Archive for Energy


Points to Ponder

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Lots of important topics on tap for the last meeting of this incarnation of City Council. While there’s one issue that has folks banging the drum more loudly, there are several others that also have far-reaching consequences. I’d love to hear more from everyone about them.

For those of you interested in it, Civic Center Naming Rights post is here

For those of you interested in conservation and development – there’s a behemoth development proposed for the ETJ.

For those of you interested in water issues and business issues, we’re having another look at potential water rate changes for heavy manufacturing.

For those of you interested in multimodal transportation, particularly transit, we’re having a look at whether to renew the contract for Transit Management Services to the current company, First Transit.

19 The Way

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City of Asheville press release:

Beginning Monday, Nov. 21, the city will move into Phase II of a streetlight upgrade program in which traditional bulbs will be upgraded to LED bulbs. Retrofits will take place Monday through Thursday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with no expectations of traffic disruption.

In spring of last year, the City of Asheville successfully installed 700 lights in River District and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Phase I of the street light upgrade project. Phase II has a broader reach and will involve 2800 streetlights across West Asheville, Kenilworth and Oakley. Once completed all four phases are expected to save $650,000 annually and 2628 tons of avoided carbon which is equal to the amount of carbon absorbed from 60,000 trees.

Phase I of the four year initiative began in May 2011 and has generated $32,000 in actual savings. City Council’s approval of the Green Capital Improvement Plan rounds out the triple bottom line impact of the project. The plan, adopted in the 2011-2012 budget commits all dollar savings from municipal energy efficiency projects to future energy efficiency projects.

The City of Asheville is the first in the nation to implement this innovative financial model where all the energy savings pay for the streetlight investment. The lighting upgrades build further upon the successful lighting ordinance passed in 2008 which ensures all municipal streetlights adhere to “Dark Sky” standards.


What the Frack is Going On?

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Via WaterWired

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Cloudy with a Chance of Fallout

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Ain’t it a shame, about the radium rain?

Recording artist Bruce Cockburn tells of his experience visiting Germany only three days after the Chernobyl accident:

“Radium Rain, for instance, came out of, uh, my own experience of the aftermath of Chernobyl, in Germany. I’d gotten, I arrived in Germany three days after Chernobyl happened. I had wrestled with myself to some degree before I left, thinking “Oh, I don’t know. I wonder about going to Europe at this moment.” But it seemed like it wouldn’t matter where you were anyway, that stuff’s gonna come down on you sooner or later so I might as well go and see what it looked like. And I did and it was very interesting experience, and, uh, quite frightening in some respects and funny in others. The extremes that people went to. The extremes that governments went to to try to sort of suppress peoples anxiety about the whole thing and it became ridiculous at a certain point, you know. At first they’re saying, and I’m sure it was true of all the governments involved, they were saying Oh, there’s no problem, you know, those stupid Russians just made a mistake, but we’ve got it together, don’t worry about it”. And, you know, the next day they’d be saying “Well there’s a little bit of a problem, don’t let your kids play in the dirt”, you know. And the next, the next day, or week later they’d be saying “Well, you know, if you’re a mechanic, you should avoid changing the air filters of cars, unless you’re wearing protective clothing, and, you know, if you’re a pedestrian, hold your breath when cars go by, cuz of the dust”, you know. And I mean it’s absurd. How can you possibly not breath when the cars are going by on the street? And it just went from the horrific to the ridiculous.” – from “Interview and Segments” a CD released in 1990 by True North/Epic. Anonymous submission.

So I’m living here in California, it’s Friday and it’s going to rain. The climate models indicate we could hear from our geiger counters today for the first time since the nuclear disaster in Japan started. I know it will seem like a trivial amount of exposure and folks will say “don’t worry!” But what I’m worried about is that the Fukushima situation is currently completely out of control. Our leaders have as little clue as to what happens next as they did in the early days of the BP disaster. When the time comes, they’ll just shift the goalposts like Cockburn recounts in his Chernobyl story.

I’ve thought for a long time that nuclear energy just does not add up. The risks are too great to justify the rewards. There are better choices emerging in the alternative energy sector. If you’re a proponent of the technology, please take a moment to reconsider. Because that stuff’s gonna come down on you sooner or later.

Ain’t it a shame, about the radium rain?
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Sunday Morning PSA

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The Western North Carolina Green Building Council is launching a new team based weatherization program, called Neighbor Saves. Please share it with your networks!

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One Year In – The Wins

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Photo by Jason Sandford

December 8th will mark one year since I was sworn in as a member of your Asheville City Council. It’s been a learning curve like no other in my life. Thanks for all of the support that’s been offered by friends and all of the prodding that been offered by others. I’ve managed to help get a lot done in this first year, and I’ve still got a ways to go. My colleagues on Council and staff have been patient and helpful as I’ve learned the ropes.

This week I’ll offer some different ways of looking at what’s been accomplished this year. The Wins, The Vote Spreads, and The Chronology will be featured in separate posts to give everyone various ways at looking at what’s what. I reviewed the minutes of all the Council meetings through Nov. 9 and recorded the stuff that I thought would be helpful for my personal reflection as well as your public reflection. It won’t be perfect, but it’s the best you’ll get anywhere.

Today’s chapter, The Wins, focuses on those things that made good on my campaign promises as well as several bonus items. I haven’t gotten everything done yet, but some big strides have been made.

When elected, I promised to try to make Asheville more affordable and more sustainable. I promised to work to increase multimodal infrastructure. I promised to make Asheville more welcoming to her LGBT citizens. I promised to help balance the budget and protect our progressive priorities. After the jump, you’ll find my list of The Wins.

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The Spill

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Frontline, the PBS in-depth news documentary series, recently did a one hour program about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. Frontline has a knack for uncovering backgrounds of stories usually lost between the headline narratives. They have won numerous awards including Pulitzer, Peabody, and Emmy. The BP Oil Spill should have been the type of rich story where they could do some eye opening journalism. Alas, they didn’t.

Greg Palast explains why:

“Despite press release hoo-hahs that this Frontline investigation would break news from a deep-digging inquiry, what we got was ‘Investigation by Google,’ old stuff from old papers that PBS forgot to report the first time around.
What us viewers were handed was a tale that could have been written by the PR department at BP’s competitor Chevron. The entire hour told us again and again and again, the problem was one company, BP, and its ‘management culture.’ (They used the phrase management ‘culture’ seven times – I counted.)
PBS sponsor Chevron is desperate to resume drilling in the Gulf. Shell is drooling over its delayed offshore project in Alaska’s Arctic seas. If they can isolate BP, the horror show can go on.”

Having watched it myself, I found the program lacking. It spent considerable time developing BP’s recent appalling safety record and board room drama, but comparatively little time on the Gulf spill itself. Having made the argument that BP’s cost cutting culture led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it could not really connect the dots beyond the obvious fact that Deepwater Horizon happened after the other accidents. And it didn’t spend any time on what happened in the days and weeks after the well blew.

Important questions about regulatory capture, the world’s increasing appetite for oil in the face of dwindling supply, and the total lack of disaster response preparedness were laregely ignored. You wouldn’t even know Halliburton and Transocean were partners on the rig, having barely been mentioned. If this was Frontline’s big investigation of the biggest environmental disaster in US history, they failed by sticking too close to an already familiar thesis: BP is not interested in safety. D’ya think?

It might be tempting for everyone involved, including John Q. Public to let this disaster fall down the memory hole. Frontline’s puff piece only aids in the process. Joe Barton could become chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee. The other BP apologist, Rand Paul, won his Senate bid in Kentucky. Those of us concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change or any of the number of other issues raised by this event need to keep workin’ it.

Read more about the current activities of the Oil Spill Commission here and here.

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Sustainability = Cost Savings

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On our agenda for Tuesday night is a report from the Sustainability Mgmt. Department about our municipal carbon footprint. It’s chock full of good news. We’ve reduced our carbon output by over 8% in the last three years, and there’s oodles of cost savings to go along with it. Whenever you hear someone incorrectly kvetching about Asheville not being fiscally responsible, feel free to point them in this direction. You can be especially smug about it if they’re global climate change deniers.

From the report:

Key Highlights from this Report:
• Tasked with a 6% reduction over 3 years the city delivered an 8.42% reduction

• The most significant reductions can be attributed to energy conservation in public buildings, streamlined efficiency in water distribution, and fuel/routing efficiency in transit

• The most significant opportunities for future reductions are in the fleet and streetlight sectors

FY 09-10 Financial Facts:
• Municipal energy spending totaled $5,349,610

• Carbon footprint reductions resulted in $336,216 avoided energy spending, which is a 5.91% spending reduction from the previous year

Carbon footprint reduction to date is 2,965 MT eCO2 which equals
• Annual emissions from 567 four door sedans

• Annual energy use of 252 homes

• Annual carbon sequestration of 76,026 trees

Check out the report for several very cool graphs broken down by department. After the jump find a graph that illustrates the trend we were on before 2007 and the trend we’re on now.

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Change is hard. You see that most when people who can change and should change don’t change. We voted for change in 2008. There was no mistaking that. President Obama campaigned vigorously on this theme and seemed to personify it by his very being. So you can imagine how hard change is when people who are all about change don’t want to change.

Bill McKibben recenty visited the White House to be told: there will be no change to the roof of the White House, no solar panels will be installed there. Conservatives, I’m sure, will shower lavish praise on President Barack Hussein Obama for continuing this tradition first established by Ronald Reagan. Progressives on the other hand, well here’s McKibben…

And a confession. We’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out, and despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there.

And so I couldn’t help thinking — part of me at least — like this: The White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack. Jimmy Carter comparisons aren’t what the administration is after.

If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the mosque at ground zero.” My feeling is that we should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel.

To be fair, if I were in the West Wing, THERE IS NO WAY I would accept Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, other than to donate to the Smithsonian. Instead, I would put up the latest and greatest photovoltaics money could buy. As McKibben says, a few solar panels are symbolic, but we need symbols in order to get the rest of the country to think about changing its habits. And we need capitols around the world to do the same thing.

The right wing and the main stream media parrot chamber might want to obsess over White House solar panels like they did the Ground Zero Mosque, or any of the other concocted scandals pointed out by Tom. These are just opportunities (now missing) for the administration to segue into all the positive things they are doing about clean energy. There is no reason to worry about linking solar panels to Jimmy Carter anymore. It is far better to link them to the BP disaster. It’s about clean energy versus dirty energy. Carter’s dilemma was about energy austerity versus prosperity. This administration’s dilemma is be about choosing the right kind of energy. [Note how austerity is bad energy policy but great fiscal policy!]

Change is hard when you let your fears run wild and imagine only negative outcomes. But change can be easier when you grasp the positive outcomes the change will bring, and have the confidence to forge ahead and make the arguments to convince fellow citizens. The West Wing lackeys are playing from an outdated political playbook. 2008 happened. It is time for the White House to be the change it wants to see.

Here’s some transit-related news for those of you who want more bike lanes, buses, and sidewalks: Hundreds of millions of dollars are potentially on the table for multi-modal transportation, but sadly – explaining how our community can get access to it is boring.

Therefore, I’ve written two versions of this post: A single-paragraph “TL;DR” summery (In bold below), and a longer explanation.

TL;DR summery: Complete this SurveyMonkey poll by Wednesday – September 22nd in order to encourage The Powers That Be to allocate more resources to multi-modal transportation. If you don’t, it’s likely that in 2015 you’ll be lucky if they fund a rusty “share the road” sign along an 8-lane highway. Again, here’s the link:

Longer explanation:

Contrary to car-addicts claims, the reason our region doesn’t have more sustainable transportation options isn’t because of money, geography, technology, or demand … it’s because when asked, the ones who usually show up to be heard are developers and highway contractors. This is sad, but logical; since you don’t stand to gain millions of dollars by attending long, boring, MPO meetings.

What’s an MPO, and why are these meetings important?

Glad you asked.

The Feds require urban areas to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to plan and approve all federal transportation spending within a region.

Every 5 years, this MPO updates its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). As part of this process, the MPO takes public comments on the draft plan. The Federal Highway Administration holds MPOs and state DOTs accountable for how they incorporate these comments into their ongoing planning process.

This is a key time to make your views about the region’s transportation system known; because these comments and survey responses will, by law, be shared with powerful elected and appointed officials at the state, local, and national level – which in turn become incorporated into their long-range planning, which eventually translates into building projects.

These comments also influence the MPO when they have opportunities to spend short-term funding.

For example, just last year the MPO received $6.1 million to directly allocate from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over half of this funding was devoted to bicycle and/or pedestrian facilities. The activism of local citizens helped make that happen, but in order to make bigger changes (Such as making sure all road facilities are built to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, or shifting larger amounts of funding from highways to public transit.) much more citizen input is needed to document what is important to residents of the Asheville area.

Okay, I can tell that you’re itching to get involved. What can you do?

The good news is you _don’t_ need to attend a long meeting. (It’d be helpful, but not required.)

What you SHOULD do is:

1) Take a few moments and read through the LRTP and/or swing by the open house this Wednesday, September 15th at the Buncombe County Training Room, 199 College St, Asheville, from 2–8 p.m. (College Street by the traffic circle)

2) Take the survey at this link and/or drop an email about your thoughts in the LRTP to:

As far as I know, only six people have taken the survey so far – so if people who want multi-modal infrastructure speak up now, it will go a long way.

– pvh