Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to Solve Alaska's Climate and Energy Woes

By Ceal Smith 
There's no doubt about it. Alaska is different. For one thing, the 49th state owns most non-native subsurface mineral rights and public ownership of natural resources is written into the state constitution.  Alaskans fully expect the oil and gas industry to pay for extracting their finite energy resources for private gain.

Oil Giveaway on the Ballot! The Mudflats, 7.29.13
Ever since the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in 1968, the question has been, not if, but how much Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobile and BP should pay for the monopoly privilege of exploiting the North Slope. 

Epic story short....last year, under strong pressure from Governor Sean Parnell, a former Conoco Phillips lobbyist turned politician, aided by new industry owned "elected" officials, the state legislature gave Big Oil a massive break in the form of SB21.

Dubbed "The $Billion Giveaway" by grassroots activists hellbent on repeal,  SB 21 replaced Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), Governor Palin's "socialist" energy policy enacted in 2007 (before she drank the tea party elixir and abandoned Alaska).

Wildly popular, ACES taxed oil and gas companies progressively on production and invested the revenue in education, Alaska's Permanent Fund and other public programs.

Facing intense scrutiny, including a likely ballot initiative this fall, many Alaskans believe SB21 is responsible for the looming budget shortfalls of $3 billion or more that the state is facing between now and 2015.

In a state that derives 90% of its revenue from the oil and gas industry and has no sales or income tax, this is no laughing matter.

Without question, Alaska has massive oil and gas reserves.  Still it is not immune to rising costs and resource depletion.  By industries own accounts, even here in the fossil fuel Mother Lode, oil and gas is ever more difficult and costly to produce. 
Exxon Valdez oil spill, 1989

Climate change isn't a popular topic of conversation outside of Alaska's scientific and impacted Bush communities.  By all accounts, the climate is warming twice as fast here as in the lower 48.  Average temperatures in Alaska have climbed 3.4°F over the past 50 years and winter's are an alarming 6.3°F warmer.  Average annual temperatures are expected to rise 3.5 to 7°F by 2050, a mere 36 years from now.

A major voice in the ongoing SB21 debate, Anchorage Daily News columnist Shannyn Moore recently asked: "Do we really want to guarantee that the state will have to search for other sources of revenue to fund itself in the future?"

While rhetorical in arguing against SB 21, it's actually a key question that many Alaskans on both sides of the oil tax debate seem to want to avoid. 

Viewed from the broader lens of climate change and diminishing oil reserves, the inescapable answer is that, sooner or later, like it or not, Alaskans have no other choice but to identify other sources of revenue to fund state coffers.  Multiple forces are at work -- resource depletion, inevitable carbon taxes, a growing international fossil fuel resistance movement -- that lead to increasingly unfavorable oil and gas cost-benefit ratios for Alaska.

Erosion doubles along Alaska's Arctic Coast, USGS
Coastal erosion is already beating Alaskan bush communities to a pulp.  The 284 square mile Funny River megafire is another dreadful reminder of the potential for a hotter, dryer climate to stress our communities.

Groundwork was laid in the previous decade to move Alaska to a secure future based on an abundance of inflation-proof energy (see the Alaska Energy Report). Unbearably high energy costs continue to spur bush communities to seek more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy sources.

Rural Alaskan village utilizing wind energy
Instead of spending untold $billions trying to sell high cost natural gas in a flooded market, Alaskans would get a far better return on investment in renewable energy.  If pushed, feed-in tariffs (FiT), Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) and similar  policies would foster energy independence throughout Alaska while stabilizing the economy and empowering our Ownership State.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Collaborative Roundtable on Energy Democracy

Are communities benefiting from the development of renewable energy in the US?   Is large scale, centralized renewable energy sustainable?  What is Energy Democracy and why is it important?  These and other topics are explored in this Spring of Sustainability collaborative roundtable on sustainable energy.

Al Weinrub, Coordinator of the Local Clean Energy Alliance in Oakland, CA and author of the groundbreaking Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California moderated this lively discussion between Ceal Smith (Renewable Communities Alliance/Solar Done Right), Woody Hastings (Climate Protection Campaign/Sonoma Clean Power) and Nicole Capretz (Environmental Health Coalition/California Environmental Justice Alliance).

Al Weinrub is Coordinator of the Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA), the Bay Area's largest clean energy coalition. The LCEA, which hosts an annual Clean Power, Healthy Communities conference, sees the development of local energy resources as key to growing sustainable business, advancing social equity, and promoting community resilience. Al authored the highly-acclaimed report Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California and has conducted energy policy briefings for a variety of organizations. He serves on the Sierra Club California Energy-Climate Committee and is a past national officer and member the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, AFL-CIO. He lives in Oakland.

Woody Hastings is an environmental policy analyst, strategic planner, and community organizer with over twenty-two years of experience in the non-profit, governmental, and private sectors. He has played key roles in the development of a variety of energy-related projects including an early solar/hydrogen technology demonstration project, a landfill gas-to-energy project, and the installation of nearly half a megawatt of solar power. Woody is a lifelong student of the natural environment and has a degree in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice from San Francisco State University and is a 2012 Fellow of the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy. He helps lead the effort to advance renewable energy systems in Sonoma County for the Climate Protection Campaign as its Renewable Energy Implementation Manager.

Ceal Smith has worked as a field ecologist, researcher, environmental compliance expert, consultant and activist since the 1990’s. She founded the Renewable Communities Alliance in 2009 to advocate for Energy Democracy, community renewable energy alternatives to destructive energy development and grassroots solutions to climate change. In 2010 she helped found Solar Done Right, a coalition of public land activists, solar power and electrical engineering experts, biologists and others concerned with the rush to develop our few remaining wildlands for industrial solar and wind energy. Ceal also assists citizen groups working to protect their communities from destructive oil and gas drilling and fracking in Colorado.  She has an MSci in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and a BA in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz. Originally from Northern California, Ceal currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Nicole Capretz is Director of Green Energy, Green Jobs Campaign at Environmental Health Coalition, an environmental justice organization working in the San Diego/Tijuana region. Nicole has a law degree from Vermont Law School, a Masters in Environmental Law, and has been active in social justice and politics for over 15 years. She is the Chair of the City of San Diego's Environmental and Economic Sustainability Task Force and is committed to help transition us off the fossil fuel economy.

The interview is part of the Spring of Sustainability global teleseries, where you can learn from some of the most potent speakers, teachers and leaders who share their sustainability expertise and wisdom on how to create a greener world. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Arizonans Love Rooftop Solar

Thanks to the nearly 3,000 people who signed our petition for more, not less, rooftop solar in Arizona!  As we continue to send a strong message to the Corporation Commission, we are building a powerful movement for Energy Democracy in Arizona. 

To join the movement, consider taking these 2 simple, but important steps today:

1 Step: Click here to become a member of the Renewable Communities Alliance.

2 Step: Click here to keep the pressure on the ACC and support new local solar initiatives with an online donation.   

What people are saying.....

Elias Hinkley recently asked "Does the State of Arizona Hate Solar? in an article taking a close look at the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) strategy to cut solar incentives in our sun drenched state.  

Rather than adjust to the realities of a changing energy market, Hinkley concludes that utilities and the ACC are simply out to kill the competition in any way that they can.

If our state representatives couldn't be more out of step with the citizenry.  

People from all walks of life around the state continue to respond to the Corporation Commission decision to slash residential and completely eliminate commercial rooftop solar incentives.  In less than 2 weeks, nearly 10,000 people signed RCA's petition for "more not less rooftop solar in Arizona and a similar CREDO petition.  

Such an extraordinary response sends a strong message to the Commissioners and Governor Brewer that Arizonans love local solar energy and will not stand idly by as they slash key solar incentives. 

We hope they listen.  Below is a small, but representative sampling of what people are saying.

Paul from Tempe: Moving toward clean, renewable energy, especially solar in Arizona, is a positive social good supported by a great majority of Arizonans. Throughout history we have used policy incentives to direct or re-structure energy systems and other public utilities to better meet public, state, and national interests. Substantial subsidies have long been provided to other forms of energy and electric power, especially petroleum and nuclear power. Get with the program! Don't turn back the clock on progress!!

Kathy from Tucson:  Solar energy is the future.  As long as there is sun, there is the potential for solar energy.  We can not ignore it.

Marissa from Phoenix: Thousands of good jobs may disappear as a result of the Corporation Commission decisions.  We should be supporting this industry in our state.

Lance from Tucson: Arizona has more sunshine than most other states in nation. We are already late in implementing solar as a viable energy source. We need to accelerate the adoption of solar and be a leader, not look for ways to keep it from happening.  This is a job-producing industry that has enormous paybacks for the economy, environment, and energy.  Let's move forward, not backward.

Jean from Vail: When I tell friends in a "solar town"  outside of Boston getting a rebate to put solar panels on their roof that we will have no rebates, their reaction is shock and disbelief that Arizona would squander the one hug resource for electricity we have--the sun.  I see it as unpatriotic to not support solar and instead to expect the rest of the country to continue to pollute the air with coal plants.    This action of the commission is shameful.

Jason from Glendale: Renewable energy are our children's future.  We have to reduce our dependence on foreign resources.

Michael from Tucson: Arizona should be a worldwide incubator for solar research and development; for innovative ways to replace energy production from fossil fuels.  It makes no sense to cripple our solar industry.    Remember, the oil industry is heavily subsidized by tax breaks.  Reverse you unfortunate decision an be  part of a surge in sales, employment, R & D and manufacturing.

Debbie from Tucson:  Both my sons work for the solar industry in Arizona. They need  these jobs.

John from Sedona: It's good for our economy, for good jobs, for our communities and for our environment.

Jerry from Tucson: Five years ago, we installed 4kw of solar panels on our roof, we would not have been able to do it without the Arizona mandate to support solar. We are able to contribute extra electricity to TEP and cover all or most of our own utility bills nearly every month. Our system will be paid for in a few months and we have the satisfaction of the conservation of our precious natural resources.

Stephanie from Seligman: Why is it okay that big oil gets all kind of incentives and tax breaks but green energy gets slashed?  Keep the incentives for green energy!  Or face voters wrath!

Collier from Phoenix: We have installed a solar water heater with other green improvements. We have heavily considered installing solar panels for electricity as well, but even with tax rebates it is astronomically expensive.  The incentives should be improved not eliminated; it is ridiculous for politicians to talk about sustainable futures then make the means to do so impossible to anyone but the super rich.

Darrell from Quartzsite: It's common sense!  The most intense sunlight on the planet is where?  Arizona! 

Roger from Phoenix: The more solar you install the more it lowers the price. Everyone is already using solar energy because excess rooftop solar is fed back into the grid. So even the most vociferous opponent of solar is using solar energy and benefiting from reduced energy cost. So lets also benefit from increased solar energy production. Solar not only only promises a brighter living room, it promise a brighter economic future for the state.

Margaret from Mesa: I would like my grandchildren to enjoy nature and clean air - solar energy will go a long way towards a cleaner, sustainable environment.

Karen from Paradise Valley: Waking up to the realities of our current world requires that sensible, future oriented people make decisions that consider the consequences of our choices. Common sense dictates the need for exploration and development of more (not less) solar utilization - and Arizona is a logical leader. What a waste to turn away from an obvious opportunity - not only for Arizonans - but for citizens of the world.

Alan from Seligman:  As a Republican I truly believe in the power of the free market.  However, because of the unreasonable power competition by oil interests, the power market is anything but free and our government needs to provide incentives for competition against the oil interests.

Elena from Tucson: I live in a senior community. Incentives help make solar affordable to this important sector of our population.

Erika from Tucson:  Solar energy should not be a partisan issue.  The sun provides a clean source of power that in the long term is less expensive than coal or gas in both monetary and external costs.  The solar industry in Arizona provides jobs for thousands of people who are adding value to their community by the work they do.  I work for one such company that has already cut 25% of our workforce as a direct result of the ACC decision to reduce the TEP incentive program.  More cuts are likely as solar is placed further from an even playing field with other energy sources.  The employees who were let go have valuable skills that are not being utilized because they are unable to find another job in the solar industry.  This is a waste of manpower which hurts the community and seems to go against Republicans stated intent of supporting small businesses and their employees.

Rita from Rio Rico: Arizona needs to be a leader in solar energy, not a foot dragger. Our family has invested in solar panels and it was one of the smartest things we've ever done.  We need to make it easier for others to do so, not more difficult.

Luann from Payson:  Az has an opportunity to be a true leader in solar energy! Let's do it!

Albert from Phoenix: Germany and Switzerland are recognized as world leaders in solar power, which cannot be as cost effective as it is here in Arizona. I believe government should encourage and promote solar power, for government, school, and commercial buildings, including military installations, and for homes and apartment houses. We have a solar water heater for our own home. We hope many others will do likewise.


Coming up: 

Tucson Electric Power public hearing and comment period on its 2013 request  for a permanent $127.7 million rate increase.  Mark you calendars for the March 6th public meeting at 10 am, ACC Office, 400 W. Congress, Rm. 222, in Tucson.

Our next blog post will look at upcoming utility dockets, legislation, meetings and other opportunities for us to push for more, not less, rooftop solar in Arizona!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"More, not less, rooftop solar" Arizona Petition update

RCA partner Carlo Volim, occupy rooftops day, Edmonds, WA
A huge thanks to the more than 2,865 people who signed our petition!

Together, we are sending a strong message to Corporation Commission utility regulators that Arizonans want more, not less, rooftop solar energy!

In reading through the many excellent comments, petition signers resoundingly agree that solar is the energy of the future and that a swift transition is vital to building a vibrant local economy, resilient communities and holding back the tide of climate change. 

Local rooftop solar impacts Investor Owned Utility profits and the ACC seems determined to stymie progress.   We learned from our work in Colorado that it takes a groundswell of grassroots citizen action to overcome powerful, entrenched monopoly energy interests.  This petition marks the beginning of our campaign to spark a local clean energy movement in our nation's sunniest state.

We have a lot of work to do to get policies in place that give people and communities equal access to financing and a stronger voice in determining our energy future.  Visit our about page to find out how you can help build a movement for Energy Democracy in Arizona!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@REnewComunites) for breaking AZ clean local energy news and action.  We want to hear from you so please take a minute to let us know that you think in the comments section below.

It's up to us to create the change we want, so please remind your friends, colleagues and family to sign the petition to tell our utility regulators that Arizonans want more, not less, rooftop solar!


Ceal Smith
Founder, Renewable Communities Alliance

Breaking news:

Energy Manager: Solar Industry Gets Burned in Arizona,

Cronkite News: Rally slams Corporation Commission for solar incentive cuts,

Rewire: Arizona Resolutely Marches Backward on Renewable Energy,

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Citizen Action Needed to Save Arizona Solar

The Corporation Commission assault on local solar energy in Arizona is deepening.  According to an email received from Will Greene, former media coordinator for outgoing Commissioner and solar advocate Paul Newman, last Wednesday Commissioner Gary Pierce tried to sneak in an amendment that would effectively decrease Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard (REST) to under 13.5%.

A solar industry official said the amendment would represent the most significant policy setback Arizona's solar industry has seen in years.  Fortunately, the legality of the amendment was called into question and the idea was tabled.

According to Greene, Pierce tried to sneak his amendment through last week because he knows it will be widely unpopular.  Now that the cat is out of the bag, let's make sure he hears loudly and clearly that Arizonans want more, not less, local solar energy.

Chairman Stump forbid public comment on Pierces' proposal to lower REST during the Wednesday Open Meeting.  In response, Environment Arizona has organized a rally in front of the ACC offices in Phoenix (starting at 9 am) prior to the meeting.     

Details on the rally here and read the Cronkite News report about the rally here

In any case, the ACC needs to hear from its constituency.  If you think Arizona need more, not less, local solar energy in Arizona, we encourage you to give them a call.

Take Action!

1. Email or call the Commissioners and let them know you oppose Pierce amendment #2 in the Arizona Public Service (APS) REST plan to cut solar by 11% and effectively decrease REST to 13.5%.

Be sure to reference docket number: E-01345A-12-0290.

Gary Pierce:             (602) 542-3933 –
Brenda Burns:          (602) 542-0745 –
Bob Stump:              (602) 542-3935 –
Susan Bitter-Smith:  (602) 542-3625 –
Bob Burns:               (602) 542-3682 –

2. Sign the RCA petition. If you haven't yet, please sign our petition telling the Commissioners we want more, not less, local solar energy.

3. Attend an open meeting.  The best way to make an impact is to attend the ACC open meetings held most Wednesdays starting at 10 am to keep an eye on your elected Commissioners and (when allowed) submit public comment in person.

Where:     Arizona Corporation Commission
               1200 W. Washington
               Phoenix, AZ 85007

When:      Wednesdays - 10am

Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't kill Arizona's thriving solar rooftop industry!!

As you can see from the map on the left, Arizona has the best solar resources in North America.

Just as we are becoming a national leader in solar energy1, our elected utility regulators, the Arizona Corporation Commission, took a giant step backwards.

In a sneak attack last week that shocked solar advocates across the nation, Commissioners slashed residential solar incentives and completely eliminated utility payments for commercial solar installations2.

The decision is a major blow to Arizona's vibrant rooftop solar industry that goes against broad bipartisan support for more, not less, local solar energy.  It will destroy jobs, undermine economic growth across the state, deepen our dependency on costly fossil fuel energy and worsen the dangers of climate change.

We were working on it, but not quite ready to launch our Arizona campaign.  But this extraordinary move demanded action.  So on Sunday, we launched the petition "Don't Kill Arizona's Thriving Solar Rooftop Industry!!" to send a strong message to the ACC and begin the hard work of building a grassroots local clean energy movement in Arizona.

Please join us in sending a strong message to the Commissioners and Governor Brewer that now is not the time to turn our back on Arizona's solar future.   Tell them to restore and extend robust incentives to all local solar investors. Let's keep Arizona's solar economy going strong!!

References & more information:

1. Arizona ranks third nationally in solar energy development, but has the potential to lead the nation:

Governors Report on Solar Energy Development:

2. A Sneak Attack on Commercial Solar in Arizona:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Feed-in tariffs are fair and help everyone

A feed-in tariff (FiT) is a utility payment that gives solar rooftop owners (i.e. potentially you and I) a fair market price for the energy we generate, as opposed to the meager "net-meter" credit currently available in the US.   In contrast, utility scale solar and wind generators are eligible for long term (10-20 year) Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with utility companies.  PPA's guarantee a profitable per kWhr return on investment at rates that are usually undisclosed to ratepayers.  Yet proposals to give a fair deal to smaller scale, distributed providers are met with cries of "unfair".  In plain language, Paul Gipe points out the hypocrisy.  Reposted below with permission from the author.
Carlo Voli on the rooftop of the Fabric of Life building, Edmonds, WA (Photos by Bryan Briscoe)

Why FITs are Fairer than Tax-Credits and Net-Metering

November 30, 2012
By Paul Gipe

Critics of feed-in tariffs from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries--and even some ill-informed renewable energy advocates--charge that feed-in tariffs (FITs) are "unfair".
This argument against FITs has been used in the past against all renewable energy policies, including net-metering and tax credits.

The short answer is FITs are Fair. FITs don't hurt the poor. See Do feed-in tariffs hurt the poor?

FITs, in fact, are more egalitarian than other renewable energy policies. They are certainly more egalitarian than the Renewable Portfolio Standards used in North America that restricts renewable energy to multinational corporations.

It is true that net-metering and tax credits are unfair.

Tax credits only benefit those who pay taxes. If the poor don't pay taxes they can't use the tax credits without resorting to complex and costly leasing arrangements that primarily benefit the leasing company.

Net-metering in California has been called solar for the rich. See Solar for Energy Hogs: The California Example by Steven Letendre. Net-metering takes customers out of the distribution systems' rate base, leaving the remaining customers to pay for the distribution system. As more and more up-scale residents install net-metering systems, whether a wind turbine or solar panels, they leave more of the costs on those left behind-those who can't afford solar systems or those who can't install solar themselves. Apartment dwellers and renters can't use net-metering, nor can those whose home is shaded by a leafy canopy of trees.

FITs, when well designed, enable ownership by everyone, even those who don't own their own property. See German Solar PV for Free Says Walter Fischer.

For example, German FITs are more egalitarian than net-metering and tax credits. They are certainly more egalitarian than the mix of piecemeal programs found in North America.

The proof of this is the widespread ownership of renewables in Germany. See "Citizen Power" Conference to be held in Historic Chamber Where World's First Feed-in Law Was Enacted. Nearly two-thirds of solar PV in Germany is owned by farmers and individual citizens. That's just solar. 54% of wind generating capacity in Germany is owned by farmers and citizens. In contrast, less than 2% of wind in the US is directly owned by American citizens. The percentage of local ownership in German is even higher for biogas: 72%.

Advocates of the poor and disadvantaged in California want their communities to benefit from FITs directly. See California Feed-in Tariff for Poor Communities Passes Assembly. They call their proposal "Solar for All" because it specifically enables their participation in the renewable energy revolution.

FITs also enable "greenfield" projects that net-metering does not. FIT projects don't need to be tied to a specific property or utility's "meter". Coops, community groups, and limited partnerships can build projects that they own together when their individual members may not be able to put solar or a wind turbine on their own property. Such projects may use biomass, biogas, wind, or solar. They are not limited to solar only.

Most importantly, the status quo is particularly unfair. Inaction on renewables penalizes the poor the most. The status quo burdens the poor and disadvantaged with the emissions from fossil fuels and the risks from nuclear power as well as dooms them to endure crippling price increases in the future.