Pointing the way to a clean energy future

David Keeps Winning: Game-Changing Month for Clean Energy

Indy beyond coal win

Wow. That's the word I've been repeating over and over this month, as news has 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 the Oregon coast 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 503 coal boilers are now slated to be phased out, and FERC 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.

- Mississippi: After six years of grassroots pressure and legal challenges against the Kemper coal plant, a landmark legal settlement was announced earlier this month that will bring $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to Mississippi.

"With this agreement, we are building a future where dirty, expensive, and unnecessary projects like Kemper coal plants will be things of the past," said Louie Miller, state director of the Mississippi Sierra Club and Kemper's leading opponent over the last six years. "This agreement represents a quantum leap forward for Mississippians by creating a clear path for residents to install solar on their homes, make their own clean energy choices, and avoid huge rate hikes for unnecessary coal plants."

- 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 a two year campaign lead by local community groups including the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and dozens of others, Indianapolis Power & Light announced this week it will stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant.

"Harding Street is the largest single source of industrial pollution, sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon in our city," says Megan Anderson, an Indianapolis-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "This retirement marks the 500th coal boiler to be retired since the launch of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, so we're dubbing this victory the Indy 500."

Memphis clean air victory- Tennessee: The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced it will retire the Allen coal plant in Memphis, which emits thousands of tons of pollutants in the air every year. Of special note in this story is that the 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."

Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, says Tennesseans know that clean energy is the best choice for the Volunteer State - and they'll continue to let TVA know that.

"TVA, which is one of the nation's largest utilities, sees that coal is becoming an increasingly bad bet," said Banbury. "Clean energy technologies, like solar energy and wind power, as well as increased energy efficiency, are cheaper, cleaner and ultimately a better path forward for TVA and for Tennesseans."
- Oregon: On Monday, the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected a vital permit for 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 - and is a severe blow to the plan. Some are calling it a "death rattle" for the port plan!

This comes afters years of tremendous pressure from residents of all backgrounds -- from doctors, parents, people of faith, small business owners, Tribal communities, and many others.

- Illinois: In a moderate victory for Illinois activists (we're fighting for more clean energy and a solid transition for the workers), earlier this month NRG announced its plan to stop burning coal at two of its coal facilities in Romeoville and Joliet.

- Los Angeles: And in some great news for ground-breaking television, on Sunday the Showtime documentary "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!

What a month! I can't wait to see what the next few weeks bring.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign