As reported in Courier Post

DURANGO, COLO. — The sun had just crested the distant ridge of the Rocky Mountains, but already it was producing enough power for the electric meter on the side of the Smiley Building to spin backward.

For the Shaw brothers, who converted the downtown arts building and community center into a miniature solar power plant two years ago, each reverse rotation subtracts from their monthly electric bill. It also means the building at that moment is producing more electricity from the sun than it needs.

 “Backward is good,” said John Shaw, who now runs Shaw Solar and Energy Conservation, a local solar installation company.

 Good for whom? 

As La Plata County in southwestern Colorado looks to shift to cleaner sources of energy, solar is becoming the power source of choice even though it still produces only a small fraction of the region’s electricity. It’s being nudged along by tax credits and rebates, a growing concern about the gases heating up the planet, and the region’s plentiful sunshine.

 The natural gas industry, which produces more gas here than nearly every other county in Colorado, has been relegated to the shadows.

 Tougher state environmental regulations and lower natural gas prices have slowed many new drilling permits. As a result, production — and the jobs that come with it — have leveled off.

With the county and city drawing up plans to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming and Congress weighing the first mandatory limits, the industry once again finds itself on the losing side of the debate.

 A recent greenhouse-gas inventory of La Plata County found that the thousands of natural gas pumps and processing plants dotting the landscape are the single largest source of heat-trapping pollution locally.

 That has the industry bracing for a hit on two fronts if federal legislation passes.

 First, it will have to reduce emissions from its production equipment to meet pollution limits, which will drive up costs. Second, as the county’s largest consumer of electricity, gas companies probably will see energy bills rise as the local power cooperative is forced to cut gases released from its coal-fired power plants or purchase credits from other companies that reduce emissions.

“Being able to put solar systems on homes is great, you take something off the grid, it is as good as conserving,” said Christi Zeller, the executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, a trade group representing about two dozen companies that produce the methane gas trapped within coal buried underground.

“But the reality is we still need natural gas, so embrace our industry like you are embracing wind, solar and the renewables,” she said.

It’s a refrain echoed on the national level, where the industry, displeased with the climate bill passed by the House this summer, is trying to raise its profile as the Senate works on its version of the legislation.

In March, about two dozen of the largest independent gas producers started America’s Natural Gas Alliance. In ads in major publications in 32 states, the group has pressed the case that natural gas is a cleaner-burning alternative to coal and can help bridge the transition from fossil fuels to pollution-free sources such as wind and solar.

 “Every industry thinks every other industry is getting all the breaks. All of us are concerned that we are not getting any consideration at all from people claiming they are trying to reduce the carbon footprint,” said Bob Zahradnik, the operating director for the Southern Ute tribe’s business arm, which includes the tribes’ gas and oil production companies. None is in the alliance.

 Politicians from energy-diverse states such as Colorado are trying to avoid getting caught in the middle. They’re working to make sure that the final bill doesn’t favor some types of energy produced back home over others.

 At a town hall meeting in Durango in late August, Sen. Mark Udall, who described himself as one of the biggest proponents of renewable energy, assured the crowd that natural gas wouldn’t be forgotten.

“Renewables are our future — but we also need to continue to invest in natural gas,” said Udall, D-Colo.

 Much more than energy is at stake. Local and state governments across the country also depend on taxes paid by natural gas companies to fund schools, repair roads and pay other bills.

In La Plata County alone, the industry is responsible for hundreds of jobs and pays for more than half of the property taxes. In addition, about 6,000 residents who own the mineral rights beneath their property get a monthly royalty check from the companies harvesting oil and gas.

 “Solar cannot do that. Wind cannot do that,” said Zeller, whose mother is one of the royalty recipients. In July, she received a check for $458.92, far less than the $1,787.30 she was paid the same month last year, when natural gas prices were much higher.

 Solar, by contrast, costs money.

Earlier this year, the city of Durango scaled back the amount of green power it was purchasing from the local electric cooperative because of the price. The additional $65,000 it was paying for power helped the cooperative, which is largely reliant on coal, to invest in solar power and other renewables.

 “It is a premium. It is an additional cost,” said Greg Caton, the assistant city manager.

Instead, the city decided to use the money to develop its own solar projects at its water treatment plant and public swimming pool. The effort will reduce the amount of power it gets from sources that contribute to global warming and make the city eligible for a $3,000 rebate from the La Plata Electric Association.

Yes, the power company will pay the city to use less of its power. That’s because the solar will count toward a state mandate to boost renewable energy production.

“In the typical business model, it doesn’t work,” said Greg Munro, the cooperative’s executive director. “Why would I give rebates to somebody buying someone else’s shoes?”

The same upfront costs have prevented homeowners from jumping on the solar bandwagon despite the tax credits, rebates and lower electricity bills.

 Most of Shaw’s customers can’t afford to install enough solar to cover 100 percent of their homes’ electricity needs, which is one reason why solar supplies just a fraction of the power the county needs.

 The higher fossil-fuel prices that could come with climate legislation would make it more competitive.

 “You can’t drive an industry on people doing the right thing. The best thing for this country is if gas were $10 a gallon,” said Shaw, as he watched two of his three full-time workers install the last solar panels on a barn outside town.

 The private residence, nestled in a remote canyon, probably will produce more power from the sun than it will use, causing its meter to spin in reverse like the Smiley Building’s. The cost, however, is steep: more than $500,000.

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As reported in Green Inc.

The price of rooftop solar panels has fallen drastically, as I reported in The New York Times on Thursday. But for some homeowners, the upfront costs remain prohibitive.

Indeed, many readers have remarked on the article’s opening anecdote, about a homeowner in the Houston area who installed a 64-panel, $77,000 system (before the 30 percent federal tax credit) for his amply sized house and garage.

One way to bring the initial costs down would be to put smaller arrays on homes. After all, if financial constraints are a consideration, why put dozens of panels on your home when you could put just one or two?

One reason has long been the inverter — the piece of a solar-power system that converts the direct current voltage produced by the panels to accelerating alternating current, which runs through the home. Right now, according to Glenn Harris, the chief executive of the consulting firm SunCentric, it is hard to find an inverter small enough to handle just one solar panel.

But microinverters — which fit on a single panel — are on their way.

Enphase Energy, a company based in California, has shipped 50,000 microinverters since last August, according to Raghu Belur, one of the company’s founders. Each costs about $200, and can be paired with a single solar panel and popped on the roof.

(Single solar panels, producing on the order of 200 watts, can be had for less than $1,000 — though that won’t do much to augment most household power needs.)

 “It is the key to enabling what’s called do-it-yourself-ers,” said Mr. Belur, though he says that it is wise to hire a licensed electrician to make the final connection. (Enphase says that its microinverters do eliminate high-voltage direct current, so there is less danger of a nasty electric shock.)

 “We’re specifying Enphase microinverters in our residential designs more and more often,” said Ryan Hunter, of the Texas installer Meridian Solar, in an e-mail message. The Enphase systems allow for greater flexibility, he said, and are “more shade tolerant in limited spaces.”

 Enphase officials say that having an inverter on each panel increases the efficiency of the solar array. On traditional systems, lower output from one panel — because of dust or leaves accumulating, for example — can affect the performance of every panel in the set. But the microinverters preserve the independence of each panel, so that the panels do not revert to the lowest common denominator of output.

Right now, Enphase microinverters do not come attached to panels. But by the middle of next year, big-box stores, Mr. Harris of SuncCentric predicted, will be stocking solar panels with the microinverters strapped on.

“The real magic is you don’t have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to get a solar system,” he said.

Should you like to know more about your investment in Solar leave  comment or email  george@hbsadvantage.com

Thursday July 16, 2009

In just a few short years, the Garden State has become the Sunshine State

BY JOE TYRRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

As Congress wrestles with national energy policies and gubernatorial candidates tout their plans here, New Jersey officials say the state deserves credit as a leader in promoting solar power.

In just a few years of coordinated efforts, New Jersey has gone from a non-factor to number two among the states in solar installations connected to the power grid. While far behind California, New Jersey currently generates about twice as many solar kilowatt hours as number three Colorado.

While applauding the gains, many in the industry also say the state, like the nation, has fallen well short of performance goals. New Jersey rose to the top of solar charts in a period when there was little competition from other states.

Now, as the federal government begins to pay attention to renewable energy, New Jersey is in the midst of a challenging transition away from an easy to understand program, which gave rebates to install solar power cells.

The new program shifts the focus away from consumers to utility companies and investors by creating a marketplace for renewable energy credits. The concept has its supporters, though many are more hopeful than confident.

Still, at a time when solar businesses believe the technology is on the verge of a belated boom in the United States, recent New Jersey statistics wowed some attendees at a recent industry conference in Philadelphia.

“Making this even more remarkable is that in 2001 New Jersey had only six” solar cell installations connected to the power grid, compared to more than 4,000 today, wrote Bob Haavind of Photovoltaics World.

His report can be viewed here.

During the session, the state’s top regulator, Board of Public Utilities President Jeanne Fox, proclaimed that when it comes to government policy, New Jersey is “the best place to do solar in the country.”

Around the country, many in solar trade groups and businesses credit New Jersey for showing what a small, partly cloudy state can do to grab its place in the sun.

“Obviously what they have been doing has worked,” said Monique Hanis, director of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

“What makes New Jersey stand out is the specific language in the state’s energy master plan, calling for the generation of 2.1 percent of its electricity to be coming from solar in 2021,” said Neal Lurie, director of marketing and communications for the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo.

Closer to home, though, reactions are more muted.

The rebate program “came out of advocacy” by solar power proponents, “it was not a BPU idea,” said Delores Phillips, the society’s Mid-Atlantic executive director.

Even with improving technology and rising costs for fossil fuels, the cost of solar power remains higher than those dirtier energy sources. Solar advocates maintain other forms of energy benefit directly and indirectly from government subsidies, such as state funds to decommission nuclear facilities, or cleanups of coal ash landfills.

New Jersey’s small spurt of solar power materialized during a BPU rebate program that turned out to be too popular for the board’s limited financial commitment. The initial surge in applications eventually bogged down as the release of funds slowed.

So the board decided on an innovative approach, creating financial instruments, solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs. The idea is that investors buy credits from solar producers, each pegged to 1 megawatt of power. The investors help producers expand, while reaping benefits from energy sales to utilities.

“We’re all looking to see how it’s going to make out,” Hanis said.

Compared to the rebates, grants or tax credits offered elsewhere, New Jersey’s approach is more ambitious but “still a little bit vague for some people,” she said.

“It’s not really tried and tested,” Phillips said, adding it requires two inter-related factors to success.

To be attractive to investors, SRECs need to be based on reliable values, meaning utilities must contract for long-term power purchases, she said. To serve those utilities, the investments must finance enough power to meet their requirements for more clean power, she said.

Judged on that basis, “New Jersey’s program is good, but only half as good as they said it was going to be,” said Edward O’Brien, a partner in McConnell Energy Solutions of Wilmington, De. Last year, instead of a projected 90 megawatts of solar power, the state was at 45, the result of continuing uncertainty over credit values, he said.

The theory is simple, O’Brien said. While not completely supplanting the mom-and-pop approach to solar panels, securitizing the solar marketplace should put it on the same funding as other major energy sources.

“Why are you out putting solar panels up on your house, which is hard to do, instead of buying five kilowatts worth of solar power from some producer?” O’Brien said.

In practice, though, the SREC system “has not been fully thought out,” he said.

Added to the current recession, investors are cautious because of America’s patchwork of energy policies and regulations, which vary from state to state, O’Brien said. States have not helped by altering programs, he said.

“Every state is different, and every state has a bait-and-switch,” O’Brien said.

Still, he is optimistic that New Jersey will regain its momentum, and others in the field view the problems as a hiccough in the growth of solar power.

In the short-run, “there could be a shake-out” during the transition from rebates, said Rick Brooke of Jersey Solar in Hopewell. But 25 years in the business and a number of false dawns, this opportunity looks golden.

As long as the state SREC market allows small systems to participate, people who installed solar panels on the roofs of their homes or businesses still have a chance to participate, Brooke said.

Moreover, people in the industry are expecting good things from the energy bill making its way through Congress. Nearby states have launched incentive programs, whether inspired by New Jersey or California, which has roughly two-thirds of the nation’s grid-connected solar systems, Brooke said.

“It’s a good time to be in the business,” he said. “The state is committed to it, they have goals. People are moving ahead with it. Before, the interest came and went, but now it’s here.”

Rebates and SRECs are not the only way to support the growth of solar power. This month, Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie each highlighted their support for renewable energy.

Democrat Corzine was able to announce the availability $20 million in federal grants for projects at public institutions in the state. Christie promised to create a new agency to promote clean energy technology and jobs, and would remove those functions from the BPU.

The Republican’s approach seemingly echoes Phillips’ complaints about the board’s “antiquated” procedures and primary purpose to regulate rates. But she said members of her association “were very underwhelmed by Chris Christie’s plan,” because it looks at the big picture and avoids the nitty-gritty.

While the Corzine Administration has set laudable goals for increasing clean energy, Phillips said most of the growth in solar power can be traced to his predecessor, former Gov. Jim McGreevey. There’s been “some stagnation” in state efforts since then, she said.

“Everybody likes to talk about clean energy job creation, but nobody explains how they’re going to do it,” she said.

Whether the New Jersey approach catches on remains uncertain. Around the nation, some communities are coming up with their own answers. Many solar advocates are looking beyond America to more successful programs abroad.

For more information on state incentives for renewable energy, visit njcleanenergy.com.

Our Perspective:

NJ has made great strides to join the alternative energy evolution. Not to say it is perfect, but for the first time people can see an acceleraed return on their investment that makes sense.

Rebates for systems under 5okw and the REC program has allowed funding to help underwrite these investments. Add the Federal incentives of a 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation and the market is positioned to take off.

Would you like to know more? Contact us 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com.

We can provide an overview of your return on investment and help to develop the opportunity and make it become a reality.

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

CHRIS KAHN | June 29, 2009 03:27 PM EST | AP

NEW YORK — The government will help companies build powerful solar farms in the desert Southwest by pre-qualifying huge swaths of federal land for development.

The Department of Interior said Monday it will designate 670,000 acres of federal land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as study areas for utility-scale solar projects.

The land will be divided into 24 tracts called Solar Energy Study areas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department will work with states on environmental studies and permitting to speed solar development in those areas.

Our Perspective:

This is good news. Finally, the government is stepping forward and acknowledging the opportunities provided by alternative energy development.

I hope this is only the beginning!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

CHARLES BABINGTON | May 27, 2009 06:26 PM EST | AP

President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed solar energy as a cost saver for a major Air Force base, one stop on a Western trip devoted to raising political money and promoting his economic policies.

Obama’s aides had mocked reporters for making a fuss over his first 100 days in office, but the president was eager to assess the first 100 days of his $787 billion economic stimulus package.

It has “saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs,” he said, including “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; making homes and buildings more energy-efficient.”

The White House job claims are difficult to verify because they are based on estimates of how bad the economy might have been without the stimulus rather than actual employment data. The country has lost 1.3 million jobs since February, a figure the Obama administration says would have been far higher if not for the recovery effort.

Obama also announced more spending for renewable energy after touring a large field of solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. The sun-powered cells provide a quarter of the base’s power needs, Obama said, speaking in a large hangar warmed by the desert heat.

“That’s the equivalent of powering about 13,200 homes during the day,” he said, and it will save the Air Force nearly $1 million a year.

Obama said more than $467 million in stimulus money will be used “to expand and accelerate the development, deployment and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States.”

The president sandwiched the midday event between two political fundraisers: one on Tuesday night in Las Vegas for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and one set for Wednesday night in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Committee.

At Nellis, Obama addressed 400 people, including Air Force personnel, civilian workers and families living on the base.

The base’s $100 million public-private solar power system covers 140 acres and generates more than 14 megawatts of electricity.

As he departed the hangar, Obama bypassed his limousine and walked a quarter-mile along the tarmac to examine fighter jets, chatting with Air Force personnel as he went.

Our perspective:

Solar is the new energy growth maket. For the first time, with Federal and State incentives, the investment is solar finally makes sense.

To find out more how you can make solar your solution email george@hbsadvantage.com  or call 856-857-1230. We will review your opportunity and discuss the financial options available.

ANGELA CHARLTON | May 28, 2009 05:01 PM EST | AP

PARIS — The top U.S. environment official says it’s time for the United States to shed its energy-wasting image and lead the world race for cleaner power sources instead.

After several years with a relatively low profile under President George W. Bush, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “is back on the job,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told The Associated Press on Thursday during a trip to Paris.

What the EPA does domestically this year will be watched closely overseas. Nations worldwide are working toward a major meeting in Copenhagen in December aimed at producing a new global climate pact. The U.S. position on curbing its own pollution and helping poor countries adapt to global warming is seen as key to any new pact.

Jackson was in Paris for international talks on how rich governments can include global climate concerns in overall development aid.

She dismissed worries that economic downturn was cutting into aid commitments or investment in new energy resources. She said the United States should take the lead on clean energy technology, recession or no.

“We have to get in the race now _ and win it,” she said. “I don’t expect a moving backwards because of recession.”

At climate talks in Paris earlier this week, European environment ministers welcomed greater U.S. commitment to environmental issues under the Obama administration _ but said it still wasn’t aiming high enough in its targets for cutting U.S. emissions.

Jackson said a shift in the American mindset is only beginning.

Talking about energy efficiency and saying companies should pay to pollute _ “that’s a revolutionary message for our country,” she said.

For a long time, she said, “People didn’t even expect the EPA to show up” at events, much less set policies that could be seen as examples for the rest of the world.

“Now it seems like every day we’re rolling back or reconsidering a Bush era policy on clean air,” she said.

She said it was time for the United States to take a more active role in limiting chemical pollutants, after falling behind Europe in that domain.

The U.S. also has lessons to learn from countries such as the Netherlands, she said, after visiting its low-lying, flood-prone lands to study ways cities like her native New Orleans can better manage water.

Our Perspective:

It is good to hear the administration making positive comments about our energy’s future. Alternative energy is a growth business and the correct path for insuring our future energy indepenence.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

Would you like to know more about the financial opportunities that drive this investment. Feel free to contct us.

May 15, 2009, 8:15 am

SolarKirk J. Condyles for The New York Times Not all homeowners associations approve of this sort of thing.

John Wood, a homeowner in Woodbury, Minn., wanted to put solar panels on his roof. Last month, his homeowners association rejected his application.

“I felt extremely disappointed,” Mr. Wood said by telephone.

He added: “It made me think that homeowners associations are in place to do only one thing, and that is to maintain the status quo, and they have no interest in any sort of change whatsoever.”

Al Rudnickas, the president of the board of the Wedgewood Association, the homeowners’ group, said that the board was open to less obtrusive technologies like solar shingles. But in this case, “The feeling of the board was that what was proposed wasn’t aesthetically pleasing in keeping with the standards of the community,” he said.

Mr. Rudnickas said that the association invited Mr. Wood to submit a modified application, but Mr. Wood — who is the first homeowner in the association to apply for solar panels — said he was not sure whether he will do so.

Mr. Wood’s case, first reported in the Woodbury Bulletin, has echoes around the nation.

 

In Somerset County in New Jersey, a homeowner was ordered to take down 28 panels.

In California, another homeowner, Marc Weinberger, sued his homeowners association last year after his efforts to put solar panels on his roof were rejected.

Mr. Weinberger and his lawyer, Michael McQueen, have since told Green Inc. that their motion for summary judgment was granted, and Mr. Weinberger installed a system early this year.

In another California case, Marty Griffin, a homeowner in Santa Clarita, applied to put solar panels on a hillside on his property. The association said no, but he went ahead anyway and got sued.

The litigation has been under way for more than a year. Mr. Griffin says the association did not respond in a timely way to his application; a lawyer for the association, Ricardo Cestero, told Green Inc. that Mr. Griffin “did not follow correct procedures.”

Mr. Griffin details his saga, including legal documents, on his Web site.

For solar installers, the roadblocks can be frustrating. John Berger, the chief executive of Standard Renewable Energy, a Houston-based firm that designs and installs solar systems for homes, said that the homeowner associations’ prohibitions had already cost him more than $1 million in business.

“It is a big problem,” he said.

Lawmakers in Texas are considering a bill that would prevent homeowner associations from banning solar panels, and similar laws are already in place in a dozen or more states, according to the Database of State Initiatives for Renewable Energy — including Arizona, Colorado, Florida and California, among others.

Mr. Wood said he planned to contact his state legislators in the hopes of enacting this type of law in Minnesota.

The laws, however, are rarely comprehensive, as some of the California cases suggest.

Rusty Haynes, a project manager at the North Carolina Solar Center, which manages the D.S.I.R.E. database, said that some applied only to new construction, and others might be vague or limited in scope.

In Arizona a few years ago, a homeowner was challenged over the color of her panels (they were apparently too dark), despite a state law intended to smooth the process.

Has this happened in your community? Is this an issue for you? Feel free to comment below, or e-mail george@hbsadvantage.com

Daniel C. Esty

Posted April 20, 2009 | 03:50 PM (EST)  As reported in Huffington Post Green

Talk has begun to turn to the new economy that will emerge from the present collapse. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt has suggested that the current crisis is not just a recession but a fundamental “reset” of how business gets done. And Time magazine has taken up this theme with a reset cover story. But there has been little discussion of exactly what changes – in principles and practices — should be made so that we rebuild our economy on firmer foundations. As we celebrate Earth Day this week, it is a good time to commit to “sustainability” as a centerpiece of a revitalized regulatory system.

For the past three decades, debate has raged over whether and how to deregulate. But while markets offer the prospect of promoting innovation, growth, and prosperity, few now believe that capitalism is self-correcting or that the private sector needs only minimal supervision. From the demise of Lehman Brothers and AIG to the skullduggery of Bernie Madoff and Allan Stanford, the signs of inadequate regulation and market failure surround us.

Two particular forms of market failure underlie the meltdown of the past year and make sustainability the right touchstone for our regulatory reset efforts:

• Externalized costs and risks
• Incomplete information

Both of these problems require that we rethink our approach to regulation — and re-establish the fundamentals of our economy on a more sustainable basis. And note that this principle should apply broadly, not just in the financial arena.

We need regulations which ensure that companies cannot structure their operations so that any upside gains accrue to their owners (or worse yet their managers), while risks or costs get shifted onto society as a whole. In the banking sector, rules against over-leveraging are urgently required. The recently released Turner Report in the UK outlines the first steps in this direction that should be taken. More generally, financial reporting rules must be designed to expose hidden risks and externalized costs.

We should likewise insist that companies which send emissions up a smokestack or out an effluent pipe cease their pollution or pay for the harm inflicted on the community. In our “reset” world, economic success cannot come at the price of harms imposed on the public in the form of contaminated air and water or risk of climate change. Thus while we lay the foundation for a more sustainable economy, let’s similarly adopt rules that provide for a sustainable environmental future. This will require overhauling the traditional approach to environmental regulation which countenances way too much in the way of externalities by offering “permits” up to a certain level of harm.

President Obama’s call for a price on carbon dioxide emissions represents a good first step in the “no externalities” direction. But let’s broaden the push and make polluters pay for all the harm they cause. If companies — and each one of us in our personal lives — had to pay for our waste and pollution, behavior would change. Putting a price on harm-causing creates incentives for care and conservation — efficiency and resource productivity.

More importantly, these price signals will drive a market response. Companies that are positioned to help others reduce their waste or cut their emissions will find customers eager for their goods and services. And where no easy solutions are available, harm charges will motivate “cleantech” innovation as inventors and entrepreneurs recognize the prospect of making money by solving environmental problems.

In parallel with a commitment to internalizing externalities, we must adopt transparency as a watchword. Market capitalism does not work without adequate information about economic actors. This reality has been understood in theory, but now needs to be advanced in practice. Government has a critical role to play in establishing the terms of disclosure about companies, markets, products, investment vehicles, and more. Public officials must also be empowered to ensure that disclosures are complete and accurate.

Well-designed reporting rules make it easier to spot externalized costs or risks and harder to hide malfeasance. Widely available metrics also facilitate benchmarking across companies, which offers a mechanism for assessing performance, highlighting leaders and laggards, and spurring competitive pressures that drive all toward better results. Studying the leaders offers an important way to identify best practices in everything from corporate strategy to pollution control. Likewise, outliers (such as those who make 10% returns year after year without fail) can be isolated for special review and scrutiny.

Such transparency would make it easier to refine our compensation systems to reward superior performance and real value creation. Carefully constructed disclosure rules could help, on the other hand, to unmask mere financial engineering, which should not be credited with outsized rewards.

There is a great deal of work to be done to re-establish prosperity across our country and the world. Smart regulation can channel corporate behavior and individual effort toward sustainable economic growth — that is durable because it rests on solid underpinnings not hidden risks or externalized costs.

Daniel C. Esty is the Hillhouse Professor at Yale University with appointments in both the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the co-author (with Andrew Winston) of the prize-winning book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage (just released in a revised and updated edition published by John Wiley). A former Deputy Assistant Administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency, Professor Esty advised the Obama Campaign on energy and environmental issues and served on the Obama Transition Team.

Written by Seth Borenstein  AP

WASHINGTON — A new scientific study finds that the absolute worst of global warming can still be avoided if the entire world cuts emission of greenhouse gases the way President Barack Obama and Europe want.

A computer simulation by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., looked at what would happen by the end of the century if greenhouse gas levels were cut by 70 percent. The result: The world would still be a warmer world but by about 2 degrees instead of 4 degrees. Arctic sea ice would shrink but not disappear, and sea level would rise less.

About half the temperature increases and changes in droughts and floods can be avoided compared to a scenario without emission cuts, according to the study, which will be published next week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Future heat waves would be 55 percent less intense. Thawing of permafrost in the far north would also be reduced.

The study is one of the first to use computer models to quantify how much of the effects global warming can be avoided, compared to a world if nothing is done about the problem.

While the study looked at what would happen with dramatic cuts in future pollution, history has shown that reductions are much easier to talk about than to make. The controversial 1997 Kyoto Protocol called for industrialized countries to cut emissions but since then levels worldwide have gone up 25 percent. In the U.S., where emissions are up 6 percent in the last decade, Congress is fiercely arguing over a plan to reduce pollution.

“If we follow on the path that Obama has outlined of cutting emissions by 70 or 80 percent and the rest of the world does it, then we can make a big difference on the climate by the end of the century,” climate scientist and study chief author Warren Washington told The Associated Press.

But if the United States and Europe cut back on carbon dioxide and China, India and other developing countries do not, then the world is heading toward a harsher hotter future, not the one the study shows, Washington said.

The study mapped areas that would benefit the most by emission cuts, comparing what would happen with less carbon dioxide pollution and what would happen if greenhouse gas continue to grow. The difference between the two scenarios is starkest for temperatures in Alaska and the mountain west, which would see temperatures rise a couple degrees less with emission cuts. Reduced carbon dioxide would also significantly lessen predicted future droughts on the Pacific coast and flooding in the Northeast.

Much of Europe, Russia, China and Australia would see the biggest temperature benefits from reductions in greenhouse gas pollution, while the Mediterranean, Caribbean and North Africa region would benefit the most in predicted changes in rainfall from less global warming.

If the world cuts back on fossil fuels, “it isn’t going to be as bad,” Washington said.

Austin, Texas, is getting closer to its self-imposed goal of using more renewable energy, and creating jobs in the bargain. The Texas-sized solar plant being planned would be the largest in the Unite States, according to Austin Energy.

The Council approved an agreement under which the City’s municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy, will purchase all of the electricity produced over a 25-year term by a 30 megawatt (MW) solar project to be built on city-owned property located about 20 miles from downtown Austin.
Gemini Solar Development Company, LLC, one of 15 companies competing for the massive project, will construct, own and manage the solar facility. The project of photovoltaic solar panels will span approximately 320 acres, producing energy each year sufficient to power about 5,000 homes. Austin Energy will pay about $10 million per year for the power.

The solar project represents a major step towards fulfilling a Council goal to develop 100 MW of solar capacity for Austin by 2020. The Council also has set a goal that 30 percent of the power delivered to customers by Austin Energy by 2020 will come from renewable resources. Construction on the project is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2010 and completed by the end of that year. The project will result in at least 600 local construction jobs.

 

The Austin American-Statesman said that critics remain — they’re worried about the financial
aspects of the plan, like how much the power will cost.

By unanimous vote, the council approved a partnership with Gemini Solar Development Co. to build and operate the facility and sell all its power to Austin at $10 million a year for 25 years. City officials say it would help them get closer to the city’s goal of using more renewable energy.
Other questions remain that critics said they would raise at the meeting. The city won’t say how much the power from the plant would cost, although most estimates are around 16.5 cents a kilowatt hour — more than most other types of power. Even that calculation is foggy, though, because federal tax credits could reduce the construction cost, thus making the electricity cheaper. But the city isn’t sure how much cheaper. The credits weren’t factored into Gemini Solar Development’s pitch.