For decades, fossil fuel companies have enjoyed the benefit of master limited partnerships (MLPs).  A MLP is a business structure that acts like a corporation with its corporate stock trading on the open market, but is taxed as a partnership rather than at the corporate tax rate.  This allows investors to buy and sell their shares in the public markets, and project developers to access cheaper capital through the markets.  It’s an attractive tax benefit to be a MLP; an advantage that is inaccessible currently to renewable energy investment.

Since the 1980s, Congress has enabled investors to bundle energy projects like oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel developments from companies that extract, process or transport “depletable” natural resources and exempted them from corporate income taxes.  The word “depletable” specifically excludes renewable energy.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, introduced a bill last year that would give wind, solar and other renewable projects the same tax benefit.  The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act was re-introduced this week by a bipartisan group of senators.

In order to effectively combat climate change, renewables need to be priced at, or better yet, lower than fossil fuels.  It’s easier to sell shares to individuals and institutional investors such as pension funds when renewable projects are set up as MLPs.  Widening the pool of potential investors adds new competition, which could lower the cost of financing projects, and in the end reduce the cost of renewable power.

Is leveling the playing field for wind, solar and other renewable projects the magic bullet to renewable energy investment?  No, but it is a step in the right direction.  The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act is actually part of a broader toolkit, one that the federal government has used successfully in the past to develop domestic energy resources.  Tax benefits such as the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit remain essential tools within the renewable energy industry.

Other tax reforms the industry and its supporters say will help level the playing field with fossil fuels include allowing renewable companies to organize as real estate investment trusts (REITs) and letting renewable tax credits be claimed by more types of investors.  In December of 2012, a bipartisan group of 29 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to the President calling for changes to both MLPs and REITs.

Even with bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress, the bill faces some serious obstacles.  A 2011 Congressional Research Service report estimated that extending MLPs to renewable energy companies would cost the U.S. Treasury about $2.8 billion between 2010 and 2014.  At the moment, the broad political momentum in Congress involves eliminating loopholes and exemptions in order to raise revenue and lower tax rates.  The report suggests that if leveling the playing field is the endgame, the alternative is closing the tax loophole for oil and gas companies.

Personally, I want to stop global warming and move into a sustainable energy future.  Let your Congressional Representatives know you want them to support the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act.

Published in carbonfree blog

Green Web Hosting is getting a lot of attention as it seems that every business of any size is setting up a website.  Businesses with a commitment to environmental sustainability are looking for the cleanest, greenest ways to run their websites. 

Green web hosting companies are able to offer their services as being more environmentally responsible by reducing or mitigating emissions from their own server and IT electricity consumption.  The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program makes this a simple and affordable step, and HostBaby Web Hosting of Portland, OR recently made the move to green web hosting with Carbonfund.org. 

HostBaby offers web hosting services that help independent musicians, authors and artists create highly customizable websites.  Now HostBaby’s services will be CarbonFree® through HostBaby’s support of Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy and clean air technology projects. 

In addition to its CarbonFree® commitment, HostBaby maintains a robust recycling program and paperless billing.  The company helps facilitate ride-share programs for its employees by offering discounted year-round bus passes and giving gas cards to employees who rack up carpooling miles.  They also participate in the Bike Commute Challenge every year with sister company CD Baby. 

"It’s essential that all businesses conserve and establish sustainable practices,” states Chris Bolton, HostBaby Marketing. “The future is at stake. HostBaby is committed to doing our part." 

Published in carbonfree blog

Among our long-term CarbonFree® Business Partners are many that choose to support our renewable energy projects, in part because their own business operations provide essential services to green energy resources. 

Concord, NH-based FiberNext does just this, maintaining its CarbonFree® operations for the past five years while providing fiber optics communication solutions to the green energy industry. 

FiberNext, a versatile turnkey fiber optics solutions provider, has been involved with the design and implementation of fiber optic networks for commercial scale wind farm sites.  An industry leader in this area, FiberNext has established a commitment to green energy initiatives by supplying developers of clean wind energy with next generation communication systems. This focus on renewable energy made it a compatible choice to support Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy projects with annual donations as a CarbonFree® Business Partner. 

"Carbonfund.org seemed like an effective way to make a direct contribution to clean energy initiatives, which is at the heart of our business and corporate culture," explains Craig Bowden, Sales and Marketing Manager for FiberNext.  "The media recognition that Carbonfund.org had already generated for itself as an innovator in the area of carbon offsets helped us realize it was a legitimate and reputed vehicle in this emerging market."

Over the past five years, FiberNext has neutralized its annual operational emissions by an amount equivalent to the emissions from the annual electricity consumed by twenty-five households.  The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program has helped FiberNext to lead by example in the renewable energy field, and we commend their ongoing commitment to a cleaner energy future. 

Published in carbonfree blog

Even the most environmentally sensitive businesses know that their annual operations contribute to the increase in carbon emissions in our atmosphere, but the businesses that are truly committed to operational sustainability are taking simple and affordable steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

For the past six years, CarbonFree® Business Partner Arbor Teas has neutralized its annual operational emissions and its product shipment emissions in partnership with Carbonfund.org.  Arbor Teas retails one of the largest selections of USDA-certified organic loose leaf teas from around the globe, most of which is Fair Trade, through its on-line store.  In addition, Arbor Teas is committed to making a positive impact on the environment and has taken many steps to reduce emissions by offering only organic teas, reducing and “greening” its packaging and using renewable energy sources.  However, their teas come from all corners of the world, so the shipping emissions are unavoidable.  To mitigate these emissions, Arbor Teas has maintained a CarbonFree® Shipping program to offset the carbon footprint of annual product shipment emissions, and to offset all internal operational emissions, by supporting Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects.

“It makes no sense at all to sell an organic product if the method of delivering it to our customers is environmentally harmful,” says Jeremy Lopatin.  “Although we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint, we’re happy to partner with Carbonfund.org to offset what we can’t avoid… yet!”

Almost three years ago, Arbor Teas became the first tea company to deliver its full line of organic loose teas in 100% backyard compostable packaging. With the release of this next generation packaging, Arbor Teas advanced its environmental mission, continuing to lead the tea industry through its staunch commitment to sustainable business practices.  For the first time ever, tea drinkers are now able to compost their tea leaves AND tea packaging together in their home composting system. This innovative packaging is composed of a cellulose film made from wood pulp sourced from sustainably-managed trees, and the films used for Arbor Teas’ new packaging breaks down in a backyard compost setting.

Carbonfund.org applauds Arbor Teas’ long-term commitment to maintaining its CarbonFree® Operations and Shipping programs, and to its continuing innovation in the areas of product packaging and sourcing. 

Published in carbonfree blog

Last week in President Obama’s inaugural speech he addressed the most serious threat our planet has ever faced, climate change, when he said, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

It is exciting and hopeful to hear our nation’s leader pledge to put us on the path to conquer global warming and combine it with the economic recovery the US so badly needs.  Now we need to back up these words with some actions.  What can we do to lead a green industrial revolution?   

Well we’re already seeing some promising actions from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).  Did you know the DOD is the largest single consumer of energy in the world?  The agency spends approximately $20 billion on 3.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 120 million barrels of oil per year.  That’s a lot of energy, and sometimes fossil fuels are bought from countries hostile to U.S. interests.  So the U.S. military is turning its eyes to renewable energy.  Fortunately they are not starting from scratch; they currently have about 80 megawatts of installed renewable energy capacity.  However, the good news is that a report released this week by Pike Research forecasts this number to quadruple to 3,200 megawatts by 2025.  The research firm quantifies the increase in renewable energy use to a predicted almost $1.8 billion in 2025 of U.S. military spending on renewable energy programs, including conservation measures. 

All of this green spending can have lasting positive effects on the industry overall.  For example, as the demand for solar cells increases, it encourages the building of more solar cell manufacturing plants.  Due to economies of scale, the cost of producing solar cells can decrease, and the new lower costs are passed on to the private sector.  Additionally, the solar industry, because of large sales from the U.S. military, has more funds available to conduct research and development into better and cheaper solar cells, which can drive down the price permanently.

It is encouraging to hear and see the U.S. take steps towards leading a green industrial revolution.  Is there more that can be done?  Absolutely!  But we have to recognize these constructive efforts as they are brought to light.

Published in carbonfree blog
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:00

Rising Sea Levels and Sustainable Desalination

Depending on where in the world you live, it might be easy to forget that the environment is more than just the air we breathe or the land under our feet.  It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans also are being affected radically by climate change.  The oceanic problems are too numerous to list.  However, this week we are taking a closer look at one issue that people in different parts of the planet face, rising oceans as the polar ice caps melt and more saltwater.

Those of us that live in the United States might not be aware how rich we are in freshwater sources as say countries in the Middle East that are very arid environments.  Obviously those countries have other resources that we lack, but water is essential to life.  Our planet may be covered in a great deal of water, but much of it is unusable to humans in its natural state because of the high salt content. 

Did you know that salt is expelled from seawater when it freezes?  Although some brine is trapped, the overall salinity of sea ice is much lower than seawater.  So the seas are rising as previously permanently frozen parts of the planet melt.  This means that not only is there more water, but it’s becoming salty as it melts.

Desalination is any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water.  Unfortunately, it is quite an energy intensive process.  Last week, a new renewable energy desalination project was announced in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, which is in the United Arab Emirates.  The project seeks to transform seawater into useable, freshwater on land by building a commercially viable and renewable energy-powered desalination plant by 2020.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region of the Middle East is comprised of the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.  The GCC formed in 1981 and uses about half the world’s desalinated water. 

Of course, accessing renewable energy is not the only impediment to sustainable desalination.  Another effect of global warming is oceanic acidification that contributes to massive algae blooms.  These algae blooms can shut down a desalination plant.  There are other unwanted components that might be present in seawater such as radioactive material from warships and nuclear power plants which would need to be removed before the water could be used safely.

Despite other lingering issues, it is still worth asking the question, “Can these enormous desalination plants powered by renewable energy help mitigate some of the issues we face from rising sea levels?”  The answer is, “Every bit helps.”  But don’t start thinking it’s a magic bullet since none exists.  We still all need to do our parts in reducing our carbon emissions and footprints.  However, it is good news that desalination can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible industrial solution and worth noting that low cost, low impact renewable energy technologies do exist.

Published in carbonfree blog

We all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the impact of global warming. That’s why the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball, aside from “greening” the event, has teamed up with Carbonfund.org to reduce its carbon footprint with two carbon offset projects: The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation Project and the New Bedford Landfill Gas-to-Energy Methane Project.

As a green event, we just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to reduce the Green Ball’s climate impact, and help pave the road toward a clean energy future.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation

The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation Project, located in Tallulah, LA., is dedicated to restoring native bottomland hardwood forests in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley region of Northeastern Louisiana.

This area was once covered in dense forests, but now it supports less than 20% of its original 22 million forested acres due to decades of land conversion for agriculture. Why are forestry projects important? They help offset the effects of climate change, and help improve the quality of top soil, reduce and control erosion, protect and filter water while reducing the threat of flooding, produce oxygen and nutrients and provide habitats for wildlife.

New Bedford Landfill  Gas-to-Energy Methane Project

This landfill gas-to-energy plant, located in Greater New Bedford, MA., not only produces 3.3 megawatts hours of clean electricity, but also reduces the amount of methane released into our atmosphere. Why is the destruction of methane important? It’s approximately 21 to 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse than carbon dioxide, and a major contributor to climate change. A major concern about climate change is the release of an enormous amount of methane –previously trapped in permafrost in frozen tundra areas like Siberia and Northern Canada – into our atmosphere.

Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Check out this list produced by Carbonfund.org on how you can do just that:
http://www.carbonfund.org/reduce

Haven’t purchased your 2013 Green Inaugural Ball ticket yet? Purchase them here: http://www.nwf.org/2013-green-inaugural-ball.aspx
Heading to the Green Ball? Don’t forget to tweet using the #GreenBall2013 hashtag.

Published in carbonfree blog

As part of the US economic recovery, residential housing market values and housing starts are watched closely as a key indicator to economic growth and stability.  Last week, Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for December, showing projections for modest but steady gains in both home value and housing starts in 2013.

These projections are good news for US home owners and for the thousands of businesses that depend upon new home construction, renovations, and an active home buyer/seller market.  CarbonFree® Business Partner Clear Estimates is one of these businesses; one that has maintained a five-year commitment to operating in a carbon emissions-neutral environment.

Clear Estimates, a father-son owned and operated business with three decades of experience, offers a cloud-based construction estimating software that enables contractors and home renovators to manage efficient and cost-effective home building and improvements projects.   Clear Estimates allows contractors to accurately anticipate the labor, materials, and their related costs that will be required for all aspects of a construction project and automatically drafts professional proposals ready for client presentation.

The Clear Estimates website serves as the business storefront, and their products are only distributed digitally. For the past three years Clear Estimates has implemented a “paperless” operational philosophy, limiting its carbon emissions footprint to the electrical energy required to run the computers and servers used for developing the product and supporting customers. To address the impact of their energy consumption emissions, Clear Estimates partnered with Carbonfund.org five years ago to neutralize their remaining operational emissions by supporting renewable energy projects each year.

"We chose Carbonfund.org because of its solid reputation," confirms Nolan Orfield.  "As the leading nonprofit carbon offsetting organization it is clear they are a reliable resource for any business or individual hoping to protect our most important asset, the environment."

Published in carbonfree blog

Founded in 1996 by federal employment veteran John Grobe, Federal Career Experts (FCE) is a small business that specializes in training and consulting in the areas of retirement, career development and transition services for federal government agencies and their employees.  FCE has a network of consultants, most of whom are retired federal employees, with experience in all categories of federal agency employment and career development areas.   

As part of its overall mission, Federal Career Experts believes in protecting the planet by making choices that enhance the quality of the atmosphere and the resulting quality of life.   In order to help achieve this goal, Federal Career Experts became CarbonFree® in 2007, offsetting their carbon footprint by supporting Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy projects.  FCE remains one of Carbonfund.org’s most tenured CarbonFree® Business Partners.

“The nature of Federal Career Experts’ business requires that we travel a great deal”, said John Grobe, President. “Though we are conscientious about our energy usage, we still have a relatively large ‘carbon footprint’ and have chosen to take steps to offset our impact on global warming.”

To date, Federal Career Experts has neutralized carbon emissions equal to the emissions created by combusting over 18,000 gallons of gasoline.  This continuous focus on serving federal employees while maintaining a sustainable business practice sets FCE apart in its field.  Carbonfund.org is proud to partner with Federal Career Experts in this long-term commitment to operational excellence. 

Published in carbonfree blog

Producing environmentally-conscious clothing is a complicated and often vexing challenge for “green” clothing manufacturers.  Certainly, conventionally-grown cotton has been clearly identified as one of the world’s “dirtiest” crops, consuming 10% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of the world’s insecticides, according to the Pesticide Action Network North America.  Synthetic fabrics are, well, just that – synthetics, made from petro-chemicals, releasing large quantities of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, and producing toxic waste water, in their manufacturing processes, and are not biodegradable.   

Despite “cleaner” fabric choices, clothing manufacturers face additional unavoidable carbon emissions in the growing, harvesting and refining of raw materials, the clothing manufacturing process, and the ultimate shipping and delivery of their products.  Carbonfund.org’s emission neutralization strategies help environmentally-responsible producers to mitigate these operational emissions by supporting renewable energy development and carbon reduction projects around the world.  

One of Carbonfund.org’s long-time CarbonFree® Business Partners, ONNO Textiles, produces its socially-responsible t-shirts using sustainable fibers from bamboo, hemp and organic cotton.  Their website provides great information about the fabrics used to make their more sustainably produced shirts.

But ONNO Textiles recognized the harmful environmental impact of their overall production and delivery processes. They manufacture their apparel overseas, and move raw materials and finished product all over the globe. To balance the resulting environmental harm, ONNO Textiles has partnered with Carbonfund.org for the past five years to neutralize their operational emissions by supporting our renewable energy technology and carbon reduction initiatives around the world.  This long-term commitment to carbon emissions mitigation through investment in clean air projects makes the CarbonFree® partnership between ONNO Textiles and Carbonfund.org a great example of true operational sustainability.

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