March 23, 2010

Buying into clean energy

Are you sitting on a green fence?
More than half of American consumers now have the option of purchasing green power directly from their electricity supplier in the form of renewable energy certificates (RECs)—an unfamiliar term to most folks. These certifiy that a green power developer, such as a wind farm, has generated renewable energy and is sending it to your electric grid. An insert in our recent Dominion Virginia Power bills invites us to buy RECs and “make a powerful difference with Dominion Green Power.” The enticing phrase “Green Power” and the promise of free organic fair trade chocolate bars for doing so certainly got my attention. Thus I began many hours sleuthing out the pros and cons of RECs for this posting. . . and I'm still on the fence about them.

I am certainly frustrated by both our dependency on foreign oil and the possibility of another coal-burning plant across the river. But I’ve been skeptical about adding a premium ranging from $2 to $16 to purchase RECs, even though 7400 Dominion customers have signed up already. Karl Neddenien, Dominion’s Media Relations, admits this is a very small percentage of their customers, but says, “Dominion began to offer it in January 2009 because our customers requested a way to support green energy.”

Dominion is not trying to mislead consumers, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Before you make any decision, read the myths below:

Myth #1: If you pay a bit more on your electric bill for Dominion Green Power, you are supporting new wind farms and clean energy providers in Virginia. A few renewable projects are under development in Virginia, but we’re nearly a green energy facility wasteland.

Many power companies might be reluctant to explain how extra payments from consumers produce green energy. However, Liz Thomson, Dominion Energy Conservation Analyst, was very open in sharing with me that payments to Dominion Green Power support wind and biomass (paper pulp or landfill gas) facilities in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois.

There’s another misconception also that buying these green power certificates supports the construction of new renewable power. I sifted through a recent Department of Energy technical paper to learn that the industry definition of “new” is “those facilities put into service on or after January 1, 1997.” Is 13 years old new to you?

Finally, there’s the fact that half of the increased Dominion Green Power revenue, which by the way does not go to Dominion but to a third party, is for marketing, customer education, tracking and verifying RECs, and program administration.

Myth #2: Dominion Green Power can provide 100 percent clean energy in the “100% option. Dominion cannot deliver 100 percent renewable power to any customer, since electrons from all sources are mingled—into a vast network of transmission wires, often referred to as “the grid”—before they arrive at your home. Our local “generation mix” of electricity from Dominion is 42 percent from coal-burning power plants; 40 percent from nuclear plants; 11 percent from natural gas; and only 6 percent from hydroelectric and other renewables.

Myth #3: "Clean coal" exists. The truth, unfortunately, is that no large commercial clean coal plants currently operate in the U.S. although much carbon capture research is taking place. Clean coal technology is an expensive concept and many years away from widespread commercial viability. The term still hits many as an oxymoron. Old Dominion Electric Coop estimates that their proposed Surry County coal-burning power plant would emit 14.6 million tons of carbon dioxide and 1.9 million tons of nitrogen annually.
Dominion's Green Power program received official Green-e Energy certification in September 2009. Green-e is the nation's leading independent consumer protection program for the sale of renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions in the retail market. It is a program of the Center for Resource Solutions. For more information on Green-e Energy certification requirements, visit or call 1-888-63-GREEN.

Selling Point? By purchasing RECs you are paying the difference between market rate and the production rate, allowing clean power producers to enter the market at a competitive price without operating at a loss. Buying RECs should help build a market for renewable electricity. The goal is that it should eventually make the cost of renewable energy more affordable in relation to traditional heavily subsidized energy. If all of us bought them, there might be less demand for more coal-burning power plants, like the one across the James River that’s moving through the permit process right now.

For FAQs about Dominion Green Power, visit their very comprehensive website at

Read the energy-conservation tips Dominion offers at  to help you reduce your power use and your bill. Turn off the lights in your empty rooms, and use the savings for Dominion Green Power RECs (1-888-667-3000 or ) if you so choose.

RESOURCES on green power:

EPA's new Guide to Purchasing Green Power at:

Department of Energy (DOE) “Green Power Network” at

"Can I Buy Green Power in My State?" at

March 22, 2010

The Hospitality Industry's "Clean the World" initiative

Kudos to the many hotels — that are partnering with Clean the World and recycling their partially used soap and shampoo—230 tons of it so far. They distribute it to people in desperate need of proper hygiene, most recently in Haiti, as well as domestic homeless shelters. Since January 2010, Clean the World has delivered more than 150 tons of recycled (and sanitized) soaps and shampoos to Haiti.

Everyday in America, thousands of hotels discard millions of pounds of soap and shampoo. These products usually end up in landfills and could contaminate fragile groundwater systems. Clean the World has put over 4 million soap bars and 200,000 pounds of shampoo and conditioner back into use, simultaneously eliminating over 380 tons of waste.

Simple hand washing could substantially reduce the spread of diseases that result in five million deaths each year. It is unconscionable that  the majority of deaths are children less than five years old.

This Clean the World initiative of the hospitality industry now has more than 170 hotel partners, including all of Walt Disney World Resort's 28,000 central Florida hotel rooms, recycling their partially used amenities. Many Holiday Inn Express hotels participate in this program. The one in Abington, Virginia, is one of only three partners In Virginia so far. Calls to the local Williamsburg Holiday Inn Express were not returned, but I hope that my phone call will prompt them to sign on.

Clean the World's goal is to ensure that all 4.6-million hotel rooms in the US are recycling their partially used soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and bath gel.

What can YOU do? Contact hotels in your area, and tell hotels that you stay in, especially the hotel’s General Manager, about the Partner Recycling Program.

March 16, 2010

Overpopulation and the Environment

Too many people is the root of all environmental problems, when you get down to brass tacks. But lots of folks don't want to talk about it, since it smacks of either "elitism" (we're already on this planet) or "birth control" (as in condoms).

The Center for Biological Diversity, however, seeks to make unsustainable human population a central talking point on Earth Day 2010. Actually, I think there are too many insects as well, but that's another issue.

Too many humans means dirty air, dirty water, too few fish to feed us, too much energy to keep us toasty warm or comfortably AC-cooled, and billions of big carbon footprints.
One catchy campaign the Center for Biological Diversity plans is distributing "Wear with care, save the polar bear" condoms. On Valentine's Day, 100,000 were grabbed up in just a couple of days!

March 11, 2010

2010 Eagle Watch

It's that time of the year again--to watch the baby eaglets hatch (and grow) by visiting Norfolk Botanical Garden's eaglecam.

The first egg of 2010 was laid at 2:15 p.m. on January 31; the second one at 11:50 a.m. on February 3, and the third egg was laid at 12:29 p.m. on February 6. One just hatched earlier today!

The parent eagles must not be camera shy because this is their seventh year to nest at this site. I've been watching a nest in my neighborhood from the ground for a few months too. When those howling north winds blow, we hold our breath that the loblolly stays there.

For more info on eagles, check out William & Mary's Eagle Nest blog, a project of its Center for Conservation Biology (CCB). The primary blogger is CCB Research Associate, Reese Lukei, Jr. The blog was created to compliment EagleTrak by providing a distinct place to discuss eagle breeding behavior, separate from satellite tracking data discussions at the EagleTrak blog.

Visit CCB’s Chesapeake Bay Tracking project at  to see eagles from other areas around the bay on which CCB has placed satellite transmitters. Azalea (HH), and eventually other NBG eagles can be found at the Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Tracking project page.

Update on Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act

On October 20, 2009, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elijah Cummings introduced the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009 to the U.S. Senate and House, along with 13 co-sponsors. There are now a total of 21 co-sponsors—but we need all of our Congressional delegation from the six Bay states and the District of Columbia to sign on.

This legislation looks like a no-brainer to many of us, but not to all our elected officials. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks are asking those who are frustrated at the lack of sufficient progress (yes, there has been some) to see if their representatives are on this list. Click here to find out.

Voluntary action by corporations and citizens and anti-pollution programs by state and local governments just didn't accomplish enough. The EPA needs to step in and carry a big stick. Current federal law does not allow EPA to ensure that all sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are reduced to sustainable levels.

FYI: A term y'all might want to toss around at happy hour to impress your friends is "TMDL" as in "What do you think about the Chesapeake's TDML?"

When you look at their blank faces, you can say, "You know--Total Maximum Daily Load." When that gets you another dazed look, explain that its a kind of “pollution diet" that, if achieved, leads to the restoration of a polluted body of water. The current diet is 175 million pounds of nitrogen per year.

What can you do? According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website: The TMDL is to be completed by December 2010. The EPA and Bay states had public meetings throughout the watershed in November and December of 2009 to discuss the process of developing the TMDL and get input from stakeholders and the public. The states’ clean-up plans will be developed over the next year. They are expected to be available for public comment in August 2010.

Sign up to attend the March 25 Chesapeake Bay TDML Webinar from 10:00 am to 11:30 am EDT  at

March 5, 2010

New Disease: "Carbon Dioxide Brain"

Carbon dioxide shall not be considered air pollution? Ya gotta be kidding! But's that's an actual sentence from recently introduced Virginia legislation, HB 1357, (Morefield, R).

The Clean Air Act is under attack, dear blog readers, and Virginia's air will not get much cleaner. 14 other states have similar pending legislation to overturn the EPA's statement that carbon dioxide is indeed a pollutant and should be regulated.  I guess that these legislators haven't inhaled near any coal-fired plants recently. It's indeed difficult when you have your head in the sand.

Then there's the record-breaking $154 million oil and gas companies spent in 2009, lobbying Congress to protect their billions in profits. Will we allow them to buy their way out of being held responsible for the pollution they create?

More questionable legislation: The Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club is urging Virginians to ask their state senator to vote “No” against HB 1300, (Kilgore, R) or what they call the Virginia Dirty Air Act. Under the current law, the Air Pollution Control Board can decide whether to require large polluters to make actual reductions in nitogen and sulphur pollutants or allow trading of pollution credits outside the community where the pollution is being generated. This bill would deny the Air Board the authority to require actual pollution reductions.

I am losing faith in many of our elected officials, both in state legislatures and in Congress. Politics must indeed interfere with the thought process. It's scare tactics out their wazoos. They just can't wrap their heads around the idea that regulating carbon dioxide can be GOOD for the economy by creating green jobs and new green technology.

And that's not all. Supreme Court Justices suffer from "Jurisdiction Definition Disorder."
Otherwise, they could understand that "navigable waters" means all streams and waterways that empty into bays, rivers, and oceans--PLUS any body of water that occasionally runs dry or is land-locked. But instead, the justices focused on language in the Clean Water Act that limited it to “the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters” of the United States. And then not so wisely (IMHO) rejected the decades old definition of “navigable waters” to include many large wetlands and streams that connected to major rivers.

The result of this decision? Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters consider themselves outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law. As I've written before, companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens, and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.

So the Clean Water Act is under attack too! The Chesapeake Bay will continue to be abused. And the drinking water for 117 million Americans is probably no longer under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Clean Water Act.

World's Largest Solar-Powered Boat to Circumnavigate the Globe

Plans for a 102-foot catamaran (named "PlanetSolar") were unveiled on February 25 at a shipyard in Germany. It's the world's largest solar boat and powered exclusively by about 38,000 high-efficiency solar cells manufactured by SunPower Corporation. Wow, we only have two solar panels on our sailboat.

The multihull will be home to two sailors during the round-the-world attempt, and can accommodate up to fifty people during the promotional trips planned at each port of call.

They will begin testing it in late March, a year prior to a planned round-the-world journey in April 2011. Planned public stopovers on the east-to-west voyage include Hamburg, Germany; London, England; Paris, France; New York, New York, and San Francisco, California, in the United States; Singapore; and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

March 1, 2010

Wal-Mart Makes Green Pledge

Lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2015

Wal-Mart just pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million metric tons (equal to taking 3.8 million cars off our roads) by focusing on the top four products with the biggest carbon footprints--bread, clothing, meat, and milk.

They will look at the entire supply chain, from their suppliers' manufacturing and transportation, to their in store sales. Asking manufacturers to reduce their packaging will be high on my list. I frequently suffer from "wrap rage" as I attempt to deal with clam shell packaging that's designed to withstand nuclear blasts.

Five years ago, Wal-Mart promised  to use only renewable energy, create zero waste, and sell more environmentally friendly products. Their suppliers responded, and they've achieved some progress toward these goals.

In addition, Wal-Mart is one of the first corporate users of the latest fuel cell technology, Bloom Energy's "Bloom Box."  But that's another posting for another day.

Giving Atlantic Sturgeon a Chance in the James River

Encouraging news from the James River Association

Sturgeon may not be the most attractive species of fish, and they can be downright humongous (reaching 15 feet). But overfishing in the late 1800s depleted their numbers big time. So let's give the survivors in the James River a fighting chance to spawn.

Kudos to the James River Association and Virginia Commonwealth University for "constructing" a reef  in the lower James River near Hopewell. It's the first artificial sturgeon spawning reef in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the entire East Coast.

Luck Stone Corporation generously donated and barged in 2,500 yards of rock for the reef. A $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the rest of this project. The reef is 330 feet long, 70 feet wide, and 2 feet high. 

So do your thing, sturgeon, and thrive in our James River. You were very happy there when John Smith arrived in 1607.