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More solar investments could change the carbon economy / Public News Service

CRAIG, Colorado – What would it look like if one in four households in the country were powered by solar energy?

A new report from the “30 million solar houses” campaign states that federal investments in solar systems of this magnitude would take 42 million cars off the road for one year and create 1.7 million jobs with a focus on rooftop and community solar systems would lead installations.

Katie Kienbaum, lead researcher for the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and co-author of the report, said the policy recommendations also focus on tackling racial inequality in the country’s energy system. It prioritizes solar power for low-income and marginalized communities, which, according to Kienbaum, would help reduce electricity costs in the long term.

“If we are to see these benefits in communities across the country, at all income levels, we need to make sure that we are deliberately investing in these communities and not just hoping that the benefits of clean energy will trickle down on all of us,” Kienbaum said.

The report also called for funding to be increased for programs such as the low-income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. Colorado said the effects of more solar energy would save $ 1 billion in utility bills over five years.

In Moffat County, in the Yampa Valley in northwest Colorado, three mines and two coal-fired power plants are major employers and are slated to close by 2030.

Jennifer Holloway, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said the community needs to find a way to pan its economy. The city was hooked up to a solar cooperative in the Yampa Valley last year, which sparked interest among residents. Holloway noted that the employment potential of solar energy could be beneficial to Craig.

“The more independent we can be, the better the chance we have to hold our community together when this job loss is imminent,” predicted Holloway. “We’re a family-oriented community so we really want to stick together. Solar is one of the tools we can use to create a stronger community.”

She added there are plans to expand the solar cooperative to nearby Rio Blanco County in 2022.

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SALT LAKE CITY – As we move towards carbon-free power generation, some cities in Utah and nearby states are considering a new type of nuclear reactor to power their future.

The project, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to bring six small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) online by 2029, including for customers of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.

Watchdog groups warn, however, that the “new generation” reactors are untested and could cause high financial and environmental costs.

Scott Williams, executive director of the Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah, said the new system poses the same old problems.

“We were against this project from the start because there is no solution to the high level waste it creates,” said Williams. “We still accumulate this all over the country and we’ve never figured out what to do with it. And it’s high, highly toxic.”

Williams noted that a number of utility companies have withdrawn from various projects with SMRs, and utility Utah recently reduced its commitment from 12 to 6 gensets. He noted that the main selling point was that the units do not emit greenhouse gases.

Williams observed that the financial markets for the most part shied away from backing the project, meaning small communities in Utah, Idaho, and other western states could keep their pockets.

“If there’s experimental technology that venture capitalists don’t invest in, we should really be careful about small towns risking money on a first-of-its-kind technology,” Williams said.

And when it comes to providing carbon-free energy, Williams argued that there are proven, low-cost technologies out there right now.

“There’s no way this stuff will be online soon enough to see what we need to do to fight climate change,” assured Williams. “It diverts resources into speculative technology when we have real technology that we should ramp up quickly.”

The design of the SMRs was approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but it will likely take a decade or more for the system to be fully licensed and operational.

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – With federal investment, a proposal to connect 30 million homes in the United States to solar power could have a huge impact on fighting climate change, reducing inequality and rebuilding the pandemic-hit economy.

That comes from a new report by researchers of the “30 Million Solar Homes Initiative”.

The report found that a solar program of this magnitude, with the right guidelines, would be akin to shutting down 48 coal-fired power plants for one year and saving $ 69 billion in energy over the next five years.

The report’s co-author, Katie Kienbaum, senior researcher on the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said it would create 1.7 million jobs nationwide.

“The employment potential of rooftop and community solar systems is really huge,” says Kienbaum. “It takes a lot more people to climb rooftops and set up these solar panels than it does to build them in a huge field. And that would happen in communities across the country, too.”

Pennsylvania could grow its solar-powered housing stock by a million with government support and see 6,000 megawatts of new solar capacity, according to the report.

Joan and George Rittenberger live in western Pennsylvania, an area historically known as Coal Land. The retirees, who come from a miner’s family, joined their local solar cooperative and had solar panels installed last year.

For her, Joan Rittenberger said the point was to make sure that they leave their grandchildren a good place to live.

“You know, we really have to stay tuned and start doing things,” said Rittenberger. “Because there will be a lot of places that I don’t think are good places to live. It gets too hot, too wet, the water rises, forest fires. So let’s hope we can go, it’s a little better when we’re gone. “

The campaign calls for $ 500 billion in federal investment in local solar and clean energy projects. His policy package includes the goal of using 75% of these funds for clean energy that benefits marginalized communities.

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – A new report reveals why the last decade’s natural gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia fell short of expectations and failed to generate large employment or income growth across the region.

An accompanying report examines a model in Washington state that local leaders in the region can learn from to help their economies transition.

Sean O’Leary, senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, which produced both reports, said that as the mining sector grew and local GDP soared, jobs in what is known as the “Frackalachia” region rose just 1.6% , combined with a population loss of 37,000.

“This means that the natural gas industry has not only created significant jobs and wealth, but is also structurally incapable of doing so in the future,” said O’Leary.

According to the report, the gas industry had no impact on these communities as not much of the money invested and earned ever went to the local economy, as the natural gas sector lacked labor-intensive jobs and license fees from leased properties were less than expected.

The second report focused on Centralia, Washington. After the city’s coal-fired power station announced its retirement in 2025, the owner pledged to fund a plan to support the economic and clean energy transition. Since then, the city’s economy has grown twice as fast as the country’s, creating more than 2,000 jobs.

O’Leary argued that states like Pennsylvania were time to learn from Centralia, while federal proposals focused on clean energy and the energy transition were on the horizon.

“Are we going to pursue a Centralia-like strategy or are we going to continue chasing the past of fossil fuels and related industries?” asked O’Leary.

One county that could potentially benefit from this model is Greene County, located in southwest Pennsylvania. The county was part of the natural gas boom, but still saw steady population decline and a lack of employment growth.

Mike Belding, chairman of Greene County’s Board of Commissioners, said he believed the Centralia model would have a positive impact on Greene County. He pointed out that the region is a great place to live, but it is necessary to adapt to the changing economy.

“We are currently working on broadband, we are working on recreational activities, we are working on it,” Belding outlined. “But it has really been 25 years or more of significant initiatives to change those attributes in Greene County.”

Belding added that the county is opening a startup incubator to provide academic coaching and financial support to non-fossil companies. Disclosure: The Ohio River Valley Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on fiscal and priorities, climate change / air quality, and energy policy at, and public land / wilderness. If you would like to support news in the public interest, click here.

Disclosure: The Ohio River Valley Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on fiscal policy and priorities, climate change / air quality, energy policy, and public land / wilderness. If you would like to support news in the public interest, click here.

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