November 18, 2010 – Volume 13, Issue 9
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Trekking Time

Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t have time to…?” That line kills me. B.S. We all have the same amount of time. It’s all about priorities. Retort: “You didn’t make the time.”

There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Twenty-four net of sleep is just not enough. Mandatory prioritization. Work-a-holics make work their thing; loafers do just that. Many of us forget to invest time in those we care most about. Been there; been too busy for balance. Sure.

Just back from Utah, backpacking in Arches National Park. This time I made my closest friends a four-day priority. An inspiring natural environment; the greatest concentration of natural arches in the world, over 2,000 including the “world-famous” Delicate Arch. We hit it.

Arches is a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures. Places like Fiery Furnace and the Devil’s Garden are awesome. Here, “the forces of nature have exposed millions of years of geologic history.”

Pent up! Windshield time in from Colorado; then hours around cook stoves, on the trail, marveling at sunsets. Michael, Chris and I rap and relate non-stop for days. We pause only when winded by bouldering and steep ascents. Energized by clear vistas and communion. How to accomplish what Amory espoused for RMI, “to save the world, have fun, and make money?”

There is no trail into the Upper Salt Wash. A guide takes off with two others in the opposite direction. Undaunted – we don’t care where we go, just deep into the wilderness. We traverse back and forth, yet again, gaining tough elevation, picking through the massive rock formations to avoid a swamp in the narrows of the canyon floor. We’re heading north of Wolfe Ranch to the Winter Camp Ridge.

We laugh, share sorrows, dig deep into personal issues that affect our works, and brainstorm. We get away from phones and the daily routines, to focus on careers, businesses, and ambitions. Three professionals: a biodiversity/climate change expert, a documentary videographer, and energy/environmental consultant. We listen intently, we have time. We ask each other the tough questions; freely making pragmatic to the wildest suggestions in the practice of creativity.

No signs of humanity as we make a remote camp site on the eastern side of the canyon rim, base camp. Our dining room is a boulder with a majestic western view into the wash below, a dangerous precipice to boot. Edward Abbey was a seasonal ranger here in the late 1950s. We feel his inspiration for Desert Solitaire. The setting is expansive; we talk about the sounds of silence. I can hear it ringing now.

There was a little sand to soften the tent sites, though we were nicely sheltered from the desert winds. Instant Starbucks, water boiled on the camp stove. Even in fall conditions, we’d trekked into our campsite with two gallons of water each. Seems to taste better that way. Michael is Mr. Oatmeal. It nourishes our bodies as our friendship nourishes our souls. We’re ready for the day.

All around this area of the park are 2 – 4 inch rocks that look like they rained down some time ago. Bizarre. Unfettered by our packs, we hike north along the canyon rim for miles. The winds have whipped the sandstone round. There are no easy routes here, just one dangerous cliff after another. We see no one, and hear no one. Planes soar overhead, a flight path far above. For days our life is basic: We eat fruits, nuts, LUNA bars, cheeses, and more. Three packs of packing delectables. And we drink water.

We get back to our base camp well before the sun sets. Chris is as creative with knife and spatula as high def camera! He’s the only guy I know who backpacks with fresh vegetables, pre-cut and packed in tinfoil. Tabasco too. We feast on his veggies, marinated fish, pesto and pasta. At home, one of Chris’ specialties is making a feast out of whatever is in the fridge. His Dad taught him well.

The Arches at sunrise, very chilly and very still. I wake an hour beforehand, and slip out of my warm bag and the tent. My back aches deeply; my pad is hard, maybe gymnastic. I’m jealous of Michael’s air mattress; he sleeps so soundly, taking the prize for best equipped. I find a promontory, breathe the cold, clean air, inhale the silence, and the day gradually unfolds.

I take stock of my surroundings, my body a life form of small proportion. It’s dark, yet I am powerful. The world is my oyster. I am on a mission. The moon guides me. In the expanse and silence, I take stock of my being, my family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. They reflect who I really am. I think of my work, my devotion to the Earth.

The dawn’s early light begins to reveal distant mountains. On one hand I am humbled, on the other energized. Far away, I see the first sunlight on peaks coming in from the east and Colorado. Then the line of light moves indiscernibly on the horizon, dropping lower and lower. I can see clearly now. Finally I am bathed in light and warmth.
"This month, the total footprint of commercial projects certified under the United States Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating System surpassed one billion square feet.”

Federal Efficiency Standards

A First for Big Trucks and Buses The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have announced the first fuel economy standards for heavy duty trucks and buses. The standards will take effect in 2014 and are aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and improving fuel efficiency. Over the life of the standards, they will reduce 250 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions and 500 million barrels of oil. According to the EPA, the “heavy-duty sector” from large pickup trucks to 18 wheelers is responsible for 20% of U.S. transportation emissions.

Three standards are being developed: one for semi-tractor trailers, one for large pickups and vans, and the other for “vocational” vehicles. The 2014 standard for semis is designed to reduce emissions by 20% by 2018, in a mere four years. Trucks and vans will have two standards, one for diesel engines and the other for gasoline powered engines with savings of 10-15%.

Vocational vehicles are job-specific work trucks, like dump and cement and refuse trucks, transit shuttles, etc. The new standards will result in a reduction of their fuel consumption by 10% in four years. These gains will be accomplished through aerodynamic efficiency, decreasing tire rolling resistance, plus engine and transmission upgrades.

Meanwhile the government is working on the next levels of automobile efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built in the 2017 – 2025 model years, building on the 2012 – 2016 standards. During the new timeframe, experts believe the standards will increase efficiency 3 – 6% per year, resulting in average corporate fuel economies of 47 – 62 mph.

Ratcheting Up Refrigerator and Freezer Standards

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a new and ratcheted efficiency standard for residential refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, and freezers. When enacted, the energy use of most refrigerator-freezers will decrease by 20 - 25% by 2014. Today's refrigerators already use two-thirds less electricity than models sold in the mid-1970s.

If the proposed standard takes effect as planned in January 2014, it would avoid 305 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the following 30 years. By 2043, the standard would also eliminate the need for up to 4,200 MW of new generating capacity, equivalent to 8 - 9 mid-sized, power plants.

Getting Tough on Standards Compliance

The DOE has recently announced penalties against 27 companies selling products that lack sufficient certification that they comply with energy efficiency or water conservation standards. The sited companies include manufacturers, importers, and private labelers of appliance, plumbing, and lighting products. Collectively, the penalties add up to more than $3.5 million.

In one case, the DOE is taking action on sales of inefficient air conditioners. In September, Air-Con International was the recipient of a civil penalty of more than $230,000 for importing and distributing inefficient cooling products. Air-Con reportedly sold nearly 2,000 units of SEER 10 systems when the minimum was SEER 13. DOE reports that nearly 70 non-compliant products have been removed from commerce since 2009.

Wind Farm Results and Repercussions

The world’s first wind farm consisted of 20, 30 kW turbines installed at Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire in 1980. Today, there are approximately 270 wind farms in the United States with the vast majority of them coming on line in the past two years.

The largest U.S. wind farm is in Texas, the 780 MW Roscoe Wind Farm. (The largest in Europe is a 500 MW installation in Albania.) Thirty-six states have utility-scale wind projects; 14 are members of the “Gigawatt Club” with more than 1,000 MW of instate wind capacity. Iowa leads the nation by getting 14% of its electricity from the wind.

In terms of global wind capacity, the United States led the world beginning in the 1980s, overtaken briefly by Germany. In 2008, the U.S. regained the title adding 8,538 MW that year, and then more than 10,000 MW in 2009 for a year-end total capacity of 35,600 MW. That’s the equivalent of taking 10.5 million cars off the road.

According to the Wind Energy Association of America (AWEA), there are some 85,000 Americans employed in the wind industry; there are 205 certified wind education programs in the United States.

Naturally, wind has not been without its opponents. Ridgelines are being impacted; avian losses have been flagged and partially addressed. Secondary effects are rearing up throughout the country, and of note in Maine.

Residents of Vinylhaven, an island in the Penobscot Bay, are upset about the pervasive whoosh of three 1.5 MW turbines. According to the New York Times, residents were celebrating the arrival of the wind turbines. “That was before they were turned on,” one resident said. “In the first ten minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground.” While initially welcoming, the operating reality is shocking to residents of this idyllic coastal town. One claimed he didn’t take an hour and a half ferry for this noise pollution pleasure. The “swoosh and whoop” is making their tranquil corner of the world unbearable.

Reminiscent of nuclear protests of yesteryear, on November 8th five protestors in Maine were arrested for criminal trespass and blocking trucks heading up to the construction sites for the 40 turbine, 60 MW, $130 million wind farm being built on ridgelines in the Maine towns of Lincoln, Winn, Burlington, and Lee.

In Dekalb County Illinois, 38 families sued to have 100, 398 foot turbines removed. Residents who live near the turbines, which are 398 feet high, complain of sleep disturbances, illnesses and vertigo from strobe-like flashes produced by the whirling blades. Meanwhile, wind developers are being forced to provide Property Value Guarantee Agreements. In this case, FPL Energy Illinois Wind, LLC will guarantee property values within 3/4 of a mile of the base of any wind tower.

“Grid Positive” at Butte Community College

Butte College in Northern California is unique in many ways. Being rural, the college operates as a self contained city with its own water and sewage treatment systems. It boasts the largest community college transportation system in California, with its busses taking 1,300 cars off the road each day. It is well on its way to being carbon neutral.

The 21,000 student community college is proud to announce its intent to be the nation’s first “grid positive” college, a net contributor to the conventional power grid. When its Phase 3 system is installed in 2011, solar will provide all the campus’s energy requirement, plus a slight margin that will be compensated thanks to California's excess generation law, AB 920. By May of 2011, it will have 4.55 MW of photovoltaics installed producing 6.4 million kilowatt-hours per year, making it “the largest solar producing college in the world.”

Butte began to go solar in 2005, then installed a second phase in 2008. Currently, the college’s 10,000 panels have a rated capacity of 1.85 MW. The addition of 15,000 panels will add 2.7 MW of solar capacity. Of the $17 million price tag for the latest expansion, $12.65 will be paid using clean renewable energy bonds and ARRA allocations.

The Solar Serpent

Swedish architect Mans Tham has a vision for covering highways with solar serpents. U.S analysis suggests that the total highway surface area in America if covered with solar panels would provide 100% of U.S. electricity demand. Very cool, but how to cover the highways? Tham has a serpentine concept of note.

Besides generating significant power, the serpent will reduce noise emissions, provide for EV charging, and potentially capture unburned hydrocarbons for algae production. Tham’s vision is to use 237 acres of freeway space in Santa Monica over Interstate 10, and ultimately much of the 800 kilometers of freeways in LA County.

Readers Report: The Power of the Increment at "Half a Gale"

Hi, Again!

In addition to walking, Jono and I had a solar system installed on our garage this summer. We get daily reports on our energy output. It is so exciting!!!

We took advantage of federal and state incentives to put in a 4.2 kW system. The cost of the system to us was only $13,000—providing an 8 year payback and about 1/2 of our electrical usage.

Just thought you’d like to know!

Cheers, Jane [and Jono Meigs, Millerton, New York]

Eradicating Fossil Fuel Subsidies

The International Energy Agency says abolishing fossil fuel subsidies would boost the world's economy, environment and energy security. In its annual "World Energy Outlook," IEA estimated such subsidies at $312 billion in 2009 compared with $57 billion in subsidies for renewable energy. Fossil fuel subsidies were on course to reach $600 billion by 2015, and renewables subsidies more than $100 billion, said Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist and lead author of the report.

Reinforcing a commitment of the world’s top 20 leaders, eliminating fossil fuel consumption subsidies by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 5 percent, compared with no action, and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 6 percent. World leaders had committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

This week, the head of the U.N. Environment Program said that a G20 push to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry would be a "good start" to slow climate change. And renewables need support now because of the anticipated 10-year natural gas glut that suppresses power prices and retards the adoption of efficient practices.