Non-profit crowdfunds solar projects for U.S. community groups

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.

Non-profit crowdfunds solar projects for U.S. community groups

By Jenny Tan

March 24, 2016

A non-profit in the U.S. has come up with an innovative funding model to finance solar energy projects for community organizations.

The non-profit RE-volv is crowdfunding donations to help other non-profits and cooperatives without access to financing to pay the upfront costs of solar installations. Last week, it launched a new crowdfunding campaign for three new solar projects.

The organizations will sign a 20-year lease with RE-volv, which pays for the panels, and save 15 per cent or more on their power bills, according to RE-volv. The payments from those organizations help RE-volv invest in more projects, creating a self-sustaining fund. At the end of the 20-year lease, ownership of the solar panels is transferred to the organizations.

“Having completed three successful campaigns, we see that this model is replicable and poised to grow rapidly,” Andreas Karelas, executive director of RE-volv, said in astatement last year.

Each 20-year lease with monthly fees is expected to eventually generate enough funds for three more projects. Detailed financial information, however, is not published on the RE-volv site.

RE-volv raised over $121,000 on Indiegogo for its first three community-based solar projects, which totalled 68 kilowatts of solar capacity. The group signed their first lease agreement with a dance centre in 2003.  Since then, RE-volv has signed leases with a synagogue and a grocery store in the San Francisco Bay Area. The organization is now crowdfunding donations for three more projects.

Crowdfunding is gaining popularity as a means of funding renewable energy projects. Other crowdfunding ventures include Mosaic, an American organization that helps individual investors earn interest on solar projects. The People’s Solar, an Australian crowdfunding platform specifically for solar projects, raised over $20,000 in the past three months. Windcentrale in the Netherlands raised €1.3 million in 13 hours for a wind project when it launched in 2013.

Canada has had at least one crowdfunding venture for solar projects. Last month, anIndiegogo campaign ended 25 per cent short of its $50,000 goal for an Albertan community solar farm. Larger community-based funds for renewable energy projects exist, but not throughout the country. SolarShare, a co-operative based in Ontario, allows residents to purchase shares in commercial-scale solar projects. The group has raised over $5 million and members receive a guaranteed five per cent annual return.

Photo Credit: Karen Maraj

Alberta won’t buy power from B.C. without pipeline approval

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.


Alberta won’t buy power from B.C. without pipeline approval

By Jenny Tan

March 10, 2016

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is saying Alberta will not buy renewable power from its western neighbour if it can’t get an oil pipeline built to the B.C. coast.

The NDP government has committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants in Alberta by 2030. More than half of the province’s electricity currently comes from coal.

But it seems Alberta may not turn to B.C. for renewable electricity without getting something in return.

“We’re not necessarily going to have that much demand for that much electricity if we can’t find someone to sell our product to,” Notley said during a teleconference last week, as reported by the Calgary Herald.

Meanwhile, B.C. is seeking federal funding for a new $1-billion transmission line to move surplus power from B.C. to Alberta.

“We can see an opportunity for both jurisdictions to benefit from the sale of our clean electricity to them,” B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett told the Vancouver Sun last month.

However, the proposed deal is far from settled.

“We’ll do what’s best for Albertans and Alberta’s economy,” Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said in an email statement last week, as reported by the Financial Post. “We won’t be buying more power if we can’t get our resources to market.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver applauded Notley’s stance. “Alberta shouldn’t allow other provinces … to treat us like a doormat,” McIver told the Herald.

Other Albertan leaders agree. “It has to be a two-way street,” said Wildrose critic Prasad Panda to the Herald. “It has to be win-win for all.”

The proposed deal is facing controversy even in B.C. Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix suggested the deal is being used to justify construction of the controversial Site C dam in northeastern B.C. Protesters claim the dam will flood sacred and historically significant sites.

The response from the B.C. government to Alberta’s opposition has been outwardly optimistic. “We in B.C. are not opposed to other Canadians getting their products to the West Coast at all,” Bennett told the Herald. “I think we can work through this and find a way to do business together.”

As positive as Bennett may be, the strained relationship between B.C. and Alberta under Clark’s government may not help the deal. The Financial Post notes that in her February throne speech, Clark had harsh words for Alberta, saying that the province “lost its focus … They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy and lost control of government spending.”

Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia

Al Gore’s climate group criticizes B.C. LNG

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.


Al Gore’s climate group criticizes B.C. LNG

By Jenny Tan

February 25, 2016


The head of a climate advocacy group led by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore is calling for B.C. to abandon its plans for a liquefied natural gas industry.

The call comes just weeks after B.C. Premier Christy Clark acknowledged that none of the LNG commitments she made during her 2013 campaign has been realized.

Relying on LNG for revenue is “risky”, Ken Berlin, CEO of the Climate Reality Project, told the Vancouver Sun. “Natural gas is playing an important role in replacing coal, but it is still a fossil fuel. I think you are going to see, certainly in 10 years and more likely in three to five years, solar and wind being more competitive than natural gas. And then what do you do?

“I would say to do that would be very, very risky for the province.”

After a TED talk on Thursday in Vancouver, Al Gore suggested the top eight countries where climate efforts should be focused are China, India, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa and Australia.

“If you are going to do kung-fu or ju-jitsu on climate, those are the eight target zones where you are going to maximize your efforts,” Gore told a private lunch audience after last week’s TED talk, as reported by the Sun.

Premier Christy Clark campaigned in 2013 on a sizeable economic boost to B.C. from LNG revenue. She promised to settle all of B.C.’s debts with LNG revenue, start a $100-billion ‘prosperity fund’, and create 100,000 new jobs in LNG.

So far, the government has received no money from LNG and no construction of any LNG facility has been confirmed.

“Success isn’t for quitters,” Clark told the CBC.  “In order to succeed in this tough economy, we need to stick with it.”

However, Clark admitted that “with oil at 30 bucks, it is very unstable times.”

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong noted the province is not likely to see LNG revenue until at least 2018. Companies are also unsure of the industry’s future. Recently, Royal Dutch Shell postponed its $50-billion investment in an LNG development in Kitimat.

It’s been a tough year for the industry, executive director of Energy Services B.C. Art Jarvis told the CBC. “We’re pretty concerned here about the future — the near future and the long future.”

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson

Obama to double funding for clean energy R&D

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.

By Jenny Tan

February 11, 2016


Obama has included a doubling of funding for clean energy research and development in his federal budget sent to Congress on Tuesday.

He plans to increase funding by 15 per cent each year from $6.4 billion in 2015 to $12.8 billion in 2020, according to a White House press release.

In his latest weekly address, President Obama noted the funding will “help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power out-compete dirty fuels in every state”.

But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate are unlikely to support the budget, suggests Bloomberg Politics, even though Obama noted that “many [Republican representatives] realise that clean energy is an incredible source of good-paying jobs for their constituents.”

Canada is also making plans to increase its clean energy funding. At the COP21 climate conference in Paris last December, the federal government pledged to invest $300 million each year in clean energy production, in research and development, and to support “the use of clean technologies in the natural resources sector.”

The funding increases are part of an agreement reached in Paris by 20 countries, including the United States and Canada, and private investors like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. The Mission Innovation global partnership aims to “double government investment over the next five years in clean energy research and development, and to spur private sector investment in clean technology,” according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to Clean Energy Canada, investment in clean energy by provincial governments reached $10.7 billion in 2014, up from $5.8 billion in 2013.

The United Nations also calls for a doubling of investment in clean energy. According toBloomberg New Energy Finance, a record-breaking $329 billion worldwide was invested in clean energy in 2015, beating the previous record set in 2011 of $315.9 billion. However, the transition to clean energy is still not fast enough, says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “I challenge investors to double – at a minimum – their clean energy investments by 2020,” Ban told investors last month, as reported by the Guardian.

Photo Credit: EricaJoy

B.C. government carbon neutral for five years

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.


B.C. government carbon neutral for five years

By Jenny Tan

January 28, 2016


British Columbia’s public sector has been carbon neutral for five years, according to a report released by the province.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment says the province achieved neutrality by measuring all of its public sector emissions and purchasing carbon offsets to balance them out. It has spent $53 million on emission offsets between 2010 and 2014. It also worked to reduce emissions wherever possible.

According to the report, titled Leading By Example, the B.C. public sector generated 46,000 fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 compared to the baseline year of 2010, equivalent to taking 9,800 cars off the road.

B.C. claims it is the first provincial, state, or territorial government in North America to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

All data were submitted to a third-party auditor for verification.

Some of the reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions came from infrastructure and heating retrofits, according to the report. Success stories outlined include the Sechelt Hospital’s geothermal energy system, the Victoria Royal Jubilee Hospital’s waste heat recovery project, and Vancouver Community College’s infrastructure upgrades. Those upgrades led to a 22 per cent reduction in emissions at the college.

“What’s become clear over the past five years is that counting the cost of carbon pollution is good for both the environment and the bottom line,” wrote B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak in the report’s introduction. “Schools are redirecting funds they used to spend on energy directly to education… and hospitals have reinvested revenues in patient care.”

The picture is less rosy, however, for province-wide greenhouse gas emissions. A 2014 memo from the federal government showed that Environment Canada predicted B.C.’s emissions would actually increase by 11 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. The government had been hoping to reduce the province’s emissions by 33 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020.

Late last year, Minister Polak told the Times Colonist she had “no reason to doubt” that B.C. will miss its 2020 emissions targets. A report commissioned by Premier Christy Clark noted the province’s 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent below 2007 levels is still possible, but required “ambitious actions”. The recommendations in the report include increasing the carbon tax by $10 per tonne per year between 2018 and 2050. The report also recommended reducing the provincial sales tax by one per cent to support families and businesses.

According to the Pembina Institute, Canada-wide greenhouse gas emissions have been rising since 2009.


Photo Credit: Dru!

Benefits of state renewable energy standards outweigh costs, study finds

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.

Benefits of state renewable energy standards outweigh costs, study finds

By Jenny Tan

January 14, 2016


A new U.S. Department of Energy report finds the benefits of renewable portfolio standards greatly exceed their costs.

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) require a certain percentage of electricity to be produced from renewable sources. Twenty-nine American states plus the District of Columbia have instituted these standards.

The report finds an estimated $7.4 billion of benefits from RPS programs in 2013, mostly due to the health and environmental benefits of reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. An earlier study, also produced by the Department of Energy, estimates the compliance costs of RPS programs at just $1 billion.

The two studies use different methodologies and can’t be directly compared, Department of Energy analyst and report co-author Ryan Wiser told Greentech Media. However, he added, “the new report does help provide an important counterweight to arguments that state RPS targets are driving up electricity costs to unacceptable levels.”

In 2014, Ohio froze its benchmarks on electricity production from renewable sources for two years. Preventing cost increases was cited by supporters as a reason for the freeze.

The $7.4 billion in benefits from RPS targets does not include the reduction in water withdrawals, estimated at 830 billion gallons in 2013. Drought-prone California will likely see the largest savings in water withdrawals, the report states, as switching to renewable energy sources reduces the net demand for water.

Also not included are other impacts of RPS programs, such as reducing consumer electricity bills by up to $1.2 billion and natural gas bills by up to $3.7 billion. The report also estimates that RPS targets have supported up to 200,000 jobs in renewable energy.

Some Canadian provinces are implementing their own financial incentives for renewable energy producers.

Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick have instituted province-wide RPS programs.

In 2006, Ontario launched a feed-in tariff program that guarantees fixed prices for renewable energy producers, allowing them to compete with conventional energy producers. “The big surprise with the standard offer was just how successful it was,” World Wildlife Fund Canada analyst Keith Stewart told the New York times. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have since launched their own feed-in tariff programs.

However, Ontario’s feed-in tariff program has been scaled back since its inception, and Nova Scotia’s program was cancelled in August 2015. The provincial government cited concerns about the program’s impact on power rates.

Photo Credit: Duke Energy

Uruguay produces 95% of electricity from clean sources

Clean Capital

Originally published in Clean Capital.

Uruguay produces 95% of electricity from clean sources

By Jenny Tan

December 10, 2015


The South American nation of Uruguay is now generating 95 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources.

According to Ramón Méndez, head of Uruguay’s climate change policy, the country made the switch in less than 10 years with no government subsidies, no price increases for consumers, and no technological secrets. Uruguay doesn’t use nuclear power. Wind farms, biomass energy, and solar power are the country’s main sources of electricity.

Uruguay’s electricity prices relative to inflation have even dropped after the shift to renewables.

Méndez told the Guardian that Uruguay’s model is “dull” and replicable. Making the shift simply requires “clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector”.

Fifty-five per cent of the country’s total energy mix, including the transport sector, now comes from clean sources.

“What we’ve learned is that renewables are just a financial business,” Méndez told the Guardian. “The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is very attractive.”

Uruguay has one of the most ambitious pledges of all the countries at the Paris climate talks: it promises to cut carbon emissions by 88 per cent in 2017 compared to the average for 2009-13.

Canada, too, has made progress on renewable energy development in recent years. According to a report from Clean Energy Canada, a program at Simon Fraser University, 2014 saw a large growth in Canada’s clean energy sector. Investment in Canadian clean-energy projects reached almost CAN $10.7 billion, an 88 per cent increase from 2013.

Ontario leads the country in clean energy with over half of all Canadian investment in clean energy production. Other renewable-energy leaders include Quebec, British Columbia, and Manitoba, all with over 95% of their electricity production from renewable sources.

But other provinces rely more heavily on non-renewable sources. Only 19 per cent of Alberta’s electricity comes from clean sources.

The report states that a challenge for the Canadian clean energy sector is a lack of federal leadership. Initiatives in clean energy are largely province-led.

Now, Canada could find itself looking to Uruguay as an example. “We had to go through a crisis to reach this point. We spent 15 years in a bad place,” Méndez told the Guardian. “But in 2008, we launched a long-term energy policy that covered everything … Finally, we had clarity.”

Photo Credit: Jose Maria Perez Nunez