Archive for October, 2009

Clean Currents is Making News!

Posted on October 28, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Yesterday was a big news day here at Clean Currents!

In the afternoon, we posted a press release about 5 of our school customers making the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Top 20 Green Power Purchasing list. Clean Currents supplies the Bullis School, the top individual school on the list with 100% clean power as well as the Norwood School, the Green Acres School, the Sheridan School, and the Evergreen School which also made the top 20 list. Clean Currents has made an effort to reach out to local schools in order to help them promote sustainable living and education to teach kids from an early age about environmental issues and climate change. Another cool fact: by buying green power, the 5 area schools are effectively taking 600 cars off the road!

Also, Kristi Neidhart, our residential program coordinator was interviewed on NPR about our Green Neighborhood Effect Program. The interview featured, Matt Berres, a Greenbelt resident who switched to Clean Currents to save money and support wind power.  The interview aired this morning on WAMU 88.5 All Things Considered and if you missed it, you can listen to it online.


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Cool Electric Grid Graphic From NPR

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Recommendations | Tags: , , , |

Check out this really interesting interactive of version of the US electric grid from NPR. You can view the map by:

  • The Grid- shows existing and proposed lines
  • Sources of Power- allows you to see the different energy mix in each state. Take a look at California vs. North Dakota
  • Power Plants- shows different size dots for power plants around the country…if you rollover you can get details about the plants.
  • Solar Power- shows capacity and proposed lines.
  • Wind Power- shows capacity and proposed lines.
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Obama’s Clean Energy Speech at MIT

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , |

President Obama spoke to students at MIT today about clean energy development in the United States. The brief speech focused on the importance of research and development of new energy technologies in order for the US to be competitive and play a leading role in the global shift away from petroleum. The President applauded the state of Massachusetts leadership in promoting clean energy and described the development of a new wind turbine at MIT that was made possible due to federal and state investment.

Overall, the speech framed the issue of clean energy development as an imperative, rather than a choice for the US economy- not only for recovering from the recession, but for emerging from the downturn as a leader.

Check out MIT’s alum blog for more about the event and the MIT Energy Initiative to learn about the school’s clean energy research.

Updated 10/27: The New York Times take on the issue. This article features my favorite part of the speech, a great example of Obama’s classically elegant rhetoric:

There is also another myth we must dispel…And it is one far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way of progress — and that’s the idea that there is little or nothing we can do. That is the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices. Implicit in this argument is the sense that we’ve lost something important — that fighting American spirit, that willingness to tackle hard challenges and the determination to see those challenges to their end.”

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Recycling & Composting Now Mandatory in San Francisco

Posted on October 22, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

San Francisco is leading the way in whats becoming a national trend towards more conscious waste-management. Green Inc. reports on a city ordinance that was signed in June and officially took effect yesterday mandating home and business owners to sign up for recycling and composting pick up service or face a fine of up to $100o. The city already has the highest recycling rate in the country at 72% but officials see the law as a way to increase this rate even further and add the composting element in order to reduce the waste headed for the landfills. The city’s ambitious waste management goals include reducing recyclable waste that ends up in landfills 75% by 2010 and becoming completely zero waste by 2020. San Fransico is certainly making headlines, but across the country, the small resort town of Nantucket has had a progressive waste management program in place for over a decade. It mandates recycling of plastics and aluminums as well as batteries, tires and household appliances. This initiative has cut the waste that ends up in the landfill to only 8% of the total waste stream.

So what does zero waste mean? The New York Times answered that question in an article earlier this week,

“The [zero waste] movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

The motivation for a zero waste strategy is not only improved efficiency, but also the fact that landfills are quickly reaching capacity and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find sites appropriate for new ones. Also, the compostable materials currently taking up space in landfills release large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, that contributes to global warming.  Composting breaks down materials so that they do not release methane into the atmosphere. Plus, compost works as natural fertilizer that can replace chemical fertilizer, which causes water contamination problems. So optimizing the system of waste management definitely has climate, environmental and land-use benefits.

Still, it is difficult to convince citizens and businesses that paying closer attention to their waste stream is a priority. A basic problem is finding someone to haul your compost (or even recycling) in a city that is not as progressive as San Francisco or Nantucket (where residents deliver their own recyclables to the recycling plant, which has become a town meeting place). Often, there is just not enough demand so it is difficult for hauling companies to succeed and cater to smaller clients. Thats where business associations like the Atlanta-based Green Foodservice Alliance, can make a big difference. By brining together restaurants in “zero-waste” zones around Atlanta, they can help encourage restaurants to compost and help haulers get enough demand for their services to stay in business. Still, according to Steve Simon, whose company owns several Atlanta restaurants,  the biggest challenge in his restaurants’ composting efforts was to find a reliable hauler for their foodwaste, attesting to the fact that this is still a new industry and there is a lot of learning involved.

The learning curve is steep not just for hauling companies, but for residents and business who must change their habits to sort their trash so that it can be recycled or composted. In San Francisco, the city’s deparment of the environment and the waste management company, Recology, have been engaged in an effort to increase awareness about the city ordinance. There is also confusion about which products can be recycled and which can be composted. When Santa Monica, CA banned polysterene foam food containers and replaced them with biodegradable altneratives, some of these ended up in recycling bins where they melted and complicated the recylcing process. According to the EPA’s materials management branch chief Jon Johnston,

 “Technology exists, but a lot of education still needs to be done”

Its certainly great news that a large and visible city like San Francisco is taking a strong stance towards sustainable waste managment. Hopefully, this type of action will inspire other cities in the United States to follow. And P.S., if you think seperating your out your compostables and recyclables is bad, Taiwan mandates (under threat of stiff fines) that 33 items are sorted for recylcing in government issues clear plastic bags and that residents carry trash to the trash truck at collection time to make sure that they are keenly aware of just how much waste they are generating.

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Green Neighborhood Effect Delivers its First Check to Greenbelt Community Foundation

Posted on October 21, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |


From left: Co-Chairs of the Greenbelt Community Foundation Advisory Board: Sylvia Lewis & Emmett V. Jordan; Manager, Maintenance Operations, Greenbelt Homes Inc: Matt Barres and Clean Current's Residential Green Power Manager Kristi Neidhardt

Clean Currents Green Neighborhood Effect has swept over Greenbelt! Yesterday, the program awarded the Greenbelt Community Foundation, a pilot neighborhood in the program with a check for $1200. The Green Neighborhood Effect works by giving back a $10 donation for any residential windpower sign-up with a registered community in 45 day window. A community can be a neighborhood, school, place of worship, workplace, etc and can register for the program here.  The community has 45 days to get as many people as possible to sign up and the donated funds must be put toward a green community project to be completed by Earth Day, 2010.

Gary Skulnik, President of Clean Currents described the program in yesterday’s press release

“We believe this program is an opportunity for a triple win situation for residential power users…not only will customers save money by switching to wind energy, they play a part in solving the problem of pollution and global warming by making the switch to wind power while gaining funds to green their community”

Gretchen Overduff, General Manager at Greenbelt Homes Inc, which runs the Greenbelt Community Foundation, echoed Gary’s comments,

“When we learned about the ‘Green Neighborhood Effect’ program, it was an obvious way to switch homes in our community to green energy.  We reduced the carbon footprint of the neighborhood, helped individual energy users save money AND raised money for the Greenbelt Community Foundation.”

Although Greenbelt hasn’t decided what to do with the funds, they are considering a number of green projects to improve their community. For other communities joining the Green Neighborhood Effect, Clean Currents can help plan and execute a project and support the sign-up effort by speaking at community meetings and providing printed information to hand out in the community or blurbs for neighborhood list-serves. And of course, we’ll profile cool community projects on our blog and in the newsletter so your community will get some green press !

 Get started with your community today!

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Fake US Chamber of Commerce Press Conference Fools Press

Posted on October 20, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , |

Today, a group of activists called the Yes Men, staged a fake press conference at the National Press Club in which they pretended to be the Chamber of Commerce reversing their position on climate change legislation. The press conference initially got the attention of the actual media.

See it for yourself:

At about 5:10, the purpose of the stunt is explained. It is definitely in line with the Yes Men’s practice of “identity correction” in which they act in way they hope to see the people or organizations they are spoofing to behave.

Here’s what NPR had to say about it.

What do you think about this stunt?

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Why did leaders from the Maldives decide to hold Saturday’s cabinet meeting underwater?

Posted on October 19, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

Image from NYTimes

Image from NYTimes

From NYT DotEarth Blog…

On Saturday, the President, Vice President, Cabinet Secretary and 11 ministers of the Maldives, donned their scuba gear and dove underwater to hold a meeting in order to draw attention to human-induced  climate change and its threat to the low lying island chain. With a population that has doubled in the last 25 years, the Maldives have little land to sacrifice to flooding and storm surges that will be exacerbated by any rise in sea-level. At the underwater meating, officials signed a decleration calling all nations to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions.

When this meeting was planned in March, President Mohamed Nasheed took the lead by annoucing the Maldives’ goal to become the first carbon neutral country and switch to 100% renewable energy within 10 years. In a March op-ed published in The Observer, Nasheed declared:

“In a grotesque Faustian pact, we have done a deal with the carbon devil: for untold fossil fuel consumption in our lifetime, we are trading our children’s place in an earthly paradise. Today, the Maldives will opt out of that pact…Going green might cost a lot but refusing to act now will cost us the Earth.”

The Maldives’ plan to move to carbon neutrality includes hundreds of windmills, solar panels on residential rooftops, and a coconut husk biomass power plant. GreenInc reports that this ambitous plan will cost about $110 million/year, a substantial sum for a small country with a tourist and fishing based economy. But leaders from the Maldives were optimistic that the investment is worth it and will pay for itself by alleviating the nation’s dependence on imported oil. However, with the global recession and low oil prices, the plan is not as financially viable as it was originally considered. Last month, the Maldives announced a plan to impose a $3/day tax on tourists to raise money for its climate mitigation efforts.

Unfortunately, even if the Maldives were to completely eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions and become carbon neutral, it would not make a huge impact in the overall picture because their total emissions are such a small piece of the puzzle. However, hopefully, the energetic leadership of the Maldives on the climate issue is a positive step towards Copenhagen and will inspire other vulnerable and culpable countries think creatively about cutting their carbon footprints and breaking the deal with the “carbon devil”

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Fact or Theory? Renewable Energy Credits Support Clean Energy and Bring Down Dirty Energy Use

Posted on October 16, 2009. Filed under: Questions | Tags: , |

Thanks to Allison for this great discussion question she posted on our Facebook page:

“The more green tags [Renewable Energy Credits or RECs] that homes and businesses purchase, the more clean energy sources that come on line, and the less polluting sources our society uses.

Does this really work, or is this just theory?

Answer: The short answer from Gary Skulnik, President of Clean Currents,

“The voluntary market (ie the purchase of green tags) has been a major driver in the growth of wind power in this country”

Here are some graphs from presentations by the Center for Resource Solutions and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) at last month’s Renewable Energy Conference in Atlanta that support this conclusion:

Source: NERL data in CRS Presentation

Source: NREL data in CRS Presentation

This graphic shows the growth in the voluntary market (or the market for the purchase of green tags). This growth has been substantial and was at a level of nearly 25,000GWh of power by 2008.  Another key element of this graphic is that it shows that purchases in the voluntary market have outpaced those in the compliance market–in other words, more green tags are purchased on a voluntary basis than to satisfy legal requirements. Now take a look at this graph:

Source: NREL Presentation

Source: NREL Presentation

This one shows that wind energy capacity (both annual and cumulative) has grown in line with the purchase of green tags shown in the first graph. So REC purchases appear to be a major driver in the growth of the wind energy industry in the United States.

It’s a little more difficult to say that this growth in the wind power industry is contributing to the decline of our dependence on dirty energy sources, as the share of renewables in US energy consumption shows more fluctuation than the graphs above. But the next graph, from the Energy Information Administration shows that there has definitely been an increase in the share of renewable energy in total US energy consumption in recent months.

US Monthly Energy Consumption by Fuel Source

So, in conclusion, green tags support wind energy development and potentially (hopefully) lead to a reduction our consumption of dirty fuel sources.

For more information on RECs and how they work see here.

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MD Business Leaders Condemn the US Chamber of Commerce’s Climate Stance

Posted on October 15, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

We’ve been following the flood of resignations from the US Chamber of Commerce as a result of the organization’s climate policy, that started with a few utilities making the decision to not renew their memberships last month.  Most recently, consumer goods companies such as Apple, Nike and Levi Strauss and Company have also taken a stance.

Today, local business leaders in spoke out against the Chamber’s climate policy in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Gary Skulnik, President of Clean Currents, expressed his views about climate legislation and the Chamber’s policy:

“Every business talks ‘green’ these days, but the real test of a green commitment is where a business stands on supporting progressive environmental legislation at the state or national level…Clean Currents is proud to stand firmly in the true green camp in supporting serious legislation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, as opposed to the U.S. Chamber and its head-in-the-sand approach.”

Representatives from groSolar, Biohabitats, and Sustainable Urban Infrastructures offered similar comments condeming the position of the US Chamber of Commerce and voicing their firm committment to climate legislation that would match the urgency and severity of the environmental problem at hand.

According to a Chesapeake Climate Action Network press release, the US Chamber of Commerce has opposed every piece of climate legislation proposed in Congress and has  spent $26 million on lobbying congress in the first half of 2009, which is double the amount spent by the next highest lobbyist, ExxonMobil.

Headlines from The Onion (Image from Climate Progress)

Headlines from The Onion (Image from Climate Progress)

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Surburban Towns Taking the Lead to Promote Green Living

Posted on October 14, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

The New York Times had an interesting article last week about creative measures taken in small towns around the City to promote green living.

Pesticide Free Field and Energy Efficiency Improvements (Image from the New York Times)

Pesticide Free Field and Energy Efficiency Improvements (Image from the New York Times)

In Babylon, New York residents that pay to have an energy efficiency audit for their home can recieve financing from the town for any recommended improvements that will cost them less than the savings on their monthly power bills from the efficiency improvements.

Other towns mentioned in the article are promoting hybrids with free parking perks, reducing or prohibiting fertilizers and chemicals in public fields, increasing energy effeiciency standards in building codes, and changing ordinances to allow for the construction of residential windmills.

By forcing new buildings and homes to be built with energy efficiency in mind, towns like Southampton, NY are changing the rules of the game. Southampton is a wealthy resort town and requires the largest houses to be the most energy efficient. According to Neal Lewis, Sustainability Institute at Molloy College on Long Island:

“The premise is that if you can afford a house that’s 10,000 square feet, you can also make sure it’s highly energy efficient”

For the most part, suburbanites are supportive of the environmentally conscious policies, as many have moved from the city in search of cleaner air and greener spaces. However, there are certainly obstacles to suburban greening as well including concerns over maintaining the historical character of a town. Also, low-income towns are not as equipped to finance or prioritize greening programs as their wealthier counterparts.

Steve Bellone of Babylon sees the town’s committment to green as an important part of the town’s future vision,

“This is a program that helps the environment, helps homeowners save money, creates local jobs, reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and it’s at no cost to taxpayers”

And locally, the trend is certainly taking off with green initiatives in Bethesda, Takoma Park, and Edmonston, to name a few.

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