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Overflow Crowd Attends Bill McKibben’s Warren Wilson Visit


Saturday, October 9th, 2010 -

For coverage of the event visit this Warren Wilson Blog, HERE.

Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities


Thursday, September 9th, 2010 -

If you’re curious about the community driven solar opportunity’s that exists for a renewable energy minded citizen or are wondering how different community developed solar models compare, have a look at the new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities.

Here’s a brief summary of the report from ILSR’s website:

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities, examines nine community solar projects, the policies that made them possible, and the (substantial) barriers that remain. Successful community solar power projects in Colorado, Maryland, and North Carolina are knocking down the price of residential-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) by 25% and giving opportunities to renters and people with shady roofs a chance to go solar. While ILSR’s report found some successful community solar business models, there are others that lead to little or no ownership and others that defy easy duplication.


John Farrell, ILSR senior researcher and the report author’s had this to say about the findings:

“Some community solar business models were nothing more than typical utility green pricing programs, where do-gooders pay more for green power without any return on their investment,” said ILSR senior researcher and report author John Farrell . “But we did find that some community solar projects can offer an affordable way to get your electricity from solar power while retaining a long-term ownership interest similar to having your own rooftop modules,” he added.

You can read an expanded summary of the report HERE or download the full report as a PDF document HERE.

Electric Utilities to Congress: These Climate Laws for the United State Don’t Apply to Us, Right?


Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 -


Well…Grist has done it again! Another down-to-earth assessment of the proposed climate change legislation presently brewing in Washington D.C.

…and they’ve detected a not-so-surprising but oh-so-disturbing counter current in these negotiations:

Electric Utilities, the largest polluters on the planet, want to remain exempt from the “fully accounted cost” of their externalities; i.e. we the rate payers continue to pay the electric utilities profitably for their power – and we pay additionally to clean up their mess.

Hmmm…I buy dinner at a restaurant and then have to wash my dishes, sweep and mop the floor, wipe the table, and take out the trash. I sure hope I left enough tip…

Here’s a tantalizing excerpt to whet your appetite for the full blown post on Grist’s Blog:

The power sector is terrified. After putting off needed investments in new, cleaner generation for years and years — aided and abetted by simpatico regulators in D.C. — all the sudden they’re going to have to start making those investments. And quickly! They might have to scramble, and innovate, and maybe even change their business models! Some of them might even have to … gasp … raise rates (which have been artificially suppressed for years)!

Lance Armstrong on the “Tour De Future” of His New Electric Car, The Nissan Leaf


Sunday, July 11th, 2010 -

Lance’s NEW car: The ALL ELECTRIC Nissan Leaf

Watch the Interviews with Lance where he discusses his passion for electric vehicles at the links below:

http://ecotechdaily.com/2010/07/05/lance-armstrong-featured-in-new-nissan-leaf-electric-car-video/

http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/video/view/lance_armstrong_talks_leaf?intcmp=leaf_lance_video.about.events.P3#/leaf-electric-car/video/view/lance_armstrong_talks_leaf

Editorial by Steve Owen, Executive Director of AIRE: Haley Barbour, Tool of BP


Thursday, July 8th, 2010 -

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (right)

“No one has more to loose on this well than BP.” That was Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s parting comment on an NPR segment that I just happened to hear on June 29th. This was jaw dropping, but alas, disturbingly typical and uncritical. There couldn’t be a more perverse logic than portraying BP as the victim in the colossal disaster of its own making. Then to shift the blame to the Coast Guard because, according to Barbour, they were unprepared to clean up is just the zenith of arrogance.

Yes, lets ride the fossil fuel free blast to the bitter (and inevitable) end. Lets ignore the potential for disaster (precautionary principle man, this is not a “leak”…this thing is gushing! Count the months!). Lets pretend that “technology” can plug a gushing hole in the Gulf then defund agencies that we will later assail when the disaster happens (gonna need a scape goat!). Lets complete the delusion by pretending the actual guilty company is the victim. Of course this narrative is all too familiar in our national energy discourse. Unfettered so-called “market rule” trumps people and planet. Don’t believe for a minute that “cheap energy”
is actually cheap.

BP’s financial losses, however large, pale in comparison to the loss of (a) culture, (b) livelihoods, (c) a vast ecosystem, and (d) ultimately the biosphere. For fishermen, net makers, shrimpers and folks making their living from the land, the losses are real. For BP it’s only money and a corporate “person” doesn’t feel pain or sorrow. Unfortunately nor does BP feel a sense of responsibility and accountability. And for the corporate apologists who claim the oil jobs trump all else… killing things (like people, places, living creatures, and ecosystems) has no worth in a moral, sustainable economy.

Time to reorient our energy mind set now.



Solutions Journal’s Special Appalachia Issue


Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 -

For those interested in sustainability and Appalachia, have a look at Solutions special Appalachia issue. Here’s what the Folks at Solutions Journal have to say about the issue:

Together with a dynamic group of academics, business leaders, and activists—each living and working in Appalachia—Solutions will present a special issue dedicated to creating a brighter future for Appalachia. Appalachia is a special place—one of the most biologically diverse and culturally rich regions on the planet. But it is only one of several regions in the United States with an economy dependent on fossil energy production and where the people fear they will suffer when America makes its necessary transition to a low-carbon economy. The challenge in each of these regions will be to make the transition as deliberately and thoughtfully as possible. Central Appalachia has the potential to become a national model of the positive transition to America’s clean energy future. Our members will receive $5.00 off the low subscription rate that keeps Solutions going.


The Complete 11 Page Guide to Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Federal Tax Credits


Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 -

The Folks at GREENandSAVE have compiled an 11 page guide to renewable energy/energy efficiency Federal tax credits…money that can be used to pay for your Green dreams. Click the below link to thumb through this very fine resource:

The Complete 11 Page Guide to Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Federal Tax Credits


AIRE Covered in the Latest Issue of the Appalachian Voice!


Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 -

Read it online now!

Check out the coverage of AIRE in the latest issue of the Appalachian Voice, pages 11 and 14. You can find it “on the newsstand” or online at:

http://appvoices.org/pdfs/voice_2009_06_decjan.pdf (PDf)

Will green energy and electric cars drive a new global climate change plan?


Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 -

This from NOW on PBS…Home to a worldwide summit on climate change in early December, Denmark is setting a global example in creating clean power, storing it, and using it responsibly. Their reliance on wind power to produce electricity without contributing to global warming is well known, but now they’re looking to drive the point home with electric cars.

See the segment on NOW’s website

Major Inaccuracies Found in the Nature Conservancy’s “Energy Sprawl” Report


Monday, November 2nd, 2009 -

This blog posted was cross posted from Appalachian Voices Front Porch Blog. Research and reporting by Appalachian Voices’ Dr. Matthew Wasson.

As Congress was returning from the August recess, there wasn’t much news about the climate bill. The only energy-related news breaking through the coverage of the rancorous health care debates and town-hall tea parties was a study on “energy sprawl” published by five staff members of the Nature Conservancy.

“Renewable Energy Needs Land, Lots Of Land” was the headline of an August 28th story on NPR about the study.

“Renewable technologies increase energy sprawl,” was the headline summary on the journal Nature’s website.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, in an Op/Ed published in the Wall Street Journal, summed up the message that was heard by legislators and the public from the news coverage of the study:

“we’re about to destroy the environment in the name of saving it.”

The interesting thing about the news coverage is that none of it addressed the actual analysis. The study didn’t actually measure the impacts of different energy technologies, but rather compiled estimates from a smattering of reports, fact sheets and brochures from government and industry sources in order to arrive at an acre-per-unit of energy figure for each energy technology. Those figures were then applied to the Energy Information Administration’s modeling of four climate policy scenarios under consideration by Congress.

So the coverage was generated not by the study’s results, but entirely by the assumptions that went into it about the relative impacts of renewable versus conventional energy technologies. Looking at the counter-intuitive findings (wind is 8 times as destructive as coal), it’s no wonder that the media took such an interest.

To put those assumptions in perspective, the habitat impact of the Mount Storm Wind Farm in the first image is assumed to be 25% greater than the impact of the 12,000 acre Hobet mountaintop removal mine in the second image (images are taken from the same altitude and perspective; the bright connect-the-dots feature in the windfarm image is the actual area disturbed):

MtStorm2  Mount Mine Site from 9 miles

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a concept most people are familiar with, but the problems with the “energy sprawl” study go farther than that.

When I taught a course in ecological modeling, we used a hypothetical study on acts of violence in industrialized countries to examine how you could generate any result you desire simply by choosing how to define an “act of violence.” For instance, if you wanted to show that the French are the most violent industrialized society, you might define rude treatment by waiters as an act of violence. The study does something very similar, but worse – it fails to define a consistent measure of land-use impact across the various energy technologies it purports to compare. It’s as though we defined “acts of violence” to include rude treatment only by French waiters, but not by German, English or American waiters.

While I won’t get into detail of the math and science (a full analysis and response is in preparation), here are just a few of the jaw-dropping errors and assumptions that went into the study:

  • A 2 megawatt wind turbine is assumed to disturb between 100 and 120 acres of wildlife habitat (smell test: does it really make sense that one of those wind turbines you always see on television is disturbing more than 100 football fields worth of land?). These estimates were not from published studies, but from portions of brochures discussing the area required for ideal placement of a windfarm. Instead of using additional estimates from those same brochures that only 3-5% of that area is directly impacted, the study used vaguely-worded, unreferenced and unsupportable biological justifications to include the other 95-97% in their analysis.
  • The acreage impacts of coal mining, from Wyoming to Alabama, were extrapolated from one mine in Illinois, and apparently one other mine, though no location, details or references were provided. In the case of Appalachian mining, a casual examination of available data reveals that many – probably most – Appalachian mines exhibit a “landuse intensity” 5 to 10 times higher than either estimate used in the study.
  • The impacts of blowing up a mountain and dumping resulting toxic-laden waste into nearby valleys and streams is treated as a comparable disturbance to, say, being located several hundred yards away from a wind turbine. Worse, fragmentation of habitat (the category that increased wind’s alleged impacts by 95-97%), was only considered for renewable technologies but not for nuclear and coal, despite a wealth of published studies showing fragmentation effects as much as five times greater than the footprint of a strip mine.

It’s obvious that the authors of this study don’t spend a lot of time thinking about coal mining (the fact that they refer to underground or deep mines as “pit” mines is revealing). That could partly explain the distorted picture the study gives of the impacts of coal mining, but the assumptions are so consistently weighted against renewable energy that it gets hard to ignore. If the pattern of assumptions so consistently tilted against renewables and in favor of coal and nuclear doesn’t raise a red flag, consider the language used in the study. The EIA’s “No International Offsets/Limited Alternatives” scenario, which would emphasize rapid expansion of renewable energy technologies (and which purportedly creates the most “energy sprawl”), was renamed the “Few Options” scenario by the authors. A real gem of a PR strategy from the group that came up with “energy sprawl.”

As for the policy options that the study’s results (and assumptions) favor, the “Core” scenario from the EIA’s analysis of the Warner-Lieberman climate bill was renamed the “CCS” scenario – shorthand for carbon capture and storage. This could also represent a real tipping of the hand as to the policy priorities at the Nature Conservancy. That, in turn, would go a long way toward explaining the blind spot the Nature Conservancy possesses regarding the wholesale destruction of the most biologically diverse forests and streams on the continent through mountaintop removal coal mining. The fact that plants installing CCS will need to consume at least 15-30% more coal to produce the same amount of electricity (if and when CCS becomes available), would cause a little cognitive dissonance in anyone concerned about the environment but supportive of widespread CCS deployment.

What the study didn’t look at

From the perspective of communities impacted by coal mining, a study on energy impacts that looked no further than the land area affected by mining was never going to carry much weight anyway. EPA biologist Gregory Pond, who published a study in 2008 showing the loss of entire orders of insects downstream from mountaintop removal mines, told the news media when the study was released:

“While habitat degradation from mountaintop mining is what one sees on the surface, we found that chemical effects are quite pronounced and limit much of the expected biodiversity from what were once naturally rich, diverse Appalachian stream systems.”

The most important factors in the “what the study doesn’t look at” category, however, are the impacts of energy on people and communities. The thousands of people in Appalachia without access to clean and safe drinking water do not show up in the “energy sprawl” study’s land impact estimates. The photo on the right of a child in Prenter, West Virginia, is the lead photo of a remarkable piece of reporting from the New York Times that provides a lot of insight into the awful tragedies faced daily by families in Appalachia who are forced to drink and bathe in water polluted with coal waste.

The authors of the “energy sprawl” study stated explicitly that aquatic and health issues are not what the study was about, and it wouldn’t be fair to blame them for any failure to address those problems. It’s the inevitable distortions of the study that do the most violence to those fighting for safe homes and clean drinking water in coal and uranium-bearing regions. The lead author addressed some of those distortions directly, shortly after Senator Alexander’s “We’re destroying the environment in the name of saving it” op-ed. Here are a few excerpts from his post on the Nature Conservancy’s blog:

First, climate change is the big threat to America’s wildlife (and to our communities). Severe climate change has the potential to imperil many more species than energy sprawl.

Moreover, we show in our paper that most of the energy sprawl from now to 2030 will happen regardless of whether or not there is a comprehensive climate bill. By far the largest amount of energy sprawl will come from biofuel production, driven by the renewable fuel standard and other laws already in place.

So I say to everyone writing or blogging about energy sprawl: If you are concerned about energy sprawl, then fight for energy efficiency!

The Nature Conservancy’s tireless efforts to support energy efficiency, build awareness of climate change, and bring climate policy to the table deserve both thanks and respect. But the concept of “energy sprawl,” now that it has been associated with such a distorted picture of the impacts of wind, solar, coal and nuclear technologies, adds nothing but confusion and false impressions to the debate over climate.

The study also does a lot of harm to those working to reduce the impacts of mining and to promote green jobs in their communities. “Nature Conservancy says wind and solar are more harmful than coal” is a talking point that will be repeated in mine permit hearings, utilities commission proceedings, letters to the editor and at coal rallies across the country for years into the future.

There is no way to repair the concept of “energy sprawl” at this point. Environmental and climate advocates would do well to strike that buzzword from their lexicons and literature entirely.

Burn this blog post after reading.

cross-posted with Huffington Post and iLoveMountains.org


AIRE – The Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy
164 South Depot St. | Boone, North Carolina 28607
email: info@aire-nc.org | phone: 828.268.5022 | fax: 828.265.5650
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