Community Solar - A Project I Am Proud To Be A Part Of

The sun is shining outside so I can happily play frisbee, bike to trivia*, or get in some outdoor juggling practice. But now I've got another reason to be happy that the sun is shining: it's making me money!

Through the exhaustive legwork and vision of a few very environmentally minded local folks, the Skagit County Community Solar project was born. The idea behind it is this: not everyone can put solar panels on their home (maybe they rent, live in a shaded area, or can't afford the cost of a whole system) but many want to support solar energy. So, if we all pool our money and find a well-lit spot, we can all share in a piece of the solar energy experience. The state of Washington encourages exactly this type of thing with a program called Community Solar. From their side, it encourages local jobs*, raises awareness of solar energy, and helps delay* building new power plants.

In short, the financial arrangement works like this: 20-30 folks bought "shares" to fund the purchase, install, and start a maintenance fund. Then, for the next 7 years, all governmental subsidies/payments get divvied up among the share holders. The money earned from selling our power back to the local power company goes to pay for the lease on the community roof we are using. Then, at the end of 7 years, we will sell the system to the Middle School (where the system is installed) and those profits, plus what is left out of the maintenance fund will be distributed among the shareholders. The idea is that shareholders will recoup their investment plus maybe 4%, depending on weather, maintenance, etc.

All in all, it's really an awesome kind of project to be involved in. We earn money, support the environment, and raise awareness about how others can support the environment as well. Win win win!
Wednesday October 9 2013File under: environment, Anacortes

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Sun Chips Experiment Response

To those of you that followed my recent Sun Chips Compost Experiment (esp. the results), I thought you might find this of interest, a response letter from Frito-Lay. Basically, it gives the definition what they consider conditions for a home compost bin and composting tips on how to achieve that. While I kind of feel like they are missing the point of my letter (that I found their advertising campaign to be a bit of an exaggeration), I appreciate the response, clarification, and info.

Hi Wren,

Thank you for contacting Frito-Lay to share your comments about the 100% compostable SunChips package.

As you know, composting generates heat as a by-product. The temperature and rate of degradation will vary on how you maintain your compost pile. The hotter the temperature of your compost, the faster the materials in your pile will decompose. The SunChips compostable bag will break down in about 14 weeks if the compost temperature is maintained above 130F. If your compost pile does not get that hot, the package will still break down, but it will take longer.

It's important to maintain a good mix of "green" and "brown" materials in your compost bin. Try to add about one part "green" for every three parts "brown." The reasoning behind this is to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio to encourage microbial activity.

Greens: fruit & veggie scraps, grass, garden clippings/flowers, green weeds
Browns: dry leaves, small twigs, straw/hay, sawdust, paper, soil/mulch/woodchips, coffee (include the filter), SunChips compostable bag (cut up)

Thicker, more fibrous items will compost faster if they are cut into smaller pieces before placing in the bin. The moisture level in your compost pile is another important variable for successful composting. Depending on the season and type of bin, you may need to water the compost several times a week.

Our home compost research found that the bigger compost bins (21 cu. ft and up) equals more efficient composting. Having a larger mass of organic materials will enable the pile to insulate itself and lose less heat from the surface, therefore increasing the rate of degradation.

Thank you again for your comments. We will continue to post composting information on www.sunchips.com.


Best regards,

Friday September 10 2010File under: environment, misc

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Sun Chips Experiment Results

A couple of months ago, I embarked on a little truth in advertising experiment. I set out to investigate Sun Chips' claims on the home-compostability of their new packaging. (Previous blog post here.)

After the prescribed amount of time, I dug through the fully decomposed* and still fresh food scraps of my home compost bin and found the bag remains completely intact with a negligible amount of decomposing having occurred. While not surprised (I've tested companies' claims before (and after)), I was hoping this one would be different. Alas. So disappointed was I that I wrote to the company. Here's what I said.


Saturday September 4 2010File under: environment, misc

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Another Compost Experiment

Remember that test I did with the supposedly compostable drinking glass from Pizzeria Pagliacci's a couple years ago? Well, I ran across another product making the "compostable" claim, only this time to a greater degree (to see the info, go here and then click "compostable packaging"*). Call me a skeptic if you want, but I just had to try it.

It turns out that the timing is such that the Sun Chips bag is the first item in this year's bin, having just emptied the now well composted soil into the gardens. This means maximum compost time, pressure, and heat. I'll check on it in 12 weeks or so, maybe a little longer to allow for enough other food stuff to really get the party started. Then I will report back.

This is skeptical environmental consumer lookout guy signing off.
Wednesday May 5 2010File under: environment

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My Earth Day Contribution 2010

I've been really making an effort these last couple years to honor Earth Day. While the saying goes that we should treat everyday like Earth Day, it is easy to slip into less than perfect habits. Plus, having one day where everyone (media, organizations, etc.) is focused on doing good things for our planet makes for a wonderful excuse to do something yourself.

The past 2 years, I've been taking a couple hours out of my Earth Day schedule to go pick up trash on the side of the road. Not only is this Earth Day inspired, but when bike is one's primary mode of transportation, one tends to notice just how trashy some of our roads can get.

Besides the great feeling I get from doing my little part to help clean up, it is just downright interesting to see what ends up on the side of the road. In my unscientific survey, here are my observations. At least 3/4 of the garbage on the side of the road is easily recyclable (glass, plastic, aluminum, etc.).* A majority of that (at least in my small test area) is glass such as beer bottles, alcohol bottles, and wine bottles (the weight and breakablity of which led to some interesting thoughts on glass's desirability as a packaging medium). Some roads haven't had a trash crew through in a long time. Just an hour of cleaning up trash can make a huge difference.

I'm hoping to make my Earth Day trash clean up a yearly thing. If you happen to be around next April, feel free to join me.
Monday April 26 2010File under: environment

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Off-season Biking

As we all know, I'm a huge fan of biking as a mode of transportation. In places that lend themselves to biking* during nice weather, it is a no-brainer. I bike places instead of driving because it is enjoyable as well as being good for the environment, etc. Well, when you take away the good weather and the bikability of a place, then what?

I'm currently housesitting in Bellingham, which, in itself is a pretty bike friendly town. I'm about 3.5 miles from downtown, so a quick jaunt is not as quick as in, say Anacortes, but there are bike lanes and off-road paths, so it's not so bad. Headed away from downtown, however, is a different matter. I've been riding out to Alger recently (10.5 miles one way) which is all on back [shoulderless] roads. It's a beautiful ride, though, and not much traffic.

But no matter where I ride, chances are that the weather is going to be against me. Rain and wind are autumn* trademarks of the northwest. A rider has got to be prepared to get wet, which, whether I was prepared for it or not, has happened a good number of times in the past 2 weeks.

All this is to say that even despite the less than ideal conditions, I'm still loving my chosen form of transportation. I feel good about what I'm doing for the environment* and about what I am doing for my body*. I share all this in hopes of conveying that whatever the obstacles to you not riding are, they can be overcome.
Tuesday October 27 2009File under: transportation, environment

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350

This past Saturday was the International Day of Climate Action sponsored by 350.org. People around the world gathered together to bring awareness to climate change issues and, in many case, discuss what can be done. My feelings regarding climate change's place on politicians' and media's agendas vis-a-vis* less narrow topics aside, these events spread some good information and energized a lot of people to act, which is what we need.

I attended the Anacortes event, where there were brainstorming sessions, bitch sessions, a couple of presentations, and a wonderful spread of donated food. Seeing people gathering together to talk about taking action filled me with hope. Hearing someone suggest we turn off the lights and use the natural light of the space filled me with happiness. Knowing that at least one person will walk away from the gathering with the motivation to make some of the changes that we all need to made also make me happy.

But the real reason for this post* is to encourage any and all to take a moment to assess your environmental impact and entertain ways in which you can lessen it: turn down the heat, finally get around to organizing a carpool, if it's yellow let it mellow, etc. After all, everyone needs friendly reminders once and a while. Consider this that.
Sunday October 25 2009File under: environment

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Compost Experiment Results

About a year ago, I put together a little experiment testing the claim of a plastic cup to be "compostable" (see original post here). From what I had heard and read, I suspected this claim to be misleading in that it takes more than a home compost bin to break down the corn-plastic, but I didn't want to start spreading disinformation without having looked into it myself.

Well, after digging around through soil, worms, eggs shells, and more soil*, the results are in: the plastic of the cup is in just as good shape as it was the day it was served to me. If it wasn't for being crushed with additional compost material, it would still be able to be drank from. (And for the record, our compost bin is awesome and gets really hot and breaks down everything else just fine.)

The moral of this story? If your gut tells you an advertising claim might be a little too good to be true, look into it. I see green claims thrown around these days that are a blatant misstating of the truth*. Now I've got a little empirical evidence to back me up, at least on this one.

(Thanks to everyone who has kept asking about this. Knowing that the things that make me curious make you curious as well is great inspiration to keep on posting!)
Wednesday August 26 2009File under: environment, misc

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Compost Experiment

This week, I ate at the ever enjoyable Pizzeria Pagliacci's (a guy should be able to indulge himself on his birthday, right?). Besides having some awesome pizza and salad, which was not a surprise, I was served a frothy root beer in this "plastic" cup. It seems like any other plastic cup, even more sturdy, but it advertises as being made completely of corn and totally compostable.

Not that I don't trust one of my favorite pizza places, but I gotta see this for myself. Does the marketing definition of "compostable" agree with mine? Do you first have to send it through a shredder? Does it take non-normal composting temperatures to break down? Are we talking glacial timeframes here? Hopefully my little experiment will answer all my questions. What I've done is tied a string to said cup, dropped it in our compost (and buried it good with corn leavings etc.), and plan to check on it every 3 months or so. Any guesses? When we shovel compost onto the garden next year, will we notice any [pseudo-]plastic? I, for one, look forward to finding out.
Wednesday August 13 2008File under: environment, misc

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Green Travel

We've all pretty much accepted that I am an eco-geek, sometimes to an annoying degree, right? So it shouldn't be a surprise that I put a lot of thought into the environmental impact of my travels*. I addressed the issue, albeit novicely, back when I got back from Asia (remember?). Well since then, I've done more reading on the subject. This is the conclusion I've come to.

Calculating the impact of travel on the environment is hard. Do you measure the impact in CO2, which is ever so popular these days, or do you focus more on what type of fuel is being used and the impact of how we obtain that fuel? How does infrastructure play in? (ex: Building roads and rail lines across long distances can really gnarl up the landscape while planes just require a place to take off and land at each end.) What role does/should capacity play? (ex: If the plane I fly on is 1/4 full vs. totally full, my passenger miles per gallon are extremely different, with me having no control of that.) Even within a give style of transportation, there are huge variations that make generalizing towards a usable rule difficult. (ex: Turboprop planes, which are often used for short commuter flights, are way more fuel efficient than their jet engine cousins. And diesel trains belch more particulate matter per mile than electric trains.)

This graphic (and an expanded version over at their site) does a great job of summing up a general rule when thinking about travel: in order of most to least harmful goes traveling solo by car, flying, traveling via mass transit (train, carpooling, bus), non-motorized travel (walking/biking), followed up by not traveling*. While is isn't a hard fast rule, it is helpful for a quick sanity check.

The impact of all this for me is complicated, and I won't get into it too much. Sufficient to say, I take this all into consideration and I try to make responsible decisions. I try not to travel frivolously*, I try to fly less, and I actively seek out mass transit options. And I try to encourage awareness without being too much of a jerk about it. I hope I somewhat succeeded.

P.S. Happy Earth Day!
Tuesday April 22 2008File under: environment, travel

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