Renewable Energy

What If We All Just Went on Strike

On March 15, 2019 over 1.5 million people across Earth went on strike to demand climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future campaign, people in 125 countries and all seven continents united to call for politicians and those in power to make real steps towards combating climate change. According to 350.org, the global action is the largest climate demonstration in history, and the organizers of the strike say this is just the beginning.

On March 15, 2019 over 1.5 million people across Earth went on strike to demand climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future campaign, people in 125 countries and all seven continents united to call for politicians and those in power to make real steps towards combating climate change. According to 350.org, the global action is the largest climate demonstration in history, and the organizers of the strike say this is just the beginning.

“The March 15 strike is not the end of us — it’s just the beginning. There are some past climate movements that lost momentum after their initial big events, and we want to make sure that that is not something that can be said about us. We want to make sure that once we have this event, the movement doesn’t stop and in fact gets even stronger with our momentum. We have some long-term plans too. We’ve been contacted by the U.N to potentially speak at the climate summit in September of 2019. We will also continue to grow our movement, from the national and local scale to the international scale, and collaborate with other movements. We want to make sure that we are heard and seen by the media, by the regular bystander, by everybody.”
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Maddy Fernands, National Press Director of Youth Climate Strike

Chicago, Il strike held in Federal Plaza

Chicago, Il strike held in Federal Plaza

Explaining the Green New Deal and Its Critical Urgency

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October 2018 report warned that averting or mitigating food shortages, wildfires, extreme weather events, coral reef die-offs and other disasters will require global human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to  reach net zero—so that all remaining emissions were matched by carbon capture mechanisms-- by 2050. They acknowledged that reaching this target would require a rapid economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”

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Some US lawmakers are proposing a radical transformation to deal with the crisis, and they are citing a historical precedent. The  “Green New Deal” invokes the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping programs to promote employment and social safety nets when the nation was crippled by the Great Depression. Those programs were denounced as radical government overreach in their day, but they helped many struggling families to survive, and a few New Deal initiatives-- including Social Security and the FDIC –remained law and are now accepted across the political spectrum. 

Just what is the Green New Deal? The term was coined in 2007 by Thomas Friedman, who was suggesting steps to curb US reliance on foreign oil. In 2008-9 the UN called for a ‘Global Green New Deal’ in which developed countries would invest at least 1% of GDP in reducing carbon dependency, while developing economies should spend 1% of GDP on improving access to clean water and sanitation for the poor as well as strengthening social safety nets. 

Green Party candidate Jill Stein ran on a “Green New Deal” in 2012 and 2016. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez adopted the term during her successful campaign for the House of Representatives. In recent days lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Ed Markey have voiced support for some form of Green New Deal, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has sketched out a Green New Deal for his state as part of his budget proposal. A Green New Deal is called for in an open letter to all lawmakers signed by more than 350 elected officials across America, and also in a letter to the US House of Representatives signed by more than 600 environmental groups. There are some differences between these New Deal proposals, but they share many important features. 

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Each Green New Deal proposal sets an ambitious target for emissions reduction. An earlier proposal from Ocasio-Cortez’s website and the Green Party plan both call for the US to move to 100% clean energy, with zero net emissions, by 2030. Cuomo’s plan calls for 100% of NY power generation to be carbon-free by 2040, and also calls for plans for overall carbon neutrality at an unspecified date. (In 2016, according to the EPA, electricity generation was the source of 28% of US carbon emissions.) The environmentalists’ letter calls for 100% renewable energy production throughout the nation by 2035.  

Many Green New Deal proposals plan to meet these goals through massive investments in renewable energy production and energy efficiency, including upgrades to buildings and to the transportation grid. The Ocasio-Cortez and Green Party proposals also call for changes in the US agricultural system, which is a significant generator of greenhouse gas emissions: Ocasio-Cortez writes about localizing food production systems, and the Green Party also calls for the elimination of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. Both groups also speak of the importance of investing in small-scale local businesses and co-ops in other industries.

The Green Party plan and the environmentalists’ letter explicitly exclude nuclear power from their definition of acceptable energy sources, but nuclear power remains a contested issue among some advocates of a Green New Deal. Some advocates say that nuclear power is a necessary stopgap because renewable energy production cannot be scaled up fast enough to allow fossil fuel generation to scale down in time to prevent climate catastrophe; others point to the hazardous waste generated by nuclear production and the risk of lethal accidents.

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Like the UN Global Green New Deal, the US Green New Deal is concerned with alleviating poverty and working toward economic justice as well as slowing climate change. Impoverished communities tend to suffer most from pollution and the health problems it brings; some of them have also depended on highly polluting extractive industries for their employment base. Many different Green New Deal plans mandate input from and funding to these vulnerable communities. New York’s plan sets aside money to help communities who have depended on conventional power generation transition to clean energy jobs.  Green New Deal proposals also require input from tribal authorities, recognizing the needs of their communities and the insights they offer. 

Some versions of the Green New Deal—including Ocasio-Cortez’s draft plan and the Green Party platform—call for full employment and a government guarantee of living-wage jobs for any worker who wants employment. The Green Party specifies that such jobs must be offered in human services fields like child care and elder care as well as in construction and energy production, so that people with varying levels of physical strength can find work. Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal plan does not guarantee employment but does set aside funds for workforce development to help people qualify for the jobs required by the new energy economy; it also includes wage guarantees for those workers. 

Whether or not there is a legal mandate for full employment, the green energy transition is likely to create jobs. In the short term, upgrading existing buildings and transportation infrastructures for greater efficiency will be a massive and labor-intensive project. In the long term, a 2014 UK study concluded, “there is a reasonable degree of evidence that in general, renewable energy and energy efficiency are more labor-intensive in terms of electricity produced than either coal- or gas-fired power plants.” A transition to more small-scale local agriculture would also require more human labor and less fossil fuel.  

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Ocasio-Cortez’s version of the Green New Deal also calls for social supports detached from employment, including basic income programs and universal health care. Many of her fellow Democrats at the national level who support some type of Green New Deal are also supportive of Medicare-for-all or some other expansion of publicly funded health care. In New York, Cuomo has dismissed single-payer health care as impossibly expensive, though NY offers generous Medicaid benefits.

Many critics of the Green New Deal in its several incarnations are focused on questions of how much it will cost and where the money is to come from. The Green Party points out that continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to increased spending on disaster relief (as climate change intensifies hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms) and health care (as people require treatment for illnesses caused by pollution and extreme temperatures as well as for natural-disaster-induced injuries.) They also propose halving the military budget (pointing out that US military spending far exceeds that of any other nation, and suggesting that, without the demand for access to foreign sources of fossil fuels, we’d have much less incentive to fight wars) and sharply increasing taxation on the wealthiest Americans. Ocasio-Cortez and some of the Democrats who hold with her also back tax increases for the wealthiest. 

For now there is no single clear and authoritative version of the Green New Deal: the Green Party is not in power anywhere, Governor Cuomo’s New Deal plan will have to be approved by the state legislature (which is already considering a somewhat different climate-mitigation bill with some New Deal overlaps), and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey are now working out a Green New Deal bill to present to Congress.  But the national dialogue has broadened to take in the possibility of transformative change in the face of crisis. The answers may not be clear yet, but at least the vital questions are being considered.  

California Set to Become 100 Percent Carbon Neutral

California has made history with S.B. 100, a bill that requires all retail energy to come from renewable resources by 2045. This bill will make California only the second state to do so, but as as the fifth largest economy in the world and the United States’ most populous state, it is a landmark step in the fight against climate change.

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While over 70% of Californians agree with the bill, it came with some push back from utility companies and energy intensive industries such as agriculture. Those who were against the bill cited concerns about job loss during the transition, and what renewable energy may hold for big business.

Despite these concerns, S.B. 100 passed by a small majority, 44-33 in favor of the bill. Right now California gets about a third of its energy from renewable resources. This includes solar and wind powered installations as well as geothermal generation sites. California also generates about 9% of its energy from nuclear power plants, which is a somewhat debated source of clean energy. About half of its energy comes from natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, but is actually potentially more damaging to the environment due to the amount of methane that natural gas emits.

Governor Brown signed SB 100 into law just before the Global Climate Action Summit. The bill helped bring concrete action to the climate movement, and is exactly what needs to be done in order to stop greenhouse gases from warming our planet even more. At the same time he also issued executive order B-55-18, calling for California to become completely carbon neutral over the same period of time.

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The executive order isn't law, but it is a strong statement confirming California’s commitment to climate action. These moves come in stark contrast to the White House, which has dismissed climate change and sought to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Through this bill and the executive order, California will seek to become completely carbon neutral, which is in line with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Accord.

These actions are more possible than claiming that California will be a zero carbon state. Carbon neutral means that carbon offsets, such as putting money into forest land or companies that actively reduce the carbon emissions available, are an option for businesses and individuals. This makes the executive order a lot more likely to be successful, and legitimizes the efforts of any states that would like to follow.

“This bill and the executive order put California on a path to meet the goals of Paris and beyond. It will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done,” Jerry Brown said at the signing.

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It's not yet clear how the bill will be put into action. While SB 100 gives lawmakers and businesses a very clear direction to go in, it doesn't provide any instructions on how to get there. California already has several similar bills in place, all of which are less ambitious, but many of them aren't on track to complete on time. 

Critics are concerned that the bill will harm Californians and exists only to please politicians. The bill has been stalled over the last 2 years over concerns of the cost and feasibility of putting an ambitious plan such as this one into action. 

California has long been a pioneer in forward thinking laws, and the success or failure of this bill will determine whether other states will follow. If it succeeds, it will show that even a large economy such as California can still be successful without harming the planet. It's a worthwhile goal, and one that can not only have a positive local impact for Californians but set a progressive prescient for climate action.

How $20 Can Take a Ton of Carbon Out of the Atmosphere

If you’re passionate about the environment and concerned about the effects of climate change, you have probably heard the term “Carbon Offsets” used by many businesses when describing their sustainability projects. Lyft recently committed to purchasing enough of them to cover all of their rides’ emissions, and many other large companies such as General Motors and Barclays purchase them to help make their businesses more environmentally friendly.

If you aren’t familiar with what they are, carbon offsets can sound a little like the 15th century practice of buying indulgences. It sounds nice, but is relatively useless when the efforts to reduce carbon aren’t personally made by the company itself.

In the case of carbon offsets, this simply isn’t true. When a company purchases the carbon offsets, they are funding projects that remove vast quantities of carbon from the air. While that carbon removal doesn’t come from switching their office lights out early, or putting fewer cars on the road, it is no less effective. Many of the projects funded would never come to life if it wasn’t for the offsets that make funding available.

Another example of this is how some airlines like Emirates, American Airlines, and Delta offer their passengers the opportunity to purchase enough carbon offsets to cover the amount of emissions that their share of the airplane trip produces. Because flying is unavoidable for some people, these kinds of offsets meet people where they already are and offer them a environmentally-minded solution.

 

So what is a carbon offset?

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A carbon offset is a certificate acknowledging the fact that funds paid for by one company, will remove a certain amount of carbon (usually in tons) from the air. Companies that sell carbon offsets pay for projects that remove carbon, through projects such as creating green energy, capturing and destroying the greenhouse gases, or sequestering the carbon through the planting and management of forests.

These projects have profound impact on climate change. In some cases, such as Lyft’s carbon offset project to make car parts lighter, the project would never be possible without the carbon offsets. This is because the price is often not considered worth it by car companies, even though the impact on climate change can be seen for decades after the creation of the part.

Carbon offsets are essential for businesses who have no other way to make their business sustainable. While some of these we can argue would be better off not existing, carbon offsets also offer the chance to be sustainable to small businesses and even individuals that care about the environment.

In some locations, purchasing green energy is impossible, but thanks to carbon offsets, a small business that wants to be sustainable can purchase offsets equal to the power they consume. Eventually they may even reap the benefits of these projects, as green energy becomes more widely available thanks to the offsets available.

 

Are there drawbacks to carbon offsets?

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While anything that helps fight climate change is good, carbon offsets are frequently criticized because they allow companies to continue old habits without real change. The concern is that if the companies that use carbon offsets instead of addressing real problems in their business continue to do so, the damage done to the climate will worsen.

Despite these concerns, carbon offsets allow healing to occur in our delicate environment, and they are a great first step toward improving our global situation. Carbon offsets not only give us a chance to do better in our own lives, but to help address the carbon we can’t do anything about too.

Carbon offset credits are great because not only can the largest companies and governments in the world purchase them to offset emissions, they also allow anyone who is passionate about ending climate change to buy personal carbon offset credits, which broadens the scope of who can participate in large scale sustainability projects, and increasing those projects’ exposure.

To learn more about carbon offset credits or to purchase some of your own, check out sites like Terrapass or Carbon Fund.

Costa Rica Becomes the First Nation to Ban Fossil Fuels

Sustainability has become the focus of the world over the last decade, and many countries have made great strides in their efforts to combat climate change. Japan has achieved nearly zero waste in select towns, and over 40% of Denmark's citizens commute by bicycle to work. 

Today, Costa Rica took steps to eclipsing even these amazing countries in terms of sustainability. President Carlos Alvarado announced they would be banning fossil based fuels altogether. This makes Costa Rica the first country in the world to completely decarbonize.

“Getting rid of fossil fuels is a big idea coming from a small country. This is an idea that’s starting to gain international support with the rise of new technologies,” Costa Rican economist Monica Araya said.

As unlikely as going carbon-free in today's modern world might seem, Costa Rica already derives 99% of its energy from renewable sources. Their biggest hurdle will be in the transportation industry, where there is very little in the way of development in that sector and demand for cars is growing.

Source:  La Nacion

Source: La Nacion

Luckily, plans are already under way to help address the issues at a cultural level. Many Costa Ricans already appreciate the benefits if renewable energy, and Hyundais (a favorite vehicle in Costa Rica) are available completely fossil fuel free. Costa Rica Limpia, an organization helping to push the decarbonization efforts, plans to have these cars available for citizens to test drive and take a look at. 

President Carlos Alvarado has set a goal of decarbonizing by 2021, which will mark 200 years of independence for Costa Rica. The goal is aggressive and may not be entirely feasible, especially with Costa Rica's current financial issues.

Costa Rica has been operating on a deficit since 2009. 22% of Costa Rica's revenue comes from taxing the auto industry, and a large portion of that goes to protection of forests and other forms of conservation. This could result in a heavy financial loss for their already strained financial situation, but rethinking how they get their money could resolve their issues over time.

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With fewer carbon emissions, they may save money in the form of reduced health care costs. Another option, which they will no doubt have to adopt at some point, is changing what they tax instead. A tax on carbon itself might help them to their goal and resolve their current financial situation as well.

Whether Costa Rica achieves its decarbonization goals on time or not, their efforts make a statement to the rest of the world. If a small country can make a huge difference to the world despite their size and lack of development, bigger countries can follow their example.

Globally, fossil fuels are the biggest threat to climate change, and a path to getting rid of them is one that all countries should make an effort to follow, regardless of size. As Araya put it in another statement, “Tackling resistance to change is one of the most important tasks we have right now.”

California Now Requires Solar Roofing on All New Housing

The California Energy Commission voted in a unanimous 5-0 vote on Wednesday to change energy efficiency standards on newly constructed homes. These new standards will require all new homes to have solar panels installed on them, effective January 2020. It is a huge step for California, which is already a leader in green energy, and has been praised as a giant step in California's efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

These new requirements may increase the prices on new homes in an already pricey market, but should save new home buyers overall. The new requirements are projected to cost new home buyers an extra $40 a month on their mortgage payment, but save them double that in energy costs. This means an overall benefit to home buyers, if they can handle the initial purchase or rental of solar panels.

Adding solar panels to all new homes, and all condominiums and apartments three stories or smaller, is not just a step towards efficiency, but also California's ambitious climate change goals. In 2017, state legislation was passed requiring California to cut its greenhouse emissions as much as 40% by 2030. This ambitious goal will be greatly helped by the new requirements.

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The requirements received remarkably little opposition from the building industry group which was present during the vote. The change has been expected from them for a long time, and their only negative comment was that they wished for a longer time to implement the new regulations. When asked for their opinions, the vast majority of builders and their representatives expressed their support for the new regulations.

The lack of protest most likely stems from the affordability of solar panels in California. Right now it is so cost effective compared to traditional electric, over 15,000 home owners choose solar panels as an option for their new homes anyway. As it is, California now produces so much wind and solar panel, they often have to cease production or give away energy to other states to avoid overloading the grid. Some people are concerned that requiring solar on every new home will strain the grid farther, but others see the choice as simply turning solar into an appliance rather than a utility.

Only time will tell whether or not California's efforts will be successful or not. If the new requirements end up being a boon to the economy as many people predict, California's new building requirements will serve as a model for other states to follow. Should it fail or have other problems, other states will see it and think carefully before proceeding down the same path.

Most Californian's seem to agree with the new requirements, and are happy to embrace these changes, but they still have another trial ahead of them. In order to become permanent, they need to get a final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission. It is expected to be up for review in November, and is expected to be approved and adopted into the state's building codes.

A Positive Take on the Paris Climate Accord

Climate Change is one of the most talked about environmental hazards in the world right now. With extreme weather phenomenon such as the disastrous Hurricane Harvey, and the overall temperature of the Earth climbing, it is no wonder. If climate change continues to grow, the consequences may be extremely severe. Not just severe weather, but mass extinction, the loss of entire nations, and populous cities like New York completely underwater.

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These aren't the only problems that may occur from climate change. If global warming rises above 5 degrees Celsius, it could mean the end of human civilization. While we are a long way away from that 5 degrees, there is also a point of no return where even stopping all carbon emissions completely won't be enough to save the planet. It is a serious threat to our world and our survival.

Luckily, there is hope that complete disaster caused by climate change can be avoided. For the first time ever, hundreds of countries gathered together for a single cause, to limit their carbon footprint and bring concrete change to the problem of a warming climate.

The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement set in 2016 that would begin a global effort to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. In a nutshell, each country according to its ability would work toward lowering the amount of green house gasses going into the atmosphere.

The goal is for each country to begin making changes by 2020, with concrete steps being taken all the way. As of now, every single country in the world has signed the pledge except for the United States, who backed out of it. Even then, over 20 states and 60 different cities throughout the USA have agreed to abide by the pledge, and ignore the wishes of the federal level of government.

This makes the Paris Climate Accord a landmark achievement, because it is one of the only agreements the entire world has adopted. Today, many countries have already started taking enormous steps toward carbon reduction.

The rules of the accord are fairly loose, and not legally binding. The hope is to make the accord flexible enough that every country can participate without being forced out due to funds or lack of ability. It was also designed to avoid frightening off the countries most responsible for the pollution. The accord quite simply asks each and every country to reduce their emissions, and to help take a stand in the fight against global warming. It is a proud moment in history that nearly everyone on the planet agreed as one to do this, as much as they are able. The results are already beginning to be seen, and are both prompt and hopeful.

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China, one of the countries most responsible for emissions, is also taking some of the boldest steps to reduce them. They've instituted a cap on coal consumption, still a popular way to heat homes in China, and is also one of the biggest innovators in renewable energy. They are working on a plan to phase out vehicles that run on gas completely, and has focused on reforestation as well.

These ambitious plans have already put them on target to both achieve and exceed their milestones, making them a leader in the fight against climate change.

India is also on track to meet or possibly even exceed their goals set in the Paris agreement. Among their many fine achievements, canceling all of their new coal plants until 2026, and an ambitious plan to only sell electric vehicles by 2030. 

Other countries who were already environmentally friendly to begin with, have made even more profound steps. In particular, Iceland has created a negative emissions power plant that actually takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and Finland has achieved the status of most environmentally friendly with its carefully maintained forests.

Many other countries are stepping up their efforts, and money is being raised for countries who are still developing so that they can get the help they need to be more energy achievement. It is truly a proud moment in history, as more countries announce their latest achievements in lowering their emissions.

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The results of the accord are already very real and noticeable upon the environment. While the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere has not fallen, it also has not increased. This is extremely promising because the economy has grown since the Paris Agreement was first made. It suggests that the emissions in the atmosphere are decoupling from the rise in economy as we discover new ways to produce energy.

If we can keep going on this track, it may be possible to not only keep global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, but well below to the end goal of 1.5 degrees, or even lower. If this can happen, it would guarantee that island nations would not go underwater due to rising sea levels, and many other disasters would be averted.

There is still a great deal that needs to be done in terms of stopping the impact of industrialization on the environment. While we have already made huge strides toward a better world through the Paris Agreement, and many countries are working hard to reduce their carbon emissions, 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide are still released into the atmosphere every year. 

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In order to insure the survival of the human race, and that of millions of different plant and animal species, global warming will have to be combated by every man, woman and child. It is one of the biggest threats the human race has ever faced, but one we are already winning against. 

With the combined efforts of humanity, the outlook of our planet has become a hopeful one. With the advent of amazing new technologies that allow us to power our homes, gain access to clean water, and conduct our lives without a severe impact on the environment, it is only a matter of time before we win the fight against global warming.

You can support the fight against global warming in your own home if you want to. Many utility companies have an option for you to purchase renewable energy from them instead of energy from fossil fuels. These options can cost as little as an additional $3 a month, and greatly reduces your carbon footprint. Other options are ones you may be familiar with. Reduce the amount of disposable packaging you throw away, and recycle what you can. Doing these things can greatly reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of items that need to be created in the first place.

Together we can fight climate change, and make a difference in the world. It's possible, and the world is already changing for the better.

T-Mobile is Committing to 100% Renewable Energy by 2021

In an exciting show of support for the fight to end climate change, T-Mobile has made the commitment to use 100% renewable energy by 2021. This comes in response to the RE100, which is a collaborative led by The Climate Group. It's goal is to get the most influential companies in the world to switch over to 100% renewable energy. So far 129 companies have signed onto the pledge, and the RE100 has spread from North America to other countries such as India and China as well.

Through changing these top businesses over to 100% renewable energy, RE100 head Sam Kimmins hopes that it will drive the rest of the world to make the switch to renewable energy. Large businesses changing how they run won't just help reduce their carbon footprint—it may help change infrastructure itself. In a quote, Sam Kimmins said about T-Mobile's commitment, “It's great to see T-Mobile US shifting to renewables for its power consumption. As a large electricity consumer in the US, they can truly transform energy systems by bringing significant renewable capacity online – all of that while delivering real value to their customers. I congratulate them for a great commitment.”

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

T-Mobile answered the call and has already made large strides toward this goal by unveiling their plans to assist in the creation of a wind farm in order to help support their energy requirements. T-Mobile is no stranger to wind farms. They already have a long term agreement with a wind farm in Oklahoma that went online in December, 2017 for 160MW of energy. The wind farm is owned and operated by  Enel Green Power North America (EGPNA). The new farm will also have a commitment from t-mobile of 160MW. Together, these two farms will produce about 60% of the energy the carrier requires. They plan to purchase the rest of the power from renewable sources, to reach 100% in just three short years.

John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile, is excited to be a part of the project. When asked about the project he said, “...And it’s not just the right thing to do – it’s smart business! We expect to cut T-Mobile’s energy costs by around $100 million in the next 15 years thanks to this move. Imagine the awesome things we can do for our customers with that!” 

While the other giants in the industry are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, T-Mobile is thus far the only carrier to accept the 100% renewable energy challenge. T-Mobile has set up a petition asking two of the other mega carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, to take the challenge as well. You can support this by signing their petition, or tweeting using the hash tag #cleanupwireless in order to lend your voice to their cause.

T-Mobile joins other leading companies such as Nike, Google, Facebook and Microsoft in their pledge to convert to 100% renewable energy through this project. 

 

Image source: Flickr