Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scientists: Smart Meters Are Safe

Image credit: Fort Frances Times Online

Smart Meters are crucial to fighting climate change because they are the first step in implementing the Smart Grid, which promises to make it easier for households to become more energy efficient and also integrate clean energy sources into their residential electricity system.

That is why it is a relief that, unlike cell phones, there is no cause for concern with the radiofrequency (RF) radiation of Smart Meters. That’s because the wireless devices produce an infrequent and incredibly weak RF field, according to scientists interviewed by Green SoCal. Essentially they are computers that automatically send real-time information to the utility allowing homeowners to electronically manage their energy usage.

The meters not only exceed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) safety standards, but the mainstream scientific groups including the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, Health Canada and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention all say that low-intensity RF is safe.

Green SoCal interviewed two experts in the area of radiation about the risks associated with Smart Meters. They were: 

-- Richard Tell, who has 38 years of experience working on issues related to RF hazards, including stints at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where he served as Chief of the Electromagnetics Branch and helped develop public exposure standards for RF fields;

-- and Dr. Jerold T. Bushberg, Clinical Professor of Radiology and Radiation Oncology at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, and a member of the main scientific council of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP) as well as its Scientific Advisory Committee on Radiation Protection in Medicine.

Tell says that Smart Meters are so low powered that they operate in FCC license free bands, meaning they are deemed very unlikely to cause interference because they use an ultra high frequency of 900 mhz and one watt or less of power.

“They transmit very infrequently in terms of percentage of times of day. As an example, they may only transmit a few seconds in a day,” Tell explained. “If you look at the intensity of the field produced by transmitters, the RF fields are quite low in comparison to applicable safety standards for human exposure.”

Both Tell and Bushberg believe the current FCC standards are adequate. But Bushberg says the agency goes even a step further by requiring every meter to go through a stringent certification test to meet FCC rules.

“The evidence with low exposure to smart meters is very reassuring and the standards are adequate,” said Bushberg. However, he did caution that no legitimate scientist will ever say that any chemical agent is 100% safe, and that there are still things the scientific community would like to know and that further tests are warranted.

He said there is a latency period between exposure to a carcinogen such as radiation, and cancer. This period varies depending on the strength of the carcinogen and the type of cancer. That is why he advocates for epidemiology studies on populations that are occupationally exposed to high levels of radiation, such as plastics workers and cell tower climbers.

 “Of all the exposures of RF energy, Smart Meters would be very low and relatively easy to avoid,” said Bushberg.

Both Tell and Bushberg say that RF intensity inside the home is very low because as you back off only a few feet from the meter the intensity drops off dramatically. Also, meters transmit their signals out away from the homes they are mounted on, not towards the house. And finally, building materials and walls reduce the intensity of the already weak signal.

But what about people who claim they suffer from something called electrohypersensitivity, a condition that causes insomnia, split second head aches, high pitched ringing in the ears and nausea.

“I don’t understand how the RF fields produced by the Smart Meters (could) have caused any effects in these people. What I’m saying is that the strength produced by Smart Meters is so feeble in comparison to any health side effects of it. It’s not plausible,” said Tell.

And what about mesh networks and many meters in close proximity in an apartment complex. Wouldn’t that increase the intensity? No, says Tell, because the RF fields are linear so if you are close up to them you will only be exposed to the meter right in front of you. And if you back up a long distance from the meters, the RF is so weakened by the point it reaches you that it is harmless.

There are also some people who advocate for fiber optics instead of the wireless Smart Meter. According to Tell, this approach is not realistic because it is infinitely more expensive to have a wired connection to each home that wants one. And he says if people are really concerned about being exposed to radiation by a wireless Smart Meter, then the alternative of sending signals over a power line by a carrier current will have the unintended consequences of creating RF concerns near the power line and on the wires that go into your house.

The Obama Administration allocated $3.4 billion in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to jumpstart the installation of Smart Meters in every home as the first step in the National Smart Grid that will enhance energy efficiency and make  widespread adoption of renewable energy easier.

“This investment will place Smart Meters in homes to make our energy bills lower, make outages less likely and make it easier to use clean energy,” President Barack Obama said on February 17, 2009 after signing the bill into law.

Nearly two years later the consumer-level technology is rapidly being installed across the country by utility companies – there are ten million already installed in the United States and two million in California alone. Not to mention the 27 million Smart Meters already installed in Italy and nearly one million in Canada. And the United Kingdom has mandated that all homes have Smart Meters by 2020.

Other benefits of Smart Meters include remote meter reading, which takes carbon-emitting utility vehicles off the roads; the ability to pinpoint power outages, which improves response time; the ability to instantly shut off power if there is a house fire; the ability of families to monitor their energy usage online, potentially reducing consumption and saving money on electric bills; and more accurate readings than older meters.

“Smart Meters can’t help but enhance the reliability of the current system because utilities can know in real time what is going on in terms of loads. There are other people arguing that it’s big brother spying on me now. I would say that it’s really helpful for the utilities to better manage the grid itself to help better manage brownouts and blackouts,” said Tell.

Monday, December 20, 2010

California to Congress: If you won't pass cap-and-trade then we will!

The great state of California again has taken the lead on fighting climate change and pollution, creating new jobs, and speeding up the sustainable economy by approving the nation's biggest cap and trade plan. In doing so, they have accomplished something that the tools in Congress, whose pockets are padded by Big Oil and Big Coal's dirty money (see West Virginia Representative Joe Manchin shooting at cap and trade legislation in a campaign ad) will never have the willpower and moral fortitude to pass.

On December 16th, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted 9-1 to create the biggest carbon market in the country. Click here for the full story as first reported in The New York Times.

Government Gets Cool

Can the Federal Government be cool? While the image of a nebbish bureaucrat slaving away in a soulless, fluorescent-lit warehouse will probably never go away, the Department of Energy has done a whole lot to change its image and help the environment by installing a "Cool Roof."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently oversaw the installation of light-colored materials on the roof of the DOE Headquarters West Building (the South Building's cool roof will be installed this spring). The 25,000 square foot roofing system will reflect heat and absorb less solar energy than a traditional roof, thereby decreasing energy use for cooling and removing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

The two new roofing systems are expected to save taxpayers $8,000 in energy costs. Here is a video of Chu talking about the Cool Roof installation and why it's important.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ralliers to Obama: Keep Your Climate Pledge

Yesterday at noon a diverse coalition of climate hawks held a rally at Lafayette Park across from the White House to demand that President Obama keep his pledge to help the poorest nations deal with climate change.

The event, which was sponsored by 1Sky, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth and Jubilee USA Network, featured speakers including 1Sky Campaign Director Liz Butler, National Religious Coalition on Creation Care Chair Rabbi Warren Stone, and Dr. Mahmud Farooque of the Bangladeshi Environmental Network. There was also a live report by phone from Cancun with an update on the climate talks progress.

Below are pictures and video from the event. The videos are of Stone and Farooque speaking. After the speakers, there was a brief peaceful march on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. People chanted "Climate Action Now!" and held up signs that read "Obama: Be a Climate Leader."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Norman Mineta: U.S. Needs High-Speed Rail

In a video interview with the website The Railist, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta touted the economic benefits of bullet trains and warned that the United States is rapidly falling behind other nations in developing a high-speed rail infrastructure.

Here is the video:

Video: Building the Chevy Volt

Video of the new plug-in electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt being built from start to finish at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant in Michigan, United States of America.

And today General Motors announced they are adding 1,000 jobs in electric vehicle development. These will be engineers and researchers based in Michigan who will help develop hybrids into electric vehicles with extended range, like the Chevy Volt.

And it has been a good week for GM on the awards front, as the Volt was named 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

L.A. County Bans Plastic Bags

In a victory for people, the planet, our oceans, turtles and other marine life, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday voted to enact one of the nation's most aggressive bans on plastic bags. The ban covers all unincorporated areas of L.A. County -- an area with over one million residents -- and applies to grocery and convenient stores. An exception will be made for plastic bags carrying vegetables or raw meat so they aren't contaminated by touching other groceries.

More news headlines:

L.A., Cleveland, Muncie, 13 other U.S. areas violate new lead standard, EPA says
Sixteen areas, including Los Angeles, Tampa and Cleveland, have unhealthful amounts of lead in the air that violate national standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.

Orange County hits pay dirt with clean-tech industry
The area is attracting many companies focusing on green energy and transportation. It already boasts about 300 such firms with 20,000 jobs, business groups say.

Ballpark, apartments win governor’s award
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday praised Petco Park and the Los Vecinos apartment complex in Chula Vista for having voluntarily made “extraordinary contributions to California’s environment and economy.”

San Diego recycling rate jumps again
San Diego has hit a new high-water mark for recycling — 66 percent of the waste stream in 2009 — according numbers released Monday by the city.

Wilshire Bus Lane Battle on the Horizon?
The planned Wilshire bus-only lanes, which stretch 8.7 miles along from Westlake to West LA (but skips Beverly Hills), made a leap forward on Monday when Metro released its staff recommendations for the rush-hour lanes. Metro's board will vote on the plan on December 9th, with hopes of moving the $31 million project to a 2012 opening--it's intended to shave around 15 minutes off a crosstown commute and get 10 percent of drivers to switch to the bus. Well, like most transit projects here, this is one is not without controversy.

Death on Gold Line platform began as shopping trip
Betty Sugiyama, 84, had taken up shopping since she retired from a career in Little Tokyo bookstores, her sister Mary says. Then a stranger shoved her onto the train tracks.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rally To Restore Sanity: The Best Signs

Some of the smartest and most creative signs I've ever seen were displayed by the hundreds of thousands ralliers who gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert's much-hyped Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive.

It was inspiring to see so many people come out for a day of music, comedy and an impassioned plea by a serious Stewart at the end of the event for civility and, well, sanity in these economically uncertain and politically polarized times.

Hopefully all the young people at the rally will go out and vote on November 2nd to keep America moving forward.

Please consider giving a donation to the official non-profit for the Rally to Restore Sanity -- The Trust for the National Mall, which works to restore and improve America's long-neglected front lawn. Please click here for the link to donate.

And here are the pictures:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Metro Board Approves Westside Subway Route

In a unanimous 10-0 vote with one abstention, the Metro Board of Directors today voted to approve extending the Purple Line subway from its current terminus at Wilshire/Western to the VA Hospital in Westwood, just off the 405 freeway.

According to Metro's The Source blog, the 9.5 mile underground heavy rail route would take about 25 minutes to travel from downtown to the VA Hospital, cutting travel time in half from a typical bus or car drive from the biggest job center in L.A. County (downtown) to the second-biggest job center (the Westside).

Now it gets tricky because the placement of each stop must be approved next and there could be a nasty legal battle on hand from Beverly Hills residents if the alternative Constellation and Avenue of the Stars route is chosen over Santa Monica Boulevard. It would take the station closer to the heart of Century City but also tunnel under homes and a school. Metro and other subway experts have argued that tunneling under homes and schools is 100% safe and has been done successfully already in Los Angeles and countless other cities with virtually no problems and minimum disruption to residents and students.

The Board also approved a route for the Downtown Regional Connector which will create seamless transfers between the different train lines that run through downtown.

More from The Source:

"The Westside Subway Extension is among a dozen transit projects to be funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in Nov. 2008. Without the $4.2 billion provided by Measure R, the subway extension would not be possible.

The Board also voted to launch a final environmental study and preliminary engineering of the project, which will take place over the next year. The target date for the beginning of construction is 2013. Metro hopes that selecting a route will help secure federal New Starts money to help build the project in next year’s federal budget. The estimated cost of the project in 2009 dollars is about $4.36 billion, but it will likely cost more depending on the year built and inflation.

The opening date of the project depends on different funding scenarios.

With a mix of Measure R funds and New Starts dollars, Metro plans to open the subway in three phases: to Fairfax Avenue in 2019, Century City in 2026 and Westwood in 2036.

If additional federal loans and other financing can be obtained — a plan called the 30/10 Initiative to speed the construction of Measure R projects — the entire subway would be built at once and would open to Westwood in 2022. It remains to be seen whether segments could be opened earlier."

Here is the map of the route provided by The Source. Click on it for a larger version:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why Are Nordic People So Happy?

Perhaps one explanation is that Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark are all rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy so their citizens can breathe clean air and know they are playing an important role in dealing with the climate crisis.

At least that was one possible reason given at a recent panel discussion at the Capitol Visitor Center hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Nordic Council titled "Shaping a Low-Carbon World: Lessons From Nordic Countries."

The panelists included Fridtjof Unander, Director of Energy and Petroleum, Research Council Norway; Jes Brinchmann Christensen, Managing Director, Danish Board of District Heating (DBDH); Mikael M√∂ller, Head of Industrial Policy, Swedish Plastics and Chemicals Federation; Pekka Sauri, Deputy Mayor, City of Helsinki, Finland; and Gudni A. J√≥hannesson, Director General, National Energy Authority of Iceland.

Moderator Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, provided the following facts about each country:
  • Sweden -- Was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a tax on carbon dioxide in 1981 and it applies to both households and industry. Sweden has a vision to be carbon neutral by 2050. They are really focusing on the transportation sector with the goal of increasing the share of renewables to 10% by 2020 and have a car fleet that is independent of fossil fuels by 2030.
  • Finland -- One of its primary sources of renewable energy include bioenergy like wood and wood-based fuels as well as hydropower, ground heat and solar energy. Its goal is to increase its share of renewables to 38% by 2020 and aims to cut its emissions by at least 80% from the 1990 level by 2050.
  • Norway -- It is the sixth largest hydropower producer and is going to overfulfill its commitment under the Kyoto Treaty by 10% by cutting 30% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990s by 2020. Norway aims to be carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Denmark -- Known for its wind power, today Denmark is energy independent and between a quarter and 30% of its electricity comes from wind.
  • Iceland -- Gets 82% of its energy needs from domestic renewable sources. It is known for its geothermal energy. Today about 97% of households in Iceland have access to geothermal district heating.
Here is video of the full presentation:

Shaping a Low-Carbon World: Lessons from Nordic Countries from Laura Parsons on Vimeo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

'Inside' the Economic Meltdown

The villains are many and the heroes few in Director Charles Ferguson's examination of the events that led up to the 2008 financial crisis that still resonates to this day in foreclosed homes, lost retirement savings and the most painful global recession in decades.

"Inside Job" points the blame at the big players in Washington and Wall Street for placing a rigid free-market, deregulation economic ideology above common sense policy decisions and for failing to recognize the many warning signs that the credit default swaps, subprime mortgages, derivatives, etc... would all come crashing down like too many cocaine binges by Wall Street big shots.

The greedy, narcissistic culture on Wall Street was allowed to swindle the American people because of back-bending politicians in Washington greased by Wall Street money. Many of these leaders in the White House, Congress and regulatory agencies were either former Wall Street execs themselves or had strong ties to the financial services industry.

The victims, as usual, are the working class and middle class all over the world.

Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Henry Paulsen, Ben Bernanke. The list goes on and on. And yes, President Obama is called out for speaking tough on Wall Street but then appointing Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Summers as an economic advisor (although the documentary fails to mention that Paul Volcker is an economic advisor and Elizabeth Warren has been appointed as an advisor to the new Consumer Protection Agency housed in the Federal Reserve -- both pro-regulation consumer advocates.)

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the film is its examination of how the financial services industry has hijacked academia through big money and high-profile faculty who espouse the free-market, anti-regulation philosophy that puts Wall Street profits above all else.

Here is the trailer:

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Better Alternative to AAA

AAA has been getting a lot of bad publicity lately regarding its negative stance towards bicycle lanes. Recently the American Automobile Association argued that the new Pennsylvania Avenue bicycle lanes will increase congestion, even though the District of Columbia Department of Transportation's modeling has predicted the bike lanes will actually reduce traffic congestion.

But thankfully there is a greener alternative to AAA and it is called the Better World Club, which labels itself as "America's environmentally friendly auto club."

While they don't yet offer the major discounts for Amtrak and vacation spots that AAA offers, they do offer roadside bicycle assistance, something AAA would never dream about offering in their car-first thinking.

And Better World has special rates for eco-friendly cars such as hybrids, electric and biofuel vehicles. Here is more info from their website:

"BWC has benefits that you won't find anywhere else. We aren't a member of the Highway Lobby. We donate 1% of Gross Revenue to the environment, and provides a free carbon offset to insurance clients. We discount membership fees for hybrid drivers... AND we have the only nationwide bicycle roadside assistance!"

Of course BWC has a long way to go to even begin to compete with AAA -- 20,000 members as of 2006 versus 53 million members of AAA. But as people demand more bike-friendly communities this number is poised to grow if AAA continues to disrespect bicycling as a commuting option.

And the list of partners is growing as well. BWC currently partners with Adventure Cycling Association, Car Talk, League of American Bicyclists, National Wildlife Federation, Organic Consumers Association, Washington Area Bicycle Association, and Working Assets.

Making Pedestrian Crosswalks Safer

A virtual raised crosswalk in Sweden.
At one time or another we are all "pedestrians" or "drivers" or "bikers" or "passengers." And we most likely at one time or another have either been stuck in city traffic and blocked a crosswalk because we couldn't make it completely through the intersection. And we also have probably been on the other side as a pedestrian trying to cross the street only to have a vehicle blocking our way.

It is an awkward and frustrating experience for both the driver and the pedestrians. But what to do about it?

Well, as in a lot of other innovative ideas, the answer could come from across the pond. Many European cities have been experimenting with traffic calming measures including raised pedestrian crosswalks.

Raised crossings slow down motor vehicle traffic and increase pedestrian visibility.

Another idea being implemented in some places is LED lighting, or in-pavement lighting (pictured below). When pedestrians are walking across the street the pavement lights turn on, adding an extra visible warning to drivers that pedestrians are about to cross the street.

Raised pedestrian crosswalks, in-pavement lighting and other safety measures when implemented will make it easier for both pedestrians and drivers and hopefully reduce the annoying circumstances of cars blocking crosswalks in rush hour traffic.

Green SoCal Headlines: Crenshaw Light Rail Project Gets Funding

L.A.’s 30/10 Plan Advances Suddenly with a $546 Million Loan for the Crenshaw Light Rail Project
Summary: Federal commitment will move project forward, increasing prospects for Mayor Villaraigosa’s massive 30/10 transit plan. This could be a model for other cities, though the availability of more financing is unclear.

UCSD snags climate award
Summary: University of California San Diego officials won a national award for their ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions, trim water use and reduce waste during the next 10-15 years.

California Tops ACEEE State Rankings for a Fourth Year
Summary: California again leads the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's annual list of the states that do the most to advance energy efficiency, but Massachusetts is closing in on the Golden State and its four-year claim to the top spot.

California braced for Big Oil pushback
Summary: Defenders of California's global warming law are bracing for a last-minute spending blitz from oil companies determined to nix one of the state's premier green crusades come Election Day. But the big money may not come.

Stepping Up Against Prop 23: James Cameron
Summary: Up to now, Hollywood's contribution to the No on 23 campaign, fighting a rollback in California's global warming law, has been scant. But director James Cameron chipped in $1 million on Friday.

He puts parking in its place
Summary: UCLA professor Donald Shoup, hailed as the 'prophet of parking,' believes free or inexpensive space for cars is at the root of many an urban ill: congestion, sprawl, wasteful energy use, air pollution.

IKEA, McDonald’s Add Solar Panels in CA
Summary: Bolstering California’s credibility as a leading state in solar power, IKEA has plans to install solar energy panels on eight of its California locations, while McDonald’s has installed solar panels at its restaurant in Riverside as part of its quest for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

EPA's "environmental justice" tour comes to California
Summary: Environmental justice, a movement to focus attention on pollution in low-income communities, is a burning cause for Lisa Jackson, the first African American to head the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. Over the last several months, Jackson has toured poor white, black and Latino communities with a message: Eco-issues aren't just for rich folks.

Environmental Media Association Awards Honor Green Hollywood
Summary: When it comes to "green" in Hollywood these days, it's not just about cash. Actors, producers, directors, and other industry folk are interested in furthering efforts to improve the environment, and work to make their productions, from content to practice, more eco-friendly.

Solar Hero Dr. Hermann Scheer Dies
Summary: Hermann Scheer was able to see beyond the energy status quo and envisage a different energy future. A Social Democrat member of the German parliament since 1980, Scheer was instrumental in introducing Germany’s solar roof programmes and Renewable Energy Law (which included the feed-in tariff).

Big Oil goes to college: a conflict of interest?
Summary: Have hundreds of millions of dollars in grants from major oil companies compromised the ethics of energy research at such institutions as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beverly Hills Residents Rally to Keep Fear Alive

Many Beverly Hills residents want Century City commuters to walk farther to their subway station because they don't want Metro to tunnel under Beverly Hills homes and Beverly Hills High School.
You would think Beverly Hills, California residents would take a measured and educated approach to the Westside Subway Extension that will be built through their city. But at a recent Metro hearing in B.H., reason gave way to fear-mongering about the "children" at Beverly Hills High School and the homeowners who would live above an underground subway if the alternative Constellation routes are chosen over the Santa Monica Boulevard route.

These residents are ignorantly and selfishly putting their own needs above the greater L.A. community that desperately needs better public transit. The Constellation Avenue options would bring the station closer to the heart of Century City and thereby encourage more of the thousands of office workers to commute to work by train instead of driving.

And it would make it easier for the thousands of low-wage workers who commute from the Eastside to get to their destinations in Century City. That is something these Beverly Hills residents, with their two or three luxury cars in their driveways, don't have to worry about.

But what is the real motivation behind not wanting to tunnel under Beverly Hills High School? Is it the danger of the oil wells underneath the school contaminating the facilities? I don't think so because according to Wikipedia the oil has potentially already done much damage:

"Beverly gained more notoriety when Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry announced having filed three lawsuits in 2003 and 2004 on behalf of 25, 400, and 300 (respectively) former students who attended Beverly from the 1970s until the 1990s. In April 2003, the Texas-based lawfirm of Baron & Budd partnered with the law office of Masry & Vititoe to lend its expertise in lawsuits related to health risks of volatile chemicals. The number of actual cancer claims filed in Santa Monica was ninety-four.

The lawsuits claimed that toxic fumes from the oil wells caused the former students to develop cancer. The oil wells are very close to all of Beverly's sports facilities, including the soccer field, the football field, and the racetrack. Beverly students—not just athletes but students taking required physical education classes from the 1970s until the 1990s—were required to run near the oil wells."

While the lawsuits were dismissed, it did much to tarnish the high school's reputation.

So perhaps Beverly Hills High School should be moved altogether. But wait a minute. Could the school be making a lot of money from these oil wells on their property that are pumping out 400 to 500 barrels a day? Bingo! From a 2006 ABC News Report:

"A part of what makes the school so affluent is the oil tower that casts a shadow over the football field. The school receives royalties from the well that go directly to the general fund.

'We get about $300,000 a year that goes into the general fund, which supports student programs,' Stepenosky said. 'About 85 percent of the teachers' salaries comes from the general fund as well.'"

So maybe it isn't about the health and well-being of the "children." Maybe it is about that $300,000 a year the high school gets from the toxic oil wells under the ground.

But what are the examples of subway lines underneath homes and schools that many B.H. residents so conveniently dismiss in their relentless anti-Metro media campaign?

Here is one example of the reality that it is perfectly safe to build a subway underneath homes, schools, businesses and yes, even hospitals.

The Foggy Bottom Metro Station in Washington, D.C. is located directly underneath George Washington University Hospital.

Here is the station entrance with the hospital just to the right:

And a picture of the station:

Friday, October 8, 2010

What is District Energy?

That is a question many Americans will have in the coming months as Congress begins to take up legislation that will attempt to put our renewable thermal needs on par with our renewable electricity needs -- something that has been going on for decades in countries like Denmark.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute recently held a panel discussion with industry leaders on Capitol Hill to talk about what exactly is District Energy and Combined Heat and Power and why it is so crucial to meeting our energy needs in a sustainable way.

The event, titled "How We Can Tap Renewable Thermal Energy and Waste Heat," featured speakers including International District Energy Association President Rob Thornton, District Energy St. Paul President and CEO Ken Smith, International District Energy Association Legislative Director Mark Spurr and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Associate Director of Research Neil Elliot.

Here are some notable quotes from the event followed by the full video of the presentation.

Rob Thornton:

"District cooling takes the bad cholesterol out of buildings."

"By taking energy out of buildings you increase the value of those buildings."

"Those energy dollars are recirculated in the economy."

"130 years ago District Energy was started in the U.S. as an emission control strategy. It was the first air quality strategy in the country."

"In the U.S. two-thirds of fuel is wasted. We only use 9% with Combined Heat and Power. Denmark uses over 60% with CHP."

"97% of Copenhagen is on District Heating. There is a wholesale heat grid in Denmark. They don't waste heat, they use it. Denmark has an energy surplus of $5.5. billion, their energy efficiency is up 4%, their fuel consumption is down 17% and their GDP is up 78%."

Ken Smith:

"St. Paul is the largest hot water district energy system in the U.S."

"Our thermal storage wood-fired CHP plant in downtown St. Paul serves 85% of downtown businesses."

"We are at 70% renewable with a goal of 100% renewable."

"Waste heat is a tremendous opportunity."

"Our plan is for the largest solar thermal integration in the Midwest. It will be the first project of its kind in the U.S."

Mark Spurr:

"The goal of the Thermal Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act of 2010 is to stimulate investments in low-carbon thermal energy infrastructure by focusing on the use of renewable energy to supply heating and cooling."

"Provisions include a renewable thermal production tax credit, tax-exempt bonding and energy sustainability grants for institutions."

Neil Elliot:

"One-third of energy goes to thermal, not electricity."

"These are opportunity fuels -- wood, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and solar thermal."

"People know kilowatts, they don't know the value of thermal energy."

"In terms of environmental regulations, we treat thermal different than power. Thermal energy isn't valued."

"This legislation puts value on thermal energy. The bill begins an important step forward."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

X Prize Spotlights Super Fuel-Efficient Cars

Recently the X Prize Foundation and Progressive Automotive Insurance handed out $10 million in prize money to three teams that demonstrated the most super fuel-efficient vehicles that exceed 100 MPGe (Miles per Gallon or Energy Equivalent) -- a new way to compare the efficiency of gasoline to electric and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Here are descriptions of the winners from the official press release:

$5 Million Mainstream Class Winner:

Edison2 “Very Light Car #98” (Charlottesville, VA)
Economy: 102.5 MPGe
Fuel: E85 ethanol
Boasting the lowest drag coefficient of any car with four wheels tested in the GM wind tunnel and at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, this vehicle demonstrated over 100 MPGe on the test track, and verified in the lab, under stringent testing conditions using a highly innovative small displacement engine. Its low weight of just 830 pounds is a tribute to its use of light weight materials, reduced engine displacement and a host of other weight-saving innovations.

$2.5 Million Alternative Side-by-Side Class Winner:

Li-ion Motors Corp “Wave II” (Mooresville, NC)
Economy: 187 MPGe
Fuel: Battery Electric
This side-by-side two-seat battery electric car was built on a lightweight aluminum chassis and weighs in at only 2,176 pounds, despite the weight of its powerful lithium ion batteries. The Wave II demonstrated outstanding low mechanical and aerodynamic drag that resulted in 187 MPGe in combined on-track and laboratory efficiency testing, a 14.7s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time, and over 100 miles range over a real-world driving cycle.

$2.5 Million Alternative Tandem Class Winner:

X-Tracer Team Switzerland “E-Tracer #79” (Winterthur, Switzerland)
Economy: 205.3 MPGe
Fuel: Battery Electric
This tandem two-seat vehicle combines the best of motorcycles and automobiles. This clever design has two extra outrigger wheels that deploy at low speed to stabilize the vehicle. At 1436 pounds, the E-Tracer is able to deliver over 100 miles in range, led the competition with over 200 MPGe in combined on-track and laboratory fuel efficiency and achieved a zero-to- 60 mph acceleration time of just 6.6 seconds.

Here are some photos I took of the event on the grounds of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

And here are videos I took of the vehicles on display at the awards ceremony.

Green Videos: Nissan Leaf Polar Bear Ad

Nissan Leaf Polar Bear Ad
Seeing its arctic home melting away, a lone polar bear sets out on a great journey to thank someone who is trying to help.

Villaraigosa posts video promoting 30/10 Initiative
The 30/10 Initiative will allow 12 crucial public transit projects to be constructed in Los Angeles in 10 years rather than 30, improving transportation in L.A. and creating more jobs.

The LA Streetcar: See what happens when Downtown connects
Film about the planned LA Streetcar Line. Prominent Angelinos extol the virtues of the proposed streetcar for Downtown Los Angeles. The film gives viewers a virtual experience of a streetcar gliding down the streets of Los Angeles. Production created by Nelson and Sixta, Los Angeles. Original footage by Brewhouse of Portland, Oregon.

How one Swedish city gets people to trade silly car trips for bikes
No ridiculous car trips is an informational film about a campaign with the same name. Trying to get more people too choose riding their bike over their car in Malmo City.

China Sets New High Speed Rail Speed Record
China sets a new record for high speed rail and America's long-term vision for high speed rail begins to emerge.

The Life of Coal and You
The Life of Coal is a dirty one. Learn about it and get involved in the work to build a cleaner future!

Green SoCal Headlines: Feds Greenlight 2 California Solar Power Plants

Feds Greenlight 2 California Solar Power Plants
Summary: For the first time, federal land managers gave final approval Tuesday for the construction of two large solar installations on public lands that could power hundreds of thousands of homes with renewable energy.

Construction Begins for Largest School Solar Power Installation in California
Summary: Solar company PsomasFMG has started construction on a $52-million solar power installation for the Antelope Valley Union High School District. The 9.6 Megawatt system, which will use approximately 41,000 photovoltaic panels, constitutes the largest school solar power project to date in California.

Schwarzenegger Marks Four Years of AB 32, Touts Clean Tech
Summary: The Governator is hardly leaving office meekly. He recently toured California, touting the fourth anniversary of AB 32's passing. Schwarzenegger is throwing himself into the fight against Prop 23, and he says he will push for clean technology long after his term as governor expires.

Prop 23 Would Kill Advanced Biofuel Technology
Summary: Hopefully, you've heard lots of buzz about Prop 23 by now, the ballot measure that would effectively repeal California's landmark clean energy and climate law (AB 32). Voting no on 23 sends a clear message that California does not want to lose its advantage as the country's cleantech leader.

Fake Farmers Markets? Vendors Busted in LA
Summary: NBC Los Angeles visited various farmers markets across the city, and trailed some vendors who claimed their farms grew everything from broccoli to avocados. But the truth was eventually revealed: visits to farms showed rows of rows of dirt, and one vendor was even caught purchasing vegetables, many of them from Mexico, at Los Angeles's mammoth wholesale market outside of downtown.

AltCar Expo offers alt cars that can actually be driven ... by you
Summary: We've been hearing about them for months: The all-electric Nissan Leaf, the extended-range electric Chevrolet Volt, the Mercedes-Benz B-class F-cell. During this weekend's AltCar Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 20 alternative-propulsion vehicles won't just be on display. They can actually be driven. By you.

Fresno Bids to Be CA HSR's Garage
Summary: The California High-Speed Rail Authority has decided that the right place for a maintenance facility is in the Central Valley, but the location has yet to be decided. With new matching funds, Fresno may have a leg up.

"We Can and Will" Build HSR
Summary: Roelof van Ark, CEO of the California High-Speed High Speed Rail Authority, said earlier this week in San Jose that he is "more confident than ever this project can and will be built."

Solar-Powered Window Shutters – As Seen at West Coast Green
Summary: Yes, you heard right. Among the many intriguing green innovations at last weekend’s West Coast Green were the new Plug n’ Save Solar Shutters, a rather simple solution for homeowners hoping to cut utility costs.

Amtrak Ignores Bikers

One of the pleasures of riding Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner Train from Los Angeles to San Diego is how easy it is to bring your bike on the train. There are bike wall racks on nearly every car so you don't have to deal with the hassle and the costs of boxing your bike and stowing it.

Unfortunately the Southern California route is one of the few lines in the system that allow for roll-on and roll-off biking. That is a shame. I recently encountered a couple of guys who took the train up to D.C. from Richmond, Virginia and wanted to do the right thing and bring their bikes onboard instead of renting a car, but couldn't because there are no bike wall racks on any of the East Coast lines and they didn't want to spend the time and the money boxing up their bikes.

If Amtrak wants to stay competitive with the private operators that are bidding for the new high-speed rail lines that are coming, then they need to cater to bikers and not just business travelers around the country.

Wouldn't it be great if one day you could bike to Union Station in D.C., board a train bound for New York City and leave Penn Station on your bicycle?

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