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Solar Energy: The New Gold Rush?

Solar Energy Access

One morning 165 years ago, James Marshall was examining his sawmill on the American River, near Coloma, Calif. Marshall was having a run of bad luck — in recent years, he’d been to war and lost his land — but on this day he noticed something shimmering in the channel beneath his mill. Scooping up a handful of gravel, he was sure: Gold.

A lot has changed since Marshall made the discovery that put our state on the map. Yet California continues to be a place where people know a valuable thing when they see it. In our most recent “gold rush,” the gold was microchips and computer code. Now we’re on the verge of realizing a major new wealth generation opportunity. Call it the solar rush.

Nationwide, solar energy is booming, and nowhere is it booming like California. Between 1999 and 2011, the number of rooftop solar arrays in our state grew from 500 to more than 50,000. Late last year, California’s installed solar capacity surpassed 2 gigawatts — the equivalent of two large coal-fired power plants and almost a third of all the solar energy production capacity in the country. Of the United States’ 120,000 solar jobs, a quarter are located here, in The Golden State.

Impressive as these numbers are, they’re just a start. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory calculates that we can run our entire state on rooftop solar and still have energy left over to sell. To achieve this vision would be to lead the world in addressing climate change, while also making our grid more resilient, saving money on our energy bills, and creating jobs wherever there are power lines and rooftops. But to get there, we’re going to need to make it much easier for everyone to bank on the sun. 

Technological advances have already taken solar from being too expensive for anything but satellites to being the cheapest source of energy for Americans in at least twenty states. We’ve also benefited from social and financial innovation. In the early 2000s, California companies like SunEdison pioneered the idea of solar leases, a concept that dramatically expanded solar’s appeal by removing the barrier of high upfront costs.

Yet at least 75 percent of Californians still can’t go solar. Many lack the credit necessary to secure a solar lease or solar loans. Others don’t own their homes, or have roofs that aren’t well suited to solar panels. Here, I speak from personal experience. As someone who runs a solar financing company and founded the world’s largest youth clean energy organization, I know solar energy is a very good investment. As someone who rents in downtown Oakland, I can’t access it. 

So how do we open up the floodgates to a true solar rush? How do we democratize solar energy? Three emerging visions point the way.

The first vision takes the form of SB 43, a bill currently moving through the California legislature. On July 1, SB43 was approved by the Utilities and Commerce Committee, which means the bill will now likely it become law. Once it does, SB43 will allow people will be able to buy electricity from any renewable energy source within their utility territory. Rather than having to install solar on your own roof, you will be able to buy energy from solar arrays located on the roofs in your community — or on empty lots or outside of town — that make most sense.

The second vision hinges on a new conception of transportation. You may have heard that the Tesla Model S — a car designed in Palo Alto and built in Fremont — won Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year award. Less well reported is the fact that Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is building a network of solar-powered vehicle charging stations. Eight of the first 12 stations are already running in California, and Musk plans to build enough to serve 98 percent of the populations of the U.S. and Canada by 2015. As electric vehicles continue to decline in price, more and more Californians are going to think that it’s normal to fill up on sunlight rather than four or five dollar a gallon gasoline.

The final vision brings together entrepreneurs from the energy and Web 2.0 worlds. My company, Mosaic, is one of many organizations in this emerging “CleanWeb” movement. Via our platform, anyone can lend as little as $25 to a specific clean energy project. Investors earn a steady return and solar projects benefit from lower cost financing than they can get from big banks. Our first public investment projects sold out in less than 24 hours, with more than 400 investors providing $315,000 in loans to solar arrays located on four California affordable housing complexes. The expected annual rate of return for the loans is 4.5%–better than Treasuries, better than most bonds, and better than the S&P 500 over the past decade.

Solar energy is rapidly becoming a good investment for California — both in the sense that it provides good returns for investors and in the sense that it’s good for our communities and the world. It’s time for the Golden State to lead the effort to make the solar energy opportunity accessible to everyone. It’s time to embrace the solar rush.

Photo Credit: Solar Energy Access/shutterstock

Billy Parish's picture

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Paul O's picture
Paul O on July 13, 2013

Don’t you mean the New Fools Gold Rush?

Let me ask you this:

1) Would anybody really be buying Solar power, even though it’s Cheap, were it not for the Mandates and Subsidies?

2) Can anybody purchase this renewable Solar power at Night?

3) Technological Advances, don’t you mean Chinese price dumping?

4) Isn’t it the Tak Payer who is being svrewed over by ill considered policies?

I believe that Utility owned Solar PV power makes sens as part of the mix, where the Utility can account for peak power useage using solaer PV, and thats just about it. I also believe that The Taxpayer’s  money should not be wasted on enriching the Chinese  PV makers, rather Concentrated Solar Power, would have made far more sense.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on July 14, 2013

“…we can run our entire state on rooftop solar and still have energy left over to sell. To achieve this vision would be to lead the world in addressing climate change…”

This is a compelling vision, which makes sense only superficially.  The current federal and state incentive system makes rooftop solar look like the most sensible renewable option, but in reality, it is far from it.  The industry group SEIA reports that utility scale solar is less than half the cost of residential rooftop (about $2/Watt vs. $5/Watt).  Of course safety is better served by ground-mounting the solar panels, and decommissioning/recycling is much easier for centralized facilities than for residential.

The issue of energy storage is another which argues for utility scale solar over residential.  As much as batteries have advanced in recent years, thermal energy storage (as could be applied at Concentrated Solar-thermal Power plants) is still several times cheaper than batteries.

As to how best to “lead the world”, it is worth remembering that most of the people in the world do not have access to the high quality solar resources that are enjoyed by California, nor the low population densities.  In his book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air  David MacKay notes that if all of the south facing roofs in the UK were covered with solar PV panels, they would produce only about 4% of the UK’s annual energy demand.  Supplying all of the UKs energy would require paving about 10% of the nation with solar panel (an ecological disaster).  High population densities require dense energy sources, which renewables are not.

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 19, 2013
Why cant a Voting, Tax paying Homeowner, be allowed to participate in the Ca. State mandate of 33% Renewable Energy,
by 2020, with out third party leasing ? or destroying our desert eco-systems ?

from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, residential solar installations rose 53 percent year-over-year, and have vastly grown for 12 of the past 13 quarters. In California alone, third-party solar installations account for two-thirds of the residential PV market, which exceeded non-residential for the first time.

Here is what is going on, and how we can change it with a Residential Feed in Tariff.

“Examples of how they have been “slowing the process” are:

(1) Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which create de facto caps on the deployment of renewable energies. (The Germans don’t have any RPSs. Their FIT program is open ended, the more capacity, the merrier!)

(2) Net-metering caps. Most states only allow a small percentage of one to two percent of peak load to be net-metered. There are exceptions however. Colorado, for example, has no aggregate capacity limit. However, most states do. Net-metering, therefore, will certainly “hold back the clean energy tide.”

(3) The third party leasing rent-to-own outfits like Sungevity, but more importantly, Solarcity, which just went public with an IPO, fight tooth and nail to protect scarce capacity carveouts (from the state RPSs) so as to bolster their chosen business models as the expense of all others. The same goes for the utility-scale folks. The in-fighting, due in part to the small de facto caps of the RPSs, have significantly slowed the deployment of renewables in the U.S.

(4) Most importantly is how we connect distributed renewable energies to the grid in the U.S., the most salient difference between the American net-metering program and the German feed-in tariff is that net-metering is *retail* energy whereas the FIT is *wholesale* energy. Thus, net-metering does little more than offset onsite loads and in the process it shifts the rate burdens of lost customers onto other ratepayers. Those rate burdens also include all of the utility’s overhead as well since compensation is at the retail rate. A FIT, on the other hand, as wholesale energy feeds the energy directly into the electric grid, and because it is must take wholesale energy it must be used first, and in many cases it will off set more expensive energies found on the grid, such as peaker plant power,spinning reserves and so forth saving rate payers money.” Bob Tregilus

Third party leasing is fine on the surface and is making a contribution in reducing our fossil fuel consumption, but third party leasers, the Big Boy solar companies that build in the Fragile Desert Eco-Systems, and the Utilities all fight over Renewable Portfolio Standards Pie allowance.

Established in 2002 under Senate Bill 1078, accelerated in 2006 under Senate Bill 107 and expanded in 2011 under Senate Bill 2, California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) is one of the most ambitious renewable energy standards in the country. The RPS program requires investor-owned utilities, electric service providers, and community choice aggregators to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33% of total procurement by 2020.

All Three leagues have a piece of the pie, but there is 4 to 6 teams in each league that want a piece of that carve out money pie, causing huge infighting, and as of right now the homeowner is left out of the ballgame, with no chance of eating the all american pie, why ? because we are not represented at the Renewable Portfolio Standard dining hall, with a chair at the pie eating table.

“The benefits of owning a renewable energy system far outweigh the benefits of a lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA). Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners are eligible for a federal personal income tax credit up to 30% of the purchase cost of their renewable energy system, without a maximum limit.** Homeowners can utilize the incentive money in any way they choose. But homeowners that choose to lease their systems turn over their rebates and incentives to the third party lease or PPA companies associated with the solar systems installed on their homes.”

“The owner of a renewable energy system is also sheltered from rising electricity costs, which have historically increased on average of 3-5% each year. This presents homeowners with opportunities to save money each month on energy and also reduces their reliance on third-party utility companies. By purchasing a renewable energy system with cash or through a loan, a homeowner can completely pay off his or her system and then independently produce clean energy. By choosing a lease or a PPA option homeowners are essentially substituting their utility companies with third-party leasing companies. Additionally, homeowners will likely be required to purchase their systems, renew their leases, or have the systems removed from their roof and revert to paying utility rates once their leases have ended.” Charlie Angione

“The motivation and the goals of Germany’s unprecedented solar policy are neither a secret nor hard to research (EEG 2004, Article 1). For decades, the main problem of solar had been identified as it being too expensive to deploy. But, at the same time, only deployment and mass production would lead to significant cost reductions. To overcome this barrier, the German parliament adapted the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) in 2004 to incentivize the installation of solar PV systems, thus creating the first uncapped mass market for solar power. It was the goal to reduce the technology’s cost through deployment, innovation, and market forces within the solar industry. The plan has succeeded a lot faster than anticipated and the cost of PV is expected to decline by at least another 50% by 2020.” Paul Gipe

The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020

FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:
Wind
Photovoltaics (PV)
Solar thermal
Geothermal
Biogas
Biomass
Fuel cells
Tidal and wave power.

So long as the payment levels are differentiated appropriately, FIT policies can increase development in a number of different technology types over a wide geographic area. At the same time, they can contribute to local job creation and increased clean energy development in a variety of different technology sectors.

With the worlds carbon levels at 400-410 parts per million and rising, globally emitting over 32 Gigatons of CO2 each year, causing Global Warming and life changing pollution, Renewable Energy will address these issues and start us on the road back to 350 parts per million of carbon, Thank You Bill McKibben 

California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems

Allowing homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems, is a true capitalistic tool, that will give us the potential to challenge the utility monopolies, democratize energy generation and transform millions of homes and small business into energy generators, during Sandy, Solar homes where not utilized to their full potential, because there was no disconnect and or transfer switch, to turn off incoming grid and start in home Solar power. how comforting it would be, to have mandatory transfer switches on all residential and small business renewable energy installations. 
The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

Natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of California’s power generated in-state in 2011. Nuclear power from Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 9.15%, large hydropower 18.3%, renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

We need a National Feed in Tariff, for Renewable Energy, with laws that level the playing field, this petition starts with homeowners in California. 

Japan, Germany, and our state of Hawaii, will pay residents between 13 – 37 cents per kilowatt hour, here in California they will pay a commercial FiT in a few counties at 17 cents per kilowatt hour, No Residential FiT and they wont let us oversize our Residential Renewable Energy systems.

Want to change our Feed in Tariff? Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition ?

http://signon.org/sign/let-california-home-owners

 
William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 19, 2013

Hi Billy

Here in New Zealand, it is not worthwhile to invest in solar despite the great price we now have for solar panels and inverters.  Have a look at the link and let me know how it works in your jurisdiction.

http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2013/06/solar-electric-not-worth-it.html

William

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 19, 2013

Daniel

The German FIT system is a scam on so many levels.

http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2009/09/german-fit-system-brilliant.html

William

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on July 19, 2013

Residential solar prices in the USA are heavily inflated by a variety of administrative hurdles which often include the following.

1. A requirement for planning permission – often involving a hefty application fee.

2. A requirement for grid connection permission – again sometimes expensive, especially in places like Hawaii where the applicant may have to finance a grid connection survey with no guarantee of getting permission.

3. A requirement for each installation to be inspected.

4. As many as 19,000 different sets of rules across the country – every state, town, and community seems to have its own slightly different rules – massively increasing the complexity of navigating the system.

In effect, the hugely beurocratic administrative rules in the USA are acting as a tax nearly doubling the cost of rooftop solar. This “tax” is then largely refunded to large corporates who fund solar leases by taking advantage of rebates not available to the average Joe in the street. The administration then gets to say it is subsidising solar whilst in effect it is only cancelling out the majority of the associated administrative “taxes” and supporting big business rather than the little guy. 

 

In the UK there is generally no requirement for planning permission, no requirement for grid connection permission below 3.6 kW and simple low cost proceedures above 3.6 kW, there is a system of accredited registered installers who’s work is only occasionally inspected, and there is one set of rules for the whole country. 

Result? Residential solar fully installed at 4 kW scale for around $2.25 per watt and 1.6 GW of sub 50 kW cumulative solar installs almost all roof mounted. 

The raw cost of solar in the USA disregarding these largely avoidable administrative costs is now affordable without subsidy in many US states for anyone using the majority of their solar array’s output. A fair price for exported electricity – less than retail but more than wholesale recognising both grid costs and the extra time related value of solar would then be enough to make solar viable for any householder in the South with a suitable roof, and also for businesses such as small factories, leasure facilities, retail, and distribution warehouses.

 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on July 19, 2013

The US has ample supplies of natural gas, which reliably and economically produces power at costs far below that of solar energy. Furhter, the objective of power production is to provide reasonably priced power; and not create “make-work” jobs. Assertions to the contrary are just plain nonsense.

Solar energy is more-or-less fools gold.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 19, 2013

Solar energy is also stored in a cupboard full of clean clothes, washed when the sun shone, in a tank of hot water, heated when the sun was shining and in a loaf of bread, baked when the ‘sun did shine’.  What is needed is a smart grid that communicates between the user/generator and his power company and between the power company and your smart devices in the home.  This would result in  a system of demand balancing (rather than supply balancing) that makes power cheaper when it is in excess rather than at a certain time of the day. 

http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2011/02/wind-energys-no-good.html

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 19, 2013

 William, the German Feed inTariff is removing Nuclear Energy from the German Grid, have you seen the latest radioactive data from Fukushima ?, The 50% of Homeowners and Farmers, who make up the generating power would all say, you do not know, what you are talking about on so many levels, even commercial FiT, users in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, and Sacramento, would fight you over their 17 cents per kilowatt hour, they are being paid Right Now, a nice revenue stream, for savings and or retirement, a true capitalistic democratic model.

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 19, 2013

 Ha Michael are you going to drink the Fracked water, or will you let anyone in Your Family ? The object of power production now, is not to increase the 400 parts per million and counting of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, with 576 billion tons in our atmospheric budget before we go over 2C, we should be Renewablely Energizing our Grid, keeping the status-quo is truly plain nonsense.

 Renewable Energy ( Solar ) is Gold, a clean breath of fresh air, , the Fossil fuel Fools and their dirty kilowatt

“Right now the course of our future is being set by the fossil fuel industry, the most powerful corporations in the history of the world, and they’re steering us off a cliff into a raging inferno. They fight each day to blow up more mountains for coal, demolish more land and oceans for oil and shatter more of the ground beneath our feet by fracking for oil and gas with a cocktail of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind. With each passing day that these interests set our course, with every additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted like a poison in our atmosphere, the drier the ink becomes on the bleak future written by the fossil fuel industry.

That future is one where oceans drown our coastal homes and cities, where biodiversity is diminished. It’s a future where droughts will parch our agricultural fields and allow wildfires to run rampant. It’s a future where clean, freshwater will be among the world’s scarcest resources, and where smog and pollution suffocate our lungs and the planet’s.

Given the fossil fuel industry’s seemingly unlimited money and political influence, changing their course and taking control of our future is a tall order. But again, we must. And all of you, can make the choices that lead you to seize that control.
I can tell you how significant a difference each of us can make, how important the choices we make can be and the power we have in this country.” John Armstrong

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 19, 2013

Hi Daniel

The german system certainly was successful in getting a huge uptake of solar in Germany and more power to them.  The fact that they can reduce their dependence on nuclear and on coal because of this is fantastic.  However, as I mantioned in the blog, it is a scam.  Or to put it a little more charitably, the german government could have made it so much less expensive, more sustainable and simply fairer to the German people.  My definition of a scam is a system which makes someone think that they are getting something for nothing and if you go through the blog, you will see what they are actually getting and what they are paying.  When their 20 year grace period runs out, the german owner of a solar system will wake up and wonder why they went into the system in the first place.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on July 19, 2013

 

new zeeland has great geothermal resources, why would it waste it’s money on imported chinese PV panels ?

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 20, 2013

We have about 50% hydro, 20% geothermal both of which are ideal for balancing wind and solar.  We still burn coal and gas to produce electricity.  Solar should be the ideal addition to this mix but isn’t, not because of the price or technology which are great but due to the regulations around solar.

http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2013/06/solar-electric-not-worth-it.html

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on July 20, 2013

I really don’t get you comment William

Why would the owner of a solar array in Germany regret installing the array once the feed in tarriff period runs out?

By the time that happens, the owner will have recovered their initial investment 2 to 3 times over, and will still have free electricity from the system for the remaining system life. What’s more, although they will no longer get paid the feed in tariff rate, they will most likely continue to be paid at wholesale prices for any power they export. When a revenue generating asset with very low O & M costs has been fully paid off and depreciated but continues to generate revenue this revenue is nearly all profit. 

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on July 20, 2013

Given the rules described in your link, it would seem that the most appropriate use for solar in New Zeeland is on commercial / institutional buildings with significant all day power consumption 7 days a week. At an appropriate size, such arrays would have pretty much 100% self consumption and so not suffer from the rules described. 

Then it is just a case of comparing the cost of solar power with that of the grid and considering whether solar is affordable. (Some cost premium is probably justifiable as solar costs once installed are mostly fixed so you hedge against future price rises, and having a solar array may enhance the business’s reputation for sustainability.) 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on July 20, 2013

As a number of recent studies (including those from the EPA) demonstrate, fracking does not contaminate the water resources. 

Global warming remains more of a religion as we are suppose to rely on faith because the scientific  evidence is unable to provide conclusive proof that man is going to catastrophically alter the climate.

Renewable energy is largrely a fools errand, although it makes sense in a few select applications.

Germany is now burning even more coal.

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 20, 2013

Michael do you drink Fracked water ? or would you let your family ? The EPA is not the protector of our environment,  400 parts per million and counting of carbon in our atmosphere, altering normal waxing and waning eaarth climate cycles.

The Arctic sea ice is almost gone, they are thinking it could be in 2014-2016 

The acid levels in our oceans is increasing to the point where its effecting sea life. 

Bill McKibbens 350.org and the Divest in fossil fuel movement, sweeping the college campuses, taking up the banner to fight people like you. 

When I read thoughts, of people defending fossil fuel, its hard to believe, until you realize they are hanging on to their cancer causing, toxic poison that has polluted our air, land, and water, just so they can set atop a sick planet that they have created. 

 keeping the status quo is to your benefit and to the Industry that you are defending, to the detriment of our children, families, and Eaarth.

EPA’s Abandoned Wyoming Fracking Study One Retreat of Many

by Abrahm Lustgarten

Nov. 8, 2007, John Fenton and others examine neighbor Louis Meeks’ water in Pavillion, Wyo. 

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its multimillion-dollar investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field last month, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike.

In 2011, the agency had issued a blockbuster draft report saying that the controversial practice of fracking was to blame for the pollution of an aquifer deep below the town of Pavillion, Wy. – the first time such a claim had been based on a scientific analysis 

The study drew heated criticism over its methodology and awaited a peer review that promised to settle the dispute. Now the EPA will instead hand the study over to the state of Wyoming, whose research will be funded by EnCana, the very drilling company whose wells may have caused the contamination.

Industry advocates say the EPA’s turnabout reflects an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking and that its science was critically flawed.

But environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling, even as President Obama lays out a plan to combat climate change that rests heavily on the use of natural gas.

Over the past 15 months, they point out, the EPA has:

· Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.

· Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.

· Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.

· Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.

“We’re seeing a pattern that is of great concern,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “They need to make sure that scientific investigations are thorough enough to ensure that the public is getting a full scientific explanation.”

The EPA says that the string of decisions is not related, and the Pavillion matter will be resolved more quickly by state officials. The agency has maintained publicly that it remains committed to an ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing, which it says will draw the definitive line on fracking’s risks to water.

In private conversations, however, high-ranking agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House — is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well.

Last year, the agency’s budget was sliced 17 percent, to below 1998 levels. Sequestration forced further cuts, making research initiatives like the one in Pavillion harder to fund.

One reflection of the intense political spotlight on the agency: In May, Senate Republicans boycotted a vote on President Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, after asking her to answer more than 1,000 questions on regulatory and policy concerns, including energy. 

The Pavillion study touched a particular nerve for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the former ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

According to correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Inhofe demanded repeated briefings from EPA officials on fracking initiatives and barraged the agency with questions on its expenditures in Pavillion, down to how many dollars it paid a lab to check water samples for a particular contaminant.

He also wrote a letter to the EPA’s top administrator calling a draft report that concluded fracking likely helped pollute Pavillion’s drinking water “unsubstantiated” and pillorying it as part of an “Administration-wide effort to hinder and unnecessarily regulate hydraulic fracturing on the federal level.” He called for the EPA’s inspector general to open an investigation into the agency’s actions related to fracking.

When the EPA announced it would end its research in Pavillion, Inhofe – whose office did not respond to questions from ProPublica — was quick to applaud.

“EPA thought it had a rock solid case linking groundwater contamination to hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, WY, but we knew all along that the science was not there,” Inhofe said in a press release issued the day of the announcement.

Others, however, wonder whether a gun-shy EPA is capable of answering the pressing question of whether the nation’s natural gas boom will also bring a wave of environmental harm. 

“Amid widespread fears that the boom in fracking for natural gas poses a growing array of environmental threats, some members of Congress are making a new effort to reverse a 2005 law that exempted the industry from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and four other senators re-introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) in June, matching a companion bill already filed in the House of Representatives.

 These exemptions have received increasing scrutiny in recent years as the expansion of U.S. natural gas production has brought with it a storm of complaints over water and air pollution and intrusive industrial activity in unspoiled or sensitive areas.
 
Fracking is inherently risky by drillers’ own admission.

As Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reported, the practice presents clear risks to underground sources of drinking water and potentially endangers public health, particularly as drilling companies increasingly set up operations in or near residential areas.

Despite these risks, lobbying by the drilling industry has stymied most attempts to regulate the technology. This is the third time that the FRAC Act has been introduced in Congress, but it has never made it out of committee. Passage would be a crucial step toward protecting public health and the environment, providing greater transparency and oversight over fracking operations that have profited handsomely at the public’s expense.

Even if Congress reverses the drinking water exemption, however, fracking would still be free of other important environmental protections. Specifically:
Wastes from oil and gas drilling are exempt from the disclosure and hazardous waste handling requirements of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act. 

Oil and gas companies are exempt from the requirement to report releases of toxic substances under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

Oil and gas construction facilities are free of the Clean Water Act’s requirement to obtain storm water runoff permits.

Oil and gas drilling sites are not grouped together for purposes of the Clean Air Act, which requires other industries to count smaller sources of emissions as a single unit to reflect overall impact on air quality.

Oil and gas drillers are exempt from the liability and clean-up cost provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

Certain oil and gas drilling activities do not require an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. 

EWG believes it is critical that lawmakers act quickly to close the loophole that exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The FRAC Act would provide this crucial fix. But passage of the act by itself won’t prevent drillers from taking advantage of other exemptions and loose regulation. Lawmakers—and the Obama administration as well—must do more to resist the drilling industry’s lobying power and stand up for public health and the environment.: Stephen Goss

 

 

Starting in 2008, a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gasses as a form of pollution, accelerating possible Congressional action on climate change, the Koch-funded nonprofit group, Americans for Prosperity, devised the “No Climate Tax” pledge. 


It has been, according to the study, a component of a remarkably successful campaign to prevent lawmakers from addressing climate change. 

Two successive efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by implementing cap-and-trade energy bills died in the Senate, the latter of which was specifically targeted by A.F.P.’s pledge. 

By now, four hundred and eleven current office holders nationwide have signed the pledge. 

Signatories include the entire Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, a third of the members of the House of Representatives as a whole, and a quarter of U.S. senators. 

The 2010 mid-term elections were a high watermark for the pledge. The Kochs, like many other conservative benefactors, gave generously to efforts to help shift the majority in the House of Representatives from Democratic to Republican. 

Koch Industries’s political action committee spent $1.3 million on congressional campaigns that year. When Republicans did take control of the House, a huge block of climate-change opponents was empowered. 

Fully one hundred and fifty-six members of the House of Representatives that year had signed the “No Climate Tax Pledge.” 

Of the eighty-five freshmen Republican congressmen elected to the House of Representatives in 2010, seventy-six had signed the No Climate Tax pledge. Fifty-seven of those received campaign contributions from Koch Industries’s political action committee. 

The study notes that more than half of the House members who signed the pledge in the 112th Congress made statements doubting climate-change science, despite the fact that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject. 

The failure to understand this manipulation is a major problem, for all of us.

 
William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 20, 2013

Hi Gary

You are right on the money but even then, your power use at any given moment is unlikely to be in balance with your power generation and at any time this is so, one or other of your meters is running.  A cloud goes overhead, your uptake meter is running, it is lunch time and the sun is shining, your export meter is running.  You have sized your panels to generate, on average over the year,  as much power as you use but up to about 10 in the morning you have a deficite, from 10 to 2 you are in excess and after 2 in deficite.  Without some sort of storage, you can never balance your instantaneous use with your generation.  Hopefully, new energy storage technology will solve this problem but any government could sort it out right now with a stroke of the pen and without the need for new technology.  Give us simple single meter net metering and the problem is solved.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 20, 2013

It is true that great quantities of Natural Gas have been found in America and in the rest of the world but a good part of it’s low price is the fact that many drilling companies have leases that they have to use or loose them.  This has led to a glut of Natural gas and the inevitable supply and demand has cut in and lowered the price.  Because of the cheap price, power companies and individuals are converting to Natural gas for electricity generation, household heating and even for running  vehicles so the glut will rapidly disappear and the price will rise.  Fracking is actually a rather expensive technology and compliance is beginning to kick in which will further raise the price.  Ultimately, we will run out of even this source of fossil fuel, the price will sky rocked and the present low price will have delayed further the conversion to renewables.  At the same time, the Carbon content of the air will be higer.  Just a final thought.

The preliminary work from cores from El’gygytgyn lake suggest we are already in a new climate regime but are only seeing the very first effects.  This is because of the inertia in the system.  In other words, we have set in motion a series of interlocking feed back mechanisms and it will take time for them to work their way through the system until we are in equilibrium with 400ppm.  In the mean time we are on the way at about 3ppm per year toward 500ppm.  I could be completely wrong but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on July 21, 2013

I would agree with you on that, it is unlikely that the present low gas prices will persist for very much longer.

The price of natural gas in the USA is presently somewhat detatched from the price of gas on global markets. Once pipelines and LNG capability expands to trade on international markets prices in the USA will become much closer to those found elsewhere. 

Another important point is that the amount of known accessible conventional fossil fuel reserves already greatly exceeds the amount of fuel which can be burned without exceeding internationally agreed climate change targets. 

The Grantham Research Institute estimates that only between 20% and 40% of known reserves can be consumed without exceeding 2C rise in global temperatures – so that if the current targets are to be met, 60% to 80% of these reserves will need to remain in the ground – without all the new unconventional reserves.

http://www.carbontracker.org/wastedcapital

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 21, 2013

I like the “edge of a cliff” immage.  The last thing you want when you are standing on the edge of a cliff is a great leap forward (in newly discovered fossil fuel).  

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 21, 2013

 Newly discovered fossil fuel, Fracked land, is worth how much ?

 
The newest story on property value and fracking: banks aren’t willing to take the risk. http://bit.ly/19bHTxp

Brian Smith lives in Daisytown, PA and was denied a new mortgage by three lenders because of a neighbor’s gas well.

Quicken Loans said they are “unable to extend financing due to the unknown future marketability of the property.”


“Let me be clear: hydraulic fracturing as it’s practised today will contaminate our aquifers. Not might contaminate our aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing will contaminate New York’s aquifers.”Paul Hetzler, an ex-staffer at an agency responsible for regulating fracking
      

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on July 22, 2013

Hi Michael

The evidence for global warming is pretty compelling as is the likely result if we keep on at the present rate.  Present evidence includes the fast retreat of glaciers all around the world (See: Chasing Ice) and the ever accelerating melt of the Ice floating in the Arctic Ocean (see the NSIDC web site).  Add to this the Argo program with thousands of floats throughout the world’s oceans which dive, record temperatures, surface and relay the information to satelites.  They have shown that most of the heat absorbed by the world is going into the oceans.  As for the likely result, just look at the crop failure in Russia in 2010 and the great decrease in productivity in America and Russia in 2012.  Granted, such things have happened before so singel events like these are not a proof of Global warming.  There is much more but I don’t want to try our patience so let’s say you are sitll not convinced.  What I would suggest is that you “forget climate change”

http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2010/10/forget-climate-change.html

Daniel Ferra's picture
Daniel Ferra on July 22, 2013

 Hello Nathan, will you consider signing my petition ?

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