Wow. That's the word I repeated over and over this summer, as news rolled in of one clean energy victory after another. These are David and Goliath campaigns, led by community groups fighting for the health of their families, for clean air and water, and for a safe climate. Over and over, against all odds, from the deep South to Oregon and everywhere in between, David keeps winning.
Each one of these campaigns represents a major victory for local families, who point to these coal projects as threats to the safety of their kids and communities. They also add up to a sea change in how we make electricity in America: 178 coal plants and 505 coal boilers, one-third of U.S. coal plants, are now retired or slated to retire. On top of that, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission just reported that 100 percent of new electricity on the U.S. grid in July was renewable, mostly wind and solar.
If you find yourself falling victim to despair or cynicism about the fate of our planet, look no further. These 10 recent clean energy victories will give you hope for the planet. These were made possible by the work of dozens of allies, big and small.
1. Mississippi: After six years of grassroots pressure and legal challenges against the Kemper coal plant, a landmark legal settlement was announced in August that will bring $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to Mississippi. This was an especially big deal for solar in the deep South - one headline described it this way: "A landmark deal in Mississippi could give a big boost to utility scale solar."
2. Indianapolis: The city is home to a polluting downtown coal plant, long targeted by community leaders as a source of dangerous air and water pollution. After an intensive two-year campaign lead by local community groups including the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and dozens of others, Indianapolis Power & Light announced it will stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant. The announcement came on the eve of a much-anticipated vote by the Indianapolis City-County Council on a resolution calling for the phase out of the plant, which we expected to win. Check out this post for some great photos from the campaign.
3. Oregon: In a decision heralded around the nation, in August the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected a vital permit for one of the last remaining proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest, Ambre Energy's proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project along the Columbia River. The rejection is the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency formally rejected a permit for one of the proposed coal export terminals - some are calling it a "death rattle" for the coal export plan.
This comes after years of tremendous pressure from residents of all backgrounds - from doctors, parents, people of faith, small business owners, Tribal communities, and many others.
In total, three out of six proposed Northwest coal export terminals have been abandoned and the fourth is now teetering in the wake of this decision, the result of an electrifying campaign that has turned out 17,000 people turn out to hearings and generated 410,000 public comments opposing the projects.
4. Missouri: In July 2014, in the hometown of coal giants like Peabody, utility Ameren announced that its board had passed a resolution to phase out the 932 MW Meramec coal plant in 2022, citing that the 61-year-old plant had reached the end of its useful life. This came after a relentless coalition campaign to phase out the plant, which was home to leaking coal ash ponds and a significant contributor to air pollution in St. Louis.
5. Tennessee: The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced in August that it will retire the Allen coal plant in Memphis, which emits thousands of tons of pollutants in the air every year. Local residents had pushed hard to replace the plant with renewable energy, and TVA pointed specifically to community pressure as the reason they chose to go with a smaller natural gas plant and leave room for clean energy options:
TVA president Bill Johnson said TVA evaluated gas plants as large as 1,400 megawatts in their Environmental Assessment, but they went with a smaller plant in consideration of comments received urging TVA to "preserve the opportunity to use other kinds of energy resources such as solar or wind to meet future demands."
6. Illinois: In a partial victory for Illinois activists, in August NRG announced its plan to stop burning coal at two of its coal facilities in Romeoville and Joliet. Our coalition is continuing to work for more clean energy, a solid transition for the workers, and the phase out of additional coal plants that pose a public health threat to surrounding communities, including the 60-year-old Waukegan coal plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.
7. Los Angeles: This summer we scored a major clean energy victory in Los Angeles, when the city utility board voted to increase its 10 year energy efficiency target from 10 percent to 15 percent. To hit that target, the city is going to jump from a low of around 0.5 percent energy savings per year in 2011 to saving two percent per year in the coming years. That puts L.A. on par with the highest achieving energy efficiency savings programs in the nation, creating lots of new green jobs in the process. This victory is the latest accomplishment by an amazing coalition that has been racking up clean energy victories in LA, including successfully pushing the city to end coal use by 2025.
8. West Virginia: In late August, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision and ruled that environmental and historic preservation groups, including Sierra Club, have standing in our campaign to protect the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield, which is threatened by a proposed mountaintop removal coal mine. Blair Mountain was the site of a pivotal battle in the struggle to unionize the coal mines, the largest armed insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War, where 10,000 miners clashed with paid coal industry operatives.
As Sierra Club's Bill Price put it, "Blair Mountain is an asset to the people of Appalachia. It must not be destroyed. This decision brings us one major step closer to preserving our history."
9. Utah: We won a big solar victory in Utah this summer, when the state Public Service Commission ruled that Rocky Mountain Power could not charge a "solar tax," a proposed monthly fee to homeowners who go solar. This decision came after months of opposition to the fee from a broad coalition, including Sierra Club, and over 10,000 comments to the PSC opposing the fee.
10. Hollywood: And in some great news for ground-breaking television, in August the Showtime documentary climate series "Years of Living Dangerously" - one episode of which featured amazing coal activist Anna Jane Joyner, TV star Ian Somerhalder, and yours truly - won the Emmy for Best Documentary or Nonfiction Series!
I was so honored to be part of this groundbreaking project, and my congratulations go out to everyone on the Years team for this much-deserved recognition. It is such a great series, and in case you haven't seen it yet, it just came out on DVD and iTunes.
I'll say it again - wow. I can't wait to see what this fall will bring. These were grassroots powered victories, one and all - thanks to everyone who helped make them happen!