Going green with God: The Energy Action Team aims to educate congregations on earth-friendly energy

March 29th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Media - (Comments Off on Going green with God: The Energy Action Team aims to educate congregations on earth-friendly energy)

From: http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/03-27-12-12-28-going-green-with-god/

Does God, in whatever form you see such a higher power, expect us to take good care of the earth? A group of people from various faith communities in Austin think so, and in 2009 founded theInterfaith Environmental Network. Their stated goal was to work together to “claim the common call of environmental stewardship.”

The activist group, which meets monthly, sponsors speakers on relevant topics such as Austin’s water issues, recycling, the proposed electric rate increase and community gardening.

Last November, a group discussion on “The Energy Challenge: A moral imperative for climate change,” spawned a sub-group called the Energy Action Team, or EAT,  facilitated by a coalition of energy professionals called Climate Buddies. Since then, more than 20 EAT volunteers have been meeting three times a month, ramping up their environmental efforts and spreading their message.

EAT’s goals include building awareness about the environmental consequences of reliance on fossil fuel energy sources and other human activities affecting climate changes, and examining best practices for energy conservation, efficiency and promotion of renewable energy sources.

Joep Meijer, co-founder and chair of Climate Buddies, is an environmental chemist who has helped groups, governments and businesses quantify sustainability for more than 15 years. He says the end goal is a tool kit and manual that a congregation anywhere in the world could use to become carbon positive. Currently, the EAT is developing a tool kit for Central Texas and looking for two or three congregations to run a pilot program.

The Team uses the term “carbon positive” rather than the more common “carbon neutral,” he adds, to emphasize a positive attitude toward dealing with the issue. “The goal of both is the same, to get to zero carbon as quickly as possible. We hope to inspire members to do the same in their households. That is where positive spin-off will happen and grow.”

EAT’s goals include building awareness about the environmental consequences of reliance on fossil fuel energy sources and other human activities affecting climate changes, and examining best practices for energy conservation, efficiency and promotion of renewable energy sources.

To implement the tool kit, a congregation needs an organized team of people to do the work. The EAT will conduct a baseline energy audit, Meijer says, “so everyone knows where they are on energy consumption and climate.”

EAT then selects specific actions, starting with those that are simple to implement or that don’t have significant costs, yet will make meaningful progress toward becoming carbon positive.


“Based on the audit, we know the most important areas to work on, the high leverage items,” says Meijer. A congregation may need to start from scratch and weatherize, switch out lighting and upgrade or replace HVAC, for example, or it may be ready to implement alternative energy sources. “We’ll find actions that deliver the most result for the money and effort put into it. It’s not a list of things that work for everybody, but from which we can select items that work best for that church.”

The focus is always on three things, though: conservation, or using less energy overall; efficiency, or doing the same things with less energy; and switching to renewables for the consumption that is left. “Wherever a church spends a dollar, that will go into our review,” Meijer says. “We’ll tell them where most of their carbon footprint comes from and how to mitigate and reduce that. We want measurable results.”

The EAT currently offers free climate audits to any interested congregation. This helps the Team understand how typical congregations work, energy-wise. The audits are also an important awareness and education tool, teaching congregations about their carbon footprint and what it means.

Why a specifically faith-based approach? For results, Meijer says. “We wanted to find groups that include a significant amount of people, and that were willing to make this a focus for an entire year. We looked at what is here in Austin, and thought, why not find a group with a high buy-in for taking care of the earth? IEN gives us a platform for being positive, and also inclusive. We can talk about the things that join us, not that separate us. They also committed to making it an issue for 2012.”

The Team’s carbon positive efforts will ultimately not be restricted to the faith community, but, Meijer says, it is a wonderful one to start with.

Gas Mower Trade-in for Electric Mower

March 28th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events - (Comments Off on Gas Mower Trade-in for Electric Mower)

April 7 (must reserve by April 6 & while supplies last)

From Carolyn

If you want to use your greenchoice to mow your lawn, and get clean air on top of that, you can trade in your gas mower and get a nice 25% discount on your new electric mower. But you also get a discount for buying a new one, still a 10% cut.

If you use a gas mower, you have a once-a-year opportunity to trade it in for a discount on an electric mower through the Central Texas Electric Lawnmower Program.  This is a good opportunity to reduce air pollution (mowers are a big source because unlike cars, have no pollution controls) and carbon dioxide emissions.  The program is in part sponsored by the Austin Sierra Club, Texas Gas Service, and Save Barton Creek Association.

For details go to:  www.cmpbs.org/electriclawnmower

Who: Home Depot and Scott Johnson

What: The Central Texas Electric Lawnmower Program

When: Saturday, April 7th from 8:30am-2pm

Where: Only at the Mueller Home Depot at 1200 Barbara Jordan at 51st St. (Next to Best Buy)

Why: To help folks save money when they upgrade their polluting gas- powered mower for an exhaust-free electric model. Also, to help reduce ozone- forming emissions, CO2 emissions (that are changing our climate)and to eliminate the spillage of gas/oil from gas-powered lawnmowers into our waterways. Gas-powered landscaping equipment emits between 5-10% of the total air pollution in an urban area.

Trade in your gas-powered mower and save up to 25% off the cost of a new Homelite corded (plug-in) or cordless electric mower. Quantities are limited and are based on a first-come, first-serve basis. To reserve an electric lawnmower please call Scott Johnson at (512) 389-2250 (O) by Friday April 6th at  3pm.


For New Generation of Power Plants, New Rules From E.P.A.

March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Policy - (Comments Off on For New Generation of Power Plants, New Rules From E.P.A.)

The ruling is here!

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal limitson greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants on Tuesday, moving in tandem with market forces that are already moving the industry from coal to natural gas.

A blog about energy and the environment.

In the United States, the electric power sector produces 40 percent of the nation’s heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, the bulk of them generated by coal-fired plants. Still, the agency emphasized that the proposed rules would apply only to future construction, not to existing plants or others for which permits have already been granted.

The declining price of natural gas has made it the fuel of choice for companies planning new plants, and the latest gas-fired generation on the drawing boards is expected to easily meet the new standards without adding new controls. The challenge will be far greater and possibly prohibitive for new coal plants, whose emissions are dirtier but will have to meet the same standard.

The new rule sets a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. That would make it impossible for new coal plants to be approved without the addition of equipment that traps carbon dioxide before it leaves the smokestack and then stores it underground.

But, in an apparent concession to companies still planning to build coal plants, the E.P.A. said it would allow new plants to begin operating with higher levels of emissions as long as the average annual emissions over a period of 30 years met the standard.

In a statement, the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, called the proposed rules “a common-sense step to reduce pollution in the air, protect the planet for our children and move us into a new era of American energy.” Environmental groups generally applauded the standards, although some expressed disappointment with the agency’s refusal, for the moment, to regulate existing coal plants.

Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, and other conservatives threatened to block the rules in Congress, and coal industry representatives denounced them as an attack on a widely used fuel that makes electricity more affordable.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, offered measured praise for the new rules while urging the agency to go further. “This Environmental Protection Agency action means any new coal plants built in America must use modern, state-of-the-art carbon pollution controls,” she said in a statement “The logical next step is to improve the aging fleet of existing coal-fired power plants, which remain the major source of industrial carbon pollution in our country.”

In a conference call with reporters, Ms. Jackson said that if such action was to be taken in the future, the agency would thoroughly consult with the industry and all others affected.

The proposed regulations arose from a 2009 finding by the E.P.A. that carbon dioxide is a pollutant threatening human health and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The agency acted in accordance with a Supreme Court directive that the agency decide whether carbon dioxide was a pollutant or not.

At Peabody Energy, the largest coal mining company in the United States, Vic Svec, a spokesman, questioned the legality of the standard, arguing that the E.P.A. was supposed to set standards based on existing technology and that carbon capture technology was not ready.

A standard of 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour for coal plants would “require something that doesn’t exist as a commercial technology,” he said.

Steve Miller, chief executive of the lobbying group the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said, “This latest rule will make it impossible to build any new coal-fueled power plants, and could cause the premature closure of many more coal-fueled power plants operating today.

“So far, other E.P.A. regulations are responsible for the announced closure of more than 140 electricity generating units in 19 states,” he said in a statement. “The regulation the E.P.A. proposed today could raise the number of closures even higher and put more workers out of jobs.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview that ending coal-fired generation as it now exists was the point. “It’s a rule that follows the marketplace,” he said, adding: “Right now, next to no coal plants are being built. This basically means that new coal plants are going extinct.”

As for coal plants built in the 1970s or earlier, he said, “we can put them in our rear-view mirror.”


Paul Hawken: Blessed Unrest

March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Recommended reading - (Comments Off on Paul Hawken: Blessed Unrest)

From Joep


How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming. Paul Hawken has spent over a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice.

From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture.
and is emerging to be an extraordinary and creative expression of people’s needs worldwide.

Here is his inspiring introduction to a growing movement for social justice and environmental stewardship. We are part of a universe of action. We are everywhere!

Here is the website for the book

Washington Plans Carbon Limits and Subsidy Cuts

March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Policy - (Comments Off on Washington Plans Carbon Limits and Subsidy Cuts)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Thursday told reporters that there’s no date yet for proposing the regulations, which would set first-time standards for new and modified power plants that run on coal, oil and natural gas. I was surprised that regulations to limit power plant greenhouse gas emissions are still under consideration. The schedule may be slipping but it could still happen, Read more here.

Sen. Harry Reid scheduled a procedural vote for Monday on legislation to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for the largest oil companies. The savings would finance the extension of key renewable energy tax credits.  Read more here…

Earth Hour Austin 2012 – Saturday, March 31st @ 8:00pm (Zilker Park)

March 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events - (Comments Off on Earth Hour Austin 2012 – Saturday, March 31st @ 8:00pm (Zilker Park))

To Whom It May Concern,

EARTH Hour Austin 2012 is just around the corner!  If you are not familiar with the Earth Hour movement, it is the largest voluntary global environmental event in history where millions of people switch off their lights for one hour to send a message that something needs to be done about climate change.  Visit www.earthour.org for more details.

I found this to be such a powerful movement that I had to get involved in a big way here in Austin, Texas!  Therefore, as a way to help build awareness and promote even more eco-friendly initiatives right here in Austin, I decided to host an Earth Hour Austin 2012 event at Zilker Park (meeting near sand volleyball courts) on Saturday, March 31st, 8:00pm-9:30pm.  I expect about 100-200 (or more) people will gather at Zilker Park to create a Texas-Size HEART of lights (each person will bring a candle or flashlight) to show love for our Earth.  Also, we will have front row seating of downtown Austin when the lights switch off for one hour at 8:30pm!  This is going to be such an uniting and uplifting moment, I can’t wait!

I hope you will share this with other members in our community, participate, support and/or come join us at the park!  Let’s make Austin glow!

RVSP for Earth Hour Austin 2012 here:  https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/events/226060304103720/

Thank you!
Dara Carrillo


Bridging the Gap in Understanding Climate Change

March 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events - (Comments Off on Bridging the Gap in Understanding Climate Change)

From  Bob

Hello IEN-EAT teammates! This looks good, and couldn’t be more timely or relevant. Please have a look and use it to your advantage!

Ever find yourself in a conversation about global warming struggling to convey the basic principles? We all understand the urgency of the issue, but we aren’t always good at describing the how, why, and what to do about global warming.

Understanding the best ways to talk about global warming is a skill we all should have—whether you’re doing an interview with a reporter, having dinner with friends, or speaking to a community group.

Join Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication, and Aaron Huertas, UCS press secretary, for a webinar to discuss what the research shows is most effective in communicating on the issue and chat with Susan about her experience working with scientists to develop better ways to talk about the latest climate change developments.

Webinar: Bridging the Gap in Understanding Climate Change

Monday, April 2, 2012 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT RSVP Today!

This webinar is just the first in series of topics we’ll tackle on communicating climate science. Sign up today for any or all of the webinar series! Other topics in the series include: learning simple tips for creating visually compelling presentations; and how to advance our national dialogue about climate change by understanding how and why people are drawn to bad arguments.


Austin Energy: a world-class environmental, power and economic engine?

March 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Media - (Comments Off on Austin Energy: a world-class environmental, power and economic engine?)

From Richard

Richard wrote a passionate op-ed for the Austin American Statesman, the full article is online here.

“The Austin Energy electric utility rate tornado coming toward our pockets is an opportunity to do better than the contradictory story that has unfolded so far. What if we lift the discussion from just the rate issues to becoming an exemplary public utility again? There are millions of dollars in question. There are contradictory accounts of how much money Austin Energy has and how much it needs. It is clear we need the whole story. One undisputed asset is Austin Energy’s many unrecognized but extraordinary — even visionary — employees. We think of Austin as a world class city. Did you know that Austin Energy, our municipal-owned utility, used to be the model for many cities to copy?

Now other cities have moved onward. When Greensburg, Kan., was devastated by a tornado, its residents lost 11 people, most of their homes and everything they owned. It forced them to make change, to decide to reinvent themselves. In just two years, they have accomplished that. They have new jobs, new opportunities and a rebuilt city that is a clean energy producer of the first magnitude. People come from all over the world to see, touch and be in awe of the future city that a town working together created. The German village of Wildpoldsried, using American solar and other innovative ideas, produces 321 percent more clean energy than it needs and earns back 4 million euros in annual revenue. At the same time, Wildpoldsried has seen a 65 percent reduction in its carbon footprint. What if Austin Energy becomes the most successful utility on the planet, the utility to copy? Could it produce millions more in annual revenue by selling to a broader market and even lowering the rate to all its customers? Aren’t we all the owners? Can’t we work together like Greensburg and Wildpoldsried to accomplish this? Now Austin City Council — also the Austin Energy board of directors — has created time to consider what to do next. Some folks warn us that Austin Energy can’t do much for fear of being deregulated. But breakthroughs and calculated risks are something we do well. During this time, what if the council figures out and plans to cover Austin Energy’s true financial needs? The Austin Energy audit is under way. If an audit is produced that is fair to all parties, we should know what the utility’s basic rate needs to be. With a basic, fair rate in place, the council could direct the city manager to come up with a brilliant, long-term plan we need. Some folks want to get this done. But this should not be a hurried affair. Given a realistic period of review, what if we made this world-class utility vision a unifying force in Austin? This could be better than South by Southwest — no traffic; year-round return on investment; a healthy, sustainable, moneymaking and clean enterprise that makes revenue from innovative energy production, sales and replication services while delivering electricity everyone can afford. German and American models show us our people can generate power from the rooftops of their homes and businesses. Maybe the 60-day council and citizen Austin Energy review is a way to focus on the real prize. In this vision of Austin Energy, our city will thrive with new energy-related businesses and clean, sustainable, living-wage jobs. We can set the bar high. The simple way is to make this goal, this practical vision, known to our council. Speak up. Be clear. As owners, we want an Austin that leads by example and is world-class and brilliant when it comes to energy. You, as an owner, could contact your council members, and let them know you like this picture and want them to follow through.

Mention this on Facebook and Twitter. Ask your friends to call, email or tweet to Austin City Council members and share some passion for this unifying global vision. A sustainable, long-term affordable energy rate that is the result of a smart, world-class electric utility plan is doable. Don’t just advocate — act as if you can make it so. Walk the talk. Install money- and energy-saving devices. Austin Energy has an excellent, free energy audit to get you started. We have seen the models, and right now, we are not one of them. With your participation, we could be.

Halpin is a member of the Interfaith Environmental Network Energy Action Team and co-chairman of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin Green Sanctuary Committee. He is the 2008 Ernst and Young/Silverton Foundation social entrepreneur of the year and a longtime community progress proponent”.


Planning the Evolution of the Smart Grid

March 21st, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events - (Comments Off on Planning the Evolution of the Smart Grid)

From sustainable world

This is an opportunity to join a webinar, where you will learn about how California’s state Energy Commission (CEC) is using the Smart Grid Maturity Model (SGMM) to develop its roadmap though 2020 for California’s thirteen publicly owned utilities.

The Smart Grid Maturity Model stems from a notion developed for the government for bringing structure to software development for large government projects. It has been adapted to system engineering, organizational improvement, and now a model to aid in the evolution and implementation of the Smart Grid.

I expect this to be a heavy process and for those that can see benefits some structure and bureaucracy. The notion is that there is generic model that can be tailored and applied to drive continuous improvement to ever higher levels maturity and sophistication. I expect we will hear about this generic model and how the experiences of the California utilities will be shared to drive ever increasing levels of intelligence in their Grid. The main emphasis will likely be on how the utilities will learn to change to discover and enable this intelligence. No one really knows yet how to run a Smart Grid effectively and efficiently. This should be a roadmap for such a journey.

The SGMM could be useful to those coaching council members on what to ask of Austin Energy. This may give the Council tips on what we citizens expect in the way of continuous improvement from Austin Energy.

The speaker is Steven Rupp, Vice President, SAIC. Mr. Rupp has 28 years of experience in the electric utility industry, including planning, engineering, construction, and operations and maintenance of electric transmission and distribution systems.  SAIC is a renown government and commercial consulting company ($11.1 B revenue in 2011). They acquired Bellcore in 1997 which was created from Bell Labs when AT&T was last split up.

I expect you will learn more about utility management than technical points of the Smart Grid. It will be interesting to see what points this model represents as important in the evolution of the Smart Grid. In my registration I simply represented myself as a “member” of the “Interfaith Env. Net. Energy Action Team.” Registration is free.

    Title: The CEC and SGMM–Partners for a Future Vision of Smart Grid
    Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
    Time: 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM CDT
    Sponsored by: Carnegie Mellon, Software Engineering Institute

U.S. Solar Energy Installations Soared by 109% in 2011 to 1,855 Megawatts

March 21st, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Renewables - (Comments Off on U.S. Solar Energy Installations Soared by 109% in 2011 to 1,855 Megawatts)

From Joep

The U.S. solar energy industry installed a record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, more than doubling the previous annual record of 887 MW set in 2010, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report. The record amount of solar installations is enough to power more than 370,000 homes, and represents a 109 percent growth rate in 2011. It is the first time the U.S. solar market has topped one gigawatt (1,000 MW) in a single year.

That is good news. Austin Energy’s Webberville plant came online in 2011 as well and you can see it as the almost sole contriutor to the results for Texas in the graph below. We also see that California, New Jersey and Arizona are leading the pack. They are all based on different mechanisms. California uses and “all out” strategy focussing on residential, commercial and utilities, New Jersey is almost fully commercial, and Arizona features mostly utility PV and has a lot of concentrated solar plants. The sun shines the most in Arizona and Southern Califoria, so we will be seeing more and more projects there since the pricepoint benefits for solar are already there and will continue to increase. 

The full press release can be read here



Carbon Sabbath

March 20th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Inspiration - (Comments Off on Carbon Sabbath)

From Joep, courtesy Rev. Dr. Stephen Kinney of All Saints Episcopal Church

Tonight @ All Saints Church 209 W 27th St, Austin, TX 78705, (512) 476-3589

“Last June, Scott Claassen gave up riding in cars, planes, buses, or trains for one year. During this time, he has been riding his bicycle around the country to create dialogue about the need to do something constructive to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, and blogging about the experience. Tonight, you are invited to meet me and Scott at All Saints Church at 7pm for an impromptu conversation.” His blog is fascinating, you can read all here.

I copied his motivation into this post below: in summary: he is in!

Why Do This?

“The short answer is out of love– love of God and love of neighbor. Let me start with love of neighbor. I do not believe that it is possible to love our neighbors without acknowledging how our actions effect others. With regard to our approach to the environment, our actions do not exist in isolation. The way that we live has a direct effect on the ecosystem in which we live. When we ignore those effects, we deny who we are and our obligation to our neighbors–both human and nonhuman.

There are many ways to understand how the Carbon Sabbath relates to love of God. However, we can begin by considering the notion of sabbath. In sabbath, the Judeo-Christian tradition practices rest that reorients our action to the divine. This notion of rest is grounded in the Biblical account of God’s resting after the act of creation. In God’s resting, God saw that creation was both good and the complete. In recognition of this goodness, Christians practice a sabbath once a week.

In modern American society, we have lost the notion of rest. Because of the frenetic nature of our lives and means of communication, we rarely pause to reflect on the goodness of God and creation. If we were to rest, we would quickly realize that we have neglected our relationship to both God and creation. My hope is to restore this practice of rest in my own life and invite others to do the same.

The need for our restorative sabbath comes at a crucial moment in the history of our planet. At present, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 exceed the number that scientists say is safe to sustain for life on earth– 350 parts per million. As Americans, we have a unique opportunity to drastically effect carbon emissions worldwide. We can do this by setting the example of significantly diminishing our own per capita emissions. This example can both illustrate our concern and model a path for others to do the same. If we do not respond with urgency, we will be forced to accept the consequences of bringing about the destruction of God’s creation.

As Christians, we must recognize that the process by which that destruction is taking place disproportionately affects the world’s poor. The most impoverished among us live in areas where water quality is poorest, in closer proximity to industrial waste, and in environments that greatly diminish quality of life. In the years to come, the poor will bear the brunt of our neglect of creation. They will be displaced by sea level rise. They will suffer from poor air quality. They will suffer from food shortages. As Christians, we cannot avoid the suffering of our neighbors. We must do our best to limit this suffering and show the world our love for God and creation.

Help me explore how our actions can do just that.”


2 lbs of waste in 6 weeks!

March 17th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Zero Waste - (Comments Off on 2 lbs of waste in 6 weeks!)

From Joep

Courtney and I tried to get to less than 2lbs of waste in a month. We are already buying more and more in bulk, decided to buy only beer in a growler (buy one, fill up, reuse all the time), no more multilayer boxes for drinks that cannot be recycled etc. We switched to the smallest waste container size that the city is offering ( To change your trash cart size, call 512-494-9400. more info ) saving a few quarters per months in waste fees. The container feels a lot like “my first garbage bin”, it is kid size, just like the buggies in the store. We compost, and recycle. So what was left? Not enough! It took us 6 weeks to get to 2 lbs of waste. Our goal was not strict enough, ha ha. So Zero Waste, we are almost there. Think of it. When you buy less waste, people have to make less waste for you, you have to toss less waste and the landfill stays waste free = empty.

What can you do this week to cut back on your waste? 

(See I still have a plastic bag, they are not banned yet!)


Virtual Power Becomes Real on the Smart Grid

March 16th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Our Future - (Comments Off on Virtual Power Becomes Real on the Smart Grid)

From sustainable world

The linked article explains how the Smart Grid can actually generate electricity. Typically, the Smart Grid is portrayed as simply an efficiency or conservation scheme. With the right intelligence and a motivated user base, a Smart Grid community and its distributed generation capability can actually serve as a major generator for the power needs of the larger grid. Could Austin become a major generator for ERCOT? This would be a challenging goal to set for Austin Energy’s distributed generation goals.

April Fuels Day! Alternative Vehicle Fair.

March 14th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events | Transportation - (Comments Off on April Fuels Day! Alternative Vehicle Fair.)

From Richard


Sunday, April  1st,  2012


10 to 2 pm    (9-10am set up)


 10 am-12- FUUC Congregation

 12 -2pm- Congregation & general                

 4700 Grover Avenue, Austin


Come, See, Touch and Explore all kinds of energy efficient, marvelous vehicles at the First Unitarian Universalist Church. This April Fuels Day, Alternative Vehicle Fair is a rare chance to have your hands on electric, plugins, hybrids, bio-diesel, bikes, scooters and MORE. Activities for young and all-slow bike races, model solar car sorties, games and goodies. It’s Free, Fun and a Fair!


 Contact information: Beki or Richard Halpin 288-4080 or green@austinuu.org





High use of food scraps

March 13th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Zero Waste - (Comments Off on High use of food scraps)

From Daniela

As Austin moves forward on its Zero Waste plan, a number of potential pitfalls have begun to present themselves.  Among the most puzzling is the recent attempt to establish a city sponsored pilot program for garbage disposal maker Insinkerator to install its devices in apartments as a part of the Zero Waste effort.  Everyone knows, of course, that garbage disposals grind up and flush out our food scraps, we also know that this is hardly the highest and best use for our food “waste.”  Still, Councilmember Bill Spelman has been angling to get Insinkerator in on the city’s Zero Waste plan, and the Austin Zero Waste community is resisting these efforts.

Austin’s wastewater ends up in Hornsby Bend where the biosolids are collected and downcycled into ‘Dillo Dirt, a low quality compost used on city property.  Putting one’s food wastes into a backyard compost pile is considerably more useful than sending them to Hornsby Bend, and feeding them to animals or even humans is far more sustainable and valuable than even that.  To make things even easier, the city is preparing pilot programs for curbside compost, meaning that garbage disposals are soon to be unnecessary.  This is one reason why lobbyists from Insinkerator are fighting to be considered a part of the plan; another is to promote their products in developing nations still used to composting all of their waste.  Either way, the Insinkerator proposal has a lot of local environmentalists scratching their heads.

The city’s Water/Wastewater Commission is set to take public comment on the issue this Wednesday, March 14 at 6 PM at the Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th St., Room 104.  We expect a resolution to be introduced which will urge the rejection of this proposed program in favor of a renewed focus on food salvage and composting.  Also, the resolution will call for more public education about the problems of pouring Fats, Oils and Greases (FOGs) down the drain, a problem Insinkerator proposes to solve.  Composting these materials is possible, and biofuel companies are interested in paying for them.  Pouring food down the drain is a waste of resources; come out to the Commission on Wednesday and let them know you think so too!

If you can’t make it out (it is South by Southwest, after all), please email the commission your thoughts:

Gwendolyn Webb, Chair: g.hill.webb@webbwebblaw.com

Dale Gray, Vice Chair: dgray@espeyconsultants.com

Sarah Faust: sarah.b.faust@gmail.com

Mickey Fishbeck: rimrok@earthlink.net

Aaron Googins: aarongoogins@yahoo.com

Chien Lee: chienlee2005@yahoo.com

William Moriarty: wmoriarty@austin.rr.com

Also, copy your comments to the Council.  You can email them all at once here.

Here’s the proposed resolution, which can also serve as talking points for why this Insinkerator program is a bad idea.  Essentially, Zero Waste means not flushing resources down the drain, which is what this program proposes to do; it really is as simple as that.

Whereas, food waste disposers have been banned for commercial use in Austin; and

Whereas, there is a planned pilot program focused on a public education campaign around composting in 2013 and a rollout of compost for single-family homes, multi-family dwellings and commercial establishments; and

Whereas, food waste disposers do not align with Austin’s Zero Waste Master Plan; and

Whereas, food waste disposers divert valuable food scraps to Hornsby Bend where low-grade compost is made; and,

Whereas, the Austin Zero Waste Plan calls for the “highest and best use” of all waste diverted, which should start with food salvage for humans and animals; and

Whereas, the curbside composting program is planned for 2015 for curbside single-family units, multifamily and commercial composting, where rich, valuable fertilizers can be produced to replenish our soils, plants and trees; and,

Whereas, composting can create more local businesses enhance community gardens in and around the Austin area; and

Whereas, the use of food waste disposers use valuable resources such as water and electricity; and,

Whereas, the Austin Water Utility states that putting solids and FOGS, (fats, oil and grease) down the drain can clog pipes and hasten their deterioration; and,

Whereas, the acceptance of funds from a private company to test its products could give the impression that the City of Austin is endorsing and promoting a private company and its products; and,

Whereas, many composting business owners agree that FOGs are acceptable waste to mix into composting operations and actually add them to compost piles to spur production of bacteria for expedited breakdown of materials; and,

Whereas, the biofuels industry has great potential for growth in Austin and in Texas and the collection of household FOGs could be used to grow this trade; and,

Whereas, a representative of the company that manufactures and advocates use of food waste disposer stated that the company seeks to use Austin’s adoption of its product when marketing food waster disposers in India and China

Therefore, be it resolved that the Solid Waste Advisory Commission calls on the Austin City Council and Austin Resource Recovery Department to keep the focus on educating residents on the highest and best use of food scraps through food salvage for human and animal consumption and composting, rather than participating in a pilot program with Insinkerator for inferior food disposal methods.

Be it further resolved that the City of Austin consider launching an effective city-wide effort to educate residents about the problems caused when residents put food, fats, oil and grease down the drain and other options for the reuse, recycling and composting of these materials.

Carbon Neutral Stuff: paper plates and cups

March 13th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive - (Comments Off on Carbon Neutral Stuff: paper plates and cups)

From Joep

Americans are good at throwing things away, and on top of that, somewhat lazy too. We are so busy that we do not want to wash plates, especially not at pciknicks at the park or bug parties. Styrofoam mania hits the dancefloor, whaah! And you know, 50% of our carbon footprint in our households comes from goods and services, so stuff.

Well, I just saw these plates and cups at Wheatsville that comes from a company that takes responsibility towards sustainability with the following program, the first step: all carbon neutral net operations and products! No hidden indirect impacts:


·         Zero Carbon Footprint. Offset our total carbon emissions by partnering with grassroots environmental and social organizations, whose programs not only offset carbon emissions but also create sustainable livelihoods. 

·         Donate 32% of Net Profits. Give 25% of our pre-tax profits to create social and enviromental sustainability.

·         Discounts. Provide 20% discount to schools and non-profits.

·         Compostable Trays. Provide compostable lunch trays at cost to schools to replace Styrofoam trays.

·         Manufacturing Audits. Regularly audit outsourced factories under Fair Labor Organization guidelines, to ensure fair wages and working conditions for workers.

·         Renewable Energy. Power our office using renewable energy (a combination of wind and solar) and strive to be a zero-waste office.

·         Public Transportation. Provide $250 per month reimbursement for employees to take public transportation.

·         Community. Hosted environmental and social justice speakers and film series since 2004 and regularly host other community events.



Their carbon footprint is the sum of all carbon emissions emitted into the atmosphere in the process of making our compostable goods and running our sustainable business. This would include emissions from the production of our raw materials and manufacturing all the way to its transportation to your front door. It includes transportation, processing, inbound ocean freight transportation, outbound trucking, warehouse operations, and even our office footprint that includes the commute and travel of our staff.


More information on their efforts and program can be found here: http://www.worldcentric.org/sustainability/zerocarbon/

Climate Positive chocolate

March 12th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive - (Comments Off on Climate Positive chocolate)

From Joep

12.5% of the average Austinite’s carbon footprint is related to food. I was walking around Wheatsville Co-op yesterday and looked at packaging for carbon neutral certification. And I found products! This is fantastic. The product I am sharing with your is chocolate from Alter Eco. The put their carbon footprint on their packaging and they claim to be carbon neutral. All certified. But the story is better. They actually buy the ingredients from farmer they know and have invested in reforestation projects, governed by the mechanisms provided by the Kyoto protocol, certified carbon sequestration through reforestation in the area, but also on the company level working on their overall footprint by measuring, putting in actions to reduce their footprint, and then what is left, plant a new forest. Read the pdf below and see how they are trying to be as transparent as possible (they even have a breakdown of their price structure on the wrapping). Of yeah, and go to Wheatsville Co-op next week and by the quinoa bar, that is the one that is carbon neutral! Yum.

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Why is Clean Energy so Slow?

March 11th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Renewables - (Comments Off on Why is Clean Energy so Slow?)

I recently viewed the webinar “Why is Clean Energy so Slow” from Craig Shields editor of the 2GreenEnergy site: He reviewed what his 2011 survey revealed as the top 13 beliefs hindering progress to renewable energy. Each of his conjectures was rated from 1 to 10. The top 5 were: 

8.3  Lobbyists perpetuate overwhelming subsidies for fossil fuels

6.7  Short term leadership view

6.7  Private investors see renewables as unproven

6.6  Not an urgent need

6.5  Inadequate grid transmission capability

The webinar will give you some of the facts and misperceptions that drive these beliefs.

* There are more than 7,000 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry in Washington DC. For every $1 spent by the fossil fuel lobby they have received $59 in “aid” from the Federal government. For the recent 111th Congress that totaled more than $20 billion to aid the fossil fuel industry.

* The health costs of our petroleum habit start at $64 billion a year and could be as high as $250 billion (related to aromatic disorders like asthma). What fraction of this could be avoided if spent on creating pollution free energy sources?

* Worldwide the ocean’s carbonic acid content is increasing. This is attributed to absorption from the higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since 1751 it has increased 30%. This ongoing acidification of the oceans pose a threat to the food chains connected with the oceans.


Another interesting webinar is from Dan Arvizu Director of the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) on “Renewable Energy and the Economy.” This was a 2009 address at Stanford but I believe most of the information is still pertinent. Dr Arvizu is still the Lab Director. One of his remarks was that the he sees the slow movement Federal government being expedited by grassroots movements at the municipal and state level. Dr. Arvizu is an excellent speaker.



Unlocking energy efficiency in the US economy

March 10th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Efficiency - (Comments Off on Unlocking energy efficiency in the US economy)

From: McKinsey

In this report  McKinsey offers a detailed analysis of the magnitude of the efficiency potential in non-transportation uses of energy, a thorough assessment of the barriers that impede the capture of greater efficiency, and an outline of the practical solutions available to unlock the potential.

The research shows that the US economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020, eliminating more than $1.2 trillion in waste—well beyond the $520 billion upfront investment (not including program costs) that would be required. The reduction in energy use would also result in the abatement of 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse-gas emissions annually—the equivalent of taking the entire US fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.

Such energy savings will be possible, however, only if the United States can overcome significant sets of barriers. These barriers are widespread and persistent, and will require an integrated set of solutions to overcome them—including information and education, incentives and financing, codes and standards, and deployment resources well beyond current levels.

In addition to the above central conclusion, five observations will be relevant to a national debate about how best to pursue energy efficiency opportunities of the magnitude identified and within the timeframe considered in this report. Specifically, an overarching strategy would need to:

  • Recognize energy efficiency as an important energy resource that can help meet future energy needs while the nation concurrently develops new no- and low-carbon energy sources
  • Formulate and launch at both national and regional levels an integrated portfolio of proven, piloted, and emerging approaches to unlock the full potential of energy efficiency
  • Identify methods to provide the significant upfront funding required by any plan to capture energy efficiency
  • Forge greater alignment between utilities, regulators, government agencies, manufacturers, and energy consumers
  • Foster innovation in the development and deployment of next-generation energy-efficiency technologies to ensure ongoing productivity gains

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AE Rebate expiring: changing T8 fluorescent lights

March 7th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Efficiency - (Comments Off on AE Rebate expiring: changing T8 fluorescent lights)

From Dale

In 2012, changes in manufacturing standards for lighting require the phase-out of one type of commercial equipment commonly used. Austin Energy customers have until June 2012 to take advantage of existing rebates for the soonto- be “standard” equipment. The most common type of fluorescent lighting used in Austin will no longer be manufactured after July 2012, as specified by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The fluorescents that will become the new standard are 32-watt T-8 fluorescents. Customers who install the fluorescents now will receive standard rebates of $250/KW saved, a 20% bonus rebate, reduce lighting costs up to 45% and, possibly, federal tax deductions of up to $1.80 per square foot.

Please talk to your building manager, do a walk around, see if this rebate is available and contact austin energy. For more information, call 482-5346 or write an e-mail to conservation@austinenergy.com. The original flyer from Austin Energy is attached below, the notice is included at the bottom of the second page.



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