Clean Energy Initiative

Obama Administration Announces 5,000 MW of New Energy Projects, State Energy Program Grants provide Net Zero Energy Use in NC

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced 5,000 megawatts of new energy projects on federal lands today. These projects are part of the Obama Administration's  all-of-the-above strategy to expand domestic energy production and advance smart development of renewable energy on our public lands.  These projects are in Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming.

With funds from the State Energy Program, Highland Craftsmen achieved net zero electricity use by installing solar panels on its manufacturing plant.  The grants were provided by the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Green Business Fund using Recovery Act SEP funds and were administered by the North Carolina Energy Office.  This Net zero electricity use will mean the operation will produce at least as much electricity as it uses in one year. The solar installation will decrease Highland Craftsmen’s electric bills by $6,000 per year, enabling the company to sell the excess power back to the grid. 


Natural Gas a Potential Game Changer, Obama Administration Touts Wind Energy Jobs

Technological  breakthroughs in seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” are enabling us to replace coal with cleaner natural gas as the largest source of electricity generation in America.  The use of natural gas will help lower our carbon emissions faster than expected and ultimately make us more energy secure. That is the good news.  The not so good news is that natural gas is still a fossil fuel with the accompanying environmental hazards plus the use of cheap natural gas could very well sink business investment in renewables.  Tom Friedman's excellent editorial in the New York Times this weekend points out the advantages to using gas as well as the environmental and political pitfalls.  Quoting George Mitchell of Devon Energy and Fred Krup, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, he makes the point that careful and thoughtful protocal standards need to be in place for the advent of natural gas to be successful.  At the same time, standards should not be so rigid as to hurt the economics of using gas.  Friedman proposes a carbon tax that raises enough money to help pay down the deficit and lower both personal income taxes and corporate taxes while ensuring that renewables remain competitive with natural gas.  

The Obama campaign released a new web video Friday which argues that the president's support for renewable energy is creating jobs. The campaign has put renewed emphasis on its clean energy agenda amid news that Mitt Romney would allow the production tax credit for wind to expire at the end of the year. The video includes an interview with Steve Smiley, president and CEO of Michigan-based Heron Wind.

Military Biofuels Decision Stuck Between Two Committees, Solyndra Attacks Wears On and Wears Thin

The future of funding for the Military's purchase of biofuels is slowly being decided, as the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a defense spending bill Thursday that would provide for a Navy program implemented to test using biofuels for use in ships and jets. The program, appoved with a 30-0 vote, would fund the program with the requested $70 million. However, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a defense policy bill in May with an amendment seriously inhibiting the Navy's ability to purchase biofuels if they cost more than conventional fuel. The funding is currently stuck between the actions of these two committees, and the debate is sure to draw the ire of staunch biofuel opponent Senator James Inhofe (R-OK).

The fight to frame Solyndra rages on as a GOP report bashing the failure came out just before the August recess. The Democrats have filed a retort, however, claiming that the Republican's report on the solar company played around with the facts a bit. Among other things, the Democrats' report argues that Republicans made "unsubstantiated insinuations" and that Republicans claim that the decision to fund Solyndra was influenced by campaign contributions, of which there is no evidence, according to Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). Solyndra remains the only attack the Republicans have against the otherwise largely successful Department of Energy loan guarantee program, and their arguments are wearing awfully thin as the election approaches.

INVITE: September 18 - Cybersecurity and the Reliability of our Nation's Electric System

In today's world, the electric power industry is increasingly incorporating information technology (IT) systems and networks into its existing infrastructure.  These IT systems need to be implemented securely or our electric grid  could be extremely vulnerable to attacks which could jeopardize our national security.  

On Tuesday, September 18, we will hold a panel with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on this critical issue.  This event will focus on how to develop a cybersecurity expertise that both protects our national security and provides reliable electric service.  Two highly credible opinion makers in this community will participate in this spirited discussion.  Miles Keogh, Director of Grants and Reserarch for NARUC, and  author of the highly acclaimed report, ‘Cybersecurity for State Regulators’ and Jacob Olcott, a nationally known  Cybersecurity Expert at Good Harbor Consulting LLC.  

This  luncheon panel discussion will take place on Tuesday, September 18, at the NDN event space located at 729 15th Street on the first floor. Lunch will be served at 12Noon and the program will begin at 12:15pm.  

RSVP Today!  Feel free to invite others whom you think might be interested!!

Tax Extenders Markup Comes without Wind PTC, House Discussion on Oil Production Brings Criticism from Republicans

The Senate Finance Committee will begin discussing and marking up the tax extenders package announced wednesday, as they sit before over a hundred amendments to the bill. Tax credit extentions, many of which are set to expire soon, for biofuels and energy efficiency are currently included in the bill, but notably absent is the wind production tax credit. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the original author of the wind PTC, will help the extension get a vote with two of his amendments on the bill. Several other senators from both sides of the aisle have also sent in strong recommendations to the Finance Committee urging them to include a PTC extension in the final draft.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, recently highlighted in the two part study published this week (Part One | Part Two), will meet to look at oil and gas production on federal and non-federal lands. 

Playing With House Money Part Two: Contributions to Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

This is Part Two of a two-part series by Connor Lees on contributions from the Energy and Natural Resources sector. Part One, published yesterday, can be viewed here.


The primary body controlling all energy legislation in the House is the Energy and Commerce Committee, and it is likely that those in the oil, gas and electric utility industries looking to influence energy policies would target them as they are the first step towards building energy legislation. The final installment of this two part study, which yesterday took a look at the House of Representatives as a whole, takes a more in depth look at the specific contributions behind the House Energy and Commerce Committee members to see how policy is influenced at the fundamental level by this massive sector.

The Committee.

The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee is chaired by Fred Upton of Michigan, with Democrat Henry Waxman of California as the Ranking Member. The committee is made up of 31 Republican members and 23 Democratic members, with subcommittees that handle energy, power, and the environment among other things such as health, technology, manufacturing and trade. This committee has played a major role in both blockading progressive energy policy as well as furiously attacking federal institutions and programs like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program for renewable energy technology. But what are the influences behind the obstructionism of this committee and the House during this past Congress? Is it interests in home districts, or are interests being fueled by a platform founded on contributions from big industries?

The Evidence.

To begin, the contributions to each member from the oil & gas and electric utilities sector were compiled and examined. Excluding the Democratic representative from the Virgin Islands, Rep. Donna Christensen, a chart of contributions was plotted to examine the overall patterns within the committee. The focus was put on these two industries because of their relevance to the committee as well as their relatively greater influence than the other industries in the sector. The results are as follows:

Half of the 22 Democratic members of the committee received less than $15,000 from each of both industries, while only one Republican of the 31 total was in that category. Furthermore, 8 Republicans received more than $100,000 from at least one industry, while only one Democrat achieved that. Republicans clearly dominate earning contributions from these industries, with many of the members amassing far more money from one industry than several Democrats’ total contributions combined. Fred Upton (R-MI), the Committee Chairperson, raked in over $100,000 from oil & gas, and over $250,000 from electric utilities. It is clear that contributions to this committee are massive, and very slanted towards Republicans, which was expected based on knowledge of the contributions to the House of Representatives as a whole published in yesterday’s blog.

Aside from the fact that Republicans are traditionally supported by these two major industries, the strength of these industries in each Representative’s home district is also important in determining contributions. For example, Rep. Pompeo from Kansas boasts the highest contributions from the oil & gas industry in part because of the massive number of oil fields in his district. For that reason, the average contribution per member will be examined as a basic way of controlling the various influences on contributions.

Upon determining averages, the slant towards Republican candidates is still evident in both industries. With Democrats earning well under half the contributions Republicans receive on average, they are at quite the disadvantage. But is this any greater of a disadvantage relative to what members of the House are receiving as a whole? In other words, how does being a member of the committee relevant to the industries affect contributions, if at all?

According to the numbers, it makes a huge difference. House Democrats on the committee receive five times as much from oil & gas industries on average compared to the average house member ($26.5k to $5.5k), and a bit less than twice as much from electric utilities ($22.2k to $12.3k). Republicans on the committee also increase their shares, pulling about $24.6k more from oil & gas than members not on the committee (with $35.8k) and more than doubling electric utility contributions over the non-committee member average from $21.8k to $50.0k for committee members. These industries especially emphasize lobbying this specific committee to persuade members to adopt advantageous policies, and use great sums of money to do it. The dramatic increase of contributions from the oil and gas industry to Democratic members of the committee also shows that these industries leave no exception in making contributions to win over politicians, regardless of party.


It is a sure sign of the times with increasing sums of money being pumped into the political process, as evidenced by the influence of these two massive industries. It is no more clear than in what has been shown here—from the increasing amount of money given to the greatly increased amounts given to members of the relevant committee. It is also seen that Republicans have a consistently solid base of funding from these two industries, which helps to explain the obstructionist nature of their actions as well as their desire to keep oil and gas as the main energy sources for the country.

At least in part because of this money, the Military’s attempts to use biofuel and new generation technologies instead of traditional fossil fuels as well as production tax credit extensions for wind and other renewable energies have been met with huge opposition from Republicans who clamor to maintain the energy status quo. On the other hand, Democrats have been weak in stepping forward for these initiatives, also having shifted to a less progressive national energy strategy as well as slowly giving in to a Keystone XL Pipeline approval as the push continues from the opposition. While the contributions are not 100 percent of the cause, it is no coincidence that money is working behind the scenes. One could speculate that more money, and thus greater influence, from the renewable energy industry would help strengthen the position of the Democrats in pushing away from oil, gas, and fossil fuels, but the current monopoly of influence that the massive oil industry has on Congress is making that possibility dimmer by the day.

Money talks in politics, and right now oil, gas, and electric utilities are drowning out the cries of the renewable energy industry. With those industries so deeply entrenched in power, the energy landscape will difficult to change without betraying money, something many politicians are hesitant to do.


Source: All data gathered from the Center for Responsive Politics website. A special thanks to them for all of their hard work and excellent data for making this possible. All data presented was accessed on, and is current as of, July 17, 2012.

Playing with House Money Part One: Contributions from the Energy and Natural Resources Sector to the House of Representatives

This summer I have been extremely fortunate to have Connor Lees as my Intern for the Clean Energy Initiative. Connor had been invaluable to me and made a huge contribution to this program.  One of his many talents is writing, as you will note from reading the following blog authored by him.  This a fascinating piece on the 2012 money trail to Federal elected officials on the energy committee.  Check out the blog tomorrow for his second and final installment.  


Every election cycle, millions of dollars get pumped into political coffers by businesses, PACs, interest groups, and lobbyists in an attempt to influence politicians and policies. The energy and natural resources sector is one of the largest and most influential of these contributors, and their extensive donations have consistently played a role shaping policy issues. This two-part study will take a broad look at contribution patterns of the energy and natural resources sector to the members of the House of Representatives, and specifically the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in hopes of shining a light on the sector’s contributions to and influence on this body of Congress.

The Energy and Natural Resources Sector.

The energy and natural resources sector is one of the biggest and most influential contributors to the political process in hopes of securing their interests by contributing impressive amounts of money to politicians. Known for being very involved in politics, industries such as oil & gas, electric utilities, and alternative energy make up this powerhouse of political expenditures. This spending vastly favors House Republicans, having received $44.5 million so far in the 2012 election cycle, compared to the House Democrats who pulled less than a third of that as of yet, with $13.2 million this cycle. Furthermore, only one Democrat ranks in the top 20 House members in receiving contributions from this sector. Democrats clearly face an uphill battle in getting support from this sector, as the progressive energy plans of the party often diverge with the interests of oil and electric utilities, while Republicans reap the benefits of maintaining the status quo.

Oil & Gas.

Several industries make up this sector play varying roles in contributing to members of the house, and oil & gas sector is the most heavily tilted towards Republicans. In fact, so far in the 2012 cycle, 35 Republicans rank at the top of the chart for receiving contributions from oil and gas interests before a single Democrat makes the list. The top number belongs to Rick Berg (R-ND), who has so far received $322,700 from this massive industry surely as a result of the massive natural gas resources that are now being tapped in his state. Berg pulled in nearly five times as much as the first Democrat on the list, John Barrow (D-GA), who sits with only $67,400. The oil & gas industry has for some time pumped a good majority of its funding into Republican coffers, and it shows.

Electric Utilities.

The number one industry in this sector is electric utilities, which traditionally includes clean air regulation and waste storage but has begun focusing on electric deregulation, and it is not as sharply tilted to Republicans, but still plays a huge role in funding from this sector. Interestingly enough, Democratic contributions were nearly on par with Republicans in 2008 and 2010, but so far in 2012, the Democrats, as history would have it, again lag behind the Republicans in average contributions per member. In the 2012 cycle, only three Democrats rank in the top 20 receiving funds from electric utility interests, demonstrating how the largest industry in this sector clearly indicates its Republican preference with its enormous spending powers.

Alternative Energy.

The last industry in this sector that we will examine briefly is the alternative energy industry, which generally governs new and renewable sources of energy. While this is one industry that actually favors Democrats, the spending power of this tiny industry pales in comparison to the two previously mentioned. In fact, this industry does not even contribute more than $1,000 per member of the House, which is barely a drop in the bucket relative to the tens of thousands of dollars that oil & gas and electric utilities pump into politics. This makes the advantage the Democrats have in this industry essentially negligible.


As has been shown, the House Democrats lag behind the Republicans in the Energy and Natural Resources sector, and this is no new trend. Republicans have become more and more powerful with money from this sector dating back over 20 years. The average contribution per Republican member of the House has approximately tripled since 1990, while for Democrats it has slightly more than doubled from 1990 to 2010 before plummeting back to 2000 levels in the 2012 cycle. This trend shows the growing strength of the oil industry to affect politics, and how the Republicans are reaping the financial benefits of these industries’ growth. While it is early in the cycle and there is still time for the Democrats to make up lost ground, the Republicans have not seen such a drop during this cycle. Of course, it is still early and the Democrats may earn more money making the dip a non-issue, but this trend is not evident in the Senate as of current data, and it remains an ominous sign for the Party and House Democrats.

With the Democrats’ funding taking a hit this cycle, and Republicans only getting stronger, this sector seems to be preparing for the presidential election and rallying as much power behind Republican interests as possible. No doubt have the attempts to push a vote on the “No more Solyndras” bill a staggering number of times been an attempt to jockey positioning on environmental issues just before the upcoming election, and no doubt are the heavily Republican industries behind this push away from renewable energies. By pulling funding from Democrats in the Republican-controlled House (as stated earlier, the pattern of greatly decreased contributions to Democrats throughout this sector does not appear in the Deomcrat-controlled Senate), we have a classic case of political positioning to focus resources before the election. And because the Democrats under Obama still cannot make up ground in these industries despite the development of the “All of the Above” approach to energy, they will have to carry on in 2012 with this heavy disadvantage in a volatile policy area.


Part Two of the study can be found here.

Source: All data gathered from the Center for Responsive Politics website. A special thanks to them for all of their hard work and excellent data for making this possible. All data presented was accessed on, and is current as of, July 17, 2012.

Climate Science Debate Takes Center Stage in Senate, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project Causes Stir

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on climate change science, a meeting sure to make a splash despite not being attended by any federal officials. Scientists from leading universities will testify with other public officials to discuss the realities of the current climate change situation. On the heels of this incredible heat wave that has ravaged some areas of the country with drought, the hearing comes as a rather timely issue. Climate change skeptics like Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, however, blasted climate scientists for being unable to prove much of anything relating to man-made effects, while the reality of climate science is not so dismal.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project is also doing more work lately on its major study of global warming. The project concluded last year that global warming is a real phenomenon, and the project hopes to develop the evidence further to demonstrate the man-made aspect of the trend. Richard Muller, the lead researcher for the project, publicized the findings with the evidence that the carbon dioxide curve gives the best match for climate change trends than any other factor, but criticism of this statement came quickly. Claims of simplicity and outdated findings were rampant, but the project hopes to press on with its promising findings.

Olympics Seek to be Greenest Ever, but Air Pollution Threatens Health and Records; Cybersecurity Bill Moving Forward in Senate

The London 2012 Summer Olympics opening tonight are a hotbed for clean and sustainable energy initiatives, with many efforts being made to make these games the "greenest" ever. The Commission for a Sustainable London wrote that "unprecedented" levels of sustainability have been reached for the games, from zero waste plans to energy efficient buildings.

The Energy Department made specific comment on the Velodrome, one of the "most iconic and sustainable buildings ever built," which contains the indoor cycling track. The building has a completely natural ventilation system that requires no air conditioning to keep spectators cool. Natural lighting is also used during the day to save energy and supplement fluorescent lighting. A list of other buildings were created with easily recycled materials that can be reused when the buildings are torn down following the games. A more in depth report by the Energy Department on sustainable facilities can be found here.

It's not all fun and games at the Olympics, however, as air quality in London is at the lowest level since 2006. The low air quality levels could have effects on athletes, especially those in distance events and those trying to break records. Even spectators could begin to feel some of the effects of the pollution levels. While the recent heat wave is seemingly to blame for the spike in air pollution, the hope is that a cool front will arrive and help the athletes to perform at their highest levels.

The Senate agreed yesterday to move forward with the Cybersecurity Bill introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman.  This bill is the culmination of more than a year of effort by working groups composed of staff from committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity, including Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Commerce, and Intelligence. This motion to proceed to the Cybersecurity Act was approved 84-11 after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to an open amendment process.  The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act, S. 3414, aims to protect the nation from cyberattacks against critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid, banking systems, transportation networks and others.

RNC Begins Energy Platform Discussions, Senate Hearing on Natural Gas in Transportation, "No More Solyndras" Bill Up Again

The Republican National Committee met Monday to discuss the foundation of its energy platform for the upcoming national convention in August. Lobbyists from industry sectors such as coal, gas, wind, and electric utilities were all present at the event, which was merely "a very casual discussion" at this point, according to one attendee. The main focus of the meeting was to get an idea of broad ideas to be refined in the coming weeks leading up to Tampa and the Republican National Convention.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will be looking into the role natural gas can play in transportation fuel during a hearing today. The main topics of discussion will be current investments in the industry as well as potential opportunities and barriers to expanding the technology. Although there is no legislation up for discussion on the topic, the meeting is meant to get the ball rolling on a new fuel source of which the U.S. has discovered an abundance. While the trucking industry has already found some early successes using natural gas, technology in the commercial sector also require a bit more development and exploration before becoming mainstream.

The "No More Solyndras" bill is up once again for a vote after a slight delay to review several amendments of the legislation. The bill has been targeting the failed solar technology company and is meant on an attack on the DOE Loan Guarantee program for the renewable industry. Although the minor examples of failed businesses like Solyndra are few and far between relative to the successes of the whole program, the Republicans continue to push the dead-end bill in the House, despite a few of their own members' reservations about killing the program outright.

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