Thursday, May 05, 2016

Energy responsibility is good for our kids

Installers from Zinniel Electric, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota
by Leigh Pomeroy
Editor, Vox Verax

As I write this, pale pink blossoms — so pale they are almost white — are erupting all over our two apricot trees in the front of the house, while a crew of four guys are installing 18 solar panels on our roof in the back.

It’s spring.

Eight years ago I attended the 43rd annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College. The topic was “Heating Up: The Energy Debate.” The focus was climate change and energy, and what we can do about both. For me, it was like a slap upside the head.

I had been aware of climate change and knew that our profligate energy ways and the pollution they were creating were eventually going to turn around and bite us. But this conference was a wake-up call for me as well as I’m sure the hundreds more who attended.

The list of guest speakers read like an all-star cast: Steven Chu, Nobel laureate in physics, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, within two years to become Energy Secretary for President Obama; James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and perhaps the original whistle blower on climate change; and Will Steger, polar explorer and conservationist.

Because of these conferences and my further study, I have made the avocation of the latter part of my life educating others on human-caused climate change, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.

As I segue into retirement people ask: “Does being retired mean you’re playing more golf?”

I reply, “I advocate for clean energy. That’s my golf.”

In my own life I still have a long way to go: We need new energy-efficient windows and doors, for example, and we probably need to rebalance the heating and cooling system in the house, both somewhat costly.

On the other hand, my wife and I have come a long way since 2007, the year of the Nobel Conference that stands up so significantly in my life.

We drive a Prius, and although it’s not a plug-in we will have a 220 volt electrical outlet installed in the garage when the solar panels are hooked up for when we do get a plug-in hybrid or an electric car. And while we don’t have a solar thermal water heater on the roof, we do have an on-demand, tankless gas water heater that saves us $20 per month in natural gas costs.

Long ago we swapped out our incandescent light bulbs for fluorescents (CFLs) and are gradually switching to LEDs when the CFLs burn out.

At this point LED lights are the only way to go. They are now priced competitively with incandescents and CFLs, and use anywhere from 50 percent (vs. CFLs) to 90 percent (vs. incandescents) less energy. This means, of course, that much less of our hard-earned money is going to our electric utility and more into our pockets. And with LEDs the choices of design and color temperature —whether the light is a warm yellow or a cold blue — are plentiful.

Now that the solar panels are going up on our roof, we’ll be producing around 90 percent of our own energy. In some months we’ll be producing more than what we use, and Xcel Energy will be sending checks to us rather than vice versa.

Granted, not everyone can afford the up-front costs of all the steps my wife and I have taken to lower our energy use and minimize our carbon footprint. But most steps hardly require any upfront costs or they quickly pay for themselves: LED lights are the most obvious case in point. And while my tankless water heater costs more than an equivalent tank heater, we did get a $300 rebate from our gas supplier and have limitless hot water for those times when the washing machine, dishwasher and shower are all going at the same time.

Today, many hybrid cars are priced competitively with all-gas cars. Plus — and this is one thing I really like about my Prius — the gas engine shuts off when you’re waiting at a traffic light, at the drive-up teller or in a traffic jam. No gas used, no gas wasted, and no pollution emitted.

The apricot blossoms come and go within a week. Soon there will be tiny apricots, so many we will have to beg friends and neighbors to come take them. Our solar panels won’t be wired up and approved by our electric utility for several months. But after that our electric bills will drop to near-zero for years to come.

I usually think about big decisions for days, weeks, maybe longer. Yet every time I am faced with such decisions I ultimately ask myself: What would be best for my kids and future grandkids?

It is surprising how easy a decision comes after that.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

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