Lessons & Aftershocks from the Local Economy Fellowship

Angie Hawk Maiden: As I prepare for ACEnet’s 30th Anniversary and our largest ever fundraising campaign, I’ve recognized so much of what I learned in the BALLE Fellowship manifesting itself in the ways I am now able to do this work.

In Joshua Tree, Dollar General Still Unwelcome


Democratic Energy Media Roundup – December 22, 2014

This week in democratic energy, media reports discussed solar developments across the states.

ILSR’s recent report, Beyond Utility 2.0 to Energy Democracy, was covered in Utility Dive. Herman K. Trabish writes:

From integrating more distributed generation to pushing electric vehicle chargers and home energy advising, 2014 has seen a number of utilities making big changes to their business models.

Now a new report from a storied environmental and economic development think tank warns that in coming years, if power companies do not do more to change their business models, they could go the way of the land line phone provider.

In last week’s media roundup, we covered the Freeing the Grid report, which graded states on their clean energy programs. This week, Breaking Energy’s Pete Danko looked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ‘s rankings of statewide unsubsidized economic potential of a residential solar system.”

Despite Minnesota’s recent partnership with Xcel, the town of Monticello passed a temporary moratorium prohibiting the installation of solar developments for a year.

In New York, reporters continued discussing Governor Cuomo’s recent announcements regarding the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) plan. Solar Industry summarized the policy changes, The Daily Freeman analyzed how the move would benefit training programs at local colleges, and Benn Willis of PV-Tech explained how the net metering cap increase would help grow New York’s solar market.

In neighboring New Jersey, Matthew Speiser of The Jersey Journal reports that Secaucus could save $1.2 million over 15 years by installing solar panels:

If you walk around Secaucus today, you may notice something interesting when you look up. Solar panels are beginning to dot the roofs of buildings, from school and homes to municipal facilities and warehouses.

But this no random trend. It’s part of the town’s plan to create a solar-powered Secaucus that city officials say may save the town more than $1.2 million over the next 15 years.

While solar has gained popularity in Maine, it continues to lag behind in solar energy and is the only state in New England lacking specific policies to promote or protect solar power:

‘A year from now, we hope we are celebrating not just a few individual projects that have been successful but a surge here in Maine that can match what’s going on across the region and across the country,’ said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The Boston Globe announced that National Grid will be leading Massachusetts’ largest solar construction project to date:

Massachusetts is no California, where the climate is sunny and there’s plenty of desert land to host huge solar-power farms that can produce more than 500 megawatts of electricity at one site.

But the state is trying — and on Monday [December 15] National Grid plans to announce it will install solar panels at 19 sites across the state that can produce enough electricity to power 3,200 homes a year, in one of the largest solar buildouts in the state’s history.

E&E analyzed South Carolina’s recent adoption of net metering and whether it could spread in the Southeast. Kristi E. Swartz writes:

A recent agreement on a key solar policy has again made conservative South Carolina the talk of the energy world, both clean energy and utility advocates say.

‘It’s getting a lot of buzz in our industry,’ said Blan Holman, a Charleston-based attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

Net metering was also discussed in Midwest Energy News, with Karen Uhlenhuth reporting on rural co-ops that promise net metering but don’t always deliver. Uhlenhuth writes:

‘We spent a little time looking at the actual policies offered and concluded that many of them offer net energy metering, but they place such significant restrictions on it that it’s not a comparable policy to what the (investor-owned utilities) offer,’ [Nathaniel Baer, the energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council] said.

“‘Many co-ops offer net energy metering, but they place a cap on the amount of capacity that would be eligible. It can be as low as 40 kW. That’s four or five average home-solar systems. After four or five people sign up, they stop offering it. … It’s a tiny fraction of customers who can participate in net energy metering. There’s all these restrictions. They say they offer net energy metering. But in reality, they don’t.’

An article published on StateImpact Texas analyzes what Spain can teach Texas about solar energy. Terrence Henry writes:

That’s why as Texas makes its own solar push, solar towers like the ones [in] Spain aren’t likely to play a role. Instead, expect vast solar farms with photovoltaic panels stretching out across the state’s abundant, flat and cheap land. Webber says the state is also very unlikely to repeat the policies of heavy incentives and subsidies that Spain did.

Strength in Numbers, December 2014


Working Partner Update: Recycling Advances in Delaware

Rick Anthony recalls a conversation he had in 2007 with officials from the Delaware Chamber of Commerce about recycling. An official stated that the only way to require recycling in Delaware was to show a considerable economic payoff. Anthony and Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, under contract with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), provided just that information in a report that laid out a plan for implementing comprehensive recycling and economic development.

The report identified $50 million market value that was then flowing to three state operated landfills annually in the form of recyclable and reusable materials. Further, the report found that this lode would support over 2000 new good jobs in the state.

See Resource Management in the State of Delaware, May, 2007.

In 2010 the state required source separation for homes, apartment houses, businesses and restaurants; all haulers must provide services for source separated materials. Other recycling incentives were introduced as well.

Last week Gov. Markell announced that the state reached a 42% recycling rate.  Since 2006 the state’s 900,000 people have doubled the recycling rate. Since recycling measurement began in 2006 the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA), which manages the state’s landfills, reports that over 500,000 tons of single stream materials have been diverted from disposal.

See “Governor Highlights Progress in Recycling,” DNREC, November 30, 2014.

Waste incinerator in Broward County, FL cannot compete economically if it does not have a monopoly on trash

As reported by the Sun Sentinel, when “Waste Management/Wheelabrator’s 20-year monopoly disposing of Broward residents’ trash was broken up…Wheelerbrator lost thousands of customers…and garbage rates dropped for residents across the county.”   Sun Sentinel story, “Florida Waste Company Seeks to Close Incinerator…” December 9, 2014.

Read the full story here

The Comic Book that Started a Movement: The Lone Recycler

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the Lone Recycler, lead citizens in the SF Bay Area against the cruel intentions of the garbage incineration industry; which lead to a national movement that continues to this day.

From 1980 through 1982, five planned garbage incinerators in the SF Bay Area were defeated. In rapid succession the defeat of incinerators in the SF Bay Area resulted in the cancelation of 30 planned incinerators in California.

From 1980 through 1997 over 300 planned garbage incinerators were defeated by spontaneous action by organized citizens, small businesses and progressive officials.

Introduction – by Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA

A new wave of approximately 100-150 garbage incinerators have been proposed since the mid 2000s. To date one has been built. A look back at the history of anti garbage incineration is well in order.

In the early 1980s the conventional wisdom was that recycling could recover only 35% of discards, and even some recyclers called incineration “resource recovery.”  But the recyclers in Berkeley, California, led by Dan Knapp and including Mary Lou Van Deventer and Mark and Nancy Gorrell, had a bigger dream of recycling everything.  The city council voted unanimously to begin the procurement process for a garbage incinerator.

The recyclers tried to convince the council that burning the resources would foreclose the recycling options and cause pollution.  At first the council members wouldn’t even meet with recyclers, and when they finally did, they wouldn’t change their plan.  The frustrated recyclers decided direct democracy was their only recourse, so they gathered signatures for a citizens’ initiative, and they put a five-year moratorium on incineration on the November 1982 ballot.  Their campaign slogan was “Give Recycling a Chance.”  They won more than 60% of the votes!  Afterward Dan and Mary Lou helped citizens in several other San Francisco Bay Area cities defeat incinerators too.  Seven incinerators were planned; none was built.  One joint powers authority even dissolved itself.

In 1984 Dan and Mary Lou swapped a lot of dinners, beer, and wine with their friends architect Mark Gorrell and illustrator Nancy Gorrell, and they laughed a lot as they wrote the saga of The Lone Recycler to envision a Zero Waste future.  Step by step Nancy took the developing bones of the story into her studio and fleshed out the group’s characters, wrote dialogue, invented incidental characters and games, and illustrated everything.  The San Francisco grass roots recycling group Richmond Environmental Action, provided funds for the publication.

The intention was to promote citizen activism and sustainable resource management instead of centralized control of waste and destruction.  In the end they transformed Slobberg into Wonderberg and even recycled the bad guys.

CAUTION TO PARENTS: Children tend to take this comic into a corner and spend a long time reading.  If you prefer that they play more with their electronics, don’t give them this comic.

Download the full issue of The Lone Recycler

“The Secret Side of Global Trade” – David Morris at Riverside Church, 1995

placeholderDavid Morris speaks at Riverside church as part of the International Forum on Globalization. Originally recorded in 1995, his words still ring true today.


Failure of the Wilmington Compost Facility Underscores Need for a Locally Based and Diverse Composting Infrastructure

The rapid increase in community-scale composting in the Mid-Atlantic is sorely needed. The recent closing of the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center in Delaware, due to the loss of its operating permit, has pushed the need for a distributed and diverse composting infrastructure to the fore. Source separated food discard programs from New York City to Washington, DC, are now scrambling to find alternative sites to tip their loads.

The Wilmington Organics Recycling Center was at the center of expanded food discard collections in the Mid-Atlantic region. Developed, sited, permitted, financed and built by The Peninsula Compost Group (TPCG), the facility was designed to receive 600 tons per day of source separated organic materials from government institutions, grocery chains, schools, food processors, sports venues, restaurants, and other large food waste generators. A separate company, named the Peninsula Compost Company (PCC), was set up to own the plant. Its original members included the EDiS Company and Greenhull Compost LLC (both of Wilmington, Delaware), as well as the developers, TPCG. The facility commenced operations in late 2009 composting around 200 tons per day. For the first two years, TPCG was the managing and operations partner. During that time there were no verified odor complaints or Notices of Violation from the State of Delaware and the compost produced met every Federal and State standard for unrestricted use.

However, the anticipated ramp-up to 600 tons per day of incoming food waste did not occur as anticipated, placing economic strains on the facility. In 2011, Waste Management Inc. (WMI) approached PCC seeking to participate as an investor in the project and to provide food and wood waste to fill the facility’s capacity. This overture and ensuing transaction were welcomed given WMI’s interest in accelerating organics recycling services and developing value-added compost-based products in the Mid-Atlantic. WMI invested millions into buying the largest individual ownership share of PCC. When WMI announced this strategic investment in PCC in May 2011, it touted the facility’s ability to add over 200,000 tons to the company’s processing capacity. Despite incentives to increase the volume of organics processed, WMI was unable to help PCC reach the plant’s 600 ton-per-day capacity and the material delivered by all haulers was too often contaminated.

In mid-February 2012 – within a year of WMI’s investment – TPCG was removed as the operations manager and eliminated as voting members, a step that made WMI the majority voting member of PCC, with the largest controlling interest. However, WMI maintains it never could and still cannot control PCC. This is counterintuitive given that all of the Wilmington plant management people were direct employees of PCC, a company that WMI dominated with a majority of the voting shares.

Between mid 2012 and its closure in fall 2014, the facility received hundreds of odor complaints, Notices of Violation from the State of Delaware, and complaints about plastic and glass contamination in the compost. Although W.L. Gore and Associates, the technology provider, and a number of well-known independent compost consultants and experts made recommendations that would have resolved those issues, most of those suggestions were apparently not acted upon. As a result, the operations continued to suffer from contamination and odor problems. Odors reached area neighborhoods and businesses, even though sufficient buffer areas existed. On October 20, 2014, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, in the face of permit violations, refused to renew the facility’s permit, thus shutting down operations. (Click here for DNREC’s closure order and here for its press release.) All active composting of existing material onsite must to be completed by January 16, 2015. By March 31st, all compost and related waste must be removed. The facility’s closure has not only crippled business and local government food waste diversion programs, but has also given commercial food waste composting a bad name.

Andrew DiSabatino, Jr., Managing Partner of PCC, reported that the Wilmington Peninsula plant would not be reopened. Another plant that had been planned for the southern part of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is unlikely to move forward.

One industry consultant wondered if WMI’s goal was to shut down the plant in order to eliminate competition with its regional landfills. Yet, why wouldn’t WMI want to clean up the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center – a facility they partly owned with the largest controlling interest – in order to secure on-going capacity for the growing food waste composting sector? Consider that the lack of wood waste was one of the most critical problems facing the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center. (Wood waste was needed as a source of carbon to balance the highly nitrogenous food waste.) WMI could have delivered adequate carbon materials for composting but did not; its Tullytown, Pennsylvania landfill (~55 miles from Wilmington) receives tens of thousands of tons of yard and wood waste, for which it earns landfill tip fees.

According to WMI spokesperson, John Hambrose, WMI remains committed to organics recycling and is involved in numerous other projects and operations across the U.S and Canada. WMI, for example, is a partner in Harvest Power’s wet anaerobic digester project in London, Ontario. That facility accepts 67,000 metric tons of material a year and generates 285 megawatts of electricity and other products. Hambrose points out that WMI has made significant investments to increase its capacity to manage organic material. “Our customers want this service so we invest in facilities that will help us meet the demand for composting services. WMI invests to succeed.” WMI operates 39 yard trimming and food waste facilities in the U.S. Referring to the growing ‘zero waste to landfill’ movement, Hambrose stated, “We need composting capacity to build our business.”  Indeed, WMI used the Wilmington facility to successfully win the bid to transfer New York City’s organics.

Is there too much reliance on distant far-away facilities? ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Director, Brenda Platt, who has been trained as a compost facility operator in Maryland, thinks so. “There is not enough focus on home composting and small-scale farm and community sites, followed by onsite institutional systems and then development of medium sized private and public operations for remaining organics,” she asserted. “One beauty of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale, and everything in between. We need more emphasis on locally based systems as the priority.”

No matter what scale the facility, proper management and quality control are essential.  As noted by Nora Goldstein of BioCycle Magazine, “What is key in compost manufacturing at any scale is production of a high quality compost as that opens doors to a wide range of markets and end uses — from growing food to managing storm water and erosion. This requires clean incoming feedstock.

Indeed, cities could be developing closed loop local systems to recycle food waste into compost to green neighborhoods and enhance the health of urban soils. Compost is increasingly valued for its ability to improve water retention in soil, treat non-point source pollution, and cut sedimentation run-off via green infrastructure such as raingardens and bioswales. Centralized, far-away and large-scale facilities make it harder to return finished compost back to the community for use.

The good news is that there is huge potential to expand composting at the local level. ILSR’s 2014 report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, describes successful initiatives in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Programs range from urban to rural and include demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, and farms employing multiple composting techniques. At recent forums in Baltimore (sponsored by BioCycle and ILSR) and Philadelphia (sponsored by the City Council), community-scale composters spoke before enthusiastic audiences.

If implemented, a decentralized approach – one that combines home and community-scale composting with on-farm and medium-sized operations – would create jobs, reduce private and public sector costs for managing waste, and better tie compost to healthy soils and local food production, thereby reinforcing a community culture of sustainability and engaged environmental stewardship. Moreover, with a diverse infrastructure, problems at one site will not disrupt the whole system.

For further information on the benefits of composting, composting basics, national and state statistics, model programs, policy opportunities, and a discussion of community-scale composting, see ILSR’s 2014 report State of Composting in the US: What, Why, Where & How.

To learn more about our Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders composter-training project (a collaborative project with ECO City Farms), please email us at NeighborhoodSoilRebuilders@gmail.com.


This article was produced under ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project, which is advancing composting in order to create jobs, enhance soils, protect the climate, and reduce waste.

Distributed Solar a Substantial Portion of 2014 Power Plant Capacity

placeholderRenewable energy continues to grow substantially in the U.S. and in 2014 it remains a large portion of new power plant capacity – 30% or more through the first three quarters. Often overlooked, distributed solar on residential and commercial property is making up a substantial share of new electrical generating capacity.  The following chart illustrates the share of new power generation from solar and other sources in each quarter of 2014, with distributed solar contributing 14% or more in each quarter!

us power plant capacity additions 2014 thru Q3 ILSR

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Democratic Energy weekly update.