Wednesday, July 28, 2010

3 Great Green Bills in NYS Limbo

As long as the price of petrol is low, it doesn't appear that free markets will do much about reducing our dependence on it. Gas doesn't look too awfully expensive now, so people stop buying hybrids and companies see too long a payback on converting to renewables.

With mixed feelings, then, we look to the avenue of government to advance urgently necessary causes that are otherwise blocked or stalled. Unfortunately, when the New York State legislature adjourned July 1, they left behind at least three bills with the potential to "make New York a real leader in solar power development."

Those same rascally lawmakers are back tonight for the special session Gov. Paterson called, but "expectations are that nothing will actually get done," according to the Albany Times-Union, due to continuing political gridlock. Nevertheless:

The Solar Industry and Jobs Development Act

The Solar Jobs Act would require New York State's electric utilities to get 2.5% of their power from solar energy by 2025, enough electricity to power one million homes. That's starting from the current merest sliver of a percent. Backers say the bill would generate $20 billion in economic activity, including 22,000 quality jobs in an array of fields, all while costing ratepayers an average of 39 cents a month. (From a report by the Vote Solar Initiative, an industry advocate).

In a July Op-Ed in the Times-Union, Jeff Jones claims, "Solar energy represents less than one tenth of one percent of our state's energy mix, yet creates more jobs per megawatt than any other electricity resource," and then he gets specific:

"Think of the glassmakers that have lost auto contracts but could be covering solar panels; semiconductor factories that no longer make computer parts but could be making solar cells; public and private educational research and development facilities ready to partner with industry and foster the next generation of solar technology."'s blog had a great crack that, " As if that weren’t enough to motivate New York lawmakers, the report’s authors emphasize that inaction on the bill equates to losing to New Jersey: 'New York is already losing solar trainees and economic output to neighboring New Jersey, which installs nearly five times as much solar annually.”

Lose to Joisey! Say it ain't so, Joe.

(Two more to come in follow-up posts…)

Friday, July 16, 2010

A CLEAR-Headed Idea for Reducing Emissions

Two U.S. Senators have proposed what looks like a brilliant framework for not only reducing carbon air pollution, but putting some money directly into our pockets, and doing it with what sounds like a refreshingly simple system.

The 4 Sisters smokestacks go down
(Are you kidding me? Can I be forgiven for fearing, in these nutty times, that it's too good to be true? Well, I just read this morning that the White House and Senate allies decided this week, "to press ahead with a scaled-back energy bill," and they didn't mention this one, so it might turn out to be. Nevertheless:)

In December, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act. They wrote,
"Our concept is simple: Instead of cap-and-trade, our approach is 'cap-and-dividend,' with the dividends going where they belong: into the pockets of hardworking Americans."

"The legislation would set up a mechanism for selling "carbon shares" to the few thousand fossil fuel producers and importers through monthly auctions. Seventy-five percent of the auction revenue would be returned to every citizen and legal resident of the United States through equally divided rebate checks -- averaging $1,100 for a family of four each year. The remaining 25 percent would finance clean-energy research and development…" and more.
This would be done "without disrupting the economy, using a gradually declining 'cap.' The concept is to gradually accelerate emission reductions," aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020, and 83% by 2050.
Quotes from "A cap-and-dividend way to a cleaner nation and more jobs," Cantwell and Collins' Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, Friday, 6/18/10.
There are literally a host of good ideas contained in this one bill, beyond the obvious lure of a check from the guv'mint, for a change: transfer money directly from those who profit from polluting to those who suffer from it the most. Set a predictable price for carbon that everyone can plan on, one that's market-driven within set limits, and all with a minimum of government involvement since an independent trust would be set up to handle the auction. (A few nods to the Republican side of the aisle, there — bully! Let's get everybody on board.)

And how about these perks? "We create a level playing field instead of providing pollution credits to whichever entities have the best lobbyists," the Senators write. "The act cuts out Wall Street speculators and price manipulators. It minimizes destructive price volatility."

And, perhaps most radically of all, the actual bill is only 39 pages long! That means all those members of Congress will be able to actually have a concept of what's in there, for a change. (Candid Representatives have admitted there's no way you can know all the provisions in your common 2,000-page bill.) Between the few pages and the mechanism proposed, it also means that special interests wouldn't have anywhere in the system to hide big payouts to themselves.

The idea is that now that companies will have to pay for the carbon they allow into the atmosphere (that we're all breathing, and in effect swimming in together), they will be economically incented to reduce that output. At long last they'll find the will and the way to do what they'd put off for as long as possible, simply due to the cost. Polluting did not figure into their bottom line — aside from compliance costs during earlier eras when the EPA was actually on the job. Now it would.

By golly, they even made a cute little video for YouTube to explain it:

"How the CLEAR Act Works" (PDF, from

First saw it here:
"Double Dividend: Make Money by Saving Nature"
George Lakoff, Huffington Post
Photo from Wikipedia —
the controlled demolition of four giant coal smokestacks, known locally as the "four sisters," in a Toronto suburb (2006). The plant was labelled a heavy polluter by the Ontario government; and we who live downwind, to the east, thank you.

VIDEO: Tim-berrrr! (53 sec., no sound)

Related, here:
Posts tagged "Green tech"

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conservation Tips For The "Heat Wa-a-a-ve!"

Public Service Electric and Gas, New Jersey’s largest utility, and PJM Interconnection, the electric grid operator for 13 states and D.C., put out an urgent release yesterday, July 7th, asking everybody to conserve electricity, and since it's no cooler today I thought I'd pass along these highly-relevant tips they included.
(Unless you tend to live this way already, in which case Bully for you! And thanks.)

These are some of PSEG's conservation tips:

• Turn off everything you’re not using; lights, TVs, computers, etc. Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.
• Close blinds, shades and draperies facing the sun to keep the sun’s heat out and to help fans and air conditioners cool more efficiently. (Duh.)
• Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. With central air, close off vents to unused rooms.
• Delay heat-producing tasks such as washing and drying laundry or dishes until later in the day, and (or least) wait until a load is full.
• Don't use nonessential appliances, like an extra refrigerator in your garage. Consider setting air conditioners to 78 degrees, health permitting.

More "Energy Conservation Tips from PSEG"

"In the New York City area, Con Edison said its crews were working 24 hours a day to maintain service. Con Edison on July 6 broke its 2010 record for peak electricity use when the company delivered 12,963 megawatts at 5 p.m. A news release said usage would have been even higher if not for the efforts of Con Edison’s customers, who responded to the company’s request for conservation."
- News, where I saw a piece on PSEG's release.

(Can't resist on a day like this:)
"Heat Wave" — (the music starts at 1:40 in)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Giant Shipper Finds "Slow Is Better," Cheaper

Maersk ship, tugsNow that oil is back in the news with a vengeance, exacting the price for our dependency on both the fuel and the money to be made from it, I kept thinking about this piece from earlier in the year about a revolutionary move of the leading container shipping company.

"Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment," Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 2/16/10.
The world-spanning Danish line Maersk, socked with $145 barrels of oil in 2008, cut their fuel consumption by almost one third with a daring manuever: cutting the top cruising speed of its ships by half.

"Reducing engine load dramatically decreases fuel consumption," a Maersk presentation explains, because, "fuel consumption and CO2 emissions increase exponentially with speed." Maersk was able to cut their fuel needs on major routes by as much as 30 percent, a major savings. But just by that, the company also managed an equal cut in their ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.

On many routes, it doesn't even take any more time(!) — cut-off, transit and arrival schedules remain the same since technology now allows for a better distribution of speed, thus gaining back what had been wasted "hurry up and wait" time.

(Of course, when you think of it, this isn't really an entirely new principle to any of us, because we've all heard from way back that driving at 55 gives you the best fuel efficiency and gets you there just some minutes later. But that doesn't mean some of us aren't still looking for the chance to really open 'er up anyway.)

"Where the previous focus has been on 'What will it cost?' and 'Get it to me as fast as possible,' " Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability explains in the NYT story, there's now a third dimension: 'What’s the CO2 footprint?' " Maersk's pitch to shippers includes the offer that, " We will significantly reduce your carbon footprint," claiming that, "Super Slow Steaming alone easily reduces a customer’s whole annual supply chain by 13%."

"Slowing down from high speeds reduces emissions because it reduces drag and friction as ships plow through the water," says the NYT's story, and points out that the same holds true for airplanes, which could easily reduce their emissions by taking it slower, say by 10%.

This is an especially welcome innovation at a time when worldwide consumption is growing so fast; the container ship trade grew by eight times between 1985 and 2007, especially long-haul shipments of goods from Asia. Maersk says their fleet of 545 ships makes a port call every thirteen minutes. So their shift to Slo-Mo has an impact, even more so as a gauntlet thrown to their competition — not, God forbid, because it's the Right Thing To Do or anything, but because it'll save them money, too.

Hey, whatever it takes.

But here's another excellent and really intriguing example of how progress doesn't always come from charging ahead — maybe just as often, it can be achieved by dropping back a step.

• Maersk vessel photo page

Related, sort of, here:
On Slow-blogging
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

How could any green-thinking individual not offer an increasingly gladdened salute to the day? It's hard not to consider where we could have been by now if the original Earth Day, 40 years ago, had been embraced more widely. But by golly, at least now the momentum has shifted, and even though every institution with an advertising budget is busily greenwashing itself — for example, the one that brags widely about their "ecoimagination" on one side, while continuing to oppose the cleanup of the Hudson River they publicly agreed to on the other — there are real and tremendous strides being made.

So let's toast the day with a glass of pure water, giving some grateful credit to all the pioneers of this awareness — like the people PBS is chronicling in "Earth Days," the story of "the dawn and development of the modern environmental movement through the extraordinary stories of the era’s pioneers.

And while we're at it, let's not forget to celebrate to whatever force or forces deserve the credit for the amazingly beautiful planet we're standing on.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Finally, It Pays To Go Greener

For the longest time it's been the case that if you wanted to leave a lighter footprint on the earth, it was going to cost you. Now, thanks both to general awareness and government subsidies, you hear of people who are actually saving money by going a little more green.

Says right here that this one guy in Shreveport, guided by a website, spent $260 on small energy-saving devices, which saved him $300 off his utility bill in just a few months, plus they gave him three new trees in his yard. Sounds like a deal that bears looking into.

The anthropomorphized focus of the Associated Press story (beginning, as all reporting must these days, through the eyes of a single person,) purchased only a couple programmable thermostats, blankets for the water heater, and a buncha them new-fangled lightbulbs to gain all that green - the metaphorical, financial, and photosynthetic.

The website he used was, only one of many new Web services for reducing home energy consumption; the story also mentions Google PowerMeter, My Emissions Exchange, and the EPA's "Energy Star" Home Energy Yardstick. They offer graphs that track a home's natural gas, electric and water usage, with impressive integration with utilities, allowing homeowners to spot and optimize where unnecessary amounts of energy are being spent. Earth Aid, for example, also will highlight "the rebates, tax incentives, and discounts that make it even more economical for you to save energy."

"Each year the average household spends about $2,200 on utilities and spews 22,300 pounds in carbon dioxide emissions. With just a few basic energy upgrades, consumers could pocket an average of $660, or 30 percent of their spending, and shrink their carbon footprint by as much as 8,000 pounds each year, according to the EPA."
With the DOE saying residential emissions account for an eighth of the U.S. total, a healthy response to these upgrade campaigns could have a significant impact on how often we as a country need to fill-'er-up.

Some of these Web programs further reward reduced emissions with various prizes, in services or cash. Adding the rewards component to what's fundamentally a cost-saving offer appeals and speaks to more than just the person who pays the electric bill.
'''It makes it easier for us as parents to explain it to our kids and for them to see a tangible result of their actions,' Kincaid said. Now the kids are quick to switch off lights and shut down electronics, with the hope that in a few months they can plant another oak tree."
- Online Ways to Cash In on Going Green - AP, April 9, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Look, Ma — Actual Green Jobs!

After hearing so much about all the jobs that sustainable energy development is supposed to create, 'tis indeed a welcome sight to see a building opening in the region this month with at least 600 of them.

General Electric's new Renewable Energy Global Headquarters and Remote Operation Center in nearby Schenectady, New York, an existing GE building with a $45 mil green refurbishing, is now monitoring over 6,000 wind turbines all over North America. The building itself features efficient boilers, air conditioning and windows, water-pinching faucets, and its best parking spots are reserved for hybrid cars.

"Local leaders say this is huge victory from a company that once pulled jobs out of the area," writes Albany ABC affiliate News10's Demetra Ganias, and WNYT's (NBC) Abigail Bleck adds, "especially at GE Schenectady, where the once enormous staff has been routinely let go or transferred over the years."

GE used the occasion to announce that they've now installed 13,500 wind turbines globally, with revenues from their wind energy industries of over $6 billion, from $200 million when they began in 2002.

"GE renewable energy HQ brings 600 jobs to Schenectady"
News10, Albany (ABC), 2/1/10

"Renewable energy renews GE in Schenectady"
WNYT-TV, Albany (NBC)

"GE opens new renewables HQ; marks wind turbine milestone"
Recharge (Oslo), by Benjamin Romano

Related, here:
Stimulus $'s Start Flowing Into Weatherization (2/4/10)

(Actually unrelated, but I can't resist:)

Since GE is selling NBC, this counts among their last chances to be mentioned alongside the rebirth of intelligent comedy on network television, which they inadvertently backed in 30 Rock.

(The link's to the show's page on Hulu, where you can watch the last five episodes, in herky-jerky Web TV style.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

New Points on Local Sustainability Map, 2010

News about Hudson Valley companies and other players in the business of Sustainability, rendered as more points on our ironically titled "Sustainability 'Heat' Map" of activity.

Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh
(Jan. 2010) Rep. Hinchey announces $4 million to build a solar farm at Stewart Air National Guard Base. "This project demonstrates how solar energy can be used right now to make our military installations more secure, cost-effective, energy efficient, and environmentally sound," Hinchey said. The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC) will serve as the program manager to build the solar farm.

SunWize Technologies, Kingston
(Dec. '09) SunWize Commercial Power Systems Awarded $7.8 Million in Federal Contracts Totalling 1.1 MW of Solar Energy. The diverse set of rooftop and carport systems vary in size from under 50 kW to more than 400 kW... Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2010.

[ MORE on these stories ]

Related, here:
About the Sustainability 'Heat' Map, Hudson Valley, NY, (the why's and wherefore's)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Stimulus $'s Start Flowing Into Weatherization

The mighty spigot of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the fabled Stimulus, is now opening wide enough that more of the general populace is finally getting a drink, in this case by sponsoring energy-saving retrofits for homes.

Here's a program that certainly looks like not merely a win-win, but a veritable triple play: as in the earlier post here on "Cash For Caulkers," it promises to save people money, help the climate by reducing energy use, and create some useful work for under-employed people. Low-income residents can receive energy audits of their homes, sealing and insulation, and replacements of old equipment with energy-saving versions, for free.

The New York State, "with its long, cold winters and large stock of drafty homes," in the words of John Sullivan on Recordonline, received $395 million in stimulus money for weatherization programs, from the national act's 5 billion total. The Hudson Valley's Ulster and Sullivan Counties each received from $1-3 million; including Orange County to the south makes that a total five million for the region.

The state's complementary Green Jobs/Green New York program for "the missing middle" — somewhat higher-than-low-income owners, you might say — extends the benefits for those better off, but not so much that they could afford to get this work done themselves. Between the two programs, the plan is to retrofit at least a million homes over the next five years.

New York's Weatherization Assistance Program is being managed through the state's Regional Economic Community Action Programs (RECAP), for Ulster, Sullivan and Orange Counties. (Those links go to their respective contact information.)

"Cash flows in for home weatherization — NY garners $395M, most of any state"
By John Sullivan, Times Herald-Record, 2/1/10

"Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)" — NYS Division of Housing & Community Renewal
Related, here:
"Cash For Caulkers" (12/10/09)
Posts tagged "Green Tech"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Green Bucks for NYS Announced

New York State's Public Service Commission this month announced the expansion of the sort of oddly-named Renewable Portfolio Standard, a program providing subsidies to clean energy projects.

"The PSC issued an order Friday allowing an additional $200 million to be spent for large-scale projects. That's on top of $95 million in subsidies that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) said it recently awarded to five projects, including two in the Capital Region."

"Renewable Portfolio Standard is expanded"
By Larry Rulison, Times-Union Business writer
The increase is needed because the state has also expanded its goals for renewable energy, which Gov. Paterson pushed up to drawing around a third of its energy from sources such as wind and hydro by 2015. (The Times-Union story says 30 percent, the Business Review's, 45.)

NYSERDA funds the Renewable Portfolio Standard through a special fee on utility bills. With the average homeowner paying roughly $3 a month, the program is credited with adding 1,200 megawatts of new, clean electricity for the people of New Green York.
"NY commits $300M to green energy projects"
The Business Review (Albany), 1/8/10
Pic of green bucks, "Triple Buck Shot"
by Deb Campbell on
Related, here:
25 Posts tagged Green Tech

Monday, January 11, 2010

Green VC Investment Rose/Fell In 2009(?)

Fun with Statistics:
It was amusing to see these two reports next to each other on BusinessWeek's Green Energy news index. The first headline was:

"Cleantech Takes A Bigger Slice Of VC Pie, Again"

Promptly followed by:

"Green-tech venture investing cools off in 2009"

A quick read reveals, unsurprisingly, the classic apples and oranges comparison between percentages and hard numbers. The 'Bigger Slice' story, from BusinessWeek's subsite, stated that, "close to 20% of all dollars invested by VCs in 2009 went into clean technology, up from roughly 14.4% in 2008."

Ah, but 20% of what, exactly? That story never did get around to the size of the pie and hence of a slice, probably because then they'd have to come up with another, less appetizing headline.

That fell to the story that followed, from CNet's Green Tech blog, which explained that, "The amount of venture capital that went toward green-technology companies fell to $4.85 billion in 2009, compared to $7.6 billion in 2008. Solar continues to garner the most attention, having brought in $1.4 billion with 84 deals in 2009."

Biofuels received $975 mil, with energy efficiency and the smart grid, automotive, and batteries and other types of storage divvying up the remaining half.

"Greentech Media analyst Eric Wesoff predicts that there will be a wave of IPOs in green tech as well as more mergers and acquisitions, particularly in the crowded solar market.

"There will be more money available for expansion in 2010, but investors will remain cautious and focus on companies with the most potential, largely investing in emerging leaders and high-potential outfits."

"Green-tech venture investing cools off in 2009"
by Martin LaMonica, CNet, 12/30/09

Looks like I'm not going to be able to resist invoking Mark Twain's famed and mildly profane judgment on the subject of statistics:
"There are three kinds of lies. . ."

Related, here:
25 Posts tagged Green Tech

On Giving Linky Credit Where Due

A side thought:
In today's other post, above, I encountered some internal resistance as I was picking links. Was it necessary to link to some automated index, which had vacuumed up these stories from their respective sources, or just to the original articles?

Why was such a commonplace even an issue? If you've ever discovered your own stuff lifted, as a whole — as distinguished from partial, Fair Use referencing — on some parasitic phantom site, you know where I'm coming from. Fie on those who profit (however slimly) off someone else's labor, while adding no real value of their own.
As I've been (slow-)blogging these last few years, I've given a lot of thought to linking, trying to achieve the right balance of interconnectivity with relevance to the piece. Every widely-travelled surfer has seen articles where the author, excuse me, the "content producer" has gone hog wild with links, producing madly distracting sentences with four or five separate words underlined and flight-ready, often just to a word's Wikipedia entry. Gee, thanks, but I can look it up myself if I'm puzzled; kinda gotten the hang of that now.

It never takes long for "link fatigue" to set in with these baubly pages; the writer is expecting you do so much work, not just reading but evaluating every third word to ask if you should follow the pointers to another, another, yet another page.

Then there are the opposite extreme, people who are, let's be blunt, too lazy and "self-preoccupied" (the mildest form of that dis I can come up with,) to make the little extra effort to be sure their borrowings are at least minimally attributed. C'mon, people, it's fun — and you know that if someone were quoting you...

(In this case, I did wind up choosing to link to that index, because it's BusinessWeek's, an established publication where one assumes some editorial effort was involved, and further inspection showed that one of the stories was their own, disguised as a related brand.)

Related, here:
35 posts tagged "giving credit where due"

Thursday, January 07, 2010

More Americans Now "Elevating Experiences Over Things"

There's always the instinct to start a new year off deliberately, to take that opportunity to examine the state of the deeper values in your life. (Please bear with us, we're just humoring the staff writer here, let him out to run around the yard a little bit. You know, for the holidays. - Ed.)

So, the theme of this article grabbed my attention, with the additional hook of the setting, Miami, where I lived for many years.

"Quietly but noticeably over the past year, Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things. Because of the Great Recession, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll has found, nearly half of Americans said they were spending less time buying nonessentials, and more than half are spending less money in stores and online.

"But Americans are not just getting by with less. They are also doing more. Some are working longer hours, but a larger proportion... are spending additional time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading, watching television and ...other hobbies."

"In Recession, Americans Doing More, Buying Less"
By Damien Cave, NY Times, January 2, 2010
Now, the everyday businessperson might well jump on this as a disastrous idea, almost unpatriotic given the limping state of the economy. The very thought of people buying less, much less saying anything to encourage them, sends shivers down their balance sheets.

But why? When people are active, they buy services, and tools and accessories to do things with. If your focus is on how to profit from this population, open an amazing park of some sort and charge them admission. Sell them backpacks, camping gear, cameras...

What we're trying to steer away from here is stuff, defined as the kind of things you buy because it's fun to buy things, the kind which when you discover them in your closet a short time later, you ask yourself why you ever bought — and can't remember.

George Carlin's "Stuff"

I believe you really can't talk about the issue of Stuff without acknowledging George Carlin's classic take on it. Here's a five minute performance of that bit, unusually non-obscene due to its venue, the nationally televised Comic Relief benefit in 1986. ❤