A Carbon Price for Colorado

In May of 2013 I gave a talk at Clean Energy Action’s Global Warming Solutions Speaker Series in Boulder, on how we might structure a carbon pricing scheme in Colorado.  You can also download a PDF of the slides and watch an edited version of that presentation via YouTube:

What follows is a more structured written exploration of the same ideas.

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Passive Passion

Passive Passion is a great 20 minute long documentary about the German Passive House energy efficiency standard.  It looks at the roots of the design standard in Germany, and gives a bunch of examples of implementations in Europe, from single family homes to row houses, apartment buildings, public housing, office buildings, etc.  Talks about what makes the standard work: airtight building envelopes, super insulation, no thermal bridging, heat recovering ventilation.  Also looks at a few builders and designers in the US trying to popularize these methods, and do it cost effectively.  Clearly it’s possible, we just have to decide to do it!

Empowerhouse: an affordable, net-zero Passivhaus in DC

The Empowerhouse is an affordable, net-zero Passivhaus design, that came out of the Solar Decathlon competition.  In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, the team as built a duplex in the Washington DC area that is site net-zero, despite having the smallest solar array of any of the homes entered in the competition.  It was able to do this because it took a Passivhaus approach, aggressively minimizing all loads first, sealing the building nearly airtight, and super-insulating it.  They also integrated a rooftop garden and terrace.  By sharing the heat management equipment between the two relatively small units, they were able to reduce costs substantially.  All this means the low income residents will spend much, much less on energy over the lifetime of the building.  We need more affordable housing that looks like this.

NRDC plan to cap GHG emissions from power sector using the Clean Air Act.

The NRDC has a plan that would allow the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from existing power plants, without either capitulating to the power sector, or banning coal outright immediately (which would be politically… uh, difficult).  The trick is to use fleet-based target, as we do with vehicle emissions standards.  The natural (regulatory) unit is the state, so each state could have its own carbon intensity targets or degression pathway, tailored to its initial generation mix.  The carbon intensity would decline over time, eventually squeezing coal out of the mix, and could allow energy efficiency improvements to count toward the goal, at least initially.  It really amounts to a kind of back-door cap-and-trade for the power sector, and it can be implemented by Obama, all on his lonesome, without any help from the intransigent congress.  The hard part here will be setting stringent enough long term targets.  40% reduction by 2025?  90% reduction by 2050?

The Industrialization of Solar Power

The LA Times is reporting on the impacts of utility-scale solar power plants in SoCal’s desert counties.  What do you get when you start building multi-billion dollar solar installations?  Solar land-men, in three piece suits, leaning on your local politicians for favorable tax treatment?  Solar astro-turf campaigns, with corporate sponsored buses bringing solar supporters to public meetings?  Yeah.  Of course you do.  How else could it be, within our system?  If we do the responsible thing for the climate, and create a wholesale shift away from fossil fuel to renewables like wind and solar, we will have replaced one trillion dollar industry with another, and trillion dollar industries all behave badly.  At some level, what we’re fighting for is to create a trillion dollar climate advocate.  An incumbent corporate interest, invested in not breaking the sky.  And when we’re done, we’ll still have all the greater governance issues lying around, waiting to be dealt with.