Kansas teacher has skin in the solar game—literally

March 24, 2021

This article is from the March 24, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

Have you ever met someone with an intense love for their work—and a tattoo to prove it? Enter: Stan Bergkamp. He’s a physics teacher at Maize High School (outside of Wichita, Kansas) that worked tirelessly to bring solar (the largest array in the state) to his school. His passion for solar bleeds out of him—literally: He got a tattoo in honor of the solar array after his students surpassed their fundraising goal. He’s a knock-your-socks-off kind of person filled with joy and enthusiasm for solar. (If he had taught us physics, maybe we would have paid attention.)

Stan embodies the idea at the core of Generation180’s work: that everyday people like you can be the spark for change in your community. Here is our interview with him, edited for length and clarity.


Generation180: What gave you the idea to bring solar to your school?

Stan Bergkamp: The path to solar chose me. It started in the summer of 2016. I saw the savings I realized from having solar on my ranch and knew the school district should purchase solar since it would be a worthy return on investment. I don’t have any kids of my own and have dedicated my life to teaching.  I could’ve decided to sit back and retire, but this solar project is something that I felt I had to do. I learned in the Peace Corps that I can’t change the world, but I can change my little corner of it. 

“This is my drop in the bucket. If enough people make enough drops, we make a difference.”

When I started this project, one of the first things I searched for was schools that have solar. I found on Generation180’s map [of schools with solar] that there was a huge void from Kansas to Dallas, TX. That was one of my goals: to put Maize on the map as the biggest school array in the state of Kansas. I wanted them to click on us. (I really wanted the biggest from Canada to Mexico, but Texas still beats us by a bit). 

At first, I sought donations for the array by holding events and reaching out to former students. I got so caught up in the project and knew it was going to work, I didn’t even think about failure. I reached a tipping point in donations and it grew momentum. The stars aligned for us on solar. 

In the end, we raised enough money and formed an LLC to take advantage of the federal tax credit. In June of 2019, the 240kW system went online. To date, we’ve saved $50,000, already an 8 percent return on investment. It’s been an incredible journey. 

Stan Bergkamp at the solar dedication ceremony with his students at Maize High School in Maize, Kansas.

G180: How did the community and school board perceive the clean energy project? Were they supportive?

SB: The school board and superintendent provided the legal and financial support to get the project started. I told the board to imagine dropping a stone in the water, that’s what this project will do. I’ve since seen the project’s ripple effect throughout the community and other schools taking notice. I had another superintendent in Kansas call me, and I’m going to present to their school board.

The district approved, but they didn’t have to pay upfront costs. We did go through some legal hoops and they were supportive behind the scenes. The best thing that ever happened is that the district didn’t have to write the check, and that it was a community effort. Community buy-in is just as important as the pure cost savings of solar themselves. The kids can now say, “I helped make that happen.” I’ve had people ask what my kids will remember from my class in ten years. A student of mine in the room chimed in and said:

 “We’re going to remember that Bergkamp taught us that we can change the world.”

G180: What do your students think about the project? Has it impacted any of their career choices or interests?

SB: I’ve seen a groundswell of support from my students. Last week I got an email from a  former student at the University of Kansas who joined the solar car team and is pursuing mechanical engineering. I‘ve had so many at the college level circling back to me to get the live solar array data for a project and to share this story.

I’m glad it ended up not [being installed] on the roof and out of sight. Since it’s a ground-mount, the kids drive by and see it, and they can say “I was part of that.” Kind of like [Kevin] Costner’s “if they build it they will come.”

I ended up entering into a bet with them that if they raised $3,000, I would get this sketch tattooed on me.

I got a thank you note from a former student, with a sketch of me and the solar array on the backside. After some creative high-school chatter and persuasion, I ended up entering into a bet with them that if they raised $3,000, I would get this sketch tattooed on me. I was confident they could not raise this amount, but here we are. Social media worked in their favor. We also all got t-shirts made that say “we all have skin in the solar game.” It is a wonderful reminder that this solar project enabled them to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

G180: What learning opportunities has the array created for your students?

SB:  The solar array transformed the landscape into an outdoor energy classroom. Our science classes use the live data in lessons. We’ve ceded the land around the school back to native grasses. Eventually, it is going to transform into a full living classroom to study solar, ecology, and wetlands – it’s the conference of a whole cycle of energy systems. Our science classes use the live data in lessons, and grade school classes can come over to visit to study science, too. 

G180: There’s a lot of momentum building right now for clean energy across the country. What’s next, and what inspires you?

SB: Most schools won’t have a Stan Bergkamp, nor an individual donor willing to take the risk, so we need a policy change to enable all schools to go solar. My dream legislative goal is to pass a green bond to equip all schools with solar. I also want to get batteries to be the first school microgrid in Kansas and to enable us to go off the grid. Solar + storage is the future for schools.

As important as teaching them how solar energy works was showing the kids that I had a vision and was willing to put in work to achieve it. The students have embraced solar and it is symbiotic: we feed off of each other’s energy. These kids, unlike my generation who sees climate change as a political football, have read the climate reports and made the connection. They have more skin in this game and are dedicated to using their voice to make a difference, so that gives me hope to keep going.


Want to bring solar to your school? Check out our library of resources and How-to Guide to help kick-off a campaign. 

Still curious about Stan? Check out this video (filmed in July 2019) to get a sense of the passion he brings to the classroom. 


Thor’s hammer and the fight against fossil fuels

March 19, 2021

As energy consumers, we’re on the front lines of an important battle. Until recently, we didn’t have much say in where we got the electricity we need to power our lives, or how much we paid for this privilege. Our energy choices were dictated to us from the outside, and we either had to be willing participants in the system or…live off the grid.

But with new energy technologies, we’re gaining the upper hand—and we have a formidable weapon on our side. As distributed solar power gets better and cheaper, we’ve been handed a metaphorical hammer of Thor: we’re literally pulling energy from the sky and into our homes, creating electricity out of seemingly nothing—and in doing so we’re hastening the end of a world powered by fossil fuels.

What’s happening when you tap into the power of solar—more or less.

Vanquishing our past

Compared to distributed solar—generated locally from our own rooftops and from community solar farms—the way we’ve powered our lives for the past 100 years or so seems altogether antiquated. The majority of our electricity today (63 percent) comes from fossil fuels (mainly coal and natural gas), burned in the thousands of large power plants across the country. The electricity then travels along a vast network of high-voltage transmission and distribution lines, and on average 5 percent of it is lost before it even reaches our homes.

Dispatchers engage in a complex logistical shuffle as they deliver electricity from a dizzying array of sources. With so many variables to account for, the price we pay for our daily power fluctuates widely depending on factors like fuel costs, power plant operations, the transmission and distribution system, weather conditions, and overall energy regulations.

With distributed solar, the picture is profoundly different. Because distributed solar is local energy, the electricity never has to travel far from its source, eliminating a lot of the complexity in generation, transmission, and distribution. With rooftop solar, the electricity generated from your panels might travel a few hundred feet to your outlets and switches. In the case of a community solar farm that powers a large apartment or a whole neighborhood, the pathway might be slightly longer, but still nothing like the extensive grid networks we’re used to seeing.


The New…Valhalla?

Why else is distributed solar a hands-down superior power technology compared to our conventional fossil fuel-based power system? Consider the following:

  • Consumer independence: Because the sun’s energy is essentially “free,” by investing in distributed solar anyone can become their own power plant. By not being completely beholden to an outside power authority, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re increasing your control of your own energy destiny.
  • Annual energy costs: Residential solar is the gift that keeps on giving. Once you’ve invested the initial upfront cost, you’re essentially locking in your energy costs at a low constant rate. Over a 20-year period, the estimated savings from solar can range from $10,000 to almost $30,000, depending where you live (check out electricity rates by state here).
  • Pollution: Solar brings big savings for our air, water, and health. The average 6 kilowatt residential solar system in the U.S. reduces about 6.3 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, roughly equivalent to taking one fossil fuel automobile off the road each year.
  • Energy storage: Although most distributed solar systems today are still connected to the grid, new battery storage systems make it possible for households with solar panels to store their excess power for use at times when the sun doesn’t shine, reducing and even eliminating reliance on the grid.
  • Resilience: During a power outage related to a storm or extreme weather event, a solar photovoltaic system with battery storage can be a cost-effective option for keeping the electricity flowing, even compared to running a diesel generator.
  • Energy security: With distributed solar, you aren’t subject to the physical threats to the grid from cyber and terrorist attacks, and you don’t have to rely on energy purchased from potentially unstable locations, such as the Middle East. By “voting solar” with your wallet, you can step out from under the utility monopolies and oil and gas cartels.

None of us are omnipotent, but we can all use our power as consumers to move our energy system from an endless cycle of mining, drilling, refining, and polluting to one that requires zero fuel and results in zero air pollution and emissions. In making the transition to distributed solar, we can seize the power of Thor’s hammer and leave behind an outdated, inferior 20th century energy system.


How my weed eater ushered me into the 21st century

March 17, 2021

This article is from the March 17, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

Gen180’s Matt Turner wrote this post back in late 2018; as spring 2021 arrives (thank goodness), it’s as relevant as ever. A 2021 update at the end checks back in on Matt’s life today, 2.5 years after writing the initial post.

The broken cord just hung there, yellowed with age and not sure of what to do or what to be. This particular cord had held for seven years and had served its purpose well—until this balmy July afternoon.

It used to be the pull cord for a weed trimmer. For years, it would faithfully listen to my grunts and curses as I abused it, struggling to start it up again after a long winter. It would wait patiently as I mixed my two-cycle gas like a chemist in a lab, primed the carburetor with the rubber squeeze bulb, and opened the choke. Then I would aggressively yank that cord like it had slighted me.

Inevitably, after minutes of enduring my frustration, the pull cord would do its job and turn the crankshaft to start the engine. I always had a sense of accomplishment when it started—like I had tamed some fearsome beast.


Tamed by the beast

But on this particular midsummer’s day, the pull cord failed me. After one pull, it snapped. I was left abandoned with a weed trimmer full of gas and ready to work, but with no key to ignite the fires within. I consider myself somewhat handy with tools and basic car repairs, so I was certain that with a little time and research, I could replace a simple pull cord.

As I opened the plastic paneling to reveal the cord housing, I realized that I’d slacked on quite a bit of maintenance over the years. Yes, the pull cord needed replacing, but so did the air filter, the fuel filter, and the spark plug, all of which were original to the machine and, according to the manufacturer, should have been replaced long ago.

After ordering the parts I needed, they arrived at my door within a week. I got to work the next available weekend. Garage open, tools out, music on, I began with the confidence of a seasoned surgeon ready to save a life.

After five hours of blood, sweat, and frustration, I stood back and looked at my handiwork. The concrete floor was permanently stained with fuel, my hands were covered in seven-year-old gunk and blood, and tools were splayed across the floor. I pulled the cord, and nothing happened. Two more times—nothing. Twenty minutes later, still no luck.

Five hours spent repairing a machine that is suppose to make my life easier. Five hours that I could’ve spent watching the game, or fixing that sink leak I’d been meaning to get to, or playing with my daughters. Five hours wasted.

Standing in my garage, I spotted the oil drip under the car that had been slowly leaking for months, and the SUV that had been having transmission issues, and the lawn mower that likely needed the same maintenance as the weed trimmer.

These problems are decades old. It’s 2018. There’s got to be a better way of doing things by now.


Better living with electricity

A good friend of mine who worked in landscaping recommended that I look into getting a new weed trimmer, but this time one that swaps out the internal combustion engine, the carburetor, the pull cord, the spark plug, and the fuel—all for a single battery. It sounded appealing.

After a little research, I found that the battery-powered trimmer cost about as much as the gas-powered one, and the reviews for the battery version were actually better. So I decided to make the jump to my first electric engine.

This isn’t a story to tell you how much I love my new weed trimmer (though I do) because it’s quieter (it is), saves me money (it does), weighs less (yup), and has better performance (that too). It’s the story of how I realized there’s a better way of doing things than we’ve done before.

These problems are decades old. There’s got to be a better way of doing things by now.

I don’t own an electric car yet, but I know that my next car will be one. The cost savings, convenience, performance, and overall experience of electric engines just blows the alternative out of the water. I didn’t start that summer day thinking I’d buy into the “electrify everything” movement. But I came out of it knowing that I’d never look back.

There’s probably some esoteric insight into how my journey from gas-powered small engine frustrations to electric engine happiness is a metaphor for the world’s current state of wrestling with the abundance of gas-powered vehicles and the need for cleaner power. But really, the insight is much simpler: there’s just a better way of doing things now, and it’s electric.

2021 update:

It’s been two and half years since I opened the door to the electrification of everything. That door turned out to be the lid to a pandora’s box of better (and cleaner) ways of doing things. In the spring of 2019 I purchased an electric mower. That same summer I purchased a used electric car and in the fall, we took it one step further and installed solar on our home. With every transition we’ve made there has been a marked improvement in our lives. I can confirm through first-hand experience, there’s definitely no going back.

It feels good that I’m now able to align my actions with what I believe in (cleaner air is better air)—but electrification really is just a better experience. My kids love how quiet and clean our electric car is. Even before getting solar, our EV cut our “fuel” costs in half. When coupled with solar panels, we were able to exchange our $300+ electricity/gasoline combined monthly costs for a $100 per month solar loan—a no brainer decision. I can now see the word-of-mouth effect of my solar panels and EV starting a ripple of positive impact in my family and my neighborhood.

There is still so much work to be done to make these solutions more accessible to more people. While the market is moving things in the right direction (e.g., more used and affordable EVs available for sale, improving technology making solar panels, HVAC, and yard tools cheaper to produce) the science is pretty clear that we need to step on the accelerator in a big way. Find ways that you’re able to get involved (one place to start) and get busy. 

Matt Turner, Creative Manager at Generation180


CBS This Morning spotlights Generation180 and Arkansas school district

March 16, 2021

Because we need all the good news we can get these days, stories like this one from CBS This Morning are worth celebrating. The segment talks about the growing adoption of solar nationwide and spotlights data from our 2020 Brighter Future report. The story features the solar success of Batesville School District in Arkansas, and we were excited to help facilitate the story’s production and provide data around the larger trend of solar on K-12 schools.

If “Batesville, Arkansas” rings a bell for some of you, it’s because we highlighted it in our 2020 Brighter Future report. Thanks to their leadership, the district is saving nearly $100,000 each year—and has channeled much of those savings into teacher pay raises of up to $15,000/teacher. It’s a flat out, slam dunk, win-win, grab-a-kleenex, real-life story—and exactly the kind of good news we aim to spread widely.

So watch the segment and then share it with someone who needs a dose of positivity!

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Whether you’re a parent, city leader, or solar advocate, our Solar for All Schools campaign can help you bring solar to your community.

We have the most comprehensive database of solar schools in the country—and it’s all on a searchable map. Our 2020 Brighter Future Report outlines how and why schools are going solar across the country and features a How-To guide to equip you to get started. Our Help Desk offers a wealth of educational resources for the classroom, an introduction to solar financing and PPAs, and outlines relevant state energy policies. Dive in and get started!


Corporate America: we’re with you! (And we’re watching you.)

March 10, 2021

This article is from the March 10, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

It seems almost daily we’re hearing another awesome corporate pledge to meet new clean energy goals. This is a GOOD thing. Corporate commitments, from automakers, investment firms, and energy companies, are exciting market signals that we’re headed in the right direction. The challenge now will be to move from aspiration to action—and so far, the scorecard for business is mixed.

While many companies are indeed beginning to follow through, it won’t be easy for some major companies, especially those with longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry, to simply shift their business models overnight, or even to break free from decades of a head-in-the-sand mentality steeped in climate denial and deception. Despite their admirable pledges, these businesses are showing that while talk is cheap, follow-through is a heck of a lot harder. It’s clear that, when it comes to ensuring corporate promises are delivered upon, increased regulatory and public pressure will be key.

Below are a few examples of how, when the rubber actually meets the road, businesses are squirming to shirk their climate commitments—and why we need to keep up the pressure on them to do better.

Exhibit A: Companies at Climate Risk

A big sticking point right now is whether the U.S. government should require companies to disclose the risks they face related to climate change—including potential financial losses related to extreme weather or rising sea levels. Proposed legislation would make it mandatory for thousands of companies (including banks, manufacturers, and energy producers) to use a standardized method to inform investors about social and environmental risks. Supporters say it’s a critical step toward reducing emissions, and that companies owe it to investors to share potential risks, especially if the information could affect a company’s stock price.

The challenge now will be to move from aspiration to action—and so far, the scorecard for business is mixed.

Some businesses are on board and see the benefits of greater transparency on climate. In response to investor demands, several countries, including the U.K., have moved to make climate risk disclosures mandatory. But major companies in the U.S. continue to oppose such regulation, preferring instead to self-police. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, considered by some to be a corporate climate leader, instead supports a voluntary global reporting standard, arguing that federal oversight is unnecessary and would introduce legal pitfalls for companies. Business groups are calling for flexible disclosure requirements along the lines of those being developed by the G20-led Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures—but these would be far laxer and harder to verify.

Corporate leaders with empty plans and promises

Exhibit B: Is fossil fuel divestment actually happening?

Worldwide, banks, insurance firms, and other big investors are under growing pressure to stop loaning money to fossil fuel companies, buying their stocks, and underwriting their expansion plans. Activists have issued widespread calls for investors to divest from dirty fossil fuels, and so far more than 1,300 institutions have made this commitment, keeping an estimated $14 trillion out of coal, oil, and gas development. In theory, big companies would support fossil fuel divestment, since it provides them a way to honor their climate commitments and to support wider net-zero emission and carbon neutrality goals.

But that’s not necessarily what’s happening. For example, although BlackRock vowed to divest from coal-mining companies a year ago, it still holds $85 billion in coal investments, and at a recent virtual forum CEO Fink disparaged divestment efforts as “greenwashing.” The CEO of Bank of America, the world’s fourth-largest financier of fossil fuels, also dragged his feet on the issue. Climate activist and writer Bill McKibben called this response from the financial community “rigid and so short-sighted,” concluding that “the money men were saying, essentially, go to Hell” and were engaging in their own form of greenwashing through “dodges that, for the time being, allow them to keep lending vast sums of money to the fossil-fuel industry while insisting that they’re very worried.”

Exhibit C: Carbon offsets don’t do nearly enough

Finally, let’s take a look at the steps that companies are actually taking to achieve their net-zero or climate neutrality ambitions. In many cases, the solution is carbon offsets: rather than directly reducing their own emissions, companies seek to lower their environmental impact by supporting “carbon dioxide removal” elsewhere, such as through reforestation efforts. Dozens of large companies, including Apple, Walmart and British Airways, have cited carbon dioxide removal in their pledges for climate neutrality. Shell, for example, aims to achieve its net-zero emission goals by capturing 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year through “nature-based” offsets by 2030. Meanwhile, the company still plans to spend handsomely on oil and gas and to increase its fossil fuel output.

Because of planetary limits, the total volume of offsets that companies rely on will quickly exceed the planet’s ability to provide them…

The problem is, offsets alone won’t do the trick. As Bloomberg columnist Kate Mackenzie explains, companies are making unrealistic assumptions about the “negative emissions” that would come with carbon dioxide removal. Because of planetary limits, the total volume of offsets that companies rely on will quickly exceed the planet’s ability to provide them; yet, recent net-zero commitments “behave as though these constraints don’t exist.” Without genuine action to actually slash emissions in the near term, Mackenzie writes, “net zero risks becoming a fairytale providing cover for the heavy-emitting industries, particularly those in the fossil fuel sector who have aggressively blocked climate action.”

Looking ahead

It’s still not totally apparent how some big companies—particularly the world’s major polluters—will be able to achieve their climate commitments without drastic changes in how they operate. But it’s clear that moving forward, they’ll need to provide more specifics about their intentions. This means providing information on the risks they actually face from climate change, how they’ll shift their investments from fossil fuels, and what they’ll actually do to slash (not just offset) their emissions in the near term. (By near term, we’re talking the next 10-15 years, the urgent timeline we face to really get emissions under control.) Despite admirable commitments, the danger of corporate greenwashing remains very real, and we need to remain vigilant to ensure that ambitious words are followed by genuine, impactful action.

Head here to see a list and track progress of some of the biggest corporate players’ commitments; head here for help with personal fossil-free investing.


Who’s politicizing clean energy? The case of Texas

March 3, 2021

This article is from the March 3, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

Last month’s power system failure in Texas was a fiasco, and we can learn a lot from it about what not to do. One takeaway that should not go unnoticed: how politicized the energy climate in our country has become. People were freezing, many with no running water, and even before the facts were out, the disaster became all about politics. Well-known, mostly conservative, politicians and media personalities quickly (and falsely) placed the blame for the mass power outages on the state’s renewable energy supply—a mistruth that is only going to make it harder for us to get to the clean energy future we need.

So, why did this impromptu misinformation campaign happen? What’s the benefit of bashing renewables, which are not only widely popular (90% of Americans support more solar, 83% more wind), but are also helping make the U.S. more resilient, from both a climate and economic perspective? The answer is…well, politics. And money. Unfortunately, how we get our electricity, and from whom, isn’t just about identifying the cheapest and most abundant energy source and then flipping the switch. It’s a high-stakes game, and the fossil fuel industry isn’t ready to give up its (very large) piece of the pie. The Texas fiasco can be viewed as a perfect case study in how the fossil fuel disinformation machine perpetuates.

What actually happened in Texas?

Essentially, the Texas disaster was an unfortunate combination of a freakish weather event (which science suggests is made more likely by climate change) and a severe lack of preparedness on the part of the state’s power suppliers. A bitter cold snap hit the region, freezing up critical equipment at natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants (as well as non-winterized wind turbines) and knocking out generators at a time when natural gas supplies were already strained. At the same time, people began cranking up their heat, creating a surge in electricity demand that couldn’t be met with the available supply (in a scenario that far exceeded worst-case planning). With more than a third of the system’s generation capacity offline—almost all of it provided by crippled gas plants—the state grid operator had to declare a supply emergency. Utilities had to impose forced outages. The suffering that followed, including freezing indoor temperatures, deaths, and absurdly high power bills, is well-publicized by now.

The Texas fiasco can be viewed as a perfect case study in how the fossil fuel disinformation machine perpetuates.

The crisis affected the entire energy system. It was a systemwide failure that ended up slashing the capacity of both thermal (gas, coal and nuclear) and renewable power sources. The fiasco also reflected a failure of regulation, since much of the Texas power system is separate from the main U.S. grid, and oversight lies with the state legislature, which favors deregulation. Plant operators have been lax in weatherproofing their systems, and the state opted against paying suppliers to maintain reserve power capacity, relying instead on market forces to dictate electricity supply and distribution.

Lies and deflection

Despite these systemwide challenges, some took the crisis as an opportunity to zero in on clean energy. Even though wind power accounts for only around 10 percent of Texas’ power capacity during winter months, conservative politicians and commentators began falsely stating that the state’s expansion into wind was the key reason for the blackouts. In a Fox News interview, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated that the shutdown of wind and solar generators “thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power”—even though he’d noted elsewhere that the impaired natural gas supplies were largely to blame. The lies were widely shared on social media, and a 2014 photo of iced-up wind turbines in Sweden was retweeted by thousands as “proof” of the severity of the Texas wind power freeze.

Proponents of the false claims also used the crisis as an opportunity to bash clean energy and climate efforts more widely. Personalities like Fox News host Tucker Carlson and House Republicans Dan Crenshaw (TX), Andy Barr (KY), and Lauren Boebert (CO) tweeted that pro-renewables legislation like the Green New Deal would “lead to situations like in Texas.” Conservative voices called the Texas power failures an example of Democratic mismanagement, and a Wall Street Journal editorial on the events observed that trying to eliminate natural gas and coal posed “a greater existential threat to Americans than climate change.” As the GOP disinformation campaign raged, MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes described it as a right-wing attempt “to turn Texas power outages into a culture war.”

Following the money

The common thread? Virtually all the “experts” commenting on Texas’ power situation on conservative media outlets, and the politicians parroting the lies about wind’s complicity in the blackouts, have links to the fossil fuel industry. Texas Senator John Cornyn, who shared the “renewables caused the blackout” story on social media, is a top Congressional recipient of oil and gas money, and Rep. Boebert and others have received extensive fossil fuel contributions. It’s a classic case of spreading disinformation for political and economic gain, and all you need to do is “follow the money.” The fossil fuel industry gets enormous subsidies, so in turn it exerts enormous financial influence to keep the status quo. All in all, this situation continues to politicize and poison the conversation around clean energy, making it much harder to get us where we need to be, even if the science is increasingly clear.

Virtually all the “experts” commenting on Texas’ power situation on conservative media outlets…have links to the fossil fuel industry.

Even after it became evident that wind capacity failures played only a very small part in the Texas power crisis, no politicians retracted their retweets of the false “frozen turbines” narrative. Ultimately, thermal energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as renewable sources, and many wind and solar plants in fact continued to produce energy during the freeze and in some cases exceeded expectations. “Wind was operating almost as well as expected,” said energy consultant Sam Newell, who noted that natural gas, coal and nuclear plants were down significantly more.

Wind is great for the state

The absurdity of all this, of course, is that wind power has been a huge boon to Texas. Over the whole year (not just during winter), the state gets around a quarter of its total energy supply from wind (and just over half from natural gas). Texas is the biggest wind power producer in the U.S. as well as a big player globally. Ironically the state became a wind rockstar after former governor (later U.S. president) George W. Bush—a Republican—signed a law in the 1980s deregulating the state’s power market, which opened it to new sources like solar and wind. Recognizing Texas’ abundant wind resources, the government invested $7 billion to build high power transmission lines to deliver clean, cheap wind power around the state.

Clean energy is also protecting Texas against climate change. Last July, Houston, a city hit hard by the recent blackouts, began purchasing 100 percent renewables for municipal operations, the first step in a city-wide goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Given that climate change will make weather events like this more frequent and more severe, Texas needs to be prepared to deal with future weather extremes. Key to future-proofing the grid and making the power supply more resilient is moving toward a more nimble, “smarter” grid fueled with growing shares of wind and solar. These efforts will also prepare the grid for future power demand as we begin to electrify everything on the path to net-zero emissions.

Getting real

However, this will all take much, much longer if the false narratives about clean energy continue to make the rounds. As Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, stated recently: “We need to actually dismantle the industry’s disinformation machine…The failure of fossil fuels is what’s causing the blackout. We need to be out in front, putting the truth on offense. Reality is on our side: from now on, let’s make the fossil fuel industry respond to us, not the other way around.” We need to shift the narrative so that politicians acknowledge, not deny, the enormous opportunity that clean energy brings in making our country more livable and getting us through the climate crisis.


It’s time to celebrate Virginia’s new EV policies

March 2, 2021

Bust out some bubbly, y’all: the 2021 General Assembly, which officially wrapped up yesterday (Monday 3/1), took huge strides to electrify Virginia’s transportation sector, the leading source of carbon emissions in the state.

This progress came on the heels of last year’s historic session, in which Virginia adopted landmark legislation to transition the state to a clean energy economy. It’s worth taking a moment to understand what these new EV policies mean for Virginians, outline what we need to do next, and—most importantly—celebrate a bit. We’ve made fantastic progress, and it’s time to keep the momentum going.

With support from a broad coalition of environmental nonprofits, industry voices, and constituents, five bills that promote electric vehicles successfully passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Earlier in the session, Del. David Reid, chief patron of the EV rebate, summarized the key areas that the package of legislation helps address: “These bills are part of a comprehensive program to address the supply, demand, infrastructure, and funding components of a broader electric mobility transition, with a particular focus on helping low-income Virginians.” The simple goal that these bills work toward: make it as easy as possible—as quickly as possible—for all Virginians to switch from a gas-powered ride to an electric one. 

Here’s an overview of what this means for you and how we keep the up the momentum moving forward:

What this means for Virginians

At this point in the game, everyone agrees that electrifying transportation is a crucial step in any state (or country’s) shift to a 21st-century clean energy economy. It’s a step that will bring a myriad of recognized economic, public health, and climate benefits. 

Economically, these bills will better position Virginia today to capture the economic benefits of tomorrow. With over half (53%) of Virginians saying they’re likely to consider an EV for their next car and nearly 100 new electric models (including SUVs and pickup trucks) set to hit the market by the end of 2024, waiting to get on the EV bandwagon would’ve meant missing out on major economic opportunity. 

Economically, these bills will better position Virginia today to capture the economic benefits of tomorrow.

Another result: Virginians are on their way to cleaner air and better public health.  Making EVs more available on dealership lots and more affordable to Virginians across the economic spectrum will do real work tackling an air pollution problem that accounts for 92 deaths, 2,600 cases of exacerbated asthma, and 10,000 lost workdays in Virginia every year. Cruelly, this suffering hits communities of color and vulnerable populations the hardest, research shows. The EV Charging Infrastructure bill, additionally, requires the State Corporation Commission to focus charging policy proposals on low-income, minority, and rural communities.

Lastly, these bills together are a strong response to a critical window of opportunity in the climate crisis. Given that most of these bills will take years to kick in, get funded, or have an impact, it was vital that Virginia start tackling its largest source of carbon emissions: transportation. There’s simply no time to waste.

Here’s a quick summary of what each bill will do:

  • Availability of EVs: the Advanced Clean Car Standards will require manufacturers to send more EVs to Virginia’s auto dealers
  • Affordability of EVs: the EV Rebate Program will reduce the upfront price of new and used EVs by $2,500 (and more for low- and moderate-income buyers)
  • EV buses for Schools: the EV Grant Fund and Program creates a new fund can receive federal or philanthropic dollars and use them to help schools replace diesel school buses with electric ones
  • EV chargers: the EV Charging Infrastructure bill directs Virginia’s public utility commission (the State Corporation Commission) to consider transportation electrification policies and ensure better access to charging stations across the state.
  • Include EV charging in the bigger plan: The Virginia Energy Plan & EV Infrastructure bill amends the Virginia Energy Plan to include an analysis of electric vehicle charging infrastructure needed to support the 2045 net-zero carbon target in the transportation sector.

What needs to happen next

There are two main things that need to happen in order to build off this positive momentum: 1) legislators need to put the money where their mouth is, and 2) constituents like us need to make clean energy action a priority in this November’s election.

Two of the bills, the EV Rebate Program and the EV Grant Fund and Program, now need funding. Without funding, of course, these programs won’t functionally exist. While passing them is indeed a win worth celebrating, each has a critical second step. This step must be taken in the 2022 General Assembly session.

Two of the bills, the EV Rebate Program and the EV Grant Fund and Program, now need funding.

Secondly, all House of Delegate seats are up for reelection this year. This is the moment when voters can have their most direct impact on the system. Ask candidates how they’ll continue this momentum that’s been building over the last two years. Put your energy behind candidates that prioritize clean energy. It’s hard to overstate that forward progress is essential; we don’t have time to pause, move sideways, or (please, no) move backwards.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate: Virginia now has a suite of electric vehicle bills that match the urgency of the moment. Let’s keep Virginia moving in the right direction.

Live in Virginia? Use our tool to quickly send your elected officials a “thank you” email.