January 7, 2009 – Volume 12, Issue 1
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


The Top Story of 2008!

Happy New Year! We send you and your family the very best for 2009.

So what is it? What is the top story of 2008? Barack Obama winning the presidency? His calling for a doubling of renewable energy production? Appointing LBNL realist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy?

There's so much going with climate change mitigation. Was it California's AB 32 implementation and the first hints as to what carbon mitigation might really look like? Wind and solar production and investment tax credits? No.

EcoMotion hits the pedal with GASOLINE. Can you spell VOLATILE?

It's the top story because it's unbelievable! Pretty hard to predict that the first six months of the year would culminate in record oil prices; gasoline prices well over $4.00 per gallon. Harder to predict a precipitous decline would reverse years of oil and gasoline price roll-ups and result in gas for less than two dollar a gallon.

U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that in 2002 a barrel of crude sold for $17.85. By 2007, this had risen to $95.98. Among other factors, speculation of strong demand from China, India, and developing countries caused prices to reach an all-time high on July 11th at $147.27 a barrel. In turn, gasoline prices created daily hardship at the pumps and exacerbated the recession.

After the average regular gas price hit $4.59 a gallon in Los Angeles, ridership on the Metrolink train system increased by 15.6%. Where are the tipping points? Some thought $3.00 a gallon was a tipping point for gas. All this before gas prices plunged to $1.61 a gallon at year end.

By September 2008 and due to the sharp increase in gas prices, Americans had driven 53.2 billion miles less in a year than the prior year. What will the halving of gasoline prices do? Will Americans revert to their gas-guzzling ways? Will there be a proportionate decline in use of mass transit? The graph below shows the changing gas prices over three years, from 2007 to 2009.

Nationwide, in the third quarter of 2008, there was an overall 6.5% increase in mass transit, the biggest increase in 25 years. The 2.8 billion trips taken reflected an 8.5% increase in light rail use, 7.2% for bus use, 6.3% for commuter rail, and 5.2% for subways. Meanwhile, Americans drove less: 4.4% less in September 2008 than the same month a year ago according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Most encouraging is data from Los Angeles that shows that even as gas prices have fallen, so far the public has not reverted back to the car. Does this signal a shift away from "cultural habits and norms of the car culture" as Next American City posits? Have we changed?

The public was burned by gasoline price roll-ups in 2008. Each of us was burned at the pump. Last year, doubling energy prices became a two-faced reality.

Competition: The Best Stories

Many environmental projects are not cost effective by today's standards. Cost effectiveness kills lots of ideas that appear ahead of their time.

Many ENN readers recognize urgency and are taking actions which are not particularly cost effective in the short term. That's right. You won't get your money back any time soon. And you still do it.

Examples include: - solar systems with long paybacks
- buying hybrids when you don't drive much
- and planting trees!

Tell us what you are doing to save the planet, but without immediate reward. We want to recognize your actions.

Send your entries here.

Winning entries will be rewarded with $100 prizes.
EcoMotion Network News provides good news about energy and the environment. ENN is intended to inform and inspire actions, and "eco-motions" of all kinds.
City Sustainability in Focus

This issue introduces EcoMotion's new report on municipal sustainability. It presents a selection of sustainability highlights from leading U.S. cities. The Results Center Case Study #129 was written by Kathy Flanigan. Her introduction struck us and is thus presented here. Sustainability is a deep and often a colorful study of local practice, visions and action.

Sustainability has become a part of our everyday lexicon just like "think green" and "global warming." We have mental images of the latter two, yet what kind of picture does sustainability bring to mind?

The definition of sustainability often eludes us. In the environmental sense, sustainability is ensuring that our natural resources will be available to the next generation. That is a fairly broad definition and perhaps why it may be difficult to visualize and therefore personalize.

How can we define sustainability then so that it can be more applicable to our lives? One way is that sustainability is the aggregate of people living day by day, on par, in ways that are sustainable, or in other words, in ways that are workable, manageable; in ways that maintain, support, conserve, restore, replenish, safeguard, perpetuate; in ways that allow us to continue living versus at a halt; in ways that do not deplete, use up, or empty; in ways that have a net zero impact. Everything that we do has an impact, positive and reinforcing, or negative and disabling. The concept of sustainability, therefore, goes beyond environmentalism. Whereas environmental sustainability is not depleting our finite natural resources, social sustainability is adequate access to health care and job and educational opportunities so that people have a sense of well-being and purchasing power. Financial sustainability is living within our means, our ability to pay. All of these forms of sustainability intertwine and impact one another. So while sustainability may be difficult to get our arms around, we are able to get a more concrete sense of it by taking an inventory of the actions we take every day. Is how you live and work, and subsequently we as a whole, positive and reinforcing or negative and disabling?

As a country, we are making strides toward becoming more sustainable. Many cities have stepped up to the plate and have taken bold action. More than 880 mayors to date have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

This case study profiles 10 of the leading sustainable cities in the United States that have, of their own accord, developed a Sustainability Plan and/or Climate Action Plan. If you would like to request an advanced copy of this case study, please send me an email.

Featured Sustainable Cities in Case Study #129
1. Berkeley, California
2. Boulder, Colorado
3. Chattanooga, Tennessee
4. Corvallis, Oregon
5. Honolulu, Hawaii
6. Minneapolis, Minnesota
7. Portland, Oregon
8. San Francisco, California
9. Santa Monica, California
10. Seattle, Washington

American Solar Tax Credits

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that President George Bush signed into law in early October was landmark legislation to stem even-more-severe recession. It also provided a major benefit for the solar industry. After multiple defeats in Congress, production and investment tax credits for wind and solar have been extended, and improved.

Residential solar tax credits were slated to expire at year end, chipping away further at a barely viable economic deal. Commercial projects were jeopardized by the slated decline in incentives from 30% to 10%. There was massive market uncertainty and marked paralysis. The Solar Energy Industries Association reported 5,400 MW of solar from 27 utility-scale projects in various stages of development caught in policy uncertainty.

Instead of losing the 30% federal tax credit capped at $2,000 for photovoltaic systems, now homeowners retain the 30% credit, and it is uncapped. After local rebates - such as California solar initiative incentives - the credit can cut $5,000 - 10,000 from the cost of an average home system. Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) filers can also take the credit. Commercial system owners are rewarded with the continuation of the 30% tax credit.

Biodiesel Jet Fuel

Just a days ago, an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 conducted an in-flight test of a 50:50 blend of jatropha biodiesel and standard A1 jet fuel. Using "second generation biofuels" that don't compete with food production and which emit fewer emissions, the International Air Transportation Association has a goal for 10% of its fuels to be biofuels by 2017. It has 230 member airlines. Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions. Boeing and Virgin Atlantic tested a palm and coconut oil mixture in February; Continental Airlines plans to test an algae/jatropha mix in Houston in the next few days.

The Ups and Downs of Prius Production

In March of 2008, Toyota announced that sales of its Prius hybrid car had topped a million units worldwide. It also announced a 60% increase in Prius production; enthusiasts talked about "the next generation." In 2008, Toyota produced 280,000 Prius hybrid cars; it planned 450,000 in 2009, outpacing Honda's 200,000 hybrid unit projection. Chevy teases the public with its revolutionary Volt. The Volt and others are prepped to make 2010 "the year of the plug-in hybrid."

But the economy is taking its toll, even with the Prius that has "been selling like hotcakes." Despite sales of efficient vehicles, Toyota announced its first operating loss in 70 years. Its December annual sales projection of 7.99 million vehicles worldwide was off by 5%. In November, sales of Prius hybrids were off 40% compared with last year.

The effects ripple quickly. In December, Toyota announced that it was "freezing scheduling the opening" of its new Blue Springs, Mississippi plant. Blue Springs is slated to be Toyota's ninth manufacturing plant in the United States. Reportedly the company has $300 million invested to date in the facility and it was slated to open in 2010 and supply the Prius to the U.S. market.

In related news, one of Toyota's environmental initiatives involves "ecological plastic," namely plant-derived, carbon-neutral plastics such as polyactic, polyester, Kanef fiber, and polyol from castor oil. Toyota produced a demonstration car using 100% ecological plastics and now is boosting the amount of heat and shock resistant ecological plastics in new cars. Its new goals call for 60% penetration starting with hybrids and their scuff plates, headliners, and seat cushions.

Japanese Solar

News reports suggest that Japan aims to get back in the solar lead. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced plans to bring back significant subsidies for residential solar. The reason for another 9 billion yen (some $100 million USD) for solar? Japan is not achieving its greenhouse gas reduction commitments.

Japan is the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its goal is to cut emissions by 60 - 80% by 2050 from its 1990 baseline. One means of accomplishing this is for 70% of new homes to be equipped with solar panels by 2020.

Japan was recently a world leader in distributed solar systems. Then the government "pulled the plug" on the solar industry in March 2006. With the new incentives, METI expects 35,000 applications in the first quarter of 2009. Thereafter METI will seek government approval for 20 billion yen in solar incentives.

According to Reuters, industry analysts believe that Japan's cut in solar incentives resulted in German Q-Cells taking the lead from Japan's Sharp as the world's largest producer of solar cells. Chinese Suntech is now in the third position, topping Japanese Kyocera in sales.

- Mijean Lee, EcoMotion/UCI Intern

From a college student's perspective, aiming to be fashion forward isn't exactly on everyone's itinerary, as we grudgingly press our snooze button while rummaging through a pile of clothes for the cleanest pair of jeans in the hopes to make it to class on time. However, there is new reason to look forward to waking up and walking to class in style.

A popular jean company by the name of Seven for All Mankind has created an eco-friendly style of denim appropriately titled "Yosemite" that uses 100% organic cotton. Although these jeans may not appeal to the average student's budget, as prices range from $150-$250 a pair, you do not have to break your budget to be fashionably savvy. Luckily, another denim company by the name of Levis Strauss has jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon by creating an entire eco line, otherwise coined as Levis Eco, whose denim line ranges from $20 shorts to $80 jeans. Levis has embarked on an "eco blue journey" to promote the use of recycled denim and cotton to construct 100% organic jeans in tribute to eco-friendly programs today.

Moreover, companies that specialize in shoes, bags, and other types of clothing have created lines dedicated solely to the eco-friendly cause. Not only are we being smart by choosing eco-friendly clothing, but we are actively helping out the economy in one grand swoop.

What's Up at EcoMotion?

Just before New Year, our team met off-site for a year-end review and brainstorm. We concur that a very special part of EcoMotion is that it is a really fun and able organization. We like working together and in this field, and we've grown together this past year.

We take on interesting and challenging assignments. Thanks to EcoMedia, the City of Santa Monica, the High Sierra Energy Foundation, Anaheim Public Utilities, Moreno Valley Utility, Sonoma County, Lantronix, Life Pacific College, Invitrogen, the City of Palm Desert, and Dave and Gary McCoy, for making our year stimulating and a year of accomplishment.

Our flagship program is Solar Santa Monica, a program that has won statewide attention and which is now leading a legislative promotion for a solar feed-in tariff. In 2008, we expanded our field crew there, taking solar to the streets and rooftops. This year EcoMotion managed another international study tour - this time to Spain -- which by all accounts was a great success and which cemented our perspective on the logic of renewable energy feed-in tariffs as superior policy instruments. EcoMotion is now working with a group of dedicated "Solar Cities" to promote a FIT in California.

In August, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 811 as an urgency measure, allowing cities to finance energy efficiency fixtures and renewable energy installations. Palm Desert was the driving force behind the bill; EcoMotion was hired to help implement its Energy Independence Program which quickly became a statewide model. Sustainability planning is front and center and in line with our holistic environmental values. We're facilitating the City of Palm Desert's first sustainability planning process; concurrently preparing the City's greenhouse gas inventory. The effort involves a cross-section of City managers - armed with experiences, plans, and ambitions - laced with community input, and ultimately facilitated goal-setting and accountability procedures. Ted ended the year in Korea working with The Hope Institute on that country's first sustainability plans.

Anaheim Public Utilities joined our list of valued clients this year. EcoMotion will manage the selection, design, installation, and curriculum components of demonstration photovoltaic systems at ten schools in Anaheim. Seventy Anaheim elementary schools received the offer for no-cost demonstration solar systems. Concurrently, 130 area solar contractors received EcoMotion's RFQ for design/install services.

Our team is evolving too. In addition to Ted Flanigan, Virginia Nicols, Russell Flanigan (now based in Vermont), and Tiffany Tay, we've added Maria Jauregui as Business Manager. Michael Ware, Drew Lowell-Britt, and Dave Henderson are working the streets and roof-tops for EcoMotion operations. For a current corporate greening project, Al Pipkin and Chris Prelitz joined the EcoMotion consulting stable. Thanks to our able contractors and college interns who keep us in tune and who perform considerable diligent and investigative works.

We look ahead to 2009, to working with cities, utilities, corporations, and individuals to helping them achieve their green objectives. EcoMotion is about taking action and the power of the increment. "You can't move a mountain alone, but if each of us carries a stone, you turn back and look and you'll see that the mountain has moved."

If you're in the area, or passing through Los Angeles, be in touch and please feel free to drop in and visit us in Irvine!