February Newsletter: Solar opportunities … and threats

Solar panels on the roof of the Baltimore, MD, IKEA
Solar panels on the roof of the Baltimore, MD, IKEA

Toxic chemicals in the water … and the fish

Testing found PFAS – a class of toxic chemicals used in everything from firefighting foam to fast food containers – in drinking water samples, groundwater and even seafood in Maryland. The Threat of “Forever Chemicals,” our report with Maryland PIRG Foundation, also explains that, despite industry claims to the contrary, new versions of PFAS chemicals could be just as dangerous as older versions. To protect public health and the environment, the report argues, we must regulate PFAS as a class rather than chemical by chemical, and should ban their use entirely.

A stellar opportunity for superstores

Putting solar panels on top of the biggest retail and grocery stores in the country could generate electricity equal to what about 8 million average American homes use in a year and reduce annual global warming emissions by the equivalent of taking over 11.3 million cars off the road. Those are the main findings from Solar on Superstores, our report with Environment America Research & Policy Center. The 100,000 big box stores in the U.S. have over 7.2 billion square feet of rooftop space, an area the size of El Paso, Texas, and could replace half of their electricity use on average by fully building out their solar potential. In particular, the biggest chains in the country, like Walmart, Target and Home Depot have the largest potential solar capacities. The report was featured in The Washington PostGizmodoNewsBreak and The Hill, and drew the attention of the World Economic Forum and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

On the blog

Analyst R.J. Cross explains why the newest financing craze – buy now, pay later – is a dangerous, unregulated market that could drag more people into debt … Associate Sarah Nick explores the cobalt industry, crucial for current lithium-ion batteries, but which involves large-scale environmental destruction, worker mistreatment and geopolitical issues, and argues for new battery designs and better recycling programs … Analyst James Horrox explores what Edward Abbey has to teach us about the folly of our society’s commitment to economic growth at any cost, even environmental destruction … Analyst Adrian Pforzheimer illuminates the unregulated world of cryptocurrencies which seduces regular people to invest – and then lose – real money … Associate Bryn Huxley-Reicher and Senior Analyst Tony Dutzik use last February’s Arctic storm in Texas to lay out the fragilities and vulnerabilities of our energy system and to explain how distributed renewable energy and storage, along with investment in maintenance and upgrades for the grid, can make the system more resilient.

In other news: rooftop solar in California

Last summer we published a pair of reports about the value of rooftop solar in California, and the importance of state incentives to solar’s success in the future. In the fall, the state’s utility regulator published a proposed change to the way owners of rooftop solar are compensated for the power they send back to the grid that would slash the value of that energy and impose the highest fees on solar of any state in the country. Our partner groups, Environment America, Environment California and CALPIRG, are advocating for a decision that protects consumers and ensures the accelerated growth of rooftop solar in the state, which will be a crucial piece of reducing emissions and meeting climate goals. Over the last few weeks, Governor Newsom has signaled that the proposed change wasn’t good enough and appointed two new members of the regulatory committee. That has led to a delay in the final decision. Frontier Group is closely monitoring this process. What the regulatory agency decides should reflect the importance of solar to our collective future, not least because California’s policies will set a benchmark for other states.


Susan Rakov

Managing Director, Frontier Group; Senior Vice President, The Public Interest Network

Susan directs Frontier Group, the research and policy development center for The Public Interest Network. Frontier Group’s work informs the public discussion about degradations to the environment and public health, threats to consumer rights and democracy, and the available routes to a better future. Susan lives in Santa Barbara, California; she has two children, a husband, and a dog, and is an amateur singer/songwriter.