In a move to protect marine mammals, the Obama administration today told Royal Dutch Shell that it would not be allowed to simultaneously drill two exploratory wells less than 15 miles apart in the Arctic Ocean. The announcement forces Shell to scale back its drilling plans for this summer.
Why Urban Parks Matter
Guest post by Catherine Nagel, executive director of EarthShare member organization City Parks Alliance
Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America's cities and their residents. Since the mid-19th century, with the introduction of large-scale parks in cities across America including New York, Boston, Louisville, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco, America’s city parks have provided a respite from the stress of urban life for millions of people. They have also advanced democratic life, bringing people together across social, economic and racial divides.
City parks suffered from disinvestment following World War II, when people moved away from urban areas. Many parks became places to avoid. But an urban renaissance in the past few decades has refocused attention on parks and their potential to help address critical contemporary urban needs–from health, housing, education and environmental justice, to local economic development and crime mitigation. Parks are now recognized as a powerful tool to improve urban life. Here are some major benefits that urban parks provide:
Public Health – Research shows that routine physical activity contributes to well-being and longevity, helping to prevent multiple chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and cancer. But most Americans – adults and children – don’t meet the recommended daily guidelines. Parks are an ideal place for movement, providing the room needed for running, walking, sports and other active pursuits.
Environmental Value – A network of parks and open spaces that include protected natural lands, ecological reserves, wetlands, and other green areas is critical to providing healthy habitats for humans, wildlife and plants in dense urban areas. Every tree helps improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants. And a park’s green infrastructure—not only trees, but garden vegetation and grassy areas—helps clean our water by capturing and filtering stormwater runoff.
Economic Value – Cities and metropolitan regions are economic engines critical to a nation’s ability to compete globally. Knowledge workers, workers in creative industries, families and young people are increasingly choosing urban areas that offer amenities that contribute to an excellent quality of life. A well-designed, programmed and maintained system of city parks is an essential component of any city’s strategy for attracting and retaining a strong workforce and spurring local investment.
Community Value – Neighborhood parks can draw in and connect individuals of all ages and backgrounds who share a vision for the betterment of their surroundings and take pride in where they live. But most of today's youth spend more time indoors than out and in many communities children simply do not have access to parks that are clean and safe. Parks are vital community assets where young people can grow and learn – through recreation and interaction with nature – and where people of all ages can get involved in civic life.
While city parks and green spaces offer these and many other benefits, public funding for their creation and long-term stewardship continues to decline. For 15 years, City Parks Alliance has worked to promote an expanded role for urban parks by engaging, educating and nurturing a growing network of urban leaders–from neighborhood groups to government agencies, championing high quality urban parks throughout the nation – and making the case for greater park investment from both the public and private sectors to achieve multiple benefits for our cities. Our vision is that everyone in urban America will have access to parks and green spaces that are clean, safe and vibrant.
The Electric Utility Revolution
In 1995, only 2% of the global population had a mobile phone. Today 96% do. In just 20 years, the telecommunications industry has completely changed because of new technology. Apoorv Ghargava, an analyst at Opower, says a similar shift is happening to electricity utility companies. And it’s good news for customers and renewable energy.
For over a century, big companies have controlled our power supply. They’ve built large coal, gas, and nuclear plants and charged customers a regulated rate to generate and deliver that electricity.
But today, more and more homeowners and communities are generating their own electricity, through rooftop solar installations, for example. That simple reality, combined with the US economy’s increased efficiency, is forcing utilities to change the way they do business.
Just because homeowners have abandoned their landlines in favor of cell phones doesn’t meant the phone companies disappeared, says Ghargava. AT&T didn’t disappear with the rotary phone. They adapted.
Electricity companies need to adapt too. Some already are.
Consider New York State. Leaders there saw what happened during Hurricane Sandy. They know that their infrastructure is vulnerable to more frequent big storms. They also know that their residents want renewable energy and don’t want to spend public funds on costly dirty energy projects.
So Governor Cuomo launched the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) project in 2014 to fast-track clean energy, save customers money, and increase reliability. One way to do this is to roll out more community-owned microgrids and electricity storage.
You’d think that New York’s utility companies would reject these changes, but Con Edison sees REV as an opportunity, not a threat.
“This is truly one of the most dynamic times our industry has seen,” says Sergej Mahnovski, Director at Consolidated Edison’s Utility of the Future. “By advancing change, utilities will need to invest in the infrastructure and systems that will become the backbone of future markets. But more importantly, utilities will invest in people, industry knowledge, brainpower and application skills.”
In other words, utilities should rethink the kinds of services their providing customers in the clean energy era. From modernizing the grid and powering the new electric vehicle fleet, to developing software tools that help people manage energy better, new business models can support community efforts.
Hawaii is also aggressively adopting clean energy. This year, the state became the first in the country to mandate a 100% renewable energy supply by 2045. This ambitious goal has given Hawaii’s residents a chance to rethink the power system.
While shareholders in the state’s major utility, Hawaiian Electric, are considering a merger with NextEra Energy (a Florida company that owns 14% of installed utility-scale solar in the US), other residents are calling for a co-op model that would put more control in the hands of residents.
“Hawaii is at a crossroads. We have disruptive technologies that are changing how customers expect to get energy,” says Rob Harris, spokesperson with KULOLO (Keep Utilities Locally Owned, Locally Operated). “In [NextEra’s] model, they generate all the power and sell all the power. One would have to presume that is the model they want to bring to Hawaii. That is why we think the public option should be on the table.”
Similar conversations are taking place around the country, wherever rooftop solar is cutting into a utility’s traditional business model. Most states have net metering policies that allow solar PV owners to sell their extra energy back to the grid. As the cost of solar drops and more people switch to solar, threatened utilities are responding by attacking net metering with more fees.
Instead of fighting net metering, utilities should work with customers to develop new pricing models that acknowledge the growing prominence of small producers, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. It would be a win for everyone involved.
“Let’s shift the conversation away from net metering, and start debating the electricity rate structures of the future.”
Environmental Defense Fund Attorney John Finnigan agrees. What’s needed, he says, are “Performance Based Rates” that compensate utilities not based on their costs (which is the current model), but on how well they deliver sustainable, affordable energy to consumers.
“Performance Based Rates” might sound like a pretty boring idea in the exciting world of clean energy, but it’s just the approach we need to get our electricity utilities into the 21st century.
REV-ing it Up in New York, Natural Resources Defense Council
Transforming Electric Utilities, Rocky Mountain Institute
Smart Grid and Clean Energy Go Hand in Hand, EarthShare
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