Quebec Liberals Plans $100B Green Platform as Québec Solidaire Pledges to Nationalize Renewables

As the Quebec Liberal Party seeks to redefine itself less than a year before a provincial election, Leader Dominique Anglade wants the environment to be its main focus.

The leader of the province’s Opposition told Liberals at a policy convention in Quebec City late last month that environmental issues must be the ballot question when Quebecers go to the polls in October 2022, The Canadian Press reports.

Anglade wants Quebec to fight climate change by creating government-owned green hydrogen production capacity, something she said should not only be a central plank of the Liberal platform but a key element of the next election campaign.

“I hope it will be the issue of the next election,” she told reporters.

Anglade said she thinks the Coalition Avenir Québec government of François Legault isn’t credible when it comes to fighting climate change. “It’s quite clear that the CAQ has decided that this won’t be a key issue for them,” she said.

Nationalizing the production of green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy to extract hydrogen from water through electrolysis, would be one of the pillars of a larger C$100-billion environmental plan that Anglade said she’d put in place if the Liberals win Quebec’s next election.

Anglade said green hydrogen could replace fossil fuels used in trains, planes, and boats and help reduce Quebec’s use of hydrocarbon fuels.

The provincial Liberals aren’t the only ones talking nationalization. Earlier in November, a Québec Solidaire convention called for the “greenest electoral platform in history,” CBC reports. Key planks would include a 55% emission reduction target for 2030, a ban on fossil fuel development, a new electrified rail network to carry passengers and freight, an end to planned obsolescence in consumer products, and a plan to nationalize wind and solar companies.

Anglade, who has led the Liberals for 18 months, said the party is in a process of redefining itself under her leadership. Recent polls have shown the Liberals in a distant second place behind the governing Coalition Avenir Québec. The province’s next provincial election is set for October 3, 2022.

The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press on November 27, 2021.

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German Coalition Government Pledges More Renewables, Hedges on Faster Coal Exit

An agreement reached by Germany’s new three-way coalition of the Social Democratic (SDP), Green, and Free Democratic (FDP) parties commits to phase out coal earlier than previously planned and increase the country’s renewable energy capacity.

“They have agreed to double Germany’s solar target to 200 gigawatts by 2030, increase the country’s renewables target to 80% of electricity demand by 2030, up from 65%, and bring forward the coal phaseout date from 2038 to 2030,” reports the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. 

The new coalition will also set out to increase hydrogen investments, make Germany’s heating supply carbon neutral by 2030, and ensure stability of gas and coal supply as “renewable capacity ramps up.”

A 2030 coal phaseout, in particular, is essential to meeting the country’s climate targets, says the European Environmental Bureau. But the new German government will also need to facilitate investments totalling €860 billion by 2030 to reach its goals, with emphasis on retrofitting and upgrading infrastructure, expanding renewable resources, and “building new gas-fired power plants that can eventually operate fully on renewables-based green hydrogen,” writes Clean Energy Wire.

Agreeing on expenses and funding sources is critical for the coalition to successfully carry out its goals. This is the first time Germany will be governed by a coalition of three parties, each of which has support from different social and economic groups. Negotiations leading up to the coalition agreement were complicated, “as each party [had] to keep the interests of its own core supporter groups in mind, striking a balance between the demands of voters hoping for more ambitious climate action policies by the Greens, workers from low-income households hoping for support by the SPD, and high-wage earners and businesses betting on the FDP,” Clean Energy Wire adds.

The agreement was finalized this morning by a formal vote in the Bundestag, with the coalition led by the SDP’s Olaf Scholz, who served as finance minister to now-former chancellor Angela Merkel. The coalition is not expected to deviate far from past policy, but the SDP’s intentions to strengthen the Greens’ environmental policies are creating tension with the FDP’s “aversion to tax hikes,” writes the Washington Post.

Critically, FDP leader Christian Lindner will become the new finance minister, indicating that the FDP’s fiscal preferences “are likely to shape the new government’s monetary policy more than those of the Greens, after Scholz announced debt rules would not be relaxed,” says The Guardian.

Instead of working towards climate goals by raising taxes, the FDP would rather abolish outdated and often climate-damaging subsidies for individual industries. Recent estimates placed those subsidies at €65 billion per year, Clean Energy Wire states.

With Germany’s climate targets already among the most ambitious in the world, the Green Party made several concessions in the agreement, including a compromise to accelerate construction of gas-fired power plants to ease the transition away from coal, reports Bloomberg Green.

The parties say that “all sectors will have to contribute” on further climate legislation. Many of the deadlines for the coalition’s ambitious targets are set in 2030, just nine years away, and will require substantial investment and political will. The target for phasing out coal is particularly contentious and has been a national issue for years, with Germany still relying on the dirtiest fossil fuel for a quarter of its electricity, says Bloomberg.

Experts at the ClientEarth environmental law charity note that the text of the agreement weakens the commitment by saying that Germany will “ideally” phase out coal by 2030. The deal also includes a caveat that the goal will only be completed if the energy supply is secure.

“While it is a relief to see a stated intention for a 2030 phaseout, it’s not a breakthrough – it’s just an official recognition of economic and climate realities,” said Hermann Ott, head of ClientEarth’s Berlin office. “The real question now is if our new governing coalition truly will put in place the right legal rules and economic incentives to make sure we reduce overall energy consumption and can power Germany without sacrificing the planet.”

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Community Solar ‘Blesses Families’ with Lower Energy Costs, Minneapolis Bishop Proclaims

Strolling his church’s rooftop among 630 solar panels, Bishop Richard Howell Jr. of north Minneapolis acknowledged climate change isn’t the most pressing concern for his predominantly Black congregation—even though it disproportionately harms people of colour and the poor.

“The violence we’re having, shootings, killings, COVID-19,” Howell said wearily. “You’re trying to save families, and right now no one’s really talking about global warming.”

Yet his Shiloh Temple International Ministries welcomed the opportunity to become one of many community solar providers popping up around the U.S. amid surging demand for renewable energy, The Associated Press reports.

Larger than home rooftop systems but smaller than utility-scale complexes, they’re located atop buildings, or on abandoned factory grounds and farms. Individuals or companies subscribe to portions of energy sent to the grid and get credits that reduce their electricity bills.

The model attracts people who can’t afford rooftop installations or live where solar is not accessible, such as renters and owners of dwellings without direct sunlight.

“We’re helping fight this climate war and blessing families with lower costs,” Howell said.

Nearly 1,600 community solar projects, or “gardens,” are operating nationwide, according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Most are in Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, and Colorado, although 41 states and Washington, DC, have at least one. Florida has relatively few but they’re big enough to make the state a leading producer.

Together they generate roughly 3.4 gigawatts—enough for about 650,000 homes—or roughly 3% of the nation’s solar output. Another 4.3 gigawatts are expected to go online within five years, says the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“We can have a cheaper, cleaner, and more equitable system for everyone if we build smaller, local resources,” said Jeff Cramer, executive director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a trade group.

Yet it’s unclear how big a role community solar will play in the U.S. transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

The Biden administration is continuing a US$15-million Energy Department initiative begun in 2019 to support its growth, particularly in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The department announced a goal in October of powering the equivalent of five million households with community solar by 2025, saving consumers $1 billion.

But power regulation happens at the state level, where interest groups are fighting over what defines community solar and who should generate it.

The Solar Energy Industries Association says the label should apply only where private developers and non-profit cooperatives, not just utilities, can operate solar gardens and send power to the grid. The association says 19 states and Washington, DC, have such policies.

Utilities say having too many players could unravel regulatory structures that assure reliable electric service. They warn of disasters such as last winter’s deadly blackout in Texas.

“You’ve got lots of individual profit-motivated actors trying to make a buck,” said Brandon Hofmeister, a senior vice president with Consumers Energy. The Michigan power company is fighting state bills that would allow non-utility community solar providers.

Others say utilities are simply ducking competition.

“What’s really driving the rise of community solar is the free market,” said John Freeman, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, a trade group. “It saves money and promotes a cleaner environment.”

Growing Pains

Community solar took off in Minnesota after lawmakers in 2013 required Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, to establish a program open to other developers. It has more than 400 gardens—tops in the U.S.—with nearly 500 applications pending.

Keith Dent and Noy Koumalasy say subscribing to the Shiloh Temple garden has lowered their household energy bills an average of $98 per year.

“You’re generating your own power and saving a little money,” said Dent, who helped install several complexes built by Cooperative Energy Futures, a local non-profit.

Xcel, which is required to buy the gardens’ electricity, says the state formula for valuing solar energy makes it too expensive. The costs, spread among all the utility’s customers, essentially force non-subscribers to subsidize community solar, spokesperson Matthew Lindstrom told AP.

Community solar backers say Xcel’s claim ignores savings from local gardens’ lower distribution costs.

Among Cooperative Energy Futures gardens are 3,760 panels on a parking deck overlooking the Twins’ baseball stadium and a collection on a farm near Faribault, 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of Minneapolis.

Although conflicted about taking six acres out of production, farmer Gerald Bauer supports climate action and says lease payments of $1,200 per acre make community solar a financial winner.

“Farming doesn’t even come close to the revenue that the solar generates,” he said, walking through rows of panels framed by fields of corn.

A cooperative project for a municipal roof in nearby Eden Prairie has twice as many would-be subscribers as panels.

“There are people in the community who want to support clean energy any way they can,” said Jennifer Hassebroek, sustainability coordinator for the suburban city.

But community solar developers are hitting a roadblock: Under state law, residents and businesses can subscribe to facilities only in their county or an adjacent one.

That means the heavily-populated Twin Cites have many potential subscribers but are short of space for gardens. Rural areas have plenty of room but fewer buyers for the energy.

“Instead of spreading across the state, we’re going to concentrate on those counties that are adjacent to the subscription demand,” said Reed Richerson, chief operating officer of Minneapolis-based U.S. Solar Corp., which builds solar projects in half a dozen states.

A bill by State Rep. Patty Acomb, a Democrat representing a Twin Cities suburban district, would drop the “contiguous county” rule. But Xcel says that contradicts a basic community solar principle: producing energy close to where it’s used.

Community solar is billed as making renewable energy more available to households, especially needy ones. Yet businesses and public entities with sustainability goals, such as schools and city halls, subscribe to most of the power.

Some U.S. states are trying to change that.

New Mexico requires at least 30% of each community solar project’s subscribers to be low-income. Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, and Oregon reserve portions of the energy for low- and moderate-income residents. New York provides financial incentives for developers to recruit them.

“There’s still a lot to be done to open community solar market access to marginalized folks,” said Gilbert Michaud, an assistant professor of public policy at Loyola University Chicago.

Looking Ahead

In states without established systems, community solar is struggling, AP says.

Michigan has about a dozen projects, although utility Consumers Energy this summer opened a 1,752-panel garden on abandoned factory grounds in Cadillac.

Conservative Republican Michele Hoitenga and progressive Democrat Rachel Hood are sponsoring House legislation to establish a state-regulated program open to third-party energy providers and utilities.

Hoitenga says it would boost freedom and the economy without raising taxes. Hood emphasizes climate benefits and equal access to renewable energy.

But their bills are opposed by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two biggest utilities. They would cause “overproduction of energy… and ultimately higher rates,” said DTE Energy spokesperson Pete Ternes.

Prospects are brighter in states friendly to non-utility developers such as New Jersey, Maine, and Illinois, said Rachel Goldstein of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

She forecast a 140% nationwide jump in production capacity by 2026, although growth could hinge on lifting barriers such as project size limits.

Community solar likely won’t rival home rooftop installations soon if ever, Goldstein said, much less approach utility-scale operations.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re going to solve the climate crisis with this and everyone’s going to be a millionaire,” said Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, general manager of Cooperative Energy Futures. “But we can say you’re going to have a better life, more affordable and cleaner.”

The Canadian Press carried this Associated Press story on November 28, 2021.

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Instagram Executive Faces Senate Hearing on Safety

Adam Mosseri is expected to face questioning on internal research showing that the app can worsen body-image issues for some girls. The hearing will be live streamed on this afternoon.

Building Managers Can Help Limit Grid Demand, Rocky Mountain Institute Reports

It’s easier than expected to set up and maintain energy-efficient buildings that don’t burden the power grid at peak hours, says a new report written for building managers in the United States. 

Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs) are a “jargony” way of describing a package of familiar measures that together provide energy, cost, and emissions savings, say authors of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) report, which encourages managers to adopt low-and no-cost GEB measures to boost efficiency. “The beauty of GEBs is that many strategies can be implemented with existing, off-the-shelf technologies that have very compelling financial returns and valuable side benefits, from health and productivity to security and resilience,” said RMI Chair Emeritus Amory Lovins. 

GEBs integrate three different energy management approaches: energy efficiency (through known measures like efficient windows and window shading); distributed energy resources (such as onsite solar panels and battery storage); and demand flexibility.

Though demand flexibility is a relatively new concept for many building managers, it is the key to successfully capitalizing on GEB strategies, the authors say. It involves managing when energy is consumed, so that GEBs can help reduce periods of peak demand on the electricity grid. In this way, GEBs cut down the need for “peaker” plants that fill in energy production gaps but produce high emissions.

“Demand flexibility approaches can be low-tech, such as using a building’s thermal mass to heat or cool spaces at off-peak hours, or high-tech, such as drawing on battery storage to power building operations during peak hours,” says RMI. Managers must first assess the building’s utility rate structure, automation capacity, and daily energy use profile before making any changes, to determine the feasibility and impact of GEB measures. 

Demand flexibility may one day become more important than efficiency as the grid becomes increasingly greener and powered by variable energy sources, says RMI. When this happens, “’GEB-ready’ buildings will be poised to reap the most benefits as utilities adapt to this new reality.”

The RMI report identifies several other “simple, low-cost steps toward GEB readiness that produce immediate cost, energy, and carbon savings.” Building managers can program heating and cooling systems to turn on in sequence rather than all at once, and modify temperature settings to limit energy use during peak periods.

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Report Urges Strategy to Curb World-Leading U.S. Plastic Waste

Responsible for leaking some two million tonnes of plastic waste into the world’s oceans each year, the United States must urgently establish a national strategy to wean itself off its plastic habit, starting with a cap on virgin-plastic production, says a new report. 

Closing the spigot on the waste created by the world’s top consumer of plastic will require “comprehensive reforms “by the end of 2022 that address everything from design and production through disposal, says Bloomberg Green, reporting on a paper by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report calls on the U.S. federal government to drive those reforms, as even best efforts by state governments to tighten recycling streams and ban single-use plastics do not tackle the fundamental problem: the overproduction of fossil-based plastics that overwhelmingly cannot be recycled.

But interfering with the petrochemical-to-plastic assembly line will not be an easy sell. Bloomberg notes that the U.S. plastics industry “operated 15,688 manufacturing establishments, employed 758,000 people, and made shipments worth $334 billion in 2020.”

And then there is Big Oil’s ongoing efforts to funnel fossil fuels into massive ethane “cracker” plants for raw materials.

In addition to urging a national strategy to shift the U.S. towards a “post-plastic” economy, the National Academies’ panel of 10 experts—who spent a year studying plastic marine dumping—recommended a cap on virgin plastic production, limiting single-use and toxic plastics, and substituting plastics with materials that either biodegrade more quickly, or can be more easily recycled.

The panel also called for improvements to waste management infrastructure, regular cleanups of beaches and rivers, and minimizing at-sea disposal of any.

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‘Shopaholic’ Americans Should Live More Like Europeans, Columnist Advises

As supply chain woes stymie America’s hunger to shop, a leading free market think tank writes that living “more like Europeans” would be better for the economy, the planet, and mental health. 

“Supply chain shortages are constraining U.S. consumers’ endless appetite for buying whatever they want whenever they want,” writes Allison Schrager, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent op-ed for Bloomberg. And “it’s about time,” she adds, as “the U.S. economy could be healthier if it were less reliant on consumption.”

Household consumption currently generates roughly 67% of the United States’ GDP, compared to Germany, where 50% of GDP owes to the buying habits of regular people.

Per capita consumption in America grew 65% between 1990 and 2015, compared to 35% in Europe, and it shows in the numbers: the size of the average home jumped 300 square feet between 1980 and 2015, even as the size of the average family shrank.

Two other data points offered by Schrager: in 1980, 15% of U.S. households did not own a television, but by 2015, 40% had three or more, “including 30% of households earning less than US$40,000 a year!” And “clothing purchases have increased five-fold since 1980 and the average garment will only be worn seven times before it’s disposed of.”

Schrager says the U.S. has “become a nation of shopaholics” as the country got richer while consumer goods became cheaper and more accessible, courtesy of cheap labour (mostly from China and Mexico, she writes.) Access to the Internet helps, too, making it easier to find more goods at low prices without ever leaving home.

“But there are reasons to believe the age of over-abundance is over,” she writes. While the pandemic has helped to show the cracks in this “hyper-efficient global market”—most notably the fragility of supply chains—a federal move to boost resilience by encouraging domestic production has been in the works for a while. 

In the long run, Schrager adds, “made in America” will mean less trade, which “tends to mean less variety of goods at higher prices.” While “we will certainly not be deprived,” she says, “we will trim back our excesses, perhaps be more thoughtful about what we buy and purchase fewer, higher-quality goods.”

Trimming back the excess will be good for the economy: “long-term, sustainable growth doesn’t come from going deep into debt to buy stuff we don’t really need. It comes from technology and innovation, where we come up with new products and better ways of doing things.” And “if we are truly serious about protecting the planet, being a good global citizen will take more than driving an electric car or installing solar panels. It means consuming less so that we throw less away.”

Buying less might also make for happier people. Describing a culture “where buying stuff feeds the empty part of our souls,” Schrager hazards that it might be worth a try to take a long bike ride rather than fill up that Amazon cart. Even if that bike ride doesn’t change much on its own, at least it’s a more eco-friendly way “to shut out the darkness.” 

Canadian commentators are echoing Schrager’s message. In a recent CBC interview, X (formerly Ryerson) University sustainable design professor Lloyd Alter said that while government policies geared to reduce climate emissions are essential, so too are personal efforts to cut carbon through careful consumer choices.

“You can buy a low-carbon diet, you can buy a low-carbon house, and you can buy low-carbon transportation—and it’s absolutely, fundamentally, a matter of the choices that we make,” Alter said [speaking at least to the segments of the population that can afford those choices—Ed.]. “Just make everything last longer and buy less,” he advised.

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The Achilles’ Heel of Biden’s Climate Plan? Coal Miners.

Unions representing other workers affected by climate legislation have struck deals, but opposition from coal miners has persisted, complicating the path to enactment.

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