Year 3, Month 9, Day 18: The Ladies Call Me ” ‘lectric Maaaan! “

The Washington Post notes that our grid is not really robust:

BOULDER CITY, NEV. — Drought and rising temperatures are forcing water managers across the country to scramble for ways to produce the same amount of power from the hydroelectric grid with less water, including from behemoths such as the Hoover Dam.

Hydropower is not the only part of the nation’s energy system that appears increasingly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, as low water levels affect coal-fired and nuclear power plants’ operations and impede the passage of coal barges along the Mississippi River.

“We’re trying to manage a changing climate, its impact on water supplies and our ability to generate power, all at once,” said Michael L. Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s water-management agency. Producing electricity accounts for at least 40 percent of water use in the United States.

If you plug me in your socket, I’ll charge you like no man can. Sent September 11:

If America really believed in preparing for the future, we’d be scrambling right now to reimagine our crumbling electrical grid, for increasing demand and deteriorating infrastructure, combined with the likely consequences of the next century’s worth of catastrophic climate change, put both the integrity of the system and the safety of the nation at risk.

Our old power distribution system was predicated on the false notion that energy from fossil fuels is cheap and effectively infinite. Once we count externalities like public health and environmental impacts, oil and coal are surprisingly costly — and the double whammy of Peak Oil and a need to reduce greenhouse emissions means they cannot be the energy sources for an American future. It should be obvious: we’re going to have to rebuild the system from the bottom up, focusing on efficiency, flexibility, and decentralization. Doing it now will save us trillions of dollars later.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 29: Sense and Sensibility…

The Ocala Star-Banner editorializes about the need for energy conservation:

The key to energy independence — as well as cleaner energy and a sustainable environment — is to reduce consumption through conservation. And Americans can do that. In fact, we have done it.

As part of a national campaign to reduce oil and gasoline use and foster energy independence, Congress should again enact conservation strategies such as those recommended in a 2009 report by the business consultant McKinsey & Co.

McKinsey cited research showing that — through energy efficiency alone — “the U.S. economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020.”

The recommendations include: 1) better consumer education on potential energy-efficiency savings; 2) tighter efficiency requirements for appliances, and 3) stronger financial incentives for energy improvements.

I figured a little support was in order. Sent June 14:

Looking at the social history of the word “conservation,” it’s obvious that Ronald Reagan’s fundamentally wasteful worldview has become the national norm. The simple facts of energy efficiency would seem to make it an inherently attractive proposition — burn less, save more. Leaving aside the spurious debate about global climate change, the steadily rising cost of energy should make this a no-brainer. But many of our fellow citizens have absorbed the notion that conservation is somehow alien to the American character; listening to Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk inveighing against anything that would change our rate of consumption is deeply disturbing. We should remember that recycling and reduced usage patterns were part of what brought America to victory in World War II, and are key to establishing our energy independence today. “Conservation” is a social good in every respect; it is “waste” that is, literally, a dirty word.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 12: Make It Better. Just A Little Bit Better.

Just got this in my inbox. That saved me some time looking for a theme for my letter tonight.

TAKE ACTION! How to Tap Abundant, Clean, and Cheap Energy: Strengthen Energy Efficiency Standards Now!

Energy efficiency is our cheapest, most abundant, and least tapped source of energy. Help make sure manufacturers actually follow the energy efficiency standards set by DOE: Submit your comment before 10/18!

Dear Warren,

“Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground,” wrote Secretary of Energy Steven Chu shortly after taking office.

As leader of the Department of Energy, Sec. Chu has made energy efficiency—our cheapest, most abundant, and least tapped source of energy right now—a priority. Under Chu’s command, DOE has undertaken a massive project: to strengthen energy efficiency standards for dozens of household and commercial appliances.

But here’s the catch: Once those standards are set, we need to work hard to make sure manufacturers actually follow them. And we need your help.

DOE has found that raising the low bar of efficiency for these products will save consumers billions of dollars and save an enormous amount of energy, reducing our dependence on dirty and harmful fossil fuels.

Even just one stronger standard for one appliance can make a difference. Taken all together, a house—or nation—full of more efficient appliances means America is saving energy, saving money, and driving innovation in the marketplace.

Because strong standards are meaningless without effective enforcement, DOE is taking steps to put some real teeth into these. In the past, enforcement has been lax, meaning that manufacturers could routinely violate efficiency standards without fear of punishment. DOE is proposing new rules to make sure manufacturers’ efficiency claims are backed up by rigorous testing and to hold the bad actors, those manufacturers who aren’t meeting the bare minimum in efficiency standards, accountable.

DOE is on the right path. But in order for this rule to be effective in securing huge energy and cost savings for America, it needs to be stronger and some loopholes need to be closed.

Please write Sec. Chu now and tell him now is the time to get serious about picking up that fruit on the ground by holding manufacturers to the standards we are setting for them. Link.

— Earthjustice.

Earthjustice is a good group of people. I went to the DOE comment submission site and edited the boilerplate they provided, eventually sending the letter below to Secretary Chu:

Dear Secretary Chu,

While a significant number of Americans recognize the urgency of the climate crisis, the sad truth is that there are still a great many people in our country who remain in denial of what is certainly going to be the gravest threat humanity has yet faced. Consequently, truly robust legislation to tackle the major problems consequent to fossil fuel combustion is unlikely to pass our Senate in the near future.

We have two options. One is to abandon hope; the other is to solve the parts of the problem that can be solved, while working to build public awareness and consensus on the need for larger-scale action. Energy efficiency in appliances is one such area — huge amounts of energy are wasted every day by pieces of equipment that are poorly designed, poorly insulated or poorly maintained. We need to strengthen enforcement of federal energy efficiency standards in residential and commercial applications.

It is obvious that equipment that uses less energy to run represents a cost savings for the consumer; less self-evident is that reducing waste is a positive step in our treatment of our environment. With fossil fuel consumption already overburdening our atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions, there is no excuse for inefficiency and wastefulness.

If the manufacturing sector is merely giving lip service to efficiency standards, we are doomed to fail. The Department of energy must adopt a robust and aggressive system of enforcement that will ensure compliance with energy efficiency regulations. The American people need a guarantee that the Departmen will hold companies accountable for their failures.

I like the plan you’ve proposed. However, I would like to see it include some of the following:

Ongoing product testing, including regular follow-up assessment and verification, preferably conducted by independent labs. The stronger the testing, the more meaningful the results, and the greater the benefit to the consumer. The labs carrying out the testing must have proven integrity and must be insulated from any possibility of corruption.

The process of assessment must be made as transparent as possible. The public should be able to access test results easily and without expense; an informed citizenry is perhaps the best defense against corporate malfeasance. The Department’s proposal to make the information it receives regarding product compliance available to the public on an easily accessible website is an important and necessary initiative.

Thank you for your attention to my comments. I hope that your proposal is strengthened further and can be implemented without difficulty. It will be a significant step in our struggle to take meaningful action on climate change, and to educate our fellow citizens that tackling this problem can actually lead to improvements in our lives rather than deprivations.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 27: I’d Live There Even If They Didn’t Pay Me

The Times ran a piece on “Passive Houses,” which require little or no outside energy sources. They included some notes on the problems these buildings face from outdated building codes and government incentives that often don’t address or include these forms of construction…yet another way we collectively shoot ourselves in the feet.

As they struggle with outdated regulations and official incomprehension, proponents of “passive houses” face an uphill battle. It is axiomatic that bureaucracies are resistant to change, and when the bureaucracies in question are staffed by political appointees (who are often beneficiaries of the largess of fossil fuel industries) it would be naive to expect that resistance to fade in the face of facts. The predicament of builders and contractors seeking energy-neutral alternatives to conventional residential construction is just one facet of a systemic problem, best encapsulated in Sinclair Lewis’ apothegm, “It is difficult to convince a man of something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.” As America faces the challenges of Peak Oil and global climate change, we are going to have to do a far better job of convincing all of those whose paychecks are contingent on their unwillingness to recognize our collective peril.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 9: Time After Time

Time Magazine has a piece discussing the role of environmentally friendly industries in the formulation of the administration’s energy policy initiatives. The tone of the article attempts neutrality, but occasionally lapses into vague sorta-smears: the title is “How Fundraising Helped Shape Obama’s Green Agenda.” Think about that for a second; is it somehow a revelation that politicians will gravitate to people who’ll fund them as well as support their policies? The question is “which comes first, the money or the policy?”

Venture capitalist John Doerr, who helped develop the “Home Star” energy retrofitting program (see Obama describing it here), is profiled throughout the piece; the last paragraph reads:

Doerr, meanwhile, has continued to provide financial support to Democrats. On Dec. 21, just weeks after President Obama publicly embraced Home Star, Doerr and his wife Ann each wrote a $15,200 check to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Honestly, is this supposed to be indicative of chicanery? During the Bush years, the entire administration was run by the corrupt lackeys of big oil, big coal, big god and big guns, and the amounts of money involved absolutely dwarfed the Doerrs’ $30,400.

So I wrote Time a letter.

During the Bush Administration, representatives of the world’s biggest polluters took far more fundamental roles in policy development than is the case in the Obama White House. A program like “Home Star” will provide thousands of new jobs as well as help us break our national addiction to oil and coal. When I recall Dick Cheney sneering that conservation may be a “personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound comprehensive energy policy,” I am delighted to see his profoundly erroneous dictum repudiated; our nation needs an energy policy that penalizes waste and rewards efficiency. We currently lead the world in energy wasted per capita; it’s time for us to become global leaders in energy efficiency. The fact that representatives of “green” industries have a voice in the Obama Administration’s formulation of “morally virtuous” policy objectives is cause for rejoicing.

Warren Senders