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07.07.10

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Climate Meister

Hans-Josef Fell, international rock star of clean energy

By Juliane Poirier


Great news! There's still time! There's still time to deftly avert climate disaster, and time to meet a German who's helped make such a hopeful claim possible, Hans-Josef Fell. He's coming to Santa Rosa on July 13, thanks to Woody Hastings of Sebastopol, who had the gumption to contact this climate-protection hero and ask nicely whether Herr Fell had any spare time on his upcoming trip to the Bay Area. Fell said ja.

Along with other green-power fans, Hastings is understandably excited about Fell's appearance next week. An award-winning parliamentary member of Germany's green party (Bundestag), Fell was responsible in 2000 for drafting a political strategy that radically expanded solar power in that country, a policy called the Feed-In Tariff.

"Herr Fell is something of an international clean-energy rock star," explains Hastings. "The reason his Feed-in Tariff policy is so significant is that it resulted in cloudy, northern Germany becoming number one in the solar photovoltaic market over the past decade."

Like all really good ideas, Fell's is simple. "The Feed-In Tariff policy," Hastings says, "requires the utilities to pay small, clean-electricity generators, like folks with rooftop solar arrays, for the excess power they feed to the grid. Herr Fell is the original author of the legislation in Germany, which has now spread to any other countries in Europe. We would like to see it catch on here in the U.S. The relevance to Sonoma County is that it's a good policy, and it can work here."

Fell will speak at an event that Hastings said he "cobbled together" on short notice with the help of last-minute sponsors. "I think we're very fortunate to be able to have him up here in Sonoma for a visit," Hastings says. "He's convinced countries [including Taiwan and Turkey] to abandon plans for nuclear power plants."

I like Fell already and I haven't even met him yet. I read translations of his writing, including a recent paper with an optimistic title, "Corporate Finance and Climate Protection: A Beneficial Alliance." I was thrilled by such matter-of-fact statements as "cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is . . . economically self-sustaining" and "shifting to a solar economy . . . would provide societies around the world with solutions for climate protection, economic development, poverty reduction, conflict resolution and local environmental protection." Which such hopeful proclamations, I'd be tempted to think him a mere dreamer, except that he has already proven himself internationally to be a high achiever in the world of clean energy.

According to Fell, the current target reduction approach to climate protection is not working, and emissions reductions alone only "increase concentration of climate gasses in the earth's atmosphere." Fell thinks we should focus on accomplishing two things: preventing new emissions and getting in there and scrubbing the hell out of the sky to get the carbon back to 330 parts per million. He thinks we can do this in a few decades via a "total conversion of the world's energy supply to renewable energies." According to Fell, researchers at Stanford and UC Davis have crunched the numbers and in a 2009 paper corroborated that such a plan "will be technically and economically possible by 2030."

And this highly ambitious plan would cost less than what the world would pay for nuclear energy and fossil fuels—less than half, he claims. Standing in the way are the "profit interests of the biggest companies worldwide, which do virtually all their business with the fossil-fuel and nuclear industries." But this obstacle is nothing to a guy who knows how to write revolutionary policy. With the right political measures, a zero emissions world is just around the corner.

Hans-Josef Fell appears Tuesday, July 13, at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 6:30pm. Free. Supervisor Valerie Brown also presents. 707.829.3460.


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