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February 10, 2011

Moving from Coal to Clean Energy

CoalPI Who needs coal when there are such great examples of clean energy initiatives around the U.S.? I've got several examples for you this week.

First, let's head to coal central: West Virginia. There are some new solar panels appearing in Morgantown:

"A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia is building a first for West Virginia's southern coalfields region this week -- a rooftop solar array, assembled by unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors."

This story is a great example of businesses seeing the need for clean energy and non-profits training workers for the clean energy economy. You can have solar power right in the middle of coal country.

Speaking of solar power, let's head out to sunny California. Right now, the federal government is unveiling a new program that offers a chance to resolve the conflicts that can happen when large-scale renewable energy development is planned for public lands.

It's called "Smart from the Start" and it focuses development in Solar Energy Zones, which are places with nearby roads and transmission, and the lowest possible conflicts with wildlife habitat and natural resources. 

This move preserves habitats and important places while prioritizing renewable energy development, providing needed new jobs, and giving certainty both to the renewables industry and to environmental advocates on where the right places for development are.

This will not only avoid future lawsuits and delays in building needed renewable energy, but will bolster the fledgling renewable energy economy and create needed jobs in California.

Last year, the Obama Administration permitted six new solar projects on public lands in southern California. Totaling more than 2,900 MW, these projects represent a huge step forward in moving toward the state's big renewable energy goals. However, many of these projects were controversial and some have been challenged in court due to their significant impacts on endangered species and cultural resources. 

By focusing on the places with the best chances for successful projects, we will be able to move quickly to develop much needed solar energy to transition away from dirty coal and oil used for electricity, while still conserving our public waters, wildlife and our treasured natural heritage.

Finally, we head back east, where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu this week announced another "Smart from the Start" plan - only this time it's for offshore wind energy.

Earlier this week, they unveiled a "coordinated strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy…including new funding opportunities for up to $50.5 million for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority Wind Energy Areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource."

I'm inspired to see such strong steps away from coal and toward clean energy from both the private sector and our government. Together, we can move beyond fossil fuels.

UPDATE: And one more example of clean energy topping coal - last week's cold temps in Texas...Wind energy kept the power on while coal plants faltered.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign


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