Living the Dream

DreamStreetTeamMartin Luther King Jr. had a dream that inspired millions, and contributed to an unprecedented era of social change.  His nonviolent stand against racial inequality moved people to take a stand for justice and truth.  He has been exalted and heralded as a martyr for his work.  In tribute to Dr. King, hundreds of cities across America renamed prominent streets after the man who gave his life to this cause.

Melvin White has a dream.  A middle-aged postal worker from St. Louis, he was disturbed by the increasing blight and decay of the street in St. Louis named after MLK.  When he noticed similar conditions in other cities with streets bearing King’s name, he felt compelled to do something to restore honor to the civil rights leader’s name. Continue reading

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Biophilia: Love of Life

Biophilic DesignThere is nothing like the natural beauty of nature.  Some of the most stunning photos or paintings are of natural objects; there is an instinctive bond between humans and nature.

Biophilia is the love of life.  In his 1984 book with that title, Edward O. Wilson originally defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”  This was a pioneering concept that put forth the notion that contact with nature is a critical element to human health.

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Stephen Kellert at the Missouri Botanical Garden on this subject.  A prolific author and researcher, Kellert wrote a book entitled Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life.  He talked about challenge of incorporating nature back into our built environment. Continue reading

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Bringing Conservation Home

StL AudubonWe’ve lived in our home for over 20 years, and have a relatively mature landscape that we’ve cultivated over that time.  Our now 50+ year-old home is blessed with two handsome pin oaks and a number of other mature trees, including a pair of pink and white dogwoods that offer spectacular spring blossoms.  We inherited little else besides a few bushes and the sun-loving zoysia grass that requires little mowing during the summer.

We recently participated in the St. Louis Audubon Society’s Bring Conservation Home program.  For a small fee, we had an on-site evaluation of our property to identify ways to more fully embrace a native landscape.  Mitch Leachman, who coordinates the program for the Audubon Society, visited our home a week into spring, so only the bravest of plants had emerged from our harsh winter. Continue reading

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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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