Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • How Solar is Powering our Armed Forces and Economy

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Bob Powell, President of SunEdison North America.

    As part of President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change, he has made it a priority to help America’s armed forces double-down on renewable energy and increase federal renewable energy purchases.    In 2012, the Department of Defense announced a goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable power and meet 25% of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025.  In December 2013, President Obama called for the government to triple renewable energy use in federal facilities, to 20% by 2020.  These goals are achievable, in part because solar is now close to parity with retail electric rates and wholesale competition from fossil fuels in many states without incentives.   

    The Air Force is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, spending more than $9 billion annually on fuel and electricity.  A prime example of the Air Force and U.S. military’s solar leadership, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is a 16.4 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar facility in Tucson Arizona that began operation in January 2014 and is the largest of its kind on any U.S. Department of Defense installation.   Davis-Monthan’s solar plant was built in just five months thanks to up to 150 Americans “pounding in place” solar panels.  Moreover, the project will use almost zero water to generate power, which is important to a state facing severe drought. 

    Solar is not only an energy cost hedge against future electric cost increases and a water saver, but also a jobs winner for America, creating well-paid, highly-skilled jobs here at home that cannot be outsourced.  Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, pumping billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.   Back in 2008, President Obama had the vision to encourage U.S. solar energy just as the global economy was plunging into recession.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation, solar jobs have increased from about 24,000 in 2007 to an astounding 143,000 Americans working in the U.S. solar industry today, and a projected 165,000 jobs by the next State of the Union.

    Having come from a utility, I know how important it is that these solar energy projects demonstrate real cost savings for the public.  SunEdison was the first to introduce the solar power purchase agreement, now the leading business model in the industry and a smart new finance tool that enables our public agencies to more cost-efficiently procure energy by leveraging private sector tax options.   This new Davis-Monthan solar project will provide approximately 35 percent of the Base’s electricity requirements at an economically beneficial rate for 25 years, reducing the Base’s utility costs by an average of $500,000 annually. 

    Leveraging private-public partnerships through long-term power purchase agreements for solar is novel for federal agencies, and federal facilities require particularly strong partnerships to succeed.  The Air Force should be commended for its bold leadership in using this type of solar financing that is providing real savings and value to the government and to taxpayers.

    SunEdison is proud to partner with the Obama Administration to keep expanding America’s solar leadership, enabling U.S. energy independence while putting Americans to work every day.  Our company, headquartered in Belmont, California, is a leading American provider of solar from silicon to electrons, with manufacturing in Pasadena, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and St. Peters, Missouri.  We and our partners will keep working to make a safer, more stable world, with renewable sources of energy, as the President urged in the State of the Union.  2014 will be another year of action, helping more Americans turn to solar to go to work, save money, help meet their energy needs, and improve our environment.

    Bob Powell is President of SunEdison North America.   

  • How our Veterans are Securing our Energy Future

    Like many of my fellow veterans, I first began to understand the issue of energy security while serving on the battlefield in Iraq.  Each night, after local workers left our base, we needed to move our fuel trucks because the location where those trucks had been would become a mortar target at night.  Over the past several years, the military has made incredible strides to address energy security on the battlefield.  They have learned that being energy efficient and having resilient power supplies not only saves money, but saves lives.

    Our veterans, returning from service to their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought their own experiences with energy security home with them.  Now, many are serving on the front lines of clean energy and climate security.  Last November, the White House honored 12 veterans and leaders who are using their skills and knowledge to advance clean energy initiatives and promote greater climate security at the Champions of Change: Veterans Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security event.

    This week, the Solar Foundation and Operation Free released a joint report called Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future. This first-of-its-kind report shows that veterans – a group that has faced extraordinarily high unemployment – are employed within the solar industry at higher-than-average rates. The report highlights that America’s solar industry has grown by 500 percent since 2008, providing more than 13,000 veterans with job opportunities as of November 2013.  Strikingly, veterans represent nearly 10 percent of all solar workers at a time when more than 15 percent of veterans aged 18-24 are currently unemployed. The report also discovered that the growth in the industry is continuing: nearly 62 percent of solar companies that employ veterans plan to add more solar workers within the next 12 months.

    Our returning service men and women have the skills and training our country needs to ensure continued progress toward a clean economy.  As the President has stated, “No veteran who fought for our nation overseas should have to fight for a job when they return home.”  It’s clear that veterans are finding that the skill sets they obtained through military service are valued by leading solar companies. I am encouraged by the Solar Foundation’s and Operation Free’s commitment to highlighting this opportunity, and by the success of our veterans in continuing to serve the country by advancing our energy security.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.



  • Putting the Spotlight on Federal Collaboration

    Every day in my job I am inspired by the innovative solutions being brought forth by Federal employees. All over the country, Federal agencies are collaborating to help achieve the goals set by the President’s Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance. We knew their work could be replicated across the Nation, but we needed a platform to highlight their results and spread the word.

    That’s why we launched the GreenGov Spotlight Communities initiative last year. CEQ asked agencies to tell us where they were working collectively to leverage regional resources toward a common goal, and we chose six projects to focus on. After a year of tracking progress and compiling results, I am excited to share with you the accomplishments of these projects. From cutting costs to reducing carbon emissions, these local efforts show how Federal agencies can lead by example in the areas of energy and sustainability:

    • The Federal Bike to Work Month Challenge increased bicycle commuting by Federal employees through a month long contest to see which agency could recruit the most riders and bike the most miles. The project included 2,100 riders making 20,000 trips and riding nearly 240,000 miles. This is equivalent to saving roughly 240,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.
    • Relevant Federal and local agencies collaborated on creating a National Capital Region Climate Risks Preparation and Adaptation Plan focused on past flooding events at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building to evaluate risks and vulnerabilities on agency operations. Participants held an all-day session to consider sea level rise and extreme weather impacts projected for the long-term, and are moving forward with establishing priorities for creating a climate preparation and adaptation plan for the IRS building and surrounding areas that is expected to be adaptable to many federal building in the National Capital Region.
    • The Comparison of Non-Traditional Water Treatment Cooling Towers project analyzed several non-chemical cooling tower treatment systems and found that the GSA Federal Center in Denver could reduce building operation costs through decreased water and chemical costs and improved chiller energy efficiency. In fiscal year 2012, the project helped save 318,135 gallons of water and more than $1,700 in costs.   
    • The Car Sharing pilot saw the Peace Corps researching potential opportunities with multiple agencies for vehicle sharing partnerships. The pilot study found that convenience, flexibility, time efficiency, cost, and reliability were key factors that influenced staff willingness to utilize car sharing services. GSA’s new car sharing pilot program will build on lessons learned and challenges identified for future research.
    • Seattle Federal Executive Board’s Business Case for Sustainability compiled sustainability business case stories from the Seattle Federal agency community to encourage shared sustainability practices across the Federal Government. The stories allowed the SFEB to monetize savings and efficiencies; develop processes, communication strategy, resources and tools for other FEBs to replicate; and publicize efforts contributing to a larger community impact.
    • The Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Pilot involved multiple Federal agencies working together to demonstrate that combined procurement offers economies of scale, resulting in lower electricity bills for individual sites and increased renewable energy production. Solar site surveys were conducted at the potential properties and once the project is completed, it has the potential to serve as a model for how Federal entities nationwide can jointly procure renewable energy for their sites.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Investing in Solutions: Leaders in Finance and Climate

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Alka Banerjee, Managing Director at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

    This week, I participated in an event at the White House on Women Leaders in Climate Finance and Investment that highlighted the pioneering role women leaders in the finance sector are playing to mainstream climate change into finance and investment decisions.  Women around the world are often the first to feel the effects of climate and at the same time can offer unique perspectives and solutions.

    I was privileged to be part of a conversation on “making climate finance work for growth,” where we discussed that a consistent global policy framework on climate change could make implementation of scalable solutions practical and possible. At S&P Dow Jones Indices, we are working to advance these solutions by creating equity indices -- tools for investment products like exchange traded funds -- which respond to consumer demand for products that help address climate change. We have created specialized indices, such as the global clean energy index, and variations of mainstream indices, such as the S&P U.S. Carbon Efficient index and the S&P/IFCI Emerging Markets Carbon Efficient index that weight companies by their carbon emissions, with higher weights going to lower emitting companies. These indices help investors choose whether to invest in companies with high carbon pollution. Over time, we have seen investor perceptions change from excluding large polluting companies from their portfolios for environmental reasons, to doing so to manage risk, to understanding that companies with progressive environmental standards are poised for more sustainable, long-term growth. We are also seeing some investors seek to completely avoid fossil fuel investment in their portfolios.

    The event also included Administration officials such as Presidential advisor John Podesta, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley, Domestic Policy Council Director for Energy and Climate Change  Dan Utech, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell, and President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Elizabeth Littlefield,  who described  efforts under the President’s Climate Action Plan to make U.S. cities and states more resilient, support good clean energy and clean technology jobs, and help developing countries adapt to climate change and access renewable energy. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) discussed her energy efficiency legislation, which supports investment in clean energy technologies that help to reduce carbon pollution.

    The discussions revealed some key challenges and unique initiatives associated with mainstreaming climate change into finance. For example, Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer of Zurich Insurance Group, discussed the insurance industry’s role in managing climate risks and a commitment by Zurich to provide climate-smart insurance products and invest up to $1 billion in “green bonds,” which would help address climate change. Nancy Pfund, Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Investors, stated that while many private investments in green energy make good business sense and several have delivered good returns to their investors, the challenge is to attract positive attention from all sectors to the benefits of these options.

    The event brought to focus the real desire to make a positive social and environmental impact through investment decisions and showed that women are playing an increasingly crucial role to make this happen.

    Alka Banerjee is Managing Director at S&P Dow Jones Indices

  • Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Hosts Inaugural Meeting

    State, Local and Tribal Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience

    Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie shares his climate resilience priorities in roundtable discussion with the with members of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. (Photo by Office of Intergovernmental Affairs)

    Last week, members of the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience participated in their inaugural meeting at the White House. President Obama created this Task Force in his Climate Action Plan to advise the Administration on how the Federal government can support communities across the country that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. In 2012 alone, the costs of weather disasters exceeded $110 billion in the United States – including the terrible destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events – as well as the costs and public health impacts associated with them.

    From Alabama to Guam, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, state, local, and tribal leaders are on the front lines of dealing with extreme weather, sea level rise, and other impacts of climate change. This diverse group of elected officials brought their expertise and experience in building community resilience to our first meeting. Task Force members discussed ways to improve coordination to protect critical infrastructure, public resources, and emphasize pre-disaster preparedness. They also shared ideas about the types of information and tools that would be most useful in confronting the impacts of climate change.

  • Improving Energy Efficiency and Creating Jobs Through Weatherization

    Since 2009, the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program has helped improve the energy efficiency, comfort and health of hundreds of thousands of homes across the nation. With the support of Recovery Act funding as well as annual appropriations – matched by over $200 million each year from utilities, private investors and state and local government – this program has also helped train and employ thousands of weatherization professionals.

    As a result of this work, these low-income households are now saving $250-$500 a year on their energy bills. More broadly, since 2009, the Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, its Building Technologies Office, and our partners at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have provided energy efficiency improvements to over 1.6 million homes. These cumulative upgrades will save nearly $16.4 billion in energy costs over the life of these measures and avoid more than 85 million tons of carbon emissions – equivalent to taking 17.7 million cars off the road – according to estimates from the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    Today, I’m attending an event hosted by the White House, in collaboration with the National Association of State Community Services Programs (NASCSP), to highlight how the weatherization industry is creating skilled jobs and technology innovation and helping to reach the President’s goal of doubling U.S. energy productivity by 2030. State, local and business leaders from across the country will join me and my colleagues in the federal government to discuss how weatherization has made a positive impact in the lives of American families while supporting American businesses.

    You can watch the event live from 2 PM to 4 PM EST today at and read more on the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program on

    David Danielson is the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy