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Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ Category

Public Citizen Honors Tom “Smitty” Smith

 

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After more than three decades of extraordinary work running Public Citizen’s Texas office, “Smitty,” formally known as Thomas Smith, is hanging up his spurs. Smitty is a Texas institution and a national treasure, and on February 1st, we celebrated him right.

Over 200 people attended a retirement dinner for Smitty at the Barr Mansion in Austin, TX on Wednesday evening.  Friends and colleagues from around the state who had work with Smitty on issues over his career that included clean energy, ethics reform, pollution mitigation, nuclear waste disposal, etc came to pay homage to a man who had dedicated his life to fighting for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Mayor Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchens

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Smitty

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel and Smitty

During the evening, Austin Mayor – Steve Adler, Travis County Commissioner – Brigid Shea, and Dallas County Commissioner – Dr. Theresa Daniel presented Smitty with resolutions passed by the City of Austin, Travis County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Commissioners Court all of which acknowledge Smitty’s contributions to their communities and the state of Texas.

 

 

 

Adrian Shelley (front left) and Rob Weissman (front right) at Tom “Smitty” Smith’s retirement event.

Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, thanked Smitty for his service to Public Citizen for the past 31 years and introduced the new director for the Texas office, Adrian Shelley, the current Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Smitty’ impending departure fromPublic Citizen will leave a big hole in advocacy for progressive issues here in Texas, but both Smitty and Robert Weissman expressed confidence that Adrian would lead the Texas office forward into a new era of progressive advocacy.  Adrian is a native Texan from the City of Houston. He has served as the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston since 2013. He first worked with Air Alliance Houston as a legal fellow in 2010, then as a Community Outreach Coordinator in 2012. In that time, Public Citizen has worked closely with Air Alliance Houston through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition of nonprofits and community groups which advocates policies to improve public health and safety while encouraging economic growth.

So be assured that Adrian and the Texas staff of Public Citizen are committed to carrying on the battle for justice, for democracy, for air clean and  energy and for clean politics. We can and will protect our children and the generations to come. For this, we can still use your help.  You can make a tax deductible donation to the Texas office of Public Citizen to help us continue his vital work on climate, transportation, civil justice, consumer protection, ethics, campaign finance reform and more

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acThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published new minimum energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps on Tuesday, December 6th.  The new standards, which are based on a negotiated agreement, will reduce air conditioner and heat pump energy use by about 7%, translating into hundreds of dollars in electricity bill savings for consumers over the life of their equipment.

A federal advisory committee working group concluded the negotiations on the new standards last January.  The working group included representatives of manufacturers, contractors, distributors, state government, utilities, and energy efficiency advocates.

The standards’ compliance date, 2023, was a key element of the negotiations because manufacturers wanted to align changes to the minimum standards with the expected phase-down of current refrigerants.  Today’s most common refrigerant used in central air conditioners and heat pumps – R410A – will be phased out under the terms of the recently concluded Kigali agreement, a global agreement supported by both manufacturers and environmentalists designed to eliminate the most environmentally-harmful refrigerants. Likely replacements for R410a include R32 and R452B.

DOE estimates consumers will save between $2.5 billion and $12.2 billion in total.

The new standards will supersede those currently in effect. The existing standards vary by region for air conditioners, and the new standards maintain the regional approach.  Heat pumps will continue to have a single, national standard.

Based on DOE’s analysis, manufacturers can meet the new standards with improved heat exchangers, better outdoor fan motors, and other design improvements. Switching to new refrigerants will also boost efficiency, helping manufacturers to comply with the new standards. Products with efficiency performance significantly above the new standard are already on the market today, providing additional savings opportunities for consumers and programs such as those run by utilities designed to save even more.

Many of the largest energy-saving DOE standards completed in the last year have been based on similar consensus agreements, including the recent standards for roof-top air conditioners (which will save more energy than any other standard in DOE history) and pending standards for swimming pool pumps which are expected to be published soon.

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A rate case is fundamentally about determining how much money an electric utility needs to collect from ratepayers to pay for expenses (and make some return on investment), how those expenses will be divided among the different customer classes (residential, commercial, industrial), and how customers in those different rate classes will be billed.  It’s probably obvious that these decisions can impact affordability and equity among customers.  Rate cases can also have significant environmental impacts though.

The Austin Energy rate case is an opportunity to make changes that can allow the utility to transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater reliance on clean energy solutions, including solar energy at homes and businesses, energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response (temporarily reducing usage when energy demand and prices spike).  What the utility spends money on, what programs are offered, and how rates are designed have profound impacts on climate change, air quality, water pollution, water use, land use – all of which impact society in a variety of ways, including public health and vulnerability to natural disasters.  So, it might sound boring at first, but if you care about the environment or social equity, you should care about how your electric utility is doing business.

What we’re advocating for:

  • 2009-08-21-fayette

    Fayette Power Project

    Budget to allow Austin Energy’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire.  It is responsible for 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions (and over 28% of Austin’s greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors).  It’s also a major source of other air pollution that causes and worsens respiratory diseases (sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – which contributes to ground level ozone formation) and cause neurological disorders mercury.  And it requires over 5 billion gallons of water to operate.  The latest adopted plan for Austin Energy calls for the retirement of the utility’s portion of Fayette by 2023, and Austin Energy staff say its remaining debt associated with the plant must be paid off before it can be retired.  The plan calls for that money to be collected in a dedicated fund through annual budgeting, but that isn’t happening, putting the retirement plan at risk.  Please use our action page to email City Council about budgeting to retire Fayette.

  • Maintain residential rates that encourage energy conservation and allow thrifty customers to keep their bills low.  Austin Energy has proposed to increase electric rates for those who use the least energy and reduce them for those who use the most.  For those trying to reduce their electric usage for environmental reasons or because their household budgets are strained, Austin Energy’s proposal will increase bills.  Austin Energy’s proposal will also make it more difficult to project from year to year how higher much summer rates will be from winter rates.  Both of these changes would reduce the incentive to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency upgrade.  And these changes were proposed despite a study that Austin Energy commissioned that said that the existing rate structure is succeeding in encouraging conservation.  These proposed changes to how residential customers are billed would be a step backwards.
  • LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation - Meridian Solar

    LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation – Meridian Solar

    Adopt a policy to fairly compensate businesses for energy they produce from solar energy systems.  The City Council has adopted goals solar energy on homes and businesses, but Austin Energy’s current policy doesn’t include any way for most commercial customers to receive compensation for the energy they provide to the utility.  Incentives have temporarily filled that gap, but they are coming to an end.  The value of solar (VoS) rate is used to provide bill credits to residential customers, based on the calculated value of local distributed solar energy.  The same method should be used to compensate commercial customers.  Making this policy change will help grow solar adoption, while shifting away from incentives.

  • Ensure that enough money is collected to fully fund energy efficiency, solar energy and demand response programs.  Helping customers reduce their electric bills by making energy efficiency improvement or install solar energy systems doesn’t just benefit those customers who participate in those programs, it benefits all customers by allowing the utility to avoid purchasing expensive power that would drive all of our bills up.  The Energy Efficiency Services fee is used to collect money for this purpose.  With more people moving to Austin all the time, Austin Energy needs to ensure that budgets are set to match the need for local energy improvements.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club jointly participated in the Austin Energy rate case over the past several months, in an effort to push the utility to make environmentally sound decisions about both spending and billing customers.  That was just a warm-up for the real decision-making process though.  Because Austin Energy is owned by the city of Austin, the Austin City Council will make the final decisions about the rate case.  That’s where you come in.  City Council members, including Mayor Adler, need to hear from Austin Energy customers.  There will be a public hearing on Thursday, August 25th at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Meet at 3:00 p.m. for a rally to support fair rates that meet Austin’s environmental goals.

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Today is the first day of summer, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality offers these tips with the arrival of hot weather.

In Texas, cooling and heating accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual home energy expenses. Take Care of Texas offers the following easy ways to keep your home cooler, helping you to save money and keep our air clean.

  • Use a programmable thermostat. Or adjust your thermostat during overnight hours or when no one is home. Try setting it to 78 degrees or warmer in the summer. Setting it to 7-10 degrees higher than you normally would for 8 hours a day can reduce energy consumption as much as 10 percent.
  • Maintain your air conditioner. A properly functioning air conditioner is an efficient one. Replace filters every month or two during the cooling season. And that big hunk of metal outside? That’s the evaporator coil. It needs plenty of airflow, so clean it once a year. Remove debris and trim foliage too, leaving at least two feet of space around it.

You can also take the burden off your air conditioner by using other methods to keep the heat down in your home:

  • Use ceiling fans. They circulate the air in the house and allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees without discomfort.
  • Limit the heat from your appliances. Cook outdoors on the grill, and try not to use the dishwasher, washer, and dryer during the heat of the day.
  • Move lamps, TVs, and other appliances away from the thermostat. The extra heat they produce can cause the air conditioner to run longer.
  • Install efficient lighting. It runs cooler. Only about 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light — the rest is turned into heat.
  • Plant shade trees and install window blinds. With less sunlight shining on your house, the internal temperature can decrease by three to six degrees in the summer and save up to 25 percent in cooling costs. Use energy-efficient window treatments and close them during the day to block direct sunlight.
  • Weatherize your home. Find air leaks and seal them with caulk and weather stripping.
  • Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Leaky ducts can reduce your system’s efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Start by sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, or garage using duct sealant or foil tape. Then wrap the ducts in insulation to keep them from getting hot.

Visit TakeCareofTexas.org for more ways to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, keep the air and water clean, and save money.

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The Texas PACE Authority today announced the first PACE project in Texas.  The Simon Property Group, Inc. will use Travis County’s PACE program to finance $1.5 million in retrofits at Barton Creek Square, an enclosed mall in southwest Austin built in 1980.
Simon’s water conservation, mechanical and lighting retrofits will lower utility costs and help Travis County conserve water and power.  Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2016.
PACE is an innovative financing tool that enables owners of commercial properties to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation, energy-efficiency and distributed generation retrofits.
Texas adopted a commercial PACE statute in June 2013 and Travis County established Texas’ first PACE program in March 2015, using the PACE in a Box uniform “plug and play” model available at no cost to counties and municipalities throughout Texas.  The Texas PACE Authority administers the Travis County program.
“The Travis County program is strong and growing,” said Jonathon Blackburn, Managing Director of the Texas PACE Authority.  “There is a solid pipeline of additional PACE projects in development and billions of dollars available from private lenders.”
“Austin is poised to have the best first year of any commercial PACE program in the country to date,” Said Beau Engman, Founder and President, PACE Equity, LLC.  “We currently have $20 million of projects under contract with applications submitted and an additional pipeline of $15 million.
“Petros is nearing completion on a number of projects, from nonprofits and churches to retail facilities. We expect to close $30 million in the next few months, representing a wide range of clean energy technologies such as solar PV, energy efficient HVAC, and LED lighting” noted Mansoor Ghori, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Petros PACE Financing.
“I’m proud to have sponsored a program that promotes economic development and protects the needs of the environmental community, which are both so important to Travis County,” stated Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Precinct 3.
“My congratulations to Simon Properties and the Texas PACE Authority,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, Precinct 2.  “Travis County’s leadership on PACE is proving how to be better stewards of our water, energy and economy.”
Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar, said “PACE offers our community a great opportunity to conserve limited energy and water resources and lower costs for participating businesses.  I look forward to approving the first PACE project in Texas.
The Barton Creek project is part of Simon’s $500 million commitment to use PACE to finance improvements to its malls throughout the country.  Simon supported the Texas PACE legislation and the open market Texas PACE in a Box program and is a member of Keeping PACE in Texas.
“In addition to Barton Creek Square, a number of other projects are primed to position Texas as one of the most dynamic areas in the country for PACE,” noted Blackburn.

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UPDATE

The Texas electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is experiencing extremely high electricity demand. Operating reserves dropped below the target threshold of 2,300 megawatts.  This is bad news for consumers on a couple of levels.  The ERCOT system has hit several new demand records in recent weeks, most recently reaching 69,783 MW on Monday. During high-demand periods voluntary conservation can help ERCOT reduce the potential for additional measures, such as rotating outages, to ensure reliability throughout the ERCOT grid, but high demand also means the spot market price of electricity recently has risen to two to ten times the average price.  For consumers who have fixed rate plans, you won’t see a financial impact other than from your increased use of electricity.  For those who don’t you could see significant price increases this time of year.

ERCOT is asking electric consumers to limit or reduce electric use where possible during the 3-7 p.m. peak demand hours Thursday.

Although ERCOT has set new peak demand records without needing to issue a conservation alert during the past week, the high temperatures statewide continue to drive high levels of electricity use.

Consumers can help ensure the system is able to continue serving today’s power needs by taking the following steps to help support system reliability during peak demand:

  • Turn thermostat up 2-3 degrees during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.
  • Set programmable thermostats to higher temperatures when no one is home.
  • If home, use fans to feel 4-6 degrees cooler.
  • Schedule pool pumps to run in the early morning or overnight hours; shut off between 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Limit use of large appliances (dishwasher, washer, dryer, etc.) to morning or after 7 p.m.
  • If you cook indoors from 3 to 7 p.m., use a microwave or slow cooker.
  • Close blinds and drapes during late afternoon.

According to the Texas Energy Report, wind generation during peak electric demand today, hovered around 800 megawatts (MW) around 4:30 p.m., and continued moving upwards, according to the ERCOT, while both coal- and natural gas-fired generating units experienced generation outages.  In fact, the system had to import power from the eastern United States.

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Save EnergyEnergy efficiency upgrades are widely accepted to be the cheapest way to meet energy needs, yet many businesses don’t make such upgrades because of the up-front costs. That’s why the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2013 to make Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs for commercial properties possible in Texas.

PACE programs allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation measures through low interest loans that are repaid through property tax bills. This mechanism spreads the cost of the upgrades out over time and reduces risk for the property owner because the loan is attached to the property, not the individual.

Until recently though, no PACE programs had been established in Texas. In March, Travis County became the first county in Texas to create a PACE program. The program will allow property owners to choose specific water conservation and energy saving improvements that fit each property’s individual needs.

Just how beneficial is the Texas PACE program? It helps in the local search of “finding the sweet spot in the public policy process where people, natural resources, and the economy are best served”, as Judge Eckhardt told Texas Government Insider. After all, the main goal of the Texas plan is to attain water protection, energy-efficiency developments, and renewable retrofits- all of which would be obtained through economical loans. Texas really is trying to do everything… big.

Keeping PACE in Texas made this first Texas PACE program possible by convening stakeholders to develop a toolkit for local governments to use when creating PACE programs. Not only should other counties follow Travis County, but they should also follow the other 30 states and District of Columbia that have employed PACE programs. With the help of passionate sponsors and volunteer stakeholders, any county can adapt the PACE program, just like Travis County did with its plethora of sponsors and 130 volunteers.

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Clothes Dryers are Now Energy Star Certified

Energy Star LoveNow, for the first time, you can purchase an ENERGY STAR certified clothes dryer. Clothes washers have seen a 70 percent drop in energy use since 1990, but until now, dryers have largely remained inefficient. Dryers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use 20% less energy and deliver $245 in lifetime savings.  So look for the energy star logo next time you purchase a new dryer.

Click here to go to EPA’s energy star page on clothes dryers.

 

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2014-09-29 Austin Mayoral Candiate Forum on AE Issues - YouTubeOn Monday, we concluded our series of Austin City Council and mayoral candidate forums.  Over the course of two and a half weeks, we heard a variety of views on Austin Energy issues from an astounding 54 candidates.  On top of that, 49 candidates submitted responses to our questionnaire on Austin Energy issues.

Many of our Austin supporters joined us in person for the forums, but for those of you who weren’t able to make it out to your district forum or the mayoral forum, we have posted all of the videos on a special Austin Elections page of our blog. Or you can view them directly on the Public Citizen’s Texas Office YouTube channel.

If you care about climate change, shutting down polluting power plants, expanding the use of solar energy, energy efficiency, preserving our water, or keeping electric bills affordable for low-income customers, you’ll want to check out the Austin Council candidate forum videos for your district and the mayoral race.  Get the information you need to make an educated vote on November 4.

Public Citizen didn’t host these forums on our own.  We were joined in this effort by the SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development), Sierra Club, Solar Austin, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy), Clean Water Action, Austin Climate Action Network, Texas Drought Project, First Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary Ministry, and the Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church.  Many thanks to everyone who helped with the forums, especially former Austin Mayor Will Wynn for moderating the mayoral forum, Progress Texas deputy director Phillip Martin for moderating the districts 6 and 10 forum, and Treehouse for donating their space for the districts 5 & 8 forum.

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Renewable RoundupThe Renewable Energy Roundup & Sustainable Living Expo is a full 3 day event on September 26th, 27th, & 28th at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, TX.

Booths will feature products and information on:
• Renewable energy resources; solar, wind, biomass and other resources and services – The Public Citizen booth will offer information on solar energy.
• Smart Grid solutions available to homeowners now
• Green Building and remodeling
• Sustainable transportation solutions
• Tips for improving health and well-being
• Insights on organic gardening and cooking, tree care and soil care
• Climate Change innovation
• Texas water conservation and drought solutions
(more…)

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City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution.  Photo by Al Braden.

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution. Photo by Al Braden.

A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

“Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group. “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

“Local solar creates local jobs.  The Austin solar industry already employs more than 800 people and many of those jobs are in solar installation and can’t be outsourced,” said Kaiba White of Solar Austin.  “Money spent on local solar goes back into our local economy.  Allowing people from all walks of life to benefit from solar is a win-win for Austin.”

A separate resolution was also passed to establish a task force to make recommendations on expanding the utility’s energy savings goal and ensuring that energy efficiency services are provided to people of all income levels. Energy efficiency is the most easily deployed, lowest-cost option for meeting energy needs and will be a critical component of meeting climate goals for the utility.

The City of Austin has long been a leader in Texas and nationally. The City announced its plans to power all city buildings and operations with Texas wind power in 2012, and earlier in 2014 Austin Energy announced a new solar power project at the lowest cost in U.S. history. In June 2014, the Austin City Council became first elected body in the nation to endorse the goals of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to curb carbon pollution that drives climate disruption.

“The impacts of a rapidly changing climate are clear in Central Texas and as a progressive community we have a moral obligation to lead in reducing our carbon footprint while providing clean, affordable electricity to our people, businesses and churches,” said Reverend John Elford with the University United Methodist Church of Austin. “This resolution sets us on a path to meet both those needs.”

The Decker natural gas-fired power plant is a major contributor to smog pollution in Travis County. Replacing the plant with clean solar power will cut smog and improve air quality for the more than one million residents in the county, protecting children, seniors and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“In its opposition to this resolution, Austin Energy continued the tradition of marginalizing the communities near Decker by citing money as a primary concern at the expense public health. By passing this resolution, City Council members have finally recognized that every Austinite should have the right to clean air. That this is an issue of justice and that it is an issue of equality,” said Mayte Salazar-Ordonez, a volunteer leader with Austin Beyond Coal.

As Austin Energy develops its plan to meet the goals of the Affordable Energy Resolution, building new gas- or coal-fired power plants will not be an option, representing an opportunity to move beyond traditional power plants and further tap Texas’s renewable energy potential.

The coalition will now look to secure timely retirement of the Fayette coal-fired power plant to meet the city’s carbon pollution elimination goal as well as to cut the soot, smog and mercury pollution coming from the plant that impacts local communities, farms and waterways. Nationwide, 178 coal-fired power plants have been announced for retirement as clean energy solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency have cut air pollution, lowered costs for consumers and created jobs.

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World Cup 2014 BrasilThe FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil has so far been the biggest and most expensive tournament in soccer history. With ticket sales almost reaching full capacity and an estimate of over 500,000 visitors from around the world, the economic impact of this year’s World Cup has reached an all-time high. However, keeping this incredible event eco-friendly has been a daunting task with large amounts of pressure from environmental protection agencies around the world.

World Cup 2014 Eco Stadium

World Cup 2014 Eco Stadium

This year’s World Cup has exceeded CO2 emissions of the last World Cup in South Africa by over 1 million tons of CO2 with a total of 2.7 million tons. According to a study done by FIFA, and estimated 60% of the CO2 emissions are produced by transportation of personnel, equipment, teams, and fans coming from all over the world. Measures have been made to help prevent and offset the environmental impact such as building stadiums that run on solar power, rainwater collection facilities, and a large recycling program, but with any event on a scale and this grand is always a large environmental toll.

World Cup 2014 - I Take Care of My DestinationUNEP and Brazil’s Ministries of Environment, Sports, Tourism, and Social Development have teamed up to create and promote Green Passport Tours which promotes sustainable tourism specifically for World Cup 2014. FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility, Federico Addiechi, pledges to offset 100% of the 2.7 million tons of CO2 emissions starting next summer with programs in reforestation and investment in wind energy and hydroelectric power.

Even with the changes that have been made to create a more sustainable World Cup, significant environmental improvements need to be made when hosting an event like the Olympics or World Cup; which emissions can equate to having 560,000 cars on the road for a year or the burning of 1.46 million tons of coal. Aside from emissions, the materials that were needed to improve Brazil’s infrastructure, build the stadiums and other buildings, power all telecommunications and TVs around the world, which has reached up to 3.2 billion viewers according to Bloomberg, also added to the degradation of the environment. With over $4 billion in untaxed revenue FIFA received for this World Cup alone, more time and money should be allocated towards the sustainability of our environment.

Environmental improvements for future World Cups have great potential if more leadership and requirements from FIFA were to be made. With hosting the World Cup being highly desirable for countries around the world, requiring more and stricter environmental standards for the host country would drastically improve environmental quality for these events. FIFA holds great power with its sponsors and host country and has the ability to use that leverage with changes such as requiring an amount of funding specifically for environmental health, eco architectural standards for all new stadiums, positioning all new stadiums to be near public transportation for less vehicle carbon emissions, or requiring an environmental advisor to assist the planning process for stadiums, hospitality and transportation.

All of these changes have the potential of making a large positive impact on the environment along with creating more awareness to the importance of sustainability. With great the support of FIFA, the World Cup could become an event not just for the love of soccer, but for new sustainable ideas that could be showcased to the world.

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Image from Lyn Tec

Image from Lyn Tec

There is something lurking in households all over the US that is costing its residents an average of $220 or 5-10% of their annual electric bill. The culprit is called vampire power, or phantom load. It’s the power that electronic devices consume even while in standby mode. Kilowatt hours of electricity are being used just by being plugged into the wall.

Vampire power costs the US 100 billion kWh of electricity and over $10 billion in annual energy costs according to energystar.gov. That means, based off a 500 MW coal power plant which can produce up to 2.2 billion kWh of electricity per year, it would take 45.5 coal power plants to produce the amount of electricity vampire power consumes each year!

 

Image from Bentley University

Image from Bentley University

The top 5 vampire electronics per typical household are:

1. TVs- Rear projection and plasmas are the highest electricity consumers.

2. Video game consoles- Xbox and PS3 gaming consoles can cost around $25 per year.

3. Computers- Keeping your laptop plugged into the wall 24/7 can degrade the battery along with costing you money to keep it at a max charge.

4. Cable/satellite TV box- Along with a monthly payment, these services also come with a hidden fee in wasted electricity.

5. Phone chargers- Although they are small, if left in an outlet these vampire suckers just add to the lost power.

 

Image from Sierra Club

Image from Sierra Club

Things you could do to lessen vampire power and save money:

Lessening the impact of vampire power on your electricity bill doesn’t have to be unplugging every power hungry item every time you aren’t using it.There are many ways you can lessen the bill. Buying electronics that have the Energy Star emblem on the box guarantees that product lies within the EPA’s efficiency guidelines and consumes less energy while it’s in standby mode.

Saving energy and money can also be as simple as switching to power strips specifically designed to reduce vampire power. 3 different types of power strips- the timer, occupancy sensing, and current sensing strip- are designs that cater to different people and settings.

1. Timer strip allows user to set timers for when the current can flow within the strips. In an office setting this design could work best by turning power on and off in sync with hours of operation.

2. Occupancy sensing strip turns on power flow when it senses motion in the room, cater towards homes and home offices.

3. Current sensing strip detects the energy mode of an electronic, such as a computer monitor, which is plugged into the master outlet. If the monitor of a computer is in sleep mode, the current sensing strip will cut the electrical current to the rest of the electronic plugged in such as a printer, speakers, or other computer related device.

Small simple changes can be made to reduce the vampire power of each home or office, reducing not only the cost of your electric bill but also its environmental impact.

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Big Brown coal plant in Texas

Big Brown coal plant in Texas is one of the largest CO2 emitters

Yesterday, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced stage two of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to reduce power plant greenhouse gas pollution and increase energy efficiency. The plan is to create a flexible environment for each state by allowing cooperation between multiple states along with individual state plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan guidelines. The proposal aims to encourage states, companies and private individuals to get involved in the reduction of greenhouse gasses that come from domestic power plants that burn fossil fuels, especially coal. Its flexibility and benefits are what’s going to drive this environmental plan to its final goal.

The plan requires that states have their proposals submitted by June of 2016 and started by 2020, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition to reducing our impact on climate change, the plan is projected have many other benefits as well.  It is projected to cut electric bills by 8%, cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%, and have tremendous health benefits. This regulation has the potential to prevent 6,600 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks in children who are all exposed to the toxins coal plants emit into the environment. According to the EPA, a projected increase of 104,000 jobs will be created in power production, fuel extraction and the demand side energy sector, and up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits could be made by making the changes this plan guides us to do.

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Coal plants alone count for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with Texas being the largest producer from its 18 coal fired power plants located mostly in east Texas. Currently, there is no restriction on carbon pollution from existing power plants and a steady increase of carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration has gone from 387 parts per million in 2009, to a record 401 parts per million as of April 2014 which, according to ice core records, hasn’t been reached in over 800,000 years. With over 40% of US power generated from coal plants, adjustment of environmental regulations has been needed for a long while.

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are outlined with specific requirements of greenhouse gas emissions that will serve as another step forward towards low-carbon technologies and a cleaner planet. The Clean Power Plan will require a change in each state for the better of the environment, fueling new technologies and businesses that support low carbon economy. By requiring action from the states, the plan will hopefully encourage action from the citizens as well.

In addition to making changes here in the United States, the plan is also hoped to spur greater international action to address climate change. The announcement that the worlds largest carbon emitter, China, will place a cap on carbon emissions in 2016, seems to indicate that the strategy might already be working.

This announcement isn’t the end of the process.  EPA is now collecting feedback from the public on this proposal.  You can help ensure that this proposed regulation to address the urgent problem of climate change is adopted and put into action as quickly as possible by letting EPA know that you support limited carbon pollution from power plants.

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2014-03-21 Plastic Waste Graphic for Heathers Post VREarlier this week an article on Mother Jones highlighted a growing source of waste in American households – single serve coffee ‘cups’ used in coffee brewers like Keurig’s. According to the article, enough of these cups were sold in 2013 that they could have wrapped around the equator 10.5 times.

That’s a whole lotta trash. And specifically, a whole lotta plastic. And  most of those little cups are made of #7 plastic, which is nonrecyclable in most areas (it is recyclable, however, here in Austin).  In other words, most of those cups are going into landfills. What’s even worse is that a recent field testing of  so-called safe plastics (they’re all BPA-free) revealed that 100% of #7 plastics tested contained estrogenic activity, the very characteristic that has made BPA so controversial. From a broader perspective, virtually all plastic leaches out chemicals over time, especially in the high heat and pressure environments found in landfills. This can result in soil, water and air pollution, especially when these plastics end up in our waterways.

In other words, plastic, and specifically, the plastic waste that we individually produce, is a problem. For those of us who are not using single serve coffee cups, there are two other large culprits in our plastic waste – disposable water bottles and plastic bags.

Every year in the United States, 30 billion bottles of water are consumed. That’s almost 100 bottles of water per person living in the US. What’s more is that 80% of those completely recyclable water bottles don’t get recycled, but end up in landfills, wasting over $1 billion in plastic that could have been recycled. To cap it all off, studies have proven that bottled water is not any better for you than tap water.

2014-03-21 This may look like a Jellyfish, but it isn't. Photo Courtesy UC Davis

This may look like a Jellyfish, but it isn’t.
Photo Courtesy UC Davis

The other big culprit for plastic waste is plastic bags. Every year, over one trillion bags are used worldwide. 100 billion of those are used in the US, which ends up costing retailers around $4 billion. Less than 5% of these bags end up being recycled, and it can take anywhere from 20-1000 years for the bags to degrade completely. In the meantime, they break down into smaller pieces that readily absorb and leach toxins and are mistaken for food by animals. Plastic bag bans and taxes are already taking off across the country (including in Austin), and many stores offer small discounts for bringing your own bags.

The amount of waste created by water bottles, plastic bags, and even those little K-Cups is astronomical. Not only are plastics toxic and hard to degrade, fossil fuels are required to make them, making their environmental footprint large even when recycled.  While many of our environmental challenges are difficult to grasp and often times overwhelming, one thing that each person can do is try their best to reduce the plastic waste they produce. Drink tap or filtered water from home and use a reusable (preferably metal) water bottle to refill throughout the day. Keep reusable bags in your car so you remember to use them at the grocery store. And if you own a single serve coffee machine, try and find a reusable filter to put your own bulk-bought coffee grounds in.

It’s been reported that every square mile of the ocean has 46,000 pieces of plastic in it, but each of us can control how much of that we put in there!

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