2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card

From Charlotte Talks, WFAE 90.7 (Charlotte’s NPR Affiliate)

“We’ve talked a lot about sustainability – the state and quality of Charlotte’s air, water, energy use and more – and whether or not Charlotte is headed for a sustainable future. But now, the non-profit Sustain Charlotte has used the power of data to compile and compare nine different categories into one study, the first of its kind. The group rates our local sustainability trends, and compares them to national trends in air quality, energy use, equality and empowerment, food, jobs and income, land use, transportation, waste and water use. So, how are we doing? The report shows we’re making progress on energy use, and the area’s water use per household is lower than the national average. But we’re lagging behind when it comes to transportation and land use. And food insecurity and childhood poverty are on the rise.”

Please download, read and provide feedback on the 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card here… http://www.sustaincharlotte.org/reportcard2014

Funding Clean Energy Projects with Green Bonds

Green Bonds were introduced to the world stage in the mid-2000s by government and public-sector organizations like the European Union and the World Bank as a way to fund international environmental policy programs. The World Bank Group is the largest source of green bonds, issuing about $4 billion since 2008 to address pressing human issues such as poverty, disease, food shortages, air and water pollution resulting from population growth, environmental degradation and regional conflicts.

Today, independent banks and investment firms are issuing their own green bonds that connect socially responsible investors with initiatives to fund clean energy projects that help advance lower-carbon economic solutions while addressing climate change and reducing demands on natural resources. The bonds also provide investors with opportunities to earn tax-exempt income and attract a new subset of investors, which in turn, equates to lower borrowing costs.

Today, even mid-sized and smaller companies are seeking to raise money that support economically viable and environmentally friendly projects around the world. Green Bonds offer them an avenue to fund specific projects such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy or improving energy efficiency by reducing consumption, retrofitting lighting, and building insulation in residential, commercial, and public properties. Holders of the bonds are not exposed directly to the risk of each project. The bond pays interest and repays the principle like any other corporate bond. The banks generally manage the risks and the bondholders invest in a manner that fits their financial goals.

Green Bonds, also called Climate Bonds, are screened and certified by the London-based Climate Bond Standards Board to help investors and governments assess the integrity of the bonds.

What is a Regional Carbon Initiative?

If energy efficiency is considered our fifth fuel (after carbon, nuclear, wind and solar) and our single most important future source of energy, then Regional Carbon Initiatives can help us move towards a low carbon future in our cities and towns.

A Regional Carbon Initiative is a partnership of city leaders, businesses, education and community partners who have a common ‘sustainable vision’ of establishing voluntary energy conservation and emissions reduction goals for industry, facilities and mobility, and taking steps to achieving them.

Such an initiative could be set up to work with existing energy and sustainability programs within communities by taking a collaborative approach to ensure that:

  • Local businesses have access to resources and tools to help them implement low-cost carbon management programs.
  • A standardized framework is used and best practices can be developed and shared among the participants.
  • Carbon inventory methodologies are consistent and allow for benchmarking and regional comparisons.
  • Recognition programs are transparent and address regional requirements and goals already established by local leaders.

Case in point – since May of 2009, Sustainable Waterloo, a non-profit in Ontario, Canada, has focused on advancing energy efficiency and environmental sustainability through collaboration among businesses in their region. It’s member businesses or ‘Pledging Partners’ have access to an easy-to-use Carbon Accounting Tool from  e3 Solutions, Inc, a leading carbon management software provider, to help them quantify their GHG emissions and monitor their reduction commitments. Because of the program’s success, a similar carbon reduction initiative called the Niagara Sustainability Initiative was launched in the neighboring province.

For a Regional Carbon Initiative to be successful in any community, it would be imperative for the sponsors and participating organizations to have easy access to:

  • Carbon accounting processes with reporting tools and templates
  • Support and materials for educational forums and technical workshops
  • Documentation for carbon emission calculations and protocol definition
  • Training for the sponsoring partner’s team and pledging partners
  • Industry specific metrics and key performance indicator

With the support of local partners, comprehensive programs like these can be set up with tools and techniques to help local organizations achieve their carbon reduction targets at little or no cost to them. Because these programs makes it convenient for small to mid-sized entities to participate, they would engender a sense of inclusion and draw broad support from the community at large. Furthermore, they would complement the efforts of other groups in the area already committed to being at the forefront of business, energy and environmental leadership.

VerdantIS can help set up these kinds of initiatives.

Innovation in the new energy economy.

The growing demand for energy around the globe is one of the most significant issues affecting our future, and while we still rely primarily on fossil fuels, economic shifts, political upheaval and price shocks are making the development of sustainable energy sources increasingly vital.

We are in a period of transition where the access to abundant oil and natural gas in the US is being shaped by new geopolitical forces around the world. Therefore, it is important to understand both the economic and environmental costs and benefits of this change and how the wave of  innovations in this crucial sector will drive economic growth in the future.

Here are some important considering:

  • Sometime around 2020, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest oil consumer.
  • The real risks with regard to oil have less to do with the world’s supply and more to do with geopolitics and security.
  • Wind energy has made remarkable advances in recent years and is now firmly established as a major source of power.
  • Breakthroughs and innovations across the energy spectrum will hold the key to our energy future.

What we need today is a national energy and environmental policy that establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for emissions reporting along with an extension of grants, loans, rebates and other funding opportunities for cleantech solutions to become competitive in the marketplace.

What is the global promise of cleantech?

According to some industry estimates, one-third of the world’s energy will need to come from solar, wind and other renewable resources by the middle of this century to supplement fossil fuel. Companies that work in this space, also known as ‘cleantech’, have made inroads into meeting the world’s rapidly growing energy demands. But as with any emerging industry, these companies face their fair share of growing pains.

There are primarily eight sectors to consider in the renewables space: Wind – 32%, Solar – 29%, Water – 11.9%, Fuels – 8.1%, Storage – 7.8%, Smart Grid – 7.2%, Geothermal – 2.2% and Waste – 1.8%. Today, wind and solar account for two-thirds of the energy from renewables but we also have some fast growing areas like smart grid, for example. Whereas wind is primarily used in Europe, solar is virtually everywhere but it is expensive relative to the alternatives of cheap carbon-based fuels. Also, there is an oversupply of energy producers in market with too many vendors so we should expect to see some consolidation in the years ahead. Wind and solar account for 30% to 40% of the market cap in the US from an investment perspective but several Chinese manufacturers have recently gone public and they now control about half the solar market.

The challenge for renewables is that low natural gas prices set the bar too high for them to jump over. Still, we can expect to see a lot of good innovations like LED  lighting and transportation with bio-fuels, natural gas and electric vehicles come to market rapidly.

What is needed to promote the growth of cleantech is the extension of government-based incentives to advance innovation and ultimately reduce the cost of production. Some of the energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives in place today include:

1. US Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program to support energy technology development, funding, and new job creation.

2.  2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act block grants to allow federal, state and local government to invest in energy efficiency and conservation programs.

3.  US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program to provide grant assistance to ranchers, farmers, and rural-based small businesses.

4. State Clean Energy Funds to support large numbers of renewable energy programs, including biomass, wind, solar, and hydro projects.

5. Utility Rebate Programs to provide customers, including government, nonprofit organizations, commercial businesses, and residential, to receives rebates for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems.

6.  Federal DOE Incentives for Public Sector Organizations to allow state and local governments, municipal utilities, rural elective cooperative, and tribal governments to be paid 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour for the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources.

7.  Federal Investment Tax Credits to decrease income taxes by 30% or all eligible tax-paying owners, businesses and residences, on capital investments made on renewable energy projects.

8.  State Public Benefit Funds to provide financial support through small surcharges on utility bills of customers for solar hot water, photovoltaic, geothermal heat pumps, wind, and farm and landfill gas recovery projects.

9.  Cooperative Research and Development Agreements arranged by the U.S. Department of Energy to create partnerships between a national laboratory and private sector partner to increase research and development into renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

10. Energy Star Special Offers and Rebates to promote the purchase of energy efficient products by businesses and homeowners. Energy Star sponsors a number of rebate programs and sales tax exemptions on various eligible products.