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Energy answers blowing in the wind

Nich Riccardi, LA Times via Mail-Tribune (S. Oregon)
DENVER — Tom DeMoulin was not expecting a bargain when he began buying his electricity from wind farms in the late 1990s. In fact, the community college instructor paid an extra $5 a month to his local utility to strike a blow against the coal- and gas-fired power plants that spew pollution across the Southwest.

But starting next month, DeMoulin’s conscience-driven decision will save him money. Because of skyrocketing natural gas and coal prices, the state’s 29,000 wind-energy customers for the first time will pay less than Xcel Energy’s 1.3 million customers who use conventionally generated power.

After the savings was announced Wednesday, Xcel signed up as many customers for its Windsource program in one day as it normally does in two months. The surge in interest is the latest example of rising energy costs making wind power increasingly attractive to consumers.
(17 October 2005)

Leftovers may be source of electricity

Edie Lau, Sacramento Bee
A UC Davis professor is studying how to turn food waste into biogas to fuel generation of power.
Scrape your dinner plate into an airtight container of bacteria and what do you get?

In the wrong hands, a stinky mess. But with some engineering finesse, food scraps can be transformed into fuel for electricity.

That’s the thinking behind a $100,000 pilot project at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, given the catchy name “Leftovers to Lights.”

SMUD has contracted with Ruihong Zhang, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis, to study the feasibility of collecting food waste from restaurants and institutions in the Sacramento area and feeding the waste to bacteria that make methane gas.
(16 October 2005)

Drought relief funding may impede sustainability – report

Australian Associated Press via The Age
A report arguing against drought aid has upset the federal agriculture minister, who accuses the authors of inventing reasons to push farmers off the land. However, an eminent scientist has defended the report, saying Australia needs a serious debate about sustainable farming and the effectiveness of current adjustment measures.

The report by CSIRO researchers Jim McColl and Mike Young reviews 70 years of agricultural adjustment programs and their implications for reforms under the National Water Initiative.
A section of the report criticises Exceptional Circumstances (EC) drought funding, saying it is keeping farmers in environmentally unsustainable areas when normal market pressures would force them to leave.

With the federal government expecting to spend more than $1.25 billion on the current drought – considered one of the worst in a century – Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran described the report’s argument as a “body blow” to farmers. …

The report, Managing Change: Australian Structural Adjustment Lessons for Water, also details adjustment options under the National Water Initiative including compulsory water acquisition to increase availability and enhance environmental flows.
(17 October 2005)
Haven’t yet seen anybody correlate the Federal governments sensitivity on issue with the number of drought relief recipients in National Party electorates (essential to John Howards 10 year reign), or to the proportion of relief funding that goes directly to bank repayments (the banks being big Liberal Party donors).-LJ

Bicycle sales boom in US amid rising gas prices

Agency France Presse via Yahoo
More bicycles than cars have been sold in the United States over the past 12 months, with rising gas prices prompting commuters to opt for two wheels instead of four. Not since the oil crisis of 1973 have bicycles sold in such big numbers, according to Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, an industry association.

“Bicycle sales are near an all-time high with 19 million sold last year — close to the 20 million sold during the oil embargo in the early 1970s,” said Blumenthal, whose association is based in Boulder in the western state of Colorado.

The US Chamber of Commerce says more bicycles have been sold than cars over the past 12 months. In a country where most of the population still relies heavily on cars, some 87 million people have climbed on a bike in the past 12 months, Blumenthal said. While less than car sales, bike sales generate about five to six billion dollars of business a year, he said.

Bicycles are back mainly because the sharp increase in gas prices has made them a practical alternative, said Paul Gaiser, owner of Scooter Commuter in Bethesda, Maryland. “Above all it’s the higher price of gas, but also it’s concern for the environment and the cost of another car,” Gaiser told AFP. The average price of gas in the United States has increased 47.3 percent in a year, according to figures published last week by the American Automobile Association. Gaiser believes the bicycle trend is no passing fad.

“Our sales have quadrupled in the last two months,” he said. “I think it’s a major paradigm shift. It’s here to stay.”

Cyclists on the streets of the US capital agreed. …
(1 October 2005)

Dramatic slump seen in US vehicle sales

Reuters via Yahoo
U.S. sales of new cars and trucks at the retail level appear to have fallen off the cliff in October, led by steep declines at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., J.D. Power and Associates said on Friday.

A report from the industry tracking firm’s closely watched Power Information Network cited a lack of high-impact incentives from major automakers, high U.S. gasoline prices, low inventory levels and an apparent pullback by consumers after exceptionally strong sales over the summer for the dramatic slowdown.

Retail new-vehicle sales were down 33 percent across the industry in the first nine days of October compared with the same period a year ago, the Power Information Network said. …
(14 October 2005)

Happenin’ hybrids: More high-tech cars cruise green Eugene

Tim Christie, Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon)
Some day, when vehicles that burn fossil fuel go the way of the dinosaur, 2005 may be remembered as the year when their extinction began in earnest.

Steadily rising gas prices last summer, and the spikes driven by hurricanes Katrina and Rita this fall, have prompted many motorists to look askance at fuel-slurping road hogs in favor of vehicles powered by gasoline-electric hybrid engines.

While hybrids represent a fraction of the vehicles on the road, demand for the high-tech cars has never been higher.

And in green Eugene, it seems at times a hybrid can be seen (not) idling at every stop light.
(16 October 2005)

Taxing gasoline the right way

Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe via
In late summer, our gas prices spiked to levels vaguely reminiscent of those in Europe, where taxes have long boosted the cost of a fill-up into the stratosphere. Europeans, of course, have adapted with vehicles far smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient than those on US roads.

The benefit of that sort of transport was brought home to me years ago during a driving tour of Scotland, when a hardhearted service attendant refused to let us gas up after we arrived at her remote station a few scant moments past her early evening closing time. With miles to go before we slept, we set out over the narrow roads that lead around the desolate top of the country, perhaps half a tank of gas in our subcompact.
Long, anxious, gas-station-less hours later, we cruised into our destination of Ullapool after even the late-setting Scottish sun had said good night, seemingly running on fumes — and exceeding grateful for the miraculous little gas miser we had rented. …

Let’s say the government’s target range for regular was $2.50 to $2.60 a gallon. With prices currently well above that, we’d see a substantial decline in federal and state gas levies. (The federal government currently taxes gasoline 18.4 cents per gallons; most states add at least another 20 cents.)
But when the price dropped below the target range, federal and state taxes would increase to push it back up. Such a policy of periodic gas tax adjustments would take careful design and coordination. The result, however, would be a more predictable price for gasoline, without the economy-jarring spikes. …
(14 October 2005)
I applaud Mr Lehigh for seeing a role for taxation-for-conservation, but think he should reconsider his target range in light of, say, European prices. -LJ

CSIRO Sustainability Network Newsletter Update 53
(494KB PDF)
CSIRO Australia
-Nuclear energy – we don’t need it;
-Domestic energy efficiency;
and Feature Resource with a new twist on sustainability: “About time – speed, society, people and the environment”.
(23 September 2005)

Industries unearth ‘green’ boom

Bill Bishop, Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon)
There is a lot of “green” – as in profit – to be made in sustainable “green” industries, the editor of Sustainable Industries Journal Northwest said Saturday during the second annual Oregon Bioneers Conference at Lane Community College.

While volatile fossil-fuel prices – and their potential to spark economic calamity – make front-page news, businesses practicing environmentally sound farming, building and energy production are finding ways to boom, said Brian Back, editor of the journal, whose theme is “economic gain through environmental innovation.”

Back based his talk on the journal’s ongoing survey of business leaders for its annual report on trends in Northwest green industries.

“It’s no longer a fringe. It’s a huge economic opportunity,” Back said.

The retailing of healthy food is just one sector where consumer demand is building green business, he said.
(16 October 2005)

Tiny farm wants to change the world – one chef at a time

Marc Ramirez, Seattle Times
RICE, Stevens County — The day dawns on the farm like any other. Roosters have been crowing since 5 a.m. and before long, Lora Lea Misterly is in the parlor, milking the goats to make the cheese that has powered this tiny Eastern Washington farm for 18 years.

But on this crisp morning, a lamb will die; and within minutes, 10 chefs and culinary instructors will be outside sipping their morning coffee as Lora Lea’s husband, Rick, transforms it from freshly killed animal to two sides of lamb fit for the walk-in freezer. It’s part of a five-day experience in which these mostly Seattle-based kitchen professionals harvest garden fruit and vegetables, butcher ducks, milk goats and help make cheese — in short, become temporary farmhands.

Something unique is happening at Quillisascut, placing this tiny goat-cheese farm — named for a nearby creek — at the forefront of a national movement known as “sustainable food.” The movement promotes the sorts of ideals you’ve probably been hearing about — farm-to-fork relationships and the purchase of local, organic and seasonal ingredients.

These European-based traditions, revived by Berkeley’s Alice Waters 20 years ago, have gradually taken root in American kitchens, fueling organic-minded menus, a farmer’s market renaissance and the rise of locally oriented chains like Portland-based New Seasons Markets. The effects are being felt as far as the produce sections of your local grocery.

The benefits of a sustainable system, proponents say, are multiple. Food is fresher. Buying it gives struggling small farmers a much-needed boost and creates ongoing relationships. And because it is locally raised, it takes less fuel and uses up fewer resources to get it to the consumer.
(16 October 2005)


Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power (blog)
It’s economics 101: Economy of Place and Economy of Scale are the driving forces behind our global economy. But are there opposing economies to each of these fundamental forces? Hey, anything’s possible. Imagine a world far, far away, before people knew about positrons…

Economy of place is the concept that some things are more efficiently done in certain places–to use the classic example, it would be just plain silly for to try to grow grapes for Port in dreary England when they grow so nicely in Portugal. Lumber is more ripe for the logging in Oregon than it is in Kansas. So what’s the “anti-economy of place?” Well, that would be the Economies of Independence and Diversity.

Economy of scale is the concept that it is more efficient to do lots of one thing rather than trying to do a little of everything. You can specialize and stratify and apply all kinds of fun economic terminology, but bottom line is, if all you do all day is draw out wire into push-pins, you’re going to get pretty good at it. But if you only had to draw out wire into a push-pin when you need a push-pin (can’t remember the last time that happened to me), you will probably be very slow and inefficient in their manufacture. …

Economy of Independence: There is a certain, undeniable efficiency of not depending on things beyond your control. If Lampedusa’s primary economic product is capers, and if they depend on a strong market for capers to be able to purchase other fundamentals like food, clothing, shelter, etc., then they may reap the advantage of economy of scale, but they certainly also incur the disadvantage of diseconomy of dependence. Their prosperity–that is, the value of their economy of scale production–is dependent on the fickle demand for their one product. In addition, the diseconomy of dependence also demands that they incur increasing transaction costs for all the products that they must import…

Economy of Diversity: There is also a certain, undeniable efficiency found in diversity. No two environments are the same, no two sets of initial conditions are the same, and therefore there is no single solution to these diverse problems. While paying an architect to produce just one home design and then duplicating that design across endless tracts of land is efficient due to economy of scale, it is also inefficient due to failure to exploit economy of diversity. …

Economy of Simplicity: Economy of place and scale create massive information processing burdens–that is, the burden to coordinate the production of specialized elements (economy of scale) and distant elements (economy of place). The larger the hierarchal organization, the greater the percentage of its effort that must be dedicated to internal information process, command and control, etc. While small localized production faces diseconomies of place and scale, it also reaps economy of simplicity…

…The bottom line here is that there are very real diseconomies intractible to the “standard” economies of scale and place.
(16 October 2005)
Jeff Vail writes thought-provoking essays with a de-centralist slant.