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Small People?

President Obama spoke for 17 minutes on the Gulf oil spill and the commentators then spoke for thousands of hours since, parsing every word. (One of the many sites giving the full text is here)

A day or so later a number of news outlets published an article regarding the situation in Nigeria (here is the Guardian, UK version published before (!) the speech).  There oil, by the millions of gallons, has spilt into the environment for over 40 years.  We can all argue who is at fault; the companies or the locals who sabotage and tap the pipelines, or both.  Bottom line, the stuff is spilling, polluting and being wasted.

still flying...

This would seem to be the perfect time to make a bold announcement regarding renewable energy resources.  But no, I guess we’ll mosey along as usual.

And of course there is natural gas aplenty!  All it takes is hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – with the “usual” expected environmental results.  I have not seen the film “Gasland” that has made the rounds of the talk shows (as here) , but some of the scenes sound like a lot of fun – like being able to light your tap water on fire.

With all that as backdrop here’s a view from one of the “small people”. (No matter what the intent of BP’s chairman, the phrase will live on.)

I finally completed my BPI energy auditor certification.  Got the card to prove it – even if it has some other guys picture on it.  But what the h…, they’ve promised to send me a replacement card with my own boyishly handsome, yet rugged and experienced, visage.

Of course there are no energy audit jobs to be had in the state of NJ.  Why?  The state halted its support of the program,  having run out of funds.  To quote: “The program’s budget is being reviewed to support applications received prior to the posting of this notice…..  Contractors submitting applications after the posting of this notice (May 7, 2010), will be notified that the application cannot be accepted.”

The budget was to be reviewed yesterday (June 18), and I will update the site when a decision becomes known.

I wish the state would EITHER cancel the program outright and let the customer decide if $300 or so is worth getting a detailed energy audit and recommendations on their house.  OR, make sure the program, which reduces the cost to the owner to $125 out of pocket, is guaranteed for at least a year at a time.  This limbo situation is the worst possible, because all audits are on hold.  Nobody will spend $300 this week, if next week the same thing will be less than half the cost.  And when it does restart there is no guarantee it will not stop in another couple of months from now.  What incentive do I have to invest in some $6000 on equipment under this scenario?

Small projects on the sustainable energy front are also slow.  I know these are just anecdotal stories, but they do seem to indicate the malaise in this sector.

  • A friend of mine was set to build a ground mounted PV system for a client in western NJ.  But the neighbors and the town simply made things too difficult. After some months, and expense of course, the client got building permission providing he planted trees along the whole road frontage to shield the installation from the sensitive eyes of travelers along the road.  Decision: Too expensive. Likely shadows from the trees once they grew.  Cancel the installation.
  • Another local solar installer had three installations in the last six months.  That’s simply not enough to support a two man business.  With years of electrician and building experience, plus weeks of PV installation training in California behind them these guys now do handyman jobs to get some cash in the door.

People (small or not) are trying to do the right thing – conserving, recycling, upgrading systems and retraining on their own dime(!) – to get on a path to sustainability.  The president says the right words.  Somewhere between the two both the message and the money gets lost.

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On a tangential subject:  a short article in the Economist, dated June 19, 2010, once again endorses the idea of a carbon tax.  The idea is supported by a study showing that contrary to popular opinion the economy of the UK would improve with a carbon tax – and the parallel abolition of related tax breaks, incentives, mandatory purchase schemes etc. etc.  The study is specific to the UK, and may not apply to the US.  But we should at least have the discussion.

Then again, no country in the world, even the ones we think of as most progressive in the energy field, like Germany and Scandinavian countries, has a comprehensive carbon tax.

But you know, there is no reason why the US can’t lead the world in this thing.  Is there?  Really?

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