The Earth – Options for Green Home Energy

Options for Green home Energy
By Geoff Frost

Before looking at ‘greener’ and more socially responsible energy generation, it is important to understand that probably the easiest and best way to be greener’ is to reduce our energy usage.  Buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, more energy efficient appliances (especially refrigerators! even wrapping insulation around them helps a lot!), and sealing drafts in the winter helps dramatically.  If you are a homeowner, or thinking of becoming one, choosing more energy efficient building  materials, siting the home in a better location, better insulation and  windows, are all extremely important to reduce the energy you will need to be live comfortably.

If you can qualify, there is a PA Government. assistance program to pay for more energy efficiency in your home, it is called
Low-Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP). 
If you have Duquesne Light, call 1-888-393-7600.
If you have Allegheny Power, try 1-800-207-1250.
Maybe they will pay for your compact fluorescent bulbs!  There also was a program called Low Income Renewable Pilot Program (LIRPP) that pays for solar panels and solar hot water heaters, but I don’t think it was offered inPittsburgh and it seems like the funding for it has run out…but ask!

Energy efficiency and conservation is really important because, when itcomes to ‘clean’ energy, there are no perfect options.  All energy generating methods in use today have some impact on our environment, and that will probably not change anytime soon.  However, there are certainly better and worse options.  Here is some info on your basic choices:

1. Nuclear power (aka nuclear) – the absolute dirtiest, in spite of the
lack of air emissions, radioactive waste is stored at every nuke plant
in the usa because there is no permanent storage solution yet.  in
addition, all facilities leak radioactivity constantly, so areas around
nuke plants show heightened levels of radiation.  Radiation causes cancer  and stays dangerously radioactive for at least 24,000 years.  luckily for us, if Duquesne light is your utility, they use no nuclear power.

2. Coal power – traditionally the most air pollution of any source of power, especially as most coal-fired plants are very old.  In Pittsburgh we recently were awarded worst soot pollution of any city in the country – thanks mainly to coal power plants. 
Coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest contributors to global warming around the planet, and coal is also an extremely destructive fuel to mine, causing massive deforestation and ground subsidence.

3.  Natural gas and/or oil power – less dirty than coal, but also more expensive and a much more scarce resource.  Also a major contributor to war and global instability, not only in the middle east, but in Afghanistan, and many of the former soviet states, with us and other western companies funding dictatorships that will build pipelines for their oil and natural gas needs.  Dirty and bloody fuel basically, and another major contributor to global warming.

4.  Hydroelectric – not so dirty, but the traditionally massive  Hydroelectric dams completely destroy the ecosystems of the rivers that they are built on.  New ‘micro-hydro’ is probably better, but not available or generating any significant amount of electricity yet.

5.  Geothermal – not so dirty, but also not generating much electricity.  however, geothermal energy is really good for home heating/cooling needs since the earth is basically at a constant temperature and thus heats your home in the winter and cools it in the summer.  However, it is expensive to install unless you can do it yourself.

6.  Biomass/waste gas – burning garbage, or animal waste, not so dirty
as fossil fuels, but burning animal waste means you are supporting factory farms and slaughterhouses, which are really bad for the environment with land use and pesticide runoff, let alone killing so many animals.  Burning garbage is perhaps better, since there is no end in sight for our ability to make garbage, but still not great and does release greenhouse gases.

7.  Solar – good source of energy, low environmental impact during use, but you need a lot of sunlight for them to be at their best, which Pennsylvania does not have.  There are some toxic chemicals used in their manufacture, and they cannot be recycled very easily.  However, still one of the best choices in my opinion.  Unlike wind, they do not take up much space.

8.  Wind energy – good source of energy, especially for Pennsylvania because we have a lot of wind.  no toxic chemicals in them, but use a lot of material and take up a lot of space.  There have also been problems of them killing birds, but this problem has been reduced a lot by better locations for turbines and other preventative measures.  In my opinion, probably the most feasible ‘greener’ energy for mass use in Pennsylvania.

Some other things to think about:
1.  How are the workers treated who provide the energy source you choose?  Probably the only positive thing about big, old energy sources is that most workers have a union and receive decent wages and benefits from their job.  I am not sure about the working conditions for employees of ‘greener’ technologies.

2.  Is the energy produced locally or transmitted from far away? 
Far away = bigger environmental impact from power lines and substations,
more waste due to loss during transmission, and someone else dealing with the impacts of the energy you use.

3.  If you are connected to the utility ‘grid,’ your ability to choose electricity suppliers exists because of ‘deregulation,’ which was successfully pushed by the utility industry in the 1990s in Pennsylvania and across the countries to break up state-controlled (and subsidized) monopolies and allow for ‘competition.’  However, as you will see when you look at the map of available suppliers, deregulation has not led to much competition (and lower prices) in most places, but rather given the control of energy pricing to private regional monopolies that we have less control over than the government — in other words, making energy more a capitalist enterprise than a public resource (think Enron).   While deregulation allows for small suppliers who make greener energy to sell it to the grid, it also means that the public has less power to force the grid as a whole to adopt cleaner standards and practices.

TO CHOOSE YER NEW ENERGY SOURCE (drumroll please)
CHECK OUT:
www.green-e.org   — for list of alt. energy sources in PA and
 nationwide, very searchable
www.puc.org  — crappy website of PA utility commission, but has
 contact info for major companies

For most ‘green’ sources of electricity, you have to sign up with and
pay a second utility bill to the electricity you choose (our household
uses 100% wind energy generated in PA by ‘Community Energy, Inc.’ based
in Wayne, PA).  This bill subsidizes the difference in cost between the market rate for electricity and the cost to generate the ‘greener’ energy you choose.  For our wind energy, it is an extra 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.  We buy an extra 400 kw/hrs per month = $10 per month to Community Energy. 
What that means is, if we use more than 400 kw/hrs each month, the extra energy is dirty coal from Duquesne Light, and if we use less, someone else is getting our nice wind energy.  At the moment,  the only direct-to-meter alternative in PA that I know of (other than  connecting solar panels or a turbine directly to your house) is the  ‘Energy Cooperative in Pennsylvania’ but they only exist in the Philadelphia area.

Okay, good luck friends!
There are lots of government tax credits for  using ‘alternative’ fuels – even just for buying a diesel car!  And  for doing ‘green’ home improvements, etc.  so, here is the website with  all the info on that:
  www.energystar.gov  search for ‘tax  credits’
Also, there are government subsidies for poor folks who want to
 Weatherproof their home, even if they are renters.  Here is the contact info in  PA:
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
Office of Community Services Commonwealth Keystone Building, 4th Floor Harrisburg, PA 17120 Phone: 717-787-1984 Fax: 717-214-5399
The Weatherization Program contact is:
Karl A. Kimmel Chief, Phone: 717-720-7439 Email: kkimmel@state.pa.us

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