The Spooky Truth About the 2007 Energy Bill — And How You Can Make a Difference

The energy bill under debate currently has the possibility to make some major changes in this countries environmental policy.

What’s in the 2007 Energy Bill?

The standards that are set up by the bill for fuel efficiency and renewable electricity standards are sufficiently aggressive to make a big difference in out planet’s future. Some of the major elements include a call for 15% renewable electricity standard by 2020 which would guarantee the growth of renewable, clean energy and increase the number of jobs in this environmentally friendly sector of the economy.

What about Gas Mileage Standards?

Another key factor in the bill is the Senate proposed 35 mpg fuel efficiency standard (also by 2020) which several lobbyists including the Auto Alliance are trying to curtail. These groups want to modify the bill to demand only a standard of only 23mpg fuel efficiency by 2022. This may seem like a paltry change but over time the numbers add up.

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency’s Halloween Campaign

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency is sending a wake up call to Congress this Halloween in the shape of trick or treat bags filled with “spooky facts”. One of these facts is that the amount of barrels of oil saved per day under the auto lobby proposal will be 500,000 whereas the Senate’s fuel economy compromise will save 1.2 million. (Other “spooky facts” as well as pictures of the Congressional Halloween Outreach packets are available here: http://smnr.us/thespookytruth/).

What YOU Can Do

Sign the petition!

The real fact is that this bill has a chance if Congress just stands firm in favor of the environment against the pressures of outside forces. I believe that the American people are growing more aware of the problems of climate change, and limited natural resources everyday and this country’s environmental policy should reflect this.

We can all do a little to help by making sure our representatives know how we feel. The petition to support this energy bill is available at: http://www.energybill2007.org. Please take a moment to help these standards get passed before enjoying the rest of your Halloween!

Dani Sevilla is a student activist working with a coalition to ensure that the 2007 energy bill represents a real change for the better in this country’s environmental future.

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A Simple Step You Can Take: Install a Low Flow Shower Head

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If you’re like most Americans, you probably take a shower every day.

Unless you’re already using a low-flow shower head, you have an opportunity to save some money in addition to cutting back on your family’s environmental impact.

Low Flow Shower Heads are designed to restrict water flow while providing a good shower. We found one at the Real Goods store for $12.00 that they claim will save you 50-70% of your water usage (which for a family of 4 could be up to $25/year in savings).

In terms of Carbon savings, according to this analysis by Environmental Defense, a single low-flow shower head could save over 350 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

I installed one of these recently and it took only about 5 minutes. I purchased the shower head and some “plumber’s tape” for under $10 at Walmart, and I used only a pair of pliers to do the installation.

The water pressure is only a little less that my old shower head and it works fine. After using it a few times now, I don’t even notice a difference.

Overall, it was an easy project with a nice payback — and an easy way to cut down the energy my family uses.

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Black is the New Green: 10 Energy Saving Search Sites

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Black is the New Green.

At least, that’s the message of a movement sometimes referred to as Black Google.

The idea first appeared in a January 20th blog post by Mark Ontkush, where he examines how much energy could potentially be saved if Google’s background was black instead of white.

His findings? If Google, and only Google, were to change their background color to black, the world could save somewhere around 3,000 Megawatt-hours per year!

The post eventually rose to the top of Digg, and was followed up with another, and more complete, article that explains the science and the numbers behind the
idea.

How Does It Work?

Basically, computer monitors, especially the big clunky CRT monitors that take up most of your desk, consume more energy when the screen is white than when the screen is black. This has been shown to be true of CRT’s, LCD’s, and plasma displays, although the different technologies vary in power consumption.

As Ontkush points out, the savings is “a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

So Why Aren’t All Websites Black?

So why don’t web designers just do it and save us all that energy and money? It’s been shown that people will spend more time at a site done up in warm and welcoming colors than they will one that is primarily dark. What it comes down to is changing peoples’ expectations about how their screen should look.

Adjusting peoples’ expectations is always a difficult thing, but what if we began in the office instead of on he web? In the world of corporate and government organizations, where most of us sit at least 40 hours a week, we use the computer on ‘their’ terms. What would happen if these organizations simply started defaulting the screen to black instead of white?

What You Can Do NOW.

So what do we do while we’re waiting for the corporate IT guru’s to make our screens more environmentally friendly? We can begin changing our own expectations. As with anything habit forming, we’re best off starting small. Several alternative Google search pages use Google’s search technology on a dark screen. Personalized search site, Blacklys.com, even offers a Firefox search add-on.

Social Networking sites now offer the ability change your preferences; why not change your color scheme? Sites like Twitter and MySpace, and Facebook actually encourage customization.

These are little things when we compare our impact to that of Google, but little things add up. The only way to save the energy, the money, and the environmental impact, is if we each make the choice.

Alternative Google search sites:

[via ecoIron blog]

  1. Darkoogle, uses a black background with green text.
  2. Earthle
  3. GreenerGle
  4. Greygle, uses a grey background.
  5. Google Black, is a website hosted by the Google-owned blogspot, however the search results are not in black.
  6. Jabago, uses a black background and allows for searching in many languages.
  7. Ninja
  8. Power Google
  9. Searchincolor.com, an older site that supports Google colored searches since its onset. The default color is black.
  10. Trek Black

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This Green Old House: Introductions

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Introducing This Green Old House – An ongoing column by James Turner

Greetings, and welcome to This Green Old House!

My name is James Turner and over the next months (and maybe years), I hope to share with you some of the strategies and challenges that we’ve faced keeping our 200 year old Colonial farmhouse as green as we can.

Our house was built in 1796 in southern New Hampshire, USA and has been expanded and renovated many times since. The house is huge around 3200 square feet with an attached ‘L’ outbuilding and a 6 stall barn with hayloft. We also own 5 acres of land, about half light forest. We purchased the house and land in 1994. I live here with my wife Bonnie and son Daniel, as well as two cats (Esmerelda the Evil Kitty and Sally O’Malley) and a beagle-lab mix named Virginia.

By profession I am a software engineer, and have an active second career as a freelance writer and editor. You can find examples of my writing at http://www.blackbear.biz/writing.html, and my editing at www.onlamp.com, where I’m site editor. But really, there are days when I think that this house is a third profession, because there are times when it seems like I spend all of my time trying to keep it together and us from going broke.

What This Column Will Be About.

I’m going to spend the first few columns giving you the chronology of James and Bonnie’s battle to cut our fuel bill, which started pretty much the day we moved in. For those of you who don’t know, New Hampshire can get quite cold in the winter, -30F (also -30C) is not uncommon for days at a time. As we are at the top of a rise, we also get brisk winds on occasion (alas, not brisk enough to make a wind turbine feasible.)

Our First Challenge: Staying Warm!

Our house was originally heated by fireplaces, we still have 5 plus an empty spot in our basement when a main heating fireplace once lived. At some point, it was converted to a boiler with radiators, and later to a forced hot water system with baseboard. When we first moved in, it was the middle of January, and the first thing we noticed (other than that the house was freezing a lot of the time) was that we were getting snow INSIDE the windows. The windows were vintage 1930s single pane storm windows, and many of them were cracked.

As soon as the spring came, we started pricing out replacement windows. With 22 windows to replace, price was obviously an issue, and we almost fainted when we got the first quote of over $650 per window — which would have worked out to around $13K! Given we had only paid $85K for the house, it was hard to swallow ponying up a sixth of the purchase price just to fix the windows.

We got quotes from some local contractors, and found a huge variation in price. The contractor we ended up with got us “Low E” argon filled triple pane windows for about $250 installed. Still a good piece of change times 22 windows, but we could deal with $5,500 with a lot more grace than $13,000.

Will Efficient Windows Solve Your Energy Problems? No.

It’s worth talking about windows for a sec, because some salespeople will try to convince you that they are a magic bullet that will fix all your energy problems. There’s no question that getting good energy efficient windows will cut down your heat signature, but don’t expect (as we did) that it’s going to cut your fuel bill in half. We eventually did cut our bill in half, but it was years and several projects down the line.

So, we entered winter #2 with new windows, no snow inside the house, and visions of fuel bills dancing in our heads. Unfortunately, the magic K factor on our oil bills didn’t change appreciably. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading a fuel oil bill, the K factor is derived by taking the degree days for a given period and dividing by the amount of fuel you used in the same period. It’s usually measure from delivery to delivery, and the higher the number is, the more efficiently you’re using your oil.

Personally, I think that whoever does the formulas for the fuel companies is smoking something, because when I’ve done the calculations it never comes out the same as their’s. This may explain why their “automatic delivery program” has left us out of oil in a cold house on many occasions.

In any event, I was a bit discouraged after the new windows didn’t take much of a bite out of our bill, and in the next column, we’ll continue the saga with the Quest for Insulation.

James Turner is site editor for O’Reilly’s ONLamp.com, a software engineer and the author of The Watering Hole comic strip. He has written for publications as diverse as the Christian Science Monitor, Processor, Linuxworld Magazine, Developer.com and WIRED Magazine.

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The Ultimate Resource Guide for Commuting by Bicycle

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With the rise of oil prices and the growing ‘green’ movement, people everywhere are evaluating commuting to work by bicycle. And based on the response to our recent post “Choices: Bike or Drive?”, many of our readers are interested in commuting by bicycle.

As a result, we’ve put together this resource guide for anyone interested in learning about bicycling as a main method of transportation.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

– H.G. Wells

1. Kogswell Cycles

Kogswell makes great bikes patterned after the bikes used by newspaper delivery boys in Paris in the 1950′s. They’re sturdy, well-crafted and give a smoth ride over right terrain. (Note — the pictures in this post are from their gallery of pictures.)

2. Commute by Bike’s list of Commuter Bikes

Commute By Bike is a great site and provides this excellent list of bikes that are appropriate for commuting. A good resource.

3. The Wikipedia entry for Bicycle Commuting

As always, if you’re interested in a solid, fair resource for any topic, Wikipedia is one of the first places to look. If you don’t like it — edit it and make it better!

4. John G. Faughnan’s personal page of commuting by bicycle

This is a personal website page that’s been maintained for almost 10 years now. It has a good list of what to look for in a commuting bike as well as an extensive rundown of bike manufacturers to read through. Another excellent resource.

5. Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages

Another personal site, this one has some good information on estimating the number of people in America that rely on bikes as their primary transportation (looks like at least half a million based on 2000 census data).

6. How To Choose A Bicycle For Commuting

The eHow guide to choosing a commuting cycle. As with many eHow articles, the reader comments are the best part of the page. Also, the links to related articles may be worthwhile. Hopefully, it will improve over time.

7. Jennifer’s Bicycle Commuting Suggestions

Another personal page, but has a pretty good list of useful suggestions and things to think about when commuting by bike. A quick and useful read.

8. Harris Cyclery Articles about Bicycle Commuting and Lighting

Obviously if you’re going to commute you need good lighting. This page reviews a variety of lighting options.

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.
– Ernest Hemingway

9. Commuter Bicycle

Another personal resource page for commuting by bike. This one has a good set of links and information on different manufacturers as well as good information on other useful equipment.

10. Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips

An established site with a lot of good information on biking on general as well as specifically on commuting by bike.

11. The Sacramento Transportation Management Association’s page on Bicycle Commuting

California boasts the largest population of bicycle commuters in America, and this local government agency’s page reflects that. It’s a surprisingly rich page with a lot of good information.

12. Commute Bikes page on Nordic Group’s website

This looks like a personal page built by an employee (or an owner) on a business website. I included it in this list because it’s a great site. This person obviously did a huge amount of research into commuting by bike and has commuted by bike for a while. It’s definitely worth a read.

13. The Squidoo Page for Bicycle Commuting

A mid-level average Squidoo page. May have some useful information for some people.

14. Bike Forums

A busy forum for bikers. Information on commuting by bikes and all sorts of other biking topics.

15. Bicycle Commuting Guide from The Bicycling Federation of Wisconsin

A decent site, especially useful if you live in Wisconsin. May be a good model for others wanting to build similar sites in their area.

16. Bicycle Commuting Now

A near dead blog that was posted to extensively for a couple years from 2004-2006. Even though it’s no longer maintained, a lot of the older posts may be interesting to bicycle commuters.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.
–John F. Kennedy

17. WikiHow’s page on How to Commute By Bicycle

A pretty solid WikiHow page. Worth taking a look at — has some good information.

18. Canada’s Commuter Challenge!

From their site: “Commuter Challenge is a national program that aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of sustainable commuting and to encourage Canadians to take action by walking, cycling, taking transit, carpooling or tele-working instead of driving alone to get work.”

In English and French.

19. The London Cycling Campaign

A site dedicated to promoting cycling in London as a means of commuting.

20. The Flickr Photo Group Commute By Bicycle

A Flickr photo group dedicated to those who commute by bike.

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A Simple Step You Can Take: View a Comparison between LED Lights and CFL Lights

Here’s a great youtube video that shows a comparison between regular light bulbs, Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs and newer, super efficient LED light bulbs. Based on comments left on the site, I know that our readers are interested in learning more on LED Light bulbs.

This video provides a very simple comparison that’s easy to understand. What you’ll see is how dramatic the differences in energy uses are. You’ll also see a bit about the differences in types of light they give off.



Links from Readers

Links!

Sometimes readers send me links. I think it’s great because I get to know what interests people. Here are some recent ones:

Our twitter follower bythebayou @replied me a link to Co-op America. They look interesting — I like that they encourage people to take action.

Another twitter follower monkchips, sent this link on saving energy by turning computers off at night! He recently learned that in Japan, insurance companies offer lower rates to companies that turn their servers off in the evening, since the believe it lowers the risk of fires. He describes it as “a commitment to not 24/7, not follow the Sun, not have uptime for its own sake.”

Finally, regular reader jhimm e-mailed me a link to a rant of his on some current Chicago news — the recent proposals to add a 10 – 25 cent tax to all bottled water sales. Let’s just say jhimm is a bit upset by the news. We’ve been discussing the role of government (see here and here) in changing people’s behaviors, so thanks jhimm for adding to the conversation.

If you run across something that’s big news where you are or that you think we should be covering, let us know through a comment on the site or send us an e-mail at ’21c AT 21st-century-citizen.com’.

How to Calculate the Savings from using Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb

When I was doing the research for our Ultimate Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs, I put together a short section on calculating the savings for each CFL bulb you installed. In order to make it easier for our readers to find this work, I’ve summarized it here in this post.

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs will save energy and cut your electric bills. They cost more initially, but will last as much as 10 to 15 times as long as regular light bulbs.

CFL bulbs only need 20-25% of the energy of a normal light bulb, so you’ll save money on electricity. How much money you’ll save depends on how high your bills are already. If your electric bill is $200/month then on average you could save $10-15/month by switching most of your lights to CFL bulbs.

Switching to CFL bulbs is a simple way to play a part in helping slow down global warning. You can save money and feel good while you’re doing it.

Lifespan

According to OSRAM’s on-line catalog, CFL lights can last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours of normal use. That’s over 10 times as long as the expected life of a normal light bulb which is only 700-1000 hours.

How much will you save?

A normal 75 watt bulb priced at an on-line discount website cost 79 cents per bulb. A 6-pack of similar CFL bulbs was available from an on-line discount website for $15.16, or just about $2.50 apiece. Electricity costs are assumed to be about 10 cents per Kw-Hr (you can find your actual electricity cost on your most recent power bill).

Purchase cost per bulb:

  1. Normal Bulb = $0.79 USD (or 79 cents)
  2. Equivalent CFL = $2.50 USD

Electricity cost to use over life time:

  1. Normal Bulb: 75 Watts * 1000 Hrs * 10c/Kw-Hr / 1000 = $7.50
  2. Equivalent CFL: 20 watts * 12000 Hrs * 10c/Kw-Hr / 1000 = $24.00

Cost per year:

  1. Normal Bulb: $7.50 lifetime cost * 1.5 bulbs / year = $11.25 per year
  2. Equivalent CFL: $24.00 lifetime cost * 1/8 bulbs / year = $3.00 per year

In other words, a normal bulb costs $11.25 per year while the CFL costs only $3 per year. Switching to a CFL bulb will pay for itself in under 6 months.

Switching the top 10 lights in your home to CFL bulbs could save you $80/year on your electric bills.

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How to Clean up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb


One of the simplest activities that anyone can undertake to reduce their energy use (and their electricity bills!) is to switch out their traditional light bulbs with the newer, Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. They save money, last longer, and are better for the environment.

Our regular readers may remember that we covered all this in our Ultimate Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs.

But they have one downside — they contain small amounts of Mercury.

The Mercury is used inside the bulbs to increase their efficiency. Only a small amount is used, but you should still be careful. (A CFL bulb contains only 1/100th of the mercury in old-style mercury thermometers.)

The main issues with Mercury are:

  1. If they break, the mercury can escape into your home, and
  2. They should not be disposed of into your normal trash.

If a CFL bulb breaks in your home, the amount of mercury released isn’t much — but you should use caution if this happens.

According to the U.S. EPA, here are directions to clean up a CFL bulb that has broken. [PDF] Here are their directions:

How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?

EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.

2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands). Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.

3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it. If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available). Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

Newer CFL bulbs are now being made that use about half of the mercury that older ones used.

New California “low carbon fuel standards” expected to “transform energy industries”

The University of California today released a blueprint today that will fight global warming by forcing reductions in the amount of carbon released when fuels are burned.

The new “low carbon fuel standard” is expected to be a model for future laws adopted in other states and around the world. The new standard was commissioned in January by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It will likely transform the energy industries. And the 10 percent reduction is just the beginning. We anticipate much greater reductions after 2020,” said Daniel Sperling, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. “This new policy is hugely important, and has never been done before.”

Some of the highlights of this report are:

All gasoline and diesel fuel providers would be required to track the life-cycle global warming intensity (GWI) of their products and reduce this value over time. (The term “life cycle” refers to all activities included in the production, transport, storage and use of the fuel.)

The report recommends that gasoline and diesel fuel providers reduce their carbon footprint both by blending lower-carbon biofuels with gasoline, as well as through purchasing emissions credits from other producers. They will also be able to get credit for purchasing energy to run their refineries from low-carbon, alternative energy sources.

It’s expected that electricity, natural gas and hydrogen-based energy providers will get involved by earning and selling emissions credits to refineries.

For car owners, it’s expected that the new standard will increase their options for fueling their cars — from biofuels to hydrogen to electric vehicle charging stations.

The new standard also recommends the state of California work to make sure sensitive lands aren’t converted to biofuel production.

Information on the new report can be found on U Cal Berkeley’s news and media site.

Presidential Candidate Barak Obama recently recommended that the US adopt a national law based on this new standard and recently introduced legislation to establish a National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard.

Here’s a link to the original report in PDF format. [PDF]

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