Posts Tagged ‘postaweek2011’


A Ton of Carbon

April 18, 2011

Which weighs more?  A ton of carbon or a ton of feathers? 

In just over 4 months we have saved a ton of carbon from blowing around in the atmosphere.  April 14 2011 lower 9In fact, by approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 14th we’d saved 2,163 lbs., give or take a few, from spewing forth from the coal plant to the west.  April 14 2011 upper 0







I’m rather looking forward to the April electric bill.


Saving Money on Electricity

March 18, 2011

Our family takes part in a real-time pricing option offered by our utility. PSPblog-blueOrangeAs a customer enrolled in Power Smart Pricing the amount we pay for electricity varies hourly.  Generally customers pay one price regardless of when they are using the power.  With real-time pricing we pay the cost of the energy at the time we’re using it  – sometimes it is higher than the average price and sometimes lower, but with some knowledge we can save by using more electricity during nonpeak times and less when it’s at its priciest.

At this time of year there isn’t much variability, for instance, today the cost of power ranges from 1.8 cents per kWh to 3.9 cents.  In the summer, though, on a very hot and humid day, the price can vary from a few cents to 10 or 11 cents per kWh and during periods of high demand can spike over 13 cents per kWh.  When that is going to happen, I receive an e-mail from Power Smart Pricing warning of the high costs.  Last summer was relatively mild and never spiked over 13 cents, but the previous summer it happened numerous times.

Yesterday I received my annual report of our power usage and savings, as well as the average participant’s usage and savings.  In 2010  we used 7,191 kWh which cost us $668.03.  At the present standard rate that would have cost us $814.23, so we saved 18%.  Not too shoddy.

How do we compare to the average participant?  We rock!  Ms. Average Power Smart used 13,387 kWh, spent $1,278.30, which would have been $1,466.52, so saved 12.8%.  In July and August, Ms. Average Power Smart actually lost money, I assume by running the AC at peak times and paying the peak prices.

How did we do so well?  Do we have a tiny house in which we swelter in the summer and sit in the dark all winter?  No.  Our house has about 2400 square feet of living space – 11 rooms.  We did replace the windows in our 90+ year old house about 12 years ago but I am pretty sure air blows right through the walls.  In other words, there is room for greater efficiency. 

We have our share of vampire power eaters too.  We tried plugging the t.v. and computers into power strips to be shut off each night and found them to be more trouble than they were worth, especially the t.v. which would need several minutes to reset all the stations every time power was reestablished.  As for the computers, and I am not condoning this, I notice the kids leave their computer not only plugged in but turned on much of the time because it takes so long to boot up (it’s old and slow, much like their mother).  The only power strip that does get clicked on and off has the stereo and my laptop connected to it.  I’m pretty good about switching that off at night.  My point being, we aren’t a family of over-the-top energy conservers,we do our share of energy wasting.

So what are we doing right?  According to an energy usage tool on the utility website, most of our electricity goes to lights, appliances, and the cooling CFLsystem. 

LIGHTS.  Lights are easy, we try to turn them off.  We aren’t obsessive; my husband turns off lights I’ve left on, I turn off lights he has left on, we both turn off lights the kids have left on (and maybe the kids turn off lights too although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that happen). 

Oh, and 95% of our lights are CFLs.  I know, I know, they’re too blue, they come on too slow, they’re ugly.  I paid a few bucks more and  got lights with covers that make them look bulbish for fixtures where the light shows, such as the ceiling fan. I buy lights that emit soft white light(I first bought bright white – oh my, too harsh! they are now relegated to the basement and garage fixtures), and I rarely notice the light warm up period anymore, in fact, I think only some of the bulbs need to warm up. I can count a few lights in the house that are incandescent.  One is the fixture at the top of the stairs, it’s original to the house and the CFL’s shoulders just won’t fit in it.  Others are in the stove and refrigerator and CFLs can’t be used in those places; they don’t tolerate the extremes in temperature. 

APPLIANCES.  stove and fridgeAnother big energy user in our home are the appliances.  We redid the kitchen 5 years ago and along with that came all new kitchen appliances, energy star, of course.  It makes a difference, especially for the refrigerator.  (Want to know how much you could save by replacing your refrigerator?  There’s a calculator for that.)  When we were first talking to a consultant about solar panels and she was reviewing our electricity usage she asked if we had an energy star refrigerator, which we did, “Ah, that explains your low numbers.”

How we use the appliances matters also.  Obviously the refrigerator is on all the time, but we try to run the dishwasher and washing machines late at night, especially in the summertime when daytime prices are high.  In the summer I hardly ever use the dryer, hanging my clothes to dry instead (except socks and underwear, those get dried because all those individual pieces make me crazy!) [And of course, I only run full loads in the washer, or adjust the water level if I’m running a smaller load; and I use a cold water wash and rinse, again except for socks and underwear, and in this case towels and sheets too get warm or sometimes even hot water.  See, I’m not fanatical.]

AIR CONDITIONING. Finally, the AC.  OK, in the name of energy savings we probably tolerate higher heat than some, but I am not a glutton for punishment either. If it’s too warm at night for fans and open windows to cool things down (say, over 70 or very humid) then I use the AC.  I started using a system that I’ve not seen suggested elsewhere, but based on the energy use data, isn’t hurting us and maybe helps.  I crank that AC up (or is it down? –it’s on anyway) during the night with the thermostat set at 64 (it’s warmer upstairs).  The thermostat is programmed to reset to 75 at 6 a.m. so no AC during the day until the house warms up. But even on the hottest days it takes until well into the afternoon before the AC comes back on, sometimes it doesn’t come on at all. Here’s my logic:

  • I can’t sleep when I’m hot and it’s always hotter upstairs where the bedrooms are so the AC is going to be on anyway.
  • It’s easier to cool off a house when it is cooler outside rather than when its hotter.
  • prices are lower during the middle of the night so running the AC at night is cheaper than running it during the day.

This runs counter to most of the AC suggestions I’ve seen to set it at 78 and keep it there.  Occasionally I’ve seen advice to set the thermostat higher at night on the theory you’ll sleep through the warmer temps (whoever came up with that idea is clearly not a woman of a “certain age” with a quirky internal thermostat of her own).

SOLAR PANELS. Many of you know we have a solar panel system generating electricity for us now too.  They have been at work since December 11th and certainly didn’t generate a significant amount of electricity during the last part of 2010.  I need to save this year’s summary and compare it to next years for an idea of the photovoltaic contribution.  So far, mid-December to mid-March, not big solar months in this part of the world, we’ve generated about what our household uses in one month.  Even at this rate they will take a big bite out of our utility bill.

All in all we’re apparently doing pretty well on our electrical energy efficiency and with real-time pricing, even without the solar system, we’re saving money to boot.  You might check with your utility for a similar program.


Nuclear Power: Hubris or Optimism

March 13, 2011


a highway tipped sidewaysOn March 11th I awoke to the heart wrenching news of the massive earthquake in Japan. The earthquake was soon followed by devastating tsunamis. The death toll is likely to exceed 10,000 people.







The earthquakes not only destroyed homes and infrastructure, it damaged nuclear power plants with at least one and maybe another at risk of suffering a meltdown.  A nuclear situation called the worst since Chernobyl.


About a week ago I heard a talk on the radio given by Helen Caldicott in which she talked of the dangers of radioactivity, nuclear energy and nuclear warheads.  It was the scariest information I’d heard in a long time and reminded me of all the reasons I opposed nuclear power so vocally in the ‘70’s. 

Nuclear power is unacceptably dangerous.  There are intolerable levels of risk related to nuclear waste (from mining, refining, enrichment, and the reactor,) and nuclear proliferation (the plutonium that is created as a function of nuclear fission can be used to make nuclear bombs), human and equipment accidents, and extensive environmental degradation.

Man’s belief that we can handle any and all negative consequences related to nuclear power is either a sign of tremendous optimism or tremendous hubris.  The situation in Japan shows the lie to both. 

Perhaps, somehow, a meltdown of any and all of the nuclear reactors will be averted.  I can only hope this happens.  If a meltdown is averted that does not, however, prove our optimism/hubris was well-placed.  It means only that a catastrophe was averted, this time.

It is  overwhelmingly horrific what has and is occurring in Japan (as I write this a volcano in southern Japan has begun to erupt).  That some good will come from it I hope and even expect.  The world leaders have been proclaiming their willingness to assist in any way possible.  I have no doubt we will be hearing marvelous, uplifting stories of great help and heroism for the months to come.

But will it affect our unwarranted optimism and hubris regarding nuclear power?  German anti-nuclear protestWill this near or eventual reactor meltdown give the world pause before it builds more nuclear power plants or extends the life of others?  In Germany thousands formed a 28 mile long human chain between the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant and the southwestern city of Stuttgart.  The protest against extending the life of Germany’s nuclear power plants had been planned before the earthquake in Japan, but organizers say the disaster gave added focus to the demonstration.

Will there be more anti-nuclear demonstrations.  I hope so.  Would I attend?  In a heartbeat.

Generally, those who agree with me, agree with me, and those who don’t, don’t; and nothing I say here will really change any minds.  [However, for those who have not formed an opinion yet, might I suggest a look at this nuclear power fact sheet.]

Meanwhile, may the Japanese survive, recover, and be somehow better for this terrible spiral of disasters.


A beautiful gray and overcast day

March 5, 2011

gray dayI think it was Mark Twain who said “Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  We can’t really change the weather, but we can change our attitude.  A friend in Minnesota (Hi Maryann!) and I have decided to only talk and think of the weather in positive terms – regardless of what it brings.

Today’s challenge: it is 35 degrees (F) and overcast  with no promise of anything greater than 38 and no chance of sun.  The forecast is for drizzle at first and then a change to snow showers.  OK, let me try to spin this one.

No problem.  This is perfect winter/spring transitional weather.  The temps are above freezing allowing for a gentle thaw so this moisture can sink into the soil where we’ll need it in a few weeks to grow our crops and flowers.

And while it’s chilly and damp outside today, it is warm and cozy inside.  A great morning for curling up with a cup of tea and a cat, newspaper, book, knitting, laptop, whatever works for you.  It is also the perfect weather to do inside chores (of which I have innumerable).  I have no real motivation to go putz around outdoors as I would if it were sunny and 60.  So today is a great day, thanks to the weather, to make a dent in the indoor mess.

It’s March in Illinois.  This is exactly the type of weather gray day IIto expect and so there is no reason not to enjoy it.  And if it were suddenly cold and snowing, there would be reason to enjoy that too.  Warm and sunny, easy-peasy. 

In the week or so that I’ve committed to a positive attitude towards the weather I’ve had the opportunity to react to others’ doleful weather commentary.  I counter their negativity with my positive response and they stop in their tracks.  That is not what they expected.  A complaint about the weather is like a “hello, how are you;” people don’t expect a considered response. 

But I have considered the weather. I consider the weather daily and whatever it is that day, it is what it is and there isn’t anything I can do about it.  So why complain?  It doesn’t make me feel any better and often makes me feel worse. So I will not complain about the weather.  Not only will I not complain, I will embrace it. 

As dreary as today appears to many, in my book this is not a difficult day to spin positively.  Severe thunderstorms and damaging tornados won’t challenge me either.  Of course I don’t wish damage, injury, or death on anyone, but there is something very awe-inspiring about when the weather shows its power.  No, for me the challenge will come in July or August with an extended heat wave and high humidity.  That’s when I’ll be put to the test to find something positive to say about the weather.  But I will; there is no reason to be miserable when I have a choice. 

As for now – I’m going to enjoy a gray day.


Stoney Creek Inn: Outsdoorsy Does not Mean Green

February 27, 2011

sciWe just spent a weekend away and stayed at a Stoney Creek Inn.  Stoney Creek Inn’s have a rustic lodge theme going which is vaguely amusing.   They also have an indoor pool and “free” breakfast (as if we didn’t pay for it as part of the cost of the room). bunkbed room

We chose the Stoney Creek Inn this time because we were able to get a room with one large bed and a set of bunk beds.  We have two kids, a teen boy and tween girl, that need their own beds. Since we were staying two nights we wanted the elbow room that comes with the “deluxe” bunk bed room.  The mini-fridge meant we could chill our bottle of white wine too.

The soap and shampoo in the bathroom were called Terra Pure Green Tea Organic Naturals, or at least they had those words (and no others) on the label.  An Internet search yields no such products, so who knows.  But the soap was nice, the lotion was thick and the shampoo worked (but no conditioner? glad my hair is short now).

In the bathroom there was a notice that they wash sheets every other day and  had the suggestion to use your towels more than once (hang them up and we’ll let them be, put them on the floor and we’ll launder them).  This, the organic toiletries, and the general outdoorsy atmosphere suggested a certain green mentality.

All hopes of that were dashed at breakfast. The utensils were plastic and  plates, bowls, and cups were (oh, ick) Styrofoam.   The food was better than some places, but not as great as other “complimentary” breakfasts I’ve had.  To make tea I had to nuke my Styrofoam cup of water – but they had 4 types of coffee (coffee drinkers get all the good stuff).  The tea wasn’t organic so I hold out no hope that the coffee was fair trade.  [I was very proud of my husband though, when we stopped at a coffee house with about 10 different types of coffee he chose their (one) organic offering.]

Discounting the lack of real environmental awareness, the room was comfortable and my daughter and husband enjoyed the pool and hot tub where there were plenty of towels (there was also a dry sauna and fitness room but I did not avail myself of those amenities).  The room was neither too hot nor too cold and I didn’t feel the need to adjust the temperature (and I do tend to prefer it on the cool side).  The price was reasonable – and I did get the special AARP rate (may have even paid for the years AARP dues with it). 

But, beyond superficial appearances, the Stoney Creek Inn is no greener than most other motel chains.  I wasn’t really expecting it would be, but a girl can hope.


I’m taking a snow day (whether there is any snow or not!)

February 24, 2011

It is blustery out and the snow has begun.  Nothing heavy, but apparently it is expected to get pretty fierce with 5 – 9 inches falling overnight.  It’s the blowing more than the snowing that will be problematic. 

This has been a stressful week wrapping up a stressful month.  Nothing especially bad has happened.  Just more and more obligations are piling up with less and less time to get to them.  I still have a wreath, a small Christmas tree, some Christmas candles, and about 20 snowmen around my house.  I have a paper I’m trying to research and write and another I’m working on with a student.  Two other students and I are collecting data for another project, and my Environmental Psychology class took a test on Tuesday that I really need to grade.  That’s just the start.  There’s much much more but it kind of makes my stomach hurt to think about it.

So tomorrow I’m taking a snow day.  It would make it more believable if there is snow on the ground, but it doesn’t really matter, I am still taking a snow day.  I brought home the exams to grade and I have my laptop.  I am all set.

The grading will take two or three hours, but at the same time I can do laundry.   And maybe I’ll bake some cookies (notice I said bake, not make – frozen cookie dough from Market Day, the next best thing to homemade).  I’ll also pack.

Pack?  Yes, the family is going away for the weekend.  Just a little two night trip to Hannibal, Missouri and Quincy, Illinois.  We’ll go in the Mark Twain Cave and probably the Mark Twain Museum.  We’ll scout out the snazzy architecture of Quincy and maybe tour a mansion.  And we’ll spend two nights in a hotel.  Our room is supposed to have a king size bed and a set of bunk beds along with a microwave and mini-fridge (must remember things to put in the fridge and cook in the microwave).  We’ll swim in the hotel pool, maybe I’ll exercise in the fitness room (or not). 

Going away for the weekend does not help me accomplish any of the myriad tasks awaiting me, and in fact, the idea of going away was starting to stress me out, until the weather forecast called for snow and I realized I really didn’t have to go into the office tomorrow.  I have no classes or meetings.  I have office hours but no one has made an appointment.  Just realizing I could work from home tomorrow has reduced my stress remarkably and made the idea of going away fun again.

So tomorrow, regardless of whether we get 9 inches or no inches, I am taking a snow day.



I don’t want to go outside!

February 19, 2011

The cat was by the door.  I opened it, she balked.  I nudged her with my foot.  She backed up.  I looked outside and saw this critter not 10 feet from the door.skunk by the birdfeeders

The skunk looked up and I shut the door fast!  It didn’t spray, thank goodness, but continued checking out the dropped seeds under the birdfeeder for several more minutes until the sun came up and it decided it was time for bed.

My daughter said she saw it by the feeder later also.  I check around before I let the cats out now.  And I’ve bought 2 large bottles of tomato juice in case the cats (or one of us!) irritates the skunk. [I hope we don’t ever have to find out if tomato juice really does counteract the smell.]

Driving up to the house the other night we were looking out for the skunk.  One of our cats came running toward the car from one direction and another went running from the birdfeeder.  Wait a second, that wasn’t our cat, that’s a raccoon!

This morning my daughter looked out the living room window, “Oh, isn’t that cute!”  An opossum (cute? borderline in my book).

It may get cold again and it may snow again, but the animals say that spring is on its way.