May 27, 2010

Are you smarter than the "smart grid"?

You are if you have even heard the "smart grid" phrase.

A recent survey of 1000 individuals by EcoAlign revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans have never heard of a smart grid. Then, after they learn that it means sensing system overloads and rerouting power to prevent or minimize a potential outage and allowing energy providers to offer electricity at peak times without fear of blackouts, they hope that a smart grid will cut energy consumption and lower costs. That may be a leap of faith.

Our century-old power grid is the largest interconnected machine on Earth, massively complex. It consists of more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1,000,000 megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines.

Some VERY interesting facts from the Department of Energy at :

There have been five massive blackouts over the past 40 years, three of which have occurred in the past nine years. More blackouts and brownouts are occurring due to the slow response times of mechanical switches, a lack of automated analytics, and a “lack of situational awareness” on the part of grid operators.

In the United States, the average generating station was built in the 1960s using even older technology. Today, the average age of a substation transformer is 42, two years more than their expected life span.

From 1988-98, U.S. electricity demand rose by nearly 30 percent, while the transmission network’s capacity grew by only 15%. Summer peak demand is expected to increase by almost 20% during the next 10 years.

The website above further explains the Smart Grid as it applies to consumers:
For most consumers, energy has long been considered a passive purchase. After all, what choice have they been given? The typical electric bill is largely unintelligible to consumers and delivered days after the consumption actually occurs – giving consumers no visibility into decisions they could be making regarding their energy consumption. However, it pays to look at electric bills closely if for no other reason than this; they also typically include a hefty “mortgage payment” to pay for the infrastructure needed to generate and deliver power to consumers.

A surprisingly substantial portion of your electric bill – between 33% – 50% – is currently assigned to funding our “infrastructure mortgage,” our current electric infrastructure. This item is non-negotiable because that infrastructure – power plants, transmission lines, and everything else that connects them – must be maintained to keep the grid running as reliably as it does. In fact, the transmission and distribution charge on the electric bill is specifically for infrastructure.

With demand estimated to double by 2050 – and more power plants, transmission lines, transformers and substations to be built – the costs of this “big iron” will also show up on your bill in one way or another. (The only difference this time is that global demand for the iron, steel, and concrete required to build this infrastructure will make these commodities far more costly; in fact, the cost of many raw materials and grid components has more than tripled since 2006.)

Further clarification: Devices such as wind turbines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and solar arrays are not part of the Smart Grid. Rather, the Smart Grid encompasses the technology that enables us to integrate, interface with, and intelligently control these renewable energy sources and innovations.

People are often confused by the terms smart grid and smart meters. Are they the same thing? Not exactly. Metering is just one of hundreds of possible applications that constitute the Smart Grid; a smart meter is a good example of an enabling technology.

May 25, 2010

"Spinning" energy in Virginia and elsewhere

“An event that will prove that oil and water really do mix?” Really? I thought it was a joke when I read that the 75th annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival ( will take place as scheduled this upcoming Labor Day weekend in Morgan, Louisiana. This annual celebration includes a golf tournament (sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute), a blessing of the fleet (what fleet?) by the parish priest, and the coronation of the Shrimp and Petroleum king and queen (BP’s Tony Hayward perhaps?).

Oversight, anyone? MMS (Minerals Management Service) wasn’t in my vocabulary before the BP debacle. Now we know that it’s in the mix with EPA and the Coast Guard to handle these cleanups. But a “cozy” relationship with the oil industry should not be in the mix, when it comes to permits, safety, and environmental regs connected with offshore drilling. Sure hope that Obama’s bipartisan national commission to investigate what caused the devastating oil spill in the Gulf can figure out where the government went wrong so as to “make sure it never happens again.” Please don't get the spin doctors involved. I've already heard enough excuses to last me a lifetime--although Joe Lieberman's, "Accidents happen." was a doozy. Natural Resources Defense Council guru, Frances Beinecke, calls for guidelines for “whether, when, where and under what circumstances new offshore drilling operations should be allowed.”

Is offshore drilling off Virginia’s coast really on hold?
The Department of Defense provided the biggest obstacle last week when they called drilling off Virginia’s coast a “serious negative impact on U.S. national security.” In spite of Obama’s recent opening of the Virginia coast to offshore drilling (lease sale now on hold), the Navy has a different opinion. It seems that the Navy uses a huge chunk of this part of the ocean for training, flyovers, gunnery practice, and submarine training. So they’re calling it off-limits and leaving only 630,000 acres out of the original 2.9 million open to drilling. Does BP really want to argue with the guys on this "stealth ship" I recently saw at the Norfolk Navy Base?

Then there’s the toxic stuff (as in chemical weapons) that are still on the nearby ocean bottom that the Army dumped there from 1944 to 1970. Anyone want to drill into 64 million pouns on nerve and mustard gas, 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, or 500 tons of radioactive waste and stir it up?

Food for thought: Since only 1 percent of our electricity comes from oil, shouldn’t the U.S. spend more than $18 billion on research and investment in clean energy? China is spending more than $34 billion, if you want to make comparisons!

May 24, 2010

Oil spill hair mats?

No, these are NOT large sausages for the grill. They are "sausages" of sorts though--sausages of hair inside pantyhose, used to absorb oil spills in water. These (and the creative Matter of Trust folks) came to my attention years ago, but have been in the recent news related to the ongoing Gulf oil leak.

Matter Of Trust, established in 1998, is an ecological public charity that links ideas, sparks action, and materializes flourishing systems. It concentrates on manmade surplus, natural surplus and eco-education.

Their website now says: As of May 23, 2010 all new sign ups will be in the RESERVES. We ask you all to collect and keep 1 box ready to go. We currently have enough fiber on its way and in the warehouses. WE DO NEED MORE RECYCLED NYLONS and funding. We will alert everyone when we clear out space for more hair, fur & fleece.

Thousands of boxes of hair, fur, fleece, feathers and nylons are coming in now by drop-offs and by USPS, FED EX, UPS from every city in North America. Even from donors in UK, France, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and Brazil... Everyone wants to make this happen!

Together we are all orchestrating an international natural fiber recycling MOBILIZATION!

Booms are being made all along the Gulf Coast. And municipalities from all over are contacting us about how to set up collection and boom storage for the other 2,600 smaller spills on average every year!

BUT . . . BP doesn't need these booms (or so they told Matter of Trust) . . .

"THERE HAS BEEN A MISUNDERSTANDING" After a few days of mixed messages to the press, Ronald D. Rybarczyk BP Government & Public Affairs, contacted us at Matter of Trust tonight. Rybarcyzk informed us that they have a plentiful supply of ideal boom for their needs and will not be in want of donated boom or renewable fiber.

We deeply appreciate those at BP's Houma Critical Resources Materials Management for contacting us since May 15th. Upon learning this, Rybarczyk checked then called us back and apologized for the confusion and repeated his original message that there was no need for our boom.

"TRUST is not the word I associate with BP, but it is indeed the operative word here. If I were BP's Government & Public Affairs person, I would not turn down any workable solution, even if it soaks up a miniscule amount of this massive spill. Hair mats do absorb oil, and I'm still grinning at the idea of golf balls plugging that well.

May 17, 2010

RECYCLING GUIDE, updated March 2017

CURBSIDE PICKUP every other week (in York and James City counties, Williamsburg & Poquoson): 

All cleaned rigid plastics, such as yogurt containers, produce containers, party cups, plant pots, buckets and plastic toys (no larger than 3'x4') are accepted along with newspapers, magazines, cardboard, junk mail, catalogs, phone books, computer paper; shredded paper inside a stapled paper bag, paper bags; glass bottles; aluminum and steel cans. Call Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority at 259-9850, to find out if weekly curbside pickup is available in your area, or to request a bin. NO Styrofoam please!

Click here for the program's informational brochure of what is and is NOT accepted.

Genesis Computer Repair and Sales in Yorktown will pick up personal and business computers and monitors if  working and less than 6 years old—at no charge. Contact Lisa, Tues.-Fri. at 757-833-6262.

Charlie's Metals (Williamsburg, VA area), 757-746-5977 - "If it's metal, I'll come get it."

Almost everything: Join FREECYCLE at & post your free items.

Plastic Bags (grocery, shopping, newspaper, and dry-cleaning):
Collection bins at Target, Kohl's and most groceries; do NOT put these in curbside recycling containers

Batteries rechargeables only: Staples, Target, Lowe's. See local Household Chemical Collection Day info for all batteries):

Books and Paperbacks: Donate to Friends of the Library; or sell at Book Exchange, 1303 Jamestown Rd.

Cell Phones:
Verizon, Office Depot, Staples, Target; Avalon for Women, 3204 Ironbound Rd., Williamsburg

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs:
Home Depot and Lowe's; Household Chemical Collection Days

Computers, TVs (no consoles) and Other Electronics
Two items daily, per household at Best Buy stores. Many items qualify for trade-in gift card. Also at Office Depot; and Special County Household Collection Days

Goodwill stores: Drop off cell phones, PDAs, working TVs, packaged software, electronic games, working TVs (No consoles please), computers and accessories (keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, and other peripherals that attach to the computer), working or non-working)

ARC: 2520 58th St., Hampton; 757-896-8463; M-F; 9 a.m.– 3:30 p.m. $10/small TV; $15 if larger than 27”.

Fats, Oils, Greases (“FOG”):
All three James City County Convenience Centers; click here for hours.

American Legion drop boxes: Ace Hardware in both Williamsburg and Five Forks, Jamestown Feed and Seed in Norge

Fluorescent Bulbs: CLICK here for the collection dates in your area.
Only on County Household Hazardous Waste Days; do NOT put in curbside containers

“Gently used” furniture, clothing, appliances, toys, computers, working TVs, etc.:
Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, CHKD Thrift Shops; Goodwill; or Salvation Army, DAV and Samaritan House pick-ups; or Freecycle groups

“Household Chemicals” such as oils, gasoline, paints, stains, sealers, thinners, solvents, transmission & brake fluids’ insecticide, weed killers, fertilizers, pool chemicals, oven & drain cleaners, metal polishes, floor waxes, charcoal fluid, auto & household batteries, and fluorescent/CFL bulbs. CLICK here for the collection dates in your area.

Motor Oil:
All three JCC Convenience Centers

Packaging “peanuts” and bubble wrap:
Williamsburg Parcel Plus, Mailstop, and UPS stores

Printer ink cartridges:
Office Depot (5/day max); Staples (10/month +$ rebate)

Shoes, Athletic Shoes (even if really worn; no cleats)--Nike Factory Store, Premium Outlets

Tires (small charge):
3 James City Convenience Centers.

“White Goods” (AC, dishwasher, refrigerators, washers, dryers):
All 3 JCC Convenience Centers.

Wire hangers:
Most dry cleaners

MAIL BACK and keep out of landfills:

Books (textbooks published since 1995):

Cell phones for Soldiers:

GPS devices, MP3s, cell phones, digital cameras; camcorders, car audio head units, notebook computers, game media and game consoles: Various Online Trade-In Programs. Find if it’s acceptable; print out prepaid shipping label. After product is received, they will send you a gift certificate.
--Best Buy's program at
--Gazelle at
--Next Worth at

Small electronics (cell phones, MP3s, Palm Pilot, PDAs, digital cameras) and inkjet cartridges: Recycle For Breast Cancer provides prepaid shipping labels, envelopes or collection materials based on the condition, quantity, and weight of the items you have.

May 16, 2010

Eating pesticides?

Probably more than you think.

Just as Farmers’ Market season begins, the Environmental Working Group recently released their updated “2010 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides” at

Buying organic sure sounds appealing after seeing their list of the “Top Dirty Dozen.” Celery has now replaced peaches as the produce most likely to have the highest pesticide residues.

Scary fact: the FDA has "required" testing on only 200 of the nearly 80,000 chemicals out there!

May 3, 2010

Offshore winds could supply 10% of Virginia's power demands

and that's not a bunch of hot air!

Good news! The state-funded Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium just reported that an offshore wind farm could provide 10 percent of Virginia’s electricity demands. What a timely report, as BP’s oil slick approaches our Gulf Coast!

Just days after federal approval of Massachusetts’ Cape Wind project (after nine years of review and permits), the report identified 25 potential lease spots where hundreds of turbines could be installed 12 miles offshore—perhaps as soon as 2016.

Using 2008 dollars, a 600-megawatt offshore wind farm could produce electricity at $105 to $130 per megawatt-hour, contrasting with $85 to $100 from a coal-fired power plant. But you need to remember that coal is cheaper only if we look the other way at their carbon and mercury emissions. Factor in reducing those emissions, and the cost for coal’s power would rise dramatically.

Talk about green jobs for Virginians? Our state could be on the cutting edge if we could manufacture the parts here. If we can construct Navy ships in Hampton Roads, the components for a wind farm should be a piece of cake.

The ecological disaster still unfolding off the Louisiana and Mississippi coast will hopefully stifle some of the “Drill, baby, drill” enthusiasts. Then we can get serious about wind farms off the Virginia coast. The biggest opposition comes from the “Oh no, we don’t want to look at wind vanes on the Virginia Beach horizon” whiners. But we surely don’t want to look at oil slicks washing up on the beach either. I’ll take wind vanes any day.