June 25, 2007 – Volume 11, Issue 3
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Bagging Costco!

This past weekend, and preparing to feed a lot of mouths, Terry and I hit Costco. One thing I really like and dislike about Costco is the lack of grocery bags. And then there are the three-sided cardboard "boxes." Many times we've gotten home to have vegetables rolling around in the trunk with other bulk items. How gross.

So for the first time, I decided to take my fleet of canvas grocery bags to Costco. Terry would have nothing to do with it. "You can't do that," she stated. To which I responded, "Watch!" And so she did, walking into the store ten feet in front of me, pretending not to know me, casting exaggerated alarmed stares at my green idiocy.

I reveled in the thought of Costco employees accosting me. "I'm sorry Sir. We do not allow customers to bring bags into our store." Or, "Company policy, no bags." I'd prepared my response: "Oh, I'm quite sure that Costco supports responsible environmental behavior. Let me speak with the manager."

With anticipation I approached the door and presented my card, my other hand clutching a rag-tag assortment of re-usable bags. No reaction! I was in. I had breached the entrance and it was good. My fellow shoppers took no note. "Hey," my eyes screamed, "Look at my bags. I'm bucking the Costco way!"

The cash register experience was equally uneventful. I casually mentioned to the clerks to just fill up my bags with the smaller groceries, thank you. And they did without comment. So I had to ask: "Do you get a lot of people in here that bring their own bags?" "No, but it's a good idea," was the flat response. "I think more people should bring their bags."

So what's the hitch? Why don't more people bring their own bags to Costco? Oh, must be the door check-out. Surely these people would complain about my monkey-wrench tactic because they couldn't see into my bags. But no, I was cleared for exit without comment. Cruising through the parking lot I felt my tension ease, a sense of accomplishment that only an eco-geek would appreciate. Will I take my bags back? You bet. Try it yourself where you shop!


Russell Flanigan checking out an alternative mode of transport during Green Days in Beverly Hills, June 23- 24. EcoMotion was there helping encourage city- sponsored energy programs.

EcoMotion helped put on an Open House for Solar Santa Monica on June 20 that attracted over 90 city residents. Star of the show, here being introduced by EcoMotion's Tiffany Tay, was the solar trailer owned by one of the program's Preferred Providers, Advanced Solar Electric.

Virginia Nicols (right) and Susan Munves prepare to celebrate the latest solar installation in Santa Monica. The Mayor and the President of the Chamber of Commerce arrived in time for the red ribbon cutting ceremony.

"I really like your newsletter. I always learn something new."
Nancy Neudorf, City of Irvine, California Planning Commissioner

Wind Resource Areas

Editor's Note: Thanks so much to Jane Stanley of the Palm Desert Office of Energy Management. After reading EcoMotion Network News V11#2, "The Biggest Wind Farms in America" she wrote to Virginia Nicols at EcoMotion:

"Hi Virginia: Great articles! Just wondering why the wind farm in the San Gorgonio pass is not listed in your article. Thanks! Jane Stanley"

The EcoMotion response:

Thanks for your note inquiring about San Gorgonio. You correctly identified an error in semantics in EcoMotion Network News that I will use to clarify the situation.

At issue is the difference between "wind projects" by owner and "wind resource areas." EcoMotion reported on the largest wind farms by ownership. Major wind farm projects in Texas and other states are being built by individual companies and consortiums.

If you look at regions, you are absolutely correct that San Gorgonio is huge and comparable, though even in aggregate not the largest wind project. Here's the skinny on California "wind resource areas":

Altamont Pass---606 MW of installed capacity; 637 GWh annual generation San Gorgonio---619 MW of installed capacity; 805 GWh annual generation Tehachapi Pass---690 MW of installed capacity; 1,200 GWh and growing!

San Gorgonio is made up of about two dozen wind projects. The largest single wind project is the 61.5 MW Whitewater Hill development owned by Shell Wind.

T. Boone Pickens and Wind

Billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and his company Mesa Energy plan to build the world's largest wind farm in West Texas, installing 4,000MW of wind capacity. The wind farm would be five times the largest wind project to date.

Construction of Pickens' project is slated to begin in 2010 and to be built on 200,000 acres in Roberts, Gray, Hemphill and Wheeler counties. The farm is planned to have as many as 2,000 wind turbines, some with a rated capacity of 2.5 megawatts.

Runaway Global Warming on Venus
- Sierra Flanigan

Venus is not only Earth's closest planetary neighbor, but also its closest relative. It is approximately the same size, density, and distance from the sun. From what we already know about the origin of the solar system, Earth and Venus shared almost identical atmospheric compositions when they first formed. For centuries this bright light in the sky has been gawked over, and because of its striking resemblance to Earth, people envisioned parallel surface conditions.

Artistic renditions of Venus depicted sandy beaches and lush rain forests. The prospect of life stirred up great excitement; some religious fanatics claimed that devout figures and spiritual leaders like Jesus had come from Venus. However, when NASA's Magellan spacecraft arrived at Venus in 1990, optimists were startlingly disappointed. Only within the last century have astronomers concluded that Venus' climate could not be more different from Earth's.

In fact, Venus is a hellish ball of lava! Surrounded by a 40-mile thick steamy blanket of clouds, the surface pressure is more than 90 times greater than Earth's and its heat could melt steal and lead. This boiling, hot cauldron reaches temperatures of 860 degrees Fahrenheit and is getting hotter.

So, what fork in the road of evolution drove Venus and Earth to be so different? Venus's intense climate is due to several factors and in particular, a process termed "the runaway greenhouse effect," which is responsible for its scorching heat. Sound familiar?

Greenhouse gases -- such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide -- are chemicals transparent to visible light, but absorbent to the infrared radiation that bounces off a planetary surface. These molecular structures trap solar energy and cause the atmospheric temperature to rise. The greenhouse effect is essential on Earth because it is a source of warmth, without which, life on Earth would cease to exist.

Greenhouse gases work as catalysts, speeding up a naturally slow reaction. It makes sense that the concentration of greenhouse gases stuck in an atmosphere would exhibit a direct correlation with rising temperatures. Today, Venus' giant atmosphere consists mostly of heavy water vapor, nitrogen, and more than 95% CO2. For Earth to remain at a stable equilibrium, the atmosphere must consist of less than 1% CO2.

If Earth and Venus had similar atmospheres during their creation, where, then, did all of Earth's CO2 go? It is stored in Earth's crust and oceans. During Earth's cooling off period, chemicals known as carbonates, such as limestone acted as big sponges, absorbing CO2 and allowing for a mild climate. Oceans also serve in a major storage capacity, absorbing CO2 as it is released in the combustion of carbonaceous fuels. Water is another key greenhouse gas that is stored in liquid form in Earth's oceans.

Right now the concentration of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere is climbing at a rapid rate. Is this reason to fret? No, but consider it a warning. For Earth's climate to reach "runaway" status, the oceans would have to reach boiling point. The water vapor would then further quicken the already active process. With increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, the temperatures on Earth would get so hot that subsequently natural extraction of the CO2 stored in the ground would occur. A domino effect would lead to Venus-like conditions.

So, how did Venus become so ghastly? It could have been due to her slightly closer distance to the sun, her mystery resurfacing tactic, or maybe Venus used to look like Earth. Maybe life existed on Venus at one point in time. Perhaps a human-like species became so fossil-fuel dependent that the polluted atmosphere took revenge. We might never know for sure.

Earth flourishes thanks to a delicate equilibrium. Its precise distance from the sun provides an environment that is not too hot for vaporization and not too cold for water to solidify. The success of this fragile system and its unique ability to harbor life is a result of complex chemical, natural, physical, and biological factors working perfectly in sync.

The Tides of San Francisco

Capturing the tides of San Francisco is not a new idea - it's done on the Thames in England on a daily basis -- but it is finally taking shape. Mayor Gavin Newsom called it historic, another progressive step to meet the goals of the City's Climate Action Plan.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the City and County of San Francisco have signed an agreement with Golden Gate Energy Company to research the tidal energy. A nearly $2 million project - funded by $1.5 million from PG&E and $346,000 by San Francisco -- will begin this summer and last a year. Just what potential is possible? One expert suggests a 35 megawatt capacity. The environmental impact will also be studied, as well as optimal tidal energy technologies.

One of the most appealing aspects of tidal energy is that unlike other renewables such as solar and wind, tides are predictable. PG&E hopes to expand its renewable portfolio using tidal energy, to help achieve the State's mandate of 20% renewable by 2010. PG&E is also exploring how to harness energy from the waves off the coasts of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. (PG&E currently fulfills 13% of power generation from qualifying renewable resources.)

Honda Enters Thin Film Solar Cell Business

Honda, Japan's third largest automotive manufacturer is making waves in the solar business. Its new thin film solar product - which is completely silicon free -- not only uses half the energy during production, but is nearly as efficient with photoelectric transfer as conventional silicon crystal solar cells. The thin film solar cell developed independently by Honda uses thin film made from a compound of copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS). The new panels generate 125 watts and will cost $492.

In 2006, Honda announced global CO2 reduction targets for both its products and the manufacture of its products. In addition to America's highest efficiency vehicles, Honda is developing cogeneration units and thin film solar cells. Its wholly-owned solar cell subsidiary, Honda Soltec, is now building a factory at Kumamoto that will produce 27.5 MW of solar panels a year beginning this fall.

China's Breakthrough with Natural Gas Hydrates

China has surpassed the United States as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, relying heavily on coal to power its development. As such it is welcome news that the China Geological Survey has successfully drilled into "yellow ice" deposits on the sea floor and has obtained natural gas hydrate samples from the South China Sea. Natural gas hydrates are molecules of natural gas trapped in crystals of frozen water.

One cubic meter of natural gas hydrate, also known as "flammable ice," can release 164 cubic meters of natural gas. It is estimated that the amount of organic carbon contained in natural gas hydrate form worldwide is two times verified coal, oil and natural gas reserves. br> China's Ministry of Land and Resources began its gas hydrate investigation in 1999, and has so far invested $65 million USD in the work. Care must be taken, however, to manage the recovery of the hydrates, and to protect against the release of methane into the atmosphere as methane is a "highly efficient greenhouse gas" with a global warming potential 60 times greater than carbon dioxide.

...And EcoMotion would like to welcome all its new readers! If you have your own stories to share, send them to Virginia Nicols.