Getting the Green Light

Green LEDIf you love incandescent lights, you may feel the demise of Edison’s claim to fame is a shame.  The 100 watt bulb was the first to go in 2012, followed by the 75 watt bulb in 2013, and finally the most popular 40 and 60 watt bulbs are no longer being manufactured in 2014.

While many refer to this as a ban, it’s really a phase-out as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In anticipation of the change, many stores stocked up on this soon-to-be keepsake, perhaps coddling those who can’t live without their fire-in-glass lighting.  Staunch advocates include decorators, artists and others who insist that there is no match for a burning filament to produce natural light.  In fact, there are still a number of exceptions to allow these purists to continue using incandescents. Continue reading

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Early Sunset on Missouri Solar Utility Rebate

Sunset at CCLThe writing was on the wall; we knew it was coming.  In Missouri, the $2 per watt rebate being paid by investor-owned utilities (IOUs) was scheduled to be reduced to $1.50 per watt starting in 2014.  This reduction was designed to make the rebate last longer, since it represented as much as 2/3 of the cost of a commercial solar array.  Proposition C, which was passed by 66% of Missouri voters back in 2008, required the IOUs to pay the rebate as long as the costs did not increase rates by more than 1%.  Unfortunately the details of how to calculate that cost cap were not clearly spelled out, and the utilities and the state’s Public Service Commission have wrangled over exactly how to do that.

Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) filed a notice with the PSC in the summer of 2013 claiming that they’d hit their cap, based on the combined costs of rebates paid out and planned investments in wind farms later this decade.  After reviewing their numbers, the PSC reached a settlement with the utility to clearly define funding available for rebates.  Later in the year, after Ameren Missouri filed a similar notice, the PSC used the same methodology to calculate their cap, based on similar renewable energy projects planned for the future. Continue reading

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Film Review: Chasing Ice

The 22nd annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which ran from November 14-24, offered the typical variety of independent films.  I appreciated the chance to review a few of the movies featuring environmental issues.

Chasing IceChasing Ice was a riveting documentary about the melting glaciers in the great Arctic Circle.  James Balog, a photographer for National Geographic magazine, got his first opportunity to capture the beauty of light shining through the majestic glaciers of Greenland while doing a story called The Big Thaw.  During this project, he observed a glacier move 1,500 feet in an hour, and became intrigued if not obsessed with the implications.  A climate skeptic for 20 years, he decided to explore for himself how much truth there was to the “science.”

Certainly insurance statistics have made believers beyond those who’ve studied the science.  But Balog embarked on a most unusual undertaking – to place cameras in remote areas, and automatically photograph select glaciers on at least an hourly basis in Greenland, the Yukon, Alaska and Montana.  The challenge of developing this automation in what became the Extreme Ice Survey was nearly as difficult as installing the cameras in the harshest of environments.  Balog and his team experienced the frustration of many failures before perfecting a design that provided them with the evidence they were looking for. Continue reading

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Film Review: Uranium Drive-In

The 22nd annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which ran from November 14-24, offered the typical variety of independent films.  I appreciated the chance to review a few of the movies featuring environmental issues.

Uranium Drive-InUranium Drive-In highlighted a bleak situation in Colorado, illustrating an ongoing debate about nuclear power and the environment vs. jobs and economic survival.  Director/producer Suzan Beraza with Reel Thing Films offered a nice balance carefully showing both sides of the argument, which left me feeling empathy for all.

Desperate people do desperate things.  Residents of Naturita (pronounced Natter-eeta), an old and economically depressed mining town, are largely eager about the prospects of a new uranium mine to bring back jobs and economic prosperity they once new.  While aware of the dangers and risks of mining, they are desperate enough to risk their health and safety on mining uranium.  They did it before, and when business was booming, no one thought about the health and safety of the workers or the environment.  As one mining proponent put it, “Nobody’s ever died from water quality, I don’t think.” Continue reading

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Update on Missouri Solar Coaster

Since writing my November Going Green column, a lot has happened.  Ameren Missouri, the largest utility in Missouri, filed a petition with the Missouri Public Service Commission stating that they had reached their 1% cost cap over which they could no longer offer solar rebates. In reviewing Ameren’s calculations, the PSC testified that some of the costs included in Ameren’s calculations could not be considered, and based on that, funding should still be available.  In the weeks that followed, a settlement was reached to clearly define a value for the solar rebate fund.  That amount is $91.9M, and only about 1/3 of that amount was still available as of the end of October.  Industry experts are projecting the fund will be depleted by early next year, if it makes it into 2014.  So if you’re an Ameren customer and were planning on investing in solar, I urge you to contact your solar installer right away.  Good luck!

This was published as a sidebar in the Going Green section of the December 2013 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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Green Gift Envelopes

Green envelopeOnce again, ‘tis the season to give gifts.  We are conditioned to think that these gifts must come in boxes or bags, but an attractive alternative may be shared in a simple envelope.  I’m not suggesting cash (even if that’s the quintessential green!) or gift cards, but something more personalized that shows the recipient how much you care.

This year, I invite you to think less about buying things and more about buying experiences .  Several years ago I discovered Cloud9 Living, which offers over 1,800 unique experiences all across the US, including dinner cruises and city tours, along with more adventurous experiences like driving a racecar or flying a fighter plane.  Admittedly, some of these experiences are rather pricey, so you can instead demonstrate your thoughtfulness by remembering what they like to do, but perhaps don’t often do for themselves.  Consider, for example, a massage or spa treatment or a hot air balloon ride.  How about tickets to a live theater performance or a train ride to the wine country?  A weekend at a cozy bed & breakfast could be a perfect gift. Continue reading

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Forecast for Missouri Solar Industry: Partly Cloudy

Partly CloudyIn 2008, two-thirds of Missouri voters approved the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative, which required that investor-owned utilities in the state get at least 15% of their electric power from renewable resources like wind and solar by 2021.  Voters were promised that a 1 percent cap would be placed on utility costs to minimize impacts on utility rates. However, the way that cap would be calculated was vague, and allowed considerable interpretation on the part of utilities and the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates them.

The $2 per watt rebate that was born out of the 2008 legislation spawned a new industry in Missouri.  Prior to its passage, there were only a few companies that offered solar installations, and the cost with no financial incentives had a 30-year payback.  Since the rebate (capped at $50,000 for 25 kilowatts) was put into place in 2010, the installed cost of solar has dropped by more than 50%.  Combined with the 30% federal tax credit (and benefits of accelerated depreciation for businesses) the net cost after incentives is a small fraction of the installed cost, with paybacks less than 2 years on commercial projects and 5-7 years on residential installations.  As a result, thousands of solar projects have been completed, creating hundreds of jobs in dozens of small but growing businesses despite the turbulent financial landscape. Continue reading

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2013 Gateway Getaway

BannerIt’s so nice to be on a team where all I have to do is show up.  Certainly there’s a little preparation that goes into pulling my biking and camping gear together, but it’s nice to be a part of a team that takes care of most of the other details.  Bryan Sechrist, the captain of Team Christner, coordinates with other key contributors to the team to create a comfortable experience for rest of us.  Friday night we had catered barbeque and three different home brews, plus the company of good people.

As it turns out, I didn’t ride with the team in any of the many team rides departing from The Hub in Webster Groves almost every Saturday morning.  The truth is, it was such a busy summer that I hardly rode at all to prep for “the big ride.”  Since my long-time riding partner Harold moved into the City, the geographic proximity we enjoyed all these years was no longer there, and so I found myself riding alone more often than not.  Which, for a people-person like me, is never as enjoyable as sharing a ride with a friend. Continue reading

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Celebrate Energy Awareness Month

You Have the PowerIn 2011, President Obama and the Department of Energy established October as National Energy Awareness Month.  Given the importance of energy to both our economy and environment, this month is a time to focus on how we’re using energy in our homes and businesses.

Many of us grew up in an era of inexpensive energy, where saving pennies by turning off lights seemed pointless.  We actually began designing buildings around artificial systems to light and comfort our surroundings, rather than the timeless practices of our ancestors that naturally harvested daylight, heat and ventilation.  We also developed more electric appliances to simplify even the simplest of tasks, from can openers to toothbrushes.  And we have remote controls for many of these so we don’t have to get up. Continue reading

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Healthy Ways to Clean Your Home

Cleaning SuppliesOur obsession with cleanliness has created a multi-billion dollar industry of a plethora of cleaning products for every surface.  Rather than using good old-fashioned “elbow grease,” we have a vast array of chemical solvents to ease our cleaning burden, but in the process we have unwittingly created a toxic condition in our homes.   We have been conned into believing that we need these harsh cleaners to clean and keep our homes safe, but in fact they are the leading cause of indoor air pollution.

Most people think that if it’s on the grocery store shelf, it has been tested and proven to be safe.  In fact, only about 30% of the roughly 17,000 chemicals used in common household products have been analyzed for their impact on human health.  As you can imagine, the combination of chemicals makes this undertaking exponentially more complex.  While most people know that mixing bleach and ammonia creates a toxic gas, how many other combinations create an unintended consequence? Continue reading

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