Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 – http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/on-new-epa-rulemccaskill-leads-colleagues-in_pursuing-commonsense-adjustments-to-protect-consumers

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox – http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9096903/clean-power-plan-explained

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune – http://www.cleanairmissouri.org/clean-power-plan-puts-children-ahead-of-polluters/

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline – http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Affordable-Electricity-Rural-Americas-Economic-Lifeline.pdf

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website – http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator – https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/08/6-things-clean-power-plan/

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at Gas2.org – http://gas2.org/2015/03/30/musk-burning-fossil-fuels-dumbest-experiment-ever/

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books – https://goo.gl/5RXRae

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website – http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MO

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Squeezed Out ?

Financial Squeeze

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from my weekly blogs here. There was an unexpected but necessary trip to spend Thanksgiving with my aging parents, followed by the need to prepare a traditional kind of Christmas for my children. The week day placement of the year-end seasonal holidays this year were not totally conducive to business interests in general but were highly supportive to taking a bit of time to focus on family and rest once the 25th had passed. It’s been difficult to get back into the routine even with January arriving as my intentions last Sunday to resume my blog were waylaid by considerations for this year’s tree plantings on our farm by a visit to a highly experienced tree planting couple in another county.

This year begins with our attention once again on the issues facing our business due to an increasing acceptance of information known as Health Product Declarations. I have previously written about these efforts in this very blog. However, today I feel that some history – both regarding our businesses materials and this movement – is probably useful for me to share with you.

1973 Oil Embargo

I remember the 1973 oil crisis as I was recently both graduated from high school and trying to live independently of the parents who raised me as a newly wed. In October of 1973 OPEC proclaimed an oil embargo that endured until March 1974. OPEC started the embargo in response to American involvement in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Six days after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise military campaign against Israel to regain territories lost in the June 1967 Six-Day War, the US supplied Israel with arms. In response to this, OPEC announced an oil embargo against Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US. In the aftermath, the United States initiated a wide variety of policies to contain their future dependency on imported oil.

Living on minimal income, I remember prices at the grocery store changing weekly and the impact on the price increasing and availability/rationing of gasoline. A focus on conservation and strategies to reduce demand began to have effects on everyday life. In 1974, a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph was imposed through the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. Year-round daylight saving time was implemented from January 6, 1974 to February 23, 1975. In 1976, Congress created the Weatherization Assistance Program to help low-income homeowners and renters reduce their demand for heating and cooling through better insulation. The energy crisis led to a greater interest in renewable energy and spurred research in solar power and wind power.

There has been no going back to less awareness when it comes to aspects of energy use in our country ever since. I believe the history that I have shared is the background to the establishment of The US Green Building Council in 1993 whose mission it has been to make cost-efficient, energy-saving green buildings a more common reality. In March 2000, the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system was unveiled. The program has been very successful in educating the architectural and interior design communities and in creating very energy-efficient buildings. Yet, there is a downside even to such desirable success – Sick Building Syndrome.

SickBuildingSyndromePaper

Governmental health experts admit that there is no specific identifiable cause but a reduction in air flow due to tighter buildings is certainly one explanation. Architects and interior designers sensing some personal responsibility for a higher incidence of malaise related to their success have turned their attention now to making certain that the interiors of buildings become “healthier”. This is the impetus behind Health Product Declarations.

Therefore, the industry now has a Health Product Declaration Collaborative. Yemm & Hart wholeheartedly supports the intentions behind this for transparency, openness and innovation in the product supply chain. The Health Product Declaration is meant to be an impartial tool for the accurate reporting of product contents and each ingredient’s relationship to the bigger picture of human and ecological health. It is an admirable goal.

However, we are finding the application of this to be far from impartial. We are experiencing coercion from OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) who utilize our materials in their product and from the Architectural and Design firms that we have depended upon to specify our product in building construction projects. We feel that while we completely understand and support the reasons for this development, it feels to us as though it will squeeze out all of the initiatives have have developed along with a greater awareness of human impacts upon the planetary environment that have led to the emergence of quality products with post-consumer recycled material content.

Our business has always prided itself on accurately portraying the content of our materials and an admirable transparency and openness regarding them. Yet, there are realities that we have very little influence over. It is well known that there has been conflict between the chemical industry representatives and those developing the latest LEED v4 standards over this issue of transparency. Industry chooses to hide – whether we should be concerned about the health implications or whether the assertions are valid – behind the idea that their formulations include “proprietary” ingredients.

In attempting to honor requests that we are receiving to provide Health Product Declaration information, we have come up against that thick wall of non-disclosure from our color concentrate suppliers. Making jest at a serious issue we wonder if the “proprietary dust” listed in the components is considered safe by the chemical industry and therefore of no concern or does it hide “lead infused radioactive asbestos” dust ? Not that we believe the latter but how is one to know ?

That is precisely the quandary of those who choose the products and materials used in building construction which a significant number of human beings spend a significant amount of their lives enclosed within. We understand but as a very small, niche business we lack the influence to force disclosure by our suppliers who are reputable companies that supply most of the color pigments for most of the plastic objects made in the USA.

HDPE bottle bales

This is an even older, long standing issue we have had to grapple with since the founding of our business. That is the nature of post-consumer feedstocks in general. There can be no HPD for post-consumer recycled resin because these containers represent a variable waste stream with a diversity of unknowns. It is not possible to know what type of liquid or granular material was contained in the original polyethylene vessel. Testing every container before it is recycled would not be a practical solution.

The recycled polyethylene resin that we use has been subjected to cleaning in a hot water washing process. The cleaned resin is then pelletized by liquefying it to temperatures between 250° and 300° F., filtering it and then forming it into pellets. These processes do not necessarily completely nullify the potential for some residual chemicals to remain microscopically present. It is because of this potential type of contamination that Yemm & Hart uses for their Origins product post-consumer milk jugs to avoid potential complications of chemical content residue or plastic additives. Knowing that this recycled resin once contained the nation’s milk supply makes its use feel safer to us.

We see the current effort for building products to have HPDs as a beginning. It is going to take research and legislation to ever achieve complete transparency from industry. Those at the forefront of the HPD movement want a little bit healthier interior environment in a world that has all of us inhaling mercury from coal burning power plants, radon from deteriorating uranium deep below us and an incredible array of chemicals all around us including in the food we eat.

Yemm & Hart will continue to remain informed about the progress of this effort. It is our hope that eventually we will find it easier to comply with requests related to the HPD movement and thus provide to the A&D community an even more transparent disclosure regarding the composition of our materials than we are able to do today. From our beginning, we have done our best to present our material in the most accurate manner possible. Even so, at the moment the general trend has us feeling a bit squeezed out of the market by the best of intentions.

The Little Guy

~ Information Resources

1973 oil crisis – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

USGBC History – http://www.usgbc.org/about/history

Sick building syndrome – http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/sick-building-syndrome/Pages/introduction.aspx

Health Product Declaration Collaborative – http://hpdcollaborative.org/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Environmentally Healthy Resolutions

Dedicated New Year
Whether you believe climate change is caused by human beings or that it is the natural state of the planet to always be changing, realizing that this planet is what sustains our very lives, it makes good sense to care about how we each impact our collective home.

Some resolutions –

[1] Discernment. It is easy to make a feel good, sound good claims but the reality may be quite different. That is one of the reasons for this blog. You won’t find me pleading with you to save our planet. The planet is just fine, always has been and will be unless and until it explodes or breaks apart. So “saving the planet” is never the issue. It is the sustainability of the human species that is at issue. So, it is good to consider one’s impact upon the local environment.

Alternative energy
[2] Support Energy Alternatives. They may not be the best choice in all cases but this is one place where each and every individual can have an impact. Solar and Wind energy are worthwhile contributors to the power grid in that they contribute little to pollution and are not depletable.

It is bitterly cold or soon to be here in Missouri where I am writing this. This is what we term a “hard” winter. How we heat makes a difference and the choices are not easy. We have been looking at ground-source heat pumps and although most that have these seem satisfied with them, the decision is not a simple one, including the initial cost; but if you are faced with replacing a system and have the space on your property to support it, it is worth looking into.

Many people burn wood here. One can smell the smoke on cold days. Since one can smell it, it would seem to be a source of pollution. However, it is a renewable fuel source (especially if one has plenty of downed timber to get firewood from, as we do). Our constant heat source is electric. We once had natural gas but it causes concerns about interior air quality impacts sufficient to possibly harm human health. Our electricity comes from coal-fired plants and they resist mightily the government’s push for adequate equipment to make cleaner electricity. So, if burning some wood, decreases our dependence on coal-generated electricity, that would seem to be a good thing.

And alternative energy can be applied in some places by some people to their choice for transportation – whether adding an alternative fuel to their personal automobile, using mass transit or riding a bike or even walking, when possible. In our case, we meet some of our own personal obligation by working from home and reducing our need to commute.

2014 Green Resolutions
[3] Buying Local. This reduces the carbon footprint. It also supports local availability, including of food sources. It helps to support local employment.

[4] Reduce consumption. Eat as much of the food you buy as possible, reducing waste, and compost what inevitably is not safe to eat. Consider charities before throwing away useable items – thrift shops, domestic abuse shelters, Goodwill. We even often find local acquaintances able to use some of the things that we can no longer justify taking up space in our own environment.

[5] Buy recycled. Buy recycled content paper towels, toilet paper and if you have a printer or copier, buy recycled paper for that as well. Buy the highest post-consumer content that you can find. Consider recycled for other purchases as well. In a commercial environment support the use of recycled content in countertops, restroom partitions and flooring and back to # 1 – discernment – check out claims for validity and look for techniques meant to distract you or satisfy a minimal inquiry.
Recycled Paper

[6] Recycle EVERYTHING you can. We have containers for plastics, paper, glass, metal, chipboard and cardboard. We have only one “landfill” trash container. Everything organic that will break down goes into the compost pile.

[7] Grow some of the food that you eat. It’s good practice and yields high satisfaction. You can grow something, even in a balcony container. Yes, some plants will fail. It is a learning experience but always a good survival hedge to learn how. We grow mostly cherry tomatoes but had some success with bell pepper, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, watermelon. Warning – the last three really do need a lot of space !!!

[8] Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store. This is really very easy to do, once you get in the habit of it. If you get plastic bags, save them up and find a place where you can recycle them. WalMart and upscale grocers often have collection points.

The main thing to resolve, if you want to live an environmentally healthier lifestyle is to begin to educate yourself about alternatives. You can work with your own personality, preferences and situation but everyone can find at least one thing that they can change about how they habitually do things that will actually make an impact.

Think Green New Year Hat
It has been theorized that “a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. Note that the butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado. The flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t.” Whatever you choose to do has an effect. Chose as wisely as you know how and learn to make even better choices. It is a lifelong pursuit.

Happy New Year !! Let’s make it a good one.

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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