Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quiz: Is The Senate Climate Bill Right For You?

Dave Rochlin -

Is the recently released senate climate bill right for you? Take the quiz below to assess where you stand on the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill, AKA "The American Power Act", announced last week.

The bill's intent is "To secure the energy future of the United States, to provide incentives for the domestic production of clean energy technology, to achieve meaningful pollution reductions, to create jobs, and for other purposes."

It sounds like there's something for everyone, right? At almost a thousand pages, there should be! But opinions vary. In trying to placate enough constituents to get a viable bill, a lot of trade-offs have been made. Can you accept them? Take this handy quiz and find out....and tell us what you think and how you scored! If you don't want to do the math by hand, an interactive version is available here.

The Quiz:

1. I Believe 350 Is:
a. A great temperature for baking cookies.
b. A noble but unachievable goal.
c. The upper limit for a safe and just planet (e.g. 350 parts per million of CO2)

2. My View On Offshore Drilling:

a. States should be able to decide.
b. Three words: "Drill baby drill.
c. Two words: Deepwater Horizon.

3. Carbon Offsetting:
a. The best way to make an immediate impact on climate and support sustainable development.
b. A flawed tool, but with fixes should be part of the solution.
c. Is like paying someone else to not have an affair so you can.

4. Nuclear Power:
a. Three words: Fission baby fission.
b. Ugh. Painful to consider but necessary.
c. Think Chernobyl, and where exactly do you plan on storing the waste?

5. International Cooperation:
a. If China doesn't do their part, what's the point?
b. If we lead others will follow.
c. The free market will sort it all out.

6. Agribusiness:
a. US agriculture needs help, not regulation.
b. Paying farmers/ranchers to follow better environmental practices makes sense.
c. "Sustainable agriculture" does not mean subsidizing beef and big farms.

7. Climate Change and Jobs:
a. Green jobs are the future.
b. Climate legislation is a job killer.
c. The free market will sort it all out.

8. Pricing Carbon:
a. Let's discourage emissions, but without punishing consumers or businesses.
b. Fossil fuel is a's time for a sin tax.
c. The free market will sort it all out.

Your Results:

Give yourself 3 points for each "a" answer, 2 points for each "b" and 1 Point for each "c".

19-24 : This bill fits you like your favorite pair of blue jeans.
15-19 : Life's full of trade offs. You'll take the good with the bad.
0-14 : You take comfort knowing that the bill probably won't pass anyway.

If you scored 15 or more, you may want to encourage your senator to support the bill here.

More information on each question and how we based our scoring is listed out below.

How We Based Our Scoring:

1. 350: The bill seeks to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050. These goals are consistent with what was promised by the President in Copenhagen, but fall well short of both UN targets and what is necessary to reduce CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm.

2. Offshore Drilling: The bill encourages off shore drilling, but the states can opt out if it is within 75 miles of their coast. It gives states over 1/3 of the revenue to protect their coastlines, and money for land and water conservation.

3. Offsets: Up to 2 Billion tons of offsets could be used for hitting reduction targets, emphasizing forest preservation and carbon sinks, and waste/agricultural changes both domestically and internationally. Includes additional oversight for offsets.

4. Nuclear Power: A very heavy emphasis is placed on nuclear power. Increased funding for nuclear loan guarantees to $54 billion, and provisions for tax credits for construction of new facilities.

5. International Cooperation: The bill stipulates that, in the event that no global agreement on climate change is reached, an international reserve allowance program would be implemented. This would require that imports from other countries that have not taken action on emissions pay a comparable amount at the border in order to avoid "carbon leakage."

6. Agribusiness: Farms are exempted from mandatory action. The bill would create agricutural revenue through a domestic program that lets agricultural interests receive credits if they make reductions in emissions, which could then be sold into the offset/permit market.

7. Climate Change and Jobs: While proctionalism has been a concern, offshoring of emissions intensive industries (aka "climate leakage") is also a concern. If no global agreement on climate change is reached, the bill would require that imports from other countries that have not taken action on limiting emissions pay a comparable amount at the border. In addition to protecting domestic jobs from climate leakage, the bill proposed spending on retraining of workers and developing "emerging careers and jobs in the fields of clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation."

8. Pricing Carbon: The bill would set a price on carbon ($12-$25 per ton), but would give away plenty of permits to business, potentially send revenues back to consumers in the form of energy rebates (or use the money for defiect reduction), and protect low and middle-income families.

The full text of the bill can be found at

You can support senate action at

Photo Copyright: Question marks from: / CC BY-SA 2.0 American Power Act logo from the office of Senator John Kerry. Combined photo work by ClimatePath, all rights reserved.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wind Power for Everyone!?

by Dave Rochlin -

I recently posted on the Cape Wind project, which will be built in Nantucket Sound. If it's like most other wind projects, you'll still be able to buy the energy it generates, whether you live as far away as California, Florida, or even Germany.

Extra long distance transmission lines? No, not quite. With the help of renewable energy credits (RECs), even if your utility can't sell you wind generated electrical power, you can buy it anyway. In fact most utilities that claim to offer a"green energy" option are actually selling you the same old electricity bundled with RECS. Not everyone seems to be aware of this.

Renewable energy sources are typically more expensive, and not everyone wants to pay the premium, so the demand for renewable energy isn't always in the areas where it's produced. The simplest way to think of RECS is that you have the opportunity to buy the green energy that local buyers are not. As the EPA puts it: "RECs provide buyers flexibility in procuring green power across a diverse geographical area. This flexibility allows organizations and individuals to support renewable energy development and protect the environment when green power products are not locally available. "

Being a savvy wind buyer:
Utilities don't always make it easy to see where your support for the renewable piece goes or how much it really costs. The Con Ed utility in New York, for example will charges you an extra 2.5 cents per kWh for wind, because the power is generated 'locally'. It's actually sourced from wind farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania owned by a utility group, energy marketer, and a recently liquidated Australian private equity firm. Sourcing nationally from third parties is typically cheaper (half the price or less), because the RECs supports wind projects where they are most cost effective (e.g. lots of wind, lots of land), and are replacing the dirtiest energy sources. My organization ClimatePath chose to offer RECs from a specific project in North Dakota (the Langdon Wind Farm), since North Dakota has the greatest wind generating potential of any state, but historically gets most of its electricity from coal. This makes it the ideal place to use wind power for the greatest impact. In our case, as for a few other REC providers, you also acquire the REC benefit via a non-profit, so it's a tax deductible transaction.

How much green?
Each power grid and utility has a different mix. 80% of your energy is already green in the state of Washington, but less than 20% in New York. If you are committed to green energy, you only need to buy RECs for the portion that your utility does not deliver. If you use 10 mWh per year, that means buying 8 mWh of RECs in New York, but only 2 mWh in Washington. State by state renewable information is available here.

Being a savvy consumer:
For individuals, buying green energy/RECS is simply stepping up and saying that "I value renewables enough to pay a premium." But for companies, it can lead to some mischaracterizations. One wind provider gave this advice about how businesses should talk about RECS to avoid 'greenwashing':

Do say:
We support wind power.
We are supporting the growth of renewable energy.
We offset 100% of our electricity with wind power.

Avoid saying:
We are wind-powered.
Our electricity is sourced only from renewable energy/wind power.
We use 100% wind power.

Good advice, but unfortunately this message often gets lost. Silk Soy Milk, for example, has been a leader in supporting wind energy via RECs. But their marketing department hasn't quite gotten the message about how to talk about it. A recent marketing piece I saw said "Silk is made using 100% wind energy". Unfortunately, this implies that Silk generates the wind on site. As a consumer, you should insist on more transparency and investigate claims from firms that use green in their marketing.

Is this all necessary?
Just as we need to encourage and fund rainforest preservation in Brazil and Costa Rica, we need to encourage wind and solar energy use where its practical to install it. We can either continue to wait for government solutions (which will cost you anyway) or use conservation, RECs, and offsetting to accomplish that goal. As the saying goes, if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Photo copyright: Adapted by ClimatePath from / CC BY 2.0 All rights reserved.