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[1THING] Blog: Archive for September, 2014

[ Study: nature walks reduce stress, make us happier ]

A new study has scientifically proven what so many of us already intuitively know: walks in nature decrease stress and increase mental well-being.



[ Summit Tackles India’s Sustainable Energy Goals ]

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday, clean energy was on the agenda. A joint editorial from the leaders promised they would discuss ways to “expand affordable renewable energy” in India during the prime minister’s visit, his first official trip to the States.

The word “affordable” is key everywhere, but especially in India, where some 300 million people still lack access to electricity. Certainly coal, which currently accounts for 59 percent of India’s power capacity, will help meet that demand. But India’s quest to meet its energy needs occurs against the backdrop of increasing international pressure for nations to act on climate change, and there seems to be a recognition in India that even without that pressure, renewable sources such as wind and solar will need to be part of the solution. (See related story: “India’s Push for Renewable Energy: Is It Enough?“)

Prime Minister Modi is said to be seeking U.S. help in a bid to add 100 gigawatts each of solar and wind energy to the India grid within the next decade.

How can India get there? That was among the questions before a group of private and public sector leaders meeting today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-India Partnership Summit. The summit was convened by Yale University and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a sustainable development organization led by Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and an adviser to the Great Energy Challenge.

Many comments at the summit suggested that the work of creating sustainable energy and smarter cities in India is actively proceeding, but still an evolving effort that needs better parameters and more solutions to problems of infrastructure and financing.

Ajit Gulabchand, whose Hindustan Construction Company is building what it bills “India’s first smart city,” talked about formidable challenges in building a 20,000-acre hill city where 80 percent of the people—300,000—will live in only 20 percent of the entire area. The Lavasa development, which lies 115 miles(186 kilometers)  from Mumbai, aims to draw not only residents but tourists, students, and businesses.

“We were looking at building a city which India needs very badly,” Gulabchand said, but “there was not enough understanding of how to build this” in terms of sustainability.

Gulabchand said that his company was obligated to restore what was environmentally damaged during the construction of Lavasa, but that the developers found “the whole place was considerably denuded.” The challenge of building the city was compounded by the need to enhance the land area in general, even where construction was not taking place, Gulabchand said. And the endeavor goes beyond building a city; Lavasa aims to be its own self-sustaining economy.

“It is a remarkable project with remarkable problems,” Gulabchand said.

An ad for Lavasa proclaims, “Some day all cities will be created this way.” Indeed, Gulabchand and others in India are threading their way through a process of sustainable development that still lacks a common set of standards, a point mentioned by multiple panelists at the summit.

“Creating standards [for buildings] at the outset will be critical to ensuring that the emissions are as low as possible,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Other participants mentioned the need for public-private partnerships, a federal loan-guarantee program similar to that of the U.S. Department of Energy, and a better way for financiers, contractors, and government to connect.

A new report from NRDC also says that “the Indian government and business leaders must overcome financing obstacles to achieve the country’s renewable energy goals and reach the full time growth potential of the clean energy sector.” But it also notes that India’s solar market has grown more than 100-fold in four years, and that India is the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer.

Despite the many challenges for India’s clean energy sector that were raised at the summit, many expressed optimism that a serious expansion along the lines of Prime Minister Modi’s 100-gigawatt goals is realistic.

“It’s very doable, and as more and more [renewable energy] gets unleashed, that will unleash more,” Beinecke said. “Which is exactly what’s going to happen in India.”


[ Which public wildlands can I visit with my dog? Answers here ]

It’s often been said that dogs are man’s best friends. Dogs can be great company on the trail, too.



[ 7 can’t-miss wildlife sightings this fall ]

We all know fall offers opportunities to spy gorgeous forest displays as the leaves change color.



[ Bipartisan Marine Monument Helps Protect Vital Ocean Systems, Ongoing Research ]

Michael Reinemer

The Wilderness Society applauds the Obama Administration for advancing bipartisan efforts to further protect ocean ecosystems and their scientific value by using the Antiquities Act to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, an undisturbed island and atoll chain located 1,000



[ Next few months will be critical for renewable energy and land protection in the California desert ]

For years there has been a growing demand on public lands in California and other parts of the west to support clean sources of energy like wind and solar power.



[ Some See Garbage, Others See an Opportunity: Installing Solar on Landfills ]

by Laurie Guevara-Stone

Green Mountain Power just broke ground on a 2 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) plant in Rutland, Vermont. While some other large PV systems planned for the area have met with strong opposition (some residents worry large, ground-mount solar arrays will be an eyesore on the state’s pastoral landscape), this project seems to be welcomed with open arms. Why? It’s being built on a 9.5-acre closed landfill.

The number of active municipal solid waste landfills that accept our household waste have been on a major decline, from nearly 8,000 in the late 1980s to less than 2,000 by the mid-2000s. All of the closed landfills around the country (not to mention closed cells on still-active landfills) leave us with a big question: What to do with those brownfields of largely undevelopable land? Many cities and towns —from Massachusetts to Colorado and Georgia to Nevada—are taking the same approach as Rutland, and using that unused and often unusable land to generate revenue and/or save on energy costs through solar farms. (See related post: “Fight Over Solar in Bridgeport: Two Types of Environmentalism Collide.”)

What makes landfills such an ideal spot for solar? For one, often the disrupted or even contaminated land may not be suitable for commercial or residential development. Also, putting solar on landfill sites is often cheaper, less impactful, and raises less community concerns than an installation on a greenfield site.

Another reason why landfills make such good areas to put solar farms on is the fact that many municipalities don’t have large areas of green space. However, it’s estimated that there are over 10,000 old municipal landfills in the country, many of which are located in close proximity to an existing utility grid, making interconnection economical.

Massachusetts has taken the lead in repurposing its landfills with large-scale and utility-scale solar, and much of that work has been done by PV financing and contracting company Borrego Solar. “When I look at a landfill I see a great opportunity,” Amy McDonough, senior project developer for Borrego Solar, told RMI. “Putting a solar energy generating system on land that couldn’t be used for anything else and that will save the municipality millions of dollars over the terms of the PPA [power purchase agreement] is a win-win situation.”

Once a landfill’s useful life is over, it gets capped. Capping consists of putting a barrier over the landfill, the geomembrane, to separate any harmful elements from people and the environment. Then comes a layer of sand for drainage, then vegetation. The geomembrane must not be penetrated, so Borrego Solar has engineered a ballast system for the racks. Since every solar array rack has two ballasts it costs more than doing a regular foundation, adding about 25 cents per watt to the total price of the system.

Massachusetts incentivizes solar installations on brownfields, though, helping improve the economics for landfill-based solar, which despite certain addition requirements like the ballast system already benefits from economies of scale associated with utility-scale PV projects. Now Borrego Solar is working with the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) to convince that agency to put in incentives for brownfields as well.

According to McDonough, the Northeast has a lot of great landfill opportunities. “A lot of the landfills are small, often with flat tops,” McDonough explains. “A properly closed landfill offers a really great base for a solar project. If it’s been closed for 10 or 12 years you don’t have to worry about settlement. But you can’t build a building on it, so there’s not much else you can do with it.”

One success story can be seen in the Town of Ludlow in Hampden County. The Town signed a 20-year PPA with Borrego Solar to lease 17 acres of the town’s closed landfill. Ludlow now purchases the energy produced from the solar panels at a rate of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour—compared to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour charged by the local utility. The 2.6 megawatt system is saving the town approximately $140,000 a year on energy bills, created local construction jobs on land that had been previously written off as undevelopable, and is estimated to offset 4.3 million pounds of CO2 each year.

Massachusetts now has dozens of solar farms on landfills generating over 78 megawatts of power, but other states in the Northeast are joining the trend. Vermont’s first solar landfill project, a 2.7 megawatt system, is currently being installed in Coventry, on the only active landfill in the state. Although the landfill is still active, the solar system is being built on the buffer zone, the required land that separates the landfill from other usable land. Since very little can be built on buffer zones, solar farms present a great option. The landfill in Rutland, Vermont, meanwhile is making headlines as it is including 4 MW of battery storage to shave peak electricity demand and to provide emergency backup power for Rutland High School (an emergency shelter) during outages.

New Jersey has also hopped on board as just last year the Garden State approved a proposal to turn the state’s 800 closed landfills into solar farms. And New York State is about to turn the world’s largest landfill—2,200 acres on Staten Island—into a park with a 47-acre, 10-megawatt solar farm.

Although the Northeast seems to be taking the lead in solar landfill development, the area is home to only 7 percent of the landfills in the U.S.—40 percent are in the western U.S. and 35 percent in the South. In fact, the largest solar energy generating facility in Georgia is a 1 MW farm on the Hickory Ridge landfill that uses a geomembrane cap covered with 7,000 thin-film PV panels.

While as of February 2013 there are 15 solar PV farms on landfills producing 30 megawatts of power, that number is growing quickly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prescreened 1,600 landfills for solar potential. One study estimates closed landfills cover hundreds of thousands of acres of solar opportunity. A 2013 NREL study estimated that municipal solid waste landfills and other contaminated sites covered an astounding 15 million acres across the United States. Once other states get on board offering incentives for brownfield development, we may see those old heaps of garbage turning into electricity generating stations across the country.

This post originally appeared at the Rocky Mountain Institute and has been republished with permission.


[ Using Drones for Conservation in Belize ]

Using Drones for Conservation




Guest post by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Your donations through the Combined Federal Campaign make the work of WCS and EarthShare's other member charities possible.


Besides coastal development, unregulated and unreported fishing are some of the largest threats to Belize’s fishing industry. 

To get a high-tech edge over illegal fishers, the Government of Belize will use “eyes in the sky” to enforce regulations in the biodiverse Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve and other reef systems. It will be the first ever use of conservation drones to monitor marine protected areas.

EarthShare member Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) provided the important technical assistance needed to implement this program and fight illegal fishing.

“Belize has been a leader in the establishment of marine protected areas, including the world-famous Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, but fishing regulations are difficult to enforce on the open sea,” said Julio Maaz, Communities Fisheries Coordinator for WCS’s Marine Program in Belize. “Drones offer a means of improving the rate of detection of illegal activities at a fraction of the cost required for patrol vessels.”

Conservation drones also are being used for wildlife monitoring and for the enforcement of terrestrial protected areas. The conservation drones can fly for over an hour at a time with a range of more than 50 kilometers, and are capable of taking high-resolution photographs and video.

Program participants from WCS, the Belize Fisheries Department, and conservationdrones.org implemented the drone program in early June, following testing that began last July. The drones will enable government officials to remotely locate fishing vessels illegally operating in marine protected areas or in areas with seasonal closures. Once located, patrol vessels can conduct seagoing searches more efficiently.

Drones will also allow government officials to monitor for illegal activities in coastal areas, which are often hidden from view by mangrove forests. Fishers have been known to hide illegal conch catches in these coastal forests.

WCS has also provided support for the government’s revision of the National Fisheries Act. The act includes numerous improvements to the country’s fisheries laws, including rights-based reform and an adherence to ecosystem-based standards. 

“This exciting new enforcement tool will help the government and local communities protect their most valuable assets—the fisheries and coral reefs of Belize’s coastal waters,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of WCS Marine Conservation.

“The world’s oceans are in dire need of low cost innovations for improving the cost efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement efforts. This represents an exciting pilot program for Belize, the wider Caribbean, and nearshore marine parks and fisheries around the world.” 



[ The Wilderness Society and The Dreaming Tree Wines look back on 2014 Dave Matthews Tour ]

The 2014 Dave Matthews Band Tour wrapped up this last Saturday with the final show in Irvine, CA. We had a wonderful time teaming up with the Dreaming Tree Wines again the summer to share a booth in Reverb’s Eco Village.



[ Poll: western voters are pro-public lands for all Americans ]

Voters in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming overwhelmingly said that public lands managed by national agencies are “American places” versus “state places,” repudiating recent efforts to move the care of shared wild places away from the