A Gift to Fight Proposition 23

Via the New York Times:

Citing figures from the California secretary of state, Maplight.org reports that Bill Gates has donated $700,000 to the campaign against Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would repeal a California law related to reining in global warming. According to Maplight’s list, that would make him the 11th-biggest contributor to the opposition effort to date.

The story is here.

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Substandard Workmanship in Weatherization


The New York Times Green blog reports on a recent audit by the Department of Energy’s inspector general:

An audit by the inspector general focused on some work done by the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, one of 35 agencies in Illinois that are expected to share $91 million over three years. The audit looked at 15 homes and found that 12 failed final inspection “because of substandard workmanship.” In some cases, technicians who tuned up gas-fired heating systems did so improperly, so that they emitted carbon monoxide “at higher than acceptable levels.”

In eight cases, initial assessments of the houses and apartments called for “inappropriate weatherization measures.” In one case an inspector called for more attic insulation but ignored leaks in the roof, which would have ruined the insulation, the audit said. And for 10 homes, “contractors billed for labor charges that had not been incurred and for materials that had not been installed.’’

You can read the entire story here.

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Update on Spending on Prop 23

From the New York Times today:

At the start of the campaign for California’s Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, opponents darkly warned that the Texas oil companies backing the initiative would spend as much as $50 million to win the election.

But with three weeks until Election Day, it is the No on 23 coalition of environmentalists, investors and Silicon Valley technology companies that is raking in the cash, taking in nearly twice as much money as the Yes on 23 campaign.

As of Monday, the No on 23 forces had raised $16.3 million to the Yes campaign’s $8.9 million, according to California Secretary of State records. Over the past two weeks, nearly $7 million has flowed into No campaign coffers while contributions to the Yes effort had fallen off dramatically.

Read the entire story here.

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Lighting, Light Bulbs, and Lingering Habits


Highlighting a few recent stories…

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Research by the California Public Utility Commission staff indicates that if enough existing lighting and lighting for new buildings incorporate the latest technologies, the state could achieve a 60 to 80 percent reduction in light-related energy use. New policies adopted  by the commission promote that goal by encouraging utilities to rethink their current consumer subsidies, which tend to focus on compact fluorescents, in favor of the newer and more energy-efficient technologies. “We need to move on and look at how best to spend our resources on the next step of lighting,” said Theresa Cho, an aide to Commissioner Diane Grueneich. “Our goal is market transformation.” The shelves of Wal-Mart and other big-box stores are already full of compact fluorescents, she said – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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A trio of House Republicans, Joe Barton and Michael Burgess of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, have introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which would repeal the section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that sets minimum energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and would effectively phase out most ordinary incandescents – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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The Department of Energy’s inspector general released an audit on Wednesday showing that it is continuing to buy obsolete fluorescent lamps, bypassing the more modern technologies that it spent tax dollars to develop. Yet even more surprising, it is still buying the familiar incandescent bulbs in place of compact fluorescents. The department operates at 24 sites, and the auditors visited seven of them. “Despite the substantial benefits of C.F.L.’s, all of the sites we visited continued to purchase incandescent lights,” the report said – also via the New York Times Green Blog.

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The Koch Brothers and AB 32


I have previously posted about AB 32 and Prop 23.

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Today, the New York Times published an editorial about the coalition of oil and gas companies and climate change skeptics that are trying to kill it through Prop 23.

…a well-financed coalition of right-wing ideologues, out-of-state oil and gas companies and climate-change skeptics is seeking to effectively kill that law with an initiative on the November state ballot. The money men include Charles and David Koch, the Kansas oil and gas billionaires who have played a prominent role in financing the Tea Party movement.

… …

The prospect that these rules could reduce gasoline consumption strikes terror into some energy companies. A large chunk of the $8.2 million raised in support of the ballot proposition has come from just two Texas-based oil and gas companies, Valero and Tesoro, which have extensive operations in California. The Koch brothers have contributed about $1 million, partly because they worry about damage to the bottom line at Koch Industries, and also because they believe that climate change is a left-wing hoax.

You can read the entire editorial on the New York Times website.

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Are People Clueless About Energy Savings?


A new paper called “Public perception of energy consumption and savings” was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has garnered a lot of attention.

From the New York Times Dot Earth blog:

The take-home conclusion is that if the United States is to harvest what some analysts have called a “ behavioral wedge” of hundreds of millions of avoidable tons of greenhouse gas emissions (and wasted energy), a vital prerequisite is  boosting energy literacy.

From the New York Times Green blog:

… people seem conditioned to think of energy savings as they would of saving money: that they can save by simply reducing use, the study found. But the biggest energy savings are tied to replacing things that use a lot of energy with things that use far less.

Habits like turning out the lights when leaving a room may be virtuous but don’t move the needle much on energy savings. Yet that action was cited by more of those surveyed (19.6 percent) than any other method of saving energy. By contrast, just 3.2 percent cited buying more energy-efficient appliances.

From TechCrunch:

Many consumers don’t have a good concept of how much energy per hour a given appliance uses. People understand how much energy goes into a light bulb per hour, Attari said, but not the equivalent of how many light bulbs per hour are used by a dishwasher.

Attari also attributed a psychological phenomenon called single action bias, in which a person does one or two things to address a problem and considers themselves off the hook, as an explanation of why some believe they do more to conserve energy than they really are. When those one or two things fall into curtailment, like turning off the lights, instead of efficiency, like replacing the washer, they help less than some perceive.

From Treehugger:

Attari notes that there has been a failure of communication by scientists, government, industry and environmentalists alike. Instead of more forcefully promoting the importance of these bigger changes, the focus has been on recycling drives and the small steps many people cite as being important.

The study points out that this is a curtailment (or conservation) vs. efficiency issue. It makes intuitive sense that not doing an activity (not driving, not using lights) would save more energy than doing an action with more efficient equipment or appliances. But it’s not true. The savings from replacing old equipment or home retrofits can be much larger than the energy saved by turning out lights or not driving.

It makes sense that in the recent study participants would optimistically err on the side of thinking that daily actions under their control have a lot of impact – it takes mental effort to remember all the small habits, and it seems that psychologically folks want to think that the small habits make a big difference.

In reality, behavioral changes are a lot less “sticky” in terms of long-term energy savings than energy-efficiency retrofits or appliance upgrades. It’s pretty easy to let habits slide, but permanent improvements to infrastructure require less behavioral change after the initial installation.

There was an interesting study to this effect released last year (also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) called “Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions.” It examined the plasticity of 17 household action types in 5 behaviorally distinct categories (W, E, M, A, and D):

(W) Home weatherization and upgrades of heating and cooling equipment

(E) More efficient vehicles and nonheating and cooling home equipment

(M) Equipment maintenance

(A) Equipment adjustments

(D) Daily use behaviors

Retrofits and equipment changes had much higher behavioral plasticity than “daily use behaviors,” which required consistent, conscious choices to maintain. A table highlighting results of the study can be seen here and below.

Image credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences

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Patch-working the Grid


This Friday’s links highlight a few examples of global progress toward integrating cleaner energy into conventional energy grids.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times reports on the impressive bump from 17% to nearly 45% renewable-source energy in Portugal’s grid over the past five years. However, the gain in cleaner energy has come at a hefty premium for consumers- take a look at how the Portuguese are balancing it all.

Visit Australia’s Clean Energy Council website and have a look at the interactive map of all clean energy plants over 100kW in operation.

Denmark’s official website cites 12 large scale solar operations in the country that add up to 20% of annual energy demand and offer flexibility within the national grid.

Lastly, read a discussion of progress toward integration of wind energy into European energy grids on the European Wind Energy Association’s website.

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