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Solar and Farming Go Together Like Turkey and Mashed Potatoes

November 23, 2022

If the thought of pouring rich gravy over your turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving has you salivating, you’re not alone. The two go together perfectly.

But you know what’s even better? When those potatoes are grown using dual-use agrivoltaics, a new idea that’s gaining momentum across the country.

It may sound complicated, but dual-use agrivoltaics is a simple concept. By placing solar panels over their fields, farmers can generate clean energy and grow food on the same plot of land – in football terms, you might even call it a “double-header” or “two-fer”. Depending on the crop, seeds are planted underneath or in between rows of panels and create a win-win situation by keeping farmland in production while generating renewable energy.

This is a climate solution we’re ready to get behind. While schools, malls, and other large parking structures are obvious choices for distributed solar—farmers are now getting in on the action with their wide swaths of open fields.

Photo credit: NPR

Farmers across the country are finding that many crops benefit from the shade and moisture that solar panels provide, and also like the extra income each month from the electricity generation. Just like mashed potatoes and gravy are good on their own, but mouth watering when combined, solar and agriculture are just better together.

Here’s why it’s so important that we expand this technology.

Solar is essential for a fossil fuel-free future

Just about any scenario in which humanity breaks ties with fossil fuels involves solar playing a starring role. A recent study from the Net Zero America project, initiated by Princeton University, highlights this point; for America to be powered entirely sans-carbon in 2050, solar production will have to ramp up more than 20x today’s current load.

The science is clear that we need a lot more solar. But, where are we going to put all these panels, and will they come at the expense of food production? Which communities stand to benefit from this energy revolution, and which will get the short end of the stick?

When done right, all parties—farmers, solar companies, and everyone in between—can reap the rewards. Research shows that when leveraging agrivoltaics, “solar panels provide shade for plants to grow more efficiently with less water, [while] the cooler and wetter microclimate created by the plants helps the solar panels cool down and operate more efficiently.” Sounds pretty symbiotic.

Solar-blueberry researchers

Photo credit: University of Maine Extension

Not all crops thrive underneath panels. A project in Massachusetts had better results with cranberries than blueberries, and peppers in Arizona have done especially well. It seems that leafy greens, potatoes, and carrots are some of the best-suited crops for agrivoltaics, since the shade helps them thrive.

Speaking for the trees… and solar panels

The people of Virginia are facing this topic head on. The Randolph Solar Project is a massive undertaking in the middle of the state, which requires the clearing of 3,500 acres of forest to make room for the enormous array. In return for the cleared land, the people of Virginia stand to gain over 1,000 jobs, increased government revenues, and 800 MW of power.

SolUnesco is the developer of the Randolph project, and maintains that its consideration for local ecology—including building wildlife corridors, protecting drinking water sources, and limiting erosion—makes the project a win-win for the environment and humans alike.

But Virginians are still skeptical about whether the pros of the Randolph project outweigh the cons. Its state legislature recently passed a bill that established an advisory board that will study its impacts in more depth.

Arjun Makhijani, founder of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, sums it up well: “Solar [arrays] on farmland should be required to be dual use.” Areas cleared or designated for panels alone are often unnecessary and wasteful.

By building on existing knowledge and trying new strategies, there shouldn’t be any reason why solar power and certain crops can’t exist symbiotically. We just need to make sure everyone has a seat at the table in order to get it right.

“It’s not so much about green energy at all, but economics”

That’s what Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, had to say about the decision for farmers to adopt solar installations on their land.

That doesn’t mean Iowans don’t care about the environment. At the end of the day, a farm needs to generate profits in order to continue operating.

Wild swings in energy and input prices, a pandemic shock, and trade tensions with China have slashed farm incomes. Farms are arguably the backbone of countless communities across the nation. Small operations make up half of America’s farmland and nearly 90% of farms overall. Bankruptcies are on the rise, and the future of farming is on track to be dominated by a few gigantic companies.

We can help reverse this trend by encouraging more farmers to take a look at solar, and increase the ways their land can work for them, and the planet.

The additional income can be the difference between selling a farm that’s been in the family for multiple generations, or setting your kids up for a secure future in the clean energy economy. In Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, income from clean energy on farms represents 6% of gross income. This energy income tends to be much more stable month-to-month than certain crops, which can be affected by poor weather and global production levels.

Farmers can have their cake (or pie) and eat it, too. Adding solar panels that cover certain crops can increase yields, provide a sorely-needed income source for their families, and generate clean energy. What’s not to like?

So, as you’re savoring your turkey and mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving, remember that clean energy and food production can pair together just as well.

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Thanksgiving joy with a side of climate stewardship

November 17, 2022

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, your aunt Patty’s sweet potato casserole with the little marshmallows baked in. It’s a time to express gratitude, to be with our friends and family–and a chance for reflection on what the day may signify for Native Americans and celebrate Native American heritage.

At Generation180, Thanksgiving means thinking about our relationship with the Earth and our climate impact. Thanksgiving involves meat consumption and extra travel, which definitely produce extra CO2 emissions this time of year. But taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint on Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean self-deprivation or riding your bike to visit relatives two states away. 

The holiday can be an opportunity to try out new, more climate-friendly ways to celebrate—that actually add up to make an impact without taking away from the meaning of the holiday.

Pile on the delicious veggie sides

Lowering meat consumption is one of the most high-impact steps individuals can take for the climate. Fortunately, vegan turkey alternatives have come a long way—and some have made the switch to a meatless roast or Tofurkey as the centerpiece of a delicious, planet-friendly feast.

Comic credit: Mark Parisi

If replacing a traditional turkey is non-negotiable, consider purchasing an organic, sustainably-raised bird from a local co-op or market. You also might swap out meat- and dairy-heavy sides with plant-based alternatives.  For example, instead of pork stuffing, give locally-sourced vegetable stuffing a try. 

A big impediment to eating a more plant-based diet is not knowing which dishes to make, and not thinking they’ll taste quite as good. If you know your plant-based side recipe is a winner, it could be a great way to introduce your family and friends to new veggie options. 

Raising farm animals in the US sucks up around half of the freshwater supply. A single pound of beef can require up to 8,000 gallons of water before it gets to your plate, while a pound of tofu needs just 302. Lower demand for meat, especially beef and pork, would mean more precious water to go around, and a healthier environment overall.

It’s up to each individual to decide what they’re comfortable with. Moving on from turkey will make the biggest CO2 impact, but reducing meat and dairy based products will have an effect, too.

Moving people and turkeys around emits a lot of carbon

During last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, nearly 48 million people took to the roads. The ideal way to minimize your footprint consists of two parts—enjoying your meal close to home, and sourcing ingredients locally.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Buying from local vendors has a multitude of benefits, including higher nutrient levels,  supporting the local economy, and of course, fewer emissions. It’s impractical to try to source every ingredient from within a few miles of your home, but doing so as much as possible should be the goal. Whether it’s crab cakes from the local market in Maryland, or farm-to-table cranberry and strawberry sauce in California, take advantage of ingredients native to your neck of the woods.

On the travel side, commuting via an electric vehicle powered by renewably-sourced electricity is the gold standard. EVs are increasing their ranges every year, and charging stations continue to proliferate.

Showing up to your meal in an EV could prompt conversation among family and friends. Take the opportunity to extoll the virtues of EVs—not only are they better for the climate, but they are just better technology and tend to require less maintenance, and many states have tax breaks for new EV purchases.

Ultimately, the less transportation required to move you and your food around, the better.

Sustainable agriculture is making big strides

Emissions associated with growing food, and the deforestation that comes with it, account for a quarter of the global carbon footprint. In order to meet Paris 2050 targets, we’ll have to cut that number by 75%.

Yet other sectors, like transportation and energy generation, have historically gotten much more attention from policymakers and entrepreneurs.

The Biden administration is changing that narrative. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is about to dole out $1 billion in grants for “climate-smart agriculture” projects, and billions more in funding is in the queue. The investment represents an olive branch to farmers, who are often skeptical that directives from the top won’t hurt them in the interest of helping the environment.

Known technologies, such as rotational grazing and cover crops, should see increased adoption from this massive investment. The funding should also move new technologies, like carbon capture in soil and high-tech irrigation, further ahead.

Agrivoltaics are showing promise in improving crop yields in the face of drought and other changes in climate. Promising research has shown that growing tomatoes under solar panels can increase yields and protect farmers against weather challenges.

But growing food is only one piece of agricultural emissions—there’s also the problem of moving it all around. Transportation sucks up 14% of total energy used for food production.

Reducing food waste is probably the simplest way to reduce those emissions. You can get started by bringing extra food from your big meal to a local shelter, making full use of your veggies (homemade vegetable stock or carrot top pesto, anyone?), turning leftovers into sandwiches, and composting your waste. 

 

Photo credit: Delish

Have a great meal and reduce your footprint

If you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market before, perusing the stalls before Thanksgiving could lead you to discover ingredients you never knew were grown locally. A new plant-based side dish could be a hit with your guests, and become a staple of your meal going forward.

Even small tweaks, such as buying local ingredients, including more plant-based dishes, and reducing food waste can make a big dent in CO2 emissions related to the holiday.

So, be sure to enjoy the holiday, and don’t forget the opportunity to normalize talking about climate and clean energy.

 

Blog

Seven practical steps to save our planet: An interview with Hal Harvey

November 9, 2022

Regardless of the final outcome of the mid-term elections, there are concrete steps that you, individually, can choose to take right now for clean energy progress.

In The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet, co-authors Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis lay out how and why individuals can make a big impact. In this week’s issue, Gen180 Executive Director Wendy Philleo interviewed Hal–a leading strategist in the nonprofit sector’s efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change–on what he hopes readers take away from the book.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. See the full video interview here.

Wendy Philleo: All right. Well, welcome Hal Harvey, good to see you again. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your new book, which I have here, The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet that you wrote with Justin Gillis. 

Hal Harvey: Thank you. It’s a delight to be here. And I really appreciate the chance for this conversation.

WP: Great. Can you share a little bit about your background and a little bit about why you came to this decision to write this book. Why now?

HH: Sure thing, I’m an engineer by training with degrees in both civil and mechanical engineering. I got involved in the energy business when I turned 18, because I was obligated to go register for the draft, because Jimmy Carter reinstated it in order to build the so-called Rapid Deployment Force in the Mideast, which was aimed at protecting American interests against foreign oil producers. And so that put a pretty sharp focus on the question of oil and oil imports. What I was doing at the time was home construction solar homes with my brother. And we came to realize that it was not very complicated or difficult to build a solar heated home. 

And to have this dissonance on the one hand between getting ready to go to war, not so long after the Vietnam War wound up in its tragic way – and on the other hand, having readily available technologies to save energy. And this was at the time when cars got an average of 13 miles per gallon. So we weren’t just importing [oil] we were wasting it in just copious quantities, we still are.

WP: Your book felt like almost a call out for a revitalization or renewal of civic engagement, in a way, because you talk a lot about citizens flexing their muscle, exercising influence and finding these levers – sometimes secret levers, because people don’t know about them. Can you talk a little bit about a few actions that you think are most important for people to know about?

HH: So this is the right question, because what motivated us to write the book is to identify the places where citizen actions can make a big difference. I mean, the normal reaction to a political issue that you care about is to write a letter to your Congressperson. That turns out not to be the most effective thing to do. Civic engagement is wonderful, but if you know who makes the decision that most affects the planet, then you can make a strategy for changing that decision. 

And that’s what the book is all about. When you send in your utility bill at the end of the month, does that money land on green choices or dirty choices? Who decides whether your money goes to solar and wind or coal and natural gas? And the answer is the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of your state. How many people have stood before their state’s Public Utilities Commission and said, ‘Hey, let’s get this straight. We need to quit cooking the earth.’ How hard is that? And how complicated is it? And what happened? So we tell in this book, not only how to identify those levers of power, but stories about how people got involved and pulled those levers that made a big difference.

WP: Just how many Public Utility Commission Commissioners are there in the U.S.? 

HH: Just over 200. So roughly five per state. These people control 40% of the carbon emissions in our economy. That’s amazing. That’s a big number, and those 200 people are obligated to listen to you. They’re called Public Utilities Commission’s because they’re supposed to serve the public. They have hearings and you can stand in front of them and make your point. Now, a lot of the conversation at these meetings is a sort of a regulatory patois between utility lawyers and PUC lawyers. And that requires lots of specialized knowledge. 

But let’s say you live downwind of a big coal-fired power plant and your kid has asthma. The PUC is obligated to listen to you and your kid. You can tell them what it’s like to be a mom to have a kid who can’t breathe, and that it’s the PUC’s responsibility for that, and therefore it’s on them to change. You know, the climate change picture is pretty horrifying if you study it closely. My suggestion is people should study it enough to get concerned, but then flip to the solutions as fast as possible.

“People should study it enough to get concerned, but then flip to the solutions as fast as possible.”

Because that’s enabling. It’s energizing as well. And when you focus on solutions, your strategy becomes much more pointed than just raising awareness. It turns into how do I save this planet? How do we keep it from just burning right up?

WP: I think the problem with energy issues is that it feels complicated, and it feels like it should be left to the experts. Right? So what do I know about building codes? Or what do I know about utilities? I do feel like there are barriers around this type of engagement—how does the average person get comfortable doing this?

HH: Well, it’s good to have some logic, I would recommend a couple of days study before working to intervene in one of these decision-making venues. It’s also a great idea to look and see who else is doing this work in your region and if you can piggyback onto them. 

Every good argument has ethos, logos, and pathos. So ethos, this is your ethical standing. Every single National Academy of Sciences scientist has argued for rapid action on climate change. You don’t have to be that scientist, but it’s totally legitimate to point out that they are all saying it, there’s your ethos. Your logos, it’s now cheaper to build a solar farm from scratch than to just pay the operating costs of a coal-fired power plant. It’s amazing. Again, you don’t have to fight every detail there. And pathos – how does it make you feel when your kid has asthma or when soot is sitting on your windowsill at the end of every single day? So take those elements, put them in human terms and present them. It turns out, that’s a very hard combination to defeat.

WP: Love that. That’s very empowering. How has the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act changed the equation for you in terms of the recommendations that are in this book?

HH: We wrote the book before that all happened. So the question is, do those recommendations survive? And it turns out, they not only survive, they thrive. We argued for rapid decarbonization of the electric grid by switching from fossil fuels to renewable fuels. Well, the IRA just made that even easier because economics is now a tailwind instead of a headwind. So across the board, I think it accelerates and emphasizes the suggestions in the book. We have reached an interesting point in the energy economy of the world – it’s now cheaper, I often say, to save the world than to destroy it.

“It’s now cheaper, I often say, to save the world than to destroy it.”

WP: I think one of the things that’s frustrating is knowing that renewable energy is popular across the ideological spectrum – that most (70%) of Americans support climate action. It’s actually a more popular issue than people realize. How do you deal with the disconnect in how people see momentum at the state and federal levels? 

HH: Well, to some extent, the waters have been purposefully poisoned by people who resist change. I mean, if you look at the Koch brothers who have made close to hundreds of billions of dollars in the oil and gas business, and then you look at their political contributions, the answer becomes sort of glaringly obvious in some cases. But we also have some responsibility ourselves to think about civic action and how to overcome this. It’s often counterproductive to talk about climate change, instead of clean energy, because the numbers for clean energy are even higher than for climate change, regardless of the fact that they’re the same thing. Start with interests, bring in local examples, and identify those secret levels of power – there’s still powerful economic interests that will fight this, and we can’t win by being too precious. 

WP: I thought it was really interesting at the end of your book that you added a chapter around religion. That was a surprise to me, and I thought it was really interesting. Can you talk a little bit about why you added that and more broadly about what role you think culture needs to play in terms of speeding up this transition?

HH: You know, there’s a great moral question hanging over all of this, which is, do we have the right, as citizens of today, to leave behind burnt offerings for citizens of tomorrow?

“There’s a great moral question hanging over all of this, which is, do we have the right, as citizens of today, to leave behind burnt offerings for citizens of tomorrow?”

Do we have the right to destroy the topsoil, to alter the weather patterns to extinguish life in the oceans, to let mighty forests burn, to flood out entire towns? More than half of Pakistan was underwater this year, in terms of the population. So I don’t think we have that right. I don’t think we have the right to cheat future generations for our near-term. And I don’t think we have to. We have to make some hard choices. Avoid doing that. So from my perspective, it is an ethical question, not a religious one. I’m not a religious person. But I hope I’m an ethical person – I try to be on a good day. And that’s where the question arises, you know, what is our obligation? 

WP: And from a broader cultural perspective, what do you feel needs to happen on that front? It feels like a real shift needs to take place in terms of speeding up the rate that we need to act. 

HH: You know, we need to first of all be optimistic about the future, rather than harp on problems. A little bit of optimism goes a long way. I had a friend who said optimism is a social change strategy.

“Optimism is a social change strategy.”

And he’s right. That’s one thing we have to do – ‘pull up your socks’, as they say, in England, go get something done. 

WP: I think that’s part of the challenge, right? Like how do we make building codes, heat pumps, you know, Public Utility Commissions sexy so people think about these issues? It’s not an easy thing, but I think there’s a way to do that and starting with the solutions and the optimism and reaching people in different ways is really important. I’m glad to hear that you feel optimistic and that we’re up to the task. If there is one takeaway that you want to leave people with, what is it?

HH: There’s a lot you can do. It seems like a big intractable problem, but there are opportunities in every corner. In order to find those opportunities, you have to know something – not a lot – but something about the energy system in which decisions are the most critical, who makes those decisions, and how you can intervene in those decisions. It takes a couple of days of homework. It pays to look for groups that are similarly strategic in your region, and then jump in without fear. Right? If we have an ethical duty and great opportunity to quit poisoning our children, let’s do that. 

WP: And take advantage of this opportunity of innovation and economic gain as well.

HH: Yes, exactly. It’s all right there in front of us. 

WP: Well, thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. 

HH: Thank you Wendy, really delighted to have this chance to catch up.

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Why Art Matters

November 2, 2022

Ultimately, our laws and policies change because the hearts and minds of people change. One way in which we can bridge the gap between scientific facts about climate change and the emotions necessary to inspire action is art.

The art of Nicole Kelner has attracted attention both in and outside the climate and scientific community. Learn more about her work and the role art has to play in the climate movement in this Q&A.

Generation180: Tell us about your background as an artist.

Nicole: I have not always been an artist, but I grew up loving art. I took AP art and took a college level class in high school that I had to drive all the way to Philadelphia for. I didn’t pursue any art classes formally after high school, but creativity has always been a part of my work.

Generation180: Can you walk us a bit through your background in the climate space and your shift into art full-time?

Nicole: I co-founded an after school program teaching kids how to code and sold that in 2019. After completing a zero-waste challenge in 2019, I had a wake-up call. I did a lot of research in order to live a zero-waste lifestyle for that long in a city and decided that I wanted to devote the rest of my career to working in climate. I didn’t know what that would look like, especially since I didn’t have a formal climate-related degree. I was overwhelmed thinking about how I could make a difference on climate as one person, but I eventually found my place.

I started by leveraging my operations background and worked with both Climate Finance Solutions and Dashboard Earth. During the pandemic, like everyone looking for ways to stay positive, I started painting for fun. I challenged myself to paint a watercolor a day for 100 days and began painting a lot of pieces about climate.

My art quickly gained a lot of attention. I quit my job in April and now make art about climate change full-time. I used to just be a member of My Climate Journey, but now I’ve come full circle and am thrilled to be part of their team as their artist-in-residence.

Generation180: You’ve gone viral on Twitter on multiple occasions. Tell us more about how you share your work with others.

Nicole: Primarily Twitter! It’s a great space both for finding inspiration, networking, and sharing my work with others. I also share my work on Instagram and LinkedIn, and offer climate art workshops.

I’m wrapping up my first book, A Brighter Future: Illustrating Climate Change and Solutions, that’s available for pre-order. 

Generation180: Do you have a favorite piece? Explain why.

Nicole: That’s a hard one. In August, I made a piece when the IRA passed that’s still being circulated widely.

It was one of the first pieces that I feel like I made unique content that is useful, actually helps people understand a wonky climate policy, and was fully formed in my brain alone. This piece really showed me that art can make a complex climate topics (read: 300 pages of policy jargon) accessible to everyday people. I’ve even made additional local and state versions, too. 

Generation180: Are there any recent projects that you’re excited about?

Nicole: I just finished a piece for The Guardian and got to work with an investigative journalist which was new for me. I also loved my latest work for RMI and UndauntedK12

Generation180: Who are your favorite artists and which influencers are you following?

Nicole: There are so many—lots of climate scientists and illustrators. I love Pique Action, Ed Hawkins—he inspired my climate stripes piece, creators like Alaina Wood, and illustrators like Mari Andrews.

Generation180: Do you have any advice for artists looking to engage more in the climate movement?

Nicole: We need more of you! Finding any way of taking your own superpower and turning it into climate action is my general advice for anyone, and it can be applied to artists.

“Finding any way of taking your own superpower and turning it into climate action is my general advice for anyone.”

Just get started! Do a side project in climate just to begin to dabble in it, like a musician could do one song in their next album about climate.

Generation180: What gives you hope about our clean energy future?

Nicole: Honestly, all of the investment going into it. By working with MCJ, I get to hear about the companies in our portfolio and learn about the inspiring, innovative technology being created to advance climate solutions. Then, I get hired by them to illustrate their mission. 

I am constantly in the hope mindset and I keep my art focused on hope (with a little dose of we need to do heavy lifting). But it’s essential for us to have hope to be able to get the work done. 

“It’s essential for us to have hope to be able to get the work done.”

Want more? Check out Nicole’s print shop here, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Five costumes that make Halloween (and our clean energy future) less spooky

October 26, 2022

Halloween is upon us. This spine-tingling night of goblins and ghouls also comes with something even more frightening: environmental costs. Luckily, we have some suggestions on how to make this holiday better for you and the planet, starting with your costume.

First and foremost, when prepping your fright ‘fit, try to leverage existing clothes and accessories you already have. Halloween costumes are a major contributor to the 12 million pounds of textile waste generated per year in the U.S.—eighty-five percent of costumes end up haunting landfills for decades, and you don’t want to add to that problem. By thrifting, using what you have, and getting creative, you can still find a way to compose a costume that impresses/engages/inspires fellow partygoers with a subtle environmental message.

1. Heat Pump

Show your support for heat pumps and dress as one—drawing inspiration from Rewiring America’s Sam Calisch, who converted a cardboard box into a heat-pump replica. With some white construction paper and a creative hand, you, too, can show your support for expanded investment in heat pumps that will enable Americans across the country to be the beneficiaries of accessible clean energy technology.

Credit: Rewiring America

2. Solar Installer or EV Technician

Credit: Tom Daly Photography; Our local Charlottesville, VA friends at SunTribe Solar

Are you a ten-minutes-before-the-party type planner? We’ve got the perfect two-minute costume for you. Instead of popping on a flannel and calling yourself a lumberjack, toss on a plain white t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a hard hat. Bonus points if you can add some safety goggles or can carry along some power tools.

If you’re not waiting ‘til the last minute, let your local solar installer know your costume plan, and they might be willing to send you a t-shirt to complete your look.

3. Landfill/recycling/compost bin

Not only is the waste from pumpkins on Halloween, but so is the sheer amount of food waste produced in the US annually. Roughly 40% of all generated food ends up in a landfill. 

You can draw attention to this issue with a creative landfill costume. Start by composing an all-black outfit. Then, attach pieces of crumpled paper, wrappers, apple cores, and other miscellaneous items that all end up in the trash. Go a step further and carry around a small plastic bin to point out what’s recyclable and compostable at the party.

Adorable “Mr. Recycling!” credit: Costume Works

4. Solar Panel

For this quintessential clean energy costume, simply break down a cardboard box, color or paint it black, and add smaller rectangles of aluminum foil on top. Boom—you have a solar array. It doesn’t get more classic than this!

Looking for a couples costume? Get your friend or partner to dress up as the sun, and you can walk around your Halloween party telling everyone how much money they could save by switching to solar. 

Credit: Ellensburg Solar

5. Greenwashing

With more Americans becoming concerned about climate change, companies are stepping up to act on climate, or at least appear to, in order to attract and retain customers. Unfortunately, many businesses make lofty public commitments to the environment and make false claims that present their products as environmentally-friendly, while actually doing very little to meet those goals.

Call out corporate greenwashing with a monochrome outfit. Dress in green from head to toe, maybe paint your face green, and carry around a can of green paint and a paintbrush. Attach labels to yourself that say things like, “Eco-friendly” “Sustainable,” or “Made from 3% recycled materials.”

More from the box of tricks

Want to level-up your green Halloween? Opt for candy in paper or aluminum packaging instead of plastic, like Hershey’s Kisses and Junior Mints. Skip the plastic decorations like fake spider webs and toys—stick to the classic carved pumpkin, which can go in the aforementioned compost bin. 

If you’re already being spooked by winter energy bills, take a look at these tips from Energy.gov to weatherize and make your home as winter-ready as possible to reduce your heating costs.

These didn’t make the cut for our top five, but we still wanted to share these runners-up costume ideas:

  • “I just voted” sticker – encourage people to vote for clean energy leaders.
  • Captain Planet – no explanation needed.
  • Mother Earth – either dress up as the earth or carry around a small globe all night.
  • Great Pacific Garbage Patch – similar to the landfill idea, get a (biodegradable) garbage bag and tape plastic trash to it – bonus points if the bag is a darker color which could also symbolize an oil disaster from risky offshore drilling.

Have a happy (clean) Halloween!

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Your Vote Matters

October 19, 2022

If you are a human living on planet earth (which most of us are), then clean energy is an issue that affects your life and your future.   It is most definitely “on the ballot” this November.

It doesn’t take much to see how differently candidates for office see our future – some want to increase Americans’ access to solar, electric vehicles, and other sources of renewable energy, while others want to stay entrenched in polluting, climate-harming energy sources that rely on fossil fuels.  We need people in power who listen to scientists rather than downplaying the certainty and scale of the climate crisis at hand.

We need to let candidates know voters care about clean energy and plan to elect candidates that do, too. It matters for federal, state, and local elections too—places where much of the clean energy action is happening. 

Americans want clean energy

Americans across the political spectrum recognize the importance of climate change as an issue and want clean, renewable energy now. Roughly half of registered voters say climate change is either “very important” or “one of the most important issues” in their vote for who represents them in Congress. 

With increasing weather extremes and hurricanes, climate change is now top of mind for many Americans. In fact, public support for government climate action is higher among U.S. adults who have been personally affected by extreme weather events than those who have not. Bold public investment in clean energy is critical to moving us towards a better future. 

Across both sides of the political spectrum, there is broad support for clean energy policy. In fact, many red states are poised to benefit from clean energy development and local jobs, especially as the South turns into a hub for EV manufacturing.

Climate doesn’t have to be as partisan as we’ve made it out to be. Climate Leadership Council CEO Greg Bertelsen argues that “Republicans in Congress can work on climate change and be on rock solid ground with their base,” pointing to their candidate’s success in previous election cycles. 

In a time of polarization, clean energy continues to poll as a winning issue. The 2021 cycle offers many examples of candidates who emphasized clean energy and climate change more than before, and won. For example, Michelle Wu was elected mayor of Boston following a campaign in which she emphasized environmental justice, sustainable transit, and the need to cut carbon emissions across the economy.

If you care about climate change, head to the polls

Politicians listen to their constituents, so showing up and voting is just as important as who you cast your ballot for. We need more voters showing up at each election and at town halls, telling their representatives that climate is an issue that matters to them.

Since 2015, Environmental Voter Project has contacted 8.6 million non-voters and seldom-voters, and over one million of those people have become “super-voters,” meaning they cast a ballot in every election. These were all once environmentalists who never or rarely voted, but now they consistently vote their values, electing climate champions and voting for clean energy. Now every election, one million more voices elevate the importance of climate as an important issue not to be forgotten.

Your vote matters, so make sure it counts

So if you’re ready to head to the polls, make sure you’re registered and know where your polling place is. Until election day, it’s time to be vocal and influence your networks. Tell your friends and co-workers about why you are voting and what issues matter to you—hint: climate change, clean energy jobs, affordable energy, etc. You can also level-up and take your advocacy to the next level by volunteering with Environmental Voter Project and help turn environmentalists into voters, or volunteer to help staff your local polling place and ensure we have safe, fair, and efficient elections for all.

Want to know who the best climate champions are in your upcoming state and local elections? Check out the nationwide candidate endorsements from Sierra Club. Climate Cabinet has some handy state scorecards for AZ, MN, TX, and NC. Your local Sierra Club chapter should be able to provide greater details regarding local races and ballot measures, too.  The League of Conservation voters has a national environmental scorecard, too. 

Americans support climate policies, but at the same time, we underestimate popular support for climate action by nearly half. The climate movement can’t afford to only get political every 2 or 4 years—having climate champions in local offices are key to moving climate policy forward year-round.

We need your voice. Show up to the polls this election—and every election—to vote clean energy.

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Four ways red states are benefiting from clean energy development

October 12, 2022

Sometimes American political discourse can feel so divisive that it seems we face an unbridgeable chasm. But on some issues – like in the case of clean energy – there is, perhaps surprisingly, wide agreement on both sides of the political aisle. 

It’s hard to argue with this common sense point from conservative Republican Tom Ridge: “Any reasonable policy will require people across the political spectrum to recognize, first, that climate change is a serious problem and, second, that the United States, with its enormous appetite for energy, must harness all practical carbon-free sources.”

“Any reasonable policy will require people across the political spectrum to recognize, first, that climate change is a serious problem and, second, that the United States, with its enormous appetite for energy, must harness all practical carbon-free sources.”

A large majority of us believe we should be generating more wind (66%) and solar energy (73%), according to Gallup poll results from 2021, and 60% of us favor dramatically reducing U.S. use of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal. Recent polling from Yale University finds a majority of registered voters think developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority, as 52% of Americans think policies that promote clean energy will improve economic growth and create jobs. Yet another poll from Pew Research finds similarly high levels of support for wind and solar, though it notes the gap between Democrats and Republicans has widened.

Climate denial, doubt, and delay, in addition to attacks on climate science, hinder American democracy. This rhetoric shouldn’t be ignored, but there’s no time to delay climate action further. In this energy transition, it’s important to recognize that not only is there widespread support for clean energy, but red states are actually helping to lead it. Here are four ways they are moving the clean energy economy forward.

Clean energy generation

Across multiple measures—total renewable energy generation, most clean power added in 2021, and highest shares of wind and solar on the grid—red states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida are renewable energy powerhouses, and voted for Trump notwithstanding. 

“On just about any metric you care to look at, the green transition’s physical assets are more often found on red ground than on blue,” the authors of a recent Bloomberg Opinion column write. “The most obvious reason for this is the ground itself.” Across much of the country’s rural real estate, wind and solar make good economic sense, even if that real estate happens to lie within Republican-led districts. 

Photo credit: WeForum

Clean energy jobs and investment

Growing clean energy development translates to added jobs and investment. In fact, regardless of the opposition from some Republican leaders, the recently passed Inflation  Reduction Act will send billions of dollars to their states to build on progress already being made in clean energy. According to the White House’s state fact sheets on the law, Texas has 238,884 workers in clean energy jobs and will see an estimated $66.5 billion of investment in large-scale clean power generation and storage over the next eight years. 

Photo credit: IEA

Across 30 states, many of them Republican-leaning, jobs in renewable energy now outnumber those in coal and gas, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, and nationwide, clean energy jobs employ 3.5 times more people than the fossil fuel industry.

Billions more dollars have flowed to red states through the Volkswagen settlement for the automaker’s violation of the Clean Air Act. States like North Carolina are using the money to buy electric school buses and other zero- or low-emission vehicles.

Although you won’t find many EVs on the back roads yet in Alabama and Tennessee, thousands of residents in these states have taken on jobs in EV manufacturing to meet growing nationwide demand. Forty-six percent of vehicle production in the U.S. currently happens in the South, so it’s no surprise that more investment is going there. Ford plans to build twin battery plants in central Kentucky, creating over 11,000 local EV jobs, and Volkswagen’s recent Battery Engineering Lab now employs over 4,000 Chattanooga, TN, locals. Hyundai also plans to build its first EV-only plant in the U.S., right outside of Savannah, Georgia. 

Climate goals

When state economies run on increasing amounts of renewable energy, net-zero emissions policies start to look better and better. Nebraska’s largest electric utility, which is publicly owned, recently set a goal to decarbonize its power sector by 2050. Though the state still gets most of its power from coal, wind power is strong there and bound to get even stronger, with an estimated $24.5 billion of clean power investment coming in from the Inflation Reduction Act. North Carolina, too, recently passed climate legislation, putting the state on a path to zero out carbon emissions from electricity. These shifts reflect the reality seen in the poll results: the public supports clean energy and the policies that increase it.

City-level action

Despite significant clean energy advancement, many red states (and, to be fair, many blue states) still lag in important climate measures like carbon emissions per dollar of economic output, support for federal climate policies and fossil fuel industry regulations, building energy codes, and electric vehicle adoption and incentives (though Florida and Texas are in the top three for EV registrations, behind California). Here’s where cities and counties have an opportunity to take up the slack. Places like Orlando, Cincinnati, and San Antonio are pursuing sustainable initiatives through the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, while the U.S. government’s Clean Cities Coalition Network is helping to advance better transportation options at the municipal level.  

All of this adds up to common ground. Advocates like Conservatives for Clean Energy, a group that focuses on five Southeastern states, emphasize the economic opportunity of clean energy more than the environmental benefits. Regardless of how they frame the issue, however, the goal is the same: To expand the nation’s store of reliable, affordable energy. 

Despite the deep political divisions in our country, we can all unite behind a better, cleaner future. As we near the holiday season and uncomfortable climate conversations arise, we can share how the clean energy transition will benefit all Americans and how many red states are leading the way towards a clean energy future.

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Meeting the Moment—What’s Next for the Clean Energy Movement

October 5, 2022

This blog comes from the desk of Wendy Philleo, the Executive Director of Generation180.

As we head into a very busy fall season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the new clean energy landscape before us and what it means for Generation180’s work and our potential for impact. 

A year ago, the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) was being signed into law. That $550B action paved the way for the $54.2B in the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS) and the largest investment in clean energy America has ever made with the $369B Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into law this summer. 

Combined, the brain (CHIPS), backbone (IIJA), and engine (IRA) will spur clean energy innovation while building out essential infrastructure to scale clean energy technologies quickly. They will also create long-term certainty for industry to keep innovating and driving down costs.

All of this is to say, these three pieces of federal legislation are a very big deal. They make the biggest investment in clean energy and climate in U.S. history, and while it took decades of advocates demanding action to get here, arguably the most challenging work is now ahead of us in implementation. Now that we have federal funding, let’s get to work and start proving how clean energy benefits all Americans. 

While it took decades of advocates demanding action to get here, arguably the most challenging work is now ahead of us in implementation.

Here’s where we see the greatest gains for solar schools, electric vehicles (including school buses), and homes.

More Schools Powered by Clean Energy

With nearly 50 million students attending over 130,000 K-12 schools, the education sector – schools in  particular – have an important role to play in our country’s transition to clean energy. Our recent Brighter Future report  found that since 2015, the amount of solar installed at K-12 schools has tripled. Despite this growth, only 9% of schools have gone solar. 

We are on the path to a brighter future, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal of 100% clean energy powered schools. More than $500 million in new federal funding will soon go to readying schools across the country for clean power solar installation and more energy efficiency. These investments benefit schools and the climate while improving indoor air quality and introducing Pre-K students to STEM. Schools ready to go solar can find out more here.

How students get to class each day also matters. There are nearly half of a million school buses on the road today, and the vast majority are dirty diesel buses. The millions of children currently riding these buses are breathing in toxic tailpipe pollution, and we have the opportunity–with more than $5 billion in federal funds for school districts–to switch to clean, zero emissions buses, charging infrastructure and operations.

Electric buses improve air quality and health outcomes, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately suffer the harmful effects of air pollution. Switching all of the nation’s school buses to electric would reduce the emissions equivalent to taking over 1 million cars off the road.

Electrification of Everything Becomes Easier

Which leads us to the choice that all drivers have to make their next car electric. The recent legislation has incentives that make EV ownership a no-brainer with rebates for new and used electric vehicles, $5 billion to build the nationwide network of fast chargers deployed across all 50 U.S. states, and the added benefit of supporting a renaissance of American jobs and manufacturing with EV battery plants and semiconductor factories dotting the country. 

U.S. automakers have picked up on this market demand signal and are working to deliver new EV models at unprecedented speed. With transportation being the leading source of climate-harming carbon emissions in the United States, EV adoption could come at no better time. Our national Electrify Your Ride campaign is helping to capitalize on national momentum around electric car driving by busting myths and encouraging Americans to sign the Going Electric pledge. 

Electrifying your life may begin with a major decision like owning an EV, but it doesn’t stop there. Choices we make every day–like what kind of transportation we use, how we heat the air and water in our homes, cook our food and dry our clothes–can all be electric. 

Americans in every zip code across the country can reduce their energy bills and electrify their homes through new federal tax credits and direct rebates that offset up-front costs. In addition to solar system and EV rebates, benefits for homes include credits for electric stoves, dryers, battery storage, heat pump water heaters, breaker box upgrades, home energy audits, electrical wiring, weatherization, and efficiency improvements. These seemingly small changes add up to big benefits for your wallet, climate, and personal comfort.

What You Can Do

Through this influx of new federal funding, individuals are incentivized to take action. For specific steps you can take, check out our list on how to make your energy matter. The best way for individuals to maximize their impact is to use their voice to influence change at the local, state, and national level.

The best way for individuals to maximize their impact is to use their voice to influence change at the local, state, and national level.

We need to discuss this issue at the dinner table and in our daily lives. Almost 80% of Americans support climate policies, yet a recent study shows that we underestimate popular support for climate action by nearly half. Americans need to raise their voices on this issue and show up to vote for clean energy at every election, whether it’s a local, state or national race.

While this nearly $1 trillion investment spanning the next 10 years is significant, the process of drafting and passing these bills largely left out environmental justice communities – key voices who experience frontline injury from entrenched fossil fuel interests across the U.S. These investments are only a beginning in terms of supplying critical resources to bolster community resilience to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters made worse by climate change. 

Unprecedented Times Call for Unprecedented Communications

We are in uncharted territory with this new funding. For this earthshot to be successful, organizations, leaders, and advocates will need to double down on efforts to help schools and communities understand and utilize these new clean energy investments. 

We need a historic investment in communications and outreach to help Americans take advantage of these incentives. These incentives are useless if Americans don’t even know about them. In addition, we need to pay close attention to state implementation to ensure rapid execution and deployment of the funding in these bills and keep the pressure on at the local and state levels.

This is a moment for our country that we will never get back. We have a limited window to make the changes we need in time. Fortunately, we have the solutions and public support to fight climate change is at an all-time high. We just have to step on the accelerator.  Our collective momentum as Americans to demand a better  – a cleaner energy future for all  – is dependent on what we do in the coming years to make the clean energy balancing act finally tip in our favor.

Together, we’ve got this.

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Car culture is changing—EVs are the new normal

September 28, 2022

This week’s blog is a firsthand account from the desk of Stuart Gardner, Electrify Your Ride Program Director. With over 10 years of auto industry experience and multiple cars and motorcycles, you could say he’s a “car guy.” 

My first car was a 1971 Volkeswagen Type III Fastback.  A lot has changed since then, but it sparked what has become a lifelong appreciation for all things automotive. This week is National Drive Electric Week, and as more and more Americans consider making their next car purchase electric (see Gen180’s brand new National Drive Electric Pledge campaign here), we thought it would be fun to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to the classically American automotive technological breakthroughs that brought us the electric car.

In the early 1900s, cars were started manually with a hand crank. The driver would turn a crank in the front of the car in order to start the internal combustion process of the engine.  Sometimes, the crank would bend, so a useful tool many drives carried was a hammer to bang it back into shape. I really miss those days. The electric starter ruined everything. 

Until 1914, the bodies and frames of cars were made of wood. Then the Dodge Brothers came along. Steel has since become the standard.

Rowing the boat, three on the tree, four on the floor. Manual transmissions are cool and connect the driver to the vehicle. Then in 1939 General Motors came along and introduced the “Hydra-Matic.” Today, manual transmissions make up only about 2.4% of new cars. Sure, today’s automatic transmissions are more responsive and shift faster than even the quickest manual, but I miss spilling my coffee while trying to drive and answer the phone and shift into third. 

The blast of hot air in the summer, you can see the heat rising up from the tarmac. Feeling my skin stick to the boiling hot surfaces of my seats. Can you believe some nut came around in the 1940s and introduced air conditioning in a car?  Ridiculous.

Did you know there isn’t a new car to be found in the US with a carburetor?  How am I supposed to tune this thing?  Sure, fuel injection is more efficient and prevents many of the issues carburetors have to deal with (altitude, flooding, hard starting, etc.), but what am I to do with all my wooden clothespins to prevent vapor lock? (motorhead alert)  

Seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and the review camera. Can you believe all of these things are now REQUIRED by the government?  Absurd, right?  

Which brings us to cars powered by an electric motor.  They’re insanely fast, amazingly quiet (they can rumble loudly if you’re into that), and require nearly zero maintenance. But they are new. And while new may sometimes mean different, it doesn’t mean bad. Electric vehicles dramatically open the aperture of what’s possible, enabling designers to push the limits beyond what’s already been done with an internal combustion engine. Electric vehicles do not have a drive shaft, fuel tank, or transmission. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for interior passenger space, and of course “frunks.” Cool, right? 

And U.S. car companies are certainly taking notice. General Motors recently launched a marketing campaign, “EVs for everyone, everywhere,” which debuted during the kickoff of the NFL season this month. This complements the eight EV ads that aired during the 2022 Superbowl, not to mention the expectation that more than half of US car sales will be electric by 2030.

New GM spots w/ Fleetwood Mac music

The evolution of something as culturally beloved as the automobile may take time, but we don’t have to fear electric vehicles will kill American car culture. No one is taking away the cool classic cars of the past. We’re talking about new cars. We can embrace electric vehicles for how amazing they are in both design and performance. We can wax nostalgic when we think back to the hand crank, lack of air conditioning–and soon, oil changes.  

Car culture is changing. EVs are the new normal. Don’t fall behind on the trend—sign the Going Electric pledge.

— Stuart (a car guy)

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This back to school season, follow the money at your college or university

September 21, 2022

Well, it’s done. You’ve set up the dorm room, reviewed the class schedule, checked out the dining hall, and bid familial farewells until winter break. Whether you’re a departing student or the teary parent at drop-off, a lot of scrutiny—and not a little cash—has gone into the journey toward a college degree. 

But there may be one thing you haven’t looked at yet: Is your university supporting Big Oil? 

Chances are, the answer is yes, and your school’s endowment has not divested from fossil fuels. Worldwide, only 240 higher learning institutions have fully or partially divested from fossil fuels, according to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database. In the U.S. alone, some 2,000 private and public four-year schools reported endowments, says the American Council on Education, and more than 800 of them were worth more than $50 million. Endowments are funds invested into nonprofits, like universities, which support their work.

Given the climate crisis, the divestment movement argues, not a cent of that money should go into the coffers of fossil fuel companies. And after years of pressure from students and faculty, the tide is starting to turn. Last fall, Harvard University announced it “has no direct investments in companies that explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels [and] does not intend to make such investments in the future.”  

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard 🔶 (@DivestHarvard) / Twitter

Photo credit: Divest Harvard

Harvard was not the first to make such a commitment—other schools, such as the University of Massachusetts already had made similar announcements. But Harvard’s shift was a big deal for two reasons. At nearly $42 billion, the prestigious Ivy League school has the largest endowment in the nation. And it was a high-profile reversal after years of resisting calls to divest—as one headline put it, “Harvard cracks on fossil fuels and a dam breaks.”

As the perilous effects of climate change get harder to ignore, so has the role of institutions that have been pocketing returns generated by the extraction and burning of oil, gas, and coal. From churches to municipal governments to foundations, a growing number of those investors are acknowledging their responsibility to pull the plug. The Presbyterian Church (USA), which divested from five major fossil fuel companies in July, said it had tried to encourage improvements to those companies’ strategies and policies regarding climate change, but that “this process of engagement did not produce enough substantial change.” 

Public pressure is a key factor in many such decisions, and schools are no different. Whether they get acknowledged or not, students have been driving change. “Students do research, advocate, and really are partners. We cannot always do things exactly the way they would like, but their voices have influenced our decisions,” Elizabeth Bradley, the president of Vassar, said last year after the college announced climate-focused changes to its investment policy.

But divestment is not solely a matter of responding to activism—it’s increasingly a legal and financial consideration. Schools that continue to invest endowment money in companies that are clearly contributing to climate change are conflicting with their own “charitable purposes” under the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, a law in effect in every state except Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, students from five schools filed legal complaints arguing that their schools are violating this law, a legal strategy students at other schools have employed as well.

So what can you do? 

First, look into whether there are any existing divestment campaigns at your school or in your town—in addition to your school’s own networks. The group Fossil Free has a searchable site on the topic. This post also offers useful advice for researching your school’s investment holdings, such as looking up legally required disclosures with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. 

Once you’ve done your research, help organize ways to advocate for stronger divestment policies at your school. Aside from filing legal complaints, student groups across the country and beyond are recruiting support, holding protests, painting murals, and more. And connect to other groups doing the same work—Divest Harvard is a good example of showing how it’s done. 

Of course, students aren’t the only ones whose opinions matter to schools. Parents, donors, faculty, and staff can all support change. In the process, whether it’s understanding how endowments work or engaging with school officials, you’re bound to learn something that won’t be on any syllabus. And you’ll be ensuring a long, healthy future for your alma mater and many students to come.

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The New York Times and President Bill Clinton spotlight Generation180

September 20, 2022

Generation180’s new national report on schools going solar garnered some high-profile attention in the last week.  Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. K-12 Schools, 4th edition, has helped to stir up a national conversation on how schools powered by clean energy can be a scalable climate solution that benefits school budgets, student education, and the warming planet. 

In a Sept. 19 Associated Press (AP) story, former President Bill Clinton cited the study during a Clinton Global Initiative meeting. 

“[President Clinton] points to a study from Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes the use of clean energy. Its research shows some rural schools have installed solar panels to reduce their carbon emissions and their electric bills. The schools then used the savings to give raises to teachers.”  

“The energy is here. The jobs are here. The benefits are here. The kids win,” [President] Clinton said.  “That shouldn’t be a political issue.”

The New York Times climate reporter Cara Buckley published the Sept. 15 piece Facing Budget Shortfalls, These Schools Are Turning to the Sun,  featuring Generation180’s report findings and many school districts’ stories about the benefits of solar.  

From New Jersey to California, nearly one in 10 K-12 public and private schools across the country were using solar energy by early 2022, according to data released Thursday by Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes and tracks clean energy. That’s twice as many as existed in 2015…

Tish Tablan, program director at Generation180, said the normalization of solar was especially potent when it came to public schools. “When schools go solar, students learn about it, they talk to parents, families are inspired,” she said, “We see a ripple effect across communities.”

The New York Times article tells the stories of schools from Montana to Virginia that have made the transition to solar and reaped the benefits of cost savings, resilience, and reinvesting in students and families. Generation180 connected the news outlet with school district leaders in our Clean Energy School Leader Network to talk about their experiences in going solar, including David Childress from Louisa County Public Schools in Virginia, Doug Arnold from Orange County Public Schools in Virginia, Laura Capps from Santa Barbara Unified School District in California, Mike Tatsey in Heart Butte, Montana, and Michael Hester from Batesville School District in Arkansas. 

Read and share the articles to keep the conversation going about the potential power of solar energy for schools! Visit our Solar for All Schools campaign page to get resources on how to get involved in bringing solar to a school in your community. 

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Bringing Energy Choice to the Whole Community

September 15, 2022

This case study was originally published in the 4th edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2022).

North Community High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the host site for an innovative community solar project that prioritizes climate justice, diversity, and equity. The high school serves a racially and economically diverse community, making it an ideal location to install a solar garden that provides community members an opportunity to access clean, cost-saving energy. Minneapolis Public Schools and the City of Minneapolis together benefit from 20% of the array’s electricity, and the remainder is allocated for the benefit of subscribers in the community.

What Is Community Solar?

Equitable access to solar power is growing through a practice called community solar, also known as shared solar or solar gardens. Community solar enables customers (or subscribers) to buy or rent part of an off-site solar system and receive credit on their energy bill for the electricity it produces. This arrangement allows people to enjoy the benefits of solar without having to install their own system, making solar accessible to those who rent or cannot afford to install solar.

The North Community High School Community Solar Garden is a collaborative project involving the school district, local government, and community partners. Two local Black-owned businesses, Renewable Energy Partners and Go Solar Construction, developed and installed the 365 kW solar garden, which went online in summer 2022. Nonprofit Minneapolis Climate Action partnered with Renewable Energy Partners to enroll families in the solar garden and administer subscriptions.

The solar garden is set up with low-income households in mind. Families who wouldn’t normally have access to solar are first in line for subscriptions. To increase accessibility, enrollment requires no credit checks or upfront costs. If subscribers want to save more on their electricity bill, they can choose to pay a one-time subscription fee. The solar garden has the capacity to power up to 70 homes, and to date 65 households have subscribed.

“Community solar gives people an opportunity to own their own solar array and participate in something collectively with their neighbors,” said Kristel Porter, executive director of Minnesota Renewable Now and a leader of community engagement efforts around the solar garden.

“This is especially important for communities that often get left behind in so many ways. It’s empowering for them too – they finally have a say in something that directly impacts their lives.”