Across the world, holidays of all traditions are celebrating light and hope. Against a backdrop of these holiday times that bring 2012 to a close and give birth to 2013, we naturally reflect on the year that has been and the coming year that can be. Many of you reading this article played a role in making 2012 a great one for clean energy, health and a livable climate. For that we are thankful and wish many happy returns and look forward to continued collaboration. First, let’s celebrate what we accomplished.
In 2012, the light that shone in America’s homes and businesses burned cleaner as power sector emissions fell to levels not seen since 1992. As long overdue pollution control retrofits became prohibitively expensive, utilities across the country made headline-grabbing retirement announcements, including Chicago’s infamous Fisk and Crawford plants. A historic victory in February to fast-track closure in August later led to Mayor Emanuel’s September announcement of redevelopment plans for both sites.
Just last month, 56% of Chicago voters approved an electric aggregation ballot initiative to allow the City to make bulk electricity purchases on behalf of its residents and small businesses. As a result, 930,000 Chicago households joined more than 1.5 million Illinois households who had already switched to a competitive supplier. With the City Council’s unanimous approval of a coal-free power purchase, Chicago leapfroggedCincinnati to become the largest such program in the country.
While Chicago’s program recently became the largest, it owes a debt to the leadership of early adopters in dumping Duke in Cincinnati and villages like Oak Park and Evanston. Seeing successful examples in other communities lessened the perceived political and financial risks of adopting aggregation in Chicago. All of the communities opted to purchase renewable energy credits equal to 100% of their supply to offset their emissions. Chicago aggregation has ushered in a new era of aggregation procurement by addressing the emissions of the energy sources that supply the city. This reflects a rapid evolution of the understanding and sophistication of how cities are promoting clean energy with the energy they purchase on behalf of their residents.
In North Carolina, in the wake of Duke’s scandalous merger with erstwhile cross-state rival Progress, Greenpeace has joined a statewide movement to challenge Duke’s dirty rate hike business model. In that fight, Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Pathway has generated significant interest by the media. The work has also helped to engage environmental and social justice partners across the state in support of a clean energy future. In Charlotte alone, more than 800 residents have petitioned State regulators to hold a hearing in Charlotte to address Duke’s flawed 20-year plan. Meanwhile, in Raleigh, residents have embarked on a similar challenge of Progress’s pending rate hike for new fossil fueled power plants. At the same time, student leaders have pushed the North Carolina University System to double down on investments in clean, renewable energy.
As many utilities (Duke Energy included) initiated what the financial ratings firm, Moody’s, described as a permanent shift from coal to gas, energy efficiency and renewable energy also played key roles in reducing emissions. The solar industry capped 2012 at a blistering pace, as record-setting fourth quarter accounted for 1,200 of the 3,200 megawatts added throughout the year. Wind trade association, AWEA, reported 4,728 megawatts of wind power installations through the first three quarters of 2012. Another 8,430 megawatts awaited completion and US capacity exceeded 50,000MW for the first time.
The nation’s largest grid operator, PJM, announced record retirements, mainly of coal-fired plants, while reporting record participation of efficiency and 6,125 megawatts of wind power capacity. Such a large amount of wind power can power an estimated 1.8 million average households. PJM also marked an important milestone in announcing that 1,000 megawatts of solar had been installed in the region as of May.
Taken collectively, these positive development represent a healthy down payment toward meaningful action to protect the health, livelihood and vibrance of our communities. The technology to secure energy and jobs without blowing up mountains, trashing the climate or poisoning drinking water exists. In 2013, we need to keep asking for it–not by sitting on Santa’s lap or spinning a dreidel–but by writing to elected officials, petitioning regulators and writing to utility execs! Here’s to another year of victories and progress toward a clean energy future!