What Can We Learn from the Gulf Spill?

May 19, 2010

For the past three weeks, oil has been gushing out of a broken oil well at the bottom of the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.  Thousands upon thousands of barrels of oil have poured out of that un-capped well after an explosion that killed as many as a dozen and ultimately sank the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig owned by BP Oil Company. 

BP has promised to clean up the disaster, paying all costs and associated “legitimate” claims related to the loss, including over and above the $75 million liability limit imposed by U.S. law.  Members of Congress are already demanding confirmation of those promises, saying the American public has a right to know that the oil company will take care of this.

The oil company has now tried and failed at a couple of efforts to contain and manage the disaster.  They tried to lower a dome over the spill to stop the oil from spreading.  That failed when something like ice crystals formed as the boom was lowered towards the seabed.

They have tried to use booms to contain the spill and keep it from approaching the coastlines.  But tar balls are now showing up on beach areas off the coast of Alabama and other southeast United States locations.  Marine life is also being affected and we all know what that means: death and disease among vulnerable wildlife populations that have been coddled and cared for and lovingly protected from environmental abuse for decades are now at risk.

This past weekend, the oil company also attempted to attach another pipe to the free-flowing well at the bottom of the gulf.  They attempted on Saturday, but there was a shift in the platform beneath the water (at the exterior exit of the well) and they failed. 

There was word on Sunday that BP's efforts have succeeded: this will not cap the well, nor completely stop the leaking.  But it will siphon off a sizable percentage of the oil to a waiting vessel at the surface of the water, allowing the oil company to deal with that oil instead of spreading it on the water.  It's a small bit of good news, but it is all we have.

In the coming weeks, the oil company will probably be drilling a second well and while simultaneously attempting to cap the first one.  The cleanup has to get underway full swing.  The destruction of native habitats of sea life is going to continue and we're all going to want to go down to the Gulf, gather a few of these beautiful wild things and take them home.  We won't be able to, but we'll wish to take them home, clean their wings (and other parts) and nurture them back to health.

What we're learning in this scenario is that “worst case” can happen.  It can be horrifying and that writing a law that says “oh, yes, come drill in the healthy waters off our coast and if something bad happens, we'll only charge you XX dollars out of XXX,XXX,XXX dollars.”  That's what it's going to cost to clean up this mess.  That's the cost and threat of doing business with a high carbon footprint industry.  Because eventually, when they get this all cleaned up, we're still going to smell the oil in the air.  And it won't be pretty again, potentially for decades to come.


Cash for Clunkers

August 6, 2009

We’d like to bring your attention to a new government program that may only be in place for a very short time.  If you want to take advantage of the “Cash for Clunkers” program, you’ll need to hop on it quickly. 

The Car Allowance Rebate System, or “Cash for Clunkers” is one of the few federal stimulus programs that everyone seems to be onboard with.  It’s a federal program that will credit you up to $4,500 to trade in your old car for a more fuel-efficient model. 

There are some restrictions, but this wildly popular program has few downsides.  President Barack Obama says the program “has succeeded well beyond our expectations and all expectations.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood claims “this is the stimulus program that has worked better than any other stimulus program that was conceived.”

And like a lot of green programs, it works from a multitude of angles. 

When the recession began, the U.S. auto industry was already in trouble.   Gas prices, which had skyrocketed the year before, were making American-made cars unpopular.  Car sales, already flagging, dropped to almost immeasurable.   By pumping money into getting Americans to spend on cars, we get the economy moving and shrink our carbon footprint by getting gas-guzzling cars off the road and out of commission. 

The program was clipping along with sales so good that it appeared it would run out of money just as it was starting.  Its $1 billion budget was projected to run out, prompting the House of Representatives to vote last week to authorize another $2 billion. But in the Senate, Republican senators say they will block more funding, calling it a waste.  That would be unfortunate.  Because ”Cash for Clunkers” stood for stimulating the economy and putting more Americans in the drivers’ seat with a lower cost to our environment.


Wind Farm Project to Halt

July 14, 2009

The world’s largest wind farm this week became the wind farm that wasn’t.  Billionaire Oilman, T. Boone Pickens, who has generally championed the cause of energy independence for the United States and specifically promised to build the largest wind farm in the world this past week said he was putting his plans on hold because of the global recession with its tight credit markets and lower natural gas prices. 

You would think he’d want to build now with so many out of work and ready to pitch in.  With gas prices dropping once again, it might be the best time to buy materials which would have to be shipped in to the Texas Panhandle, where he planned to position the energy producing turbines.

But that credit crunch apparently is hitting even the wealthy.  Pickens could not find financing to pay for the transmission lines that would hook up his wind farm to the Texas grid to carry away the electricity produced in Pampa, Texas.

Meantime, offshore developers face a similar problem. They need to find customers to buy their power and must do so before they can get financing to build. The government just gave out leases for offshore production.  But those would-be “farmers” must also navigate the federal permit process, which hasn’t been tested so far.  Construction on even the most promising projects in Rhode Island, along with those in Delaware and New Jersey, won't begin for at least four years.

It all sounds pretty dismal, doesn’t it?  And on the surface, it’s a bit disappointing, but think of it in terms of where we were on this subject one year ago.  I think you’ll agree we’ve “come a long way baby” and we’re starting to get a handle on things.  

T. Boone Pickens and his blustery, bluffing pals put wind farms back on the horizon.  They moved up the public discussion about the projects.  The Obama administration favors such production and we now know that we have to start moving towards greater energy efficiency, domestic production and cleaner, most environmentally friendly production.  We’re heading that direction with a strong tailwind behind us. 

"We've got more wind than anybody else in the world, just like they have more oil," Pickens said at the time. "I think that's the future of this country."

We know we’ve got to get on it.  We still hope for the best, but the economic wind needs to pick up.


Need New Light Bulbs? Get CFLs!

June 18, 2009

When you arrived at work this morning and flipped on the light, which kind of bulb as it?  A lovely, energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulb or “CFL?”  Or was it one of those round, older, energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs?

I hope it was one of the newer ones for your sake as well as for the rest of us. I was reading online this weekend when I saw the most amazing and horrifying statistic: only 20 percent of light bulbs being purchased are the new style that save as much as 75% less energy and last ten times longer than the old style bulbs.

Wow, I thought, who is buying those energy-thieving bulbs?  Who is cheating themselves and writing a carbon-creating check that our earth can not continue to pay?  I don’t know.  I just can’t imagine.

Energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs will pay for themselves within one year of their purchase, according to most experts.  They do cost a little more, but the savings realized both for the buyer and in terms of lessening the carbon footprint caused by all of us is so great that we can no longer afford not to buy them.

For the last 6 to 12 months as this recession has unfolded, I have thought perhaps the bulbs weren’t being used as often as possible because of hard economic times.  I mean, if you’re having a hard time making this month’s payroll, you can’t expect to “reap the financial reward” of a light bulb paying for itself in a year if your company goes under in that time.  So I understand not replacing old, still operating bulbs for many companies. 

And its hard for me to suggest getting rid of something before its time.  Before it’s fully used up or broken.  I hate the wastefulness of doing that.  But it’s time to get rid of those old light bulbs.  Maybe for some struggling businesses, that switch should wait. 

Homeowners, though, are another story.  I was at the home of some financially strapped friends last week.  They have lost their home and are suffering through bankruptcy at the moment.  But every one of their light bulbs is a CFL bulb.  They are cutting their costs as quickly as possible. They are working on it.

So if you can possibly afford to replace those old incandescent bulbs, get on it.  Go get those bulbs.  They will pay for themselves.  Because 20% is just not enough.  We need to start flipping that number around, so that 80% of light bulbs sold are CFL and 20% are incandescent bulbs.  And then 15%.  And then 10%.  And then… we’ll find that CFL bulbs have shown the way to Greenification.


Painting your roof tops White?!

May 27, 2009

Yes, you read the title of this blog correct. White roof tops was a topic of conversation in London yesterday at a climate change symposium. In an effort to Greenify our nation, one of the outcomes of this symposium is that the Obama administration wants homeowners to paint their roofs an energy-reflecting white color.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu represented the United States at this London event. He also indicated that light-colored (or "cool-coloured") pavement and cars could also mean energy savings for our country.

Click here to read more about how the US wants to paint the World White, and the positive environmental effects these actions may have, in Tuesday's blog post on Yahoo Green.


America the Beautiful; Americans the Energy Conservationists!

April 24, 2009

I just finished driving across country from the East Coast to the West Coast, which I have done several times before.  Every time I do this, I notice something different.  This time, what struck me was the growth of alternative energy sources around the country.  We’re looking for alternative energy and it seemed to me, the answer is blowing in the wind.

I am accustomed to seeing the huge turbines in the desert surrounding Palm Springs.  They sometimes are turning but many of them are stilled and I’ve always wondered whether they are still due to lack of wind or lack of interest in making them provide clean energy to operate our cities?

I took a different route this time and saw wind farms where I had never seen them before including the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center.  This energy farm in Texas is the world’s largest energy producing wind farm with 735.5 megawatt capacity.  Texas is the state with the most wind farms in operation as well as the most farms under construction. 

I also saw wind farms in operation in Iowa when I was there last summer.  Minnesota and Oregon both also have large numbers of farms.

But the sight of these gentle-looking giants slowly turning, looking as though they will spring loose and roll away with the wind driving them always makes me wonder why we don’t have more of these?

The government has been pouring resources into renewable energy sources.  There is support for these programs and interest in them. Americans have said in surveys that they will pay more for green products.  This is one that ought to be supported.

Taking a coast-to-coast road trip is actually a fairly resource-intensive undertaking.  But my plans necessitated it, and I hoped some good would come it.  So thanks for letting me share these hopeful views of our country.  We can Greenify together, and we need to find answers.  This past week, I saw that process getting underway. 


A Greener View: Energy Efficient Windows

April 9, 2009

As a home or business owner, this year may be one of the toughest years you’ve ever faced.  You’d like to do something more to Greenify, but how can you spend money that you may need to pay bills and keep the business afloat?
 
You might want to look outside your four walls and consider new windows.
Thanks to the stimulus bill, homeowners can now claim a tax credit of up to $1,500 for new, energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights.  For businesses, it can be an asset to the business that will be quickly cost effective.  

This website, http://www.efficientwindows.org/ is sponsored by the government to provide information for homeowners who are trying to decide whether they can afford to make this commitment to energy savings this year, in this difficult economy. 
Who wouldn’t like to have fresh new windows to look out of or maybe a skylight overhead that brightens the day and allows you to fully enjoy a pounding rainstorm when it rumbles through? 

Whether we’re talking about adding double paned windows, tinted and treated glass, or skylights that eliminate the need for electrical lighting through a major portion of the day, these windows are increasingly valuable in the workplace and at home. 

The tax credit related to the current stimulus is to cover 30% of the cost of energy efficient windows, doors and skylights purchased and installed in 2009 to 2010.  The maximum amount covered, as previously mentioned, is $1500.  But even without the tax credit, these windows can save their owners hundreds of dollars every year in energy costs, whether it’s on heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. 

The website’s factsheet contains information and estimates about the cost savings in multiple areas of the country for your convenience.   Another factsheet details how to qualify for the tax credit.

Spending the money and upgrading to new energy efficient windows may also help Greenify the economy, since the stimulus is designed to work better if we all spend a little extra.  Wouldn’t it be great if we spent the money to buy something that could help cut down our carbon footprint and benefit everyone in more ways than one? 


Green Business Water Watch!

April 2, 2009

By now, most of us have switched out the old fashioned fluorescent bulbs in favor of those new, high efficiency light bulbs.  They’re in our offices.  They’re in our homes.  Those bulbs will return the money invested in a mere matter of months and they’re part of our plan to Greenify our businesses in a very cost effective way during this recession, right? 

How about if you take a similar step… in the bathroom?   A similar policy, applied to bathroom faucets will see a return in dollars even faster. 

"The flow rate on most bathroom faucets is 2.2 gallons per minute” says Tommy Linstroth, director of sustainability for Melavar, a sustainable real-estate develop,pment company based in Savannah, GA.  “That’s the same amount of water you use to take a shower. It's a ridiculous and unnecessary overuse."

Melavar is now replacing all of its bathroom faucet aerators -- which control water flow – with versions that flow at a rate of 0.5 gallon per minute, although you can get aerators in a variety of flow rates.  The average aerator will cost $2 to $3 and it gets screwed right on to the faucet, making them as easy to change as a light bulb.

Or, think of it the way Linstroth did. 

"For $3 per faucet, we curtailed our water use by 50 to 75 percent. If every employee washes their hands three times a day, that's a substantial amount of water savings over a year," he says. "This is a no-brainer."

How much money can your company save and how much greener can your company become with just a twist of your wrist?   Think about that the next time your water bill arrives! 


State of the Union: Going Forward to Greenify

March 3, 2009

If you heard the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama this past week, then you heard him talking about moving forward on alternative energy to get Americans away from fossil fuels and on to something that relies less on foreign sources.  He says he believes it’s within our reach and that investing in it now will pay off big benefits in the long-term.

And as for his budget, President Obama's budget proposal would repeal several oil industry tax incentives while imposing new taxes on Gulf of Mexico producers to close "loopholes" that have allowed companies to avoid royalty payments.  In fact, those “loopholes” would bring in $31.5 billion in additional funds and taxes to tax coffers.

These proposals are sure to be fought over by Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill and the fighting over this budget is expected to go on for months. 

But in the meantime, companies starved for work for their engineers, designers, dreamers and other American workers will be focused on the possibilities of alternative fuel sources.  They’ll be looking for ways to attract investment dollars, define themselves as alternative energy producers, and getting government interest in those projects.  (If you look on the internet, there are already predictions of which companies will be first with success in the alternative energy areas. Investors are circling.)

The economy is bleak and barren looking for the moment, but maybe this is the way to find our way back to greener pastures: by looking for a Greenified future that’s more focused on energy supplies that we all hope will leave smaller carbon footprints. 


Greenify by Cashing Out a Clunker?

January 29, 2009

A measure introduced this past week by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) would establish a national voucher program to encourage drivers to trade in older, less fuel efficient cars, trucks or SUVs for a more fuel efficient vehicle.

It’s billed as the “Cash for Clunkers” program.  It would give drivers a credit of between $2,500 and $4,500 to turn in fuel-inefficient vehicles to be scrapped, and purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle. The traded-in vehicles would have to be drivable, have a fuel economy of no more than 18 miles per gallon, and have been registered for at least the past 120 days. Vouchers could also be redeemed for transit fares for participating local public transportation agencies. The program would operate for four years, from 2009 – 2012, and is expected to encourage the early retirement of up to one million vehicles per year.

This is Congress’ attempt at encouraging drivers to trade in less fuel efficient vehicles in a tough economic client. 

“If enacted, this bill would be an important part of helping getting America’s struggling automobile industry back on its feet – and help consumers who are concerned about covering the cost of buying a more fuel efficient vehicle,” said Senator Feinstein.

The bill would also…

  • Save an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 barrels per day of motor fuel by the end of the fourth year.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 6.6 million metric tons to 7.6 million metric tons, or the equivalent of removing 1.1 million to 2.2 million vehicles from the road in one year, (based on an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 vouchers issued per year).
  • Reduce nitrogen oxides, which cause ground-level ozone (a leading cause of respiratory health problems, like asthma), by 3,043 short tons (2,761 metric tons) by 2013, (based on an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 vouchers issued per year).

The senators hope this will compliment a new fuel economy law, which if passed, will raise average fuel economy standards for America’s fleet of vehicles by at least 10 miles per gallon over 10 years or from 25 to at least 35 mpg by the year 2020.


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