Posted by renew on October 11th, 2008 at 11:07am
Clean Energy Observations from the Field
Last week I participated in a “Businesses Going Green” panel discussion hosted by the St. Paul (MN) Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Program. On the panel with me wereJamey Flannery, LEED-certified architect with Flannery Construction and Jamison Randall of Latuff Brothers Auto Body. I represented my employer, Tunheim Partners.
There were about 40-50 people in attendance and we made for a diverse panel: Jamey the architect and Jamison the auto body salesman talked about the nuts and bolts of sustainable business practices. Jamey discussed the increase of LEED-certified buildings in Minnesota and Jamison touted the ways the businesses could make surprising gains in both green practices and profits. His shop, Latuff Brothers, was recently honored with Governor Pawlenty’s pollution prevention award for their switch to less toxic auto body practices and increase in energy efficiency. I, being proficient in neither drawing nor mechanics, was the communications/marketing compliment to the group.
What stuck me most was that the audience was clearly ready and willing to make their employers or businesses green, even if just in a small way. Indeed, some had already started with less paper use, recycling, or more efficient lighting. But others were overwhelmed at the huge amount of information on how to go green, what makes the most impact, and what makes the most economic sense. One woman asked about the silver bullet for going green: “I recycle, I have mostly CFLs, but what the one thing I’m missing that could really make an impact? and that’s easy? and that’s not very expensive?”
That’s the million dollar question. But there’s not an answer to it and that’s the tough part of this whole clean energy problem.
There’s no silver bullet, I explained. Instead we have to think about solutions as silver BBs - there are lots of things to do and they all add up to a solution. But the point is that you have to get started with some change - whether that’s getting an energy audit for your home, taking the bus or organizing for better local, state, and national policies. And then you have to keep going and making changes so you don’t get complacent.
The drive I saw in this group is indicative of the larger trend of Americans taking more steps to shrink their carbon footprint. This is due partly to a concern for global warming and also because of high energy prices. An ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll found that 70 percent of Americans are cutting their emissions and saving on energy bills by driving less or being more efficient with their energy use.
While high energy costs aren’t always a good thing, it is changing consumer behavior. We must continue to push forward with smart energy policies that reward efficiency and innovation in clean technologies and renewables so that this change doesn’t continue out of economic hardship but because it’s the smartest, most profitable way to do business.
Xcel Energy to Disclose Emissions Details
In an agreement with New York’s attorney general, Xcel Energy - one of the nation’s largest electric utilities and my own - will now give investors details about how global warming could effect business. (Full disclosure: I’m an Xcel shareholder)
This all started last year, when Attorney General Cuomo subpoenaed Xcel and four other companies to determine whether their plans to build new coal plants poised risks to investors that the companies didn’t disclose. For example, more coal plants could put the utility at higher financial risk if Congress were to enact carbon legislation that penalized companies with dirty energy sources.
Under this first-of-its-kind agreement, Xcel will analyze the most likely consequences of current and potential future legislation on its business. It will also include any financial risks due to lawsuits and global warming effects like drought or rising sea levels. It will publish this information in its investor filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Justin McCann, an energy analyst at Standard & Poor s, told the New York Times that other companies may follow suit:Utility lobbies are very strong, but they have read the writing on the wall in terms of greenhouse gas reductions. They know it is extremely popular with the public, and so they have wanted to get ahead of the curve, so they can have some input.
Xcel is building a new coal plant in Colorado, its first in the state in 30 years. It doesn’t have any plans for any new plants in Minnesota, although it does want to expand its Sherco plant by 140 megawatts. Late last year Xcel announced a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions - a major source of global warming - 22 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.