Posts Tagged ‘Earth Day’

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By Heidi Bishop

As the new administration’s impact on energy policy unfolds, increased interest in pursuing “clean coal” technologies have likely put Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) more squarely on your radar. The new “America First Energy Plan” makes no mention of solar, wind, or other renewable energy resources but does state a commitment to “clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” For DC EcoWomen active in energy policy, this is a good time to understand the current state of the technology.

While there are several ways to reduce the various harmful emissions from a coal plant so that it can be labeled “clean coal,” most energy plans citing clean coal are referring to the use of CCS as a method for reducing the carbon content from plant emissions to protect coal as a major form of baseload generation. In short, CCS requires a means of separating CO2 from either the fuel or emissions of a power plant, capturing and stabilizing this isolated CO2 in a solid or compressing it in gas, and then storing it over centuries. CO2 can be removed from coal directly through pre-firing degasification, such as in an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, or through oxyfiring. CO2 can also be removed in post-processing of emissions. Both approaches are feasible, but expensive, and energy-intensive operations that require significant capital expenditures can reduce plant efficiencies by as much as 20%.

CCS is a complex technology, and there are many useful resources available from the DOE, IEA, or the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) to learn more. In more mainstream discussions, however, here are two Clean Coal myths you might come across:

Myth 1: Clean Coal Technologies are Market-Ready

Some proponents point to existing pilots for CCS or utility projects underway as proof that the technology is proven for large scale deployment and poised for growth. While there is significant technical potential for CCS in terms of engineering feasibility and substantial amounts of potential underground storage locations, as a commercial matter CCS is still an infant technology that is likely going to be very expensive initially and is not yet available at a broad scale.

NRG’s Petra Nova plant in Texas, which is paired with enhanced oil recovery to improve its economics, is now up and running as a major success, but the majority of projects are not. Several projects have generally followed a pattern of initial public support, steep cost overruns, engineering problems, eventual public opposition, and suspension or cancellation. Such projects include Future Gen 2 in Illinois. Once the poster-child for CCS, this project was in development as early as 2006, revised beginning in 2010, and then eventually cancelled in 2015. Similarly, the Kemper County IGCC project in Mississippi, which is currently 3 years behind and $4 billion over budget, has recently found that it will be more economic for it to run on natural gas than the coal it was originally intended to use. All of which leads to the next myth…

Myth 2: Clean Coal Plus Lighter Regulations Can Bring Back the Coal Industry

Coal generation and mining have steadily decreased in past years primarily due to competition with low-priced natural gas which makes coal generation uneconomical for a lot of plants. Secondary cases are low load growth, renewable generation, and environmental regulations such as the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) targeting arsenic and metals air pollution from coal and oil plants.

The stayed and now-cancelled Clean Power Plan (CPP) to impose carbon emission restrictions and pricing mechanisms on the power industry is often blamed for impairing coal, but in fact those regulations were not very strong and would have had little impact on an already-suffering coal industry. For example, projections from the Energy Information Administration that do not incorporate compliance with the CPP still include significant retirements of coal resources over the next few years.

Because the falling demand for coal is driven by the availability of lower cost resources, the business case to invest in new coal generation at all is weak—especially for coal with expensive CCS which can increase costs by around 75%.

Despite all these economic forces against coal and CCS, coal generation is not going to be obsolete any time soon. Today’s existing coal plants are often fairly clean in terms of more noxious pollutants like SO2, NOX, and particulates (and can still be improved), have very long engineering lives left, and can continue running on plentiful and fairly cheap coal.

Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to rely entirely on zero-carbon technologies like renewables because the storage technologies needed to smooth their intermittent availability to meet our consumption patterns are still too expensive for wide use. Technical and economic research in clean coal may still be valuable to address CO2 emissions in parts of the world where coal remains a critical energy supply. Gas-fired power plants also emit CO2, albeit at less than half the rate per kWh as coal, so they also eventually may need CCS. Thus, in many ways, the exact future of clean coal is unsure.

Over the next few years there will be push and pull between regional and national climate policies in the U.S. as well as changes in the economics of competing with natural gas and renewable energy. These influences, however, cannot change the facts that CCS technology is nowhere close to being advanced enough to rapidly expand overnight and that the U.S. coal industry is at best looking to be sustained rather than restored to former levels.

 

 

Heidi Bishop is a marketing and policy associate at a consulting firm based in DC. She specializes in energy policy research, identifying business development opportunities, and developing publications. She has worked on a variety of energy policy topics with a focus on new business models for electric utilities, “Utility of the Future” efforts, distributed energy resources, and retail regulatory strategy. Ms. Bishop received her BA and MBA from Salisbury University and a Master of Public Management – Policy Track, Environmental Concentration from the University of Maryland.

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For Earth Day,  A Story Of Renovation

There’s Never A “Best” Time To Start

I started trying to reduce my waste at the absolute worst time. After college, a few friends and I decided to move into my grandparents’ former home, which was still filled with their possessions and in disrepair. With no jobs lined up and plenty of free time on our hands, we traded our first year’s rent in exchange for fixing up the place.

Although it took some time before we could move in, today we are happily settled (though we are still renovating). Our kitchen is tiled, the walls are painted, and most of the light fixtures are in working order. The house feels like home. It took a lot to get there.

First: To The Dumpster

Most of the first few weeks consisted of throwing things out. Proper disposal was key: we took old pesticides, oil based paints, and appliances to the local landfill, which has a hazardous waste disposal program. When we first started going through the house, it quickly became clear: we had no idea what we were going to do. If there were ever a lesson in how much we leave behind in our lifetimes, this was it. My grandparents weren’t excessive consumers, but they both grew up in poor rural families and apparently saved everything they ever owned. So much for reducing waste – we had to figure out how to dispose of old oil paint, ratty, stained carpet, and a plethora of rusty nails.

Fix The Foundation: Flooring

Throughout the renovation process, flooring was one of the trickiest matters. Our budget was “as small as possible,” but we had to do something. We learned the hard way – with mold and rot – that the base level of plywood does not make a good bathroom floor.

Old carpet, unfortunately, went in the trashcan, and I resolved never to install carpet in a future home. In hindsight, I learned that carpet can sometimes be recycled. However, if you have hardwood floors (like we did) beneath the carpet, it doesn’t make sense to put it in in the first place. If you’re going to install, smaller pieces are more eco-friendly, and remnants are available for a discount at many stores.

After the carpet was removed from the living room, upstairs, and kitchen (yes, kitchen), we needed to put something on the floor. I researched many options, including vinyl tile (the cheapest), but ended up settling on ceramic tile for the kitchen. Because I was putting something new in my home, I didn’t want the off gassing from vinyl (which is highly toxic). Vinyl is also toxic throughout its life cycle Linoleum was an eco-friendly option, but we couldn’t find a color we liked. Since the area we wanted to tile was so small, we decided it wouldn’t affect the budget too much and was the most viable option.

Next, we started fixing what we had. We restored the hardwood floors on the main level, though we just cleaned the ones upstairs. We visited a building materials thrift store, the Community Forklift, and bought paint for the peeling front steps and the upstairs bathroom. The furniture in the house was in great condition, but we put felt pads on the chairs and tables to protect the floors.

Personalizing Your Home.

Finally, we started to create a home we wanted to live in. The living room couch was fine, but we added a washable slipcover to adapt it to the colors we wanted. I started landscaping, tearing out weeds that had become small trees, and planting native and drought-tolerant species in the beds already in the yard. This year, I added cedar raised beds, chosen for their durability, and filled them with compost.

Throughout the renovation process, we threw out as little as possible and reused what we could. My grandfather had a host of building supplies in the basement, and the nails we used to hang pictures all came from his stash. When we were mostly finished renovating and needed some dishes, we went to the thrift store. I kept the bookshelf from the master bedroom and all of the old light fixtures. We refused to throw out anything useable and kept most of the old linens, though we took the extras to the thrift store.

An Act Of Remembrance.

For me, the renovation was as much an act of remembrance as it was restoration. I didn’t hold onto items that were no longer useful purely for remembrance, but every morning I use my grandparents’ old, stained teakettle to boil water. Some of the tools in the basement helped me start my first solo vegetable garden, and the small yellow lamp on my desk once belonged to my grandfather and now helps me write.

Reducing Consumption. 

Renovating the house only reinforced my commitment to reducing my consumption. I gained some incredible insight into my grandparents’ lives and learned bits and pieces of their stories I never heard when they were alive, and I’m living in the midst of their legacies every day. I wonder, too, who first owned the giant soup pot we found at the thrift store. Who did some of my cookbooks once belong to? And when and why did my grandmother buy those knee-high black leather boots with the three inch heels?


Written by Caroline Selle, the Zero Waste Girl

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Guest Post by Catherine Plume

Today is the 44th celebration of our environment and our planet – Earth Day. Now, with climate change hitting hard, we need to make sustainable choices more than ever.  Chances are that by now, you’re a vigilant recycler, ensuring that you, your family, and/or housemates put all ”allowables” in the bin.  But after you’ve mastered the art of the recycling bin, what’s next?  Have you ever looked at your plastic footprint?

Wikimedia Commons

First, it’s important to understand why plastics are so bad. In a nutshell, there are a host of chemicals in plastics, and their impact on the environment and on human health is not looking good.  Plastics take a very long time to decompose, creating waste that lingers and/or is ingested by wildlife.  While most plastics are recyclable, it’s often cheaper (in short-term financial terms) to produce new plastic than to make products out of second-hand plastic. And most of the secondary products are not themselves recyclable – recycling a plastic water bottle only prolongs how long it takes to reach the landfill. Bottom line: throwing your plastics into your recycle bin is not enough.  So, what to do?  How about reducing the amount of plastics you consume in the first place?  

Wikimedia Commons

  1. Buy products that have no – or less – plastic packaging.  You can buy peanut butter, catsup, mustard, etc in glass jars. Pasta in a 100% paper package is just as good, if not better than pasta in a package with the little plastic window on it.

  2. Use glass containers for storing and microwaving your leftovers.   Save your glass jars and reuse them for storing leftovers. Just remember, NEVER MICROWAVE PLASTIC!

  3. Don’t buy or drink water in plastic bottles.  If the folks who work at on water quality at EPA drink DC water out of the tap, you can too!  Get a stainless steel water bottle and fill it up!

  4. Reuse those plastic vegetable bags.  In DC, we’re all about bringing our own bags to the store.  Take the next step and clean and reuse your vegetable bags!  Buy in bulk as you can!

  5. Make your own shampoo! This isn’t for everyone, but about 6 months ago, I gave up shampoo for water mixed with baking soda. I use white vinegar as a rinse.  It took my hair a few weeks to learn how to make its own oil again, but now my hair is as soft, if not softer,than when I used commercial shampoo.  Google “NO POO” and you’ll find a ton of information and testimonials.  I also use baking soda as toothpaste.  As an added benefit, my job requires considerable travel, and using baking soda has reduced TSA issues.  I’m so glad I made this change!

  6. Use baking soda and white vinegar as your primary cleaning products (just don’t combine them in a container!).  Instead of throwing out your empty (plastic) squirt bottles, reuse them to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. There are tons of recipes on the web!

  7. Use astringent to clean your face?  Make your own!  Basil, vinegar and lemon juice make good options – and they go soft on your pocketbook as well as the environment.

  8. Make your own food!  I’m a big consumer of plain yogurt, so my recycling bin was loaded with large plastic yogurt containers.  Then, a friend gave me a yogurt recipe that involves milk, a crock pot and a bit of yogurt to get the process going. EASY! By making my own yogurt, I’ve reduced by plastic consumption by some 50 large yogurt containers per year.  I store it in a crock that I found at Value Village. Now, I’m making my own hummus, tapenade, granola and raita, and I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire.  AND, I’m saving money and making better food than what I can buy in the store – all while reducing my plastic consumption.

About two years ago, while doing research for my blog (www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com), I came across Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life blog.  Her book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, was entertaining and easy to read, and gave me some great ideas for reducing my plastic footprint.  Check it out!

And, when you think about Earth Day, recognize that you’re not going to save the world on your own.  The carbon footprint I accumulate through my work travel every year is embarrassing, and I still buy frappuccinos in plastic cups even though I (really, really) mean to bring my own. I still have plenty of plastic in my life, but at least I’m thinking about what I do buy, and the impact of what I’m buying on the environment.  That’s a start right there!

Catherine Plume is the blogger for the DCRecycler

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By Kate Seitz

 

 

Growing up, the extent of my thrift store experience involved sifting through racks of old t-shirts at the Salvation Army. Dated Cleveland Indians gear that perhaps no longer seemed relevant to a disgruntled fan. A cast-off souvenir from Jamaica. An outgrown pee-wee hockey league championship memento. For whatever reason, my girlfriends and I couldn’t get enough of these worn tees, and the more random the motif, the better.
It wasn’t until a few years back that I realized the multi-faceted benefits of thrifting and really came to view it as a means of discovering a wide range of unique items (clothing, home décor, kitchen tools, you name it) that still have plenty of life left, and for a fraction of the off-the-shelf price. I have since vowed to embrace my admiration for all things vintage and recycled and take the time to find distinctive, second-hand items instead of rushing to the nearest mall to buy new.
I’ve stepped foot in pretty much every thrift and consignment store within a 15 mile radius. I’ve hounded Craigslist for many furniture and athletic equipment needs. I’ve discovered a charming cluster of antique stores out in Loudoun County, Virginia. And I’ve even turned up some great vintage shops on Etsy. My favorite finds thus far include a hand painted dish set; my current road bike; various vintage necklaces; a leather couch and matching chair; a beautiful oak-framed mirror dated 1906; and various dollar-a-piece picture frames and flower vases, many of which I used as décor at my wedding reception and are now sprinkled around my apartment. All for a pittance of what it would cost to buy these new.

1) A sample of my thrifted jewelry collection

2) A hand painted dish set I found at an antique store.

 

 

Thrifting sometimes gets a bad rap for being tricky and tiresome. It does indeed require patience to sift through other people’s cast offs. It sometimes can lead to buried treasure, and other times leave you empty handed. But boy, is it a joyous occasion when you dig up a worthwhile piece. To me, giving a second life to thrifted finds is simply recycling what would otherwise end up in a landfill. Our country’s consumer-driven nature constantly bombards us with reasons to buy new, upgrade, purchase the latest and greatest. Some of this may be necessary, and in fact good for innovation and economic growth. But many times, it’s downright wasteful.

These days, whenever I feel the need to make a purchase, I first evaluate whether a thrifted item would fit the bill. This mantra continues to lead me to unique finds that have an interesting history, or that perfectly worn-in feel. It truly is a win-win, both for the environment and the wallet. The next time you’re looking for new workout tees, jewelry, dishware, a new kitchen table…whatever!….I encourage you to first check out the multitude of options out there for buying second hand (Craigslist, Etsy, a local thrift/antique/consignment store, a neighborhood yard sale (my fave, especially in the summertime!), an EcoWomen clothing swap) and see what treasures you uncover. Happy hunting!

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By Kate Seitz


With Earth Day just around the corner, activists and volunteers are finalizing plans and gathering support for events intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the natural environment. This time of year is flush with trash cleanup efforts, gardening seminars, tree plantings, and composting demonstrations taking place across the globe. Whether or not you are a recycling novice or have already incorporated numerous “green living” strategies into your daily life, there are a plethora of opportunities to engage in environmental community activism.

This Earth Day, I will be busy fundraising for Climate Ride, a 300 mile 5 day bicycling journey that aims to raise awareness about climate change, sustainability, and bike advocacy. Climate Ride participants have the option to participate in the NYC to DC trek, which takes place in the spring, or the Eureka to San Francisco, California ride in the fall.   I have chosen to participate in the California ride, but have made ties with riders participating on the local ride this spring. A few colleagues that participated in the NYC to DC ride a year ago spoke volumes about how wonderfully rewarding the entire experience is: raising money for charities dedicated to climate change and sustainability solutions, biking en masse through NYC as onlookers stare curiously, peddling on through the countryside in three neighboring states, and finally, reaching the finish line at the steps of the Capitol building amidst a throng of supporters and climate change activists. Climate Ride is a challenging yet rewarding adventure that benefits a multitude of eco-minded charities.

Whether you plan to participate in an eco-seminar, teach others about the benefits of buying local produce, or trade in an old, inefficient refrigerator for an ENERGY STAR model®, the options to celebrate the environment and its protection are limitless. In what ways do you participate in environmental community activism?