Jul 20, 2010

How the USA can immediately become more Green?

Here are selections from a great article on how the power of the US government could immediately begin to force America to become more green. Let the crazies that pass you on the Interstate in a Ford F 250 going 80 miles an hour keep on going and waste our oil. As we see below as long as the US Government vehicles such as a  service vehicle on a military base etc uses clean fuels gradually the cost of clean will subside and the F 250 will eventually be powered by clean tech.

Bill Gates visited Washington and encouraged lawmakers to pony up public subsidies to triple clean-tech R and D funding from $5 billion to $16 billion annually. Gates explained to the Washington Post that much of what is touted as free-market innovation was born of government subsidies:

Gates's acknowledgment of the need for government intervention is welcome, but he and many others are stuck on "innovation."

Yet according to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid large-scale implementation. In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but rather about new policies.

An overemphasis on breakthrough inventions can obscure the fact that most of the energy technologies we need already exist. You know what they are: wind farms, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal and tidal power, all feeding an efficient smart grid that, in turn, powers electric vehicles and radically more energy-efficient buildings.

But the so-called "price gap" is holding back clean tech: It is too expensive, while fossil fuels are far too cheap. The simple fact is that capitalist economies will switch to clean energy on a large scale only when it is cheaper than fossil fuels. The fastest way to close the price gap is to build large clean-tech markets that allow for economies of scale. So, what is the fastest way to build those markets? More research grants? More tax credits? More clumsy pilot programs?

No. The fastest, simplest way to do it is to reorient government procurement away from fossil fuel energy, toward clean energy and technology -- to use the government's vast spending power to create a market for green energy. 

Call it the Big Green Buy. The advantage of this strategy is that it is something Obama can do right now, without waiting for congressional approval to act. As such, it amounts to a real test of his will to make progress in the fight against climate change.
Consider this: Altogether federal, state and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP. Allow that to sink in for a moment. The federal government will spend $3.6 trillion this year. In more concrete terms, Uncle Sam owns or leases more than 430,000 buildings (mostly large office buildings) and 650,000 vehicles. The federal government is the world's largest consumer of energy and vehicles, and the nation's largest greenhouse gas emitter. Add state and local government activity, and all those numbers grow by about a third again.

A redirection of government purchasing would create massive markets for clean power, electric vehicles and efficient buildings, as well as for more sustainably produced furniture, paper, cleaning supplies, uniforms, food and services. If government bought green, it would drive down marketplace prices sufficiently that the momentum toward green tech would become self-reinforcing and spread to the private sector.

The good news is that, despite our sclerotic, largely right-wing Congress, government agencies are turning toward procurement as a means to jump-start clean tech and cut emissions.
Perhaps the most important move in this direction came in October 2009, when President Obama quietly signed Executive Order 13514, which directs all federal agencies to "increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and stormwater management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations."
The executive order also stipulates that federal agencies immediately start purchasing 95 percent through green certified programs and achieve a 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. The stimulus package passed in 2009 included $32.7 billion for the Energy Department to tackle climate change, and some of that money is now being dispersed to business and federal agencies.

Already some federal agencies are installing energy management systems and new solar arrays in buildings, tapping landfills to burn methane and replacing older vehicles with plug-in hybrids and soon some all-electric vehicles. But it is the green procurement part of the executive order that is most interesting.
Government has tremendous latitude to leverage green procurement because it requires no new taxes, programs or spending, nor is it hostage to the holy grail of sixty votes in the Senate. It is simply a matter of changing how the government buys its energy, vehicles and services. Yes, in many cases clean tech costs more up front, but in most cases savings arrive soon afterward. 

And government -- because of its size -- is a market mover that has already shown it can leverage money-saving deals.

The clean-tech price gap is partly the result of old dirty tech's history of subsidies ($72.5 billion between 2002 and 2008), but it is also the result of the massive economies of scale that the fossil fuel industry enjoys.

Government procurement, particularly the military's, would become significantly greener if two recently introduced bills became law. The Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2010, introduced by Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, would require the department to derive a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. And -- good news for Smith Electric Vehicles -- the bill also calls, rather ambitiously, for a full-scale conversion of the military's nontactical vehicle fleet to electric, hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles by 2015.

A similar bill, introduced by Democrat Jose Serrano of New York, would require the Postal Service to purchase at least 20,000 electric vehicles by 2015. That goal is reasonable, and the USPS is a perfect place to start, as most of its vehicles travel in loops of less than 20 miles each day and always park in the same garage. Thus, even current battery technology is sufficient.

Many other government fleets fit the same profile: they have regular routes of less than 100 miles a day and use the same parking spot each night, so they are easy and cheaper to charge because the price of juice drops at night.

Buildings also use lots of energy. The US Green Building Council reports that buildings account for about 36 percent of America's total energy use and emit roughly the same proportion of greenhouse gases. But if properly constructed and managed, many buildings could actually generate energy for their own use, for vehicles or to put back into the grid.

The government's building manager -- its janitor, if you will -- is the GSA. The GSA constructs, repairs and manages federal buildings; it buys the supplies and keeps the heat and AC on; and it buys and maintains much of the government's nonmilitary vehicle fleet. It also acts as a purchaser and contractor of sorts for most other federal agencies. But in the age of climate change, its brief has taken on vital importance. The implications of Executive Order 13514 have put the GSA, along with the military, at the cutting edge of the Big Green Buy.

 The GSA is putting up solar arrays, buying a few electric cars and hybrids, trying to produce energy at its buildings and buying renewable energy like biomass, solar and wind power, which now account for 10.8 percent of the GSA's federal building power supply. It is also creating monitoring systems to track progress and keep federal agencies accountable.

The GSA's sustainability plan requires "a minimum of three percent renewable energy source for all competitive electricity supply contracts and requires that renewable energy be from a plant that was recently built in order to stimulate greater investment in the industry." The agency has reduced its own energy use by 15 percent, as measured against a 2003 baseline, and plans to reduce energy consumption in its buildings by 30 percent from that baseline by 2020. 

Already the GSA's building stock -- mostly offices -- is about 22 percent more efficient than similar private-sector buildings.

State and local governments are also moving toward green procurement, but few have been very aggressive or ambitious.

Viewed broadly, there are four simple things the government can do to help close the clean-technology price gap and aid clean-tech business across the valley of death.

First, it can boost R and D as Gates has requested, but that alone won't bring mass-scale green power on line.

Second, it can set up a Green Bank tasked with financing clean-tech businesses as they cross the valley of death. Along with loans, the government can offer more loan guarantees, which encourage otherwise frightened private capital to invest in clean-energy start-ups. The Waxman-Markey climate bill of last year included language to do that, but nothing like it is yet law.

Third, the government can impose mandates on the private sector requiring companies to adopt electric vehicles, purchase clean energy and conserve energy. Industry already lives with numerous rules that put limits on the anarchy of production. Yet in the crazy world of American politics circa 2010, forcing green procurement mandates on business would be very difficult.
So let's get real.

The fourth path is the best: a robust program of green procurement is the most immediate and politically feasible thing government can do to boost the clean-tech sector. And the only number that approaches the scale of the energy economy is government spending on energy. We need to be talking not about millions or billions but trillions of dollars going in a new direction. If the government is serious about electric vehicles -- then just buy them already!

At one level, the mad Tea Partiers are correct: government is leviathan -- a monster. But it is our monster, and with proper leadership, even this government in the current climate could jump-start a clean-energy revolution.

This article appeared in the August 2/9, 2010 edition of The Nation.
"The Big Green Buy" is part of a special issue of The Nation Magazine about green energy and how we can get off oil. You can see the whole issue here.
And you can see a video discussion about this article here.

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