Rise for Climate Wherever You Are on September 8, 2018

Pick up a sign and voilà you are an activist.

On September 8, 2018, join people around the world who are taking part in the Rise for Climate day of action to demand jobs, justice, and 100% renewable energy.

Rise for Climate is a worldwide event with hundreds of actions planned for the Saturday before the Global Climate Action Summit that California Governor Jerry Brown is hosting in San Francisco September 12-14, 2018.

If you can make it to San Francisco, you have an opportunity to participate in what is shaping up to be the largest climate march ever to occur on the West Coast. You could be one of the thousands of people taking to the streets carrying signs and loudly informing government officials and corporate CEOs that you want green jobs, environmental justice, and a society powered by renewable energy, now.

This may sound silly, but I can attest to the magic of picking up a sign and carrying it in a march with people of every hue, ethnicity, age, gender, and religion who have come together for a common purpose.

Although I am still a fledgling activist, my transformation began on February 7, 2015, at the March For Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, California.

My spouse and I were part of a contingent from San Luis Obispo who had boarded a bus in the pouring rain at 6:30 that morning. It was our first time participating in a protest march with thousands of other people.

Sign for March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015Being a newbie, it did not occur to me that I needed a sign until after I got off the bus in Oakland.

Fortunately, a volunteer walked by and pointed out a collection of signs made by a group of artistic volunteers. The sign I selected must have had magical powers because as soon as I hefted it and waved it about I felt like an activist.

For those of you who cannot go to San Francisco (like me) look for an action closer to home or create your action (suggestions at the end of this post).

“When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.” —Pauline R. Kezer

Global Climate Action Summit

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement an international climate agreement adopted at the 2015 United Nations Framework on Climate Change. A month later, Governor Jerry Brown announced that the State of California would convene the world’s climate leaders in San Francisco in September 2018 for the Global Climate Action Summit.

“President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris Agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act, it’s time to join together and that’s why at this Climate Action Summit we’re going to get it done.” —Governor Jerry Brown (07/06/17 press release)

You can read about the Summit on the Global Climate Action Summit website.

Rise for Climate Global Day of Action

Long before email notices began appearing in my inbox a month or so ago, the Rise for Climate steering committee was already hard at work putting this global day of action together. 350.org is spearheading the event using their formidable Internet only organizing platform, but hundreds of local people and groups on five continents are doing the actual planning and organizing.

Climate change is not some amorphous future problem. It is already contributing to extreme heat, flooding, wildfires, pollution, and drought devastating the lives of people all over the world. Bureaucratic negotiations have been dragging on for decades and are not getting the job done.

People are mobilizing on September 8 to bring attention to the Global Climate Action Summit and to tell our state and local leaders that we need them to step up, now.

“We need every local government and institution to commit to building 100% renewable energy and stopping new dirty energy projects in their community. Anything less than that is out of line with what science and justice demand.”

You can find out about the San Francisco march and other actions around the world on the Rise for Climate website.

If You Cannot Be There, You Can Still Take Action

On September 8, I will be aboard the California Zephyr Amtrak train on my way to a visit Nebraska with two long-time friends so I cannot make it to San Francisco. However, I can still do something for the Rise for Climate global day of action and so can you even if you have to work that day, have already made other plans, or just cannot make it to San Francisco or a local event.

Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Spread the word about the Rise for Climate global day of action.
  • Talk to your family, friends, and/or coworkers about climate change and renewable energy.
  • Write a letter or call one or more of your state or local elected officials asking them to stop new fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy projects.
  • Walk, bike, or take public transportation to a place you would normally drive.
  • Call a local solar installer to make an appointment to evaluate your roof for solar panels.
  • Display a Rise for Climate poster in a visible location.
  • Follow the action on September 8 and share it on social media.
  • Wear a t-shirt promoting renewable energy.
  • Have some friends over to watch a film about oil and natural gas fracking or mountaintop removal coal mining.
  • Write a letter to the editor about Rise for Climate and/or the Global Climate Action Summit.
My Rise for Climate Actions

This blog post is a means of spreading the word and I will be promoting it on social media.

If this letter to the editor of the San Luis Obispo Tribune makes it into the paper, I will update this post.

2018-08-30 Rise for Climate San Luis Obispo Tribune Letter to the Editor

I printed the above posters to display on the windows of my train compartment and I made the flyer with a template. I have extras in case I meet any like-minded people on the train. I am grateful to the Rise for Climate artists that create flyers, posters, signs, banners, and other pieces of art for us to use (you can find them on the Rise for Climate website here).

What are you doing to Rise for Climate?

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

Update: The San Luis Obispo Tribune chose not to publish my letter. On the train, many people walking by my compartment at least looked at the posters including the Amtrak staff. I am a fan of train travel so using paper and markers provided by my friend, I made an “I heart trains” poster and taped it to my window.

Featured Image at Top: Rise for Climate signs ready for the San Francisco March on September 8, 2018 – Photo Credit 350.org on Flickr

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Why You Should Read Your Energy Bills – Electric

Everyone can elect to use energy efficiently.

Understanding your electric and natural gas bills could turn you into a frugal energy user and unleash your inner climate activist.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels and each one of us has a responsibility (if we choose to accept it) to do our part. Decreasing energy consumption in our homes is something everyone can do to help. When millions of people take a small action like switching to LED light bulbs, the energy savings can really add up.

This is the second in a 2-part post exploring how you can use your energy bills to educate yourself about your energy use and make informed decisions about when and how much energy you use in your home.

In the first post, Why You Should Read Your Energy Bills – Natural Gas, readers confronted the facts about the ubiquity of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States and learned how much natural gas common appliances use, how to read and understand natural gas bills, and had an opportunity to establish a usage reduction goal.

This post is devoted to giving you a high-level overview of electricity use in the United States, helping you unravel the mysteries of your electric bill, and encouraging you to set your own electricity reduction goal.

Electricity Generation in the United States High-Level Overview

Currently, in the United States, power plants generate 65% of their electricity by burning fossil fuels (34% natural gas, 30% coal, 1% petroleum). Nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewable energy make up the remaining 35% of electricity generation.1

Coal Power Plant with Piles of Coal on the Edge of a Lake
Coal Power Plant with Piles of Coal on the Edge of a Lake – Photo Credit Dreamstime/Maria Dryfhout

Fossil fuel burning power plants are expensive to ramp up and down so operators try to run these baseload plants at levels where they can generate and distribute a consistent amount of electricity continually.

During peak demand times or when electricity use spikes unexpectedly, electric companies bring their peaker plants online and/or purchase electricity from other power providers with excess capacity. This is a bad deal all around. Peaker plants are often the least efficient, most expensive, and worst polluting facilities.

What is a Kilowatt-Hour of Electricity?

Residential electricity is billed by the kilowatt-hour so you need to understand what that means.

Technically a kilowatt-hour is a measure of electrical energy equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts for 1 hour.2 That begs the question, “What is a watt?” which then leads to “What is a joule?” and so on. For the purposes of this post, we will simplify matters by saying a watt is a measure of the operating power of an appliance or a piece of equipment.

You can find the wattage of your electric appliances and equipment on product labels, in user guides, and on the Internet. The examples below illustrate how long you could use several common electrical items for a kilowatt-hour of electricity.

  • Dry your hair for 37.5 minutes or about 5 minutes a day for 1 week using a 1600-watt hair dryer.
  • Cool your home for about 15 minutes using a 3500-watt central air conditioning system or for about 42 minutes using a 1400-watt window unit.
  • Brew 6 to 7 pots of coffee each taking 10 minutes using a 900-watt automatic drip coffee maker (fewer pots if you leave the machine on to keep the coffee warm).
  • Use a 1200-watt microwave oven for about 10 minutes a day for 5 days.
  • Watch a 48-watt television for 3 hours a day for 1 week (less time if you have a cable box and/or external speakers).

You can do the math for any electrical item in your home using simple equations.

If your appliance runs at x watts, it will run for 1000/X hour.

1600-watt hair dryer example where X is 1600.

1000/1600= .625 hour

.625 hour × 60 minutes/hour=37.5 minutes

What Does a Kilowatt-Hour of Electricity Cost?

In 2016, the average price of residential electricity in the United States was 12.55¢ per kWh. Hawaii had the highest average cost of 23.87¢ per kWh and Louisiana the lowest at 7.41¢. The average price in California where I live was 18.28¢ per kWh.3, 4

Mountain Top Removal to Extract Coal - Photo Statewide Organization for Community Empowerment
The Obvious but Hidden Cost of Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining – Photo Credit Statewide Organization for Community Empowerment

How Much Electricity Does the Average Household Use?

In 2016, the average residential electricity consumption was 897 kWh per month or 10,766 kWh for the year. Louisiana had the highest consumption at 14,881 kWh for the year and Hawaii had the lowest at 6,061 kWh.5

This figure varies widely across the country depending on where you live, the weather, and the number, type, and efficiency of the electric appliances and equipment you use in your home. For instance, in my region, the average monthly electricity use is about 417 kWh in the summer and 474 kWh during the winter.6

What Can You Learn from Reading Your Electric Bill?

I live on the California Central Coast and my electric company is PG&E. After looking at electric bills for electric companies in several states, I concluded that there is a fair amount of variability but the basics are similar.

For this section, you will need a copy of your electric bill from last December. If you do not have a paper or digital copy, most if not all electric companies, make bills available online. If you need to, take a break to go sign up, retrieve your bill, and then come back.

Electric Bill with Pen and Calculator - Photo Credit iStock/Niyazz

Now look at your bill and find the following or similar items.

Rate

This field indicates what rate schedule is being used to calculate your bill. You can look up rate schedules on your electric company’s website.

Climate Zone

Your home’s location places you in a climate zone that electric companies use to estimate how much electricity you and other customers in the same area will use during various times of the day and during different seasons of the year.

Baseline Allowance

The climate zone assigned to your home is used to determine your baseline allowance, which is an amount of electricity intended to cover about 50-70% of an average household’s use. The baseline is adjusted seasonally. Not all electric companies use baseline allowances.

For example, our town is in the climate zone that covers most of the California coast and a short distance inland. Here the baseline is 7 kWh/day (about 210 kWh/month) May through October and 8.5 kWh/day (about 255 kWh/month) November through April.7

Billing Period

The number of days in the billing period is used in calculations on your bill.

Meter Reading

Your electricity usage is calculated by subtracting the previous month’s meter reading from the current month. The difference is the number of kilowatt- hours you used.

Electricity Charges

Here is where it gets tricky. Electric companies often charge different rates at different times of the day and/or charge higher rates if your consumption is above a certain number of kilowatt-hours.

Tiered Rates

If you are on a tiered rate schedule, your per kWh rate will vary depending on your overall electricity consumption. Your baseline allocation kWh is charged at the lowest per kWh rate and you pay more for each kWh over the baseline.

For example, PG&E customers on a tiered rate plan pay 20¢ per kWh for tier 1 (baseline allocation), 28¢ per kWh for tier 2 (100-400% above baseline), and a 40¢ per kWh high usage surcharge (above 400%). The baseline allowance of kWh is different in the winter and summer, but the per kWh rate stays the same.7

Time-of-Use Rates

For customers on time-of-use schedules, you will pay the highest per kWh rate during peak demand (usually during the workweek from the late afternoon to mid-evening) and pay a lower per kWh rate during off-peak hours. Some companies have an interim rate for part peak hours (usually just before or after peak hours). The times considered to be in the peak demand period vary by company.

For instance, during the winter season, PG&E customers on the time-of-use rate schedule pay 23¢ per kWh from 4:00-9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 21¢ per kWh for electricity consumed at all other times and all weekend. When the summer season begins in May, rates will go up to 36¢ and 26¢ respectively.7

State Regulatory Fee

As a customer, you are funding the public utilities commission that regulates electric companies in your state.

Other Fees & Taxes

Some costs are spread across all customers like financial assistance for low-income customers, efficiency programs, and rebates. States and/or municipalities may charge tax. In California, we are billed every month for nuclear power plant decommissioning and the cost of the bonds issued to buy electricity during our energy crisis in 2001.

Electricity Usage History

Hopefully, your bill will have a handy chart that shows your total electricity used each month over the past twelve months and a comparison with the same month in the prior year.

Messages

It is worth taking a few seconds to read the messages section as it contains information about new programs, rate changes, and rebates.

Establish Your Electricity Reduction Goal

Now that you are acquainted with your electric bill and your electricity use for last December, you are ready to set a reduction goal for this December and decide what you are going to do to achieve it.

Minimizing your electricity use during peak demand times is perhaps the most impactful action you can take in your own home. Keeping peaker plants offline is good for the environment, people’s health, and your wallet.

To help you get your creative juices flowing below are several no-cost ideas about what you can do to minimize electricity use during peak demand times. These actions may seem small and insignificant but if millions of people do them, it makes a significant impact.

  • Defrost food for dinner in the microwave oven while you are eating breakfast or reading the morning paper.
  • Turn off electronics when you are not using them. Most electronics come to life as soon as you turn them on and computers (even older models) only take a few minutes to boot.
  • Bosch DishwasherTurn your dishwasher on after 9:00 p.m. by using the delay button (if it has one) or turning the machine on just before you go to bed.
  • Leave your outdoor lights off completely or at least until after 9:00 p.m. If you are expecting guests after dark, turn the lights on near their arrival time and off after they do arrive.
  • During the summer, especially when it is hotter than usual, leave your air conditioning off or set it several degrees warmer than you normally would between 4:00-9:00 p.m. Use a portable fan in the room you are occupying (moving air helps you feel cooler).

If you are looking for more ideas, try reading Energy Awareness Month – 10 Energy Savings Tips and Tackle Energy Vampires and Stop Phantom Power.

Once you get in the habit of doing things that reduce your electricity and natural gas consumption, they become routine, meaning you do them without really thinking about it.

I hope this 2-part post has helped you become conversant with your energy bills and inspired you to challenge yourself to use electricity and natural gas sparingly and efficiently as if your life depended on it, which it does.

For readers interested in learning more about fossil fuel energy, electricity, and environmental issues, you will find links to articles and reports in the resources section.

Featured Image at Top: Coal Mining Operation in Tuscaloosa, AL – Photo Credit iStock/toddmedia

Related Posts

References

  1. Electricity Explained: Electricity in the United States – U.S. Energy Information Administration
  2. Kilowatt Hour – Wikipedia
  3. Electricity Explained: Factors Affecting Electricity Prices – U.S. Energy Information Administration
  4. California Electric and Gas Utility Cost Report, California Public Utilities Commission, April 2017
  5. How much electricity does an American home use? – U.S. Energy Information Administration
  6. PG&E Residential Accounts 2016 Zone 5 (non-CARE) – California Public Utilities Commission
  7. E-1 Residential Services – Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 08/18/17

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