Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your wEEkly updates:
  1. 179D Government Savings Extended
    The Section 179D deduction of the Internal Revenue Code encourages energy efficiency in building design and construction. Originally enacted as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, it was extended through 12/31/16. 179D provides a retroactive opportunity for savings from investments in energy efficiency in all new and existing government buildings.
  2. Lawmakers Review Prop 39 Outcomes
    A Senate committee heard updates this week on Proposition 39, a ballot initiative that has generated more than $1.1 billion for California schools and community colleges to boost energy efficiency and create green jobs. The initiative was sold to voters in 2012 as a way to generate billions for green energy projects at California schools and create 11,000 jobs each year. However, it has not raised as much as expected. The Associated Press reported last August that less than $300 million had been distributed to schools and only 1,700 jobs created in three years.
  3. EPA's RE-Powering Electronic Decision Tree
    This interactive tool helps interested parties screen for the suitability of solar photovoltaics or wind installations on landfills, potentially contaminated sites, and underutilized parcels or rooftops. It provides a step-by-step walk-through of key considerations for renewable energy development at the sight, suggested resources to help you answer screening questions, and reports summarizing your answers and initial findings about the site and next steps. This tool was developed under EPA's RE-Powering America's Lands initiative.
  4. How Energy Efficiency Can Help Manage the Duck Curve
    Given the changing load shape, the role of energy efficiency can no longer be a focus on lowering overall kWh or therms. Instead, we'll all have to change the way we think about and deploy energy efficiency to be treated as actual energy capacity. It will need to become a form of "supply" that can be deployed in real time to help climb the steep neck of the duck curve.
  5. Calendar of Energy-Related Events
    Please forward events to statewideenergycoordinator@lgc.org so that they can be added to the calendar.

Special Announcement: Enroll Today for LGC's Groundwater Sustainability Training!

LGC is offering workshops for local agency staff to gain a better understanding of groundwater management in their region, impacts of recent legislation, and tools for effective stakeholder engagement. These full-day training's will take place from 8:30am-5:00pm (cost: $50, lunch and refreshments included) in the following locations:
January 26th - Northern San Joaquin Valley - Robert Cabral Agricultural Center in Stockton, CA
January 28th - Sacramento Valley - Wheatland Community Center in Marysville, CA
This workshop is offered at a highly reduced rate, thanks to financial support from the California Employment Training Panel, and requires a 3-step registration process:
Have your employer complete the Enrollment Form
Complete the Registration Form
Sign up for the Training
Once you enroll, you and your co-workers can attend any of our Drought Response and Resilience Training's! Upcoming topics include: community water conservation and incentive programs, reducing onsite water and energy demand, water efficient landscape ordinance (WELO), and urban forestry and drought.

And that is all for this week!

Be a Green Shopper

I admit it. I love to shop. I shop less than a lot of people, but still more than I should, especially because I have everything that I need and more. I am pledging to not only shop less, but to shop green. If you want to make this pledge with me, read on!

How can you shop green?

First, you must ask yourself a series of questions before even considering a purchase. The EPA outlines four very important ones:
Photo Source: Above All Things...
  • Do I absolutely need it?
  • Will I use it (more than once or twice)?
  • Do I already have it or something similar?
  • Can I borrow it from a friend or family member?
Make sure you answer yes to the first two and no to the last two before buying. The entire process from manufacturing and producing foods and goods to transporting and discarding them makes up about 42% of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country. So be extra sure that item you’re buying is worth it!

Don’t invest in something you only use once or twice a year. If you live in apartments, borrow a carpet washer from a friend, or a grocery store or hardware store in your area. If you find a hole in your sweater or a button on your shirt broke, mend it yourself or, if you’re not so good with a needle and thread, have someone who is mend it for you.

Photo Source:
Energy Star
Do some research about the products you want to buy and the companies that make them. All of us can identify the Energy Star label on a refrigerator or computer, but what about all the other products that don’t have environmental labels? Check out the EPA’s Greener Products page and Green America’s Responsible Shopper page. You can search by company name, industry or product. Looking for safe cosmetics or other personal care items? The Environmental Working Group created Skin Deep, a site that identifies toxicity in personal care products and provides healthier, safer choices and manufacturers.

Once you figure out how durable, recyclable, reusable, and sustainable a product is, you can make a more informed and green decision. If you’re looking at products like lotion, bathroom cleaner, sponges, etc., find out if it’s both more cost effective and more eco-friendly to buy in bulk. If you need to buy disposable items – silverware and plates for your food truck, for example – look for compostable products.

When you can, support local businesses. Not only will this strengthen the local economy, but you'll save transportation- and packaging-related emissions and waste when you buy local. Plus, you may meet some really great people and entrepreneurs in your town!

Finally, if you’re looking to save a bunch of money and be green, head to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. There are certainly items I would avoid or cannot be found in these stores, but if you're looking for fun mismatched china, clothes or even furniture, second-hand stores are always worth a peak around.

 And, of course, don’t forget your reusable shopping bag!

EPA Invites Communities to Apply for Smart Growth Assistance

Feb. 13, 2013

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today is inviting applications from communities interested in exploring barriers to smart growth and testing innovative strategies that can create healthier, more sustainable places to live, work, and play.

EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) program provides technical assistance to help communities grow in ways that improve the local economy, the environment, and people’s health. The program aims to help applicants develop solutions to local challenges, such as managing storm water  increasing transit-oriented development, and adapting to climate change, and to share those solutions with other communities.

EPA will be accepting applications from tribal, local, regional, and state governments and nonprofit organizations that have partnered with a governmental entity for their request for assistance. Applications will be accepted until March 1, 2013. EPA will provide assistance to three to four communities selected from this round of applications.

EPA is seeking applications in the following four categories:

1.    Community Resilience to Disasters and Climate Change – Projects should aim to develop planning principles and building design guidelines that ensure future development provides communities with better protection against storms, floods, and other natural disasters.

2.    Redevelopment for Job Creation – Projects should aim to support growing industries that provide quality jobs for existing residents using land use policies that direct development to existing neighborhoods, are pedestrian-friendly, allow for transit connections, and are close to businesses and public services.

3.    Manufactured and Modular Homes in Sustainable Neighborhood Design – Projects should help communities that are using manufactured and modular homes to address sudden population and economic growth. These communities should provide a mix of uses and maximize existing streets and other infrastructure investments, community gathering spaces, and water and energy efficiency.

4.    Medical and Social Service Facilities Siting – Projects should aim to explore planning for high-quality community service facilities, including health care centers and social services centers, in ways that support neighborhood economic development and healthy communities.

Since 2005, the SGIA program has helped an array of communities from across the country on issues such as stormwater management, code revision, transit-oriented development, affordable housing, infill development, corridor planning, green building, and climate change. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) became involved with the SGIA program through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This interagency collaboration coordinates federal investments in infrastructure, facilities, and services to get better results for communities and use taxpayer money more efficiently. In many cases, HUD and DOT serve on the SGIA technical assistance teams, and help identify how SGIA projects can complement and build on past and future federal investments.

More information on the SGIA program and applications:  http://epa.gov/smartgrowth/sgia.htm

More information on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities:  http://www.sustainablecommunities.gov

Latisha Petteway (News Media Only)

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smart_growth/6124622692/

Benchmarking: Shooting hoops for energy efficiency

Benchmarking sounds a little like being the sixth man on basketball team.

You're not in the starting lineup, but you're good enough to provide the spark off the bench. The player who can make a difference down the stretch. There's Ricky Pierce, a Seattle Supersonic and two-time NBA sixth man, or -- to get more current -- Dion Waiters from Syracuse or Michael Dixon of Missouri.

But the kind of benchmarking I'm describing has none of the former's run-and-gun offense. In fact, it's downright dull. No points are scored here. A smothering defense keeps the excitement quite low.

Managing energy use

However, the practice of recording energy data, tracking changes and producing reports reflecting those alterations has become extremely popular in the past several years.

"We've had exponential growth," says one official on a recent webinar explaining the latest in data benchmarking.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started its Portfolio Manager program in 1999, signing just a few buildings that first year. Since then, it's grown to about 300,000 buildings, and the rate of expansion is expected to continue.

What's cool really isn't the data entry part. That is mind-numbing. No bones about it. The interesting aspect comes after the data, or energy-qualifying benchmarks, have been established. It's at that point the building owner knows just how much he/she/it pays every month and can view the seasonal fluctuations.

Retrofits make the difference

The sexy part is adding new stuff, when the building owner adds energy efficient lighting, installs extra insulation, replaces windows, adds a heat-reflecting cool roof, swaps out an old rickety AC unit for a super-efficient SEER 15 or installs occupancy sensors.

For larger buildings, savings also can come from installing a sophisticated building information management system that monitors temperature, water consumption, occupancy, air flow and electricity use room by room. Metering also works in industrial applications, and companies have reported full retrofit paybacks in less than a year and utility savings of 20 percent or more on their bills.

And tracking those savings on Portfolio Manager is when the proverbial light bulb in the head goes off. Of course, it's an LED bulb in this case.

Tracking changes

I track such changes from PG&E, which has attached a smart meter to my house. I've done a number of things to my 52-year-old home to make it better than average. I still have a way to go, but the personal payback is when I read a letter from the utility stating, "You have saved 13 percent this quarter over the year before."

Portfolio Manager operates essentially the same way.

Its features allow the user to group buildings, view average ratings across a group, control access to building data and generate reports to brag to shareholders or partners and business associates just how much money has been saved. The great thing about an energy efficiency retrofit is that once it earns its money back, the future savings are nothing but gravy.

Energy Star

EPA enables top-performing buildings to earn the Energy Star rating, with organizations and building portfolios that show a 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent and more level of savings able to qualify for Energy Star Leader recognition.

That's good for a company interested in winning points with customers or a city wanting to save money in this budget-busting economy.

We're no stranger to the benchmarking concept at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. However, this is my first foray into actually using the site. I'm thinking in between populating the various data fields like building age, square footage, how many PCs, how many workers, hours of use and percentage of building air conditioned, a good distraction would be a nearby basketball hoop.

Best laid plans

However, today's temp of 109 or 110 makes that sound a little daunting. Still, I'd prefer it as a momentary distraction to four hours straight of keyboarding energy data. I would say I have a co-worker who loves benchmarking more than anything, but I'd be lying.

Regardless, this is good stuff.

And while it does take money to make money, there are a number of programs building owners can access. Utilities may provide on-bill financing programs to reduce kilowatt hour energy use.

Milton Bevington, a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts and member of the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee, says in a piece that municipalities have other methods of raising money.

"Virtually any essential-use energy efficiency project can be financed using a municipal lease, usually at a cost comparable to bonding," he says, adding that premiums are offset by lower transaction costs and payment terms.

Mandating monitoring

The practice convinced leaders of Philadelphia to mandate energy benchmarking for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, and Katherine Tweed of greentechmedia.com reports the city is one of a growing list. And she says there's help. Companies are lining up to do the work.

So benchmark. You're in good company. Although my mind drifts back to Dennis Johnson when he was drafted in the second round by the Supersonics and tore up the back court with Gus Williams and Downtown Freddie Brown before winning it all with Larry Bird in Boston.

Now that's off the bench. RIP DJ.

EPA honors highly efficient building designs

Efforts to save energy by designing more efficient buildings continue to gain steam.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized about 100 commercial building design projects estimated to be nearly 40 percent more energy efficient than typical buildings. The agency made the announcement at the American Institute of Architects National Convention in Washington, D.C. The projects were submitted by 43 architecture firms and achieved Designed to Earn the Energy Star certification.

Projects that receive Designed to Earn the Energy Star certification are In total, the projects recognized at the convention are estimated to prevent nearly 175,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and save more than $23 million in annual energy costs across 10 million square feet of commercial space.

"These new building design projects are helping to save energy and money from the ground up for American families and businesses," says Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a statement. She says they range from skyscrapers to rural elementary schools.

Commercial and residential buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy in the United States and about 70 percent of all electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And electricity consumption in the commercial building sector is expected to increase another 50 percent by 2025.

In total, the projects recognized at the convention are estimated to prevent nearly 175,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and save more than $23 million in annual energy costs across 10 million square feet of commercial space.

The EPA says that by 2035, 75 percent of all buildings will be new or renovated and that architecture firms are "uniquely positioned to design energy efficient buildings and reduce carbon emissions."

Here are several highlighted projects:

High Performance Computing Research Center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Architect is Gensler. Comments: "This project design provides power to the computers while using as little energy as possible. During winter, the air conditioning system can be switched off and giant louvers, or movable slates, can be opened to let in cold outside air."

Kroger Store in Dallas, Texas. Architect is Robertson Loia Roof. Comments: "This design incorporates energy efficient features such as cooler/freezer refrigerant heat replacement systems and roof planters for heat island effect reduction and shading. White high solar reflective roof material is also in the project plan to minimize sunlight absorption."

Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo. Architect is RB+B Architects. Comments: "The sustainable design of Red Hawk Elementary School creates a vibrant place for kids to learn with a central space connected to all parts of the school which allows for interactions amongst students and teachers. Sustainable features include proper orientation of classrooms to maximize daylight, displacement ventilation coupled with ground source heat pumps as well as radiant floor heating, low flow fixtures, and highly insulated building envelope."

Using renewable energy to make good use of polluted land

Developers had a favorite saying  before the real estate crash. It was almost a daily refrain when I was a real estate reporter.

"Invest in land. They're not making any more of it."

Maybe not, but they are recycling it. If government leaders have their way, thousands of contaminated or otherwise unusable sites could become prime real estate for renewable energy. This Bloomberg story  refers to "good for nothing polluted land" becoming good again.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is so hot on the idea that it has published some cool tools and data that show Brownfields, landfills, contaminated sites, abandoned mines and other property suitable  for solar, wind and other types of clean energy. This spreadsheet highlights sites all across the country, including Central California. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control also is a big fan of such do-overs.

Thousands of acres from Lodi to Bakersfield and from Mariposa to Avila Beach are identified as potential  for solar and other renewables. EPA program analyst Lura Matthews, who heads up the EPA's Re-Powering America's Land program, says in a video here in the Phoenix Sun that developers can buy or lease contaminated sites without being liable for contamination they don't cause, or that was there previously.

These sites are  desirable because they frequently come with power lines, transmission capacity, rights of way in place, roads and permits - and without opposition from nearby property owners and environmentalists who also want the property reused.

Matthews said that renewable energy companies will team up with developers or other entitites to develop the sites, or entirely new business models are being created. Here's an EPA fact sheet on the program, and some case studies:

New Rifle mill site in Colorado, where solar energy powers wastewater reclamation at a former Uranium processing site, and Pemaco Superfund site in Maywood, CA, where solar PV powers a soil and groundwater treatment system at Superfund site and rooftop solar offsets power costs of water.

This seems to be an ideal marriage. Pairing bad land with good clean energy would help California meets its 33 percent renewables goal, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. It would eliminate or at lessen conflicts over habitat and prime farm land.

Rice hull walls, algae oil & portable solar win at P3 competition

An artificial wetland to treat household gray water, structural wall panels made of rice hulls and algae biofuel systems number are the projects selected to receive grant money in a recent competition between university and college teams across the country.

A total of 15 teams participating in the People, Prosperity and the Planet competition, also known as P3, split $1 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The event was held at the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The winners were selected from 45 teams. Their mission was to create innovative environmental solutions. Judging was provided by a panel of national experts who provided recommendations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. EPA then selected the award-winning projects "from the most competitive pool of teams ever."

Many of the projects "have the potential to make significant impacts on our nation’s sustainable future and development of environmental technologies," says Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Research and Development, in a statement.

Each winning team will receive up to $90,000 to further develop the projects, "apply it to real world applications or move it to the marketplace." EPA officials say previous award winners have started successful businesses and are marketing the technologies domestically and internationally.

Winners of this year’s awards include:

Appalachian State University for developing an artificial wetland suitable for recycling of grey water from small businesses for immediate reuse.

Butte College for developing structural insulated panels for building construction using rice hulls, an abundant agricultural waste, as the primary raw material.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for designing a foldable solar power water purification system that can fit into a backpack for easy transport for use after a disaster affecting drinking ether supply.

Gonzaga University for developing a simple ventilation system for kitchens in rural dwellings using electrical power generated from thermoelectric cells driven by waste heat from cooking fires.

Oregon State University for raising awareness of pollution associated with the production and use of plastic mulch by farmers and testing alternative biodegradable mulch material.

Princeton University for developing, testing and deploying an electricity generation system that can be transported in a standard shipping container and rapidly set up in rural communities and post disaster areas.

Santa Clara University for developing a fuel cell capable of continuous sustainable energy supply to meet energy demands in rural communities in developing nations lacking reliable energy grids.

Southern Illinois University - Carbondale for developing methods to extract (recycle) metals from Coal Combustion Byproducts (CCB) to reduce mining and to produce a concrete with reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Engineering for studying ways to recover struvite, a slow release fertilizer, from digested animal manures and assesses its marketability.

Texas State University - San Marcos for converting rice husks, a byproducts of agriculture, into a starter material called lignocellulose for producing fabrics, biofuel and silica nanoparticles.

University of California, Riverside for designing a solar collector to heat ambient air for use in home appliances, such as clothes dryers and space heaters, to reduce home energy consumption.

University of Cincinnati for developing a pilot scale system to convert trap grease from restaurants, a waste set to landfill, to renewable biodiesel.

University of Connecticut for investigating ways to use local industrial byproducts such as steal slag and lime kiln dust to control erosion and to stabilize roads in Nicaragua.

University of Oklahoma, Norman for design, field-test, construct, instrument, analyze and document a habitat for humanity house built of compressed earth blocks, aka CEB.

Vanderbilt University for developing a biohyrid solar panel that substitutes a protein from spinach for rare metals (mined) and is capable of producing electricity.

Honorable mention winners include:

Christian Brothers University for developing technologies to improve energy efficiency in the building envelope of residencies in Memphis, Tenn., that focus on the thermal properties of materials, fire safety, material stability and cost.

Clarkson University for studying the feasibility of using waste heat and leachate from a solid waste management facility for energy to produce biodiesel from algae.

Drexel University for designing a pilot-scale reactor for local landfill that uses algae to produce biofuels from landfill leachate and gas.

Purdue University for designing, building and installing affordable ram pumps in Haiti to improve the availability of water for its citizens.

Rochester Institute of Technology for designing a hydrofoil system that harvests energy from a river while minimizing the harmful effects that dams create for river flow and sediments.

Santa Clara University for developing a high efficiency solar absorber/exchanger that can bring low cost energy to urbanites who have limited space for solar collectors.

Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville for evaluating the use of selenium-polluted plant waste materials harvested from phytoremediation sites to produce selenium-enriched edible mushrooms.

University of Texas at Austin for designing, constructing and testing vermicomposting (composting with worms) bins to improve public health in the Dominican Republic by reducing water contamination from organic waste.

University of California, Davis for designing and monitoring an affordable green roof technology that uses the shading from plant to cool roof surfaces and reduce peak electricity demand by up to 75 percent.

Missouri University of Science and Technology for developing a control system that opens and closes windows to maximize natural ventilation and save energy by sensing differencing in outdoor and indoor climate conditions.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for creating and implementing a point-of-view disinfectant for drinking water that is cheap, non-toxic and effective in reducing waterborne illness in developing nations.

Photo of Appalachian State University team.

EPA takes aim at airborne mercury

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued limits on the amount of mercury and other toxics substances pouring from the stacks of mostly coal-fired power plants.

Dubbed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, they're the first national regulations to be put in place and were vigorously opposed by the coal industry. The standards are meant to protect people from mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide, the EPA says.

Officials say the "standards will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available, proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants."

However, they didn't list specifics. The standards enacted match those proposed.

Big mercury reduction

The nation's 491 coal-fired plants contribute an estimated 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. A report by Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management says the most stringent standards for reducing mercury emissions would remove 96 percent from the stacks of coal-fired power plants while the least would remove only 40 percent. The report's authors say it's a difference of 2 and 28 tons.

EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year, officials say.

"These standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health," says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. The "health benefits ... far outweigh the costs of compliance."

Compliance costly

Some coal-fired power plants already have been retrofit with toxic emissions controls that would meet the most stringent reductions, but for others it would be a problem. For instance, biggovernment.com says: "In some cases, these companies simply can’t afford to buy the equipment and for others the needed equipment isn’t commercially available. If this rule is implemented, it would force the shut down of many coal-fired power plants."

According to a Government Accountability Office report from October 2009, some 14 plants with sorbent injection systems installed have complied, "enabling them to meet state or other mercury emission requirements -- generally 80 percent to 90 percent reductions."

The GAO also found that the 14 plants spent an average of $3.6 million on the systems -- "a fraction of the cost of other pollution control devices." The pollution-control systems inject sorbents -- powdery substances to which mercury binds -- into the exhaust from boilers to achieve the reductions, the GAO says. And it says annual cost of buying sorbents is about $675,000, still a modest sum compared to the potential cost to human health down the road.

Long time coming

The regulations are 20 in the making. Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury.

More than half of all coal-fired power plants already use pollution control technologies. EPA officials say that once final, these standards "will level the playing field by ensuring the remaining plants – about 40 percent of all coal fired power plants - take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.

What others are saying

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "Today, the President has done the right thing by ignoring the false claims of a narrow special interest and siding with the public health and the public good."

Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Consumers Union: Regulating mercury emissions is just a common sense way to protect consumers."

President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity Steve Miller: "The EPA is out of touch with the hard reality facing American families and businesses. This latest rule will destroy jobs, raise the cost of energy and could even make electricity less reliable."

Changing the world: The stars of the Energy Star video challenge

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compiled some of the winners of its nationwide video challenge, and I tossed in a couple more.

The agency encouraged people earlier in the year around Earth Day to take part in the “Be an Energy Star” video challenge. People were asked to pick up their home video cameras and document energy-efficient behavior they discovered or participated in at home, school, workplace and community.

The names of the videos are featured on the Energy Star facebook page, but the links are gone since it's been partially decommissioned. Members of the public viewed and voted for their favorite videos this fall and the winners were listed last month.

Of course, I just heard about it.

In addition to the video challenge, EPA encouraged those interested to take the “Change the World, Start with Energy Star” pledge. The pledge is hardly binding but encourages people to embrace energy efficiency in their homes and daily activities.

Apparently it's a big deal. The EPA says more than 2.7 million Americans have taken the pledge, "resulting in a reduction of more than 8 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions from using more than 400 million gallons of gasoline."

These include switching to more efficient lighting, choosing Energy Star products, sealing and insulating homes and using power management features -- like eco or power strips -- on home computers and monitors.

This one may be a little rough around the edges but gets the idea across.

Many of them appear to be kid-driven. This next one reflects the new economic reality facing parents and college students who move back home.

Rooftop solar & decentralized generation can save California

Rooftops may not be the final frontier, but they do provide ample fields for cultivating solar panels.

So says Al Weinrub, who has penned "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California." Weinrub is a member of the Sierra Club California Energy-Climate Committee and serves on the Steering Committee of the Bay Area’s Local Clean Energy Alliance. He said he relied extensively on work from both.

"Decentralized generation means that local residences, businesses, and communities become electric power producers," he writes. "Businesses with large rooftops or parking lots can become small power companies that feed electricity into the grid."

The beauty is that these buildings are already connected to the electrical grid and have an existing footprint, benefits that a remote solar installation doesn't always have. Industrial solar on empty land requires extensive permitting, studies and review of environmental impact, especially if its federal. Those panels definitely can change a picturesque landscape.

Buildings offer many acres of alternative energy opportunity. Just check out John Majoris' work at solaraerials.com for a King Kong view of some pretty amazing projects.

Rooftop power

Sandy Nax and I came to a similar conclusion over the the past year or so. Actually our former governor said the same thing and we agreed: The otherwise unused rooftops of the acres of warehouses in Fresno/San Joaquin Valley provide a great place for easy-to-permit solar and a cheap additional crop to be farmed on those rather ugly asphalt-topped fields.

I apologize in advance to any owners of said structures who have added white "cool roofs," that drastically lower cooling costs by reflecting sunlight.

Some companies in California already are moving ahead with industrial solar on commercial warehouses. IKEA, for example, plans to install 7,980 panels on its Tejon distribution center just off Interstate 5 at the foot of the Grapevine south of Bakersfield. The installation will generate 2.8 million kilowatt hours annually, enough to power 251 houses. The retailer also plans solar systems at stores in Burbank, Costa Mesa, Covina, East Palo Alto, Emeryville, West Sacramento and San Diego.

Solar for cities

At an Atwater City Council meeting, the concept was raised of using solar panels to defray the intensive costs of pumping water to meet summertime demands. All small jurisdictions in the San Joaquin Valley, like many across the nation, are hard-hit due to reduced revenues from dramatic declines in real estate values.

For instance my house in Clovis is now worth $120,000 on a good day. I bought it in 2005 for $269,000. Such dives in value cut revenues from property-tax dependent cities and counties in half and result in tough challenges come budget time.

Solar isn't perfect. But it does offer an avenue to electrical generation far cleaner than fossil fuels. Our mission would be to spell out costs, find the best sites and interpret the volume of data out there, making it easier on over-worked municipal staffers.

Change isn't simple

Weinrub doesn't say it will be easy. Quite the opposite. "Achieving this vision will require overcoming obstacles from the energy and utility industries, public agencies, and other interests vested in the century-old investor-owned utility model," he says. The potential is a 2010 commercial rooftop capacity of 19,323 megawatts, he says.

The solution? Weinrub suggests new policies and programs. One is community choice energy, "which allows a city or county to aggregate the electricity demand of all customers," and the other a more controversial concept called a feed-in tariff, which is used in Germany and elsewhere to bring the cost of alternatives in line with conventional energy on the grid.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also likes the idea of using already occupied space. It is soliciting applications from communities and other governmental bodies that want to evaluate the potential development of renewable energy on potentially or formerly contaminated properties.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will make the call, figuring what works best where. The plan is to create jobs and increase renewable energy.

Maximizing alternative energy opportunities while minimizing impact. Sounds like a great idea.

Photo courtesy John Majoris at solaraerials.com.

Businesses lend support to Clean Air Act

Traditionally, the relationship between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American business has been turbulent, marked more often by conflict than collaboration.

That may be changing.

The emergence of green energy into the mainstream and efforts by business to embrace sustainability appears to have led to a thawing in relations between the two camps. This is reflected by today's news that organizations representing more than 60,000 U.S. businesses are planning to pledge support for the Clean Air Act, which turns 40 this year.

The groups have expressed concern that the EPA's half-year delay of pending ozone, or smog, rules will be costly to U.S. companies. They have cited the delay of an ozone pollution rule "will result in sick workers and family members, resulting in lost workdays, lower productivity and other adverse bottom-line impacts for companies," according to a statement.

A press conference is planned Wednesday. Streaming audio will be available at 1 p.m. at http://www.abce.us/.

CA guv wins EPA award, but what's next for clean energy?

The Governator may be going the way of the "Expendables," but down the road he's likely to be remembered for his progressive clean energy policies.

From my perch on the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization porch, his efforts, highlighted by his move to create California's Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring the state to develop regulations that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, look pretty remarkable.

We call the governor's measure AB 32. While controversial, many in industry have accepted its consequences. Utilities are increasing their purchase of green-sourced power, and solar and wind farms are getting the green light with increasing rapidity.

Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received a huge slap on the back from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when the agency gave him its Climate Change Champion Award.

Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, lauded Schwarzenegger, for his "extraordinary vision and leadership as an early, ardent and articulate champion in the defense of our planet against global climate change."

The governor's progressive vision is matched by many -- from the ranks of bureaucracy to homes and businesses on Main Street. The desire to pay less every month for electricity or breathe cleaner air is not really a partisan issue. Perspectives may be flavored by blue or red leanings, but the average family tends to maintain common ground on quality of life and what leaves the bank account.

Blumenfeld acknowledged that. "The environment does not know political boundaries. It was created in a presidency of the Republican Party. And we need to encourage that bipartisan support." (Forty years ago by President Richard M. Nixon, by the way. I still have my "Nixon Now More Than Ever" button.)

Blumenthal did say that comes with "huge political risk," but underlined the importance of forging political common ground to solve the increasingly complex and costly environmental issues associated with our current love affair with fossil fuels.

I'm as much of the problem as anyone. I enjoy a comfortable temperature in my office and at home and drive a car, but then I live in California which has a one-person, one-car requirement. I love the gasoline engine. There's nothing like the sound of my 1974 Superbeetle wasting some kid's tuner.

Schwarzenegger took up the challenge of encouraging clean energy when many leaders let the issue slip down their list of priorities. Arguably, it's a sure-fire winner with jobs, reduced reliance on smog-creating technologies and energy Independence as just some of the incentives.

But change is not easy. Corporations rely on energy delivery systems based on refined oil. It's cheap, it works and it's still available, despite resources everyone knows to be finite. And fracking for natural gas has unearthed massive potential domestic reserves. (An aside: I tend to believe natural gas to be a clean fuel, but then I'm from Alaska.)

Future leaders will have to take up the cause. Consumers also can do their parts by embracing the recent wave of energy efficiency products on store shelves and realizing that smart meters can be used for good, not evil.

In his speech accepting the EPA award, Schwarzenegger talked about blanketing the many warehouses in the state with solar panels, being annoyed with China about bragging about its wind-power efforts and California's clean-tech accomplishments.

On the subject of China, he won a round of applause when he said, "So now we broke ground on the biggest in the world and it's bigger, much bigger than theirs, so I'm very happy about that."

The governor said California has out-sized pull. "We are this little, tiny spot but the power of influence that we have is an equivalent of a whole continent," he said.

We should keep that in mind. Here at SJVCEO offices, we recently experienced an example of the increasing interest in energy efficiency. Co-workers Courtney Kalashian and Maureen Hoff were so successful with a program exchanging old incandescent Christmas lights for strings using light-emitting diodes, which use 70 percent less electricity, that people snapped them all up way faster than expected and keep calling for more.

How the movement to embrace energy efficiency and clean energy will unfold is anybody's guess. My compatriot and fellow ex-newsman Sanford Nax and I talk about this subject continually.

Our topics often concern the future of the industry at large and when it will reach mainstream. Some say it has the potential of an economic gold, or green, rush. Big opportunities. Big jobs.

Yeah, right. Where are they?

So while we ponder such topics, we'll think about people like the outgoing governor of this sunny state of California and wonder what's to come and who will head up the charge to wean this nation from the incredibly costly overseas crude.

Home builder tests water efficient housing

A Los Angeles home builder has embraced water conservation, at least on a trial basis.

KB Homes has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, building the first homes in the nation to be certified by the agency's WaterSense program, agency officials reported. The four homes are in Roseville, Calif. and are expected to help families save 20 percent over the run of the mill home, or an average of 10,000 gallons of water and at least $100 on utility costs each year.

“The construction of the first WaterSense labeled homes, and the plans to build more, mark the beginning of an innovative approach that gives homeowners the chance to cut their water and energy bills and protect a vital environmental resource.” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, in a statement.

The program, which seeks to help home buyers cut their water and energy use, serves as another indication of where the industry appears to be headed. Energy efficiency and water conservation are big in California and gaining prominence throughout the West and South where water allocation issues appear to be cultivating nothing less than high anxiety.

I'm reminded of Jack Nicholson in the movie "China Town," in which John Huston, as villain Noah Cross, says, "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water."

It's all about water. Was then and it is now.

Frank Ferral, who heads the Recycling Energy Air Conservation program for the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, has been spreading the conservation message to business -- and anybody else who will listen -- for the better part of the past decade. His point is relatively simple: Saving energy and water and keeping waste out of the trash makes economic sense.

Hundreds of businesses have signed up for his program in which a team of experts goes through a building and identifies areas that can benefit from installation of energy efficient lighting, water saving devices and waste diverting practices. The REACON program in Stockton has helped develop an industry manufacturing products out of former debris.

With a recent grant, Ferral has been expanding his program and message throughout California's Central San Joaquin Valley. His concept has been to team up with chambers of commerce and offer them up the team energy audit concept so the chambers can provide it as a value-added product to members.

I tagged along on a couple of audits in Fresno, one at a bank and another at a business in an old downtown building. The lighting expert said he could get immediate savings of about 20 percent on the bank and more than 30 percent on the older building. The water savings were more basic, adding a 1.2-gallon flush toilet among other measures.

The EPA has entered into a consumer friendly realm with its WaterSense site, which offers tips and quantifies retrofit measures. Each of its WaterSense houses includes aptly labeled plumbing fixtures, an efficient hot water delivery system, water-efficient landscape design and other water and energy-efficient features.

EPA officials estimate that if the approximately 500,000 new homes built last year had met WaterSense criteria, the homes would save Americans 5 billion gallons of water and more than $50 million in utility bills annually.

Yeah, it's in the water.

California's green power movement flexes muscles

California's standing as the nation's clean energy leader received more than a boost of federal cash this week.

Programs by Intel Corp. and San Francisco to purchase energy from renewable sources won national recognition by federal regulators while $300 million in federal funding went to improve and green up aging water and wastewater infrastructure and fund energy efficiency improvements. Cities with projects include Fresno, Merced, Atwater and Tehachapi in the San Joaquin Valley.

The cash will "create jobs now when we need them the most,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement.

Recognition also may serve to bolster the fast and furious growth of the state's clean energy movement. Santa Clara-based chip maker Intel and the green-thinking City by the Bay were among 18 big electricity consumers to get kudos from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership program. Both were recognized at the Renewable Energy Markets Conference this week in Portland, Ore. Other honorees include a New Haven, Conn. printer, global financial services provider BNY Mellon, Kohl’s Department Stores, Motorola and Whole Foods Market.

“We applaud the leadership shown by San Francisco and Intel by ditching polluting power sources and switching to green power,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement. “Their responsible energy should be a model for all cities and corporations in the fight to solve climate change.”

San Francisco nabbed an EPA Leadership Award for generating its own green power -- more than 25 million kilowatt-hours from solar and biogas. This augments 1.7 billion kilowatt hours of energy the city generates each year through its Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

“San Francisco’s commitment to clean energy is producing green jobs and real benefits for our city today,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom called economic advantages of a green economy "very tangible."

Each week appears to bring another announcement of something big in the state -- not to mention elsewhere in the country. In fact, Monday, on the heels of a University of California Merced report that says clean energy could produce 100,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, came the Southern California Edison announcement that a solar power plant being built near Porterville will create about 125 construction jobs.

The solar array of 29,400 panels is being built on 32 acres of city land next to the Porterville airport. It will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 houses in the area.

This trend could continue. Imagine an increasing number of homes and businesses with solar panels all contributing to a smart electrical grid, generating more power than regional plants. Coupled with fewer fossil-fuel needs, the air could clear.

Innovation is moving forward. Algae may provide fuels and electricity, solar generation could move to any surface imaginable and scientists may still find a way to tap into celestial energy. Of course, pigs could fly. But I prefer the optimistic approach. Offshore wind, for instance, was once a far-fetched idea that's now taking hold off Nantucket and in Lake Erie, not to mention many other locations.

Even oil companies are switching their stance, evolving into energy companies with investments that back up the subtle name/image change.

Whether that translates to tangible jobs remains to be seen.

Newsom is sold on the concept. "We can feel the effects of clean energy in the air we breath; with each solar panel, day-by-day, we’re fueling San Francisco’s transformation into a green economy powered by increasingly clean, renewable energy,” he said.

EPA's profile of Intel provides a clue to corporate America's role. It is one of only 10 organizations in the country to receive the agency's Leadership Award for green power purchases. Intel purchases more than 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of green power annually, more than 50 percent of its electricity consumption.

Said Marty Sedler, Intel's director of global utilities and infrastructure: “It’s good for our shareholders, customers, employees and the environment.”

A recent report by San Francisco-based Clean Edge Inc. listed California just ahead of Massachusetts in a study listing the top clean energy states. It listed innovation in multiple sectors as a key to developing a green economy. And in another report, the group showed that money invested in clean energy is a good call, creating "two to four jobs for every one job created if the money were spent on fossil fuel industries."

Pushing forward, renewables face gray areas. The future isn't straightforward. A report last year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory exploring supply and demand for green energy said it's a mixed bag with some oversaturation. "If trends hold, renewable energy deficits are projected for New England, New York, and the Mid-Atlantic areas, with notable surpluses in the Midwest, the Heartland, Texas, and the West," it says.

That just means more need to adopt the concept that green energy is a good thing. Heck, energy independence could be an offshoot. You never know.

Superfund list grows by seven

Add New York's Newtown Creek, Michigan's Ten Mile Drain and a particularly polluted Florida dry cleaner to the list of national superfund sites.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tossed those and four others onto its National Priorities List, a collection of the country's nastiest real estate that poses a risk to human health and the environment. Not good, but cleanup means work.

The list's newcomers aren't that special. There are currently 1,275 others in the federal program, which investigates and strives to rid sites of pollutants. The EPA said to date 345 sites have been removed from the list.

These aren't your run-of-the-mill backyard meth trailers or even a fuel-saturated aging gas station. These messes are big, complicated and troublesome to remediate.

The ultimate superfund site is the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeast Washington state, a massive piece of tumbleweed-choked desert that hides extensive plumes of underground radioactive and chemical contamination flowing slowly and determinedly toward the nearby banks of the mighty Columbia River. It's ringed by the cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, upriver from the the sprawling metropolis surrounding Portland, Ore.

John Stang, a reporter I worked with for about seven years at the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick and an expert on Hanford's buried radioactive glop, says even after billions of dollars dumped into its cleanup (a sum that rivals the Alaska state budget each year), it's still got issues.

Lots of them. Here's how Stang describes "The Area," as it is known, in a piece for the seattlepi.com: "During much of Hanford's Cold War days of producing plutonium, about 450 billions gallons of non-radioactive and slightly radioactive fluids -- about 125 different contaminants --- were dumped directly into the ground." But government-funded teams headed by the best the world has to offer are making progress.

Still, strontium 90 is nothing I'd like to swim around in, or quaff if it got into the Columbia, which supplies drinking water to millions.

The truth is superfund sites are no joke. They're complex, difficult and controversial. But dealing with them is a good thing and an opportunity to provide green jobs. Often, they're not the most glorious. Yet they're important and often highly technical. Ken Strickland, a childhood friend from Anchorage, has done quite well for himself specializing in site cleanup and restoration in Canada. He takes his job as a steward for a cleaner planet seriously.

Here's a rundown on the latest superfund arrivals. They will need people like Strickland.

  • The Black River flows through Jefferson County, N.Y. and empties into Lake Ontario. Industry has dumped its leftovers into its waters since the 1890s and it now boasts two active paper mills, a machine shop, the Carthage/West Carthage sewage treatment plant and a hydroelectric power plant. The EPA says river sediment is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, dioxins and other chemicals. PCBs are considered probable human carcinogens and are linked to such pleasant things as as low birth weight, thyroid disease and learning, memory and immune system disorders. Cleaning this one won't be simple. Dredging, one of the remedies for relieving waterways of their placer gold deposits, is one way but destroys habitat for generations.
  • Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y. offers a fascinating history of the birth of an industrialized nation. Unfortunately it's also one that left its dirty fingers all over the Newtown's banks. The EPA says that by the 1850s, Newtown Creek and the surrounding area had become one of the largest industrial centers in New York City and by 1870 more than 50 refineries ringed its banks. Early last century, Newtown served as one of the key industrial arteries in New York City. Suffice to say that anything nasty in manufacturing has been there and it's highly polluted. Cleanup will certainly not be simple, but recognition of the problem represents a huge step for cleaning up the Big Apple's waterways.
  • General Dynamics Longwood in Longwood, Fla. General covers about 10 acres. The corporation and its predecessors manufactured circuit boards on the property until the 1980s, cleaning them with a vapor degreaser containing trichloroethene. The EPA says the chemical was stored in 55-gallon drums and in an above-ground storage tank on the eastern portion of the property. General Dynamics Corporation occupied the site from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s. Contaminants in ground water include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and silver.
  • Sanford Dry Cleaners on South Palmetto Avenue in Sanford, Florida would appear the tamest of the bunch. It's made up of two adjoining parcels of about an acre and sits in the historic section of downtown Sanford. But it's been around since the 1940s, and the site is rife with contaminants. EPA says tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene and dichloroethene were found in shallow and deep ground water samples in concentrations above the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Levels. Not pretty.
  • The 29-acre abandoned Smokey Mountain Smelters facility in Knox County, Tenn. operated from 1922 to 1979 primarily producing agricultural chemicals. The EPA says that in 1979, Smokey Mountain Smelters was established and operated as a secondary aluminum smelter, a process that involved the melting aluminum scrap waste and casting ingots. Currently, the site has arsenic- and PCB-laced soil and groundwater and has massive piles of waste that contain contain extremely corrosive water-soluble salts containing aluminum nitride, sodium and potassium chlorides and heavy metals. Homes are as close as 200 feet away.
  • Ten Mile Drain in St. Clair Shores, Mich. consists of concrete storm sewer pipes and surrounding soil, which are heavily contaminated with PCBs. Those PCBs have migrated into four canals where the storm sewer discharges and in Lake St. Clair. The EPA says a source is not known.
  • Vienna Wells in Vienna, Mo. includes three contaminated public drinking water wells. The EPA says the suspected source of tetrachloroethylene is the former Langenberg Hat Factory, which operated from 1952 until 1996. A decade of monitoring has shown increased contamination in the wells, which provide the main source of drinking water for about 625 people.
Photo: newtowncreekalliance.org

Environmental justice movement gets push from White House

Environmental justice.

The term sounds great. The concept, however, has a long way to go.

While poor areas get the brunt of a long list of environmental hazards and toxic sites, bad stuff can be buried or swirling in the air or water in any ZIP code. Progress has a way of getting things done and dealing with consequences later.

But Obama's taken up the call.

This week, Lisa P. Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resurrected the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

Big deal, right? Perhaps not. But it's something and at least a positive move by the Obama administration to push for federal protection from environmental and health hazards for everyone. The language of a press release reminds me of talk in the living room political gatherings I grew up with in Alaska.

I can hear my activist parents, Willie and Mary Ratcliff, publishers of the San Francisco Bayview, saying the same thing 30 years ago.

"Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats." I was momentarily taken back in time by the words.

My activist parents continue to fight the battle they began as teenagers in the 1950s, my mother at Oberlin, my father as a black concrete contractor in California and up the coast to the Last Frontier. The best way to describe their message over the years I sum up by quoting Jesse Jackson's jobs, peace and freedom call for justice.

Environmental justice is a huge part of this, and it's effects can be seen in any poor community across the globe. Immigrant entry points in big cities are overlooked as are rural areas. Got something toxic? Give it to the poor folks under the auspices of jobs.

Jobs never materialize but the toxics remain.

I generalize, but dig a little and the examples are there.

The EPA's newfound call for environmental justice is supposed to "guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities." Officials say the effort will help federal agencies identify projects "where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities."

Who knows if it will mean anything beyond more high- and low-level bureaucratic meetings? I'm optimistic. Just talking about it raises the political capital of the environmental movement and the push to generate interest and jobs in a clean energy economy.

Groups like 350.org will gain grassroots members and the 10/10/10 movement may gain a little boost to identify and tackle projects that make the world a better place.

I'm inspired by something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said: “In too many areas of our country, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children who live in those communities. Our environmental laws and protections must extend to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.”

Photo: KQED Quest. One of many signs at Hunter's Point Shipyard in San Francisco.