Tag Archives: utility

Solar power has been growing for decades. Then coronavirus rocked the market.

As the coronavirus outbreak rages on, renewable energy is taking a hit. Factory shutdowns in China have disrupted global supply chains for wind turbines and solar panels, with consequences for clean energy progress this year around the world.

The spread of COVID-19, now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, is expected to slow solar energy’s rate of growth for the first time since the 1980s. On Monday, two major solar panel manufacturers that supply the U.S. utility market, JinkoSolar Holding Co. and Canadian Solar Inc., both saw their stock prices fall by double digits. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm, previously predicted that global solar energy capacity would grow by 121 to 152 gigawatts this year, but on Friday, the group issued a new report dialing back its prediction to just 108 to 143 Gigawatts.

Solar’s rate of growth has been increasing for decades. Clayton Aldern / Grist

Disruption in supply is only part of the equation. The new report predicts that as policymakers and businesses focus on short-term stimulus packages to help the economy, energy infrastructure investments and planning will temporarily go by the wayside. This has already happened in Germany, where a scheduled government meeting to resolve questions over the future of renewable energy on Thursday was used instead to plan for the coronavirus. According to the Bloomberg analysis, these trends will slow battery demand and result in lower-than-expected returns on investments in wind.

In the U.S., the utility-scale wind and solar markets are dealing with uncertainty in their supply chains. Utility-scale wind developers have received “force majeure” notices from wind turbine suppliers in Asia who cannot fulfill their contract obligations in time. The term refers to a common clause in contracts that gives companies some leeway in the case of extreme disruptions, like wars, natural disasters, and pandemics. The delay jeopardizes wind projects that were banking on taking advantage of the wind production tax credit, which expires at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, major U.S. solar developers that can’t get their hands on enough panels are issuing their own “force majeure” notices to utilities. Invenergy and NextEra Energy, the developers of the first two utility-scale solar farms in the state of Wisconsin, both cited the clause in late February and warned of delays to the projects. Now NextEra claims its 150 megawatt solar farm is back on track, while Invenergy’s 300 megawatt project is still up in the air.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of force majeure claims under the coronavirus, up and down the supply chain,” Sheldon Kimber, CEO and co-founder of utility-scale clean energy developer Intersect Power, told Greentech Media.

Factories in China are reportedly starting up operations again, but the ripple effects of the short-term disruption strengthen the case for local manufacturing of renewable energy equipment, according to the Bloomberg analysis. If there’s any silver lining in this story, it’s that governments may now have an opportunity to do just that. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, encouraged governments that are planning stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic to prioritize green investments and capitalize on the downturn in oil prices to phase out fossil fuels.

“We have an important window of opportunity,” Birol told the Guardian. “We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise the clean energy transition.”

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Solar power has been growing for decades. Then coronavirus rocked the market.

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Going Green Shouldn’t Cost Green: 5 Business-Savvy Strategies

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No longer is climate change a fringe issue. These days, it’s a business one. Worldwide, eight in 10 consumers say it’s “extremely” or “very” important that companies implement programs to help the environment. Like it or not, today’s consumers expect businesses to lead the charge on environmental causes.

Fortunately, your company doesn’t have to choose between saving money and saving the Earth. In addition to the marketing boost that environmental action might net you, many of the best ways to protect the planet also benefit your user experience, your recruiting game, and your operations budget.

Simple Business-Savvy Sustainability

1. Digitize to make consumer data more accessible.

With respect to sustainability and your user experience, digital account access is the table stakes. Whether you’re a hospital, bank, or retail brand, there’s no reason you should prefer paper billing. Not only does online management minimize printing and disposal costs, it reduces waste and the CO2 impact of mail delivery.

What’s the step-up strategy? Strengthen your user experience by turning write-in information into online tools.

Until recently, for example, consumers who wanted to know their auto insurance score had to request mailed copies from researchers like Lexis Nexis. By letting consumers look up their score for free online auto insurance, companies are differentiating themselves while doing good for the environment.

2. Incentivize working from home.

If you’re looking for another way to differentiate yourself, this time with workers, turn to remote work. Not only is the benefit free to offer, but it’s in high demand: Eighty-five percent of millennials say they’d prefer to telecommute all the time. Given that reducing the number of miles driven is one of the best things an individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint, why not take the win-win?

What if your company requires physical work? Consider investing in a small fleet of loaner bikes that employees can use to commute, go out to lunch, or run a quick errand. If several employees have electric cars, it could also be worthwhile to invest in an electric vehicle charging station. Alternatively, some companies give workers a monetary incentive for leaving their cars at home. For example, Clif Bar offers a reward program that pays employees when they commute by walking, biking, taking public transit, and other eco-friendly alternatives to driving their car alone.

Swapping business trips for video conferences saves your business time and money — and reduces your environmental impact. Image: Adobe Stock


3. Think twice about business trips.

Commuting isn’t the only type of travel associated with work, and it certainly isn’t the one that company leaders have the most control over. Although some types of business travel, such as site surveys and investor meetings, are non-negotiable, most are optional. Not only is online conferencing more environmentally friendly, but it also saves companies hundreds to thousands of dollars per eliminated trip.

Always ask before you book travel: would a video conference work just as well?

If travel isn’t necessary, take a mitigation approach. Swap short flights for car trips. Greenhouse gas emissions from flying have increased more than 80 percent just since 1990. Better yet, take a bus or train.

To understand just how much your company’s transportation habits cost the environment, check out the University of California-Berkeley’s carbon emissions calculator.

4. Minimize disposable office products.

Whatever your workplace’s carbon footprint, it could almost certainly be less. Swap paper towels for washable fabric ones. Encourage employees to use reusable mugs and water bottles by eliminating disposable cups. Buy a set of cheap silverware in place of plastic cutlery. None of these changes will make or break your budget, but the environmental benefits increase as more employees participate.

Remember that your office can be the place employees, partners, and customers learn to think of the planet first. That’s a reputation win, too.

On average, Americans produce 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Much of that waste happens at home, but the office environment matters as well. Full-time team members spend half their waking hours at work, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have sustainable options to choose from when eating lunch, deciding to print or not, or using the restroom. Small changes add up to big differences in CO2 emissions.

5. Make utility money go further.

Every time someone turns up your office’s air conditioning or flips on a light, it costs money. You don’t have to sweat in the heat (or work in the dark), but you also don’t have to settle for steep utility bills.

If you’re not ready to put solar panels on the roof, start small. As they burn out, switch your incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs. Use expanding foam sealant to fill cracks. Invest in a smart, programmable thermostat. Even asking employees to unplug their devices before they leave can put a dent in your utility expenses: Keeping electronics plugged in when they’re asleep costs consumers upwards of $19 billion per year.

Consumers have made it clear: Creating a healthier, cleaner world should be every company’s charge. Encourage your employees to reduce their emissions, but don’t use that as an excuse to avoid making company-level changes. We all live on the same planet; it’s up to all of us to protect it.

You Might Also Like…

8 Ways Your Business Can Help Save the Environment

The workforce is getting younger as millennials take over jobs …Drew HendricksJune 11, 2018

Are Family-Owned Businesses Kinder to the Earth?

Who doesn’t like the idea of a family-owned business? There’s …Larry AltonMay 22, 2018

Is Working from Home Really More Sustainable?

Working from home is more common than ever before, but …Larry AltonMarch 13, 2018


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Going Green Shouldn’t Cost Green: 5 Business-Savvy Strategies

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The power’s out in California. Is this what our future looks like?

You’d think a power outage would make things quieter, but not so here in the hills above the San Francisco Bay Area. When the electricity went off it was replaced with wails of rage and the steady thrum of diesel generators. When I rode my bike up into the streets where the lights went off, I saw people seemingly going about their business as usual, with perhaps a little more frustration than usual. And I wondered if I was catching a glimpse of a future in which we constrain energy to restore the climate.

On Wednesday, Pacific Gas and Electric, the biggest power utility in California, turned off electricity for half a million people. Why did PG&E shut down big swathes of its system? Because it routinely sparks fires. Last year, when the dry winds began rushing across the state, drying vegetation to a flammable crisp and knocking tree limbs against power lines, PG&E considered shutting off the power. It didn’t, and the utility’s powerlines started the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and pushed PG&E into bankruptcy.

This year, PG&E is taking no chances. It’s working furiously to cut trees back from power lines. But the company has deferred far more maintenance than it could complete in one year, so it’s also switching off the power whenever the weather favors fire.

This sort of thing could become more common as the climate heats. First, warmer, wilder weather is likely to increase the danger of big fires. Second, society may opt for power systems that periodically go dark in order to slash emissions. It’s a lot less expensive to build a 100-percent renewable electric system if that system doesn’t have to be on 100 percent of the time, as David Roberts recently pointed out in Vox. When you’re dealing with renewable power controlled by nature, it’s much easier on the collective wallet to guarantee that the lights will stay on 95 percent of the time, while allowing for some blackouts on the 5 percent of days that are abnormally dark and windless.

So outages like this are a good test run for a climate-changed future. They give us a chance to see how we might cope with less reliable electricity.

For months, PG&E customers like me have been getting multiple mailings and emails warning of the coming service cuts, yet lots of people seem caught off guard. Shoppers cleared store shelves of batteries and flashlights this week, after learning the shutdowns were coming for real. Cars cued up at gas stations, orders for portable generators rose, and drivers slammed into each other as traffic lights went out.

The state highway agency, Caltrans, realized that the shutdown would sever roads where they passed through tunnels. Without electricity to run the ventilation, the poisons that spew from tailpipes would turn tunnels into deadly traps. So Caltrans announced that it would cut off a major artery where it passed through the Caldecott tunnel, but then, at the last minute, got diesel generators to keep the fans (and cars) moving.

Some grocery stores are running gas-powered generators to keep food from spoiling, water utilities are using them to keep pumps running, and they are rumbling along at hospitals to keep people alive.

The fact that turning off (relatively clean) electricity could lead to the burning of more (relatively dirty) diesel is one of those unintended consequences that might not spring to mind without this kind of test. But it turns out this is a well-documented phenomenon: In disaster zones and anywhere electricity is unreliable, people turn to diesel.

How do people feel about losing power? Oh, they were not pleased. Twitter was even more swollen with bile than usual, if you happened to stumble into #PGEshutoff or #PGEshutdown. Reporters had no trouble finding sources that wanted to piss on PG&E, and it looks like someone in the town of Maxwell (north of Sacramento) shot at utility workers, hitting a truck. Some anger is understandable. After all, PG&E funnelled money it might have spent on safety to investors. But it also suggests some baser instincts. Americans, especially, get heated when inconvenienced. The sporadic gas-price spikes of the 1970s helped set off seismic shifts in U.S. politics. It’s easy to imagine this tide of venom turning against renewable energy if it came with too many brownouts.

Ideally, we’d use this experience to learn and prepare. We’re going to have to figure out better backup power systems than diesel generators for important infrastructure like tunnels and water supplies BART — the local commuter rail system figured out how to pull electricity from multiple parts of its system to keep moving (though it wasn’t perfect). Utilities and local governments are going to have to figure out how to make the electrical systems of the future reliable enough to keep people from losing their minds, setting fire to City Hall. Outage outrage is a thing. If only we could channel all that self-righteous anger back into the power lines.

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The power’s out in California. Is this what our future looks like?

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This casino’s microgrid might be the future of energy

This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As the Fukushima disaster unfolded in Japan, the Blue Lake Rancheria, in Northern California, was dealing with its own crisis. Several miles inland and uphill from the Pacific Ocean, the 100 acres of tribal land had turned into a haven for roughly 3,000 coastal dwellers who were fleeing a feared tsunami from that same earthquake. A huge line of cars assembled at the Rancheria’s gas station; one young woman ran in circles, holding her baby and weeping.

Local inundation ended up being relatively minor. But the Blue Lake Rancheria was shaken. “That was an eye-opener,” says Jana Ganion, sustainability and government affairs director at the Rancheria. “We need to prepare for the disasters that are reasonably foreseeable here.”

Tsunamis for one. But also the massive earthquake that’s going to devastate the Northwest. And California’s annual wildfires, made ever more vicious by climate change. These disasters all have one thing in common: They threaten to cut the Blue Lake Rancheria off from the grid for days, maybe weeks. Tucked behind the state’s “Redwood Curtain,” the Rancheria’s rural placement affords it few access points, and roads may be inaccessible in the aftermath of a disaster.

The answer was to help pioneer what could be the future of energy in California and beyond. Working with scientists at the Schatz Energy Research Center at nearby Humboldt State University, and the local utility PG&E, the Rancheria developed its own solar-powered microgrid, allowing it to disconnect from the main grid and run off Tesla battery power. The setup powers six buildings, including a 55,000-square-foot casino and 102 hotel rooms — over 140,000 square feet of total building space.

The tribe — which tallies just 49 members — is under constant threat from wildfire, along with many other communities in California. In autumn, seasonal winds rustle electric equipment, showering sparks onto dry brush below. State officials have blamed PG&E for starting 17 of California’s 21 major fires in 2017 alone, as well as for last year’s devastating Camp Fire, which virtually destroyed the town of Paradise, leveling almost 20,000 buildings and killing 85. If the utility had cut power when winds near Paradise became particularly intense, that deadly blaze might never have ignited. But concerns about local hospitals and other emergency facilities tend to prevent utilities from taking such preemptive actions. Switching to microgrids during especially dangerous wind storms could keep the state’s mountain towns much safer.

But take it from the Blue Lake Rancheria: Building a microgrid isn’t so easy as throwing up a bunch of solar panels, bolting batteries to the ground, and saying au revoir to the grid at large. It takes a whole lot of time and expertise and money, about $6.3 million for the Rancheria so far — $5 million in R&D money granted by the California Energy Commission in 2015, and the rest coming from the Rancheria itself. But that research money is an investment that communities throughout California could soon benefit from.

Construction of the Rancheria’s microgrid began in May 2016, and a little over a year later, PG&E gave its blessing to begin operation. In an ideal world where the sun always shines, the Rancheria could power itself indefinitely, recharging its batteries using more than 1,500 solar panels during the day and depleting them in the evening. But on a gloomy day, such as the one on which I toured the grounds, the panels struggle to collect photons—they’re generating 120 kilowatts, compared to 420 kilowatts when the sun is cranking full-blast. On a typical day the Rancheria still draws a small amount of power from PG&E’s grid to stabilize the system. But if they lose that connection for whatever reason, those six core buildings could theoretically last for months on solar power, with backup generators kicking in at night or during periods of cloudiness.

At the entrance to the Rancheria’s offices, Dave Carter, managing research engineer at Schatz Energy Research Center, shows me a pair of flat screens. One displays a family-tree-looking diagram, with lines connecting the utility and microgrid to buildings like the hotel and casino and offices. The other screen displays a graph of energy pricing throughout the day. Noon to 6 p.m. is when electricity costs the most, so the system charges the batteries in the morning, so it can be discharged in the afternoon when the utility has its peak pricing.

The Rancheria is building out its system even further. It just added 167 panels above the pumps at its gas station, which it will switch on this summer. Behind the station, electricians are installing another Tesla battery pack to store that extra energy. And so long as they have the money, the tribe can add still more panels and batteries to boost its capacity and hedge against cloudy days.

Building out a microgrid, however, is no easy task for any community. “All of those buildings are going to be in various states of repair, they’re going to have various vintages of electrical systems and diesel backup generators,” says Ganion, who oversaw the project for the Rancheria. “So what we learned very quickly is that the controller on the diesel generator wasn’t smart enough to talk to the microgrid system. We had to do a bunch of work in the middle.”

Ganion hopes to turn the Rancheria’s hard-fought lessons into “a one-stop shop for communities who want to develop microgrids.” Think of it like the evolution of the personal computer: The Rancheria is basically operating as if it’s the 1980s, having to assemble a PC on its own, while one day other communities may be able to buy a microgrid that works more or less right out of the box, like a sleek modern laptop.

That might sound like something that utilities like PG&E would try to prevent. (PG&E declined to comment for this story.) Their business, after all, is in keeping customers dependent on their services. But as the world slowly moves away from fossil fuel energy plants, the utilities of the future will start to look less like energy producers and distributors, and more like just distributors. “It’s the future of the grid in California,” says Peter Lehman, founding director of the Schatz Energy Research Center.

Utilities won’t just operate power lines and other infrastructure for ferrying around electricity. Helping to develop microgrids could become part of their core business. The Rancheria’s microgrid is still in constant communication with the grid at large. “You have to work really closely with the utility on that,” says Carter, of Schatz Energy Research Center.

That interdependence means that utilities have a natural role to play in a microgrid world. The alternative is business as usual: a labyrinthine statewide network of power lines that utilities are loath to disconnect, even during high-wind events that cause and fuel wildfires, because of the liability involved in losing power to critical services.

The challenge for small, isolated communities, though, is the cost — Tesla recommends installing two of its Powerwall batteries to ensure even a small home can go a week off the grid, a system that will set you back $14,500 just in equipment costs. “What would it cost to do this, and who should be paying for it?” asks Richard Tabors, president of Tabors Caramanis Rudkevich, an energy consulting firm. “Initially, to be absolutely honest, the state of California should be paying for it.” The state is, after all, suffering an unprecedented wildfire crisis. It’s a matter of saving lives, but also of smart investing: Last November’s Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in state history, caused over $16 billion in damages.

The Rancheria describes its experience with PG&E in positive terms, but others hoping to install home solar have not been so fortunate, says Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association. “The sad thing is the utilities just have a stranglehold on policymaking and regulation making,” she says. “They absolutely are giant barriers to people being able to even just do the simple self-generation.”

Yet as California moves toward powering itself with 100 percent clean energy by 2045, making solar installations easier will become paramount. The challenge will be largely one of management, such as determining who’s responsible for maintaining different parts of the grid. Because maintenance comes with liability — you don’t want to be the one whose mismanaged equipment sparks the next deadly wildfire.

Meanwhile, the Schatz Energy Research Center is helping design a microgrid for Humboldt County’s regional airport down the road from the Blue Lake Rancheria, which will include a nine-acre solar array. And the Rancheria will keep iterating on its own microgrid, adding capacity and streamlining the overall process.

Ganion walks me through the parking lot and says the Rancheria is planning to add car shelters with solar panels. Behind the hotel and casino we find the two-acre solar farm — panel after panel soaking up photons through the cloud cover. In its next experiment with the future of energy, she says the Rancheria might start toying with a simple form of carbon sequestration, encouraging the growth of plants underneath the panels to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

“When you come back, we might have an herb garden growing under there,” says Ganion. “It would beat the weeds, for sure.”

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This casino’s microgrid might be the future of energy

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PG&E could face murder charges for California’s wildfires

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It’s been nearly two months since the massive Camp Fire laid waste to the town of Paradise in northern California. It destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and claimed at least 86 lives, making it the deadliest fire in the state’s history. And now the state’s largest public utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. could face murder or manslaughter charges related to the blazes.

PG&E is already under investigation for criminal wrongdoing related to California’s deadly wildfires. Though investigators have not determined what officially sparked the fire, PG&E reported “an outage” on a transmission line in the area where the blaze began around the time the blazes started.

If district prosecutors find that “reckless operation” of its power equipment caused any of the state’s deadly wildfires in the past two years, the company could be held responsible for not just the resulting property damages but the loss of life as well.

“PG&E’s most important responsibility is public and workforce safety,” the utility, which provides electricity to about 16 million Californians, said in a statement. “Our focus continues to be on assessing our infrastructure to further enhance safety and helping our customers continue to recover and rebuild.”

On Friday, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra submitted a legal brief to a federal judge who is considering how the wildfires could affect PG&E’s probation from a criminal case born out a 2010 explosion at a natural gas pipeline operated by PG&E. The judge will have to gauge PG&E’s “mental state” — meaning, its employees’ degree of negligence and recklessness — before determining which charges to bring, if any.

Potential charges range from minor misdemeanors related to poor maintenance of trees along power lines to involuntary manslaughter or murder if the company is found to be the cause of the wildfires.

In addition to possible criminal charges, PG&E could be found liable for billions of dollars in civil damages. But it’s not just the company that will bear the burden of any resulting settlements. In September 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill which permitted PG&E to pass on some of the costs related to utility’s role in the 2017 wildfires on to their customers.

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PG&E could face murder charges for California’s wildfires

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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6 Tips for Spending Less Money When Taking Care of Your Home

Whether you are a homeowner or a renter, the natural tendency is to make the place you call home an attractive and cozy spot to live in. But as you have no doubt discovered, this can become a very pricey proposition. If you continually find yourself with more month than money when it comes to looking after your home, try these simple tips and save.

DIY within reason.

Small household fixes, like caulking cracks, are simple and cheap to do yourself. (They will also save you money on your home heating bills.) Be sure tospend smart on supplies. For example, high quality paintbrushes will give you better coverage with fewer ugly streaks, and good, low- to no-VOC paint not only lasts longer — meaning an extended period before you need to invest time and money on your next touchup — it also results in better indoor air quality. Know your limit, though; for larger projects like painting the whole house, it may actually make better financial sense to shop for areasonably priced pro.

Stay warm (or cool) and spend less.

Weve said it before but its well worth repeating: insulate, insulate, insulate. You pay good money to run your HVAC system, so keep the heat (or cool) inside where you want it. Insulate and seal the areas of your home that allow warmed air to escape, such as your crawl space, attic, and ductwork for your heating and cooling system. The cost in materials will be modest, and the potential energy (and cash) savings substantial.

Related:14 Ways to Keep Cool Without Using Air Conditioning

Shop with a list or at least a mental game plan.

Random impulse purchases for your house including everything from grocery items to home decoration — frequently end up in the compost bin or giveaway pile. When you head out to the supermarket, home improvement warehouse, or even the corner dollar store, decide on your shopping guidelines ahead of time, whether these may be menus for the upcoming week or a color scheme for your decor. Set yourself a spending limit too, while youre at it. Whenever feasible, shop your closet and garage — or neighborhoodyard sales– for accessories and furniture.

Remember “more is more” when it comes to kitchen appliances.

Your trusty refrigerator will actually function more efficiently when it is full. If you dont keep a lot of perishables on hand, fill up your fridge and freezer shelves with containers of water to optimize effectiveness. By the same token, avoid running partial loads in your dishwasher. Most models use the same quantity of water whether theyre fully loaded or contain just a couple of plates and a handful of forks. Maximize your oven by planning ahead; for example, when youre about to bake a casserole for dinner tonight, add a pan of bell pepper slices to roast for tomorrow’s lunchbox salad.

Related:30 Make-Ahead Recipesfor Quick Weeknight Meals


Run your bathroom exhaust fan every time you shower. (Best practice: turn it on before you step under the spray and keep it going for a few minutes after youre done.) Ditto for your range hood. Ventilating your bath and kitchen will get rid of excessive moisture in the air, which is otherwise very likely to damage key components such as your tile grout, cabinets, walls, and flooring, and also encourage the growth ofmold and mildew all costly problems to remedy.

Get a little help from your utility company.

You are probably used to a one-way relationship with your local electricity or gas company, where you are the one writing the checks (or these days, making the bank transfers) to them. However, many utility providers offer a money-saving basket of goodies to their customers such as free home energy audits andincentives or rebateson your purchase of energy-efficient appliances. Check it out.

By Laura Firszt,Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Tips for Spending Less Money When Taking Care of Your Home

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Duke Energy will have to clean up its filthy coal ash sites … eventually

Duke Energy will have to clean up its filthy coal ash sites … eventually

By on May 19, 2016Share

Duke Energy is finally being ordered to clean up its coal-ash ponds in North Carolina — more than two years after one of them leaked 40,000 tons of toxic muck into the Dan River. But it has eight years to get the job done, and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hopes to give the company even more flexibility.

Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility, has 33 sites around the state where it dumps toxic ash waste from its coal-fired power plants, and some of the sites are believed to be leaking hazardous chemicals into nearby water supplies. For a year, hundreds of households near coal ash ponds were told not to drink water from their wells, which was found to have high levels on a known carcinogen. This spring, they were told they could resume drinking the water, even though it hadn’t been cleaned up. (We wrote more about this earlier this week.)

In a proposal released on Wednesday, DEQ said Duke should excavate and close eight of the most dangerous coal ash sites by 2019, and the 25 others by 2025. But DEQ is asking the state legislature to be allowed to reconsider the timeline in 18 months. The agency has been accused of being lenient on Duke; last year, DEQ lowered the utility’s fine for the big 2014 spill from $25 million to $7 million.

Duke CEO Lynn Goode said the cost of the cleanup could be as high as $4 billion — and the company would seek to pass that cost on to the state’s residents. “It’s fair to say that if we have to excavate all of our basins, it would be significantly higher costs for our customers,” Goode said during a conference call with reporters.

Environmentalists say the DEQ’s recommendations don’t go far enough. “DEQ just ducked its responsibility and punted it into the future,” said Peter Harrison, attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance. “As usual, North Carolina’s so-called leadership has shown it lacks the courage to stand up to powerful polluters, even when people’s health is at stake.”


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Duke Energy will have to clean up its filthy coal ash sites … eventually

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Are Big Power Companies Pulling a Fast One on Florida Voters?

Mother Jones

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The Florida Supreme Court is set to weigh in on a controversial ballot measure that environmentalists warn could erect a new obstacle for the state’s struggling renewable energy industry.

On Monday, the court is expected to begin hearing oral arguments over Amendment 1, a proposed ballot imitative that purports to strengthen the legal rights of homeowners who have rooftop solar panels. But critics in the solar industry and environmental groups claim that if the measure passes in November, it would actually deal a major blow to rooftop solar by undermining one of the key state policies supporting it.

Amendment 1 was created by an organization with a grassroots-sounding name: Consumers for Smart Solar. In reality, though, the organization is financed by the state’s major electric utility companies as well as by conservative groups with ties to the Koch brothers. The measure qualified for the ballot in late January, after nabbing nearly 700,000 signatures from Floridians. A competing measure—pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice, a group backed by the solar industry—did not get enough signatures to make the ballot.

In Florida, the Supreme Court is commonly asked by the attorney general to review ballot initiatives to ensure that what voters will read on the ballot accurately characterizes the legal effects of the measure. And in this case, it does not, according to a legal brief filed by the environmental group Earthjustice:

If passed by the voters, the utility-sponsored amendment would be a constitutional endorsement of the idea that rooftop solar users should pay higher utility bills than other customers. Solar users could end up paying twice as much as other customers pay to buy power from the utilities. This utility-sponsored amendment pretends to be pro-solar but is actually a disguised attempt to derail rooftop solar in Florida.

“This is really shrewd, cynical deception,” said David Guest, the Earthjustice attorney who will argue the group’s position to the court on Monday.

A spokesperson for the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar countered in an email that “our amendment is not misleading” and that its opponents “are manufacturing false arguments and using scare tactics.”

The court battle over the ballot measure is just the latest episode in a long and brutal fight in Florida pitting solar companies and their environmentalist allies against power companies that fear losing their customers to rooftop solar power. Despite being one of the country’s sunniest (and largest) states, Florida ranks just 15th for solar installations. As Tim Dickinson recently explained in a great feature for Rolling Stone:

Key policies that have spurred a rooftop solar revolution elsewhere in America are absent or actually illegal in Florida. Unlike the majority of states, even Texas, Florida has no mandate to generate any portion of its electricity from renewable power. Worse, the state’s restrictive monopoly utility law forbids anyone but the power companies from buying and selling electricity. Landlords cannot sell power from solar panels to tenants. Popular solar leasing programs like those offered by SolarCity and Sunrun are outlawed. Rooftop solar is limited to those who can afford the upfront expense; as a result, fewer than 9,000 Florida homes have panels installed.

The controversial ballot measure would amend the Florida constitution to guarantee that “electricity consumers have the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.” Sounds great, right?

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, Floridians already have that right, even though it’s not explicitly mentioned in the state’s constitution.

“There already is a right to own or lease solar,” explained Hannah Wiseman, a professor of energy law at Florida State University. In this area, she said, Amendment 1 “is entrenching existing laws.”

What the amendment won’t do, however, is legalize the type of solar lease offered by SolarCity, which is currently banned in Florida. “Third-party ownership” is a business model in which a contractor such as SolarCity installs solar panels on your roof free of charge, retains ownership of those panels, and then sells you the electricity they produce at less than the cost of buying electricity from the grid. That model has been extremely successful for SolarCity in California and other leading solar states, since it’s simple and allows homeowners to avoid the big up-front costs of installing and maintaining their own panels. In Florida, only electric utilities have the right to sell electricity to homeowners; you can buy or lease your own solar panels, but you can’t arrange to buy power from a third-party solar contractor. The failed ballot measure backed by Floridians for Solar Choice would have changed that, but Amendment 1 will not.

But according to Guest, there’s an even more insidious provision in Amendment 1’s fine print. The amendment says that state and local governments have the authority “to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

The issue here is net metering, a policy that exists in almost every state (including Florida) that requires electric utilities to purchase excess electricity from solar homes. In effect, the extra power your panels produce in the afternoon offsets the cost of power you take from the grid at night. The policy is widely loathed by power companies, because they not only lose a paying customer to solar, but have to pay that customer and take the customer’s extra power off their hands. Electric utilities across the country have waged a variety of wars against net metering over the last several years; one of their biggest wins was in Nevada last month.

Often the fight comes down to a complicated, sometimes esoteric, debate about whether or not net metering forces utilities to raise their rates for non-solar homes to cover the cost of solar homes. (In addition to having to buy the excess power, utilities say that solar homes still make use of transmission lines and other grid infrastructure without paying their fair share for it.)

That brings us back to the amendment: If passed, Wiseman said, it would allow utilities to argue that net metering is a “subsidy” for solar and that lawmakers have the authority to prohibit it.

“It could open the door for utilities charging solar users high fixed fees, and potentially getting rid of net metering,” Wiseman said.

Guest was more blunt: “They’re trying to kill net metering, is really what it is.”

All of this seems to be pretty confusing for Floridians, who appear to hold conflicting views on the controversy. According to the solar industry-backed Floridians for Solar Choice, 82 percent of the state’s voters said they would support changing the law to permit third-party ownership of solar. But a recent poll from the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar found that 73 percent of voters support their ballot measure.

One of the amendment’s opponents is Debbie Dooley, a Georgia-based Tea Party activist who has rallied conservative opposition to this measure and other potentially anti-solar policies around the country. Consumers for Smart Solar is engaged in “a campaign of lies and deception,” she said. The group “claims to support free market principle, but they are taking an anti-free market position by siding with monopolies to stop competition from solar.”

Now it’s up to the court to determine if Amendment 1’s wording is, in fact, deceptive. If they decide it is, they could throw the measure out. The case is much more ambiguous than the ballot measure language the court normally reviews, Wiseman said. But she added that it’s rare for the court to remove initiatives from the ballot.

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Are Big Power Companies Pulling a Fast One on Florida Voters?

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An Easy Guide to Saving Energy in Your Home

Not sure where to start when it comes to environmentally friendly home improvements? The plethora of suggestions for greening your house and reducing your utility bills is definitely good news, but it tends to leave the average homeowner a tad confused about how or even whether to implement them all. Here’s a common sense guide to help you sort out the most worthwhile and doable energy-savingimprovements.

It’s highly visible.Make a bold statement to get everyone in the family on board with your energy-saving project. A home energy monitor is perfect for this; just clip the inexpensive device onto your power cable and it will clearly display exactly how much power you’re using at a given moment.

It provides a great ROI.”Invest pennies to save dollars” is a formula that makes sound financial sense.Caulk and weatherstrippingare two very inexpensive materials that will go a long way toward greening your home. Avoid wasted energy; use these supplies to minimize leakage of heated (or in summer, cooled) air via cracks and gaps around doors, windows, faucets, and electrical switch plates.

It doesn’t seriously affect your comfort level. Install a programmable thermostat to decrease the heat whenever you are away for the day or asleep for the night. While you’re at it, make sure the temperature is set a degree or two lower than you’re used to even for those times you’ll be at home and active. Chances are that you’ll barely notice the difference.

It’s appropriately timed.If you have a major appliance such as a dishwasher that’s damaged beyond repair or approaching the end of its useful life — or if the environmental cost of running the item is greater than the price of a new one — take the opportunity to purchase an energy-efficient replacement.

It’s suitable for your area. For example,a heat pumpis a wonderfully energy-efficient way to warm your homeifyou live in a part of the country with a relatively mild climate. In a wintry northern state like Minnesota, you’ll end up wanting to supplement with less-green heat sources like electricity or natural gas.

It really counts.Replace your old HVAC system with a new Energy Star efficient version to give you more energy savings for your initial investment than, say, changing your windowpanes. To be precise, an Energy Star-certified heating and cooling system will save you approximately 30 percent annually in fuel and maintenance costs.

It offers fringe benefits.Use up to 50 percent less energy with anEnergy Star-certified washing machinethan the average top-loader. Not only that, it cleans more effectively, removes stains better, is gentler on your clothing, and reduces drying time.

It saves energy year-round. Insulate your attic to keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer while expending less energy. This has the added advantage of extending your roof’s lifespan.

It’s safe.Insulate your water heater to keep your water supply hotter (unless you own a hyper-efficient newer model whose factory-installed insulation has an R-value of 16 or more). Be very careful about where you apply the insulation, though. Do not cover an electric water heater’s heating-element access panels or a gas unit’s controller, pressure and temperature relief valve, and anode, or the top of the unit — which exhausts so much heat that the insulation might be set on fire.

It’s beyond simple.Save on your electricity bill with easy-to-use power strips, since they take only 61 seconds of your time: one minute to plug in a number of common devices like your printer and one second to switch them all off when they’re not needed. This reduces power vampires, which draw a surprising amount of energy even when not in use. To make life even easier, install anadvanced power strip, and you’ll no longer have to remember to switch off or unplug. The strip will do the “thinking” for you, by sensing when your tablet is fully charged or your toaster is no longer being used.

By Laura Firszt,Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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An Easy Guide to Saving Energy in Your Home

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