You Don't Have to be a Tree-Hugger to be Green or Smart
When it comes to the environment, everyone seems to assume that we all fall into one of two categories: 1) Tree-huggers, greenies, earthers, hippies (well maybe not hippies); or, 2) Polluters, conspicuous consumers, big business, or government, and, furthermore, never the twain shall meet. Some folks make it a simple delineation, Democrats and Republicans. Still others call it good and evil. The truth is, it is both all and none.
As you might imagine, there are heated feelings and positions on both sides. Everyone is willing to accuse the other of being ignorant, malicious, or simply a reprobate. Indeed, there are no easy answers or simple solutions. No one has a monopoly or franchise on the “right” resolution to the issues of energy costs, energy provisioning (reliability), pollutions (air, land, water), conservation and management of natural resources, where and how to manage mining and drilling operations, and independence from foreign oil.
In my many years as an award-winning Utility director for a large western city, a consumer of energy and a breather of air, I was always looking for a balance that best met the needs of the many. All too often I found folks that, instead, had a laser focus on their particular goals and objectives. They considered these goals to supersede anyone and everyone else’s. Furthermore, they expected everyone to pay to achieve their parochial ends. Legislative influence and petitions, at all levels of government, were sought and filed with the express intent to make their objectives the beneficiaries of every taxpayer, regardless of the citizen’s personal position.
Indeed, in a government of majority rules, fifty-one percent can pass rules, laws and statutes that have the necessary force of will to make even the most adamantly opposed an unwilling financial and operational participant.
So, and while I don’t profess to have the only answer, I did have an approach that was defensible and effective. Government represents, and is supported by, the people. In meeting the needs of its constituents, every government should use its facilities, assets, personnel, and revenue streams to achieve the best value for its (tax) dollar. Indeed, governments officials have an undeniable fiduciary responsibility to its citizens.
As a Utility director (and subsequently as a utility consultant) , this is always where I started. Every project, technology, or service had to demonstrate a responsible use of the money. Projects had to show reasonable payback periods, internal rates of return, and returns on investments. If a project did not make financial sense, it did not happen.
For example, solar hot water systems (in the 1980’s) never made economic sense, regardless of its very vocal proponents. Today, solar photovoltaics similarly make little fiscal sense when standing on their own. However, the legislative landscape has changed to where there are several rebates, tax treatments, refunds and the like that directly support solar photovoltaics. Without passing judgment on the sagacity of such supports, it was my duty, as a public servant, to make the best of the current environment (no pun intended).
Always referred to as “low hanging fruit”, many energy conservation/management projects made intuitive sense and were easily implemented. Those that saw payback within a single budget year could even be funded from operating budgets (rather than long term capital budgets), with their ongoing utility savings offsetting their acquisition costs. Generally speaking, paybacks of two to three years were the maximum that I would tolerate. Anything longer, in my estimation, would be subject to the vicissitudes of changing political and technological winds.
I was opportunistic when repairs and replacements were needed, using these occasions to meld the maintenance activity with new higher efficiency equipment. This synergistic funding brought about substantial improvements and brought to fruition heretofore unfunded upgrades. These upgrades, solved the maintenance issue, and then continued to save operating monies for the remainder of their useful lives (often decades).
When policy was developed for new construction or retrofit, I made it a point to use life cycle costing. All too often the ongoing utility expenses are ignored by the people doing the one-time construction. Utility budgets and project construction budgets are managed by different parties with different objectives. I believed that both of the budgets were ultimately owned by a single entity and achieving one at the expense of the other is critically flawed reasoning.
This very concept was at stake in another large scale project. In the late 1990’s a new technology was developed that was designed to replace incandescent light bulbs in traffic signals with light emitting diode (LED) lamps. Traffic engineers and managers are, by nature, very conservative folk. They do not abide increased labor costs, or decreased reliability in traffic signals. The energy costs for their signal heads is, to them, a set cost of doing good business. For reference, a standard 12 inch red light uses 150 watts and lasts about 10,000 hours. An LED replacement uses about 14 watts and lasts 100,000 hours. The LED is brighter and more vivid and does not fail outright as an incandescent bulb does when it burns out. So, here was a project that saved everyone something. Utilities saw reduced energy costs. Traffic operations enjoyed reductions in replacement labor, replacement materials, and traffic interruption (for maintenance). The motoring public saw fewer burnouts, and better signal visibility.
If projects can make sense at the bottom line, then they are worthy of further consideration. Projects that achieve non financial goals must be weighed against the costs (actual and opportunity) and benefits within the political exigencies.
There must be balance.
In this case, the green is money.
Below is a brief list of some energy conservation equipment and materials, with a commendably short payback period, that anyone can implement.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) in place of incandescent bulbs
LED lights in place of incandescent bulbs
Additional attic insulation
Foam weather strip for doors
New door thresholds
Low flow faucet and shower heads
Occupancy sensors (also helps with security)
12+ year old kitchen appliances
12+ year old water heaters and furnaces
Low emissivity window films (also helps with fading)
Evaporative cooling (in dry climates)