Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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Short Takes: "Bidder 70"

| Thu Nov. 29, 2012 4:08 AM PST

Bidder 70

GAGE AND GAGE PRODUCTIONS

73 minutes

In the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, Utah college student Tim DeChristopher was angry about the ravaging of public lands by drilling companies, so he monkey-wrenched a federal oil lease auction, bidding $1.8 million for drilling rights with no intention of paying. Facing 10 years in federal prison (and ultimately receiving 2), DeChristopher became an overnight cause célèbre. In Bidder 70, a husband-and-wife documentary team delves into DeChristopher's personal history and taps a roster of activists, scientists, lawyers, and politicians to explore how civil disobedience plays into the modern environmental movement.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

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Cost of Going Solar Takes a Nosedive

| Wed Nov. 28, 2012 8:22 AM PST

A bit of good news for fans of renewable energy: Driven by a steady decline in the cost of manufacturing solar panels, the cost of going solar in your home or business is the lowest its ever been, according to a new analysis of project data by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Total installation prices fell 11-14 percent from 2010 to 2011, depending on size, continuing the downward trend of the last decade, which analysts predict will carry forward into 2012:

Courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryCourtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The study looked at some 150,000 systems installed since 1998 in search of concrete proof to bolster the "quite a bit of anecdotal evidence along the way that prices were falling," said author Galen Barbose. Tech advances and exploding demand have pushed down the cost of the solar modules themselves, the main factor in the overall drop. But Barbose cautioned that that drop could level out if prices for the ancillary aspects of installing solar stay high relative to the cost of the physical panels. That includes permit fees, installation labor, power inverters, and marketing and overhead costs for installation companies.

"There are limits to how much further module prices can drop," he said, and pointed to Germany as an example of a place where hardware costs are comparable to the US, but easier and cheaper permitting practices cut the overall cost for household installations nearly in half. "'Soft' costs could come down significantly in the US, but to really make an impact on a national scale there will need to be efforts on the federal level to spur changes that aren't happening locally."

In other words, solar is in the same boat as wind: Big-time growth will be a pipe dream until the feds can chart a detailed course for renewables. 

VIDEO: A Solar Thanksgiving for Battered Rockaways

| Wed Nov. 21, 2012 3:56 PM PST

Since Hurricane Sandy, the historic Belle Harbor Yacht Club in the Rockaways—one of New York City's hardest-hit neighborhoods—has become an indispensable hub for supplies, volunteers, and a much-needed round of drinks. Three weeks after the storm, the oft-maligned Long Island Power Authority still hasn't re-connected this building, not to mention its neighbors, back to the grid, leaving locals to face the prospect of a cold, dark Thanksgiving.

But outside, the sun is shining, and a trio of local solar power companies have seen an opportunity to bridge the gap left open by the electric utility. The yacht club, among several area buildings, is now plugged into a portable solar power generator, which frees volunteers from the endless gas lines that plague those dependent on traditional generators and leaves them ready to dish out hot plates of turkey and stuffing to the beleaguered community.

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