Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Have just rejigged my trip and am now heading to Germany a week earlier than planned. Someone put me on to Josef Pesch and then I found this video completely by accident. He’s the subject of what is a simple yet informative 5 min video. He’s a straight shooter and I can’t wait to meet him.
I’ve got interviews lined up with industry professionals, media folk, council energy experts, citizens’ groups and residents. I’m so excited. I fly out of New York on Monday afternoon – first interview is Tuesday night!


The concept of local and decentralised forms of energy production is gaining traction within community groups across the U.S and around the world. Is Australia missing out on cheaper electricity prices and lowering our dependance on fossil fuel use through community energy initiatives?

The original article was published in The Conversation. The Article can be found here.

Around the world, people concerned about global warming and wary of higher energy costs are turning away from big power distributors in favour of local and “distributed” energy technologies and services.

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With industries such as manufacturing already facing the uncertain pressures of a globalised world, narrow minded pollies often like to use the Renewable Energy Target (RET) as a scapegoat over exploring more complex pressures on industry.

The original article was published in Facts Fight Back. The article can be found here.

Is the RET responsible for the decline of Australian manufacturing? > Check the facts

Who: “[The renewable energy target (RET)] has already put up power prices for industry to such an extent that manufacturers are shutting down and moving overseas.” Senator Ron Boswell.

The claim: Rising electricity prices due to the RET are an important contributing factor in the decline of manufacturing in Australia.

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camBy Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth’s campaigns coordinator.

As an environmentalist, it’s easy to say that the election of the Coalition to power is akin to the country being ‘under old management.’ The modest steps forward on environmental protection and climate change achieved under the previous government are already being swept away, back to the days of John Howard, when Australia was a pariah amongst the global community as one of the worst actors in the UN climate negotiations.

As an old school conservative, his primary focus was the culture war around the ideas that frame the national political debate. He was astute enough to make noises on the need for action on climate change towards the end of his time as PM, even though he has recently announced his scorn for the “alarmist” scientific consensus on climate change in a speech to a gathering of British climate sceptics.

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Eco industry magazine

Just came across this mag. My friend Tania Varga wrote the piece on page 68. Plenty of interesting stuff.

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

Renewable energy funding boost

Less than a week after the Abbott government confirmed it would slash funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA has revealed it will be providing financial backing for a strategy to build up Australia’s community renewable energy sector.

Eco tours are becoming big business.

Published by Grist. View original article.

Michigan now has nearly 900 wind turbines, and that lit a lightbulb in the entrepreneurial mind of retired teacher Gene Jorissen. Last summer, he started leading hour-long bus tours of the turbine-dotted Lakes Winds Energy Park in the western part of the state. From Livingston Daily:

ImageThe bus stops 1,000 feet from a turbine, and passengers get out. “People want to know, how noisy are they? So, we sit and listen. We talk about various concerns people have about them,” he said.

Then, the bus stops at his cousin’s house. The cousin has one of the turbines on his property. The cousin lets Jorissen bring his tourists right up to the turbine and stand under its massive 476-foot height to get a feel of just how big it is.

“You can walk around it. But you can’t climb it. You…

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The Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is one of those organisations where the more you probe the more blown away you are by its brilliance.

CEC is a business. It doesn’t claim to be anything else. But it is in the business of clean energy, community solar to be specific, and its founder Paul Spencer wants nothing more than to see communities all over the United States – and the world – have access to cheaper, cleaner power.

“It wasn’t an aha moment,” Spencer says of how CEC started in 2009. It was a period of gradual realisations, starting when him and his wife built an off-grid home in Colorado in 2004.

It started him thinking about other families and their ability to tap into wind and solar power. He soon realised that three quarters of houses were poorly sited for solar.

“I thought ‘what if we build one big solar array’,” he says, and the idea for CEC was born.

“If we are going to conquer the need for clean energy one home at a time, it’s never going to happen.

“40 per cent of people rent and 75 per cent of sites are unsuitable, leaving only 15% that can be part of the solution.

“My initial inspiration was that we had to find out a way for the masses to access clean energy and to make it affordable.”

The next step was talking to his local electricity company (Holy Cross Energy) and seeing if they would support the notion of receiving power from a solar array and then off-setting customers’ electricity bills at the same time.

“They said ‘if you can figure out how to do it, we’ll let you do it’,” Spencer says.

Luckily the 42-year-old is an electrical and software engineer and he set about developing – and later copyrighting – a software program that enables utility companies to set rates and bill customers while taking into account each person’s investment in, and production from, solar panels at the relevant solar array.

RemoteMeter has become the backbone of the company. Not only does it allow bills to reflect solar input without placing burdens on utilities, panel owners can also monitor their panels.

And so CEC began. It’s a simple notion. People can buy anything from one solar panel, to enough panels to offset up to 120 per cent of their usage. Once each array – there are 27 in five states – goes online, customers reap the benefits immediately. Depending on their investment – finance is available through low-interest credit unions and there is also lay-by – their bills are offset accordingly.

Panels are guaranteed for 50 years and there is even a trust fund to protect and maintain individual panels in the event the company goes broke.

In February this year, CEC had just 7 staff at its offices in Boulder, Colorado. Now it has 44 staff.

There are 12 utility companies involved and work has started on the 27th project. It boasts 15 megawatts of facilities, about 70,000 solar panels.

“My goal was to create a quantum leap in adoption,” Spencer says.

And it was the RemoteMeter software that made it all possible.

“Nearly everything we do uses RemoteMeter – proposals, websites, contracts, monitoring, bill credits…. It allows us to be efficient while allowing us to keep prices low for the customer. It makes more and more sense every day,” he says.

“Community solar is good for the environment but it’s also good for the customer’s wallet.

“Solar is still a luxury and it is still expensive, but we remove all other barriers such as access or scale. Leaving people to either want to be part of the solution or not.

“I’m a realistic environmentalist – it’s about how to make environmental solutions make sense and making them a reality. I always feel it is necessary to be environmentally responsible.”

Spencer estimates there are $60-70 million in panels owned by individuals through CEC. His company provides 15 per cent of the residential solar energy in Colorado alone. And he’s not stopping there.

It’s time to write my first proper post and already I’m feeling the weight of so much information. After just a week on the road I’ve come to realise that Colorado, Washington and Oregon are US states that are absolute hot-beds when it comes to community renewable energy projects, idea generation and policy making. Last Friday I was fortunate to attend a clean energy conference in Seattle and make contact with organisations and individuals who really are helping turn the tide when it comes to implementation and legislative change. There were several panels throughout the day and each panel featured national leaders in innovation. It really was something to behold.

I was lucky to be sitting at the same table as the day’s keynote speaker Ron Binz who was nominated by President Barrack Obama to be chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but was forced to withdraw after being white-anted by oil companies who declared he was biased toward clean energy. He lost a senate committee vote by one and withdrew his nomination. Mr Binz and I chatted candidly over lunch and he said he was still reeling from the disappointment in October. “It’s still very raw,” he said. I’ll have a full story with Mr Binz soon.

The most notable thing about the conference was being exposed to a range of organisations all working toward a clean energy future. Regulation is one of the biggest hurdles for policy makers and community co-operatives. Next week I will be interviewing regulators, policy writers and community organisers in Portland and Seattle. The following week I’m heading to New York state and interviewing one of the founders of Solarize – a community group buying project that is turning up in states all over the country. I’m rounding out the US component of my trip by interviewing Erin Schrode in NYC, one of the most inspiring young environmentalists I’ve come across.

Oh and one last thing. I interviewed a community solar company in Boulder, Colorado, and the day I landed there was a citizen ballot when residents voted for the City of Boulder to start buying back the grid for an electricity utility. Citizens also voted to ban fracking in three of the four major cities in Colorado – Boulder included. I sat down with one of the founders of Frack Free Colorado to get some insight into community activism to help the anti-fracking movement at home.

Here is some news …

Stay tuned – I’ll get some stories up today hopefully.