Renewable energy and the economic slowdown

wind-turbine-abstract-080815Ever since the economy really began to weaken and gas prices approached $3/gallon and then $2/gallon, there has been much commentary on businesses making cutbacks and slowing their implementation of sustainability efforts.  I have written that this time of economic crisis will separate the companies that are truly committed to good environmental stewardship from those that were only interested in making green efforts while the economy was strong.

During the presidential campaign, both candidates made renewable energy investments central pieces of their legislative agendas, employing images of wind turbines and solar panels in their TV ads and stump speeches.  However, since the credit crisis exploded and energy prices plummeted, even a pioneer like T. Booke Pickens, who spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few months advocating for public support of wind power, has delayed his landmark project.  The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday, 11/24, about how the “economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.”

My hope is that the U.S. Government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, does not give up on its efforts to wean our country off oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.  I was encouraged by a message that Obama recorded last week for the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

In his message, Obama states, “Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.”  He goes on to say that his goal is to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.  He also committed to investing $15b each year on alternative energy, which he said will not only help to reduce our use of oil, but will also help create up to 5 million new jobs.  Regardless of the accuracy of the jobs figure, I hope that the U.S. sticks to this plan, and does not use low gas prices and a difficult economy as an excuse for inaction.  We should look towards Brazil as an example of how a country makes energy independence a goal and sticks to that plan, regardless of the economic circumstances.  Here’s a great story from the Wall Street Journal in 2006 which summarizes Brazil’s sugar ethanol industry development.  I remember looking for some energy provider myself (so come up with the OVO contact number) and later – reading this in an airport almost three years ago and was able to find a free link on Yale’s website – I found the piece so interesting, and wanted to share it with you.

The moral of the story for me is that we have learned our lesson from our addiction to oil – from the recent price spikes, as well as the fact that it supports dangerous regimes that hate America (not to mention the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels), and we need to make a change.  It will cost a lot of money and require sacrifice, but it is one of the greatest issues of our time and must be addressed.

A must read – Al Gore’s NYTimes column (11/9/2008)

green-wind-turbine-30-96-66-2Al Gore wrote an excellent column in the New York Times on Sunday, 11/9, in which he lays out a very clear and sensible five-part plan to get America to produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years.  Although he has launched the We Campaign which has pushed this goal, this article is a quick and easy read, and as such, I highly recommend you take a look.

Without further ado, here’s a link to the piece.

Best practices in green printing: using printed collateral to support your organizational mission

My firm does a fair amount of work for SkyFuel, a solar energy company headquartered in New Mexico.  SkyFuel is a cutting-edge clean technology provider that has been recognized for their pioneering work in the renewable energy space.

SkyFuel needs to disseminate their ideas in printed form at trade shows, investor presentations and other industry events.  When they publish such literature, we have partnered with them to help make these pieces as green as possible, while always watching the bottom line.  For their uncoated items (business cards, letterhead, etc), we use a specific paper from the Mohawk Options line that is 100% post-consumer recycled.

Image courtesy of SkyFuel

Lately, when printing brochures for their various products as well as posters for a recent launch event, the client wanted to use coated paper, especially since the pieces contained images of the sun, so having the paper shine in the light was important.  We worked with the SkyFuel team to choose a stock made by New Leaf Paper that has the highest degree of post-consumer content of any paper on the market.  On all of their coated pieces, the following copy is included in a prominent position: “Printed on New Leaf paper that is FSC-certified and made with 60% post-consumer recycled fiber and processed chlorine free.  Energy used is 100% certified renewable or offset with “green tags.”

SkyFuel is an example of a best-practice leader in their field that leverages printed collateral to support their organizational mission to be good stewards of the environment.  Experience has shown that when a company couples a deep commitment to the environment with marketing pieces that underscore this mission, their message resonates most effectively with key constituents.  SkyFuel also is very transparent about the environmental benefits of their various printed pieces, which makes the green attributes even more tangible for the reader.

Alternative energy: striking a balance between caution and execution

There has been increasing news coverage of alternative energy, most notably due to the explosion in energy prices over the last couple years.  I saw two interesting articles over the last day, one from the conservative editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, and the other from The New York Times.

Please note – photo courtesy of The New York Times (photographer: Christinne Muschi).

The WSJ opinion piece points out that one of the key barriers to growth in alternative energy is infrastructure, most notably transmission lines connecting the sources of energy (wind and solar fields in rural and desert locations in the plains and Southwest) and the cities in which most people live.  The WSJ, in it’s characteristic fashion, blames this challenge on liberals, who they claim support alternative energy but oppose the construction of transmission lines, as they often have to go through protected lands.  Here’s a link to the piece.

The Times describes challenges and conflicts of interest that have arisen in upstate New York, where wind revenue has become critical for family farmers.  The article highlights instances when local town boards have voted on wind leases for firms when several of the individual members already had contracts in place for their own farms.  A key issue, the article goes on to discuss, is that there is no statewide (New York) law on wind power, so it is up to the individual towns to decide.  Here’s a link to the article.

If alternative energy is to become more widespread (according to the WSJ, wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%), there will have to be better statewide and national legislation that fast tracks the development of wind farms, solar fields, and other energy sources.  At the same time, a balance has to be struck between speed and careful examination of the intricacies of development (impact on local environments, costs, etc).

Nevertheless, it is no longer debatable that these technologies are needed.  In fact, weaning our country off of foreign oil and developing better domestic, renewable (and clean) energy resources are key elements and ingredients to the future success of our country.  My sincere hope is that the right balance can happen in order to unlock this power and bring jobs to local markets with it.

“Texas to Tel Aviv”: Excellent op-ed piece by Tom Friedman in the NYTimes

I had the chance to read Tom Friedman’s most recent op-ed piece, “Texas To Tel Aviv” in the New York Times today, and felt compelled to share it with the folks who read Sustainable Ink.

The article focuses on two people: T. Boone Pickens and Shai Agassi.  Pickens, who made his fortune in the oil business, is leading a charge to get the United States to devote a significant amount of resources to the development of wind energy.  In fact, he has spent $2 billion of his own money buying land in the Texas Panhandle as well as 700 wind turbines from GE (their largest turbine order ever), in order to create the largest wind farm in the world.  To read more about his efforts, please visit the Pickens Plan website.

Agassi, an Israeli technology guru, launched Project Better Place last year, with the goal of creating a nationwide grid of electric cars in Israel.  The project has a very ambitious mission, but has been gaining traction with car makers and governments.

The reason I wanted to call your attention to the column, and more importantly to these two entrepreneurs with bold visions, is because electric cars and renewable energy are game-changing initiatives that have the potential to have a dramatic impact on the fight against global warming as well as our nation’s addiction to oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.  Pickens and Agassi are showing that doing well while doing good are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Over the last 16 months, my firm has been at the forefront of bringing renewable energy to the marketing industry.  We not only have powered our own plants with wind energy, but created a cooperative group that comprised a half-dozen other firms in our space to do the same.  As a result, we have saved tens of thousands of gallons of oil as well as eliminated more than 1 million pounds of carbon emissions from the atmosphere.  For these efforts, we have been recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Pickens and Agassi are impressive because they are not waiting for the US Congress to act to make renewable energy initiatives easier.  Neither should we.  Each of us in our own way, either personally or organizationally, can do our share to reduce our dependence on oil by moving to renewable energy.  My firm, Grossman Marketing Group, decided that the best way to do this is to use wind power to produce all of our marketing materials.  Our efforts have been endorsed by some of our country’s most reputable environmental organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters and the National Park Foundation.  In addition, many of the nearly 100 clients that have produced their materials with us bearing our proprietary wind power logo have received positive feedback in the marketplace for doing so.

It is incumbent upon us in the marketing industry to do our part to fight global warming and the country’s addiction to oil, and we believe wind power is the best way to make that a reality.

For a link to the full Friedman column, please click here.

NSTAR To Offer Renewable Energy Option To Customers

NSTAR, the Massachusetts-based electric utility, announced this month that starting in July 2008, its customers will be able to purchase wind power. The program, NSTAR Green, will allow customers to either power 50% or 100% of their homes/businesses with wind power.

According to NSTAR, there will be a slight premium charged to basic home customers who enroll in the program (NSTAR estimates that this will add from $4-$7 per month to a customer’s bill). The wind power will be generated at Maple Ridge Wind Farm in upstate New York, before traveling into the New England power grid.

I’m pleased to see NSTAR announce this program, although I’m surprised it took them so long to do so. I met with a member of their senior management last fall to discuss my firm’s wind power initiatives, and explained that I believed NSTAR customers were hungry for green energy options. However, as the saying goes, better late than never.

Although wind energy from other states has just as positive an impact on the environment, it’s too bad that bureaucratic and political issues have delayed the development of wind farms in Massachusetts. Please see my previous post on the subject.

Nevertheless, NSTAR should be congratulated for getting this program off the ground. My hope is that programs like this will spur further wind farm development across the United States, with the overall goal of weaning our country off oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.

BBJ Article on stagnant clean energy development in Mass

I read an article in today’s edition of the Boston Business Journal discussing the bureaucratic and political challenges facing renewable energy development in Massachusetts.

Much has been written about Cape Wind. However, there are other projects being held up, most notably a large wind farm slated for Brodie Mountain in the Berkshires.

For a state that has such a deep interest in technology and renewable energy, and the intellectual and financial capital to make this region a leader in the burgeoning green economy, the article paints a disappointing picture.

Hopefully, enough positive momentum ($135/barrel oil should help move the projects along) and external pressure will enable the planned developments to move to the next stage – this will not only help us reduce our dependence on oil, most of which comes from foreign sources, but will also create new jobs and spur further investment in our region.

Here’s a link to the full article: “State talks a great green energy game, but leaves production to neighbors.”

Looking ahead at the promise of wind power

I have written frequently on the benefits of renewable energy, specifically wind power. It is easy to build, emission free, and uses less than 5% of the land on which turbines are sited.

As a result, wind power is the fastest-growing energy source in the world. It has taken my industry by storm – we see more and more clients who want their products made in plants powered with wind power (using offsets), as it helps send a values-laden message to an organization’s constituents that they are trying to be good stewards of the environment.

And although this is leading to higher wind power costs, as well as rising prices for the turbine equipment (see article from last week in TreeHugger: article), this is not such a bad thing. As the aforementioned article states, “The fact that demand is so high pushes prices upward, but that will only serve to attract more players; investors will see that there’s money to be made with wind power and large industrial companies might shift more resources to their wind power divisions. In fact, demand has been high for long enough to show the market that wind power is not simply a passing fad.”

All of these developments will lead to greater wind power generation capacity which will help the US reduce its dependence on oil, the majority of which comes from foreign sources. It may take a number of years, but the promise is great – as demonstrated in Spain. During one week this spring, wind power accounted for just over 40% of the country’s overall energy demand. And although this number may be a bit high, due to lower-than-normal energy demand, this figure is very exciting and gives us a big goal to shoot for.

Dell’s HQ Switches to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

In further news that renewable energy is a good thing for an organization to adopt, see the news below about Dell, courtesy of GreenBiz.com

OAKLAND, Calif., April 3, 2008 — Energy from wind and landfill gas sources now completely powers Dell Inc.’s 2.1 million square foot headquarters in Austin, Texas, the computer maker said Wednesday.

Dell’s announcement of a deal with Waste Management and TXU Energy Wind Power is part of its bid to achieve carbon neutrality at its owned and leased facilities this year.

Waste Management’s Austin Community Landfill gas-to-energy facility will supply about 40 percent of the power needs at Dell’s headquarters, with the remainder coming from existing wind farms in the state through TXU Energy.

Dell’s Austin Parmer Campus also is seeing an increase in green power, from 8 percent to 17 percent, through Austin Energy. The company’s Twin Falls, Idaho, facility is also powered completely by wind and solar power.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the company said the contract is for a little more than 80 million kilowatt hours per year. Dell declined to say how much the contract was worth, but predicted that green power, which now sells for a slight premium compared to conventional power, could one day sell more cheaply.

Retrofit projects across Dell facilities, such as deploying power management systems and replacing inefficient lighting and air conditioners, save the company $2 million a year.

The news comes just days after the company said it would close a desktop PC manufacturing plant in Austin and lay off as many as 8,800 workers as part of a massive restructuring plan designed to save the company $3 billion during the next three years.

http://www.greenbiz.com/news/news_third.cfm?NewsID=55840

NYTimes article on wind power

The New York Times published an interesting article on the growth of the wind power industry. Definitely a good read for people who are interested in renewable energy.

Please note – photo courtesy of The New York Times (photographer: Brian Harkin).

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February 23, 2008
The Energy Challenge
Move Over, Oil, There’s Money in Texas Wind
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS

SWEETWATER, Tex. — The wind turbines that recently went up on Louis Brooks’s ranch are twice as high as the Statue of Liberty, with blades that span as wide as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. More important from his point of view, he is paid $500 a month apiece to permit 78 of them on his land, with 76 more on the way.

“That’s just money you’re hearing,” he said as they hummed in a brisk breeze recently.

Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3 percent of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines.

To read the entire article, please visit the following website:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/23/business/23wind.html