coordinated anti-wind activism.

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 13, 2017

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness,, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

Beware the Green Corporate Scam: the 100% Renewable Façade

By José Madero - CounterPunch, December 8, 2017

A few months ago, Google announced that they will achieve their goal of being 100% powered by renewable energy in 2017 [1]. They are not the only corporation with such lofty goals. Google is joined by GM, Apple, Coca Cola, and more than one hundred companies who have also pledged to go “100% renewable” [2].

It would be easy to believe that this means a great victory for the planet, that the demise of fossil fuels is incoming, that environmentalism has won and that climate change will soon be a thing of the past. Yet the foul smell emerging from tax-dodging transnationals jumping all together into a bandwagon cannot be ignored.

Despite their claims, none of the companies in the RE100 list is actually going to receive all of its energy from renewable sources. The “100% renewable” label is a façade, a marketing gimmick used by corporations to pretend they are the good guys while their unfettered thirst for profits continues unopposed. This corporate lie is enabled by the abuse of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which allow companies to buy their way into “green” without having to change any of their practices. Here is Google’s actual claim:

“Google will buy, on an annual basis, the same amount of MWh of renewable energy as the MWh of electricity that we consume for our operations around the world” [3].

Behold the magic of the RECs. When a renewable energy facility creates one MWh of energy, it not only creates electricity, it also gets a certificate, a REC, which states that one MWh of clean energy was created. The REC can then be sold, either together with the electricity or separate from it. The purchaser of the REC can then claim to have bought “green energy” without having ever done so. This means that you can buy 100 MWhs from your local utility provider, most likely produced in coal or natural gas power plants, and as long as you also buy 100MWhs worth of RECs, you can claim to be “powered by 100% renewables” even if that clearly is not the case. In that sense, RECs are the ultimate virtue signalers. They allow corporations to proudly wear the green badge without having to change in any way their energy consumption.

The GOP Tax Bill Assaults the Planet as Well as the Poor

By Basav Sen - Common Dreams, December 5, 2017

If you are an average American, your government has just declared war against you. Unless you happen to be an oligarch. I’m talking, of course, about the monstrosity of a tax bill that Congress looks set to pass.

With good reason, only about one-third of Americans support the bill, since its primary purpose is to cut taxes for corporations and fabulously wealthy people at all costs.

The costs are high indeed, since the bill systematically raises taxes on struggling lower to middle income people. It gets rid of taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes paid from their taxable income, which is a form of double taxation. While this increases everyone’s taxes, struggling working people will feel the pain of this double taxation more than oligarchs. Make the Poor (and the Middle Class) Pay Again. And Again.

It also ends the deductibility of large medical expenses, effectively a large tax increase for the seriously ill, especially the uninsured or underinsured among them. Make the Sick Bankrupt Again.

In an all-out assault on higher education, it turns tuition reductions or waivers for graduate student teaching and research assistants into taxable income, a move that would make graduate school unaffordable for most people. Make America Uneducated Again.

The bill also gets rid of tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing construction, which are used to finance more than half of affordable rental units built each year. Make Housing Unaffordable Again.

In fact, it raises taxes on most people in so many ways that it is disingenuous to even call it a tax cut. This bill is a massive tax increase on most of us.

Lost in the debate around the tax bill, however, are provisions that will make more wind-reliant Iowans and Texans jobless, leave more hurricane-struck Puerto Ricans without access to basic necessities, poison more African-Americans with toxic fumes, and submerge more Native Alaskan villages, just to enrich a particular subset of oligarchs.

The tax bill kills the modest tax credits for solar and wind power, effectively raising taxes retroactively on renewable energy developers. It also kills the tax credit for electric cars, but does not touch the much larger subsidies for fossil fuels. Make Fossil Fuel Barons Rich Again, by subsidizing them while raising their competitor’s taxes.

These changes in energy tax credits will hurt many more people than just the owners of solar and wind companies. Solar and wind energy create many, many more jobs — hundreds of thousands more — than coal, even though they account for much smaller share of our overall energy mix than fossil fuels. If the intent of the tax bill truly were to create jobs, it would reinstate the solar and wind tax credits and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, not the other way round. Make Americans Jobless Again.

TUED Bulletin #68: The Invisible Crisis of Wind and Solar Energy–and the Urgent Need for a Public Approach

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 5, 2017

Why, in a world awash with “idle capital” and in desperate need for a just energy transition to renewables-based energy systems, are global investment levels in renewable energy so obviously out of sync with climate targets?

According to a 2016 report released by the International Energy Agency, “Market-based, unsubsidised low-carbon investments have been negligable.” Without public money, the levels of modern renewable energy would be abysmally low. The tenth TUED Working Paper, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy describes how public money is papering over the fundamental failures of so-called “competitive” electricity markets. Public financing is increasingly being used to provide “certainties” for private companies and investors in the form of “power purchase agreements” or PPAs. PPAs make renewable energy expensive and vulnerable to the kind of political backlash we’ve seen across Europe and elsewhere. As a result, the entire energy sector becomes starved of investment and saturated in “political risk.”

“Preparing a Public Pathway” is available for download now (PDF)

From the Working Paper:

The dominant policy institutions have concluded that the market model that emerged from privatization and liberalization has proven to be an impediment to the kind of energy transition that is required. These same institutions instruct governments to increase their role as enablers of investment, by absorbing risk, providing support, and guaranteeing revenues and returns through P3s and PPAs.

The introduction of “capacity payments” speaks to the extent to which the “competitive market” is not only no longer competitive, it can no longer be usefully described as a market. Rather, we see governments, trying to ensure the energy-demand needs of the entire system are met, paying for unused electrical power—from both incumbent utilities and renewables companies—in order to ensure that all providers walk away with “returns on investment” that they (and the investors behind them) consider “satisfactory.”

One of the main goals of Preparing a Public Pathway is to provoke discussion among unions and their allies about the need to further cultivate a pro-public trade union counter-narrative that is clear, bold and persuasive, and—given the formidable nature of the challenge—offers some hope of decisively interceding in the global energy system’s worrying trajectories. Such a narrative must be able to assert, confidently and from an informed perspective, that only a planned, coordinated, publicly driven approach to investment has a credible chance of delivering the dramatically scaled up deployment of renewable power that we urgently need.

New Study Shows Urgently Needed 100% Renewable Transition More Feasible Than Ever

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, November 9, 2017

A transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050—or even sooner—is not only possible, but would also cost less and create millions of new jobs, according to new research presented in Bonn, Germany on Thursday.

The German non-profit Energy Watch Group (EWG) teamed up with Finland's Lappeenranta University of Technology to present a study at the COP23 climate summit.

The results of the study, according to a forward written by EWG's president Hans-Josef Fell, show "that a 100% renewable electricity system is an effective and urgently needed climate protection measure. A global zero emission power system is feasible and more cost-effective than the existing system based on nuclear and fossil fuel energy."

To achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the warming of the earth to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the report argued that "we need a two-fold strategy: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions down to zero and to remove surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A key aspect of this strategy should be a transition to an emission-free global economy, based on 100 percent renewable energy."

Moving to this system through the use of solar and wind power, combined with establishing energy storage systems, would bring the total cost of energy from more than 80 dollars to about 60 dollars per MWh.

Thirty-six million jobs would also be created by 2050 through the transition, compared with 19 million energy jobs in the current economy, according to the research.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle published Thursday, author and co-founder Bill McKibben agreed with the study's assertion that a complete shift from fossil fuels is necessary to avoid even more dangerous effects of global warming than those the planet is already experiencing.

"If we have any hope of preventing absolute civilization challenge and catastrophe, then we need to be bringing down carbon emissions with incredible rapidity, far faster than it can happen just via normal economic transition," McKibben said.

While entirely possible from an economic standpoint as the new research shows, the political feasibility of the transition is another story. "That depends entirely on whether we can build movements large enough to break the power of the fossil fuel industry that holds us where we are," said McKibben. "To go further what we need are many people in the streets demanding action and pushing governments to move much, much faster than they're currently contemplating."

The Time to Move Off Fossil Fuels is Now

By Wenonah Hauter and Jean Ross - Common Dreams, October 27, 2017

NOTE: The IWW takes no position on legislative acts, except opposing those that increase wage slavery. While this act does not reduce wage slavery, it neither increases it, and the primary reason for posting this article here is the intersectional framing that Food and Water Watch and National Nurses United offer.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many of the island’s residents still struggle without electricity or clean water. A major humanitarian and health care crisis is rapidly unfolding there, on American soil, with disgracefully inadequate help from our federal government. Meanwhile, unprecedented wildfires have burned in Northern California, where dozens were killed and tens of thousands were rendered homeless. In Texas and Florida, the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has only just begun. These are tumultuous, catastrophic times, made much worse by human-induced climate chaos.

Science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that decades of burning of fossil fuels has already caused significant climate disruption, and that this has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of major natural disasters. If we don’t take aggressive, forward-thinking action now, the storms and floods and fires will get worse and worse. This will mean more homelessness, more water contamination, more food shortages, more refugee diasporas and many more lives lost.

On the front lines of the most recent disasters, for more than a decade, including in Puerto Rico and Texas, hundreds of nurses backed by National Nurses United joined first responders to provide urgent medical care in the face of disasters intensified by climate change and help save lives and assist recovery.

The urgency of our fight is critical. As the planet steadily warms, science indicates we will trigger various climate ‘tipping points,’ causing irreversible new impacts on the planet. Many of these changes will be triggered at global temperature increases below 2°C; we have exceeded 1°C of warming already. In 2010, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated a two-thirds chance of avoiding a 1.5°C rise in temperature if carbon dioxide emissions are kept below 400 gigatons. At the current rate of emission, the planet will blow past that critical threshold in the next five years. There is no time to lose.

Taking Back Power: Public Power as a Vehicle Towards Energy Democracy

By Johanna Bozuwa - The Next System Project, October 17, 2017

“We would line up all of our inhalers in a row on the benches before we would go run, just in case,” recounts Kristen Ethridge; an Indiana resident near some of the most polluting power plants in the country. Asthma rates are so bad from the toxic emissions that many students cannot make it through gym class without their inhalers. Cancer and infant mortality rates in the area are through the roof.

These plants are owned by some of the biggest names in the utility business including groups like Duke Energy and AEP. Gibson Power Plant, the worst of them all, emits 2.9 million pounds of toxic compounds and 16.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. What’s more, most of the energy generated in these plants is transported out of state, leaving Indiana with all the emissions and very little gain.

Indiana’s power plants provide a window into how our current electrical system works. It is a system dominated by a small number of large powerful companies, called investor-owned utilities. Their centralized fossil fuel plants are at the heart of our aging electricity grid—a core contributor to rapidly-accelerating climate change.

The carbon emissions associated with these power providers are but one symptom of larger systemic issues in the sector. Investor-owned utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on an paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object with the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. For example, the NAACP reported in Coal Blooded: Putting Profits before People that residents living within 3 miles of a coal plant were more likely to earn a below average annual income and be a person of color. Similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure. Just like in Indiana, living next to such pollution hotspots has instigated widespread health effects like asthma and cancer, hitting residents with high medical bills and more sick days. Discriminatory health care and inflexible work further spiral communities into hardship.

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables, though. Every solar panel installed eats away at their centralized, fossil fuel production—sending utilities and their traditional business model into a proclaimed death spiral. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets. In an attempt to slow the transition they’ve thrown their weight behind campaigns to stymie the growing renewables sector.

In some ways it feels as if they’re doubling down on fossil fuels. The drop in natural gas prices has led many investor-owned utilities to continue to build infrastructure like pipelines, often through nefarious self-deals that their rate-payers have little to no say in. Yet, rate-payers’ electricity bills will rise for projects whose use must be obsolete soon to stay below 1.5 degrees warming.

Ironically, utilities justify their advocacy for fossil fuels as a strategy to ensure affordable rates. For instance, they argue that net-metering policies for renewables increase rates for low income residents, as grid maintenance costs are shifted onto those who don’t have rooftop solar. This analysis has been thoroughly debunked. First, it refuses to acknowledge the true costs of fossil fuels—from health effects to environmental damage. Second, it glazes over the subsidies that prop up fossil fuels and continue to make them cheap, but horrible investments.