Crowdfunding solar panel/inverter kits for schools at risk from the impacts of climate change & extreme weather.
Despite overwhelming public support for clean energy, politics at the state and federal levels are wedded to an energy strategy that will lock in decades of fossil fuel power generation and gigatons of CO2 emissions the science tells us we can’t afford. In the NGO space, most climate campaigning has utilized an anti-pollution and sometimes anti-corporate frame to attack this power dynamic.
While important in galvanizing the progressive base to block projects that threaten public health, this approach is alienating much of the American public in the fight for a brighter, safer, cleaner future. We shouldn’t let progressive politics stand in the way of this opportunity. It’s time we engage the 200 million Americans that aren’t on “either side” and empower them to be advocates for renewable energy generation.
The Concept is simple. Use the implementation of solar power systems at schools and churches in key swing ditricts to promote new narratives about clean energy – that solar energy keeps our kids safe in times of crisis, making local communities stronger and more resiliant to the impacts of climate change. This frame is designed to emotionally engage conservatives as well as non-conservatives, driving bi-artisan support for programs and policies supporting the rapid deployment of renewable energy at the local and state level. Objectives include:
1. Establish a new national conversation about clean energy and climate change, that takes the politics out of the equation.
2. Support communities in directly building adaptation capacity.
3. Provide direct and immediate CO2 mitigation benefits.
4. Offer a financial benefit to cash-strappef schools by fixing energy costs over a 20-30 year period.
5. Accelerate the local renewables market by providing a real life demonstration of the benefits of solar power to homeowners.
6. Give kids and STEM teachers a hands-on way to show kids how solar power works.
7. Gradually build a nationwide bi-partisan caucus of pro-clean energy voters.
Grassroots neighborhood organizations
What actions do you propose?
The pilot project would establish a 2-year pilot program for a team of 3-5 campaigners (plus local on-the-ground support) to manage campaigns in 10 key counties. These districts would be selected on three criteria – low Red-Blue point margins in the 2012 election, availability of solar resources, and degree of climate impact. The goal is to identify swing districts that are well-suited for extreme weather narratives and have the solar resources needed to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of renewable installations.
The campaigns would largely be run online, but they would be launched in the schools, utilizing the existing network of students, parents and teachers as a springboard to disseminate the campaign opportunity out to the community. The actual solar systems would be crowdfunded on the Mosaic platform, which has since its launch less than a year ago raised millions of dollars in capital for local solar projects.
To drive participation one possibility is an online contest, where schools compete to win their community’s first solar system (and a possible celebrity ribbon-cutting). This would provide a method for motivating individuals to register on the platform and to identify prospective clean energy advocates, useful for future electoral engagement opportunities. Information about the family household would be collected in the form of a fun, interactive carbon calculator. The more total questions answered the higher the ranking of the school.
The top ranking schools could then compete on funding via the Solar Mosaic platform. The school that wins could receive special prizes provided by sponsors (tablets, EV charging stations, energy-generating athletic equipment, etc.). But all the ranking schools would come our winners – each with its own solar power system.
One of the greatest things about this campaign is the fact that it is not politically contentious. Over 90% of the American public believes we need to be investing more in clean energy. So this opens up an excellent opportunity to engage with celebrities and influencers to help promote the contests and nationalize the conversation that emerges as a result. Many celebrities are eager to do something about climate change but they don't have a way to do so. With EnergySecure we can offer them a fun way to engage with kids, perhaps even at their alma maters, in a constructive way that will not put them at risk politically.
If the 2-year pilot is proven successful, the goal would be to further expand to every state and major city in the country. The vision of EnergySecure.org is to have every school and every church powered by on-site renewables. Such an effort, though relatively small in terms of total U.S. CO2 emissions, could trigger a seismic cultural shift in the country, changing the way people perceive and talk about renewable energy, while helping to drive demand for both distributed solar and the infrastructure needed to make larger renewable projects feasible.
Ultimately, the constituency created by EnergySecure.org could be leveraged in the future policy battles to come as work for a transition from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy. The long-term vision of EnergySecure.org is to get America on track and to stimulate U.S. economic growth through rapid deployment of renewable energy solutions. By building a network of “energy advocates” we can begin to drive the top-level policy agenda around U.S. clean energy deployment at both the state and national levels, unleashing the financing needed to make this conversion a reality. These top-level policy goals include:
1. Extending ITC’s. Investment Tax Credits (ITC’s) need to be stabilized and strengthened by removing the “ITC cliff” scheduled for 2017 (from a 30% credit to a 10% credit). Instead there should be a 2% per annum reduction, allowing the market to adjust gradually. Even healthy companies would have trouble accommodating such an abrupt shift in the economics of their sector. The government receives a 10% IRR on ITC-financed systems based on taxes paid on lease income, so extending this credits is a win-win for both the public and private sectors.
2. Amending ITC Tax Law. Currently ordinary taxpayers are excluded from purchasing solar ITC’s, as the law only allows individuals and organizations with sufficiently large passive investment incomes to offset these credits. Currently that amounts to only 12 financial institutions. If taxpayers could purchase ITC’s and apply them against ordinary income, it would open the liquidity pool available for solar development. 50 million investors with an average $1000 investment could add $50B in liquidity per year. If such a policy were in place, a massive WWII style campaign could be built around encouraging people to purchase ITC’s for the future of America.
3. Equalizing MLP Rules. Changing the Master Limited Partnership (MLP) rules which currently provides a steady flow of tax-advantageous investing for oil and gas development, while specifically excluding renewable energy investments. The MLP’s should be redefined to remove the prohibition of on solar, wind and other renewable energy developments.
4. Removing Perverse Subsidies. Currently, as much as $50B per year in taxpayer dollars goes to an array of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, despite the fact that those companies continue to earn record-breaking profits. Over the decades these subsidies have afforded a negative ROI. Utility rates have steadily climbed while introducing greater market volatility. Conversely, with a small fraction of the subsidies enjoyed by oil and gas companies, the solar and wind industries have provided an extremely good ROI – with rates dramatically lowering and stabilizing over the past decade.
5. Pricing Externalities. Even if we take carbon dioxide off the table for the moment, solely by examining two externalities associated with fossil fuel power generations – health and water impacts – the math changes dramatically for the fossil fuel industry as a whole. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences puts the price at $120B per year in health costs as a result of coal and oil production. Another massive risk introduced to the U.S. economy is the overconsumption of water for power generation. Given the dramatic reduction in available freshwater in the U.S. the cost per gallon will continue to rise, threatening urban water supplies while introducing additional volatility into future fossil fuel power generation.
6. Eliminating Unfair Exemptions. Natural gas derived from hydrofracking is currently exempt from the Clean Water Act. It is being promoted as a cheap and freely available source for power, but it comes with uncertain risks to public health and water supplies. In addition, there is a strong misconception about the affordability of fracked gas as well as its associated CO2e impacts.\
7. Unlocking Virtual Net Metering. Virtual Net Metering (VNM) could allow a massive influx of new capital to rural solar and wind projects by allowing individuals to purchase their power directly from power producers. But with our current grid system, utilities are a significant barrier. A federal incentive program is needed to encourage utilities to open up an exchange of data between grids, allowing a real-time transaction to take place between the power consumer and the power producer.
Who will take these actions?
A collaborative team would be assembled representing several U.S. based nonprofit organizations working in the clean energy space, with a campaign director seconded for a term of 2 years. Organizers would be recruited from a network of colleges and universities to make presentations to the schools in the selected campaign districts.
Where will these actions be taken?
As described above 10 key districts distributed widely across the U.S. would be identified based on 3 criteria -- low Red-Blue point margins in the 2012 election, availability of solar resources, and degree of climate impact. This analysis is partially complete but further work is needed to establish the counties and districts in which the greatest political and mitigative impacts could be achieved.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
The U.S has approximately 130,000 schools which use 78 billion kWh of electricity and 390 billion ft3 of natural gas, resulting in approx. 750 billion tons of CO2 per year. If even 10% of the nation’s schools installed a solar system alongside energy efficiency implementations, it could reduce 190 billion tons of CO2 over 10 years.
Churches and congregations offer a simlilar opportunity. With more approximately 125,000 churches of 100 attendees or more.
What are other key benefits?
In addition to direct mitigation, other benefits include
* Establishing a new national conversation about clean energy and climate change, that takes the politics out of the equation.
* Supporting communities in directly building adaptation capacity.
* Offering a financial benefit to cash-strappef schools by fixing energy costs over a 20-30 year period.
* Accelerating the local renewables market by providing a real life demonstration of the benefits of solar power to homeowners.
* Giving kids and STEM teachers a hands-on way to show kids how solar power works.
* Gradually building a nationwide bi-partisan caucus of pro-clean energy voters.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The working budget for the 2 year pilot is approximately $750,000 which would be covered by Foundation grants and (possibly) corporate sponsorship.
The proposed project is a 2 year pilot. The first year would focus on 3 key districts to test the campaign and communications model. The next year would expand that to 7 more districts.
Karl Burkart, Digital Director TckTckTck.org
Justin Winters, E.D. Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Whitney Showler, E.D. Music for Relief
Dan Souweine, Campaign Director, Citizen Engagement Lab