From the New York Times, here is another example of a community going green. Officials in Westchester County New York have started a program to collect excess cooking oil from restaurants to use an alternative fuel source to power county vehicles. In total, the county has over 130 vehicles which use cooking oil as either a single fuel source or combined with diesel. Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using cooking oil to power county vehicles saves the government, restaurant owners and taxpayers money.
Utilities in 10 major metropolitan areas, including Sacramento, Chicago, and Seattle, have adopted a novel method to reduce energy consumption: keeping up with the neighbors. Customers’ utility bills compare usage with neighbors in homes of similar size that use the same heating fuel. Efficient customers receive smiley faces on their bills; below- average users get frowny faces, although some utilities stopped printing frowns when a few customers got upset. The behavior modification program has been effective, reducing energy use by 2% more than standard statements. Positive Energy, a software company, conceived of the statements and contacts to produce them.
Colleges have used rivalries with nearby schools and even between dormitories to reduce energy use for over a decade.
Brainshift Foundation, a nonprofit that raises environmental awareness through games, organized towns in Massachusetts to compete in a reality series called “Energy Smackdown.” The towns formed teams that competed in such conservation categories as waste, heating fuel, electricity and food. The results surprised the organizers, with some households reducing consumption by up to two-thirds. Why did it work so well? For Donald Kelley, the head of the Brainshift Foundation, it was because, “as Americans, we are good at entertainment and competition.”
This multi-media piece from CNN.com has text, narration, and a slide show. Gary Braasch took many of the photographs, and Bill McKibben wrote the essay. Together they dramatize the scope and the urgency of the peril facing the globe. The ability of man to respond quickly enough and effectively enough is open to question, but the authors take heart in noting that now there are pictures to document the threats and make them real to people. Now we can imagine a different world, a better world.
Economic recession and the credit crisis are savaging the wind and solar energy sectors. Installation of both wind and solar power are plummeting by a projected 30-50% this year. Biomass and geothermal are also affected, but less so than the high flying wind and solar industries. Layoffs are rife due to falling sales. Bank financing has dried up, leaving wind and solar developers starved for capital. Where once 18 banks made loans to finance the installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, today only four do so. The Obama administration’s stimulus package will help a little but it will take time to kick in so both industries are retrenching further. Even T. Boone Pickens has delayed his wind farm plan. One silver lining is that the availability of panels and turbines has improved; another is that the price of solar panels has 25% in six months, and is expected to fall another 10% by midsummer. However, homeowners installing solar arrays won’t pocket all those savings, because panels are only about 60% of total installation costs. Both industries are confident that in time they will revive, but nobody is predicting that a recovery will happen soon.
Bedford, New York, a wealthy community of 18,000 north of New York City, recently kicked off an ambitious plan for a sustainable future. It hosted a conference called an Environmental Summit to launch its efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. The number of S.U.V.’s in the parking lot underscored the challenges facing the town in reaching that goal. It will have to convince residents that each needs to make a difference, and can do so through their choice of cars. Another issue is that houses are large in Bedford, and energy-hungry. Because Bedford provides some of New York’s water supply, the town can’t build a waste treatment plant. About fifty students attended the conference, signaling how much environmental consciousness has grown in just a generation, and providing an example for other towns to follow.