March 29, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 2
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


All Hands on Deck!

EcoMotion Network News delves into all sorts of energy and environmental issues, showing what responsible individuals and companies are doing to make Earth a better home for all. This column presents my sense of “eco-logic.” It’s intended to put things in perspective, or at least to ask the question, “Hey, what’s up with that?”

Big environmental issues are demanding attention again, from alarming levels of global warming to the projected peak of global oil production, natural gas supplies and prices are once again precarious, and nuclear appears poised for a rebound. Population climbs fastest in developing countries, and China -- the sleeping giant -- has now clearly awakened and is placing huge demands on natural resources. Global tensions are rising while solutions abound.

In my view, never before has there been such a pivotal point in time for the environmental movement -- and it lacks a voice. Perhaps we thought we’d won the battle years ago. Not true. Instead, it’s “all hands on deck” once again. There are storms brewing. We need to work collectively – shoulder to shoulder like sailors on a ship in high seas – stewarding precious natural resources and the environment. How can we shrink our ecological footprints? What’s your role in the state of the world? Let’s dig in together.

The $3.2 Billion California Solar Initiative

The California Solar Initiative was created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in early 2006 and will provide $3.2 billion in incentives for customer-sited photovoltaic (PV) and solar energy systems over 11 years.

This is the most ambitious publicly-funded solar PV deployment program in the country with the goal of increasing the amount of rooftop solar units by 3,000 MW by 2017.

This is the largest, but isn’t the first commitment by California to solar energy. Beginning in 1996, the California Energy Commission provided $371 million to help deploy over 13,000 PV systems, delivering over 50 MW of capacity. In 2001, the CPUC established the Self-Generation Incentive Program, a rebate program targeting larger commercial installations which has provided incentives of $421 million and resulted in more than 40 MW of capacity.

"“We’re saving the world one roof top at a time!”"
Herb Mendelsohn, Permacity Solar

U.S. Green Power: Are You Among the 430,000 Taking Action?

In a survey of 600 U.S. utilities, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that green power purchases were up by 36%, with 430,000 customers buying 2.7 billion kWh of green power in 2005 – power from wind, solar, landfill gas, existing hydro and geothermal, and small hydro. “Customer choice programs” for green power are now offered at more than 600 utilities. Does your utility have a green power option?

Top Green Power Sales:

1. Austin, Texas -- 435,000,000 kWh
2. Portland General Electric -- 340,000,000 kWh
3. PacifiCorp -- 234,000,000 kWh
4. Florida Power and Light -- 225,000,000 kWh
5. Sacramento Municipal Utility Dist -- 195,000,000 kWh

Most Enrolled Customers:

1. Xcel -- 49,354
2. PacifiCorp -- 42,269
3. Portland General Electric -- 40,570
4. Sacramento Municipal Utility Dist -- 31,229
5. Los Angeles Dept of Water & Power -- 24,380

Highest Participation Rates:

1. City of Palo Alto (CA) Utilities -- 13.6%
2. Lenox (IA) Municipal Utilities -- 12.6%
3. Montezuma (IA) Muni Light & Power -- 6.3%
4. Holy Cross Energy (CO) -- 6.0%
5. Sacramento Muni Energy Dist -- 5.5%

While the premiums paid by green power consumers vary, most programs add a surcharge of less than a cent a kilowatt-hour, making the average home’s increased cost on the order of $2-4/month. But in some cases such as Austin, Texas, and due to high natural gas prices, green power now costs less than conventional power.

Aspen Skiing Company: Top Performer

In related news, Aspen Skiing Company has made a historic move in its commitment to utilizing 100% green power. According to Auden Schendler, Director of Environmental Affairs, ASC has purchased renewable energy certificates from wind farms to offset 100% of its electricity use for four ski montains and two hotels. The purchase of 21 million kWh will avoid annual emissions of 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to taking 2,500 cars off the road.

The purchase puts ASC among the top performers in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, joining other businesses like Whole Foods, Fedex Kinko’s, Starbucks, Nike, and Patagonia. .

Tankless Water Heaters: Observations from the Field

Gas tankless water heaters have finally “come alive” in California, earning acceptance by the utilities and their first rebates -- so far, for commercial use only. (There is a Federal tax credit in 2006, too.) While they have been popular in Europe for some time, their introduction to the U.S. market has been slowed by a perceived low-flow rate.

Through instant or “flash” heating of hot water as it is “demanded,” these heaters eliminate the standby losses that typically account for 10- 15% of a hot water heater’s energy requirement.

Russ Flanigan, Operations at EcoMotion, reports:

With all the talk about instant or tankless water heating I thought it might be nice to share my experience in the field on one job where the “fit” was just right.

I managed an efficiency retrofit job in San Bernardino in a home with seven people and one bathroom. The recoup time on the existing 15-year-old, 40-gallon gas hot water heater was a daily stumbling block. “The kids have to start showering at 3 p.m. to get all the showers in by bedtime.”

We ended up putting in a natural gas Takagi TK jr., their smallest unit, which costs about $1,200 installed. It worked just as planned. “I don’t know how I got along without it,” says the foster mother. “Now I can just put the kids in one after another.”

In addition to convenience, the system also contributed to a huge gas savings in the home. I estimate that the heater alone saved 20%. Probably half of these savings were because the old heater was essentially shot – the rest was due to efficiency of the technology and correct sizing of the unit.

Since putting in that unit almost a year ago I have learned more. Were I to install another one, I would consider plumbing in boiler drains on each side to allow for a flush with a de-scaler to remove mineral deposits.

For someone looking to put in a heater, the biggest hidden cost is the price of a “Category III” vent pipe. This is a requirement of code and important due to the large amounts of moisture from the combustion process. Also you want to be aware that the gas lines are likely to have to be upgraded to a minimum of ¾ inch.

As for putting the heater as close as possible to the intended use, on a retrofit it may have to go where the old unit was. It will still save gas and perform as well as the standard tank unit.

Finally the question of dependability always comes up. There still aren’t a lot of long-term testing figures out there on the modern tankless units. I can say I’ve been checking on this family, and since we fired up their tankless heater a year ago there has never been a problem or a shortage of hot water.

Oregon’s Changing Landscape

Portland General Electric is in the final preparations for the destruction of the 499-foot cooling tower at Trojan Nuclear Plant as part of that plant’s historic decommissioning. The hourglass-shaped structure, scheduled for implosion on May 21, is one of the most widely recognized icons of Oregon's only nuclear power plant which closed in 1993 after 17 years of operation. The plant was at the center of a longstanding battle between environmental groups and utility officials and was ultimately shut down after a crack in the steam tube in the containment building released radioactive gas into the air.

Trojan is the first large-scale commercial nuclear plant to be decommissioned in the United States and the cooling tower the largest to be destroyed. Controlled Demolition, Inc., the contractor handling the implosion, said it will take 8 seconds to bring down the 41,000 tons of cement and steel, explaining that it will tilt slightly to one side before collapsing to the ground, in what for many will be a symbolic act of power and control, hope, determination, and change.

Are you an Energy Star? We Suspect So!

Last year alone, with the help of Energy Star®, Americans saved $12 billion on their energy bills and enough peak energy to power 28 million homes. Their greenhouse gas savings had the same impact as keeping more than 23 million vehicles off the road.

More than 8,000 organizations are Energy Star partners committed to improving the energy efficiency of products, homes and businesses. For more information, visit or call toll-free 1-888-STAR-YES (1-888-782-7937). Check out your own utility, too. In California, for example, utilities offer rebates to residents and businesses that buy Energy Star appliances and lighting products. What percent of your home’s lighting comes from Energy Star® bulbs?