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Solutions and Sustainability

Wind Powered Liberty

Peakguy, Peak Oil NYC [Blog]
I’ve been reading about the potential for wind turbines to replace the need to rely completely on coal and gas fired electrical power plants for our electrical system. There are great strides being made, such that a modern wind turbine can generate enough electricity at peak times (usually at night) to power hundreds of homes. However, I’m starting to get really irritated at all the people complaining how tall they are and how they block their view of the natural landscape. The most irritating argument that get used is that the windmills are “taller than the Statue of Liberty”. As if by couching the comparison to something as patriotic and wholesome as the Statue of Liberty, they can seem like they are defend their right to not have to live with windmills. How about “as tall as a smokestack” or “as tall as a pile of nuclear waste”? I could go on and on…

But this gave me another idea. What if we could power the Statue of Liberty with just Wind and Solar power? A Statue of Liberty that is energy independent and produces no harmful emissions into the atmosphere. This would be the best type of positive symbolism to assert America’s path to energy independence. …
(1 August 2005)

Windmills generate energy, criticism, praise

Lance Gay, Scripps Howard News Service via Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette
Value, bird deaths at center of debate
WASHINGTON – Coming soon to America’s fruited plains and atop the purple mountains majesty: a lot of 100-foot-tall windmills.

Buried in the energy bill that surfaced this week from a House-Senate conference committee is almost $3 billion in subsidies that supporters have earmarked to build thousands of electricity-generating windmills in the United States.
(31 July 2005)

Wind farm in gorge may blow others away

Gail Kinsey Hill, Portland Oregonian
The 225-turbine Biglow Canyon project planned by Orion Energy of California highlights the industry’s quick maturation
Orion Energy of Oakland, Calif., plans to develop a wind farm in Sherman County with 225 turbines and a 450-megawatt capacity, the largest project of its kind in Oregon and, perhaps, the country.

The breezy Columbia River Gorge has established itself as a choice spot for wind generation. But Orion’s Biglow Canyon project, to sprawl across thousands of acres near the towns of Rufus and Wasco, is notable for its size. Along with other recent wind-farm announcements, Orion’s plans underscore not only developers’ interest in ever larger-scale projects, but the rapid maturing of a business sector.

“The industry is joining the big leagues,” said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.
(1 August 2005)

New air conditioner to put electricity demand on ice

Staff, Xinhau News Agency
A new air conditioning system that makes ice overnight using cheap-rate electricity may be key to cutting strain on China’s creaking power grid. The unit, to go on trial in Guangzhou, Guandong Province, uses ice it makes during the night to cool the air during the day.
Called an Ice Storage Air Conditioner (ISAC), the device will be introduced throughout the province next year if it performs as well in Guangzhou as it has elsewhere. The office building of the provincial Economic and Trade Commission will serve as a test site for the air conditioner, according to Chen Jian, director of the commission’s energy department.
(30 July 2005)

Ray of sunshine seen in energy legislation

Brad Foss, Associated Press via Seattle Times
WASHINGTON – America’s fledgling renewable energy industry won’t be significantly transformed by the energy bill Congress passed yesterday. To the disappointment of environmentalists and those with a financial stake in alternatives to fossil fuels, most of the $14.5 billion in tax breaks will help producers and users of oil, natural gas and coal.

Still, boosters of wind, solar and biofuels said their tiny segment of the market will also benefit from the legislation, as will consumers looking to conserve fuel at home or on the road.
(30 July 2005)

L.A. alternative-energy fees to rise

Lisa M. Sodders, Los Angeles Daily News
LOS ANGELES – Despite mandates to boost renewable power sources, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gives the Los Angeles Unified School District a discounted rate to delay its alternative-energy program and plans to charge other large customers more for generating their own electricity, the Daily News has learned.

Beginning in January, the DWP will charge a new fee to the Los Angeles Community College District and nearly a dozen other unidentified customers that generate a portion of their own electricity, officials said.

”The fact of the matter is, they do not want you to self-generate,” said Tony Fairclough, an engineering management consultant for the college district. ”They want to appear to be ‘green,’ but they want those dollars.”

But officials with the municipal utility say the new rate schedule will cover the costs of providing back-up power in case the customer’s self-generating system fails.

”Our reason for doing this is not to make it less attractive to do co-generation,” said Ron Deaton, the city’s former chief legislative analyst who took over last fall as general manager of the DWP.

”If you’re going to hook up to our system, we have certain costs that we have to bear in order to pick up your load. We don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the customers for one group not to pay those costs.”

DWP officials also insist the utility is committed to meeting the so-called Renewable Portfolio Standard, which calls for increasing renewable power from just 5 percent of the city’s energy mix to 13 percent by 2010 and 20 percent by 2017.

Henry Martinez, DWP chief operating officer for power, said the utility is seeking proposals for renewable-energy projects and is also considering producing some alternative energy itself.

But the new rate has infuriated customers, some of whom have received millions in grants from the DWP and other entities to install generators, solar panels and other alternative-energy equipment.
(31 July 2005)

Afghans see forests, tree by tree

Ben Arnoldy, Christian Science Monitor
To aid reforestation, programs provide short-term gains, too.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Each day, dozens of trucks piled high with firewood pass over the moonscape of Paktia Province on the road to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. The local cutters who supply the convoys must head ever higher up the increasingly bare mountainsides to bring back a day’s living bundled on donkeys.

The growing scarcity, along with surging demand from Kabul’s revived economy, has sent firewood prices up fivefold and construction timber up sevenfold since Taliban times. Wood is Afghanistan’s oil – a key resource that everyone worries is running out.

“One day, if we do not prevent the cutting, we will not have trees,” says Lal Kham, a wood seller in Kabul. This month, the UN estimated that Afghan forests could be wiped out by 2030.

Faced with a long-term problem that rarely gets sustained attention from donors and politicians, groups working on reforestation have developed some clever – albeit limited – ways to turn Afghans into Johnny Appleseeds.
(1 August 2005)

How ‘Green’ Is Home Cooking?

Janet Raloff, Science News Online
Which is better for the environment: a meal cooked from scratch at home or a packaged frozen or freeze-dried meal cooked up in distant industrial kitchens and trucked to supermarkets? Most consumers would guess the former, notes environmental engineer Ulf Sonesson. Even many food scientists would vote for home cooking as the greener option, he says.

However, those guesses probably wouldn’t be taking into account economies of scale in food companies’ mass preparation of meals, says Sonesson.

Indeed, when he and his team at the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology made calculations including such efficiencies, they found no big difference between the environmental footprints of home-cooked versus ready-to-eat fare. Each means of putting food on the table has environmental advantages and disadvantages that, in the end, “even each other out,” the researchers concluded.

A major reason the resource costs of the two different types of meals are so similar, overall, is that cooking itself contributes comparatively little to environmental costs of a meal. Most impacts instead occur around the farm or in the marketplace—upstream of food preparation—and contribute comparably to meals, regardless of where they’re cooked.

…In a second paper published in Ambio, Sonesson’s team investigated additional environmental costs associated with food production. Through surveys of some 270 households, the researchers learned that most grocery shopping is done by car. Only one-quarter of household trips to stores were on foot, usually to a local or convenience store, not the supermarket. Most of the Swedes surveyed said that they shop for food every 1 to 3 days, typically coming home with only a bag or two of groceries.

Frequent shopping by car aggravates air pollution and elevates fossil-fuel consumption. On the other hand, it suggests that people are buying only as much food as they need. Buying in bulk, in contrast, could cause people to waste food. To probe that idea, the researchers scoured data from 35 households to evaluate how much of a family’s food typically went to waste.

The families reported discarding roughly twice as much dairy food as they ate. Of that wastage, about 80 percent was never used in a meal and 20 percent was prepared but eventually discarded as leftovers. Produce losses also proved high. An amount equivalent to nearly 50 percent of the fruits and vegetables eaten was thrown away, apparently because it went bad prior to being incorporated into a meal. On the other extreme, pasta, rice, potatoes, and other staples with a long shelf life were seldom pitched out uneaten, according to food diaries kept by the participating families.

Sonesson and his colleagues observe that few studies have addressed why people discard food. Is it spoiled? Has it merely exceeded its “sell by” date? Or do people get bored with certain items?
(30 August 2005)
See the original article for references and many interesting details.


Hot enough for you? June-July top the all-time charts [for north-east N.America]

Staff, Associated Press via New York Newsday
This will come as little consolation for anybody who has steadfastly sworn that the sticky summer of 2005 has been the hottest ever: You’re right. With two days left in this month, it’s shaping up as the hottest June-July recorded in several eastern cities, according to data compiled by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

The statewide average in June was 69.5 degrees, a whopping 5.5 degrees warmer than normal. “That’s a very significant departure,” said Keith Eggleston, regional climatologist with the climate center. …
Blame a persistent Bermuda high for the heat. The weather system named for the island it parks over creates a clockwise flow of air, sucking up the Southeast’s heat and moisture and dumping it on the Northeast. “It’s not an unusual phenomenon,” Eggleston said. “It sets up every summer and could give you a shorter heat wave, a few days, maybe a week. What’s been unusual this year is that that weather pattern has been the dominant weather pattern for most of the past two months.”
(29 July 2005)

As planet warms, storms grow stronger

Peter N. Spotts, Christian Science Monitor
Scientists see evidence that hurricanes and typhoons have intensified. Are new responses needed?
For years, hurricanes and typhoons have served as poster children for the hazards of global warming.

When simulated tropical storms churn inside the silicon universe of researchers’ computers, such cyclones grow in power, and sometimes in number as well, as tropical temperatures increase. But when researchers have looked for global warming’s fingerprints on real tropical cyclones, the evidence often has been inconclusive.

Now, one of the top researchers in the field reports that worldwide, these storms are nearly twice as powerful today as they were 30 years ago. Global warming has intensified the trend, exerting an influence stronger than he would have believed even a few months ago, he says.
(1 August 2005)

Bad to the Last Drop

Tom Standage, NY Times (Op-ed contributor)
…Bottled water is undeniably more fashionable and portable than tap water. The practice of carrying a small bottle, pioneered by supermodels, has become commonplace. But despite its association with purity and cleanliness, bottled water is bad for the environment. It is shipped at vast expense from one part of the world to another, is then kept refrigerated before sale, and causes huge numbers of plastic bottles to go into landfills.
Tom Standage, author of “A History of the World in Six Glasses,” is the technology editor of The Economist.
(1 August 2005)

Australia claims part credit for “Beyond Kyoto”

Reuters via AlertNet
CANBERRA – Australia says it is partly responsible for creating a six-nation pact to combat global warming, which grew from a brainstorming meeting of 20 countries on climate change in Britain five months ago.
(29 July 2005)