The Top 10 Energy Stories of 2013

1. Subsidy Wars: Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy

Some are saying it’s time to change the game on subsidies and climate — and that the obscene subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry must end.

Many in the renewable energy sector would be happy with a level playing field — where renewable energy would receive the same amount of subsidy dollars per kilowatt hour as fossil fuel or nuclear power have felt they were entitled to for decades. Source: IEA. 2013 – Redrawing the energy climate map

2. Fossil Fuels get a $550 Billion Dollar Christmas Present

Fossil fuels have dominated the global energy market and even the global economy for a long time. You would think that such mature industries wouldn’t need government subsidies — their annual revenue and profits are mind-boggling. However, with money comes power. And that money-power has a stranglehold on governments of the world such that it convinces governments to give them even more money in subsidies.

Another recent study comes to the conclusion that the total annual subsidies fossil fuel companies get from governments (in just the developed world) comes to about half a trillion dollars. This follows a 2010 study from the International Energy Agency that found fossil fuel industries got $550 billion in annual subsidies.

3. Unlike Fossil Fuels, Renewable Energy subsidies expire Jan 1, 2014

The end of 2013, just like the end of 2012, 2008, 2005, 2003 and many years prior, brings with it the expiration of the Production Tax Credit for Renewable Energy (PTC).

Thanks to a long history of federal support, the incumbent fossil fuel sectors enjoy solid business certainty provided by permanent, embedded federal tax breaks.

Renewable energy, however, being the new kid on the block, does not have this luxury.

4. Utilities Face a ‘Perfect Storm’ From Falling Renewables Costs

A new report from leading utilities analysts at investment bank UBS suggests that energy utilities in Europe, North America and Australia are facing a ‘perfect storm’ from the falling cost of renewables, energy efficiency and falling demand, and may not be able to sustain their business models.

The report is entitled; Can utilities survive in their current form? – and is the latest in a series of assessments, reviews and analysis that point to the severe disruption to the centralized generation model, and the demand and supply dynamics that have governed the industry for the past few decades. To briefly summarise the UBS response to its own question, the answer is No.

UBS says the biggest impact on the current utility model will occur in developed markets, where renewables in general and distributed solar in particular will take more of an already depleted “demand pie.”

5. Obama Pushes the Big ‘Green’ Button

Part of President Obama’s executive order of December 5th 2013,  included directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020. Obama instructed agencies to incorporate “Green Button” data further into their energy management practices.

First unveiled in 2012, the Green Button Initiative is literally a green button on a energy utility’s website that allows consumers to download their energy consumption data in a format that’s easy to understand.

6. Obama: Federal Government Has 7 Years to Triple Renewable Energy Use

On Thursday, the administration released an executive order directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, which would bring the government’s renewable energy usage to 20 percent. The order will apply to all federal agencies, including the military.

The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the executive order before it was published, noted that the federal government itself occupies approximately 500,000 buildings and operates 600,000 vehicles, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services. The order does not disclose the cost of the transition, but says the goal will be reached “to the extent economically feasible and technically practicable.”

7. Nissan Leaf Fleets Can Power Offices and Homes

You may have heard of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept in which electric vehicles can supply their battery power to electricity grids during peak hours and other electricity shortages. Nissan recently decided to apply a somewhat similar concept to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan. The company calls it “Vehicle-to-Building.” During peak hours, when electricity prices are highest, the vehicles supply their battery power to the building, enabling them to avoid this peak charge.

8. 13 Brilliant Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy are the true bright spots in the march towards a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

9. U.S. Deficit Could Be Cut by 1 Trillion Using Carbon Tax

A carbon tax of $25 per ton of emissions would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The finding was part of a report CBO just put out detailing 103 different ways — in terms of both cutting spending and raising revenue — the U.S. government could reduce its deficit. At a total haul of $1.06 trillion by 2021, the carbon tax was far and away the biggest deficit reducer of any option listed.

It’s a policy that enjoys widespread support amongst politicians, industry spokespersons, economists, and polling of the general public.

10. 100% Renewable Energy Powers All These Places All The Time

A handy selection of jurisdictions where renewable energy has taken over completely.

Iceland. (Yes, all of it) runs on clean, renewable energy.

Iceland: A 100% renewables example in the modern era


Tokelau. A South Pacific Island. Runs on 100% Solar Power. Used to burn shiploads of expensive diesel and kerosene to create electrical power.

An Island (Tokelau) Powered 100% By Solar Energy

An Island (Tokelau) Powered 100% By Solar Energy →

Samsø. An Island in Denmark. Citizen cooperative formed to power the entire Island. Sells excess electricity to mainland Denmark. Cooperative makes a tidy profit.

Introducing Samsø, A 100% Wind-Powered Island

Güssing. Formerly near-bankrupt town in Austria now runs on solar and locally-sourced biofuels. They sell their surplus electricity to neighbouring towns. Oh, and they export solar panels and biofuel by the truckload. And town coffers are filling with clean gold.

Güssing, Austria Powered Entirely By Renewable Energy


The renewable energy stories will get even better in 2014, as renewable energy ‘comes into its own’ around the world.

Happy 2014 and thanks for reading JBS News!

On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line

by John Farrell

'pick a side' campaign for local renewable power in Boulder, CO
‘pick a side’ campaign for local renewable power in Boulder, CO

In 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to explore alternatives to their monopoly, corporate electric utility that pumps coal-fired energy into town and sucks millions in energy profits out. They won at the ballot box despite being outspent more than 10-to-1.

But tomorrow they have to win again against deep corporate pockets, or lose everything they’ve fought for.

Since November 2011, the diligent citizens of Boulder have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions by half, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords. They’ve studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn how they could take control of their energy future for the better.

Xcel Energy, the incumbent corporate utility, isn’t amused.

xcel service territory.001
Map shows U.S. states which do not support local renewable power

After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy has already poured over $500,000 into Boulder to defeat this local and renewable threat to their monopoly business model.  They’ve sponsored a new ballot initiative (issue 310) that would make running a local, municipal utility nearly impossible. Under a rational-sounding name, the ballot measure would prevent the city from issuing enough debt to buy out the corporate monopoly and run its own electric utility.  Nearly all the money supporting the ballot measure comes straight from Xcel’s ratepayers, spread across eight states.

It’s a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy the election result they want, and all that’s standing in their way is a committed group of local citizens.  But unlike 2011, Boulder isn’t standing alone in the fight to be energy deciders for a cleaner energy future.

This video – headlining their crowdfunding campaign – shows what’s at stake.  It inspired over 5,700 individuals across the world to, as their t-shirt aptly suggests, “pick a side.”  (Disclosure: my donation to this campaign gave me the opportunity to offset the money Xcel took from my electric bill to undermine local power).

The campaign isn’t just about one city’s right to make its own energy choices, but about the right of every community to choose its energy future.  And it is ground zero in that fight, as illustrated by the president of the American Public Power Association in a surprisingly impassioned defense of communities to tap “the American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor to meet local needs”:

[Utilities] such as Xcel Energy generally oppose the formation of new public power utilities because, for them, it means the loss of customers and profits. New public power utilities also provide high-profile examples of what communities can do for themselves, and this may encourage other cities to form public power utilities.

“Other cities” includes Xcel’s hometown of Minneapolis, MN, where a grassroots campaign (several years younger than the one in Boulder) is pushing for the same thing: a candid assessment of whether the incumbent utility is providing the best possible energy future.

That makes tomorrow’s vote a crucial one.  Will it be another example of how a corporate monopoly buries its political and economic opponents?  Or will it be Boulder’s shot heard ’round the world of locals taking charge of their energy future?

We’ll see.

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, On November 5th, Local Power Is On The Line, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

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