"Indeed more than 50% of today’s carbon emissions can be profitably offset by technology that exists.”
Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Carbon War Room
Ted’s Travelogue: From the Village to the Back Bay
Back from the East Coast; checking in on two great kids, Mom too, and to see the family, friends, colleagues. I love New York. We hit the City, three flights up. For its price range, Kristin’s two-bedroom is luxuriant, with light and trees, a living room. The bath is compact. Manhattan’s pace and pulse; dinner shoulder to shoulder at Frank’s on Second. Kristin worked hard to get here, and she is thriving. LIRR to Syosset and home to Oyster Bay. Thanks Mom. Home cooking. The family for drinks. One aunt just drove back from Alaska; my uncle’s foundation work with education is outstanding. My cousin talks George Harrison and Martin Scorsese. My friend Tim and his daughter just swam across Long Island Sound. Big table dinner.
A Montauk getaway. It’s hard to imagine how long, Long Island is. My aunt claims that Montauk Point is as far away as Washington, DC, perhaps a reflection on both the island’s length and the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s actually 118 miles, the longest island in the U.S., fourteenth in the world. Seven and a half million people, the two major New York airports, all linked with nine bridges and 13 tunnels.
We pass a stunning solar fire house in Amagansett. Stimulus? Then Montauk Harbor with its sights, sounds, and smells of commercial fishing boats. A working harbor. We drive to the point, nine bucks to park. We’re at the end of the island, the road ends here.
Another nine each to visit the lighthouse and the spot used by the Montaukett tribe to set watch fires to bring in their fishing canoes. The 78-foot lighthouse was commissioned by President George Washington in 1792, raised another 14 feet in 1860. Some years ago, the bluff began to erode away and the light might have been lost. The legendary Giorgina Reid galvanized an effort to revegetate and successfully reinforce and save what the Brits once called Turtle Hill.
A 20-foot long, interactive diorama displays the lighthouses of Long Island Sound. A couple gets great pleasure out of pushing its buttons and illuminating famous lights. Giant Fresnel lenses originally amplified the lights gas lamps. (Fresnel, another bright Frenchman.) Our docent, Dorothy, explained the cuckoo-clock mechanics, with weights spinning the precisely balanced light. The weight could fall the entire height of the tower and operate for hours.
Seafood, hearty breakfast, and cross-country on a maze of winding roads to Sag Harbor, its classic waterfront and quaint downtown village. An ostentatious yacht is out of place in this port. We sit on the pier between pictures.
Falafels at the Mediterranean in Huntington; we stop in Cold Spring Harbor. What up? Big change: the Exxon Mobil oil tank farm is gone, a multi-generational blight is over. EcoMotion Business Associate Mark Hopkinson and I talk solar strategies for Long Island school communities.
East Village, near NYU, abuzz with energy. The City is going green, full embodiment of PlaNYC, the City’s 2007 sustainability plan. Among New York’s goals is reducing CO2e emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2005 baseline. The City’s baseline is 85.9 million tonnes CO2e per year. Our non-scientific study suggests that the quality of life may have gone up a notch for the 8.17 million New Yorkers. The City’s GreeNYC web site presents suggestions for sustainable living, gentle lifestyle choice reminders and tips.
Transportation accounts for 22% of the City’s emissions, or did. The bike lanes are in full use with cyclists of all ages, many with baskets and bags of groceries. There are hybrid buses, zip cars, bicycle-powered cabs above ground, subways below. Priuses have replaced the Checker cabs with their jump seats of my youth. New York is bursting green! We pass green markets, an organic wine bar, raw food joints.
It’s a mecca of urban sustainability, a healthy and vibrant form, exemplified in mobility and food and the arts, small homes, shared walls, proximity to work. Per capita CO2 emissions in New York City are 10.5 tonnes CO2e per year, about half the national average. New York City, like London, is progressive in accounting for all fuel loaded onto domestic and international flights in its emissions calculations.
I snap back to urban reality: Two contractors argue in full force of their Brooklyn accents, threatening to brandish crow-bars. Later a bicycle cabbie (tuc tuc) taking a shortcut is broadsided by a cab, fortunately without casualty. The drivers shout their loudest and consider blows to the great interest of the throngs on the sidewalk. Tempers flare. New York is perpetually in high gear.
We’re on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the opening bell. We pause at 23 Wall Street. Across the street is Federal Hall, the site of the nation’s first presidential inauguration. We shadow Kristin in her morning routine. I hold Terry’s hand; she’s bursting with pride. Leo’s Bagels, then to “Kristin’s building” on the East River. From a “rooftop acre” we watch helicopters shuttle executives to Wall Street.
Ground Zero. A long line waits in the light rain for their chance to enter the new memorial, and its proud, magnificent inverted fountains. Reconstruction of the World Trade Center area mires the traffic and will for years. Occupy Wall Street adds to the cacophony of Wall Street site and sounds. Lunch on 44th with Brian Powers, a friend I had not seen or spoken to for far too many years. We quickly regain friendship once taken for granted.
Terry and I hit a matinee: Jersey Boys. I still have the tunes – “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Oh What a Night” -- and Frankie Valli’s distinct falsetto voice running in my brain. How fun. We rest, relax and change at the Park Central, then Lebanese at Union Square with 13-year, career-buddy Cynthia near Madison Square Park.
Breakfast meeting at Bowery and Third to discuss public relations and strategies to boost energy efficiency, PACE, etc. I check in with my colleague at CBS on 57th and then head straight to 34th and the train to Boston.
The Acela is really a class act. I think it is America’s best train. “All aboard!” We leave the hustle and bustle and pick-pocketing energy of Penn Station, exchanging it for comfort and civility. One can easily gauge this train’s value. No driving I-95, no mad dash for the shuttle at LaGuardia. Sit back and relax.
Every seat booked, in both directions. I paid a whopping $168 each way, maybe more than a plane, certainly much more than the cost of renting a car. But my fellow passengers understand the value: Outlets, a club car, a quiet car, cleaner restrooms, solid desks, foot rests. What more can you ask for?
Scenery. We head east under the river, arc north across the Triborough, through Harlem, and then en route and bound for points northeast along the Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline: Stanford, New Haven, New London, and then Providence. Productive, relaxed, and impressed by this U.S. train service to South Station. I cab past Occupy Boston, the State House, and Boston Common.
Conference in Pittsburgh Fisher College was founded in 1903, a college for the working class around Somerville. Fisher’s Second Annual Fair Trade Show; EcoMotion Campus Services was working the event for the Fisher sustainability program. A woman sells beads from Uganda, the proceeds support micro-businesses there. A trio is led by a woman playing banjo; her smile sparkles. Students love the open mike, a young woman carefully takes her beloved guitar out of its case. I witness in real-time as these performing students are gaining confidence for life. I drink fair trade coffee, and think about its marginal costs, and how Amory could calculate this to be negative net! Two students krump.
Campus Services has moved from Providence to Boston, Cambridge to be specific, and is just back from the AASHAE annual conference in Pittsburgh. Sierra is into Cambridge, a great new apartment. Her roommate Alex works with severely disabled kids; I’m inspired by her work, also key to sustainability. We eat Duxbury and Wellfleet oysters at Inman Square; a jazz band gets down in a community storefront.
Cambridge, steeped in academia, green, consciousness, ahead of the curve and proud. According to the 2010 census, 105,162 people live in its 6.26 square miles, with Harvard and MIT by far and away the biggest employers. The City’s Climate Protection Plan sets goals for each sector and cutting GHG emissions overall by 20% below its 1990, 1.69 million tonne CO2e baseline, reducing current emissions by 494,400 tonnes CO2e annually.
Coffee stop, morning lifeline. Some chatter, others deep in the notebooks and iPads and creative thoughts. Sierra shows me her health club, her toastmasters at the Kennedy School, the Goudy building at MIT. Back to Central Square for lunch and the best kale and brown rice I’ve ever had. With EcoMotion’s Chad Mirmelli, we visit the Cambridge Innovation Center, a cutting-edge office complex. There are hundreds of small and incubator businesses gathered in one facility. CIC’s mission is to provide a new form of office reality, and to maximize productivity. Members immerse in an environment conducive to creative thought, business development, and innovation.
High-tech meeting rooms – as well as more intimate meeting lounges -- overlooking the Charles complement alternative office environments. Virtual desks are enabled thanks to wireless and cloud technologies. We witness the model and feel the energy. Massive bunches of bananas are at the ready in communal break areas, healthy snacks and Thursday afternoon beer and wine receptions all part of the strategy.
Manhattan, Penn Station, 7:00 pm, Friday, in the rain. Taxi? Forget it. A train down to West 14th and a farewell feast at Rosa Mexicana, guacamole recommended. We toast good fortunes, family, friends. Breakfast, JFK, and we leave one “blue city” for another, as they say at JetBlue. Per tradition, we jot down what we did each day, assigning awards for best meals, hotels, tours, docents, etc. Tough to do this time; it was all good.
Big Fuel Cells
By all accounts, the U.S. is the world’s leading manufacturer of stationary fuel cells. The two major manufacturers are in Connecticut: UTC Power and FuelCell Energy. That said, the greatest demand for their products has been Korea and Japan where government incentives have been strongest. By 2009, FuelCell Energy had produced 91 MW of fuel cells, with 68 MW of this sold to South Korea. Policy drives markets.
Domestically, manufacturers and advocates have sought special dispensation for fuel cells. They have urged regulators to extend eligibility in renewable energy portfolios to fuel cells, even though they generally use a fossil fuel. California has maintained a strict definition of renewable and will only allow fuel cells whose fuel cell hydrogen source is renewable.
Fuel cells provide reliable, clean power. The first fuel cell was developed by a Welsh Physicist Sir William Grove in 1839. He was able to combine oxygen – usually taken from the air – with hydrogen stripped from natural gas or some biogas, in an electrochemical reaction. NASA endorsed and stimulated fuel cell development, producing electricity in space. United Technologies (UTC) was the company contracted for NASA’s space-related work. Today fuel cells have stationary, mobile, and space applications.
Fuel cells are desirable for certain types of businesses and facilities, especially where there is a CHP (combined heat and power) application. In some cases the payback for such systems can be 3 – 5 years. CHP can boost fuel cells’ average 40 – 60% efficiency to as high as 90%. Fuel cells are well suited for certain facilities, for instance, in the hospitality sector, for medical centers, office buildings, universities, prisons, and other facilities with well defined heat and power loads.
They are catching on in Connecticut universities. UConn has announced that it will power up its Depot campus with fuel cells in the spring of 2012. It has risen from 49th place to 16th place in the Sierra Club’s ranking of green schools, and now wants to use its 2010 Climate Action Plan and the fuel cell to slip into the top ten. For the 400 kW fuel cell installation, UConn has partnered up with UTC Power to install its PureCell 400.
FuelCell Energy, Inc. is selling a 1.4 MW fuel cell to Greenwood Energy. This third party developer has worked out a deal with the Central Connecticut State University to locate the plant on campus and to provide discounted power through a power purchase agreement (PPA). The campus will lower its utility costs while purchasing “ultra-clean” electricity generated in an electrochemical, combustion-free reaction. FuelCell will service the unit throughout the contract period.
The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline
Opponents claim that it will exacerbate climate change, increase air pollution, cut biodiversity, disturb habitat, threaten a Boreal forest, and threaten our nation’s massive Ogallala Aquifer. That’s TransCanada’s Keystone XL $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline proposed to carry tar-sands crude from Alberta, Canada, across the border and through six states to Texas.
A 90-day public comment period has just ended. Tar Sands Action and Bill McKibben’s 350.org have been leading the opposition to the megaproject. James Hansen claims that, “Exploitation of the tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”
Experts claim that there are some 400 gigatons of carbon lying in wait; enough when combusted to put 200 ppm CO2 into the atmosphere. Proponents speak to America’s thirst for oil, they call for its 20,000 construction jobs, and the infusion of 830,000 barrels a day into Texas refineries and our economy.
Keystone XL has hit Washington. Since the project crosses the national border, the President must decide whether or not it is in the national interest. Already, 20 members of Congress. Led by Senator Harry Reid, have written to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, voicing their concerns. They claim that the environmental assessment of the project is insufficient, that there may be questions of impartiality of the contractor charged with measuring its impact, and there is a lack of assessment of the degree to which this will promote the carbon-intensive, tar-sands industry that further threatens the climate.
The City of Fukushima is 35 northeast of Daiichi and the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. It has been seven months since earthquake/tsunami/meltdowns, radiation levels have fallen, and there have been only disparate community efforts to decontaminate schools, parks, and daycare centers.
After criticism of the government’s slow start, the City of Fukushima’s official clean-up has begun there, with plans to decontaminate 110,000 homes and to “clean” all streets and public buildings. High pressure hoses will be deployed, as will cutting trees and scraping top soil where needed. Variable winds and topography have caused uneven distributed of radiation. Hot spots have been detected in Tokyo, 200 kilometers away.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex situation has reportedly bettered, with an anticipated cold shutdown by year end. There continues to be a 12 mile “no-go zone” surrounding the plant, tens of thousands of people continue to be displaced, and the work of decontaminating the affected areas is by all accounts “complicated” and huge.