Category Archives: solar power

Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

The latest reports suggest that coal has the equivalent of black-lung disease: the condition is chronic, and the long-term prognosis is dire.

Power companies plan to shutter more than 10 big coal plants in 2018, extinguishing a major portion of coal burning in the United States (see the map below). According to projections released by the Energy Information Administration this week, coal-fired plants will produce less than 30 percent of the electricity Americans use this year. Back in 2000, coal provided more than half of our electricity. Cheap natural gas has knocked coal out of competition.

2018 will be a bad year to be a gray dot.

EIA

This year is expected be a big one for coal-plant retirements but, as you can see below, so was 2015, and 2012, and, well, much of the past decade.

Pretty much all the plants shutting down are fossil-fuel plants.EIA

“Coal in the U.S. might not be dead, but it is in a death spiral,” said Alex Gilbert, of the energy research firm SparkLibrary. “Coal’s demise is inevitable, but it can still emit significant greenhouse gas and other emissions on its way out. The main policy question now is whether the death spiral should be a decade long or decades long.”

What pushed coal power into the death spiral? In a word, fracking. A crackdown on toxic pollution and the rise of wind and solar power, too. If you look at this map of plants scheduled to open this year, it’s all renewables and gas.

Look at all those renewables… and gas plants.EIA

Gilbert said coal companies also played a supporting role in the dirty fuel’s demise. “Coal’s decline is mainly due to market competition with natural gas with regulations playing a secondary role,” he said. “Fundamentally, however, coal is dying because the industry decided to fight changing times. Instead of innovating into a 21st-century compatible energy source, they played politics.”

So, what does all this mean for greenhouse-gas emissions? Well, even if we stop burning coal, it wouldn’t be enough to solve our emissions problems. And as we squeeze carbon out of our electrical system, carbon emissions from cars, industry, and heating are all going up. That’s consistent with a long term trend.

“Between 2005 and 2016, almost 80 percent of the reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. came from the electric power sector,” wrote Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters of the Rhodium Group, a company which analyzes energy trends. To get greenhouse-gas emissions down, other sectors have to play a larger role.

Rhodium Group

This year, people are expected to drive more, and a growing economy will cause industry to ramp up. All told, the United States is likely to pump out more greenhouse gases this year, according to the new data from the EIA.

“After declining by 1.0 percent in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7 percent in 2018,” the EIA wrote.

It looks like our biggest problem is no longer coal. It’s cars.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

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The Interior axed climate change policies right before Christmas

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Just before Christmas, the Interior Department quietly rescinded an array of policies designed to elevate climate change and conservation in decisions on managing public lands, waters, and wildlife. Order 3360, signed by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, explains that the policies were rescinded because they were “potential burdens” to energy development.

The order echoes earlier mandates from President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Interior’s 70,000 employees: Prioritize energy development and de-emphasize climate change and conservation. The order is another in a long string of examples of science and conservation taking a backseat to industry’s wishes at the Interior Department under Zinke.

The sweeping order, which Bernhardt signed Dec. 22., affects a department that manages a fifth of the nation’s land, 19 percent of U.S. energy supplies, and most of the water in the 12 Western states. It fulfills a high-profile executive order by Trump and a secretarial order from Zinke, both announced in March. Interior did not publicize the order but posted it on its website with other secretarial orders. The Interior Department refused to answer questions about order 3360 on Thursday. “Sorry, nobody is available for you,” Heather Swift, the department spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Environmental groups were surprised that the agency failed to tout the policy decisions. “We’ve been waiting for it. We thought they would do it with some sort of great pride,” said Nada Culver, who directs the Wilderness Society’s BLM action center.

The Bureau of Land Management last week did announce a related policy change that makes it easier for companies to develop oil and gas in core sage grouse habitats that were protected in 2015 as part of an unprecedented conservation initiative. The BLM replaced six instructional memoranda that direct field staff on how to manage 67 million acres of prime sage grouse habitat across 10 Western states. Among other things, the new instructions relieve BLM staff from the requirement that they prioritize drilling outside of prime sagebrush habitat areas.

David Hayes, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy secretary of Interior, said the policy rescissions were very significant because these policies guided the agency’s field staff in how to manage the nation’s vast resources at a time when climate change is already impacting public lands in many ways. “It would be irresponsible as land managers not to take into account these risks, such as drought, fire, invasive species, potential sea-level rise, storm surge impacts, wildlife impacts — all of which already are being felt,” Hayes said.

In his March order, Zinke directed staff to scour their agencies to find policies that hamper energy development.

A report published by the Interior Department in October outlined dozens of policy changes in the works to remove barriers to energy development. The report says that even some of the nation’s most treasured areas — including national monuments, national conservation lands and wild and scenic rivers — won’t be spared from Trump administration efforts to promote energy development.

The new order, which was effective immediately and does not require congressional approval, stems from Zinke’s March directive. It did not specify how the rescinded policies hindered energy or what policies, if any, will take their place.

Among the policies erased by the December order was the climate change chapter of the Interior Department’s manual. This chapter stated that it was the department’s policy to “adapt to the challenges posed by climate change to its mission, programs, operations, and personnel. The department will use the best available science to increase understanding of climate change impacts, inform decision-making, and coordinate an appropriate response to impacts on land, water, wildlife, cultural and tribal resources, and other assets.”

This 2012 policy required national parks and other public lands to consider climate change when developing resource management plans and when permitting various activities. It instructed them to consult the departments’ new Climate Science Centers and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives so they can be guided by the best science available. The policy responded to a 2009 executive order by Obama, which Trump rescinded in March.

Joel Clement, who was the Interior Departments top climate change official before he quit in October, was a main architect of the policy. He says it gave agencies the authority to plan for the myriad of challenges public lands face from climate change. Without the policy they no longer have clear authority. “All of these agencies will fail at their missions if they don’t plan for the impacts of climate change,” Clement said.

Another policy erased by Bernhardt’s order was a chapter added in 2015 that encouraged land managers to look beyond the small parcels of land impacted by a single project when considering mitigation. Instead, it asked them to see how mitigation efforts fit into the conservation goals for larger areas surrounding the projects. This applied to permitting various activities such as mining, drilling for oil, or building a solar power plant. The BLM, National Park Service, or Fish and Wildlife Service would require the company to first avoid and minimize any impacts to natural resources. If impacts were unavoidable, a company would have to “compensate” by designing a mitigation project that would have to reflect broader conservation goals. For instance, if they had to fill in a wetland or build a road through sagebrush habitat, they’d have to invest in restoration projects that replaced the habitat lost.

Hayes said traditionally land managers only looked at the areas impacted by the project or perhaps inside the borders of their own park or refuge. But because climate change is impacting resources across large regions, it became important to start managing across jurisdictional boundaries. The department set up eight regional Climate Science Centers and 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to help land managers study how the broad impacts of climate change should impact their work. (The Trump administration has proposed slashing funding the Climate Science Centers and eliminating the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, but so far Congress has continued to fund both.)

The new order also rescinded BLM’s 2016 mitigation manual and mitigation handbook. These policies guidelines built on the principles of the Interior Department’s mitigation policy and were much more detailed and specific to the kinds of projects BLM authorizes. The handbook both describes how to assess the impacts projects will have on natural resources and outlines how to devise mitigation projects to offset those impacts. BLM is the agency that manages the nation’s energy resources on public lands, including those overseen by the Forest Service.

The agencies are still legally required under the National Environmental Policy Act to mitigate the harmful effects of development and consider climate change. Now they’ve been told not to let climate change considerations or mitigation burden energy development. And they have no guidebook to help them navigate these competing mandates. That confusion could leave the door open for a lot of lawsuits. “That takes you down a very dangerous road for other resources and uses of public lands,” Culver said. “I think it’s going to make the situation worse both for the resources on the ground and for whatever projects they approve.”

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The Interior axed climate change policies right before Christmas

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Solar energy production has skyrocketed in recent years in the United States. With more than 49 megawatts of installed solar capacity, there are now enough solar panels to power 9.5 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Are you interested in getting on the solar bandwagon? Ultimately, determining if it is financially savvy to go solar depends on numerous factors, including the cost of electricity in your area, the price and output of the solar system, and available solar energy incentives.

Is 2018 a good year for you to go solar? Here are some tips on making an informed decision.

Understand Your Local Net Metering Laws

Net metering laws require power companies to bank excess credits for solar electricity fed to the utility grid for later use by the homeowner. For example, let’s say your solar panels generated 10 kWh of excess electricity for the grid during a sunny day and then you consumed 10 kWh of electricity at night. Under net metering laws, you would neither owe money nor be reimbursed for this power, given that you provided as much power as you later consumed.

In 2015, 43 states had net metering laws. Now, only 38 states do. In some areas, solar homeowners are not rewarded at a retail rate for the excess power they supply. Find out what the laws are in your state to better understand the return on investment of your solar system. In some areas where net metering laws are changing, existing solar system owners are grandfathered in under the old system. If the new rules haven’t taken effect yet, you still might be able to get compensated under the old, higher rate.

Consider Solar Equipment Warranties

Solar product warranties vary among manufacturers, and they are an important consideration before installing a solar system. Equipment warranties can protect you, making solar a safer long-term investment. Ask your solar installer or conduct independent research to determine product warranties, as they can vary widely by manufacturer and product. Recently, some manufacturers have been setting themselves apart by offering exceptional warranties.

Solar panel warranties, in particular, are an important consideration, as they are typically the most expensive equipment in your solar system. Over time, even the best solar panels produce less energy due to product degradation. Although all solar panels are less effective at generating electricity over time, the degradation rate varies by the panel. Performance guarantees help ensure that solar electric panels are producing at a certain percentage of their original generation capacity after a given number of years.

Currently, many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years. Some panel manufacturers set themselves apart by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years.

Most solar panel manufacturers also protect against defects. Many solar panels have a 10-year equipment warranty on the integrity of the panel. Now, SunEdison, Solaria and SunPower solar panels have a 25-year equipment warranty.

Shop around when installing a solar system to find the best price, warranties and solar equipment quality. UnderstandSolar is an excellent free service that links solar shoppers with top-rated solar installers in their area for personalized solar estimates, and EnergySage allows you to make apple-to-apple comparisons.

Take Advantage of the Federal Tax Credit and Solar Incentives

There is a federal tax credit in effect that reduces the total net cost of a solar system by 30 percent! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed, so it is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off.

If you install a $10,000 solar system, you can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This solar incentive will start scaling down in 2020. Keep in mind that some states or municipalities offer incentives for using solar.

Start with Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Although this is not a new development in 2018, it is important to consider whenever someone is going solar. Before sizing your solar system, look for ways to cut your home electricity use. Refrigerators, lighting, electric water heaters and air-conditioners are common electricity hogs. In many cases, it is worthwhile to replace old appliances with high-efficiency models.

Also, explore if you have any vampire loads that suck power even when appliances or electronics are turned off. Home entertainment and office equipment often continuously drain power. Smart power strips are a great solution to stop energy vampires in their tracks.

Consider Solar Loans

As the solar energy industry matures, there are now more solar loan products available than ever before. Solar loans make the most financial sense when the amount you pay on the loan is less than your monthly utility savings. This means that the loan allows you to save money on your solar system from day 1. Make sure to take the loan fees and interest into consideration. A home equity line of credit is another option, and the interest is likely tax-deductible.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar is multifaceted. Many homeowners choose solar because they want to do their part to help stop climate change or to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that the cost of solar has dropped so much, many install solar systems merely for the cost savings. In much of the U.S., 2018 is a good year to go solar.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Predicting the Biggest Green Trend for 2018

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Although Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green,” over the past decade, it sure has been cool to live green.

Ever since An Inconvenient Truth debuted in 2006, there seems to be one eco-friendly product or innovation that takes the U.S. by storm each year and enters the mainstream. In many cases, it’s a product that has been around for years that becomes popular due to legislation, lower prices or a scientific health study.

Even without a crystal ball, we can look at some of the green trends that appear to be on the rise heading into 2018.

What Makes a Green Trend?

In order to identify which green trend is about to take off, it’s helpful to look back at how previous green trends came to play. Here are the biggest green trends since 2007 and the trigger that started each:

Year
Green Trend
Cause(s)
Impact
2007
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL)
Legislation, price
Highest U.S. CFL sales of all-time
2008
Proper disposal of medications
Scientific study
DEA starts national drug collection events
2009
Television recycling
Legislation
Consumers stop buying CRT screens and recycle old ones after digital switch
2010
Metal water bottles/ Bisphenol A (BPA)
Scientific study
Drop in reusable plastic water bottle sales due to BPA concerns
2011
Online shopping/
Cyber Monday
Price
Cyber Monday catches Black Friday for consumer interest in holiday shopping
2012
Hybrid/electric cars
Price
High gas prices, new models lead to 73 percent increase in hybrid sales over the previous year
2013
Fracking
Legislation, social media
New tech for acquiring natural gas leads to countless protests over environmental impact
2014
Farm-to-table food
General trend
Americans demand (and pay for) locally sourced foods
2015
Graywater
Legislation, natural disaster
California droughts make graywater a hot topic to water plants and grow crops
2016
Dakota Access Pipeline
Legislation, social media
Native American tribe protest goes viral on social media
2017
Flexitarianism
Scientific study
Documentaries like What the Health lead Americans to consider more plant-based diets

There’s no real pattern to discern from the past 11 years, other than the fact that these green trends were fueled by new laws, health studies, social media or a reduction in price. All of these circumstances are difficult to predict.

Candidates for 2018’s Greenest Trend

Before we crown a winner, here are a few contenders for the biggest green fad of 2018:

Companies embrace telecommuting: Yes, working from home already feels big, but only 3 percent of the U.S. workforce got to work from home in 2015. The environmental benefits are obvious, from reducing car emissions to limiting office waste. But companies are finally starting to see the cost savings in telecommuting, and as the unemployment rate falls, working remotely will be a top way to recruit new talent in industries like technology and health care. Expect to see fewer employees around the office next year, and for a positive reason.

Telecommuting will only rise in popularity in 2018. Photo: Adobe Stock

Emphasis on food product labeling: Consumers have already shown they want to know where their food comes from and its ingredients, but labels can tell so much more. The FDA will be requiring food manufacturers to print new nutrition labels starting in 2018 that provide a more accurate account of nutritional elements. Whole Foods has also announced that all its food products must provide genetically modified organisms (GMO) information on the label by September 2018. Expect to spend more time at the grocery store researching what goes in your body.

We’ll spend more time reading labels in the store in 2018. Photo: Adobe Stock

The solar revolution takes hold: Until recently, most of the investment in solar technology was restricted to commercial buildings and the richest homeowners. But the price of solar panels continues to fall, and it’s not just for buildings anymore. Some of the coolest innovations in electronics are due to solar power. Expect to see more solar-powered backpacks, watches and city trash cans, as Americans embrace the power of the sun.

Expect more roofs with solar panels this coming year. Photo: Adobe Stock

And the Winner Is . . .

Emphasis on food product labeling

This trend has everything consumers care about when it comes to green trends: government involvement, health concerns and even the price impact as health care cost increases necessitate better nutrition. Plus, in two of the past four years, the green trend was related to diet.

What do you think the big green trend will be this year? Let us know in the comments below.

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earth911

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Predicting the Biggest Green Trend for 2018

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California is preparing for a weekend of wintertime wildfires.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Read article here: 

California is preparing for a weekend of wintertime wildfires.

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The EPA hired a ‘war room’-style media monitoring company.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Continue reading:  

The EPA hired a ‘war room’-style media monitoring company.

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More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Read this article: 

More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Eureka, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LAI, ONA, organic, solar, solar power, Uncategorized, Wiley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Link:  

Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Eureka, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LAI, ONA, organic, solar, solar power, Uncategorized, Wiley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

One-third of forests aren’t growing back after wildfires.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

See more here:  

One-third of forests aren’t growing back after wildfires.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Eureka, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LAI, LG, ONA, organic, solar, solar power, Uncategorized, Wiley | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on One-third of forests aren’t growing back after wildfires.

The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

Link:  

The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

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