A new Gallup poll found that Americans want the U.S. to focus on developing domestic energy sources. In every region of the country, solar is the alternative energy source of choice. Seventy-six percent of all Americans want more emphasis on solar power. Randall Nixon of Nixon’s Farm is on it.
I interviewed the self-described “Ivy League redneck” in a 19th century Pennsylvania-style bank barn situated on the 163-acre farm purchased by his parents, Roosevelt and Mildred Nixon, in 1956. His parents’ contemporaries laughed and called the purchase “Nick’s Folly.” Randy is having the last laugh. He has entered into a lease agreement with BITHENERGY Inc., a black-owned innovative energy solutions company, to develop the largest privately-owned solar farm in Maryland.
Randy told me:
This is an opportunity to connect up people, to broker relationships, and to get cash moving that will empower the family to hold on to the land while generating wealth for their progeny. For once in history, we’re holding the cards.
Robert L. Wallace, Chief Executive Officer of BITHENERGY, said in a statement:
The Nixon Farm Solar Project is arguably one of the most significant transformational events in Howard County’s history. Not only will this be the largest solar array in Howard County but it will also lead the way for a radical transformation and rethinking of the energy dynamics and renewable energy possibilities for the County.
During his 2013 State of the County address, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman hailed the project as a “model for Maryland”:
The company is planning to build a solar array that will produce enough power for up to 2,000 homes at the historic Nixon’s Farm on Route 32. We partnered with BITHENERGY and BITHGROUP Technologies to amend zoning and facilitate other approvals to make this project a reality. BITHENERGY is showing leadership and vision, designing a project which will save agricultural land from development and produce renewable power.
Back in the day, Nixon’s Farm was “a play farm,” the Glenwood Country Club whose motto was “Keep the faith, baby.”
Over the years, there were some financial setbacks. But Randy kept faith that he would find a way to save the farm:
The energy revolution is providing opportunities for African Americans to restore the land that they’ve been holding onto in the hopes that it would somehow become productive; that it would no longer be a family burden. For once, we’re not at a disadvantage; don’t have to beg for a loan. We’re always looking for cash. The biggest issue we have is access to capital.
This is the beginning of what’s going to happen – solar, wind, geothermal. Environmentalists want to save the land. Entrepreneurs also want to save the land… Entrepreneurship helps pay for environmentalism. They can work together. Cash can save the environment. It’s called capitalism. Adam Smith was right.
Construction on the solar project will begin in June. In the meantime, Randy is looking for investors interested in creating a cooperative for African-American-owned farmland dedicated to alternative energy sources. For more information, contact Randy via email.
It was serendipitous that I read about a collaboration between environmentalists and unconventional gas drillers while attending Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership’s conference on the nexus of energy, food and water. The goal of the gathering was to engage the business community in a conversation on how to build business value by embedding sustainability.
I was tweeting about Neil Hawkins’ call for collaboration when a Google alert about the new center popped up. Hawkins is Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety for the Dow Chemical Company.
The Center for Sustainable Shale Development is breaking down silos. The participating partners include Chevron, CONSOL Energy, Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corp., Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Shell and William Penn Foundation.
Robert Vagt, President of the Heinz Endowments, said in a statement:
CSSD is the result of an unprecedented effort that brought together a group of stakeholders with diverse perspectives, working to create responsible performance standards and a rigorous, third‐party evaluation process for shale gas operations. This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective.
Bruce Niemeyer, President of Chevron Appalachia, added:
Raising the bar on performance and committing to public, rigorous and verifiable standards demonstrates our companies’ determination to develop this resource safely and responsibly. Throughout the development of CSSD, the collaborative effort of environmental organizations, foundations and energy companies has been the key to achieving consensus on regional performance standards.
Energy companies seeking certification must meet 15 performance standards that address air quality, water resources and climate. The data-driven performance measures will build trust and break through the myths and unfounded fears.
Indeed, the Washington Post editorialized:
Last week brought a heartening breakthrough in the war over fracking: A handful of major green groups and big drillers agreed on environmental standards… These new rules are a large step toward striking the right balance, and everyone involved deserves credit.
But not all environmentalists are singing “Kumbaya.” Deb Nardone, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Director, dismissed the agreement as “akin to slapping a band aid on a gaping wound.” In a statement, Nardone declared:
The majority of natural gas must stay in the ground if we want any chance of avoiding climate disaster.
That makes no fracking sense says the Post:
The center provides a model for environmental groups, too. They advance their cause much further when they accept that the country is fracking and push for sound regulation, instead of unrealistically insisting that all that natural gas stay in the ground.
Truth be told, some ‘fracktivists’ are more interested in mobilizing around an issue than collaborating on solutions because it’s good for business.
If you’re like most Americans, you might be asking yourself: “What is infrastructure?” Infrastructure is the foundation of our economy. It includes highways, public transit and water systems, airports and railroads. Or as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told his then eight-year-old son: “It’s what Daddy blows up in movies.”
Edward Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, shared that story at a forum of regional leaders convened by Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, “Philadelphia’s Infrastructure: A Pathway to Jobs, Economic Development and Sustainability.”
As a District Councilman, I recognize that we need jobs. Investing in our road, bridges and alternative energy sources should be used to stimulate job creation and economic development, not only in Philadelphia but in the surrounding region.
One of those alternative energy sources – shale gas – is powering economic growth and America’s energy independence. A report by IHS found that unconventional gas development contributed economic activity of over $14 billion in Pennsylvania in 2012. The shale gas revolution directly and indirectly supported over 100,000 jobs. That number is projected to double by 2020.
Western Pennsylvania is the sweet spot for the Marcellus Shale formation. As a longtime advocate for minority-owned business enterprises, I was heartened by Sen. Anthony Williams’ commitment to ensuring a broad-based economic benefit:
It’s not just about western Pennsylvania. It’s about all of Pennsylvania… We in Philadelphia need to be in the middle of this conversation.
Fortunately the Oil and Gas Act, commonly referred to as Act 13, includes a provision to foster that conversation. Section 2316 provides:
- (a) Requirement: Producers shall provide maximum practicable contracting opportunities for diverse small businesses, including minority-owned business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises and veteran-owned businesses.
- (b) Duties – Producers shall do all of the following:
- (1) Maintain a policy prohibiting discrimination in employment and contracting based on gender, race, creed or color.
- (2) Use the database available on the Internet website of the Department of General Services to identify certified diverse small businesses, including minority-owned business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises and veteran-owned businesses, as potential contractors, subcontractors and supplies for opportunities related to unconventional natural gas extraction.
- (3) Respond to the survey under subsection (c) within 90 days.
- (c) Survey – Within one year of the effective date of this section, the Department of General Services shall send all producers a survey to report the producers’ efforts to provide maximum practicable contracting opportunities related to unconventional gas extraction for diverse, small business participation.
It’s a truism that we manage what we measure. But somehow the Department of General Services managed to miss the Feb. 13, 2013, deadline for sending the survey to shale gas producers.
Williams promised to fix that. He is a member of the State Government Committee to which DGS must submit an annual report on diverse, small business participation. He will ask members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus to sign a joint letter to DGS to find out when the survey will be sent.
So where do we go from here? Johnson made it clear this was not a one-off event; rather, it was the 1st annual infrastructure forum. He plans to establish an Infrastructure Working Group to develop a long-term strategy to promote job creation and economic development.
For more information, contact Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office at (215) 686-3412.
On the eve of the first anniversary of Act 13, a small group of protesters lined up in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park and said no way to hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking.
Signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 14, 2012, Act 13 cleared the way for unconventional (horizontal) drilling. The Marcellus Shale law established environmental protections and imposed impact fees on drilling companies. The most controversial provision placed strict limits on local governments’ authority to enact zoning ordinances that regulate where and when oil and gas development may occur.
As the legal challenge plays out in the court, the Marcellus Shale play is powering a brighter future for the nation.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the impact of innovations in the natural gas industry:
Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.
Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.
Will there be a moratorium on shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania? No fracking way.