30 Responses to May 3 news: Homebuyers willing to pay premium for solar; Southwestern cities aggressively pursue clean-tech firms
Okay, I’m a little slow on the uptake on this but I’ve been pursing a recent report from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory on the effect of installing a rooftop solar array on the sale price of homes in California.
(It makes for dense reading and unless you’re really into “hedonic pricing models” and “difference-in-difference model,” you might want to stick with the two-page summary.)
The upshot: California homes that sport solar panels sell for a $17,000 premium for an average newish 3.1-kilowatt photovoltaic array.
“This is a sizable effect,” Ryan Wiser, a staff scientist at the Lab and a coauthor of the report, said in a statement. “This research might influence the decisions of homeowners considering installing a PV system and of home-buyers considering buying a home with PV already installed.”
Similar studies have been done previously, but the Berkeley report is apparently the first to analyze the statewide real estate market. California is by far the nation’s largest solar market, with some 100,000 rooftop systems installed. About 90 percent of those have been put on residential roofs, according to the report.
Last August, a Spanish company called Rioglass Solar announced plans to build a factory in Surprise, Ariz., a suburb 25 miles outside Phoenix.
Building a 160,000-foot, highly automated plant takes time, but Surprise was hungry. It sped Rioglass through the permitting process and suspended fees. It had already informed Rioglass that the site had the electric, water and rail access it needed.
The project broke ground in January. By July, the factory will begin forging mirrors for a 280-megawatt concentrated solar plant south of Phoenix.
Jose Villanueva, Rioglass Solar’s president, is impressed.
“I must say that probably in Europe, this kind of thing wouldn’t be possible. But here in the United States, these things are faster,” he said.
If everything goes according to plan, Surprise will have added 100 jobs to build the plant, 100 more to operate it, and $50 million of local investment — all in less than a year. And if Rioglass builds another plant, as planned, all those numbers will double.
Eleven solar manufacturers have located to the Phoenix metropolitan area in the last year, partly driven by a renewable-energy tax break Arizona recently passed. But they’ve also been lured by Arizona’s aggressive courtship — the combined efforts of officials and businessmen to outbid other states starving for jobs.
Farm-state voters have seemingly lost patience with Democrats in Washington. Last fall, the governorships and a combined 16 congressional seats in several key states that supported President Barack Obama in 2008 flipped to Republicans, including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
At the center of complaints from farm-state lawmakers: the Environmental Protection Agency’s air and water regulations, which they claim will put farms out of business.
In an effort to repair its image in the heartland, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and other Cabinet officials are hitting the road and the airwaves.
Jackson traveled to Iowa last month and California farm country in March, and EPA says additional trips are in the works. She has also been trying to improve EPA’s image through appearances on local radio stations and with op-eds in farm states.
“Part of the reason for being here is to speak directly to folks outside of that echo chamber that’s the Washington, D.C., world about what’s really happening,” Jackson told Des Moines, Iowa, radio station WHO last month.
“I call it sort of my ‘debunking the myths’ tour,” she said.
Pressure from a growing middle class will encourage China’s leaders to push ahead with cleaning up the environment, the European Union’s climate action commissioner said Tuesday.
Beijing also acknowledges the need to combat climate change and sees big business opportunities in green energy projects, Connie Hedegaard told a briefing during a visit to South Korea.
China, the world’s second largest economy, is the top producer of carbon emissions blamed for climate change. But it is also the world’s green investment leader, according to a survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Hedegaard cited its latest five-year plan, which envisages major pilot projects to test market-based “cap and trade” emissions control systems.
“I believe China has realised there is a limit to how much it can grow its economy without taking into consideration energy considerations, environmental considerations, air pollution, water quality, things like that,” she said.
Former Vice President Al Gore on Sunday night compared climate skeptics with birthers, saying money has allowed the line between fact and fiction to blur.
“There is now a tendency in our country to struggle over what is a fact and what is not,” Gore said at the opening of a conference on Jewish social justice in Washington.
Gore said a fundamental shift from a marketplace-like exchange of ideas to a system wherein money buys access to airwaves has disenfranchised everyday Americans from having their ideas heard.
“It hurts our country to have such a sharp partisan divide over the basic facts,” he said.
Gore compared doubters of climate change science with the so-called birthers, whose movement he said gained momentum when “questions of fact became questions of power.”
“We just had the object lesson with the birthplace of our president,” he said to laughter. “The chuckles here are hard won because it is still an example of a question of fact being turned into a question of power.”
State of Play: Capitol Hill Democrats are honing their political strategy for forcing votes on repealing oil industry tax breaks as House Republicans are pushing ahead with floor votes this week on bills to expand offshore drilling.
Against the backdrop of gasoline prices nearing $4 per gallon, the parties’ dueling agendas will be on display in the coming days and weeks.
The House will vote later this week on GOP legislation to require the sale of oil-and-gas leases off Virginia’s coast and set deadlines for certain Gulf of Mexico lease sales.
They may also vote on a separate GOP measure that would require the Interior Department to act more quickly on offshore drilling permit applications. (Check out this story for a fuller description of the GOP bills.)
Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to force votes in both chambers on repealing billions of dollars in oil industry tax subsidies. The House appears to be headed for a tax tussle this week, while Senate timing is less certain.
On the House side, the drilling bills will create opportunities to seek votes on amendments or, absent a chance, a “motion to recommit” that effectively would force members on record.
President Barack Obama said he was seeking ways to provide “immediate relief” for high U.S. gasoline prices as he courted women voters with an appeal on pocketbook issues considered crucial to his re-election bid.
Obama’s appearance on TV talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey’s popular syndicated program gave him a friendly forum to try to reconnect with her nationwide audience dominated by women, a key constituency that helped him win the White House in 2008.
In a segment taped in Chicago on Wednesday and airing on Monday, Obama acknowledged his political fortunes may hinge not only on his handling of economic problems but on what happens with soaring oil prices, which have eroded his popularity.
Obama described as “unbelievable” the current prices at the pump, which have stoked public ire and become a highly charged political issue that Republicans hope to use against him as the 2012 presidential election campaign gets under way.
“There are families across the country who they’ve got to drive 50 miles just to get to their job and they just see that money bleeding away from them,” he said. “We have to think short-term how can we provide people immediate relief.”
Climate models of wind patterns suggest U.S. wind energy production over the next 30-50 years will be largely unaffected by global warming, researchers say.
Indiana University scientists in Bloomington have completed the first analysis of long-term stability of wind patterns in America’s lower 48 states, an IU release reported Monday.
“The greatest consistencies in wind density we found were over the Great Plains, which are already being used to harness wind, and over the Great Lakes, which the U.S. and Canada are looking at right now,” Sara Pryor, a professor of atmospheric science, said.
“Areas where the [warming] model predicts decreases in wind density are quite limited, and many of the areas where wind density is predicted to decrease are off limits for wind farms anyway.”
Scientists have long pondered whether a warmer atmosphere might lead to decreases in wind density or changes in wind patterns.
“We decided it was time someone did a thorough analysis of long-term patterns in wind density,” researcher Rebecca Barthelmie said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is proposing stricter toxic air emissions standards for the country’s secondary lead smelters.
Secondary lead smelters use furnaces to remove and recycle lead from scrap material, mainly from automobile batteries, keeping a significant amount of lead from polluting the environment.
The new standard would reduce allowable lead and arsenic emissions, and for the first time would require lead smelters to limit emissions of dioxins, an EPA release said Monday.
The new proposal calls for an additional 63 percent reduction in lead and arsenic emissions over current standards that were issued in 1997.
There currently are fewer than 20 secondary smelters located throughout the United States and its territories that would be covered by the proposal, the EPA said.
The still-spiking price of gas is set to generate even more political heat on Capitol Hill this week, as members of both parties see an opening for their spending and budget messages in voters’ fury over the punishing cost of a full tank.
Neither the Republican push for more offshore drilling nor the Democratic bid to end oil company tax benefits is likely to ease the near-term squeeze of high gas prices. But President Obama’s party is finding its footing on the issue after weeks of playing defense against GOP attacks on his energy agenda, juxtaposing a season of fat oil-industry profits against the fiscal austerity of the House Republican budget.
Obama’s announcement late last night that American troops had killed Osama bin Laden could change the week’s political dynamic and force the parties to hit pause on their planned partisan attacks. But bin Laden’s death doesn’t change the overall picture in the Middle East in the short term or the U.S. strategy there — and until Obama’s announcement, both Democrats and Republicans were going full-bore in their plans to score political points over gas prices and the deficit.
“Republicans in Congress voted on a budget that essentially eliminates Medicare and did so on the justification that we can’t afford it … [while] at the same time defending tax breaks for oil companies,” said Seth Hanlon, director of fiscal reform at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
This is the first time the European commission has raised the issue of mandatory targets beyond 2020, when the current commitment – to generate 20% of energy from renewable sources – expires.
In its attempts to push this line, the gas industry has held a series of high-level meetings with senior figures in the European commission and the European parliament, as well as with the governments of member states.
Connie Hedegaard, the climate change commissioner in Brussels, is concerned at the lobbying, and is determined to maintain Europe’s lead in developing renewable energy and clean technology. “We should be looking to avoid a lock-in to fossil fuels,” she said. “We should be discussing a renewable energy target for 2030. We need to have ambitious targets. It would be one way to send a long-term price signal for renewable energy – that renewable energy is not just going to stop growing after 2020.”
Promoting a green infrastructure in the United States will decrease pollution while also advancing environmental health, the EPA said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it was launching a strategy aimed at promoting green infrastructure at the local level.
The EPA identified storm water as one of the gravest dangers to environmental quality. The agency said it would work with local governments, community groups and tribal leaders in the United States to encourage the use of technology that will help filter pollutants.
Energy savings can help communities reduce costs. So-called green roofs, the EPA said, could help communities save as much as 10 percent on energy bills.
“Through this agenda, we’ll help cities and towns across the nation clean up their waters and strengthen their communities by supporting and expanding green infrastructure,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in a statement.
Wind power can now supply 10 million American homes, says a new report by the American Wind Power Association.
The organization says the industry installed 1,100 MW of new wind power capacity in the first quarter of 2011 and entered the second quarter with another 5,600 MW under construction.
“The under-construction figure is nearly twice the megawatts that the industry reported at this time in both 2009 and 2010; moreover, two-thirds of those megawatts are already locked in under long-term power purchase agreements with electric utilities, indicating an enduring industry that has proven both nimble and strong through a range of economic and policy conditions”, AWEA said. Total wind fleet now stands at 41,400 MW.
“American wind energy is ramping up, and these first-quarter figures indicate an industry poised for a renaissance. Refined technologies, affordable prices, and continued demand for clean, home-grown energy – these are all reasons why wind has consistently posted strong growth numbers, adding 35% of all new generating capacity since 2007,” said Denise Bode, AWEA’s CEO.
Minnesota was the state with most capacity additions (293 MW), followed by Washington (252 MW), Illinois (240 MW), Idaho (119 MW) and Nebraska (81 MW).