Climate Change

Big Chains Go Solar; Denmark's Energy Independence; Gore’s Big Switch

An article in today’s New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom discusses the growing trend of the nation’s largest retailers putting solar panels on their roof in order to appear green, but mainly to save on their electricity bills.

In recent months, chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl’s, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale. One reason they are racing is to beat a Dec. 31 deadline to gain tax advantages for these projects.

So far, most chains have outfitted fewer than 10 percent of their stores. Over the long run, assuming Congress renews a favorable tax provision and more states offer incentives, the chains promise a solar construction program that would ultimately put panels atop almost every big store in the country.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, has 17 stores and distribution centers with solar panels in operation or in the testing phase. It plans to add them soon to five more stores. People at the chain are considering a far larger program that would put panels and other renewable technologies at hundreds of stores.

"It’s going to be the Wal-Marts of the world that will buy these things over acres and make a difference," said Roger G. Little, chairman and chief executive of the Spire Corporation, a Boston company that provides solar equipment.

Analysts are not sure how much power the rooftop projects could ultimately produce, but they say it could be enough to help shave total electricity demand. In many communities, stores are among the biggest energy users. Depending on location and weather, the solar panels generate 10 to 40 percent of the power a store needs.

If Wal-Mart eventually covered the roofs of all its Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart locations with solar panels, figures from the company show that the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles.

As the story notes, these retailers are working to beat the Dec. 31 expiration of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which, if it expires, will devastate the solar industry. These retailers, along with energy experts and economists, have stressed that long term financial stability is crucial to ensuring investment in renewable technology. These stores are to be congratulated for understanding both the advantage offered to their bottom lines by investing in this technology and the positive impacts of helping achieve scale in the solar market.

Thomas Friedman
over the weekend also discussed Denmark’s energy policy – one of complete energy independence, and the lessons Americans can learn from it.

"I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy."

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

"We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months," said Engel, "and not one out of the U.S."

Finally, Al Gore’s We Campaign is out with a new ad that will air tonight during the Olympics:

The broad consensus that has developed around renewable energy in general and solar in particular, from Al Gore to Wal-Mart, demonstrates that America is ready for action and leadership. Creating a low-carbon economy needs to be the (not "a") top priority of the next President’s administration, and Congress should be taking steps in that direction when it returns from recess. Continuing our energy policy – one that allows for, at the moment, conflict over South Ossetia, to affect our energy needs – when better options exist, is patently absurd.

For more on the development of solar power as a major economic opportunity for America, be sure to read NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan’s new paper entitled Solar Energy, the Case for Action.

Obama's Olympic Ad Focuses on Building a Low-Carbon Economy

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's ad that will air during the Olympics is called "Hands" and presents an optimistic vision of the green technologies that will promote economic growth in the coming decades. This is a important vision for America's economic future, and the fact that this vision is taking center state during the Olympics speaks volumes about the significance placed on it by Obama. Take a look:

The ad comes on the same day that The Climate Group, an independent non-profit based in the UK, releases a report on "China's Green Revolution." The report argues that China has become a global leader in renewable energy technology production and is seizing the low-carbon economic opportunity.

From a press release from The Climate Group:

Despite its coal-dependent economy, the report reveals Chinese government and businesses have embarked on a Clean Revolution that has already made it a world leader in the manufacture of solar photo-voltaic technology (Solar PV) where its six biggest solar companies have a combined market value of over USD $15 billion.

China is also set to become the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines, with production capacity expected to reach 10GW per year by the end of 2009, and is competing aggressively in other low carbon markets including solar water heaters, energy efficient home appliances, and rechargeable batteries.

Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group says: "For too long, many governments, businesses and individuals have been wary of committing to action on climate change because they perceive that China – the world’s largest emitter – is doing little to address the issue. However, the reality is that China’s government is beginning to unleash a low carbon dragon which will power its future growth, development and energy security objectives."

Changhua Wu, China Director, The Climate Group, says: "Far from ignoring climate change, Chinese leaders have already committed to improving energy efficiency and scaling up the growth of low carbon industries. China is beginning to pull its weight on climate change and the targets and policies in place are in line with those being taken by ‘leading’ countries like the UK and Germany."

Investment in renewable energy in China - almost USD $12 billion in 2007 - is almost level with world leader Germany as a percentage of GDP. Stronger policies from the Chinese government are creating increased demand for low carbon investment and China will require a further USD $398 billion (USD $33billion per year) to meet its 2020 renewable energy goals.

Steve Howard says: "China’s current trajectory will ensure it remains a strategic global hub for low carbon investment, innovation and growth over coming decades."

Eight years of ignoring climate change and the economic opportunity presented by creating a low-carbon economy have put America behind Europe and now possibly China. The vision presented in Obama's new ad, mated with good policy, has the potential to take advantage of America's innate economic advantages and help us become a leader, not a laggard, in the 21st century energy economy.

Energy Prices Change the American Dream

An article entitled, "Gas Prices Apply Brakes To Suburban Migration," by Eric M. Weiss in yesterday’s Washington Post details some of the ways in which high energy prices are changing the way Americans are choosing to live. These prices have the potential to shift the fundamental development and land use paradigms that have shaped American society for the second half of the 20th Century. In other words, the American Dream of moving to the suburbs or, a more recent phenomenon, the exurbs, could be going by the wayside.

Cheap oil, which helped push the American Dream away from the city center, isn't so cheap anymore. As more and more families reconsider their dreams, land-use experts are beginning to ask whether $4-a-gallon gas is enough to change the way Americans have thought for half a century about where they live.

"We've passed that tipping point," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said.

Since the end of World War II, government policy has funded and encouraged the suburban lifestyle, subsidizing highways while starving mass transit and keeping gas taxes much lower than in some other countries.

Americans couldn't wait to trade in the cramped city apartments of the Kramdens and Ricardos for the lush lawns of the Bradys. Local land-use policies kept housing densities low, pushing development to the periphery of metropolitan regions and forcing families who wanted their dream house to accept long commutes and a lack of any real transportation choices other than getting behind the wheel.

Even the way the government pays for roads and transit is dependent on gas taxes, which is effective only if Americans keep driving.

"There is a whole confluence of government policies -- tax, spending, regulatory and administrative -- that have subsidized sprawl," said Bruce Katz, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. A gallon of gasoline costs more than $8 in Britain, Germany, France and Belgium, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Much of the price difference is due to higher taxes.

But there's been a radical shift in recent months. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May than a year earlier. In the Washington area and elsewhere, mass transit ridership is setting records. Last year, transit trips nationwide topped 10.3 billion, a 50-year high.

Home prices in the far suburbs, such as Prince William and Loudoun counties, have collapsed; those in the District and inner suburbs have stayed the same or increased. A recent survey of real estate agents by Coldwell Banker found an increased interest in urban living because of the high cost of commuting.

Brookings says transportation costs are now second only to housing as a percentage of the household budget, with food a distant third.

The people are leading the revolution, but land-use experts wonder whether a government policy so etched into the American fabric will follow.

"When people bought homes, they punched the numbers and said can we afford the mortgage payment and taxes," Katz said. "This new paradigm is going to have families being more deliberate about the cost of transportation spending and energy costs. That's a new phenomenon in the United States. That will be the change that will change development patterns."

On Friday, August 1, at a panel on Energy and the American Way of Life, NDN heard from Shyam Kannan and Greg Kats, both of whom discussed this very subject and touched on the policies, practices, and technologies that can bring about changes in buildings and land use that can reduce energy use – combating both high energy prices and climate change.

What this article doesn’t mention are the secondary effects these changes will have on society. If more people are moving into cities, urban policies will have to change, urban schools will have to improve, and infrastructure and services will be rethought.

These new living patterns also have the potential to fundamentally alter American politics. How and where one lives is a tremendously important factor in the formation of values and voting behavior. In other words, people who live in cities vote differently from people who live in rural and exurban America. If suburban and exurban migration truly becomes a thing of the past, so will the more than half century of politics that goes with it.

Obama Out With New Energy Plan, Ads

As U.S. Sen. Barack Obama releases his new energy plan this week, the Obama campaign is out with two new ads on energy. Both hit U.S. Sen. John McCain on his energy policies and ties to oil companies and lay out parts of Obama's new plan.

The Obama campaign released "Pocket" yesterday:

According to's Ben Smith, "National Priority" has been airing in battleground states for about a week, but was not released to the press:

McCain Backs Away from Cap and Trade

Last week, as U.S. Sens. McCain and Obama rained down haymakers on energy policy, ads and rhetoric out of the McCain campaign seemed to suggest that his already wavering commitment to Cap and Trade legislation could soon be going to way of his positions on comprehensive immigration reform and the Bush tax cuts. Whether he is having trouble remembering his commitment to this issue or is moving for political reasons, the emerging signs from last week are too much to ignore.

On Tuesday, July 29, McCain economic adviser Steve Forbes appeared on CNN’s Glenn Beck and said:

"I think cap and trade is going to go the way of some other things, as you may remember, when he came into office, Bill Clinton had a proposal of tax carbons and stuff like that. I don’t think those things are going to get very far as people start to examine the details of them."

The same week, the McCain campaign released its now infamous "Celeb" ad, which included a line criticizing Obama for wanting to "tax electricity." Of course, none of Obama’s speeches or plans specifically call for raising taxes on electricity, so what could this possibly mean?

The McCain campaign points to a February, 2008 Q&A with the San Antonio Express-News, during which Obama said, "What We Ought To Tax Is Dirty Energy, Like Coal And, To A Lesser Extent, Natural Gas." He said this in context of putting a price on carbon emissions, a large portion of which come from, of course, energy production. Obama’s (and supposedly McCain’s) chosen method of doing so is cap and trade.

So, if McCain has a problem with pricing dirty energy, then he has a problem with cap and trade. These two points out of the campaign, one from an adviser and one in an ad, in the same week, seem to be more than just coincidence, and a fairly direct repudiation of carbon-pricing regimes.

In light of this, McCain needs clarify his position on climate change legislation – specifically cap and trade. And if he does plan on dropping support of this legislation, he then needs to show how he would create the clean energy future that he has made a central part of his platform without incentives for renewables or pricing carbon. Right now, it just doesn’t add up.

McCain Disappears into a Rovian Fog

As readers of this blog are aware, we've been disapointed by John McCain's serial lies and misstatements about the two candidates respective energy policies. These lies popped up in his recent TV ads, which were replaced by a "troop" ad the McCain campaign pulled down after admitting it was untrue.

As Jake points out, the new McCain ad lies again - this time making the case that Barack Obama has called for directly taxing electricity. I'm going to leave it Michael and Jake to tackle in greater detail why this claim is - we have to say it again - just not true and politically irresponsible. Paul Krugman does a good job today in the New York Times explaining just how irresponsible the new McCain position on our energy future is.

The McCain campaign has become an incredible and wild disapointment. At one point in time, McCain was the great maverick, challenging the worst politics and policies of this disasterous Bush era. But on issue after issue - immigration, a national economic strategy, torture, climate change, being a straight talker - McCain has gone from responsible challenger of a failed Republican path to an irresponsible and craven champion of a Republican politics that has done so much harm to the national interests of the United States. Inrcreasingly, it will be McCain's embrace of the politics of the Bush and Rove era that will become a central focus of the national campaign.

NDN believes that there are few greater challenges to our national interest than the challenge of high energy prices and climate change. Which is why we've been so aggressive these last few months in this "green" space, and why we are hosting a very important event on Energy and the American Way of Life with U.S. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin and other thought leaders later this morning here in DC (for info on how to watch live or attend click here). And look for a paper later this morning from NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan on the tremendous promise of solar.

I remain confused about why John McCain would surround himself with Bush people who would always have divided loyalities, torn between buffing up the "legacy" of our current President versus offering a new and better path. Inrcreasingly it will be McCain's embrace of the politics of the Bush and Rove era that will become one of the defining issues of this national campaign.

In a Swing State Near You: Attack Ads and Energy Policy

The recent run of negative ads out of the McCain campaign has certainly gained attention for their deceitful, dishonest, and petty attacks. The "Celeb" ad, on the heels of the clearly false claim about the Obama camp canceling the visit to Landstuhl because they couldn’t have media present, seemed to serve as a tipping point for catching the ire of mainstream journalists and even a former McCain advisor. These false claims, on top of ads using imagery clearly designed to scare people about Obama by calling him presumptuous (read: uppity), have lead to the McCain campaign looking, as NDN President Simon Rosenberg wrote this morning, bitter, spiteful, jealous, and angry. Certainly not Presidential.

Meanwhile, substance has gone straight out the window – or has it? As a backdrop to these attacks and counter attacks, energy policy has stayed at the fore of the campaign. But, like in the primary, energy policy is being used to attribute character traits.

In case you somehow haven’t seen it, "Celeb:"

The ad, of course, makes a lot of odd choices (Britney, Paris) that have been discussed ad nauseum. It also chooses to claim that Obama wants to raise taxes on electricity and keep America dependent on foreign oil. The foreign oil claim would be defensible if one somehow bought the claim that lifting the offshore drilling ban would do anything meaningful, but at least the argument follows. It’s the raising electricity tax claim that is so absurd – the only Obama proposal that would raise the price of electricity is Cap and Trade legislation, which McCain supposedly favors as well.

So why make the claim? Well, if Democrats, allegedly, are two things, it’s that they care more about what foreigners think than "real" Americans and want to take your money. So, if the theme is energy, then McCain needed to find two issues to fit the go-to template.

This sort of campaigning is ok though, because, from’s Ben Smith, McCain is proud:

"All I can say is we’re proud of that commercial," McCain said. "We think Americans need to know that I believe that we should base this campaign on what we can do for Americans at home and how we can make Americans safe and prosperous and that’s the theme of our campaign."

"I respect and admire sen Obama, but we have stark differences," McCain said. "And those differences need to be drawn."

"These campaigns are tough," he said, "But I'm proud of the campaign we've run."

Obama’s response, "Low Road:"

Independent groups have also chosen to engage on the issue with six-figure buys. From the Sierra Club, airing in Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio and Washington, D.C. "Full-Nelson:"

And from MoveOn, "Gimmick:"

On the off chance that you're tired of the negative ads, NDN will be hosting a speech from Assistant U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin on the Green Economic Opportunity tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. at the Phoenix Park hotel in Washington, D.C. The address will be followed by a panel on "Energy and the American Way of Life." For more information, and to RSVP, click here.

Renewable Tax Credit Extenders Package Fails (Again)

By a vote of 51-43, S. 3335 the Jobs, Energy, Families and Disaster Relief Act, which included a crucial package of renewable energy tax credits, namely the Solar Investment Tax Credit and the Production Tax Credit, failed (again) today in the Senate. Instead of passing the bill, its opponents decided that killing every energy bill that moves, other than ones expanding offshore drilling, was a better strategy for America's energy policy than extending already existing energy provisions.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus will continue the fight for this important legislation that is crucial for helping build a low-carbon economy. Yesterday, NDN President Simon Rosenberg and Green Project Director Michael Moynihan called on Congress to extend this package of renewable energy tax credit.

NDN President Simon Rosenberg and NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan today called on leaders in both parties to extend the package of renewable energy tax credits that will come up for a vote as early as tomorrow in the U.S. Senate. The package, currently part of the Jobs, Energy, Families and Disaster Relief Act of 2008 (S. 3335), has enormous potential to quickly stimulate the economy, create jobs, reduce American dependence on foreign sources of energy and move toward a low-carbon future.

"We call upon the leaders of both parties -- including Senators Obama and McCain -- to work together to pass the package of renewable energy tax credits this year, starting with the vote this week in the Senate," Rosenberg said. "Accelerating the development of renewable energy is in the national interest of the United States; it will help us tackle the threat of climate change; lessen our dependence on expensive and dirty energy sources; and begin to create the new clean energy jobs so vital to the economy of 21st century America."

Moynihan specifically called for the eight-year extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, currently included in S. 3335, which he called “crucial for ensuring a stable, predictable, and favorable investment climate so that the United States can become a major leader in solar energy.” He added that this lack of stability for all renewable energy sources currently is costing American jobs, and a failure to extend the tax credits would cause thousands more jobs to be lost, as well as boost demand for fossil fuel-based energy sources, further increasing energy prices and impacting everyday Americans.

Get Old Cars Off the Road, Boost the Economy

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Alan Blinder suggested the notion, previously discussed by Jack Hidary, a panelist at this coming Friday’s Green Project event, and NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan, that the government should offer incentives for Americans to get their old cars off the road as part of an economic stimulus.

ECONOMISTS and members of Congress are now on the prowl for new ways to stimulate spending in our dreary economy. Here’s my humble suggestion: "Cash for Clunkers," the best stimulus idea you’ve never heard of.

Cash for Clunkers is a generic name for a variety of programs under which the government buys up some of the oldest, most polluting vehicles and scraps them. If done successfully, it holds the promise of performing a remarkable public policy trifecta — stimulating the economy, improving the environment and reducing income inequality all at the same time.

For how this idea, which helps the environment and the economy at the same time, would work, read the whole article. Blinder touches on a final possible goal: helping the slumping American auto industry.

Moynihan recently proposed a number of other green stimulus ideas, including federal support for soaring demands for public transportation in cities and states already facing shortfalls, tax credits to Americans to winterize their homes before the winter heating season, and funds for workforce housing for teachers, police officers, firemen, and the like who are being heavily affected by gas prices as many live far from the community in which they work.

Energy and the American Way of Life; Sen. Durbin on the Green Economic Opportunity

With rapidly rising energy costs changing the way Americans live and work and global warming threatening even greater harm to our future prosperity and well-being, it is clear that a fundamental change in America’s energy policy is needed. Bold new policies and leadership can turn these twin crises into historic opportunities.

To address these critical issues, NDN's Green Project is pleased to announce that it is convening an important day of discussion this Friday, August 1. The day will be kicked off by a policy address from Assistant U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, one of the U.S. Senate's most well-regarded leaders, on the Green Economic Opportunity.

Following Senator Durbin's address, the day will continue with a panel discussion on "Energy and the American Way of Life." During the panel, energy leaders and experts will discuss how the transition from carbon-based energy sources to renewable energy can take place. NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan will also be discussing his new paper entitled, Solar Energy: The Case for Action.

Featured Panelists:

Roger Efird, President, Suntech America and Chairman, Solar Energy Industries Association
Jack Hidary, Chairman, Americans for Clean Energy
Greg Kats, Managing Director and head of Good Energies’ Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency investment cluster
Shyam Kannan, LEED AP, Vice President and Director of Research and Development (RCLCO)

Assistant Majority Leader Durbin will speak at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, August 1, in the Ballroom of the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 N. Capitol St., NW, in Washington, DC. The panel will follow the senator’s remarks. Lunch will be served. Please click here to RSVP.

NDN’s Green Project is a program of the Globalization Initiative that seeks to develop a legislative, regulatory and advocacy framework to address climate change, enhance energy security, and accelerate the development of green technologies to promote economic growth. Through this initiative, NDN serves as a bridge between key stakeholders such as the new clean technology community and public leaders.

For more information on this event, please contact Courtney Markey at or 202-384-1214. We look forward to seeing you Friday, August 1, at 11:15 a.m.

Syndicate content