San Jose Might Sell Its Water System

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To close budget gaps (the current shortfall is $116.2 million for the fiscal year 2010-2011), San Jose is considering privatizing its municipal water system, which provides water to about 124,000 people (via Silicon Valley Mercury News). The sale could net the city $50 million.

The current potential buyer is reported to be San Jose Water Company, which provides water to about 1 million people in the Bay Area, including about 80 percent of San Jose residents. The potential sale would likely result in higher water rates for the formerly municipal customers. The company has also expressed interest in leasing and operating the water system.

While I think it is shortsighted to sell city assets to fix budget gaps (what will be sold next year?), San Jose Water Company boasts on its website that it delivered less water in 2007 than it did in 1987, despite serving an additional 80,000 people. And the company credits its water conservation programs (more info here).

Finding California Incentives and Rebates

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There are hundreds of energy, water, and waste incentives, rebates, and services available for homes  in California, but it can be daunting to find them. Here are a few places to start:

Flex Your Power allows you to search for energy-related incentives and technical help available from utility companies, water agencies, and other organizations by entering your zip code.  A search in my zip code (in Berkeley) found 71 incentives and 18 services.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) lists state and local incentives by category and also lists related programs and initiatives. It can be much harder to figure out which specific programs are applicable, though. The database also lists federal incentives.

The California Urban Water Conservation Council lists programs participating in its Smart Rebates by water utility district.

For folks living in the East Bay:

East Bay Municipal Utility District lists its residential conservation rebates and services.

StopWaste.Org lists waste prevention and recycling services available to residents of Alameda County.

San Francisco’s Smart Water Meters

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                                                                                          water supply leak, Free Foto.com

San Francisco began to roll out its new ‘smart’ water meters to city residences this month. The new devices can accurately track water usage in real-time and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) plans to make personal water use data available to customers online. Other benefits include the streamlining of operations- meters communicate wirelessly, eliminating the need for house-to-house readings- and the early detection of system leaks and unusual usage surges.

The SFPUC will replace over 175,000 meters beginning with 5,000 this spring/summer,with an estimated install completion for the full number by 2012. The expectation is that the new meters will be able to assist individual and system-wide conservation efforts, increase response time for problems, and allow for a more accurate and refined fee structure.

California, as a drought-prone state, can stand to benefit greatly from increased water use data collection. As it stands today, water use is not uniformly tracked in all homes and businesses, nor is there any correlation between regional water scarcity and water service rates. While agriculture, industry and conveyance also play leading roles in the general water picture in the state, having accurate home and commercial usage data is a step forward, and can only be a benefit in creating sound management policies for this precious and scarce resource.

Noelle’s Links – 6/3/10

Interesting tidbits from my web travels…

The Green Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit that kicked off in May that provides guidance on the manufacture of safer products. The group offers the new “Cradle to Cradle” certification. Read Triplepundit‘s coverage of the launch.

Visit the Green Product Innovation Institute’s site here.

Read about Jerry Glover, Agroecologist, working towards the establishment of perennial crops that could be the next agricultural revolution, at National Geographic.

In case you haven’t seen one of the many tech blogs buzzing about this one yet, check out the Prepeat Printer as covered byGeek.com. The Prepeat is a rewritable printer from Japan’s Sanwa Newtec that uses special plastic sheets that can be written and erased up to a thousand times each. The machine is prohibitively expensive at $US 5,500 and a set of sheets will set you back thousands more. A laudable achievement, but plastic sheets? Discuss…

RECO

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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I am not (and have never been) a Bay Area homeowner, which is perhaps why I was not very familiar with the term “RECO” until recently.

There are many well-publicized programs aimed at making new buildings as “green” and energy efficient as possible. These efforts are viewed as integral to efforts to reduce future energy use and combat climate change. But in many places, we’re mostly stuck with the buildings that we’ve got. And we’ll likely be stuck with them for many years to come. So how do we influence and improve the energy and water performance of these buildings? One answer is a RECO.

Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO)

The purpose of a RECO is to improve the energy (and now water) efficiency of housing stock at the point of sale and major renovation.

In Berkeley, CA, the majority of the housing stock was built before the introduction of state building energy codes.  The buildings are often drafty, with no insulation and single-pane windows. Further, more than half of the city’s housing units are occupied by renters. In rental units landlords must approve and often conduct and pay for any major energy retrofits. However, the retrofits primarily benefit the renters, who pay the utility bills. Because of these split incentives, an obvious point of intervention to improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock over time is at transfer of ownership or major renovation. The Berkeley RECO, which has been in place since the 1980s, applies to all residential homes and units, whether single-family homes, condos, multi-family properties, or live-work spaces, and requires that the home or unit comply with specific energy and water performance measures at the time of sale or major renovation.

The Berkeley RECO has ten prescriptive measures covering toilets, showerheads, faucets, water heaters, hot and cold water piping, exterior door weather-stripping, furnace ducts, fireplace chimneys, ceiling insulation, and lighting in common areas (for multi-family buildings).

It is tempting to say the measures are not enough, that much more drastic intervention (and more quickly) will be needed to achieve dramatic energy savings. This is probably true. But many approaches will be needed, and the gradual but consistent improvement of existing housing stock is a good place to start.

Since 1994, Berkeley has also had a Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinance (CECO).

Participants in Berkeley FIRST (Berkeley’s solar financing program) have to comply with RECO/CECO.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.