Monday, February 12, 2007
Today, the Curmudgeon will cover a series of Green developments that have been accumulating on our desk.
In case you didn’t see the comment from Miles on a recent Curmudgeon post, Arlington County, in conjunction with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE) is sponsoring a “Green Living Challenge.” The challenge awards points for various actions and challenges you to earn 100 points to obtain a Green Living Certificate. For example, you get 10 points for composting lawn clippings.
[If you’re an apartment or condo dweller, you’ll get a nice head start with 35 points just for living in a denser residential cluster. That seems a bit unfair to us detached home dwellers—at a minimum there should be a sliding scale of density, awarding some points to those in townhouse clusters and those with smaller lots.]
All in all, a good way to check up on your green living efforts and stretch for more.
DC Net Metering Woes
We’re sorry to learn, from a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, that the D.C. Public Service Commission evidently is dragging its feet on net metering, stalling homeowners who want to add solar panels to their abodes. According to the letter, in the Sunday February 11 Outlook section, the PSC hasn’t yet approved a standard contract by which homeowners with service from Pepco can interconnect with the utility. Absent such a contract, Pepco's holding up homeowners who are all ready to go.
We’re not sure whether it’s deliberate foot-dragging, or simple incompetence, but this isn’t something that should be all that difficult. Dozens of states have well-established net metering programs that include simple standard form contracts between a utility and a homeowner seeking to interconnect a solar photovoltaic system to the grid. (Heavens, even Dominion Virginia makes it pretty easy.) We agree with the letter writers—if the PSC can’t get it done quickly, new Mayor Fenty should get a new PSC.
How To Use Compact Fluorescents With Dimmers
One problem with energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs is that they don’t work well with lights on a dimmer switch. The Curmudgeon has experimented around and figured out a partial fix. (You can now purchase fluorescents that work on a dimmer, but they are very expensive.)
If you have several lights on one switch with a dimmer (like the Curmudgeon’s office, which has four recessed floodlights on one switch) try replacing all but one of the standard incandescent bulbs with fluorescents. We found that if we replaced all the bulbs with fluorescents, we got constant flickering (and burned out one specially ordered, expensive, fluorescent after one week). But if we left an incandescent bulb in the circuit, the problems went away. You won’t be able to dim the lights, but you can simply turn them on and off like other lights, while reducing your power bill considerably.
Exciting Personal Wind Generators
As we’ve pointed out on the Curmudgeon more than once, solar power is still not very economical, but wind energy is quite competitive. However, most homeowners aren’t in a position to install wind turbines. Until now, that is! According to the Wall Street Journal, which today had a special section devoted to the “New Math of Alternative Energy,” a company known as Southwest Windpower, Inc. has developed wind microturbines for use by individual homeowners.
This is pretty exciting stuff: “The latest model Southwest Windpower is bringing to market costs $10,000 to install and is designed for homes with at least half an acre of land. The turbine sits on a tower nearly 35 feet tall and can generate approximately 425 kilowatt hours per month of electricity, according to the company’s chief executive, Frank Greco.”
That’s a pretty good deal, folks. For perspective, the Curmudgeon’s 2.5 kw solar array cost about twice that to install, and should generate about half the amount of electricity. In other words, the microturbine will have a payback about four times as fast as a solar array. Furthermore, for an average homeowner using 10,000-15,000 kwh of electricity each year, the nearly 5000 kwh put out by such a microturbine would put a big dent in their bills.
While it won’t work on the Curmudgeon’s miserly one-eighth of an acre, we’d think a lot of the folks out in Loudon and Prince William Counties whining about a new Dominion high voltage line could easily afford to put these babies up on their estate properties. For more info, go to the company's website.
Solar Power Cost Calculator
BP Energy now has a calculator on its website that will help you estimate the cost of installing a solar photovoltaic system on your roof, including the savings you'll get on your electric bill. You can find it HERE. Simply plug in your zip code and the size of the installation you’re thinking about and the calculator will give you a good estimate of the cost. (We tried it out to see if it would come up with an estimate close to what we actually paid. It worked.)
Defer Dominion Regulation Bill To Next Term
The Virginia General Assembly, which adjourns February 24, has reportedly been racing to adopt a complicated bill that would re-regulate electric utilities in the state—i.e., Dominion Power. The bill was largely drafted by Dominion, with environmental and consumer groups given a very brief (and inadequate) opportunity to provide comments before the bill was introduced.
This is a really important issue that shouldn’t be rushed. The General Assembly should defer this legislation until next year, but should also direct appointment of some kind of committee that includes representatives of Dominion, the PSC, consumer groups, environmental groups, the Governor's office and others to take a hard look at the issue and come back with a more definitive proposal.
At a minimum, if the legislature is going to adopt a bill highly favorable to Dominion—as no doubt it will—it should extract some key concessions and use the opportunity to improve the state’s policies on climate change. At a minimum, the legislation should remove the ridiculously low cap on the number of consumers who can interconnect with Dominion under the state’s net metering law; it should require Dominion to offer the same “Green Power” program if offers NC customers; and it should set targets for investment by Dominion in renewable energy and energy conservation. We’re sure there’s more—that’s why a deferral is needed.