Something is Missing from the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is the shiny new thing in the 116th Congress.  This an unalloyed good thing.  We need to be talking about the big ideas that can move this country forward instead of always arguing about small ball politics.

However, I fear that something is missing from every discussion about the contents of the Green New Deal.  Trees.  Rather, forests.  Forests?  You know, those mass groupings of trees.

What about forests?

Forests are the unsung hero of our fight against climate change.  Decidedly analog, forests do not get any of the hype afforded to electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, or even god damned nuclear fusion.  Why?  It is probably because people’s eyes glaze over when someone talks about forests and stereotypes of treehugging hippies run through their minds.

However, before we can deploy enough renewable energy or replace enough automobiles with EVs forests can help us combat the coming climate apocalypse.  Trees absorb carbon dioxide and capture it in their wood fibers.  Trees help to slow down the rainfall preventing erosion, top soil runoff, and even filter rainwater as it falls from the sky through the canopy to the ground.  Trees help to cool the surrounding area.  Trees provide habitat for animals.  Unless you are the most Trumpian right wing reactionary there is no denying the enviable service record of trees.

The key is not to just save the forests that we currently have, but to recover the forests that we have lost.  I propose a nationwide effort to recover as many acres of forest covered land as possible.  There are literally tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of acres of land that were once covered with forests that could become verdant again.

In the region known as Appalachia it is estimated that more than 1.5 million acres of mountain top land has been reduced to bare earth and rubble by coal mining over the last fifty years.  Reforestation of these degraded lands is an opportunity to provide much needed jobs in the region, improve the environment, and build a legacy for future generations.  All by planting some trees.

In 2018 California saw almost 1.9 million acres burned in wildfires.  Reforestation of these lands is an opportunity to reduce the ecological impact of wildfires in that state and ameliorate some of the secondary impacts like mudslides in subsequent years.

In Colorado, as a result of the invasive mountain pine beetle, one in 14 trees in the state is dead and almost three quarters of the state’s lodgepole pine stands are impacted.  In the end the infestation and resulting tree die off may leave an area the size of Rhode Island deforested.  Reforestation is an opportunity to reverse some of this damage and restore Colorado’s forests to their majestic beauty.

These are just a few examples, but I could have chosen examples in the Pacific Northwest or northern Minnesota or Arizona.  Almost every state in the United States could benefit from reforestation.

Here is the best part.  Reforestation does not require any new technology or industries to be created.  Reforestation does not require any new government agencies to be created.  We possess the knowledge, organizations, and infrastructure to implement a nationwide reforestation plan.  We just lack the money.

Ahhhh, money.  How much money exactly?  Who knows?  How much land do you want to cover in trees?  Piedmont Land and Timber, a timber management company in Georgia, publishes a very concise breakdown of the costs to reforest an acre:

  • Herbicide application: $125/acre
  • Controlled burn: $60/acre
  • Planting @ 500 seedlings per acre: $74/acre
  • Landowner cost: $45/acre

The total to plant an acre of trees, albeit for timber production, is ~$300 according to a private company.  The largest part of that expense is the application of herbicides which could be eliminated in many cases where the goal is not to develop a stand for logging at a later date.  Regardless, I will use $300 per acre as a baseline for cost.

Let’s use the lands degraded by coal mining in Appalachia as a model.  So, we are working with ~1.5 million acres over several years.  Total cost, assuming $300 per acre, would be $450 million.  Over five years the annual cost would be $90 million.  That is about the cost of a single F-35A fighter plane per year.  Imagine what restoring 1.5 million acres of land would look like from an environmental standpoint.

The money is large when it is looked at in isolation, but it is paltry when compared with so many things in Washington D.C.  Just consider our current president’s pet border wall.  Each mile is estimated to cost $25 million dollars.  We could trade four miles of border wall per year for a restoration of Appalachian forests.  I am willing to make that trade.

Will anyone in Washington D.C. speak for the trees?

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The Difference a Plug Makes

These two cords may look similar:

img_20190114_190751485

Both are about 25 feet in length, which makes for one heavy bag.  Both utilize EVSE to ensure safe charging.  Both have SAE J1772 plugs.  Both, at the most basic level, move electrons from the socket to my Nissan Leaf.

However, there is a major difference between the two:

IMG_20190114_190838730.jpg

The one on the top is the charging cable that comes with the Nissan Leaf.  The plug looks familiar to anyone in the United States because it is a standard household plug providing for 120V.  The one on the bottom is an aftermarket charging cable designed to work with 240V via a NEMA 6-20R receptacle.

For some reason—probably related to a tool I owned at the time—I wired my garage for several 240V, 20A circuits.  Now, with an EV in the house, I can just purchase an aftermarket charging cable that corresponds to the plug type and I am good to go for Level 2 charging.

Why is Level 2 charging important?  It makes an EV like the Nissan Leaf as livable as a regular old gasoline automobile.  In a few hours the vehicle can charge enough for an entire day’s worth of driving via Level 2 charging as opposed to overnight on good old Level 1 charging.

The first time that I charged my Nissan Leaf with the Level 2 charging cable it went from 50% to fully charged—showing 101 miles of potential range—in something like 3 hours.  I wish I could be more exact, but I was just checking in on it when I thought about it while cleaning the house.

The Level 1 charging cable is nice to have in the car for emergencies or if you know your destination only has standard household current available.  Overnight charging is not so bad in practice.  It is just slow and requires a little more planning.

The other benefit to having a pre-installed 240V circuit in the garage is that I can get the benefit of Level 2 charging via a $200 charging cable versus spending much more on a dedicated charging station.  Dig it.

Now my garage is my gas station.

The Nissan Leaf has Arrived

This is my Nissan Leaf:

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There are many like it, but this one is mine.

It is not new.  It is used and that is where the story begins.  The frequently touted advice is for someone to buy a used car because depreciation begins the minute someone drives a car off the dealership lot.  Now, one can argue against this logic because there are zero used cars sitting on the lot for sale with a few miles that cost a lot less than the new cars on the same lot.  Sorry.

However, with this 2015 Nissan Leaf it is a story about depreciation and market forces.  New, the 2015 Nissan Leaf S started at ~$30K.  Three years and ~32,000 miles later I was able to buy the same vehicle for less than $11K before tax, title, and license.  For those of you keeping score at home that is a decline in value of about 65%.  Granted, some of that decline in value is related to the $7,500 federal EV tax credit which pushed the effective new price down.

Nonetheless, the decline is dramatic.  This is where market forces come into play.  People want the latest and greatest.  With EVs that trend is exacerbated because the latest and greatest frequently get you a lot more range, which is the single biggest issue with EVs for most drivers.  If you are willing to live with a more limited vehicle you can really score a great deal on a used EV right now.  I am living proof.

Here is what living with a compromise solution looks like.  My Nissan Leaf shows a range of anywhere from 90 to 100 miles on 100% battery charge when I activate the car:

img_20190112_122436611

When new the range was within that range.  See what I did there?  I digress.

Therefore, the degradation of the battery pack that plagued earlier Nissan Leafs does not seem to be impacting my car’s battery pack.  This is due to the 2015 model having the so-called “lizard architecture” that is better suited to handle temperature extremes, particularly high heat.  A common complaint of the Nissan Leaf from the EV community is that they designed the vehicle to use passive, ambient air cooling for the battery pack.  Not so good in the southwest United States but it should not be too much of a problem in eastern Iowa.

Overall, this vehicle is not much of a compromise compared to anything.  The range allows me to travel round trip to Iowa City—some 36 miles to the south—without having to worry about recharging.  Although there are plenty of spots to plug-in down south.

Friday Linkage 1/11/2019

The “upside” of the partial federal government shutdown is that agencies run by Trumpian golems cannot work overtime to destroy our land, water, and air.  Trust me, if given the opportunity the EPA under Wheeler would like to redefine mercury as a dietary supplement and the BLM would like to put a fracking pad in every backyard.

On to the links…

How We can Combat Climate Change—The fact that opinion pieces like this are appearing in major American newspapers and other news outlets has me hopeful that this marks the point in time when we, collectively as a species, start to really tackle climate change.

2018 Was A “Fulcrum Year” For Renewable Energy In The US—We can hope that 2018 marked the point when renewable energy became the default choice for utilities and consumers.  Everything after is just math.

The EPA Hired GOP Oppo Firm Because It Was Sick of “Fake News”—You have to love modern Republicans under Trump.  Their world view is set and anything that does not conform to that world view is “fake news.”  Is 2020 going to be another bloodbath for the Republican party?

5% of US Coal Fleet Retired Last Year—Trump can bluster.  Trump can bellow.  Trump can hold all the rallies he wants wearing hard hearts, point to signs about how he “digs” coal, and soothe the audience with his slow jam about beautiful coal.  He cannot, however, stop the inevitable decline of the use of coal as a fuel for producing electricity.

More Coal Plants Shut Down in Trump’s First Two Years than in Obama’s Entire First Term—See, Trump is better than Obama.

Colorado could Save $2.5 Billion by Rapidly Shutting Down its Coal Power Plants—That is $2.5 billion dollars.  That is before accounting for things like externalities which currently do not figure into the economics of running a coal plant.

Texas’s Wind and Sunlight Complement Each Other Exceptionally Well. That’s Huge for its Grid.—The idea here is that Texas can get over the problem of intermittent renewable energy by deploying more renewable energy that happens to be complementary.

With Vineyard Wind, the U.S. Finally Goes Big on Offshore Wind Power—Offshore wind power can bring cheap, reliable green energy to the eastern seaboard of the United States.  At 6.5 cents per kWh this project is cost competitive with coal and natural gas today.  Furthermore, without the possibility of increases in fuel prices—just wait for the next natural gas price spike—these low prices are essentially locked in.

Why Solar Panels Should Go From Rooftops to Mountaintops—Maybe the answer is to deploy more solar wherever we can?

A Major Climate Treaty to Reduce Air Conditioning Emissions Just Went Into Force—Without the U.S.—These are the kinds of efforts that the U.S. needs to be supporting.  However, Trump hears the words treaty and assumes that the U.S. is “losing.”

Why Efforts to Make Buildings Greener Fail—I am beginning to think that any building that starts out with the promise of being “green” is just a temporary charade.

Dutch Eco Initiative Halves Energy Bills in First UK Homes—Even though so-called green building fail to meet their promise so often does not mean that there is not great potential to make our existing fleet of buildings so much more efficient.  Remember, every kWh saved is one less that we have to generate with renewables.  We can get to 100% renewable energy by deploying more sources and reducing our consumption.

Is Organic Food Over?—I feel like this headline is a decade late.  Organic has been coopted by big food and there is no looking back.  This gets to why knowing who the producer of your food is so important if you want to align your values with your consumption.

Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Ski Venue Set To Be Demolished—This move was planned before the Olympics, but the waste is just amazing.  The Olympics, as an event, should be killed.

Bar Soap is Making a Glorious Comeback—Millenials can’t kill bar soap because bar soap is the killer app of getting clean.  Leave your loofahs and shower gel at the door.

It’s Time for New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition in America like no other.  When the year turns over we spend a lot of time agonizing over the things we want to improve about ourselves.  Quit smoking.  Lose weight.  Be a better human.

By March most of those resolutions are forgotten as we fall into old habits.  Now, I am lucky that I do not smoke, I am not about to quick drinking, and I do not really worry about my weight so most of the traditional resolutions are off the table come January 1st.

However, there are things that I want to get done every year.  These are less resolutions in the traditional sense and more goals for the coming year.  Here we go:

  • No more Amazon—Amazon has become the default online store for millions of people. It is, however, a company that engages in horrible labor practices, utilizes its platform to screw over small businesses, and is generally just a shit operator like so many other big companies.  I used to be a subscriber to Amazon Prime, but I killed that extravagant luxury more than a year ago.  Plus, shipping several items in single boxes is just a ridiculous waste of resources.
  • No more Walmart—Seems pretty self-explanatory, but it is difficult to avoid the Bentonville beast during the course of a year. Here’s a hearty toast to trying in 2019.
  • Decarbonize transportation—Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are now the largest source of gasses that are wreaking havoc with our climate. My goal for the year is to supplant my current driving with a used Nissan Leaf powered by solar panels on top of my garage.
  • Declutter my home—Clutter messes with your mind. Don’t believe me?  Believe the New York Times.  Apparently consumption, which is the driving force behind clutter, is also causing us to be less creative.  Get rid of the extra stuff people!
  • Drink local—Everyone is familiar with eating local, but drinking local is equally important. It’s not just about beer.  It’s about forsaking bottled water for tap water.  It’s about finding the local coffee shop instead of mindlessly trudging to the green mermaid.
  • Read twenty five books—Why twenty five? The number is a nice figure that the brain can wrap its head around like historians love to use decades as lines of demarcation despite events running over the imaginary date line.  It also corresponds to about two per month, which seems doable given life’s way of getting in the way of just sitting down to read.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—There is a two part rationale for this goal. First, saving water is something we should all be trying to do given the realities of climate change.  Second, the toilets in my home do not work very well and become clogged frequently.  Having to flush multiple times and use a plunger is not an efficient use of resources.
  • Plant at least five trees—In my suburban neighborhood I am the “tree guy.” Most people have the builder plant a single tree in the front yard as required by city code and leave it at that.  Not me.  Going into the spring my yard has thirteen trees representing six different cultivars across both deciduous and coniferous trees.  I have had plans to add trees to some specimen plantings in order to create more “mass” in my landscaping.  This is the year that I get cracking.
  • Reduce lawn coverage—This goal goes hand in hand with planting trees, but it is so much more. It’s about reducing the monoculture of turf grass and planting native shrubs that require little or no maintenance while providing much needed habitat for animals.
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—Last year I totaled a little more than 2,250 miles on the trails and gravel roads of Iowa and Nebraska. I am looking to eclipse that total in 2019 with a concerted effort to execute some big day rides.

In the coming weeks and months I will expand on these goals and provide updates on my progress.  Or, my lack of progress as the case often tends to be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.  Welcome to 2018 everyone!

Friday Linkage 1/4/2019

It’s 2019 and the resolutions are flying.  People are flocking to the gym to exercise and stopping two days later because delayed onset muscle soreness kicks in.  Trust me, there will be very few people in the gym this weekend.

I have no idea what 2019 will bring, but I am hopeful that it is a better year than 2018.

On to the links…

The Case for “Conditional Optimism” on Climate Change—I want to be optimistic that we have reached an inflection point in the international mood regarding climate change and the world is ready to act.  It is hard to be optimistic in the United States when Donald Trump occupies the White House and Republicans control the Senate.

24 Million Jobs Could Be Created From Meeting Paris Climate Agreement Targets—Going green will create jobs.  This is the promise of a so-called Green New Deal.  Deploying wind turbines, installing solar panels, building mass transit, retrofitting buildings, and so on will put people to work.

Trump’s EPA Doesn’t Seem to Want to Punish Law-Breaking Polluters—It’s not just about the laws that get changed, but the laws that do not get enforced as well.

Trump’s U.S. Coal Consumption Is Less Than Obama’s—Sad.  So sad.

How Does Your State Make Electricity?—The graphs in this article are just great.  Take a look at Iowa’s transformation into a wind energy powerhouse:

Screenshot_2019-01-03 How Does Your State Make Electricity .png

Gotta’ do something about that remaining coal.

Ten Charts Show How the World is Progressing on Clean Energy—We are making progress.  We can make the transition to clean energy.  It just takes political will.

Renewables Set To Account For 38% Of German Electricity In 2018—Germany has been building renewable energy capacity like crazy and in some periods of 2018 renewables accounted for more than 43% of electricity.  The caveat is that the current pace of deployment will not get the country to its stated goal of 65% renewable energy by 2030, but that seems like critics trying to salve their wounds over good news for renewables.

Perovskite Solar Panels Edge Closer To Production As Prices Fall—The price per watt for solar panels has already fallen dramatically.  However, perovskite based panels promise to bring that price down even more.  Imagine a world of roofs covered in cheap solar panels sucking up the energy from the funky yellow sun.

Fulfilling the Potential of Biogas in Spain—Biogas is something that most discussions about renewable energy never discuss.  Maybe because it seems like sorcery or alchemy.  Maybe it’s because the process often involves animal waste.  I do not know.

Dakota Access Pipeline Developer Misses Year-End Deadline to Plant Trees—Is anyone surprised that Energy Transfer Partners has failed to meet its commitment for planting trees as a condition of building this pipeline?  Not me.  It is the standard operating procedure for these companies to promise many things and deliver on nothing.  Every tree not planted is another dollar into the pocketbook of the shareholders.

Native Shrubs and Why They’re Essential for Carbon Sequestration—Our landscaping lacks layers.  In the United States it is all about trees and turf grass.  It is a monoculture masquerading as a functioning landscape.

Where Government Is a Dirty Word, but Its Checks Pay the Bills—This is the problem with American politics right now.  Too many people believe the bile spewed about the government on Fox News, but fail to realize just how dependent that they are on the government.  It reminds me of the Tea Party clowns telling the government to keep their hands off of Medicare.

Short December Days Lead to Low Solar Output

 

December 21st was the shortest day of 2018.   Given the short days of December solar output is usually fairly dismal:

December 2018

A monthly total of ~157 kWh is roughly on par with the prior year’s production, so it is a trend that December basically sucks for solar.  At least it will get better in January as the days get longer!

On a related note, I am a few days away from signing on the dotted line for a used Nissan Leaf EV.  The next step is to contact the good people at Moxie Solar, the installers of my current solar array, to see about expanding my system.  In order to produce enough electricity for my anticipated driving I will need to install at least 8 290 watt panels but I would like to install anywhere from 12 to 14 290 watt panels.  We shall see what they say.

Until next time.