Vol. 12 #9 July 24, 2009: Gardening and More
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Simple Pleasures (in the garden)

This summer, thanks to my friend Herb, I planted a garden. It is small, inefficient, and a delight! He gave me three tomato plants. They needed care. It’s been years since I gardened. How about you? So far, we’re “harvesting” basil and parsley, and there’s a pepper on the vine, a zucchini almost ready to be picked, those green tomatoes are going nuts, soon to ripen no doubt. Rewarding.

You might relate to such pleasures. It’s not about the food; it’s the proverbial process. Monotonous tasks like planting, watering and weeding – in limited doses – can be fulfilling. The rewards are fleeting; the weeds are back. Hey, that’s good soil topped with signature compost. Why wouldn’t weeds grow here? My high school chemistry teacher – Miss Murad – was always encouraged when mold grew on her bread. “That’s a good sign,” she would say. (Food expert and author extraordinaire, Michael Pollan, warns us not to eat anything that doesn’t rot!)

Many friends and family members have got pleasure from the little garden. It seems magnetic; they’re drawn to it. Several have called it “cute.” (The coyotes thought so too until I fenced my raised bed.) Some friends are equally impressed and detached. They see a worm and question it. They see growth; they smell basil I crush in my hands. One is now inspired to take his first steps with edible landscaping.

Imagine how those few eggplants will taste. Will we get cantaloupes? I remember one year my brother Billy and I grew them and got one. Yes one, and it was small and worth it!

“Hydrozoning” is a green landscaping term I learned this week: It’s all about planting in clusters depending on water requirements. By concentrating the high-water-use plants, other areas can be more sparsely watered. So far, my garden is one hydro-intensive zone, especially the world’s ugliest zucchini patch that I made by ripping apart two, old shipping pallets. All kinds of intensive, actually. My time – the soil was sub-parking lot grade -- the soil amendment – how many Home Depot cubic yards fit in a Civic trunk? All my compost, and the water.

This is one well-kept garden. Makes me wonder about its resource intensity, and whether it’s generating a net benefit. I’m keeping track of avoided basil purchases. So far we’ve saved about $7.00. I am fearful of full-cost accounting. Don’t ask how long it took to rip up the turf, amend the soil, and water. There is a net benefit, perhaps, or no doubt. But it certainly doesn’t factor in opportunity costs, and it certainly does factor in high values for liberal health and stress reduction. Do you garden and agree?

EcoMotion Staff Out and About

Our own Virginia Nicols is in Croatia, sporting the EcoMotion scarf and shirt.

"Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables."
Michael Pollan’s Simple, Seven-Word Diet for Healthy Body and Earth

American Clean Energy and Security Act

Call it Waxman-Markey, HR 2454, Nancy’s bill, or the President’s climate bill. It’s been dubbed “a 946-page beast.” Some say ACES, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is “our best shot.” Natural Resources Defense Council called it “a bold starting point for passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation through Congress this year.”

The Act, which was approved by the US House of Representatives on June 26, drew heavily on the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a business/environmental coalition, as well as the principles of the Blue-Green Alliance, a group of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of green jobs.

HR 2454 passed with a vote of 219 for -- including 8 Republicans -- and 212 opposed, including 44 Democrats. Despite momentum coming out of the House, Senator Harry Reid announced shortly thereafter that the bill will be taken up by the Senate in the fall.

The Act presents a historic portfolio of climate protection mechanisms:

• Promotes a national renewable portfolio standard. Including post-1992 hydro, the national RPS will be 6% by 2012 and 20% by 2020. Of this, 5% can come from efficiency (8% in cases of stated hardship). Currently the national percentage of supply coming from renewables (minus hydro) is less than 4%.

• Caps greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2012. The caps cover 85% of economy including power plants, industries, etc. The Act will cut emissions from 2005 levels by 3% by 2012; 17% by 2020; 42% by 2030; and over 80% by 2050.

• Establishes “emissions permits” (catalyzing contention over shares), to be bought and sold at auction.

• Provides $190 billion in clean tech investments by 2025.

• Allows for “offsets” that can be purchased instead of cutting emissions.
o For no more than 15% of total emissions in 2012; 33% of total in 2050.
o No more than half the offsets can be purchased internationally.

• Allows coal plants, but requires carbon capture as feasible.
o By 2025, all new coal plants must capture 50% of CO2 emissions.
o $60 billion has been allocated for carbon capture and storage.

• Increases energy efficiency standards through building codes and standards.
o The Act provides $3,000 allowances per home for efficiency costs

• Increases funding for the Energy Worker Training program.

• Supports smarter cars and smarter grids, including one million vouchers for “cash for clunkers.” (See article below)
And what will this all cost? Good question. The Congressional Budget Office claims that the cost of the cap and trade could add $40 – $240 to average annual household energy costs, depending on the region. Others claim that the full ACES costs are $770 – $1,380 a year, and even as high as $3,128 if potentially lost jobs as a result of the act are included.

Net Zero Homes Going Mainstream

Where's the biggest solar system east of the Mississippi?

The idea of net zero homes was radical just months ago, now it’s going mainstream.

GE announced that it will offer a new “net zero” product line with three main components: efficiency devices (appliances and lighting products to reduce the load), energy management systems (to manage the load), and energy generation and storage systems (like solar systems and wind turbines; battery packs and EVs). Its research labs in Niskayuna, New York report that by 2015 GE will be equipping net zero energy homes. By 2010, the company plans to release the Home Energy Manager, a $200 – 250 brain and central nervous system for the home’s energy ecology. For a $10 premium, each appliance can be networked for optimal energy and price savings.

SMUD’s Feed-In Tariff Announcement

SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, is now making waves yet again with the announcement of its new Feed-In Tariff for on-site customer power generation. A model strongly advocated by EcoMotion and so many others, the question now is whether Sacramento will “get it right.” Will SMUD, among the most progressive utilities in America and the world, provide sufficient prices (or tariffs) to spur market activity? Will it begin its calculations of suitable prices based on providing investors with reasonable returns? The CPUC established a FIT based on utility avoided costs, and it has failed. Will SMUD do better?

SMUD is the sixth largest municipal utility in the nation. On July 20 it announced its new “feed-in tariffs” for customer generation to “streamline development of customer generation through standardized prices,” and “remove the barriers to interconnection” from current regulation. SMUD will establish tariffs for both renewable and fossil-fueled generation systems up to 5 MW, with time-of-delivery values. Solar and renewable energy systems will be rewarded at higher prices, and the program will be capped at 100 MW.

SMUD’s announcements thus far, and its March 31, 2009 General Manager’s Report and Recommendations on Rates and Services, defer the fundamental program design issue. So far, the program language includes “fair market price, “ (sounds like the CPUC’s Market Price Referrant), “ a just and reasonable rate,” and “fair compensation.” The kicker comes from the GM’s report: “By design, the feed-in tariff for both CHP and renewable generation will be revenue neutral as to avoid rate base subsidies by other customer-owners. This means that the prices offered in the tariff will be offset by the underlying costs avoided by SMUD for comparable power purchases and deferred transmission requirements.”

Will the values that SMUD’s rate analysts determine stack up to effective prices? Included in the “base” tariff for cogeneration systems (CHP) will be 1) the market energy price including losses, 2) ancillary services, 3) generating capacity costs, 4) transmission values, and 5) sub-transmission capacity. For eligible renewable projects, SMUD will add values for 6) projected cost offsets with avoided greenhouse gas mitigation, and 7) for estimates of risk avoidance of natural gas price increases. Stay tuned: SMUD says it will post the prices on its web site, though no date has been given.

- Cemone Khan, EcoMotion Intern

As an EcoMotion Intern by morning and Optical Assistant by afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something I could do at my afternoon workplace to benefit the environment.

According to the Vision Council of America, 64% of the adult population uses eyeglasses, and broken or outdated prescription glasses may pile up. Also, most lenses are made of plastic, which takes a long time to degrade and uses petroleum in its manufacture. Here is a list of ways you can recycle old eyewear and make greener choices for your future optical needs:

• Request glass lenses instead of plastic: glass provides a clearer vision than plastic and is also recycled more easily. The only downside is glass lenses are heavier on the face and are not shatter-resistant.

• Donate glasses: according to the World Health Organization, 153 million people around the world need glasses. Many charities collect, repair, and send old glasses to those who cannot afford them. The organizations include the Lion’s Club, Goodwill Industries, Unite for Sight, and Give the Gift of Sight. Local optometrists also may have affiliations with these groups, and can collect your glasses.

• Be creative: Use old eyeglasses for crafts, costumes, or donate them to a theater.

• Reuse frames: If you prescription is outdated but your frames are in good condition, ask your optometrist to cut your new lenses into your old frames.

• Purchase eco-friendly eyewear: Many eco-friendly eyewear businesses produce frames made
This research has motivated me to make some necessary changes at my workplace. I have convinced my supervisor to introduce recycled frames into our office, and I am proud to say we are now signing up with the local Lion’s Club to donate eyeglasses.

Flywheel Energy Storage Systems

Flywheels have been around for some time. They are mechanical batteries. Using advanced materials, they hold great potential for energy storage, particularly for renewable energy systems.

My favorite flywheel is the heavy kick wheel I used as a potter in my college days. I’d get the wheel spinning really fast and then rely on momentum while I concentrated on throwing. This has tested for subways so momentum can be stored during each stop, and then released to regain cruising speed. In the 1950s, “gyrobuses” in Yverdon, Switzerland used flywheels.

Some British trains are “fitted with flywheel boosters” to carry them “over the third track,” providing momentum between electrical sources. An experimental train in Texas got to full speed from a complete stop using a flywheel. A Universal amusement park uses flywheel boosters for a “rapidly accelerating uphill launch.”

Today, flywheel projects are focusing on their use as an alternative to batteries. Flywheels hold the promise of overcoming the disadvantages of electrochemical battery systems, especially for electric vehicles which now suffer from low capacity, long recharge times, heavy-weight battery banks, and short usable lifetimes.

Advanced flywheel energy storage systems take a rotor to a very high speed, and then maintain the energy in the system as rotational energy. Advanced materials – like high-strength, carbon-composite filaments – use magnetic bearings (versus mechanical bearings) to spin at up to 50,000 rotations per minute in a vacuum enclosure. (16,000 RPM is 1,500 mph!) The energy is converted back by slowing the flywheel, transferring rotational energy to useful purpose.

Flywheel energy storage systems can also be used as uninterruptible power supplies. On a larger scale, and as promoted by Beacon Power, they can be used as “power frequency regulation plants” to support utility power grids. Flywheels maintain the balance between electricity supply and demand, “recycling” electricity with great efficiency. Beacon’s fourth generation flywheel, the Smart Energy 25, can instantly absorb and inject 25 kW of electricity in response to power grid requirements. Beacon has installed a 1 MW facility in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, and is planning second megawatt there to serve National Grid.

Cash for Clunkers

The ads are hitting the airwaves on the “Cash for Clunkers” program. It’s an Obama initiative: Paying to get clunkers that are in drivable condition, and that have been insured for the past 12 months, off the road is a benefit to us all. It’s officially called CARS, the Consumer Alliance to Recycle and Save bill, but many know it as CARS or the Car Allowance Rebate System. President Obama signed the bill into law on June 24, 2009.

The Cash for Clunkers program offers $3,500 - 4,500 for a clunker, expressed as a non-taxable discount when you buy a new domestic or foreign car. Dealers register to administer – and advertise -- the program. If you have a “clunker” – generally a vehicle that gets less than 18 miles per gallon (mpg) – you may be eligible for the trade-in incentive. Motorcycle sales are not eligible for the incentives. Mazda advertises that a 4 – 9 mpg gain will get you a $3,500 incentive; you must get at least a 10 mpg gain to get $4,500.

To see if you and your clunker qualify (and do spread the word), check out http:/www.fueleconomy.gov. You’ll look up your clunker – make, year, and model – ascertain its “combined” fuel economy, then look up your planned purchase, the difference determining the incentive level. All cars must be turned in between July 1 and November 1, 2009; the incentive does not apply for new cars that cost more than $45,000.

Chinese Wind Market Protection

Call it adolescence, certainly not maturing, as countries bicker over who builds the means for green energy production. These are good problems for renewable energy advocates. The accusation is described as “Beijing green protectionism” by the New York Times. European and American proposals to build Chinese wind farms are being cast aside “for technical reasons.” Contracts are being awarded to Chinese wind turbine manufacturers, some with no product track record.

Similar market protection claims are being made regarding photovoltaics. China grew its solar industry by exporting 95% of its product to Europe and America; now it restricts entry of foreign product. When China authorized its first solar plant this year, it required that 80% of the panels be Chinese.

A European wind turbine manufacturer reportedly built a plant in China to comply with the 70% local content requirement. Now China appears to be discriminating against foreign ownership. Another RFP requirement was a minimum wind turbine size of 1,000 kW, excluding the highly popular 850-kW European designs. And while Chinese turbines are bid in at very competitive prices, experts acknowledge their higher failure rates and operating costs. Sorting that out, and greenhouse gas reduction targets, are on U.S.DOE Secretary Steven Chu’s action list for his travels to China this week.

So here’s the good news: China is now building six wind farms each with 6,000 – 10,000 MW of capacity, thanks in part to low-interest, government-supported loans. That about the capacity of California (though not base load of course), and puts T. Boone Pickens’ 4,000 MW scuttled wind project in perspective.