The cost of solar power in North Carolina is falling steeply, a state trade group reported, providing the first real evidence of a trend that is likely occurring in other states that are harnessing the power of the sun.
The price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems dropped by 36 percent in North Carolina between 2006 and 2011, from $8.50 to $5.44 per watt. All the while, fossil fuel costs jumped three percent on average in the state every year of the past decade, the report found.
The recent explosion of efficiency efforts across the country has slashed energy use in U.S. buildings, but by how much, exactly?
After fits and starts, a federal statistics agency is finally poised to begin finding out.
Early this year the Energy Information Administration, the analysis arm of the Department of Energy, quietly resumed an elaborate—and some say long overdue—energy audit of thousands of commercial buildings, compiling the information that property owners, green building certifiers and government officials use to make decisions about buildings.
In the labs of young startups and universities, researchers are fine-tuning groundbreaking fuel technologies and "out-innovating" other countries in the race to make clean energy.
That, at least, was the picture the Department of Energy wanted to convey at this week's third annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. The event is an expo of high-risk energy inventions backed by DOE, held mainly for would-be investors.
This year it doubled as an appeal to Congress to save ARPA-E, DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which is running short on money.
Is steering large sums of federal money into America's clean energy economy worth the risk? The question is now at the forefront of national debate, and the answer often divides along party lines.
Environmentalists, unions, many state lawmakers and Congressional Democrats say clean energy spending can power a job engine. Free market advocates and conservative Republicans say green subsidies are wasteful and political. For evidence they look no further than Solyndra, the solar panel maker that landed $528 million in taxpayer loans before going bankrupt.
But what does the economic data show? Have clean energy tax incentives and policies sparked meaningful employment gains and private investment?
The answer appears to be yes. But attempts to quantify the size, scope and benefits of the fledgling U.S. clean economy are still in their earliest stages. Even the definition of what constitutes the clean economy, or what qualifies as a clean or green job, are not fully settled. Supporters say accumulating a body of statistical evidence could help push the national debate past partisan politics. "It's critical to have this kind of information," said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Brookings Institution and co-author of the group's 2011 green jobs study.
Here's a primer on what we know about America's clean economy so far—what it is, how it rose to prominence over the past decade and who's taking the lead as Congress dawdles on a national clean energy agenda.
In his new budget blueprint, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is proposing to divert $210 million from the state's clean energy fund to use for general spending. The proposal would also take all that is left of the state's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) revenues: $473,000.
If the budget passes, it would be the third year in a row that Christie, a first-term Republican, has dipped into the state's clean economy coffers. His first two enacted budgets diverted a total of more than $400 million from the clean energy fund, instead of using it on energy savings for homes and businesses, according to a report Wednesday in the New Jersey Spotlight.
Christie's budget for fiscal year 2011 also took $65 million in RGGI revenues to help patch a budget shortfall. The money from the regional cap-and-trade scheme is supposed to be invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency and to help low-income customers pay their electricity bills.
Supporters of a federal wind subsidy vowed Thursday to double down on their effort to keep the tax credit alive for at least one more year. The message came hours after Congress killed what was seen as the incentive's last best chance for survival.
"Our campaign continues," Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said in a statement. "By all reports, wind champions on both sides of the aisle in both the Senate and House ... are now working to get the job done by other means."
The production tax credit (PTC), which expires at the end of the year, is seen as crucial to the industry's growth. The last time it lapsed, in 2003, wind development dropped by almost 80 percent the next year. Vestas, the world's biggest turbine maker, says it may fire 1,600 U.S. workers if the subsidy lapses.
The nation's Republican governors are pressing forward with policies that promote the green economy—and in some cases they have moved further than their Democratic counterparts.
A new report by the National Governors Association (NGA) showed that 28 states enacted more than 60 new "clean" economic development policies between June 2010 and Aug. 2011. Among those states, more than half, or 16, have Republican governors. In five of the states, the policies were started under Democratic governors and were continued by Republicans who replaced them.
The wind industry's hopes for extending a key federal subsidy got a sharp jolt in recent weeks.
Some Republicans inside and outside Washington, along with the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have broken with many in their party to take a pro-green stance on the production tax credit (PTC) for wind projects. Wind operators say the 20-year-old subsidy allows them to compete with conventional fuels and supports thousands of jobs. It expires at the end of this year.
The American Wind Energy Association told InsideClimate News that federal support for wind has always been bipartisan, but Republicans are feeling pressure to speak out because of what's at stake. "Manufacturing jobs are on the line," said Ellen Carey, a spokesperson for the trade group. Lawmakers are "hearing from their constituencies who are employed in this industry."
If all goes as planned, more than a million ultra-clean cars will be zipping around California in the next decade, a 30-fold increase from today, thanks to tough new rules recently approved by state regulators.
It's not the first time the nation has set its sights on the million-mark for green vehicles. In 2009 President Obama pledged to put a million plug-in cars on U.S. roads by 2015.
But the president had no regulatory muscle to try to enforce his goal. And three years later there are fewer than 20,000 all-electric and plug-ins in the U.S., says Plug-In America, a San Francisco advocacy group.
Undaunted, California believes its clean car ambitions will be easily met because 12 of the world's leading carmakers helped craft its new rules and because the industry has six years to begin complying with them. The program is the first in the nation to regulate the kinds of vehicles to be sold in a state auto market.
Pressure has begun to build for President Obama to make good on his State of the Union pledge to greenlight vast solar installations on public lands by year's end, with supporters seemingly growing antsy that it's either that or nothing in 2012.
On Monday, about 20 solar industry advocates, electric utilities and major environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, urged Obama to formally put into effect rules for the country's first solar program on government-owned lands by this fall.