"Great piece [ENN V11#'s 18 & 19]. I have traveled quite a bit in China over the past 30 years and, like you, marvel at the progress and the very sharp contrasts."
Mike Peevey, President
California Public Utilities Commission
Gas Prices and VMT
One of the measures of our dependence on the car is vehicle miles traveled or VMT. In 2006, Americans racked up more than 3 trillion VMT. That's an average rate of about 250 billion miles a month.
VMT is falling in 2008, "driven" by the dollar-spike in gasoline prices and a weak economy. By May, VMT had dropped 3.7% compared to the prior year. In June, Americans drove 12.2 billion miles less than a year earlier. By July, VMT was down for the eighth straight month. Through July and since November 2007, Americans drove 53.2 billion miles less than the previous year.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 9 million metric tons in the first quarter of 2008 due to reduced VMT.
The Pickens Plan
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens launched The Pickens Plan on July 8th. Bold and high profile, it's a ten-year plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Pickens claims that it's time to replace the 22% of national electricity that is generated with natural gas, with wind power - and he wants to do it in ten years. He estimates that this will require a trillion dollar investment; others suggest it will be an order of magnitude higher.
The wind investments will free up natural gas - what the 80-year old Pickens calls a "patriotic fuel" -- for transport uses. The Pickens Plan would scale up natural gas vehicular use to provide 38% of the nation's transportation fuel. His company Clean Energy is poised to carry out this vision.
Enter Mesa Energy LP, Pickens' wind energy development company. The company is now negotiating land leases for wind turbines in four Texas Panhandle counties. Ultimately, Pickens plans 1,700 - 2,000 turbines there to generate 4 gigawatts of capacity, five times the size of the largest wind farm in the world, located in Abilene, Texas.
So is Pickens full of hot air? What is commitment, T. Boone Pickens' style? Try beginning with the order for 667, 1.5 MW GE wind turbines that he made in May.
Most people don't think of Los Angeles as a green city. Consider this: The Los Angeles City Council is considering taking recycling to the next level, namely, helping residents compost food scraps such as vegetable trimmings, tea bags, bones, coffee grounds, egg shells, and even food-soiled containers like pizza boxes.
A study in 2002 found that single family homes in LA generate 230,000 tons of food waste a year that could be turned into compost. By issuing a fourth bin to the current three-bin system (comingled recyclables, green wastes, and trash), it may be possible to divert the 27% of trash that is made up of compostable food scraps.
If approved, the City's Department of Sanitation will thrust Los Angeles into the recycling vanguard, following the lead of a dozen smaller California cities (mostly in the Bay Area) that have purchased and distributed a fourth waste bin. Actually, the LA test program is based on the distribution of 5,000, two-gallon table "scrap pails" for homeowners' use. These pails are then periodically dumped into the green waste recycling bins where "fugitive liquids" will be absorbed in other green wastes such as lawn clippings, minimizing smells. The $140,000 pilot program is planned for the Harbor Gateway, Lincoln Heights, and South Los Angeles areas.
This summer, EcoMotion had a dozen college interns. Most were part of the Solar Squad canvassing the neighborhoods of Santa Monica. EcoMotion interns are trained to support EcoMotion's mission in many ways; they submit articles for EcoMotion Network News. This article is by Skye Flanigan, University of Denver.
Have you heard of Terrapass? Well I hadn't until a few days ago when my father asked me to check it out. What Terrapass does is give individuals the opportunity to offset their carbon admissions. Whether it be for your car, your house, or your air travel, Terrapass estimates your impact on the environment and buys carbon offsets for you. Terrapass takes your money and puts it into three kinds of projects: clean energy from the wind, methane digesters at farms, and capturing landfill gases.
I wanted to see how much it would cost to offset different things, like a year's worth of driving or a round trip flight to Europe. According to the Terrapass website if you were to fly from Los Angeles International Airport to London Heathrow Airport and back, in economy on United Airlines, you would be responsible for 3,170 lb of CO2 released into the atmosphere which would cost you $23.80 to offset. That price didn't seem too steep to me so I decided to check out some cars.
Here at EcoMotion we have a 2001 Toyota Prius. If we drive 12,000 miles a year we release 5,726 lb of CO2 into the atmosphere which would cost $35.70 to offset. I compared that with a 2007 H3 Hummer. If you were to drive the same amount as the Prius it would cost you more like $95.20 to offset the 15,651 lb of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
Sure, offsetting your carbon footprint will cost money, but to me it isn't too outrageous. And your purchase may not precisely offset your carbon dioxide footprint, but Terrapass offers us all a means to take action and to be accountable for the carbon impacts of our vacations and travels. So if you are feeling bad about your carbon admissions or you want to give someone an eco-friendly gift, check out www.terrapass.com!
AB 811 and Energy Independence
EcoMotion's work with the City of Palm Desert has hit a feverish pitch. There, a new funding mechanism is poised to open considerable new uptake in efficiency and renewable energy investments. Already nearly 300 hundred Palm Desert residents are on the City's interest list for "Energy Independence," the program name for an initiative that may truly put the power into the hands of the people.
Assembly Bill 811, signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on July 21, 2008, allows cities and counties to use their financial wherewithal and/or bonding authority to provide preferential loans for property owners. The Bill amends the streets and highways codes that provides for compulsory and voluntary assessments for public goods like sidewalks and sewer lines. Now, "efficiency fixtures" that stay with the property in the event of sale, and renewable energy systems on private property, are explicitly defined as in the public benefit, thus eligible for assessment funding. Palm Desert's program will be available for all property owners.
EcoMotion has been Palm Desert's program design consultant. The Energy Independence Program goes to Council just yesterday, August 28, for final review -- and was passed unanimously. The program is to the credit of Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ferguson; he had the vision, passion, and tenacity to guide the bill through the Legislature and to craft this new funding source for efficiency and renewable energy, solar in particular. The Energy Independence Program has a huge vision, providing residents and businesses with the information and financing necessary to achieve the property owner's and the City's goals. EIP is critical for the City to fulfill its 30:30 electric and gas savings commitment in five years. It is also a key ingredient in the City's broader drive for energy responsibility and self sufficiency.
What's special about AB 811 is that property owners can now affix the costs of efficiency fixtures and renewable energy systems to their property taxes, regardless of credit scores, employment status, etc. Cities can provide or borrow money, loaning it to property owners, thereby reinvesting locally. And in the event that a property owner sells a property, the unpaid balance of the Energy Independence Program Loan is transferred to the next property owner. By extending the terms of the loan, the City help participants achieve cash-flow neutral situations, in which bill savings are equal to or exceed monthly loan costs. For more information, contact EcoMotion.
GM's 100th Birthday
This year, General Motors turned 100 years old with sales down 5%. Worse yet, its chief rival, Toyota, finally took away the mantle held by GM for 77 years as the world's largest auto maker. In the second quarter of 2008 GM sold 2.28 million vehicles worldwide; Toyota sold 2.41 million.
Falling demand in the United States has taken a hard toll on GM with its line-up of larger vehicles. As gasoline prices have increased, Americans are buying more efficient vehicles. On the other hand, both GM and Toyota are experiencing record sales in emerging markets, China in particular. GM's overseas sales increased by 10% in the last quarter, but dropped nearly 20% in the United States. Domestic sales for all three U.S. automakers were down about 10% for the first half of 2008.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally is making waves, cutting truck and SUV production. In July, Ford announced a "huge shift in production" to build more small cars and fewer pickups and sport utility vehicles. According to his deputies, Mulally believes that the old ways of making money in Detroit, selling big and profitable trucks and SUVs, is "out of step with the times."