Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Los Angeles To Be Off Coal by 2025

According to its mayor, Los Angeles will be off coal by 2025.

Reported by KPCC Southern California Public Radio, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be "signing papers" in the coming weeks that will wean the city from coal-fired power within the 12 years.

About 39 percent of L.A.'s power now comes from coal-fired plants. The mayor announced the news this week at an University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) event on green cities, sponsored by UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

The audience greeted Villaraigosa's news with surprise. The city's coal habit has been the topic of a significant amount of environmental campaigning in recent months.

Of the coal fired power in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's grid, two thirds comes from the 1,900 megawatt Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, while the remainder is generated by the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Solar Leases Make Residential Solar Power More Affordable

Solar leases are making residential solar energy more affordable for many homeowners across the United States.

The high, up-front cost of solar panel installation causes many people to reconsider utilizing this renewable energy source, despite the fact that it not only lessens monthly electricity bills but also reduces our carbon footprint.

However, the new option of "solar leases" are a great alternative and are expected to lead to more installations nationwide. These leases allow a homeowners to pay either very little or no money down to have solar panels installed on the roofs of their homes. The catch here is that instead of buying solar panels, the homeowner leases them from a solar lease company.

Instead of paying the sometimes massive upfront cost, homeowners pay a monthly fee for using the electricity generated by the solar panels. Homeowners would then typically sign a long-term contract (approximately 15 to 20 years) with the solar lease companies that 1) pay for solar equipment and the installation and 2) make sure the solar panels function properly and perform general maintenance.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Renewable Energy Pushes for Updated Financing Options

Green energy industries like wind and solar cannot compete with fossil fuels without hefty tax breaks intended especially for them. They have been telling Congress this for years, but now they are upping their plea as opposition for renewable energy subsidies are running high among many Republicans. 
According to the New York Times, the renewable energy industries are now asking Washington to allow wind and solar companies to qualify for some of the tax advantages that are used by the oil, gas and real estate industries to raise money from investors.

The industries are looking to two investment structures — the master limited partnership and the real estate investment trust — to help make financing easier and cheaper. It is estimated that opening them up to renewable companies could cut the cost of their energy by one third.

As with conventional power plants, the cost of building wind and solar farms can run into the billions of dollars, involving elaborate planning, construction and equipment. 

Wind and other green energy technologies have become cheaper, but the cost of investing has stayed relatively high. And last month, 31 lawmakers, including Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jerry Moran of Kansas and Representative Ted Poe of Texas, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to support the changes. All three are Republicans supported by gas and oil interests, according to

Although White House officials say they see expanding REITs and MLP’s as keeping with their larger clean energy goals, they are more focused on eliminating direct subsidies and loopholes for fossil fuels and establishing a permanent production tax credit for renewables.

Allowing solar and wind firms to use a tax break offered to oil and gas companies fits into the worldview of an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy.

Under current law, the federal government offers renewable energy companies a generous tax credit against their income. But since few of them make enough profit to use the credits, they need to find investors — typically companies seeking to shield nonenergy profit from taxes — to take advantage of the breaks. Because the pool of such prospects is small, the investors that do jump in, like Google, have been able to command high rates of return.

By using a REIT or MLP. for renewable energy projects, the companies could reach a broader range of investors. MLP’s and REITs are similar in that they do not pay corporate income taxes, passing most of their income to their investors, who then pay taxes on it at their own personal rates. Both are also often traded publicly like stock, giving companies access to a much larger pool of investors who are willing to take a lower rate of return, according to tax lawyers and experts.

There are differences in the ways the two investment vehicles work. REITs, which are typically used to bundle groups of apartments or office buildings into tradable investments, cannot take advantage of tax credits. So a solar REIT would not be able to use the 30 percent investment tax credit still available to such projects through 2016. MLP.’s can use tax credits, but the partnerships are more complicated, tax lawyers said, which might keep investors away.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Obama's 2nd Term Push for Climate

President Barack Obama pledged in his inaugural address Monday to respond to the threat of climate change, saying the "failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

By singling out climate change for several lines of his speech, he is taking on an issue that he acknowledges was often overlooked during his first term and setting up a confrontation with congressional Republicans who have opposed legislative efforts to curb global warming.

Reuter's reported that Obama will renew his push to spur investment in renewable energy projects that create jobs as a key part of his second-term strategy for tackling climate change, according to a top White House policy adviser.

During his second term, Obama won't have the $90 billion in economic stimulus funds that his administration had pumped into clean energy and "green jobs" projects during the first term.  Instead, Obama wants to see "targeted and smart" investments in research and demonstration projects, and will also use the upcoming corporate tax reform process to try to "level the playing field" for renewable forms of energy, said Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Obama has continued to argue that the United States cannot fall behind in a global clean energy race dominated by countries like China, South Korea and Germany, which heavily subsidize their domestic industries. "Our political system and our private sector are never going to operate in the way that some of those countries operate to strategically support targeted industries and go all-in in that way," Deese told a National Journal/The Atlantic event on energy innovation.

While Obama's inauguration words attracted a lot of attention, what came next in the speech was also important, Deese said - Obama's contention that the nation must use more "sustainable energy sources" to maintain its "economic vitality" as well as to protect the environment.

"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise," Obama said.

The White House is realistic about the slim chances of advancing comprehensive climate legislation in Congress, where many Republicans are staunchly opposed. Instead, Deese said the administration will look for ways to use other types of legislation to accomplish clean energy goals, including upcoming efforts to overhaul the tax code.

Obama recently pushed for an extension of the wind production tax credit and other clean energy tax credits as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal with Congress. Tax breaks for traditional fossil fuel production have long been enshrined in the U.S. tax code, Deese said. "One of the things the president has talked about is ... at a minimum, we should have a level playing field" for renewable energy.

The President also wants to explore "targeted and smart investments to help catalyze renewable energy technologies" that can lead to more U.S. manufacturing jobs, said Deese, adding that projects to make buildings become more energy efficient is another area of promise. He said Obama still would like to see Congress pass a "clean energy standard" with annual targets for electricity from clean sources that would allow utilities to decide what type of renewable power source would best fill the quota.

Obama also may take actions that don't require congressional approval or spending, such as the increase in fuel economy standards set during his first term that will cut carbon pollution and fossil fuel use dramatically over 25 years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cost of Solar Power Reduced with Federal Tax Credit

Solar power is a great source of renewable energy. It doesn't add pollution to the atmosphere and reduces the dependence and use of coal and other fossil fuels, allowing individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. 

However, the cost of solar power is five times higher than from coal and other sources and the pay back period is many years, leading many Americans to stay away from using solar. To encourage Americans to use solar power, there are federal, state, local and utility incentives and rebates for solar energy systems. 

These include tax credits, tax deductions, property tax relief, purchase incentives (rebates), production incentives, and more. More specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy offers tax credits for solar-powered appliances. 

Although rebates and incentives can vary from state to state, there is an overarching federal tax credit available for residential installations for solar panels. The Internal Revenue Service expanded the federal tax credit for solar power, making it so that systems installed between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2016, are eligible for a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost. To qualify, the system must supply electricity to a residence and meet local building codes. This tax credit is only for residential purposes. Corporate deductions, exemptions, and tax credits are available the commercial, industrial, and government entities. 

Solar tax exemptions, including both property and sales tax exemptions, are provided by state and local governments to help lower the costs of owning solar energy property. For both business and residential solar systems, there are also federal grant and loan programs. Several are backed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These loans and grants assist people to install solar power panels.

In addition to tax credits and rebates, a typical residential solar system should reduce electricity bills by 25 percent to 50 percent, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The average household pays about $110 a month for electricity, according to the Energy Department, so a solar-panel system should save you between $300 and $600 a year. The payback period will vary greatly depending on how sunny it is where you live, the size of your system, the cost of your system, and future swings in local electricity costs. That being said, it could take anywhere from 6 to 18 years to get paid back for your solar panels.

When it comes to a particular state, things vary. In general, systems are cheaper in places like Arizona and California, where electricity is expensive, sunshine is plentiful, and solar has gained wider acceptance.

For example, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) allows residents to hire a certified a San Diego Solar installer to not only install the solar panels in San Diego, but also handle the CSI process for rebates on installation. Once the system is up and running, a resident can then claim their incentive (or payment). Residents can do this on top of their federal tax credit, getting the most cost effective solar panels possible. 

Although not every state is as solar-forward thinking as California, each has some sort of incentive, tax credit, or rebate available. Search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for state and local incentives in your area/  

Monday, January 7, 2013

California Sets New Winter Solar Generation Record

California is becoming known for its solar power capacity, and this winter, the state set a new record in solar power generation during the winter months.

Winter days deliver about four fewer hours of daylight in California, as compared to high summer hours, but that’s not stopping the state from setting peak solar power generation records

In August, California passed the milestone of 1,029 megawatts (MW) of solar power production. Surprisingly, it nearly reached that peak August generation level during the week of the Winter Solstice, which is the least-sunny time of the year, setting a new winter solar power generation record. San Francisco to San Diego solar companies are excited with this new record.

On December 19, solar power generation ranged from 950 to 1000 MW. While that isn’t really a ton of energy, it’s an important milestone because of the time of year. During the Winter Solstice, The sun is lower in the sky than at any other time of year, which means that there is much less solar energy available for solar panels to utilize.

The underlying point is that California’s solar energy generating capacity has grown significantly since the August record was set. And compared to last year, the growth is very impressive. In December 2011, there was a maximum output of only 200 MW of solar power production.

Throughout the state, from San Francisco to San Diego solar projects are becoming more common, and the growth is expected to continue or even increase in 2013. This is not only good, but starting to become a necessity, as a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels will be needed to avoid the effects of future climate change according to the vast majority of climate scientists.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Breakaway Oil Rig Runs Aground

One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer, reports The New York Times.

The rig, the Kulluk, which was used for test drilling in the Arctic last summer, is carrying about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid, the officials said.

The Kulluk, one of two rigs that Shell used to drill test wells off the North Slope of Alaska as part of the company’s ambitious and expensive effort to open Arctic waters to oil production, was being towed by the Aiviq to a Seattle shipyard for off-season maintenance when the towline initially separated during a storm on Thursday.

The 266-foot diameter rig ran aground on the east coast of Sitkalidak Island, an uninhabited island that is separated by the Sitkalidak Strait from the far larger Kodiak Island to the west. The nearest town, Old Harbor, is across the strait on Kodiak Island; it has a population of about 200 people.

A Coast Guard helicopter flew over the rig after the grounding at 8:48 p.m. and “detected no visible sheen,” said Darci Sinclair, a spokeswoman for a unified command of officials from Shell, Alaskan state agencies and other groups that has been directing the response since the troubles with the rig began last Thursday.

Shell has spent six years and more than $4 billion in its effort to drill in Arctic waters, one of the last untapped oil-producing regions in the United States. But the effort has faced regulatory hurdles and opposition from American Indian and environmental groups.
“Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies,” Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.
Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, told Reuters that either the federal government or Shell should shut down the $4.5 billion drilling program “given the unacceptably high risks it poses to both humans and the environment.”
There were no immediate signs of a fuel spill from the rig, but environmentalists have seized on the accident as proof Arctic Ocean oil operations are too risky. More flights during the day on Tuesday were needed to determine if the Kulluk spilled any of its 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel or caused other environmental problems.

Shell hopes to drill five exploratory wells in the Arctic region during the 2013 drilling season, which begins in mid-July.

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