Left In Lowell

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February 3, 2010

South Lowell Can Breathe Easier

by at 2:33 pm.

Investors have pulled out of the Billerica power plant development.

This development is significant, said Fitzpatrick, because it could remove the Billerica Energy Center from ISO New England’s waiting list to provide electricity to the region. ISO New England is the organization that operates the regional power grid.

“We’ve communicated (to ISO-New England) we are no longer actively developing the project,” said Fitzpatrick.

Mentioned also is that the plan could always be revived in a few years but losing its place on the ISO list is a pretty final thing for the current plan.

November 13, 2009

Green Your Roof - Invisibly

by at 3:35 pm.

The Mr. sent me this link, and it’s worth spreading around. Who wouldn’t want to save up to 25% [edit - it takes up to 25% of your energy to heat your water, so you won’t save 25% but a lot of that] of their home energy costs, without the big buildout of solar panels or the look of all that equipment on your roof?

No brainer. If developers were smart, every new home and building with a roof vent and a roof where the sun hits would have this installed. But doing this to your existing home wouldn’t be that hard, either.

April 16, 2009

Our Path To Zero

by at 2:31 pm.

I haven’t given much time to write about my experiences with the Getting to Zero contest like I intended, so I thought I would pen some of my impressions and what it has entailed so far.

First of course I got my National Grid energy audit, which was good but not as thorough as the audit I would get later on. A couple weeks ago, a team of four students from UMass Lowell and their professor showed up for a couple of hours of testing, measuring, and surveying.

They were very professional and courteous and had quite a lot of questions for us, as well as perusing our energy use from some of our latest bills. By and far the best physical test they performed is what is called the door blower test.

They set up a contraption made of plastic panels with seals into one of our doors, where one panel had a powerful fan built in. The process blows air out of your house at a rapid rate, lowering the air pressure in your home as compared to the outside. Because the day was fairly cold, the air outside, now at a higher pressure, comes into every crack and crevice of your home and is quite easily felt with your hands. So you are able to find all the worst air leaks so to seal them and prevent less heat from escaping your home in winter.

Our blower test surprised me in several ways. First, we had always assumed our myriad oversized windows were a point of major heat loss. All windows to some extent are, and though ours are vinyl, they looked to me quite old and outdated. However, the windows must have been carefully installed, because when they were properly locked and sealed, most of the windows felt pretty good. With no major leaks in the casings and having vinyl windows everywhere in the house, we could be confident that the last place we should be spending money to go green was on our windows.

Our funky front door, however, left a lot to be desired. :) It leaked like a sieve! But some inexpensive weather stripping will take care of that. We also found other odd places that leaked: the cut-off pipe-holes in our floors where old radiators had been taken out leaked pretty hard, as did our cellar, from which a wooshing breeze could be felt standing in the doorway to the stairs. One bad leak was where our heating system vents, and there are alternatives for these, but it’s also likely that where our foundation meets the frame there’s places open to the elements. Being a finished basement, it’s hard to know for sure. Of course, if we sealed the door to the cellar with stripping and/or a door cozy or whatever they are called at the bottom, at least in the meantime we can avoid some of the cooling issue we have with the basement (which in the winter we do not heat, finished or not).

We also talked to the evaluation team about the possibility of PVs, photovoltaics (aka solar electric panels) on our almost-due-south-facing second floor roof. In the report from the team, which is pages and pages of information, they outlined what such a system would look like, what it might cost (before and after rebates and incentives). Very useful.

In the report, there’s also information on better home insulation (estimated cost of stripping the siding, putting in 3 inch extruded foam, and residing). Obviously this is a huge expense, although it could reduce total energy usage by quite a lot.

With report in hand, I headed today into the offices at DPD to go over my application with Aaron and Sandy, who spent quite a lot of time with me, going over the students’ report and discussing my application and proposal with me. Since the contest does not require the finalists to spend the money up front (which we really cannot do), I’m definitely going forward and putting my second phase application in. It’ll take some work to finalize our proposal, as I’ll need quotes from some contractors to get a real sense of the total cost, and I have some homework to do (Sandy suggested I get more certain as to whether or not our finished basement is actually insulated, I’m guessing not), but there’s no real reason not to do this.

Even if we don’t win, the process was still worth it because now we will have a blueprint with which to go forward, for making many of the improvements ourselves over time. And given the incentives now coming available with the stimulus and other new grants, that could be sooner rather than later. It’s better to be prepared!

March 31, 2009

New Energy Bill

by at 12:39 pm.

OMG awesome. I’m all tingly!

February 10, 2009

Gas Tax Proposal

by at 1:31 pm.

So Patrick has decided to propose a gas tax increase instead of a toll hike. I generally approve, with some caveats.

1) A $.27 increase is going to cause a political uproar. I suspect that’s sort of the point - pick a pie in the sky amount, expecting people to talk you down. If you started at $.11, chances were that the legislature might cut that amount. However, personally, I don’t object to the $.27 increase (though, all at once? that might be difficult for people). I think gas tax should be over a $1 per gallon, if only to discourage the use of gas. Suddenly a hybrid pays for itself much faster, doesn’t it?

The only thing I hate about the gas tax is that it’s rather regressive - the people who tend to drive distances are the ones working for a living, and many already just barely making ends meet. If much of that money went towards improving regional and statewide public transit, that helps. But it’ll hurt working class folks more than the wealthy, because they use the roads just about as much but have less disposable income.

On the other hand, isn’t preserving our planet worth at least that much per gallon?

2) The second caveat, and the bigger stickler for me, is this:

Tolls would be removed west of Route 128 by the end of next year. Tolls within Route 128, from Weston to Boston, would come down as the state shifts to a program of tracking — and charging — all Massachusetts drivers based on the miles they travel.

Trips would be measured by a chip installed in a vehicle inspection sticker as soon as 2014, and in-state drivers would receive a gas-tax refund for their mileage to avoid double payments. Out-of-staters would remain subject to the higher gasoline tax.

Now, look, we all carry cell phones and GPS systems and by golly, we are so trackable in this day and age that whole companies are devoted to collecting that data and selling it. But the idea of such a large database of where I’ve been all year in my car, well, that’s a little scary. If there were guarantees that data would be deleted after the tax surcharge figured out, and NOT collected to give out to other agencies or even given to police for investigations, I might be assuaged. The problem is, even if you start out with such assurances in the law, there’s no guarantee that the law won’t change (say, if there’s a push for “law and order” in some dystopian future). Of course, something being in law doesn’t mean it won’t get abused, as we found out under the Bush administration, and even if you trust this guy in charge now, in five years from now, or ten, who’s going to be at the reigns?

It’s just all a little too Big Brother to me. Get rid of the tolls entirely, don’t stick us with a system that could potentially be so badly abused. (Then again, with all the OnStar type of services people use these days, and everything else, maybe we’ll all be wired up one way or other anyway…)

It is true, that like a cigarette tax, you put such a tax on gas to discourage its use, and with diminishing use, comes diminishing revenues. But I don’t think we have to worry about that for a few years yet…unfortunately.

So there you have it. Any thoughts?

(If you want to hear us hash out our thoughts more thoroughly, check out our 2:30pm podcast this afternoon on LeftAhead, where this will be sure to be discussed. Listen live here.)

February 6, 2009

A Great Big Zero

by at 1:37 pm.

Well, I just sent in my Intent to Apply form for the Getting to Zero program that the City of Lowell is putting together, with a $25,000 prize to the project that brings one’s energy footprint down closest to zero. (Deadline for Intent to Apply is Feb 20th.)

As I go through the process, I hope to document it and make this a broader educational moment for our readers.

For my household, the outlying costs might be an obstacle we can’t find a way to overcome in the end. Many of the incentives for getting home owners to invest in efficiency and renewable energy generation is to reimburse them with grants after the fact. You need the capital up front to actually do the work. (That may change if the stimulus bill includes the building weatherization grants, which I am hoping it still does once it overcomes the inevitable Republican filibuster attempt…)

However, at a minimum, going through this process will allow my husband and I to formulate some sort of plan. It puts your home on the priority track for the National Grid MassSave energy audit. Otherwise, I hear there’s quite a waiting list. Then, the city is working with UMass Lowell students to do a more comprehensive audit on your home.

This alone will help us determine the best ROI, or return on investment, the lowest hanging fruit that will help us reduce our energy bill and at the same time our carbon footprint. Are our vinyl windows too old to be very efficient? Or should we really be spending money on insulating our basement? Or perhaps our first action ought to be our home heating and hot water systems? Can we afford a PV (photo-voltaic) installation? Or maybe a solar hot water heater? Can our old house even handle the roof load? All of these questions are daunting to a home owner, and therefore a blueprint to navigate your investments for the short and the long term would be very useful.

So I’ll be writing my thoughts and experiences as we go through this process, however far we can get. Hopefully it helps other homeowners who might be contemplating how they too can be part of the movement to reducing their environmental impact while lowering their energy bills at the same time.

December 4, 2008

Clean Coal is Freakin’ Vaporware, People!

by at 11:56 am.

Finally. Someone else is saying it. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! (Sorry, this is one of the things that just frustrates me to no end.) Thank you Al Gore

December 2, 2008

We Don’t Need The Power Now - And Shouldn’t Later, Either!

by at 10:33 am.

The biggest argument from the proponents looking to build CO2-polluting power plants in MA, like ones proposed in Billerica and Brockton, is that we’re constantly in need of more power, and need to ramp up our infrastructure to meet tomorrow’s needs. And anyway, natural-gas-fired plants are sooo much better than coal, so really, we need these in the interim…let us build these plants so we can make money hand over fist, your air quality won’t get that bad, and you need us. Sure we’ll be transitioning to renewables and conservation someday, but in the meantime…

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

The gas- and diesel-burning plant would produce 350 megawatts of electricity and is slated to open by 2012.

But new sources of power won’t be needed until 2014 at the earliest, according to a recent report from electricity overseer ISO New England.

And it may be even longer before the Brockton plant is needed if other plants come into service first, electricity projections show.

Yet that won’t mean state energy regulators will reject it. Under state law, such forecasts aren’t considered by the Energy Facilities Siting Board, the permit-granting board.

That’s a disappointment to project opponents.

(And remember, the more natural gas plants go up, the quicker our residential gas bills, yours and mine, go skyrocketing too.)

The thing is, by 2014, we should have long been seeing the effects of better policies at the local, state, and federal levels - both in conservation (reducing our need for power overall) and in ramping up the use of renewables, spurred on by such programs as Commonwealth Solar, or local contests (to start with). Thereby, I predict (and am quite sure of myself) that even 2014 will not see an increased need for power. If we’re seeing an increased need for power in five years, we have much bigger problems than having the cost of electricity go up due to scarcity (and honestly, having scarcity might be the only thing at that point that will force us to conserve like we should be).

Like the oil market these days, where a downturn has reduced demand so sharply we’ve seen the price slip to 1/3 its peak cost, below $50 a barrel (a price I never thought I would see in my lifetime again!), power and electricity demand should be going down, and also be supplemented by decentralized power, where every rooftop which is prime real estate for solar will have it, and every windy backyard will have a windmill, and home owners will begin to look beneath their foundations for geothermal.

Decentralized power, as discussed by such people as Jeremy Rifkin in “The Hydrogen Economy,” is a huge threat to the profits of Big Power types that like to pressure us with warnings of electrical scarcity, so they can keep building giant, polluting plants in our backyards. This time, we don’t have to listen to them. We’re on our way to true energy independence - including from our own industrial power giants. The plants in Brockton, or Billerica, or the myriad other sites being considered in MA, are not needed.

Let them go the way of the dinosaurs. Evolve, or get out of the way.

November 20, 2008

Will Mass Become the Greenest State?

by at 12:00 pm.

The Patrick administration is announcing a couple more initiatives to get the state onto more efficient, renewable energy. From their press release:

Governor Deval Patrick has set two new goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy: making all new malls and “big box” retail stores energy efficient and powered in part by solar energy by 2010 and offering a super-efficient building code as a local option for municipalities looking to take the lead in combating global climate change.

With the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference under way at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Governor Patrick directed Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to initiate a dialogue with the development community to put together the technical assistance, financing support, and regulatory standards to facilitate the universal adoption of solar power and super-efficient buildings for large retail stores and malls, typically greater than 50,000 square feet in size.
….
Secretary Bowles noted that there are already substantial financial incentives in place for solar power, but that only a few large retailers have taken advantage of them. These incentives include Commonwealth Solar, the state’s rebate program, which provides as much as 40 percent of the cost of a solar energy installation, and federal investment tax credits for solar installations, which were recently extended for another eight years.

“We want to work with the development community to make them aware of the opportunity they have before them in energy efficiency and solar energy, and work with them to find out what they need to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Secretary Bowles. “Malls and big box stores have big flat roofs that are naturals for solar power, and Governor Patrick wants to see them put to use generating clean, renewable energy.”
In addition, Governor Patrick has asked staff at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Public Safety to develop a super-efficient energy code for consideration by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards as a local option for municipalities that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from development in their communities.

Under the Green Communities Act, the comprehensive energy reform bill signed by the Governor in July, Massachusetts is required to incorporate the latest version of the International Energy Conservation Code in its building code within one year of its adoption. The IECC approved its 2009 standards in September, and the BBRS is expected to update the Massachusetts energy code to include these standards sometime next year.

The new law also allows the BBRS to adopt standards event more stringent than the IECC, and Governor Patrick proposes the Board do so by creating a second, super-efficient code that local officials could adopt as a local option.

“The state is already adopting the highest standards of energy efficiency for its building code, but some municipalities would like to go further,” said Governor Patrick. “An alternative code that is 20 to 30 percent more efficient they can adopt as an option will give cities and towns the tool they are looking for to reduce their community’s carbon footprint as development moves forward.”

This “stretch” code, which will be presented to the BBRS for adoption in the coming months, will be based on established national voluntary above-code efficiency standards that have shown themselves to be cost-effective in producing energy savings, such as the Energy Star For Homes program and the New Buildings Institute’s “Core Performance” program for commercial properties. As an optional addendum to the state building code, the stretch code would be voted on by the BBRS following a public hearing. Once approved by the BBRS, any municipality choosing to adopt the stretch code would have to do so by a vote of town meeting or city council.

So, if there’s more solar going up on all new big retail and mall buildings, adding energy to the power grid, and many cities and towns adopt the more stringent building codes, there’s no need to build more polluting power plants. If we can reduce our usage in this state (and there are a lot of low-hanging fruits to achieve this quite quickly), then this state should have to host NO NEW traditional power plants ever again. Maybe even start thinking of closing some older, seriously carbon-polluting dinosaurs. Right?

This myth that “well, the future isn’t here yet so we still need to build CO2-producing power plants in the interim in order to sustain the current system” is bull. Don’t listen to it. You’d be surprised how rapid the tipping point towards lessening our dependence on fossil fuels will come with the right initiatives in place. I mean, do you like paying more every year for natural gas to heat your home? I sure as hell don’t. The fault for that lies at higher demand for supplies…because more natural gas power plants like the one proposed in Billerica are being built. I say it’s high time to stop the insanity.

November 5, 2008

More On City Energy Audit

by at 1:53 pm.

Bernie has his report on the energy audit company which has been hired under a performance contract with the city published on his blog. Take a read.

Très super cool.

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