Recap: Denver EPA Clean Power Plan Hearing

by Chris Flanagan

On July 29, 2014, I embarked on a journey that would hopefully change the energy profile of the State of Missouri and the United States of America. I traveled to Denver, Colorado to speak at one of the four Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearings on the Clean Power Plan proposed by the EPA, earlier this year.

The morning air was crisp and I was filled with anticipation and butterflies. I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be hordes of people potentially hostile to any person who would make an argument for clean energy or would I be amongst friends in Colorado? The suspense was killing me. I got onto my flight and prepared myself for the day ahead. 

I landed in Denver and waited for my ride. With the Rocky Mountains in the background, I headed towards downtown Denver for the hearing. Just past the airport, I saw something I had never seen before: fields of solar panels. It was an amazing sight to behold. They didn’t look out of place nor were they taking up any additional space. They were just in between the two lanes on the highway. I thought to myself “I hope no one wrecks and destroys these solar panels.” I never saw any wrecks, but it was clear: I was in friendly territory. 

I checked into my hotel and proceeded to the EPA building. The room was filled with clean energy advocates. The American Lung Association had paid for a mobile billboard, which was parked outside the EPA building, advocating the need for cleaner air for all, especially children, to breathe. Multiple groups helped raise awareness of the hearings and encouraged people to speak to the EPA and ensure their voices were heard. 

I entered the EPA building, went up to the 2nd floor and walked down a long hallway to the registration room. Enthusiastic men and women in the room greeted me. I registered and headed to Hearing Room B. I waited patiently for my turn to speak. I listened as speaker after speaker advocated for even higher goals in cutting carbon emissions. Then I was called up to the “speaker’s bullpen.” This is where I sat and waited to be called on while others gave their speeches. 

All eyes were on me and the other speakers. Feeling tense, I thumbed through my iPhone until I heard a woman speak. Her name was Kiera. She spoke about her genetic disorder that her father had passed onto her. This genetic disorder is worsened by contact with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As she held back the tears, she pleaded with the EPA to make the regulations even stricter. Then she was done. The next person to be called upon was…

In my head, I asked, “I have to follow THAT?” Well, okay. I guess I had to. I got up there and began to give my speech:

“Good [morning/afternoon/evening], my name is Chris Flanagan and I am here on behalf of Renew Missouri, a non-profit advocacy group working to progress renewable energy and energy efficiency policies in Missouri. 

I am here today to have on the record our official stance on the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposed rule for its Clean Power Plan. We agree with the EPA on the need for the United States to significantly cut carbon emissions and focus on cleaner sources of energy. We applaud the President and the EPA for taking ownership of this effort and leading the way. As stated in the recent Time Magazine article “The Green Revolution Is Here,” the United States has already decreased it’s carbon emission output by 17% of its 2005 levels in recent years. We are currently halfway there to the President’s intended goal of a 30% reduction by 2030.  

However, we also believe that the EPA’s goal for Missouri — a 21% reduction from 2012 levels — is easily achievable, and should be more aggressive. Quick analysis reveals that if Missouri’s largest utilities simply comply with policies already in place, Missouri would reach compliance with its goal by 2020 or soon after. This does not even take into account Missouri’s municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives, which are also very reliant on coal. A more stringent standard would have a greater chance of affecting significant change in Missouri’s power portfolio. 

It’s not just non-profits like ourselves who would like to see this change, it also small businesses in Missouri and across the nation. We hear from numerous opponents that this proposed rule will hurt small businesses and small business owners do not want these rules enacted. Small Business Majority, a national small business organization dedicated to solving the biggest problems that face small businesses today, conducts numerous scientific polling on a variety of issues. In their polling, they have found that 52% of small business owners support the EPA regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants that cause climate change. This is something small business owners want, a more consistent, renewable energy source for the future.  

Opponents of the rule also state that the United States should focus on cheap energy. Renew Missouri could not agree more. That is why we urge the EPA to ensure that its final rule maximizes the opportunity and incentive for states to comply by investing in energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the cheapest investment utilities can make to meet demand, and it also happens to be the lowest carbon-output alternative available. First and foremost, states should be capturing all cost-effective energy efficiency before considering any other compliance options. In addition, although natural gas is currently a cheap form of electric generation, it is not a long-term solution. Emerging technologies like wind and solar are rapidly decreasing in price, and already employ thousands of Missourians. These technologies are improving, and with strategic investments to reach new economies of scale, wind and solar will soon be the cheapest forms of electric generation available. As a nation, we should not waste this regulatory opportunity on technologies that will always be based on finite resources that emit large amounts of carbon into our atmosphere.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency is the way of the future and the most cost-effective, long-term way to reduce carbon emissions. It is imperative for the United States to be a world leader in renewable energy and efficiency.

Thank you,

I received some applause, but the head EPA spokeswoman reminded the crowd that there was no applause to be given. I sat down and listened to the other speakers. In total, I heard 30 speakers for the proposal and five speakers speaking against it on Day 1. 

I ended up meeting a few new people and headed to an event that I was invited to. It was being held at the Alliance Center. This building had 30 different non-profits working towards a more sustainable future for Colorado. They were hosting dinner for us and I was able to enjoy some food and beverages (non-alcoholic of course) with like-minded associates speaking about how their community organizing has led to a drastic change in Colorado’s energy profile. I was so inspired by how these people lived for cleaner renewable energy. After the event, I headed back to the hotel, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

The next morning I awoke ready to hear the first half of day two’s EPA speakers. Day 2 had more opponents to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The UMWA had many of their members there in droves. All wearing camouflaged shirts and orange/camo hats. I thought I was going on a hunting trip. They were all very nice, cordial men. They weren’t the most eloquent speakers but they made their appeal to the EPA in a nice, effective manner. Many were recent retirees afraid that their pension funds would run out if coal jobs went away. I couldn’t imagine how they must have felt to have counted on something to be there for them years down the road and then for their pensions to be potentially taken away. The numbers for the morning hearings were 11 in favor of the proposal and 13 against it.

I unfortunately couldn’t stay, as I had a flight to catch. As I made my way to the airport, I was still unsure about the future of this Clean Power Plan. Would it withstand the tests of time and our democratic process? Would it make any significant difference in demand for renewable energy? Would we ever see the level of civic involvement in Missouri that I saw in Denver? I remain unsure, but if we, as clean energy advocates, don’t stand up and let ourselves be heard, there is no way we can possibly win.  

Chris Flanagan
chris.flanagan08@gmail.com

Leave a comment »

Do It Yourself: Cut your energy bill in half!

Learn how to make the most of the energy you consume, stretch your dollar the farthest you can, and shrink your footprint!  This handy list of tips – courtesy of Missouri Wind and Solar – is full of simple but incredibly effective DIY measures you can take to reduce your energy bill by as much as 50%.  We’ll be taking a look at the most energy intensive items around your home, as well as how you can improve their efficiency.

1. Shower heads

Did you know that the average shower head uses around 10 gallons of water per minute?  If you’re like most Americans and you like your showers hot, that’s a lot of water to be heating each minute.  In a 15 minute shower, you’ve heated 150 gallons of water – now that is energy expensive!

Conversely, a water-saving shower head uses only 1.5 gallons of water per minute.  That means that in the same fifteen minute shower, only 22.5 gallons of water have been used.  That’s 127.5 gallons of water saved, for an 85% reduction!  Not only is this conservation of water more environmentally responsible, you’re also using way less energy to heat the water, which, after a month’s worth of showers [hopefully] really adds up in your favor!

2. Bulbs

When it comes to light bulbs, there’s quite a bit out there for consumers to choose from.  The standard 75-watt incandescent is the more conventional choice, however it is far from the most energy efficient.  By swapping these out for a compact fluorescent bulb, consumers can run 5 bulbs for the amount of energy expended by one 75-watt incandescent!  Just check and make sure you’re not buying the orange variety – this tinted bulb gives off a harsh and unsightly colored glow. Other forward-thinking investment bulbs include the LED 10-watt variety and the LED 30-year design. LED 10-watt has an 8:1 efficiency output as compared to the 75-watt incandescent; the 30-year LED by comparison, runs 10:1.

3. DIY Insulation

You don’t have to spend hundreds to have your home sealed off for the hot summers and cold winters here in Missouri.  Insulation is as simple, and as green, as installing a repurposed sheet of bubble wrap to your windows to keep the warm or cool air inside.  1″ bubble wrap is a common packaging material that is all-too-often used once and discarded.  To get the most our of your wrap, simply cut to the size of your window, lightly mist window with water, and apply the flat side of the wrap to the wet glass.  This simple installation will keep cold air from entering your home in the winter, and will keep hot air out in the summer, causing your heating and cooling to run less.  It’s also a great way to find alternative destination for your plastic bubble wrap that does not involve the landfill – the same wrap can be used over and over for years!

*NOTE: If you’re not able to find any bubble wrap for this one, there are also plastic window kits specifically designed for home insulation that you can find at most stores.

4. Ceiling Fans

While we’re on the subject of heating and cooling, ceiling fans are another great tool for energy efficiency, often underutilized by Americans.  They can really help you stretch your heating and cooling as far as it can go by following a few simple rules.  The first thing most people don’t realize is that the direction of the blade spin actually does matter – a lot.  In the summer, the fan should be set to rotate counterclockwise, clockwise in the winter [looking at the fan from the floor up].  A switch to change this setting is found on the body of the fan in most models, as pictured below.

ceiling fan

In the winter, never set the fan above the “low” setting, as any higher will cool the air inside.  On this low setting, however, it will circulate the heated air, pushing it across the ceiling, down the wall, and into the middle of the room.  With the warm air better circulating, your heater will turn on much less frequently, saving you tons on heating costs.

5. Humidifiers

One more thing you can do to maximize your heating while minimizing cost this winter is to keep the air in your home humid.  Humid air will hold heat much longer than the dry air we often experience in Missouri winters.  Buying a humidifier and adjusting until the air in your home runs about 55% humidity will ensure that the heat you pay for lasts longer, again causing it to run less, once again saving you money.

And finally, perhaps the biggest home energy wasters,

6. Phantom Loads

Microwave ovens are a staple tool in nearly every American kitchen, but did you know that most of the energy they consume is burned up when they aren’t even in use?  This is due to “phantom loads”, or perhaps more aptly-named “energy vampires”. The usually square black box on the end of the appliance is always sapping power, even when the microwave is dormant.  That little digital clock on your microwave?  It costs a surprising amount to keep that little guy going all the time.  These phantom loads are not limited to the microwave, however – they can be found on all sorts of appliances throughout the home and kitchen, including, but not limited to, stereos, coffee makers, cell phones and MP3 players.  According to the Daily Green, tell-tale signs of phantom loads include features such as remote controls, continuous digital display (think that clock on your microwave or DVD players), rechargeable batteries (think cordless phones), and external power supplies (think inkjet printers and iPod or iPhone chargers).

So what can you do to fight phantom loads?  Start by investing in a kilowatt meter. Plug this device into all of your appliances to find out how much power they use when they’re not in use. Once you’ve identified the phantom loads, plug all of these appliances into a power strip.  This strip can then be turned on and off as needed, so you’re only using (and paying for!) electricity as needed, rather than continuously.  How much energy are you really saving though?  How much could it really cost to keep these things “running” all of the time? You’ll be surprised!  As for the convenience of time-keepers, as on the microwave, DVD player, clock radio, etc., I’d suggest investing in a good watch :)

Leave a comment »

FAIR enough! MO government leads the way in energy consumption reduction, saves millions

Although Missouri state policy on renewable energy could be called less than progressive, the same cannot be said of the efforts made thus far by the state government to reduce overall energy consumption.  Over the past four years, 3,200 government buildings throughout the state have reduced their consumption by 22%. (see article at STL Today here)

blog graph

This more than doubles the original goals set under Gov. Jay Nixon’s 2009 executive order – goals for an annual reduction of 2% over the next ten years.  To break it down, consumption of electricity has been cut down by 13.6%, and gasoline use by 33.49% overall, for a total savings of $17,780,124 since 2008.  This reduction has been facilitated with the help of 148 different utility and energy vendors, all guided by the St. Louis-based IT company Talisen Technologies.  Talisen has scoured the renewable energy frontier in search of every eligible rebate in order to keep its implementation within fiscally viable reach.

One source of renewable energy that has remained relatively untapped in terms of the state’s investment is solar; despite Missouri’s high potential for solar energy generation.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 12.08.02 PM

While solar rebates are continuing to be offered through next year, it’s expected that funding for these incentives will run out before 2014 ends.  In the meantime, a hat’s off to the Missouri government for going above and beyond to curtail their energy consumption.  Here’s hoping state policy will follow suite!

Leave a comment »

Ameren’s ambiguity will threaten fate of renewables

In the ongoing fight for renewable energy advancement, the state’s solar rebate program continues to be threatened by Missouri utilities.  This time, on October 11, Ameren filed to suspend all solar rebates prematurely for the year, posing a sizable threat to future available funds for the program in coming years.

In 2008, 66% of Missourians voted in favor of the renewable energy standard (RES), including the solar rebate program.  For a cold calculation of what this means for homeowners who do invest, see the video below:

http://www.renewmo.org/res-compliance-battle-2013.html

One stipulation of this program was that the solar rebates offered could cause the ratepayer’s bill to increase by more than 1%.  Ameren claims to have reached the 1% limit, despite their own insistence earlier this year that they didn’t even need to calculate the cap; as their VP of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch only eight months ago, “It’s an academic calculation now because we’re not up against the one percent limit.”

Solar power has consistently increased in popularity throughout Missouri since the introduction of the RES, with over 1,400 installations over the last 3 years in Ameren service territory.  This year, $13 million has been given out in solar rebates, compared to last year’s $9 million, and much more is to be expected, with about $28 million worth of requests on the wait-list.  Now, at such a crucial time, Ameren wants to claim that these solar rebate payments are causing them to reach the cost limit for implementation of the entire RES law.  We need your help to ensure that Ameren’s solar rebate program will stay open to Missourians.  What can you do to help?

Please sign our petition.  Renew Missouri has continually been a pro-renewable force in the state, ensuring that these programs are readily available to you.  Forward this along and make your voice heard!  Thank you for your support.

Leave a comment »

MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: Electric Car Drastically Reduces Gas Use

screen-capture

John Gillispie is the executive director of Columbia-based MOREnet. He has a solar system installed on his house and he drives an electric car.

Gillispie installed the 17 panels on his home last October and received a federal rebate for both the panels and his car.

Gillispie said it takes about 12 kilowatt-hours to completely recharge the battery. He says he pays about nine cents per kilowatt-hour, so it’s roughly $1 a day to recharge the car. Compared to gas, which is about $4-$5 per day, the electricity is much cheaper.

Leave a comment »

MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: Lighting Incentive Program Brightens Business Savings

lights

Everyone wins with energy efficient lighting. Energy efficient lights don’t use as much energy as other lights, so the environment benefits and utilities and businesses both save money.

Columbia Water and Light started a lighting rebate program for businesses in 2007, offering a $300 rebate per kilowatt reduced.

Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light’s utility services specialist, says the utility has seen growing participation and a huge amount of savings since the program started.  It currently has about 200 customers.

So far, the lighting rebate program has saved nearly 7 million kilowatt hours and nearly $700,000.

Leave a comment »

MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: St. Louisan Installs Solar Panels

Jeanne Clauson

Jeanne Clauson, a Chesterfield resident, had been thinking about installing solar panels for a while. It wasn’t until she went to an event at the botanical garden in St. Louis, where different alternative energy companies had their products on display, that she decided to go for it.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable with all the coal we are using,” Clauson said. “Missouri has plenty of sun and I have two portions of my house with a flat roof.”

014 Solar panels installed 4 20 13

She said the solar company recommended getting started at the beginning of the year because utilities tend to run out of rebate money at the end of the year. Clauson said she probably wouldn’t have installed the panels without the rebate.

“The rebate was a big incentive,” Clauson said.

She said it took about a week for Earth First Solar to finish installing her 18 panels, with only a few delays due to rain and some roof access problems. Her bidirectional meter started on July 11.

016court side solar panels

She said the panels produce an average of 137 kwh each week. She uses an Enphase Energy program that enables her to see how much each panel is producing.

The solar company calculated that she would be receiving about one third of her power from the solar panels and she is expected to break even in just six years.

Clauson said an added bonus is her living room, located right under the section of her roof with the solar panels, “is noticeably cooler now that the panels absorb the sun that used to beat down on the black, flat roof.”

This post is part of our Make a Difference Monday series. If you or someone you know has implemented a renewable energy source, let us know by emailing amanda@renewmo.org.

Leave a comment »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers