Posted in climate, no fossil fuels

London just announced a climate emergency

Returned home from today’s City Council hearing. It was a discussion about the environmental health disparities & the impact of pollutants in at-risk neighborhoods, and organized by City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services, chair Council member Cindy Bass, see resolution No. 180785.

students testifying on poverty, air quality & health in Philadelphia

Many people testified, including these:

  1. Dr Thomas Farley, Health Commissioner, City of Philadelphia
  2. Glen Abrams, Senior director of Sustainable Communities, PHS
  3. Mike Ewall, Founder & Director, Energy Justice Network
  4. Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director, Overbrook environmental education center
  5. Sue Edwards, Sierra Club PA & southeastern PA Group of the Sierra Club
  6. Terri Burgin, Climate Justice Fellow, POWER Interfaith
  7. Dr Walter Tsou, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
  8. Tammy Murphy, Medical Advocacy Director, Physicians for Social responsibility
  9. Jennifer Clarke, Executive Director, The Public Interest Law center
  10. Lynn Robinson, Neighbors Against the Gas Plants
  11. Peter Winslow, Evolve Foundation
  12. Eric Marsh, parent
  13. Karen Melton, citizen
  14. Alexa Ross, Philly Thrive
  15. Pat Libbey
  16. and more that I missed!

I, Meenal Raval, spoke up at the end, essentially this:

London just announced a climate emergency.  The health impacts we heard about today are symptoms of our fossil fuel addiction — our children are the canaries in the coal mines.

Let’s accept it. There’s no future for the teens who were here today. I could have told them about the students in Sweden and Australia are on a #ClimateStrike. Young people in their 20s are rising up for a #GreenNewDeal.

Philadelphia, too, must declare a climate emergency. We need to set up a Committee on the Climate Crisis, develop a Green New Deal for our City, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions ASAP!

Media coverage from the day;

 

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Posted in ban plastics, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solar, transit

We can do it!

Testimony at State of the Environment hearing held by Philadelphia Council’s Committee on the Environment, led by Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown, November 29 2018 by Meenal Raval / meenal.raval [at] gmail.com / @meenal19119. Video recording of the entire hearing found here, starting at 1:14:00


What is the most pressing environmental issue facing us? Some seem to think it’s litter. Or storm water. Or air quality. These are all symptoms of the global climate crisis and our addiction to fossil fuels. And, it seems, we have only 10-12 years to kick our habit!

Some say we, the public, haven’t shown enough outrage about the IPCC report, the report that alerts us to this 10-12 year timeline. Some say we, the environmental groups, are too polite and rational. So I’d like to state that we are indeed enraged, outraged, and yes, fearful, for all our futures; that people come to us, asking what we should be doing. So those of us leading the climate movement in Philadelphia, people like me, know we’re in this for the long haul. And that we need to remain calm and help solve the crisis we’ve gotten ourselves info. So…

Meenal offering testimony on 11/29/18

What are fossil fuels? Coal, Oil and Gas. I’d also like to list their derivatives — gasoline, diesel, and plastics.

How do we use fossil fuels? Most visible are our cars, trucks & buses — combusting gasoline and diesel. Not as visible is the equipment in our basements – the boilers, furnaces and water heaters. Also invisible are the distant power plants burning coal, oil and gas to generate electricity.

So, how do we get off fossil fuels? We decide to stop spending on anything that uses fossil fuels. We do this each time we make a decision, which is what you all do on a daily basis!

This means planning for every new car, truck & bus to be electric, starting today.

It means when the boiler goes out on that cold morning, everyone knows that that oil or gas boiler will be replaced with an electric option — whether for our homes, our schools, or our workplaces. The homeowner, the contractor, the utility — all of us need to be aware of, and repeat, this same message. Currently, contractors are insisting on gas options even when the decision maker asks about electric option.

And when the hot water tank springs a leak in the basement; the same. Opt for an electric option, whether it’s got a tank or an on-demand feature.

And when there’s talk of subsidizing a limping refinery or partnering to liquify natural gas, the decision is simple. We just say no.

It means planning for our municipally owned utility, PGW, to transition away from selling gas (another fossil fuel) to doing something else. Like what?  It could be installing geothermal projects. It could be air sealing and insulating all our buildings. It could be replacing all gas appliances with electric ones. We’ll find a way, together. Otherwise we’ll all be in deep water. Yup… a little climate humor.

Next up — Plastics. Though not directly contributing to our greenhouse gas emissions, most of the plastic we use and dispose of ends up in our air (most trash gets incinerated) or our water ways. From the Wissahickon Creek to the Schuylkill River to the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find plastic choking off all life.

Though very useful for things like eyeglasses, we need to curtail the use-once and throw-away plastics — items like forks and spoons, take out containers, plastic bags, and yes, disposable water bottles. I hear Councilman Squilla wants to enact a plastic bag ban; so I’ll be working with him on that! 

You may ask how we’d fund this rapid scale effort? Each day I get alerts about another institution divesting — shifting funds invested in fossil fuel companies to clean energy companies. To issuing green bonds. To setting up a public bank. We can do all this in Philly~ 

This sounds like an insurmountable task, I realize. But I’m living proof that it can be done. I live in an all-electric house, with an electric bike and an electric car, all charged by the soon-to-be-installed-solar panels on my roof. All emitting zero greenhouse gases, so all emissions free. If only the bus I rode to get here was also electric…

Perhaps we need to create a new committee, say, the Committee on the Climate Crisis. This could parallel the House Select Committee at the Federal Level being led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the Green New Deal.

Who wants to step up to this, the Committee on the Climate Crisis? We could work on one climate-related policy each week, to deliberate over and implement.

The physicians say we need to act. The scientists say we need to act. Yesterday, I was at a workshop with the Bar Association, and learned that even the lawyers say we need to act. Let’s focus on the task at hand. We can do it!


 

Posted in energy efficiency

Ecstasy over LED lighting

Of course we’ve all heard of and used LED lighting — as string lights over the holidays, and perhaps a somewhat expensive replacement bulb for an existing fixture. During our current rehab, we needed to replace ceiling fixtures and selected ones that highlighted the uniqueness of LED lighting. This meant the fixture wouldn’t have any screw-on replacement bulbs. 

For the eat-in kitchen, we selected a track lighting fixture with 6 lamps. Together, 6 lamps together would consume about 40 Watts. The flexible track allowed for more variety in positioning the lamps and by the time we’d installed 3 of the lamps, we felt the room to be bright enough! We settled on 5 lamps.

The average rated life of these lamps? About 50,000 hours. This means we could use them for about 4 hours a day for over 40 years. It’s hard to grasp that there are no bulbs to replace — not quarterly like with incandescent bulbs, not every 5 years like with compact fluorescent bulbs, but 40 years!

Sadly, these lamps are planned for obsolescence after that, but I’m sure the next person living in this space may have their own ideas for lighting up the dining area. And the mostly-metal components mean this fixture could be recycled at end of life. 

For a hallway, we selected this ceiling fixture. Again, to showcase LEDs and the no-need-to-change-bulbs feature. 

Posted in ban plastics, no fossil fuels

The Right to Bear [Refillable] Water Bottles

The Climate Crisis — It’s asking us to cut out our dependency on fossil fuels. Not only the extraction, transportation and combustion of these fuels, but also our dependency on all the stuff made from fossil fuels — think plastics, especially single use plastics such as the ubiquitous water bottle.

Last week, when I went to the scheduled meeting of the Philadelphia City Council, I was met with the security team insisting I empty my refillable water bottle. This is something I carry to all public meetings. One, because I like staying hydrated. Two, because I don’t believe in paying for water. Three, because our waterways are clogged with the remnants of our single use plastic addiction. And four, to encourage conversation on the subject.

Settling into a seat at Council chambers with my now-empty container, I noticed other visitors sipping their coffee from styrofoam cups, and drinking water from single use water bottles. Why was I singled out? Not as a role model, but as a trouble-maker who couldn’t read the “No Food or Drink” sign? A sign that no one present was able to explain the reasoning for.

photo: Meenal Raval

Yes, there was a water station inside Council chambers, but beside this were, again, single use plastic cups. Cups which I, and many others, will not drink from because they’re made from plastic.  Indeed, the local Sierra Club is forming a no-plastics committee to ban single use plastics in Philadelphia. The Weavers Way Environment Committee has a Plastic Reduction Task Force; see here, here and here about what they’re up to, plus their petition to the co-op’s main supplier to switch to reusable pallet wrap. The Trash Academy, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia, is working on a plastic bag ban in Philadelphia, in collaboration with Clean Water Action and the City of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet.  

Outside Philadelphia, there’s Narberth making some news:

And in West Chester, the mayor pitches plan to limit use of plastic bags at checkout. Across the pond, the European Parliament votes for ban on single-use plastic.

Our PHL Council could start by

  1. photo: Meenal Raval, location: 18th Floor, 1515 Arch St, Philadelphia

    Replacing plastic cups with paper cups at the water cooler inside Council chambers. 

  2. Replace the water cooler with a water bottle refilling station, like at most schools and libraries, which would be connected to city water instead of needing 5 gallon water jugs to be trucked in.
  3. Encourage the security team to block single use bottles from entering the Council chambers.
  4. Have each Councilmember sport a refillable water container, building on the effect of appropriate role modeling, showing how easy this could be. 

Want to help with this effort? Contact me!

 

Posted in electrify everything, no fossil fuels, transport

Electrifying it all — starting today

Today marks the long awaited announcement from Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, the release of  Connect: Philadelphia’s Strategic Transportation Plan.

Connect is meant to guide the City in creating a transportation system that benefits everyone. A transportation system that is safe, affordable, accessible, and reliable at moving Philadelphians, visitors, and commerce so neighborhoods thrive, people are healthy, and the economy grows.

Though I’ve yet to read the plan, you can view the data book, download the executive summary, or the full plan, here.

electrification of all modes of transport

Later today, the newsfeed showed

When Paris banned cars with even-numbered plates for a day in 2014, pollution dropped by 30%. So last year, it led with plans to ban all petrol cars from the city by 2030 in pollution crackdown. Since then, it seems other cities have taken Paris’ lead, and to date, 13 cities that are starting to ban [gasoline] cars.  The future is today, if we can grab it!

Posted in clean renewable energy

A suburban oasis

Today I visited the home of Ed & Priscilla in Hatfield PA. As part of the national solar home tour, they showcased their brick ranch home built in 1960, modernized with solar hot water, solar electric, an electric car in the garage, and day lighting.

Years ago, Ed teamed up with Alan Rushforth and learned about the installation of large scale solar hot water systems. And about 8 years ago, he installed 2 solar hot water panels above their porch roof. The generated hot water is piped into a 400 gallon tank that he custom-made from his experience with Alan. This non-pressurized drain-back system needs no antifreeze because all the water drains back when the pump shuts off. The panels are US-made by Soleen.

 

Two years ago, Ed decided to install a rooftop solar electric system, also known as PV (photo-voltaic). The 16 panels, each rated for 345 Watts, results in a 5,520 Watt system, generating about 6,600 kWh, enough for this household.  The panels are Canadian-made by Silfab Solar; the inverter is a Sunny Boy 5000.

In the garage, they’ve got an electric car, a Nissan Leaf. They need never go to the gas station with it, since the car is powered by a rechargeable battery and electric motor. The amount of electric required to keep the car charged is covered by the amount generated by the solar panels. So one could say the car is powered by the homegrown electricity.

In the kitchen, they brought in more daylighting with Solatubes fitted into the roof.

Being avid gardeners, we also got to see their rain barrel, their vegetable garden, and their composting area. In addition, we were surprised to see their bee-keeping operation along the back fence, complete with fish pond providing water for the bees, and a pollinator garden supplying food for the bees. I returned home to savor some of their scrumptious honey.

 

 

Posted in decarbonization

Why trees?

Trees not only have symbolic importance in many sacred texts but they have numerous practical purposes, as well.

We each inhale 35 lbs. of oxygen daily, all from plants and we require 7 trees to convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into oxygen. Asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments are devastating, especially to children, in many urban areas. Trees in the US alone remove hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution from the air.

watercolor: Kishor Raval

Trees save energy by shading homes in the summer, releasing cooling moisture into the air, and providing windbreaks in the winter.

Trees enhance water quality by filtering and storing water because they act to prevent excess storm runoff.

Studies have shown that planting trees increases property values, improves recovery times for hospital patients, encourages serenity and relaxation, reduces violence, and increases pride in local communities.

Trees are critical in combating climate disruption by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the wood, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. To be specific, “A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.”

Do we need more reasons to plant trees?


Thanks to Mark Smith of Germantown Interfaith Power & Light Tree Tenders — a community outreach project by the Philadelphia Chapter of PA IPL.

Posted in no fossil fuels, solar

Heating our Philadelphia row home without fossil fuels

As we gut a Philadelphia row home, we’re also making plans for it to become a frack-free house, a phrase popularized by the architecture firm Bright Common. This translates to: No gas appliances delivering fracked gas from Western Pennsylvania into our home. Everything that used gas will be replaced with electric options.

So far, we’ve happily removed the gas oven / range and the associated gas pipes out of the kitchen. For cooking, we’ve selected an electric stove. And already have other electric appliances to supplement this: toaster oven, microwave, induction cooktop and crockpot.

We’ve also begun removing the cast iron radiators in each room, along with the associated hot water pipes coming up from the boiler in the basement. 

For heating the house, we realize the row home design that abounds in Philadelphia means we are tucked in between two neighbors. The only heat loss would be from the exterior walls. We’re therefore building out the walls by 4” so that we can pack in insulation. Matus Windows, a local company with a good reputation, will replace the windows. After this, the exterior walls should be draft free.

We’ll still need a heating system. Looking at our options, we’d heard that mini-split ductless systems are the most efficient. So we called in a recommended HVAC company to advise us on this. They were fixed on one brand: Mitsubishi, and that’s what was priced for us, a 20,000 Btu system. They were unable to advise us how much electricity this would use. And we learned that our favorite thermostat, the programmable and self-learning Nest, would not be compatible.

What we did learn was that one outside compressor and 2 inside air handlers would do the job, offering us 2 zones to heat and cool. I’d hoped the compressor could stay in the garage or basement, spaces with the least temperature swings during the summer and winter, but was advised this was against the building codes in our area.

I’ve since learned that 12,000 Btu equals 1 ton. Also, that estimates vary on the area this would “condition”; from 400 – 500 sf, and up to 800 – 1000 sf. Most sites mention ductless mini-splits when discussing indoor cooling, but since we prefer to cool off with ceiling fans and have rarely used air conditioning, our focus is on using the mini-splits for wintertime heating.

Per one site (7 tips to get more from mini split heat pumps), we also learned to

  • plan for average lows, not record lows.
    • For Philadelphia, the mean minimum is 6.4F, with record low of -11F. We should plan for 6F.
  • plan on using space heaters during extreme cold spells.
    • We’ve got plenty of these from when we used a gas boiler to ramp up indoor heat in the mornings, and then, like task lighting, used space heaters in the specific rooms with people.
  • plan for outdoor compressor to draw air from indoor space.
    • This makes so much sense, since the interior air has less temperature fluctuation. The one installer we called advised us this isn’t to code. I’ll have to see what the next company says.
  • position interior air handler about 18” off floor
    • This too was a surprise. Most mini-split installations I’ve seen are mounted closer to the ceiling. But perhaps that’s because they were designed for cooling the space.
  • an actual example of a 3/4 ton (or 9,000 Btu) system suffices for a  1,500 sf home in Massachusetts, and uses about 1,500 kWh per year.
    • A system this size (9,000 Btu) should definitely work for our 650 sf row home in Philadelphia. Note that this is much smaller than the size recommended by the first HVAC company (20,000 Btu).
    • Assuming it will use proportionately less electricity, we estimate the annual usage to be 650 kWh per year.
  • select higher HSPF (heating season performance factor), which is measured in Btu / Wh.

The buying guide from Consumer Reports suggests we also consider noise levels and demand defrost options. The recommended noise level is about 7 decibels. The demand defrost option is to keep icicles from forming on the outdoor compressor fans, which sounds worthwhile.

My initial reason for asking annual electricity usage from the HVAC company was because we’re also planning to install rooftop solar. We wanted to know that the rooftop system would not only suffice for our lighting, electronics, cooking, and hot water needs, but also for our heating and cooling needs.

Chatting with Dara Bortman of Exact Solar (an area residential solar installer), I learned that there were solar mini split systems out there, powered by either DC from the panels or AC from the grid. The system I’ve got my mind set on is the unit by HotSpot, sold as an air conditioner, i.e. cooling needs.

This 35 SEER system cools by using 11,500 Btu per hour, or about 328 W (11,500 / 35).  Assuming we might only need cooling for 8 days, about 8 hours per day, the electricity used for the season would be

328 W x (8 days / season) x (8 hours / day) = 20,992 Wh, or 20.9 kWh per cooling season.

Of more interest to us is the heating season. This 10 HSPF system heats by using 13,000 Btu per hour, or about 1300 W (13,000 / 10).  Assuming we need heat for 5 months, 8 hours per day, the seasonal electricity usage would be

1300 W x (5 months / season) x (30 days / month) x (8 hours / day) = 1,560,000 Wh = 1560 kWh per season

Note that we had estimated 650 kWh per heating season, based on the Massachusetts example. It could be they like the house a little cooler. Or it could be we don’t really need to run a heating system for 8 hours per day. The other difference is that their 9,000 Btu Fujitsu system has an HSPF of 12.5, whereas the Hotspot’s HSPF is 10.0.

My concerns are

  • Noise – the indoor noise level is stated to be 26 dB at the low setting, while 7.6 dB is recommended. Would this feel too loud?
  • Placement of compressor – I would like the heat exchanger to be in the basement,  not outside in extreme temperatures. If it must be outside, we’re thinking of mounting it over the garage door, with the 3 panels above as a protective awning.
  • Circuit load – Could I have the heat going, while making tea or taking a shower on a cold morning? Without blowing a fuse? The stove is rated for 30 Amps, the tankless hot water system at 60 Amps, and the mini-split heating system at 5.3 Amps. All together, about 95 Amps. Well within the 100 Amp panel in the garage.
  • Thermostat – It’s unclear how the setback thermostat works for this. I plan to keep the house cool at night, and expect a thermostat to warm up the house before I wake up.

Thoughts?

Posted in no fossil fuels

Electricity for the house. From Renewables, please!

You understand all the reasons to switch to renewables: the climate pickle we’ve got ourselves into, and the resultant unbreathable air from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to generate our electricity.

You also understand the need for a rapid transition to renewable energy, particularly in the electricity sector. But… you may live in an apartment, a condo, or just a house with a shady roof — all of which made it impossible to invest in solar panels on your own roof. Or, though your roof gets tons of sun, you may not have the funds to invest in rooftop solar.

What do do?

  • We suggest you switch your electricity supplier to The Energy Co-op, choosing their EcoChoice 100 product.
  • We also suggest you join us: The Northwest Philly Solar Co-op for a $25 annual fee. We offer tips like this, and also one-on-one energy efficiency help.

Why?

The Energy Co-op is a local, well established company, spun off from Weavers Way Co-op. Their EcoChoice 100 product offers 100% renewable electricity, 99% from PA wind farms and 1% from solar. With a fixed rate, you won’t get surprised 6 months from now! Other companies may offer cheaper options, but most promote renewables in other states, and all appear gimmicky to us. Don’t take my word for it. Read Marion & Dave Brown’s experience; then read Chrys Brown’s experience, both shared in the Weavers Way Shuttle. Then, buy local!

How?

Go to The Energy Co-op’s website.. Or call their only office, in Center City Philadelphia, where someone from their small staff will assist you with the switch. Their number is 215.413.2122. Tell them Meenal sent you!

Now to get my own mother to switch back to The Energy Co-op after someone came to her door and presented a gimmick…


Originally published on NW Philly Solar Co-op’s site, here.

Posted in banking, clean renewable energy, divest, no fossil fuels, pipelines, solar, transition

Marcellus Shale – A Blessing or a Curse?

Our state has been blessed, some say. Possibly cursed, say some others. I’m talking about the abundant gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale. Cursed because of issues during Extraction, Transportation & Consumption.

Extraction is also known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. When chemicals are forced into the ground, they contaminate the water table, affecting the well water of rural townships. As the gas is forced out & captured, there are leaks. Leaks that affect the local air quality and detrimental to the health & property values. The same methane leaks are an important contributor to climate change, worse even than carbon dioxide. 

Transportation of fracked gas is typically by pipelines. Pipelines that are known to leak or explode, with cleanup expenses left to the taxpayers. Rights for these pipelines, going thru wetlands, woodlands and private property, are gained via eminent domain in the name of public utility.  but are really for private gain by fossil fuel companies. Permit applications are shoddy, and fragmented construction begins in communities with the least resistance. Communities are not compensated for the devastation, nor the liability.

There are several pipeline developments, all headed to or through the greater Philadelphia area – the Mariner East 2 pipeline slated to carry fracked gas liquids from west to east, ending up in nearby Delaware County, and destined for export, to be made into plastic bags in Europe. How does this qualify the pipeline builders to claim in the courts that they’re a public utility? 

Then there’s the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline destined to travel north to south, going through farmland in Lancaster County. And the PennEast pipeline thru Bucks County into New Jersey. And smaller segments across the Delaware River (which supplies the drinking water for 15M people), and into the Pinelands in South Jersey.

gas burning from a kitchen gas stove

Which leads us to …Consumption. The pipeline going thru the Pinelands is headed to a gas power plant, where the fracked gas will be burned to generate electricity. Much like the SEPTA gas plant locally in Nicetown that 350 Philly and others are fighting. Advertised as clean burning at point of ignition, the industry ignores the devastation left in its wake. 

Once you realize that natural gas is the same as methane, and that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide (86 times), you’ll agree, it’s no longer clean burning.

Who’s doing this extraction, transportation & building up the large scale demand for fracked gas? The same companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline:  

Sunoco Logistics, Williams Company, Energy Transfer Partners

Who’s funding these companies?

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, Citizens Bank, HBSC Bank, TD Bank

And many of us thru our personal accounts, our investments and our retirement plans.

It’s time to #divest and #reinvest all of our funds into clean energy from #solar and #wind, and leave the Marcellus Shale reserves resting safely underground.


Initially presented at Indivisible NW Philly meeting on March 12 2017.