Cities creating a green economy

The role of cities in helping create a new green energy economy was discussed in a   Clean Edge webinar, ‘Creating Smarter and Cleaner Cities’ on Nov 27, 2012.

Ron Pernick, Managing Director for Clean Edge, moderated. He said that 87% of the clean-tech market is in 50 metropolitan areas, the top five being San Jose, San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle. He said these 50 cities have 70% of the LEED square footage and 72% of the patent activities.

Greg Nickels, Mayor of Seattle from 2002 to 2009, talked about launching the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has been signed by mayors of over 1000 cities.

“I started it when the nations of world signed onto Kyoto. I realized that we are vulnerable. Cities need not to deny the problem. I did not want this to be just symbolic, but leadership by example. Cities’ role is important now, as the federal government is not leading. Cities are engines of the economy, so it is important to find ways there to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Johanna Partin, director of City Programs at C40, talked about this network of cities and how they are implementing policies to reduce carbon emissions.

“The good news is that city policies that are producing benefits, with the clean tech sector driving the economy. Clustered clean tech incubators attract and mentor technologies, enabling cities and ports to meet future needs.”

She said that there are public-private partnerships and cooperation between cities, and alliances among firms to work on clean tech together and with a city.  Many cities have incentives and energy benchmarking, property tax incentives and green building requirements for new construction.

Jacques Chirazi, Manager of San Diego’s clean tech program, said that his city brought together all elements of society, non-profits, the University, utilities, and businesses to work on ideas. They got a concentrated solar manufacturer to come to San Diego, providing good jobs and a stable economy.

Greg Nickels pointed out that the Western Climate Initiative promoted economic opportunities.

Johanna Partin: The biggest value cities can add to the climate agenda is to show that it can be done. Also, cities can make aggressive goals and then engage in competition to spur them to beat their goals.

Ron Pernick: Cities act as pockets of innovation, and testing of technology.

Jacques Chirazi:  San Diego has lots of electric vehicle (EV) drivers. Officials asked  how to deal with high power needs in middle of day. Our solar EV project is going live today; we could not do it alone. We own a lot of parking lots and buildings that can have solar. We engaged nonprofit and utilities and academic institutions to share ideas. Our corporate partner is GE, there are other small contractors.

Ron Pernick: What are some of the tools people have found to deal with the dearth of capital?

Johanna Partin:  Chicago is working to reduce energy consumption in buildings and creating construction jobs. New York used performance contacts for the Empire State Building. A number of partners install and monitor the system to the quality expected and the building owner pays for installation through improved energy efficiency, with energy savings guaranteed over time. The building is now saving  50% on energy.

Greg Nickels: Seattle owned the electric utility so even though there were restrictions on how we could invest or loan, it gave us ability to work with customers, requiring energy audits with all transactions and using the sale of buildings as a catalyst to invest in energy saving.

Johanna Partin: There is a new OECD report saying that installing PVs creates more jobs. If a city aggressively promotes policies for more installation will get bigger jobs jump than by putting money into conventional energy.

Ron Pernick: In the next 3 to 5 years, what areas will get most traction at a city level?

Jacques Chirazi:  The greatest focus will be in integrating renewables with the existing grid, making buildings more intelligent, transportation and upgrading the building stock [to make it more energy efficient.] San Diego has had wildfires, so the community is interested in these technologies and also in adaptation strategy.

Greg Nickels:  Seattle City Light, our public utility, has zero net emissions because it is hydro based. What we can do is to help people conserve and use conservation resources to serve the growth, so we do not need to buy into non-renewable sources of energy.  We can continue to emphasize green building. Today the market demands that buildings are green, so we do not need regulations. Recycling is energy and water consumptive. We need to reduce packaging and waste with a culture of conservation.

Johanna Partin: We need to see more innovation around transportation; in most cities it is half of the footprint.  Some cities are using bus rapid transit, or planning for centralized transit centers.


Wake-up call duly noted. Now what?

Extreme climate predictions most accurate, report finds, according to a Seattle Times/Washington Post article “ The world could be in for an increase of some 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, resulting in drastically higher seas, disappearing coastlines and more severe droughts, floods and other destructive weather.  Such an increase would substantially overshoot what the world’s leaders have identified as the threshold for triggering catastrophic consequences.”


Ok, so, what do we do? Personally, live a lower carbon lifestyle – dance more, drive less, plant more, purchase less, insulate your home, wear sweaters, vacation near home, skype your distant friends & family, and lobby for policy solutions.. Locally, get institutions to invest in green energy instead of fossil fuels, (see and install energy saving technology, tell your friends and neighbors what you are doing and invite them to informational events. Nationally, lobby for a carbon tax and rebate (see Citizens Climate Lobby), for an end to subsidies for fossil fuels, against oil pipelines and natural gas fracking, and for increased government incentives for investment in solar, wind, water, geothermal, wave, and tidal energy, efficiency technology, smart grid, electric vehicles and batteries.
A green energy economy is possible. The Jacobson and Delucchi plan,, explains how investment in solar, wind, water, geothermal, wave, and tidal energy, combined with energy reducing technology, smart grid, electric vehicles and batteries can supply most our needs. They suggest replacing all new energy with these by 2030, and replacing pre-existing energy by 2050, resulting in consumer costs similar to what we are spending today.
The energy from burning oil, coal and natural gas allowed us to build a civilization, with research facilities, and communication devices that allow us to make a transition to safe, affordable clean energy. Those who are afraid that sustainability will not help the economy are misinformed. It is precisely to save our loading docks, airports, highway system, computer capabilities, and the health of people who run this infrastructure that we need to stop investing money in last century’s fossil fuel energy and build American energy industries that will free us from the monopoly of fossil fuels and also save our mountains, trees, agriculture, water supplies and shorelines.

Reduce storm risks with green energy

“Northeastern lawmakers are preparing to push Congress to approve extra spending to pay for repairing the damage wrought by Sandy” according to WSJ article


As our democracy plans its budget we should consult our most experienced and knowledgeable experts to provide for our security. For over thirty years, scientists have predicted that burning oil, coal and natural gas would raise world temperatures, increase evaporation, and cause weather to become more severe. Now NASA is pointing out the evidence.

It takes a couple decades after we burn coal, oil and gas, for the carbon dioxide (CO2) they emit to raise the world’s temperature. So the emissions of today will cause weather disruption that gets worse and worse over the next 20 years, even if we stop burning fossil fuels today. The damages are likely to be far more that what it would have cost us to create a new green energy economy according to World Bank economist Stern.

It is not too late to make a difference, however. We can reduce the catastrophic nature of climate change by starting to direct all new energy investments now into solar, wind, geothermal, wave, new grids, electric battery and energy saving technology.

Politicians who want to plan for improving the recovery of citizens from future hurricanes should stop subsidizing fossil fuels, give tax credits for investment in green energy, make public buildings and vehicles energy efficient, and fund smart grids to connect new solar and wind installations and keep lights on during storms.

Natural gas is not better for the climate than coal

Natural gas is not better for the climate than coal. The problem is, it leaks when they drill, and more so with horizontal drilling and fracking.  The drilling process has always included some venting at the beginning of drilling. In addition, processing and transporting gas involves leaks; most of the pipe system for natural gas is over 50 years old.

The reason why people why people have referred to natural gas as a clean fuel is that burning it emits half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal, and also less soot and smog.

However, natural gas is nearly all methane, a much more potent warming gas than carbon dioxide. For the first twenty years after methane is released into air, it has a warming effect  110 times as strong as carbon dioxide, according to newer studies.  Then methane gradually breaks down, and its warming effect, measured over a 100 year period, is about 25 times as strong as that of carbon dioxide.

That is one reason why there are  burning flares on oil fields. Natural gas often comes out when they drill for oil, and they burn it. Then it releases carbon dioxide instead of the more potent gas, methane.

So how much methane escapes when they retrieve and process natural gas? Estimates of leakage and venting rates range from 1.5% to 8% of the gas retrieved. It is very difficult to measure this, and it has not been regularly done.

Counting only emissions from burning, not from leakage, natural gas releases 117 pounds of CO2 for each million BTU of energy output, diesel oil releases 161, and coal releases 210 pounds, according to the EIA.

If we assume a low leakage rate, say 3%, of the natural gas, and then take the lower warming multiple of natural gas/methane, of 25, and add that CO2 equivalent to the 117 pound of CO2 emitted by burning, we see that the total use of natural gas releases the equivalent of   205 pounds of carbon dioxide,  about the same as for coal. Assuming a higher leakage rate, like 5% and a higher warming multiple of  say 75, gives natural gas a CO2 equivalent warming rate of 556 pounds, or two and a half times worse than coal.

The US government has been encouraging more production of natural gas in the US, referring to it as a clean fuel, even though the Environmental Protection Agency admits that there has not been good data on the amount of leakage. Analysis of the leakage issue by scientists at Cornell University has pointed out that this poses a serious danger to the climate.

The response of the government, and some industry representatives and environmentalists, has been to call for regulations controlling leakage. It is hard to imagine that venting and leakage could be reduced much below 3%, especially since they have been a regular part of the retrieval process, and the cost of capturing those small amounts is greater than the gas is worth.  Even if some companies in the US were able to reduce leakage, that is not likely to be done in drilling in other countries.

Most of the natural gas in the US is used for heating buildings and for generating electricity. Geothermal technology is an excellent clean alternative for heating and cooling buildings.  Wind energy can provide electricity at rates that are competitive with electricity generated by natural gas. We have affordable and safe alternatives to natural gas.

A few years ago, decision makers made a serious mistake in promoting ethanol, although studies show that  its greenhouse gas emissions are as bad as oil.

The world is too close to catastrophic effects of global warming. New investment in electricity generation should only be in green technology now, replacing natural gas and coal generation facilities as they reach the end of their life spans.

Green energy for freedom

To protect individual freedom, there are times when it is necessary to say ‘No,’

We are facing danger from an industry that has been a friend, that has given us wonderful things, comfortable homes, cars, better health and food. We are grateful for the gifts of the fossil fuel industry, the oil, coal and natural gas that have fueled and electrified our civilization. For over a century we have supported the development of oil, coal and natural gas with our purchases, government protection, and favored laws.

Yet now, it appears, burning these  fossil fuels releases excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) which is overheating the planet, intensifying storms, melting ice, raising sea levels, drying out fields, increasing rain and snowfall, and unbalancing our climate.

The good news is that there are excellent substitutes  for oil, coal and gas. Solar, wind, and geothermal can provide our  electricity, transportation and heat  with storage in electric vehicle batteries, hydropower and solar thermal, distribution with smart grids, and reductions in energy needs with efficiency technology.

To pay the capital costs of transitioning to different technology, the fossil fuel companies could use some of their multi-billion profits, corporate savings are high, we would use the trillions we spend on foreign oil, and savings from reduced military expenses for protecting foreign oil.

The staggering cost of damages from extreme weather will continue to grow, witness the  estimate of $60 billion as the cost of Hurricane Sandy.  A transition to green energy will be cheaper. It is time to say ‘no’ to the fossil fuel industry.

It will take a few years for green energy investments to start providing for our needs on a broad scale, so it is essential we start the investment now. To propel the transition, we should make the price of oil, coal and natural gas include the actual costs they incur. With a carbon tax, a fee on fossil fuels increasing each year, taxpayers could get some return from their tax money spent to clean up oil spills and storm damage and drilling and mining pollution.

carbon fee   on fossil fuels will allow solar, wind, and other green technology to compete on a level playing field. Some start-ups will fail; others will be consolidated. Entrepreneurs and industry will find the best new technologies, with the market choosing them.

Americans will have more freedom, freedom from rising fuel prices, freedom to buy American made energy, and export American energy technology around the world that will compete with the fossil fuel industry and win.

America can do this. Green energy is the future; we need to make it our own.