Tom Steyer draws large crowd for climate change lecture

by Celeste Oram

Over 400 San Diegans arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Hillcrest Thursday evening to hear a decisive, energetic message on clean energy and climate action from climate advocate and philanthropist Tom Steyer. The public talk, organized by grassroots climate action organization SanDiego350, was co-sponsored by over 20 San Diego community groups. In a week of devastating natural disasters and controversial political announcements, the clarity of Steyer’s clean energy message was warmly received by a fired-up audience.

Welcoming remarks by the cathedral’s Dean, Penny Bridges, soberly reflected the urgency of the evening’s discussion, and a moment’s silence was held for victims of recent natural disasters: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; wildfires on the West Coast; flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh; landslides in Sierra Leone.

[Read more…]

Lonely? Try Talking about Cow Flatulence

By Bellamy Dryden

This past Saturday, April 29, I celebrated an important milestone with 5,000 strangers at the Peoples Climate March in downtown San Diego. After that same march in 2014 I adopted a vegan diet, cold turkey, so to speak. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Three years later, I’m healthier and happier.

2017 People's Climate March

2017 People’s Climate March. Photo courtesy of SanDiego350.

What better way to celebrate than with a perfect stranger holding a sign that says “Cow Farts are Destroying the Planet”?

I changed my diet for two reasons. One: it’s an easy and useful way for me to help combat climate change. Two:  it meant that I would never, ever, EVER have to eat a cricket burger with a side of mealworm “fries.”

Why not celebrate such an important day with friends and family? Well, I’m the only environmental vegan in my circle. Besides, my family and friends are far flung, so we use Facebook to keep in touch. The friends and neighbors I see in real life like me just fine, but online, it’s really lonely being the dietary outlier, the green sheep, the tree-hugging vegan. [Read more…]

TransNet Tax Increase – SANDAG Course-correct Opportunity

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on February 25th, 2016

A region doesn’t become environmentally friendly by accident; it does so through careful, ambitious planning with the good of future generations in mind. In this regard, the San Diego region now finds itself at a crossroads.

Through the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the region’s planning agency, we now have the opportunity to begin realizing an environmentally friendly future in the San Diego region for many years to come. SANDAG recently announced that it will consider putting forth a ballot measure that will increase the TransNet sales tax by half a cent. Pending voter approval, such an increase would mean billions of additional dollars for transportation projects in coming decades. Although SANDAG may do the opposite, this money should be spent on projects that will mitigate climate change and protect San Diego’s most vulnerable populations. [Read more…]

A Simple Guide to Improving Your Home Energy Efficiency

I’m a techie and tinkerer by nature, and as a Sierra Club Life Member, I’m always looking into ways to reduce my carbon footprint. Some of these ideas I came up with on my own, and some of them I learned about in this excellent series written by Daily Kos founder Markos “kos” Moulitsas:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/22/1348847/-The-Kos-guide-to-a-carbon-neutral-household-Intro

I’ll talk about them in order of increasing cost.

Live Energy Use Monitoring
One of the first questions you might wonder is “Exactly how much energy is my household using right now?” There is a way to find out your instantaneous energy usage. In order to do this you need to have a smart energy meter installed at your house, and check with your electric utility company to find out which devices it supports. Here is the info for SDG&E:

https://www.sdge.com/residential/about-smart-meters/home-and-business-area-network

I chose the Rainforest Eagle recommended in the kos article. It can be purchased at Amazon.com for about $100.

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Once you get the device, you have to go online to register it with SDG&E. They notify you when it has been approved, and then you can install it on your home network. Using either a web browser or smart phone (I use EnergyVue on my Samsung Galaxy S4) you can get an instant “meter” reading for the electric consumption in your house.

energy_vue_app

You can then experiment with turning household appliances on/off to discover which ones are the biggest power draws.

Proximity Sensors for Utility Room Lights
How many times have you gone into your laundry room, turned on the light, and then left it on all day accidentally? I do this a lot. At one of my weekly forays into Home Depot, I was thinking about this and looked in the lighting section to see what kind of automation was available. That’s where I found this:

tn_proximity_light_sensor_1

It automatically turns on the light when I open the laundry room door. Five minutes after I leave, it automatically shuts off. You can also turn it on and off manually. It costs around $20 for one. Also useful in kids’ play rooms or any other room that is infrequently occupied.

The wiring isn’t that hard… (Author’s note: I have Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Electrical Engineering so your definition of “hard” may vary from mine.) Here it is installed in my laundry room.

tn_proximity_light_sensor_2

Switch to LED Lighting
LED lighting prices have come down a lot. They are more expensive up-front than traditional incandescent bulbs, but their electricity consumption is a lot lower, so they pay for themselves over time. You can now get dimmable and 3-way LEDs easily at Home Depot. I also have a lot of chandelier lighting in my house; some of those bulbs I had to order online. The new track lighting I recently installed also could use LED bulbs.

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You have to be careful, though, because LED lights tend to be a little larger than their incandescent counterparts. Bring the old bulb with you to the store and compare its size to the larger LED bulb, keeping in mind the space requirements of the fixture. You may need to take some measurements of the fixture to make sure the new LED bulb fits. I have had to return a few LED bulbs because they were too big to fit in the enclosure.

Get a Smart Thermostat
I got a Nest learning Thermostat last year. They are not cheap at $249. I got mine simply because I hated the controls of my old thermostat. It’s like having an iPod interface for your thermostat.

tn_nest_thermostat_1

Where this can help you conserve energy is that it can be set to “Home” and “Away” modes. In “Away” mode, the house heating or cooling threshold is set for maximum energy conservation. For the first few weeks you manually set “Home” and “Away” when you enter/leave your house. Eventually it learns your patterns and does this automatically.

It also learns how long it takes for your heater or A/C to move the temperature from the “Away” point to the “Home” point and will kick in your heating or cooling system early so your house is at your comfort point by the time you get home. It can also be controlled manually from your smart phone.

nest_app

Have Solar Panels Installed
This is potentially the most expensive endeavor, depending on how you choose your arrangement with the solar installer. Most installers provide both Buy and Lease options. With a Lease Option they lease you the system, but your reduced energy bill plus lease fee will be lower than your existing monthly energy bill.

I went with Stellar Solar and chose to buy the system outright. It was around $21000 installed, but I was able to claim 30% of my installation cost as Federal Tax Credit in 2013. The credit is available through the end of 2016. You can find the details on this and other Federal energy credits here: http://energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit

Energy usage report provided by Stellar Solar to size my solar system:

tn_stellar_solar_usage_report

SDG&E Smart Meter

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Solar inverter install and wiring

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You can barely see the solar panels on the roof

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You can see my Yelp review of Stellar Solar here:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/stellar-solar-san-diego?hrid=PaaMERKlsc9EV09EIyZQVA

The whole process takes several months. There are some permits needed by SDG&E, your electric meter may need to be upgraded, and of course there is the solar panel installation, power inverter, all the wiring, and installing new breakers in your breaker panel. They handled all of this, and I just had to be at the house a few times to give them or the SDG&E inspectors access.

One thing to consider before installing solar panels is the state of your roof. If you have an older house and it is nearing its typical lifespan, you’ll probably want to get it redone before you have solar panels installed. I had an inspection done and decided it was the smart thing to do.

Other Things You Can Do
Now you have an idea of ways to improve your home energy efficiency, ranging from simple to grandiose. There are many areas I haven’t touched upon that you can do. Here a just a few of them:

  1. Replacing a home appliance? Check Consumer Reports reviews for newer energy efficient models that have met Energy Star compliance testing by the EPA. See http://www.energystar.gov/
  2. Getting a bigger TV? LCD, OLED and plasma TV display technologies all have different energy consumptions rates. See http://www.cnet.com/news/what-you-need-to-know-about-tv-power-consumption/
  3. Live in an older house? Have a home energy audit done to see where all your heat is escaping. See https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_audits

The bottom line: Any time you are considering a home improvement project, whether it’s a DIY or you are hiring a professional, add energy efficiency improvement to your list of criteria when making a decision. With a little extra effort, you can save money and help Mother Earth.