· September 2011

September 2011

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With the debate this week in the wake of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion Jobs Act proposal, we would like to offer one more modest suggestion that we thing will have a lasting positive impact on the economy, jobs, the environment, and will serve to lift up the spirit of America, setting a new standard of global leadership.

A 3KW photovoltaic system on each of 7 million US homes would require the manufacture and installation of enough solar panels to cover all of Washington DC. This ambitious project will create 250,000 jobs with staying power—supported by the lasting framework that the proposal will put in place for the continued growth of America’s renewable energy economy. With recent news to the effect that “green jobs” initiatives have been unsuccessful, it is about time that we get truly serious about turning that situation around.

This plan will increase the residential solar capacity of the United States by 8,000%, from 260MW to 21,000MW, by providing the perfect incentive that will lead to 10% of US single family homes to install 3KW (on average) grid-connected solar panel arrays on their rooftops with battery backup.

One 3KW grid-connected PV roof installation with battery backup runs about $21,000. The 3KW system takes up 258 square feet of roof area and will provide the home with between 2,250KWh and 3,500KWh per year depending on local conditions. That’s about 25% of an average family’s energy use (a much higher percentage for an energy efficient home).

As a result of these 7 million homes installing on-site solar power, the US energy grid will be relieved of the MWh power equivalent of three AP1000 type nuclear power plants every year. Or in another comparison, these solar homes will provide the power equivalent of burning nearly all of the coal that is extracted each year from mountaintop removal (MTR) mines in West Virginia.

The great symbolism of this 7 million home number lies in the fact that the surface area of photovoltaic that 7 million solar homes would create is approximately equal to the surface area of Washington DC (41,500 acres). While that is certainly a large area, and an accomplishment that we could all feel very proud about reaching, if you break it down by county, it comes to just 13.2 acres of photovoltaic panels per county (there are 3,141 counties in the USA).

The added incentive works like this: the US government already provides a tax rebate on the purchase of solar panels up to 30% of the cost. We suggest upping this to 50%. With this additional incentive, and factoring the existing rebates that currently exist at the state and local levels, the cost of a 3KW system will go down to between $8,700 to—in some cases—$0 (depending on other incentive programs in place at state and local levels). The existing 30% federal tax credit = $6,300; state tax credit: as much as 28.5% or $6,000 (Oregon model); other local incentives: up to 21.5% or $4,500; leaves 20% or $4,200 remaining—it’s this remaining amount that should be added to the federal level credit).

In this way, the payback period for the system (how long it takes the homeowner to pay for the installation from the savings in electricity bills) will be either immediate, or come down to no more than five years, after which the homeowner is simply earning money and the US electrical grid could decommission three nuclear power plants.

The additional price tag for this incentive offer (should 7 million homes decide to install solar panels over five years) will amount to $5.8 billion per year (7 million homes x $21,000 per installation = $147 billion x 20% additional federal tax credit = $29.4 billion / 5 years = $5.8 billion). This is a very small price to pay for such an amazing step towards sustainable energy security!

There is a lot of discussion about the fact that this new stimulus proposal is light on infrastructure. From infrastructurist.com:

• $50 billion for new infrastructure projects, including updating aging roads, bridges, rails and runways
• $10 billion for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank that’s based on the expansion of the TIGER program
• $15 billion to rehab vacant and foreclosed homes/businesses
• Some undisclosed sum for getting high speed wireless to “98% of American”
• $25 billion to rehab schools

It’s a good start, to be sure. But is it enough? Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania Governor and co-founder of Building America’s Future (and Infrastructurist contributor), was pretty clear in his opinions during yesterdays 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit at the Newseum in D.C. “It’s not big enough,” he said to a packed house during a panel on American resilience and rebuilding. According to Rendell’s and BAF’s estimates, each $1 billion invested in infrastructure produces 25,000 “well-paid” jobs on construction sites and in factories.

This newly expanded program for residential photovoltaic incentives will put the United States firmly in the lead for domestic solar production and the market stimulus will push innovation of the solar industry like nothing ever has before. It can be conceived of as a new Apollo mission for energy independence.

Town Square

Are you interested in participating in the 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative competition and you are looking for the right people to team up with? LAGI Town Square is the place where you can connect. It is a complete social networking engine (built on the elgg platform) that will allow anyone to set up a profile and look around for people who they think would complement their skill set.

For example, an artist can go to the Town Square to meet an engineer, architect, landscape architect, or scientist to help them fully realize their ideas. Conversely, someone of a more technical background can find an artist in the Town Square who has an interesting conceptual idea for which they’d like to provide nuts & bolts details support. Or perhaps you are an environmental activist, or a writer, or anyone with an idea that you’d like to see through.

This site has all of the tools that anyone will need in order to create the perfect collaborative team around their idea. That is its primary purpose. But we also hope that it will serve to connect people of like-minded interests outside of the context of LAGI design teams—to discuss ideas about renewable energy, art and design.

The Town Square site is complementary to the LAGI design competition itself and not an integrated part of the 2012 registration process. You are not required to create a Town Square profile to enter the 2012 competition. 2012 registration will open in January and will be completely separate from Town Square. However, if you create a profile on Town Square, we will migrate that information over to the 2012 design competition site. That way you will already be registered when the design brief goes live in January and you’ll be able to access the design brief and downloads area with your Town Square login information.

Town Square

When you sign up on Town Square, you will be able to provide information about your discipline(s) and team status. This way people will be able to browse other users on the site by discipline and find people with whom they are interested in partnering. For a while we will be building the network, populating it with new profiles. So please take five minutes to create yours now. It’s really easy (you can even one-click login via facebook if you like). Then in a few months, with a critical mass of members, you’ll be able to check back in and find your perfect team!

We encourage you to create a thorough profile and make use of the tools on the site. In this way, others will be able to learn more about you. If they think that you have something to offer their team, they can send you a message directly and privately through the Town Square site.

We’ve created the Town Square networking platform in response to a number of requests for something like this. Because we all don’t have the time to get to know people from across disciplines in our daily lives, Town Square will help to get scientists working with architects, working with electrical engineers, and landscape architects, and artists, and social activists, and writers…all working together to innovate the ways in which we think about design and public infrastructure of the sustainable city.

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Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a form of surface mining that involves the removal of a summit or ridge. Acres of wilderness habitat is deforested and the wood burned. Explosives are then used to blast away the overburden (soil and rock) to expose the coal seams that lie beneath. An average of 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated in West Virginia every day.

More than 500 mountaintops have been destroyed so far. The air pollution from surface mining activities has led to elevated levels of adult hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension; higher rates of mortality; lung cancer; and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease for individuals living in mining areas.
In addition, 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried by mining refuse. Valley fill (VF) destroys natural habitats and pollutes watersheds with high levels of selenium and other toxic compounds.

The small blue square (516 square kilometers) on the above map represents the surface area of mountaintop that has been removed in southern West Virginia as of 2010. The same area is also represented on the map in the exact locations of the MTR mining sites.

The small yellow square (312 square kilometers) represents the land surface area that would be required to generate 124.8 terrawatt-hours of electricity each year. This is the same amount of electrical power that is generated by the 63.4 million short tons of coal that is mined from the exploded tops of West Virginia mountains each year.

This large blue square represents 1.4 million acres of Appalachian forest that has been disturbed or cleared as a consequence of mountaintop removal mining practices according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This larger yellow square represents the land surface area that would be required to generate 1,850 terrawatt-hours of electricity each year. This is the total amount of electrical power that is generated by the more than one billion short tons of coal that is burned in the United States each year in coal-fired electrical power plants. MTR coal amounts to less than 5% of the total US coal production.

The side effect of all this coal combustion for electrical power is that 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide, 7.6 million tons of nitrogen oxide, and 7.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide are dumped into the earth’s atmosphere each year, along with other harmful gases and chemicals.

The solar panel installations that would be required to replace all West Virginia MTR coal would cost approximately $180 billion to construct.

If West Virginia decided to produce the panels in-state, it would provide more than 10,000 new jobs—about the same number that have been lost since 1990 in the US mining sector (MTR techniques extract 2.5 times the amount of coal per worker as compared with mining techniques that are more sensitive to the environment).

Mud River, West Virgina. (Graphic from www.ilovemountains.org)

More information can be found at:

http://www.eia.gov/coal/data.cfm, http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/coal/quarterly/html/t1p01p1.xls

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