Thanksgiving Reflections – What are You For?

Thanksgiving Harvest - Pumpkin, Gourds, Berries and CornThis Thanksgiving let’s ignore all the pro and anti Black Friday hype to reflect on what we believe in, what we are for, and what we are willing to do about it.

Last week I was pondering what to write about for this post. I confess Black Friday has a certain allure for me, it embodies everything I believe is wrong about consumerism, but I already wrote about it last year. Besides, I was seeking to deliver a positive message this year, so Black Friday was off limits.

Hmm, what could I write about for Thanksgiving?

An idea came to me a few days ago while I was walking back from the grocery store carrying a loaded reusable shopping bag.

I recalled a recent conversation with my brother from several weeks ago. After I had excitedly shared the news with him that California had just passed the first statewide single-use plastic bag ban, he made an interesting comment. His actual words elude me but the gist was “Environmentalists always seem to be trying to get something stopped, banned, or prohibited.”

His observation stayed with me.

I am delighted with the bag ban, but just banning stuff is only part of the solution to living in harmony with the balance of the natural world. There needs to be a lot of beginning, enabling, and implementing too.

After mulling all this over, I knew I wanted my Thanksgiving post to be about things that I am for. Since I am an avowed treehugger, I selected a dozen green things I strongly believe in, advocate for, and use or do myself.

I am For:

  1. Composting – putting supposed waste to good use by nurturing the soil.
  2. Fingerless Mittens – staying warm and being able to type on a computer keyboard.
  3. Local Food – supporting local farmers and buying food grown closer to home.
  4. Low Flow Showerheads – getting clean and saving water.
  5. Organic Food – buying and eating food that is good for farmers, the land, and us.
  6. Personal Action – living gently on the earth and standing up for what you believe.
  7. Refillable Water Bottles – drinking water from the tap and refilling the same bottle.
  8. Reusable Shopping Bags – transporting stuff and reusing the same bags.
  9. Solar Panels – using the sun’s clean renewable power and supporting local jobs.
  10. Walking – keeping in shape, running errands, and enjoying being outside.
  11. Water Saving Toilets – flushing and saving water.
  12. Wood Chips – preventing erosion and helping soil retain water.

Pinecone with words Happy ThanksgivingOn this Thanksgiving, I am for family, friends, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, relaxing, conversation, and playing games. I am for being thankful for the wonderful people who touch our lives and the amazing, beautiful Earth we all call home.

What are you for?

Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think

Picture yourself typing $4.50 in your online bill pay service for your August electric bill using a tablet or computer powered by the solar panels on your roof. Install rooftop solar now and this could be you next year.

We are in our second year of generating electricity from our rooftop solar panels. I thought it might be useful to share our real life experience in hopes of convincing others to go solar.

Row Houses with Rooftop Solar Panels in South London, England - Photo: Steve Cadman / Flickr
Row Houses with Rooftop Solar Panels in South London, England – Photo: Steve Cadman / Flickr

Home Rooftop Solar – Pay It Forward

While the allure of free electricity a few years down the road was appealing, that was not the reason we decided to put solar panels on our roof.

This may sound silly or overly dramatic, but it is true; we invested in solar panels for the good of our children, your children, and everyone’s children. We, and by we, I mean everyone including me, cannot continue to burn fossil fuels and still have a habitable planet to live on. We must switch to clean renewable energy sources not in a few years or the next decade, but right now—today.

Putting solar panels on our roof was a major step towards our goal of running our home and life with clean renewable energy. Sure, we have a ways to go, but we are moving forward and momentum is a powerful force.

Imagine if there were solar panels on every home, office building, apartment complex, manufacturing plant, and retail store. We literally could power the world using the sun.

Solar Panels on Multi-Family Housing in Wuxi, China - Photo: Zhenfa New Energy
Solar Panels on Multi-Family Housing in Wuxi, China – Photo: Zhenfa New Energy

We Install Solar Panels on Our Roof

I chronicled our initial installation in Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did. Two surprising and interesting things occurred during the project.

The first surprise was the cost of the system.

Our rooftop solar system cost less than we had anticipated. Interestingly, most people we have talked with about our project pegged solar panels at double their actual cost. There are articles a plenty stating the cost of solar has decreased dramatically, yet it seems the solar industry has not succeeded in conveying how truly affordable rooftop solar is today.

Granted, our rooftop solar system was not inexpensive and it will take several years to recoup the project cost, but then electricity will be virtually free for the next 15 years or so.

The second surprise occurred during the installation.

As a former project manager, I have been on many construction sites and worked with umpteen contractors. In addition, my spouse and I have completed several home maintenance and improvement projects over the years. We have had good, not so good, and horrendous experiences with construction projects and contractors.

We chose a solar installer, A.M. Sun Solar, recommended by a homeowner we had visited and duly checked their license and other references. We felt comfortable with the people and the company from the first meeting and all throughout the contract and ordering phases. There was no reason to believe the installation would not go well, but still, I was wary. As it turned out, I was amazed at how smoothly the installation went.

3 Solar Panels on South Facing Side of Author's Roof
3 Solar Panels on South Facing Side of Author’s Roof

Our Electric Bills Plummet

Our solar panel system is grid-tied, meaning it connects to the PG&E electricity grid. When our solar panels generate more electricity than we are using, the excess power goes into the grid and we receive a credit. At night or on days when cloud cover is excessive, we buy electricity from PG&E.

We are on PG&E’s net energy meter (NEM) program so receive monthly bills for about $4.50, which include costs for transmission, distribution, public purpose programs, nuclear decommissioning, DWR bond charge, on-going CTC, generation, and an Energy Commission tax.

Once a year, there is a “true up” statement; the total electricity we used from the grid is subtracted from the total electricity we sent to it. If we used more than we contributed, we receive an additional bill. If we used less, we receive a credit (PG&E does not issue refund checks).

In our first year, we sent more electricity to the grid than we used so we ended up with credit. We’ve been working it off since our April 2014 bill and it will be exhausted in November.

Homes with Rooftop Solar Panels at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ - Photo: Solar City
Homes with Rooftop Solar at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ – Photo: Solar City

Tax Credits and More Solar Panels

When we installed our solar panels in 2013, PG&E was offering a rebate. We signed our rebate over to A.M. Sun Solar and they took the amount off the contract cost.

We took advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy projects by submitting information about our solar investment on our 2013 IRS tax form. This resulted in a refund check.

Our initial goal had been to produce enough electricity to break even. After receiving the refund check, we decided to use it to max out our system by putting additional solar panels on the remaining sunny parts of our roof. That way the system would be handle an electric vehicle or larger family in the future. It made sense to purchase the equipment now so the entire system is approximately the same age.

We emailed Glen from A.M. Sun Solar and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could fit another six solar panels on our roof and they would cost slightly less per panel than last year. How many things can you think of that go down in price instead of up? Since we were adding to an existing system, we did not need an additional permit. This time I knew the installation would run smoothly and it did.

IE Ponce Family Rooftop Solar Installation in Upland, CA - Photo: GRID Alternatives
IE Ponce Family Rooftop Solar Installation in Upland, CA – Photo: GRID Alternatives

Find Out if Rooftop Solar is Right for You

We live in a relatively sunny town with an average temperature of 65-75° during the warmer months of the year. We do not have any air conditioning equipment. My spouse and I both work out of our house so we use electricity at home all day long. Solar penciled out as a good investment for us, so it could be even more economically attractive for someone living in a sunny and hot climate with central air conditioning.

The federal tax credit expires on 12/31/2016 so there is still plenty of time to purchase and install your own rooftop solar panels and get the 30% tax credit. Find state incentives on the DSIRE website, and ask your electricity provider about available rebates and incentives for solar power projects.

I realize not everyone has the money to buy solar panels or may choose not to purchase them. Fortunately, there are other options available including leasing, purchase power agreements, and solar loans to name a few. Low-income families can get help from organizations like GRID Alternatives.

To find out if your home is a good candidate for solar panels, what a solar energy system would actually cost, and how much you could save on electric bills, pick up the phone, send an email, or go online. Locate a solar installer in your area by typing “rooftop solar” and your city into your web browser. It’s easy to get started.

Homes with Rooftop Solar in Japan - Photo: Kyodo / AP /  PA
Homes with Rooftop Solar in Japan – Photo: Kyodo / AP / PA

Join the clean energy movement and become one of the millions of people all over the world generating their own electricity from a clean renewable energy source—the sun.

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EPA Clean Power Plan – Existing Power Plant CO2 Emissions

The EPA Clean Power Plan focuses on power plants, our number one source of carbon pollution, accounting for one-third of U.S. domestic greenhouse gas emissions. 1

Carbon Intensity of Electricity Generation Chart by Shrink That Footprint

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an announcement on June 2, 2014, stating it was releasing its Clean Power Plan for public comment.

Clean Power Plan is a user-friendly name for the EPA’s proposed rule entitled Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units. Essentially, a rule is a regulation.

The main goal of the proposed carbon pollution rule is to cut CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel burning power plants by making them more efficient, reducing electricity demand, and switching to more low-carbon or zero-carbon energy sources.

In this post, we will explore the proposed carbon pollution rule and its connection to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the Clean Air Act.

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan

On June 25, 2013, a scorching hot day in Washington, D.C., President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan during a speech at Georgetown University. The plan concentrates on three main areas:

  • Cut Carbon Pollution in America
  • Prepare the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change
  • Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change

On the same day, the President issued Presidential Memorandum — Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards, directing the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

At the time, the EPA had issued vehicle emission standards and was already working on carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Mountain Top Removal to Extract Coal - Photo Statewide Organization for Community Empowerment
Mountain Top Removal to Extract Coal – Photo SOCM

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule and the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA to propose, implement, and enforce a wide range of measures and rules to reduce air pollution and protect air quality in the United States.

The EPA derives its authority to issue carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act.

  • Section 110 requires states to submit plans on how they intend to achieve air quality standards.
  • Section 111 authorizes the EPA to establish regulations for stationary emission sources including buildings, factories, and power plants. It deals specifically with new sources, but has a provision for existing sources under Sections 111(b) and 111(d).
  • Section 112 authorizes the EPA to regulate specific hazardous air pollutants.

The EPA plans to issue the final rule by June 1, 2015.

Coal Burning Power Plant with Huge Piles of Coal
Coal Burning Power Plant with Huge Piles of Coal

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule Overview

Interestingly, limits are in place for arsenic, mercury, and lead, but there is currently no federal limit on carbon pollution, leaving power plants free to emit unlimited CO2, which accounts for 82% of greenhouse gas emissions. 2

The Clean Power Plan objective is to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. 1

In order to accomplish this goal, the EPA has determined specific CO2 emission reduction goals for each state and a timeline to ensure consistent progress. Once the final rule is implemented, the EPA will provide guidelines, review state plans, and assist states with compliance. Each state will determine how to achieve their goal, which may include working with other states in their region.

A Clean Power Plan interactive map on the EPA’s website shows the locations of the fossil fuel fired power plants. Explore the map by clicking on the “States” and “Power Plants” tabs and then clicking on a specific state or power plant.

State Specific CO2 Emission Reduction Goals

The intent of the carbon pollution rule is to reduce each state’s overall CO2 emissions from generating electricity. Each state has a different goal that reflects their mix of energy sources for the power sector such as coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind.

The basic formula for the state goal is a rate: CO2 emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants in pounds (lbs) divided by state electricity generation from fossil fuel fired power plants and certain low-carbon or zero-emitting power sources in megawatt hours (MWh). 3

The EPA identified four general approaches states can take to achieve their goal.

  • Make coal fueled power plants more efficient.
  • Use natural gas fueled power plants more efficiently.
  • Generate more electricity from nuclear power plants and renewable sources.
  • Reduce consumption by using electricity more efficiently.
Wind Farm in Atlantic City, NJ - Photo: Bill Wolfe
Wind Farm in Atlantic City, NJ – Photo: Bill Wolfe

States are already Addressing Carbon Pollution

Many, if not most states are already addressing carbon pollution using several approaches including:

38 states have Renewable Portfolio Standard or Goals, which require utilities to obtain a certain percentage of electricity from renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass).

47 states have Demand-Side Energy Efficiency Programs in place, which offer cost reductions to customers that reduce demand during peak periods.

10 states have Market-Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Programs, also called cap and trade, in which the state sets a limit or cap on carbon emissions, sells the right to emit, and uses the proceeds to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

27 states have Energy Efficiency Standards or Goals, which require utilities to reduce energy consumption mostly through customer incentive programs. For instance, rebates for residential customers who purchase energy efficient appliances or for commercial customers who upgrade building systems to be more energy efficient (e.g. HVAC, lighting, equipment).

Public Comment on Proposed Rule – Open Until December 1, 2014

The public comment period, originally scheduled to wrap up October 16, 2014, has been extended to December 1, 2014.

Action Clapboard - Call to ActionIt is fast and easy to submit an online comment via the Federal eRulemaking portal on the “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” page.

Comments may also be submitted by email, fax, mail, or hand delivery (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602).

Please take this opportunity to submit a comment in favor of the proposed carbon pollution rule that will enable the United States to make significant headway in cleaning up the power sector, improving air quality around power plants, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Thank you.

Related Posts:

References:

  1. U.S. EPA – FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan: By the Numbers, Cutting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants
  2. U.S. EPA – The Clean Power Plan Proposal 070114 (an excellent 25-minute video)
  3. U.S. EPA – FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Framework: National Framework for States, Setting State Goals to Cut Carbon Pollution

Resources: