Table Of Contents
Inside Scoop: Why One Woman Chooses to Support Clean Energy Solutions
Emily Adhikari is a resident physician, wife of Soumya (a busy pediatrician), and mother of a young toddler, living in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. She is also an EESI Associate, a group of donors who give $1,000 or more per year for energy and climate solutions – and are thus a special part of the EESI family. Emily made a commitment to donating to a cause she believes in – solutions for our nation’s critical energy, transportation, and climate issues. She wanted to start giving, and solving the problem, as soon as she started earning a salary.
Giving to charity and church on a monthly basis were part of her family’s culture growing up, a tradition she wanted to make her own. Emily and her husband make charitable giving one of their monthly to-do’s, like paying bills. And, monthly giving to EESI is simpler than bill paying!
Since Emily set up her recurring online donation of $100 a few years ago, the donation has been conveniently billed to her credit card. Monthly giving makes becoming an EESI Associate easier on the budget. That’s helpful for Emily since she is quite busy with work and her family. The monthly gifts also help EESI plan better, respond to unexpected opportunities, and reduce administrative costs.
Emily originally found EESI on Charity Navigator, the largest evaluator of charities nationwide, where EESI has received the highest rating of Four Stars four times in a row! She was delighted to find an organization dedicated to informing policymakers on critical energy and environmental issues. She saw that work in D.C. with lawmakers would make the most difference in changing energy consumption and use patterns in the United States.
The Adhikari family, from left to right: Soumya, Emily and Sarina.
Emily became concerned about energy, climate, and transportation issues while going to college and then working in Houston. She recognized that big oil dominated the Houston economy. She witnessed the area continuing to widen roads and sprawl further out. Despite the roadwork, traffic continued to worsen. Public transportation beyond downtown was nonexistent or unreliable, she said. As she explained, “I was so tired of sitting in traffic. I lived close enough to bike to work, but there were no bike lanes.” The situation in Dallas/Fort Worth, where she lives now, is similar, but gradually improving with the expansion of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail system.
Emily decided to make monthly gifts to advance EESI’s work because she realized the country needed to make a major change by moving toward efficiency, smart growth, and sustainable transportation systems. She recognizes that local change is important, too. But she believes that for large-scale changes in energy policy to happen, Congress needs to lead the way. When Emily, and others like her, make significant financial commitments to innovative energy and climate solutions, our country can transition to a clean energy economy. Our deepest thanks go out to Emily and Soumya Adhikari for their commitment!
Insurance Industry Adapting to Climate Change
There is strong scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is occurring. Its effects are already putting people and assets at risk. The insurance industry is facing great economic risk from climate change. It is in a unique position, because it has to prepare for and mitigate climate change impacts while at the same time feeling the effects. The industry is critical to the financial markets, and good insurance is also a critical safety net for families across America. Instability in the industry could have negative impacts throughout the global economy.
As the cost of disasters increase, insurers will be forced to adjust their underwriting process and increase premiums. Fourteen natural catastrophes caused at least $1 billion each in damages in the United States in 2011. The insurance industry suffered an unprecedented $44 billion in catastrophe-related losses overall. "If we continue on this path, extreme weather is certain to make more homes and businesses uninsurable in the private insurance market, thereby raising the cost significantly to both taxpayers and individuals," said Cynthia McHale, director of the insurance program for the environmental investor coalition Ceres.
Insurers are exposed to direct risks of climate change from extreme weather events and rising sea levels. All of this may cause damage to real estate, infrastructure, and loss of economic activity in both private and business sectors. The insurance industry is heavily invested in firms that are exposed to great risk of climate change damages. Depending on future legislation and court rulings, these firms could face legal accountability for climate change. If those firms suffer extensive losses from climate change or future legal action, insurers will also suffer losses in paying for claims.
Devastation after a tornado in Greensburg, Kansas in May of 2007. Courtesy of NREL, credit: Galen Buller.
The insurance industry can use its historical knowledge and skills to prepare for and mitigate climate change. From its beginning in fire prevention, the industry has developed extensive experience in risk management. Its knowledge of modeling risk could be vital in understanding the extent of future climate change. Thus, the insurance industry can be proactive in preventing loss from climate change. For example, the industry can encourage mitigation strategies within other industries and help communities develop adaptation plans.
Insurers can work with governments and stakeholders to raise awareness of the risk. Munich RE launched the Climate Insurance Initiative in 2005 to work with the United Nations in finding solutions to the risks posed by climate change. The insurance industry can also encourage the development of energy-efficient building codes, improved land use planning, and even help finance clean energy infrastructure.
The investment choices of the insurers can drive changes in business to both prevent and adapt to climate change. As large institutional investors, insurance companies are important players in financing a low-carbon economy. They can leverage the economic value from reduced greenhouse emissions to develop new products and services that support further greenhouse gas reduction methods. For example, Zurich is offering insurance on Carbon Capture and Sequestration, alternative energy development, and carbon credit projects.
Update from the Director
It has been a beautiful spring in our nation’s capital... but it has been a bit unnerving to consider the thousands of temperature records that were shattered across the country in March, the increased number of extreme weather events, and what that might signify for the months ahead. Increasingly, Americans are witnessing changes in our climate. A new poll done for Yale and George Mason universities found that 69 percent of those polled felt that “global warming is affecting the weather in the United States.” A striking finding was that 35 percent reported being affected by extreme weather in the past year.
During the past few months EESI has used our Congressional briefing series to provide important discussions of national energy and transportation policy priorities that are before the Congress right now. If these policies are adopted, they can make a real difference in moving our country on a more energy efficient, low carbon, clean energy path.
At stake are issues of energy technology leadership, global competitiveness, and long-term national and energy security – big issues that are critical to the country’s economic well-being as well as our environmental and public health. These are bi-partisan concerns, and these challenges can be met with solutions that are truly ‘win-win.’ EESI has always believed that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand-in-hand. Therefore, a hallmark of EESI’s approach is recognizing that in our very inter-connected world, it is vital to seek out those opportunities that can provide solutions to multiple problems at the same time. And, those opportunities abound. I am constantly amazed at all the exciting things that are going on all over this country – in small businesses, large companies, state and local governments, colleges and universities. Yes, it is daunting when one considers the scale of change necessary to transition to a clean energy economy… but this clearly is part of the vision of so many Americans. We see that vision in action in other countries which are aggressively moving on the clean energy technology front; and we see that vision through actions being taken by the U.S. Department of Defense and all U.S. military services as they seek to provide greater national security and reduce risk to our troops. Stay tuned as we look at these issues in more detail over the next few months.
EESI is closing out April with two Congressional forums – one will examine the nexus of energy, water, and climate as seen through the lens of the Danish Minister of Trade and Investment, who will keynote the event. Denmark currently holds the Presidency of the European Union and is exhibiting tremendous leadership as it develops its low-carbon, highly competitive, and prosperous economy. The other briefing is featuring renewable natural gas (biogas), geothermal, and water power technologies – all of which can provide baseload power generation, can be used in different technology applications and can be found in many diverse sources throughout the United States – but they do not generally receive as much attention as other renewable resources.
We are now well into this year’s election cycle. Let us all be part of the national conversation to put the transition to a clean energy economy – and the host of benefits that will bring – on the map for policymakers. This is a huge opportunity and responsibility for all of us.
Your support makes EESI and our work possible. Thank you for everything you do. I always appreciate hearing from you!
Conservation, Energy Security, and Jobs with Biomass Crops
In the years ahead, U.S. and global markets will demand far more from our farms and forests than ever before. American farmers and foresters will need to produce a lot more food, feed, fuel, and fiber. At the same time they will need to help restore the health of our rivers, lakes, and fisheries, improving wildlife habitat and biological diversity, and increasing the amount of carbon stored in plants and soils. Extreme weather events and a changing climate will likely make these challenges even more difficult. Both producers and consumers will have to adapt and innovate as never before.
The current Farm Bill will expire at the end of 2012. The House and Senate agriculture committees are developing legislation now to reauthorize nutrition and agriculture programs – albeit at much lower spending levels. The question is: Will the next Farm Bill help assure the nation’s capacity to meet the difficult challenges in the years ahead?
At a briefing on March 26, EESI brought together a diverse panel of agricultural experts and innovators to discuss the role that perennial biomass energy crops can play in addressing some of these challenges as part of multi-functional agricultural systems. The speakers discussed ways that perennial biomass crops can help reduce nutrient pollution, conserve soil and water, enhance wildlife habitat. They also emphasize opportunities for new revenue streams for producers, rural jobs, and renewable energy for the nation. Perennial biomass production projects are already under way in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, and elsewhere.
Perhaps the largest commercial-scale project has been developed at the Show Me Energy Cooperative in Centerville, Missouri. A polyculture blend of native grasses has been planted over thousands of acres of what was once marginally productive land. Today, the densified pellets that the co-op produces from the harvested biomass are sold and used to produce electric power and heat. In the future, as the technology is developed, the biomass may be used to produce drop-in, advanced, cellulosic biofuels.
The speakers presented ideas about how the next Farm Bill can encourage the development of sustainable, multi-functional agricultural systems that incorporate perennial biomass crops and advance the nation’s economic, energy, and environmental priorities.
EESI Highlights the Benefits of Improved Fuel Economy Standards
The transportation sector accounts for three-quarters of our oil consumption. Aside from becoming less car-dependent, the best method to reduce oil use is a national transition towards highly efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. Corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards push automotive manufactures to offer more fuel efficient passenger vehicles to decrease oil dependence and save consumers money on gasoline. They are set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On February 29, EESI held a Congressional briefing on the economic and energy security impacts of both in-place and proposed CAFE standards. The panel of experts pointed out that fuel economy improvements since the inception of CAFE standards have reduced U.S. fuel consumption by 70 billion gallons annually. This saved the country $250 billion in 2011. Improvements to vehicles to meet the new CAFE standards, which will require additional labor and new technologies, will make new vehicles somewhat more expensive. However, this added cost will be repaid in four years or less due to fuel savings. By increasing the value of domestically-made cars and reducing spending on oil imports, CAFE standards spur investments that create American jobs and retain a greater percentage of transportation dollars in the domestic economy.
Our country put original CAFE standards in place in 1978 in response to global oil shocks. Fuel standards for passenger cars rose from 18 miles per gallon (MPG) to 27.5 MPG by 1985, a 53 percent increase. Standards for light-duty trucks were introduced in 1979, rising from 17 MPG to 20.5 MPG by 1987. Despite this initial success, dropping oil prices lessened political and consumer interest. The United States did not raise passenger car standards again for nearly 20 years and light duty trucks only saw minimal increases. When Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, it broke this regulatory stagnation by mandating fuel economy increases for vehicle Model Years (MY) 2011-2015.
In 2009, the Obama administration proposed to accelerate and extend these new CAFE standards through MY 2016. For current MY 2012, the new passenger car and light truck fleets must average 33.3 MPG and 25.4 MPG, respectively. The total fleet average is 29.7 MPG. Rising on average a little more than four percent per year, the combined standard will reach 34.1 MPG for MY 2016 (37.8 MPG for cars and 28.8 MPG for light trucks).
In 2011, working together with the auto industry, the administration proposed new CAFE standards for Model Years 2017-2025. The proposed rule would continue annual efficiency increases of approximately five percent, reaching 49.6 MPG in MY 2025 for the combined fleet (56.0 MPG for cars, 40.3 MPG for light trucks). The EPA has proposed a parallel standard to reduce new vehicles' carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions by 45 percent by MY 2025 (to 163 grams per mile, which is equivalent to 54.5 MPG). This would seem to contradict the fuel mileage standard, but the discrepancy is because the CO2 standard includes expected improvements to air conditioning systems. The MY 2017-2025 mileage and emissions standards are expected to generate $311 billion to $421 billion in net savings. A final ruling on these proposed standards is expected this summer.
You Make Innovative Clean Energy Solutions Possible… when you give to EESI!
People all around the country committed to change in our nation’s energy policies, like Emily Adhikari, make it possible for EESI to continue advancing innovative policy solutions. You help us work with Congressional offices who call asking for advice. You help us bring unique voices to Washington so our nation’s policymakers can learn what is at stake for the future of our country.
Though EESI was founded by a bipartisan group of members of Congress, we receive no Congressional funding. Your contributions make innovative environmental and energy solutions possible!
So please show your commitment to sustainable energy in the way that’s right for you. You can:
- Give securely online at www.eesi.org/donate
- Set up recurring monthly gifts to make giving a year-round habit that’s easier on the budget.
- See if your employer will match your gift. You could double your money!
- Leave a lasting legacy for sustainable energy by including EESI in your estate plans.
Thank you for putting your commitment to sustainable energy to work in so many ways – including giving to EESI.
Feel the Heat: Concentrating Solar Power Plants Soak up Southwest Sun
What is the first thing you think of when you see or hear the words “solar energy” or “solar power”? Your solar-charged calculator? Photovoltaic (PV) panels for your roof? Maybe you think of sun-warmed bricks and other “passive solar” design techniques for heating a house. If you’re a physicist you might think of nuclear fusion, or perhaps you’re a sun worshiper who feels the healing power of the sun’s energy.
Do you think about a large solar power plant that can generate several hundred megawatts of electricity that is capable of operating at night and on cloudy days? For many people, say “power plant” and they think of coal-burning boilers or nuclear cooling towers. In fact, there are many power plants in sunny places around the world that use the sun as their fuel source instead of conventional, non-renewable resources. Appropriately named, Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants use specially-designed mirrors and receivers to focus and collect the sun’s thermal energy, which enables them to heat water and produce steam, which then rotates a turbine to generate electricity. Another distinguishing feature of CSP plants is the means to store that heat for use even when the sun is not shining on the mirrors. That translates into base load, peak load, reliable, affordable, dispatchable, and virtually carbon-free power. Build enough of these CSP plants and it also translates into thousands of U.S. jobs through a very extensive manufacturing supply chain to fuel a secure and sustainable supply of domestic power for generations to come.
Nine solar energy generating systems (SEGS) have been operating successfully in the California desert for over two decades, using parabolic troughs to collect the sun’s energy. Parabolic trough technology is now being used in a new generation of solar power plants, including Nevada Solar One in the United States and many CSP plants in Spain. And now it seems to be gaining even more ground….literally. The newest and largest parabolic trough power plant in the world is under construction in Arizona – Solana, a 280-megawatt plant whose solar field covers three square miles of flat desert land.
At the invitation of Solana developer Abengoa Solar and local hosts, EESI’s Ellen Vaughan toured the Solana construction site in March, as well as two of Solana’s key suppliers: Schott Solar in Albuquerque, NM, and Rioglass in Surprise, AZ. Though familiar with the concept of CSP, Vaughan said it wasn’t until she saw a plant up close that she could fully appreciate its massive scale and potential. “It is awesome,” Vaughan said. “I was struck by the sight of row upon row of solar collectors soaking up our country’s intense southwestern sun – a huge renewable resource!” In addition, the attention to quality in every aspect of design, construction and manufacturing was evident at all three facilities, she noted. Each piece of hardware, each sun-angle calculation, and each employee serves a critical and interconnected role in the plant’s successful completion and operation.
But that’s not the whole story. There are more than 70 companies in 26 states that supply technologies and materials to Solana, including a steel tank manufacturer in Kentucky and a heat transfer fluid company in Missouri. And those companies have their own supply chains. Developing more CSP plants in this country will create more U.S. jobs, both traditional and high tech. Rioglass, which manufactures and supplies Solana’s parabolic-shaped mirrors, currently employs more than 70 people in its new plant south of Phoenix. Schott Solar, which manufactures and supplies heat-absorption (receiver) tubes for the Solana project, currently employs 340 people at its plant in Albuquerque. Both Rioglass and Schott Solar utilize advanced robotics and computer programs and train and hire people to operate them. Recent advances in computer technology are enabling employees to assure a superior level of consistency and quality more easily than ever before. These companies represent the new frontier of manufacturing and power production, said EESI’s Ellen Vaughan. “They are building and demonstrating a model for sustainability and competitiveness in industry that could be a new engine for economic growth in this country.”
For that to happen, EESI believes it is important for policymakers, consumers and everyone to understand the current value and extraordinary potential of solar power generation. Additional clean power production and new jobs from CSP plants depend (for a while longer) on supportive public policies such as the Investment Tax Credit and Federal Loan Guarantees. CSP plants are big, capital intensive projects, currently out of reach for commercial lenders but a sound investment for the United States if we’re going to compete globally and live sustainably.
Volunteer Spotlight: Paul Haven Gets Busy at EESI
In the weeks before Paul Haven retired early from his directorial position at a large telecommunications company, his colleagues asked what his plans were. He told them he was going to determine how to do something about climate change. He wanted his children to know he had done everything he could to accelerate our transformation to a clean energy economy. Maybe he could apply his network operations and IT knowledge to the electric grid network.
He found out about an EESI briefing on the electric grid. He was impressed, finding a standing-room-only crowded at a House office building room. The articulate moderator, the panel’s incredibly deep and broad knowledge, and the dialogue between the panel and audience members all deeply captivated Paul. It was clear to Paul that one of the Congressional staffers asking questions of the panel was working on gathering background for legislation on the development and transition to a smart grid. Improving this grid is essential for deploying renewable energy more effectively. It was clear to Paul that this briefing was a key part of generating more effective law and policy to transform the electric grid.
Paul has been a professional volunteer with EESI since November, providing invaluable support in upgrading our database while seeking out potential improvements, supporting the development of new program ideas, and cheerfully providing assistance in a whole range of activities. Paul has been incredibly generous to EESI with his time. Indeed EESI is fortunate to be able to multiply the impact of our work through many volunteers who are committed to helping to transition our country to clean energy. Thank you, Paul!
A special thanks to our amazing interns: Erin Tulley, Samantha Shiffman, and Zuzana Culakova