Posted in climate, electrify everything, transition

Testimony at June 2nd hearing about gas rate hike

Alerted of a proposed rate hike by our gas utility, I spoke at a public hearing organized by Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate. My June 2nd, 2020 testimony is below.

Hello, My name is Meenal Raval. I am self employed. My business, Philly Electric Wheels, is a PGW customer. Today, I represent myself. And no, I am not a PGW customer at home, which I’ll explain soon. 

I am speaking about the rate hike requested by PGW, our gas utility. Firstly, I’d like to thank you for considering and scheduling this investigation.

Next, I’d like to paraphrase my understanding of PGW’s request. That PGW is seeking an additional $70 million in revenue for the purpose of updating aging infrastructure and replacing gas lines. PGW already has $41 million for this, I think they call it the DSIC surcharge, but this doesn’t seem to be adequate because they aren’t selling as much gas as they used to. Why? It seems because many of their residential customers are using less gas.

What PGW omits to account for is the climate crisis. This is the elephant in the room that PGW has ignored for far too long. It is due to the climate crisis that customers are investing in retrofitting their homes and using less gas. It is due to the climate crisis that the weather has been warmer, and thus, customers have been using less gas.

Climate-concerned customers like me have invested in rooftop solar, replaced all gas appliances with electric appliances and finally, have called to have their gas meter removed. As people like me convince others, the customer base left still using PGW’s product will be low income folks. My 81 year old mother is one of these people, an immigrant living on social security, and clutching her coupons when she visits the grocery store. These are NOT the ones to be left shouldering the burden of keeping this utility limping along. A utility that was approved a 6.3% increase in 2017, and now seek an 11.2% increase to the fixed monthly rates!

We need to accept that gas is a dying industry. One that affects public health during extraction (also known as fracking), during transportation (methane leaks along the way) and during combustion (toxic air inside a house).

PGW’s primary business model for over 100 years has been to sell “natural gas”. And now, in light of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the 2018 report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and per estimates by our Office of Sustainability that PGW’s principal product accounts for 22% of our City’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is time for a new business model for the utility, one that can keep all Philadelphians warm, and retain the current workforce without selling and/or burning gas.

Local academics like Professor Mark Allan Hughes of the Kleinman Center tell us that the “electrify everything” idea is currently the most important policy conversation taking place in the world. Of course, we must pursue electrification in lockstep with decarbonizing our electric supply.

We need to accept that electric is where it’s at. And learn from other cities and utilities that are revising their business model. I mention Columbia Gas in Massachusetts, who acknowledge the problems with gas, offers an electrification service to their residential customers. I’ll also mention that the $41 million currently budgeted for distribution line maintenance could be used differently. I’ll also mention that Berkely has led cities across the nation to ensure that new construction is electric only, and does not have gas hookups.

I have produced a radio episode about transforming PGW, and documented a public hearing organized by Philadelphia City Council on the same. I can share links to both when I submit this testimony in writing. Raising the fixed monthly costs is not the answer.

Thank you for considering my testimony. You’ll find references below.

— end
Posted in banking, divest, solutions

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Her retirement funds were doing well, but my friend Lynn was feeling guilty.

A retired schoolteacher, she had a 401K fund. Every pay cycle, a percentage of her income had gone into this fund. Over the years, she also put money in individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Both funds are tax-exempt, meaning she didn’t pay taxes on this income the year she earned it. Both accounts were also invested in mutual funds, an aggregation of stocks, bonds and commodities that diversify investments, and therefore spread risk.

This was written for the January 2020 issue of GRID Magazine. Read entire column here.

Posted in net zero energy, single-use plastics

Dec 12, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council

Dec 12, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council, video here.

My name is Meenal Raval. I’m here today, speaking on 2 bills. Number 190610 and 190944.

Bill 190610 is to eliminate single use plastic checkout bags.

Last winter when we first met with Councilman Squilla about this bill, our concern was the force the plastics industry would retaliate with.

The opposition now, it seems, comes from our own Mayor,  who threatens to veto this bill if we include a fee for single-use plastic bags.

It seems our Mayor, yet again, speaks for the fossil fuel industry, not the people that elected him.

I am asking for a ban AND a fee on single-use plastic bags. Please vote YES today and let’s revise in January to include a fee. That’s the only way this will actually reduce single use plastic bags littering our streets and water ways.

I’m also here to speak on bill 190944 – the tax abatement. Please vote NO. We can not afford, as a city, to continue to give away money.

After you vote no, let’s talk about net zero energy construction. Net zero energy construction means there is at least as much energy generated as consumed at a site. Homes built with net zero energy design are more comfortable and have no energy bills. Which means they’re also more affordable.

I heard that you, Councilman Jones, have introduced such a bill over 10 years ago. It may be time to reintroduce this, and maybe, offer a tax credit for net zero energy construction. To learn more, please read or listen to episode 27 of Philly Talks Climate.

Thank you!

Posted in net zero energy, single-use plastics

Dec 5, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council

Nov 22, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council, video here.

Hello, My name is Meenal Raval. I’ll keep it brief. 

Speaking on bill 190610 — We need to stop using single use plastics. The first on our list should be the easiest — single-use shopping bags. 

After that, we’ll need to ban single-use cutlery, single-use straws, single-use styrofoam containers — all made from fossil fuels — something we must stop extracting, transporting, consuming and throwing away. 

My morning feed today had two headlines on the subject: 

The world is ready to move away from single-use plastics.

As a City, we need to begin our transition away from single-use plastics, beginning with banning single-use plastic shopping bags. Let’s do this with a ban and a fee on these bags! 

I’d also like to speak on bill 190944The abatement of the tax abatement on new construction — I’m personally with Ms Gym on ending the tax abatement. 

I realize you want to ease the burden on developers and new home owners, and if we must give away money — if we must give away money… let’s do so with a climate lens. 

Perhaps we only offer an abatement to developers that build to a net zero energy standard, meaning the building has no emissions during it’s operations for heating, cooling and other power needs. 

This is but one example of how we incentivize energy efficiency. 

I myself live in a rehabbed row home that could be considered a net zero energy building. 

Doing so would make the space more affordable, since there would be no ongoing fuel costs. 

Doing so would also achieve other goals that we have committed to, such as our climate goals of transitioning to renewable energy. 

Posted in electrify everything, energy efficiency

Better buildings, better future

You tune up your bike each year, right? And your car? So, why not buildings?

By improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, a report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy claims our country could reduce emissions by 33 percent.

This may be because when contractors design buildings, their primary priorities are function, comfort and ease of use—not energy efficiency, according to Dianne Herrin

This was written for the December 2019 issue of GRID Magazine. Read entire column here.


Posted in climate refugees, flooding, geothermal, jobs, refinery, remediation, solar, solutions

Nov 22, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council – options for refinery site

Nov 22, 2019 testimony at Philadelphia City Council, video here.

My name is Meenal Raval, a Mt Airy resident and lead volunteer with the Sierra Club’s Rrady for 100 campaign, here in Philly and all of Southeast PA. I’m here today to speak on resolution 190676, to assess our options for the future of the refinery.

Yesterday, I mentioned that we cannot revive the refinery again, nor accept any industry that dumps into the atmosphere.

Being sensitive to near neighbors as well as creating family sustaining jobs, we’ve heard most people suggest something “green”.

We’ve heard mention of solar farms with energy storage. This means ground mounted solar panels generate electricity during the day, and saved in batteries for night time use.

Some people have mentioned geothermal fields offering district heating and cooling. This means pipes going deep in the ground, either horizontally or vertically, where temperatures remain a near-constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Bringing up air, water, or coolant from this near-constant 55 degrees means that in the winter, we only need to heat from 55 to 65 degrees. Laying pipes is something our laid-off refinery workers, and even the PGW workforce are skilled to take on.

Some others have dreamt of manufacturing turbines for offshore wind projects. With the nascent offshore wind industry, this idea was brought to Mayor Kenney’s attention by his first transition team, 5 years ago.

A new idea is manufacturing building materials from hemp — a renewable resource.

  • From hemp, we can make hemp-crete, a concrete alternative with 80% lower carbon emissions — because we have an insatiable desire for concrete.

  • From hemp we can make insulation, much needed as we bundle up our buildings for more comfort.

  • Also from hemp we can make paper & textiles. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp; as were ship sails, ropes and clothing.

There are many budding industrial hemp growers across Pennsylvania, who could supply our local market. All of these have the potential to create family sustaining jobs in our city.

Whatever we decide to do, we need to clean up this site.

The past owners have abused this land. Though they have pledged to remediate the land, they have done little. Their plans are based on the assumption that there would continue to be a refinery here. Since this is no longer what Philadelphians want or need, this site needs to be cleaned, I think they call it remediation — for uses other than a refinery. So we ask Evergreen, Sunoco, and PES, to remediate to the highest standard — that of a green space.

With this level of remediation, we could design for public access to our riverfront. We could design for ground mounted solar farms surrounded by plants that invite pollinators — the bees and the butterflies.

We also need to consider flooding of this site due to rising sea levels — another result of a warming planet. I learned yesterday that basements at The Navy Yard get flooded regularly by the ground water seeping up, and that fish have been seen in these flooded basements. So, whether from an instant cloud burst, rising ground water, or rising sea levels — we will get flooded. We don’t need to worry about climate refugees from New York, but instead, from Eastwick, The Navy Yard and South Philadelphia.

With an awareness that some portions will be swallowed up by rising waters, these low lying spaces will need to be remediated to marshland.

The most cost effective way to remediate seems to be by using the mycelium network of mushrooms. I spoke about this at the first meeting of the refinery advisory group. That basically, mushrooms thrive on the hydrocarbons, breaking them down to hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.

Since then, we’ve heard about using bacteria to break down the spilled fossil fuels. From someone who does this type of remediation in Ohio, we learned that “cleanup could take anywhere from less than a year to 5 years depending on level of contamination.”

We’ll need to monitor the remediation costs, so that the insurance proceeds are  adequate for the cleanup work required, before they disappear as bonuses to executives far away. Again, using bacteria and mushrooms to break down the hydrocarbons seem to be the most cost effective way of cleaning up.

We can research and expound on each of these…

  • creating family sustaining jobs,

  • remediation for a use other than a refinery,

  • consideration of rising sea levels

But we need you, Council, to remove all tax incentives and zoning that allowed this refinery for as long as it has. We once offered them all this because we thought we needed this industry. We no longer need the fossil fuel industry, and we need to make it financially unattractive for anyone to restart this refinery.

Thank you!


Posted in no fossil fuels, refinery

Nov 21, 2019 Testimony at Philadelphia City Council about refinery proposals

Nov 21, 2019 Testimony at Philadelphia City Council, about just introduced resolution number 190946

My name is Meenal Raval, a Mt Airy resident and volunteer with the Sierra Club. I’m here today to speak about Council’s just introduced resolution to support proposals to purchase the refinery site that align with our goals.

The fire this past June woke up all Philadelphians to the toxic giant at our riverfront. What happens here affects all Philadelphians, especially the near neighbors in South Philly who inhaled the emissions from this refinery and are paying for it with their health and their lives.

At this late state of planetary climate fever, this site must not become an oil refinery again. Yes, today we need their product to fill our gas tanks. With electrified and improved transit, and electric cars, we won’t be as reliant on the products of this refinery.

I repeat, we must not revive the refinery again. We must not accept any industry that dumps into the atmosphere, or produces anything combustible. Therefore, no waste to energy plant. Nothing that makes jet fuel. Or marine diesel. We ask, simply, for no new fossil fuel projects. Our commitment to 100% renewable energy means we go forward, towards that. Not backwards, into the 20th century.

What can the City do? Any tax incentives we may have had for this site, such as Keystone Opportunity Zones, must be removed. We may need to rezone this space, and take away this zoning, so that this site is less viable for use as a future refinery. We need to make it financially unattractive for anyone to restart this refinery.

Tomorrow, I plan to talk more about creating family sustaining jobs, remediation for a use other than a refinery, consideration of and rising sea levels.

Today, my question to you all is… Who decides what happens next? We’d like to participate.


Posted in clean renewable energy, decarbonization, electrify everything, EV, goals, policy, solutions, transport

Testimony on 10/2/19

Below is my testimony on 10/2/2019 at a meeting of PHL Council’s Environment Committee. Video available here.

Hello! I’m Meenal Raval, an active member of Philly’s Ready for 100! I also write an Energy column for GRID magazine and produce a weekly radio show Philly Talks Climate.

Today is October 2nd. Mahatma Gandhi was born 150 years ago today. Gandhi is known for satyagraha — sticking to the truth, and ahimsa — non-violence toward all living things. In the US, ahimsa, or non-violence has been used by many activists. I’d like to expand non-violence to the climate movement, to saving the ecosystem we all call home.

In light of this, I support bill 190600, also known as the building energy performance policy. Regularly checking on thermostats, motion sensors, HVAC systems and more could save the owners money, use less energy & water, and reduce emissions. They also make the space more comfortable. How many times have you complained about an auditorium, a library or an office space being too warm or too cold?

In reading this bill, it seems our Office of Sustainability would be reviewing the energy usage of 2000 or more large buildings. If you want this bill to succeed, this office may require additional staffing.

I’d like to remind this committee that the building energy performance policy is but one component of our bigger ask — to transition our entire city to renewable energy as soon as possible, that all of Council voted upon last week — bill 190728, AKA the Ready for 100 resolution.

A recent report titled Halfway There, shows how the US can reduce emissions by 50% by just being smart — by focusing on energy efficiency. We’ll be looking at the policy suggestions on this report, and plan to have a list ready for when this committee meets next with a new chair.

A hint of what those could be are…

Zero energy buildings could reduce emissions by 11%. This is for new buildings, whether residential or commercial, which can be built so that they don’t need much energy. How? Make ‘em tight, make ‘em electric, and what little energy they need would be electricity from rooftop solar panels. Policy-wise, this translates to all new construction being electric only, with no gas hookups and of course, rooftop solar.

Building improvements account for about 14% emissions reduction — whether tuneups like being discussed today, or smart buildings, or heating with electricity instead of gas.

About 30% emissions reduction can be had by encouraging more fuel efficient cars. The most fuel efficient cars are, of course — electric cars. Policy-wise, this means massive buildout of public EV charging stations at under-utilized parking lots — churches, schools, and of course, grocery stores and hospitals. Yesterday’s article in the Inquirer, with me showing off my electric car, was a start towards this policy.

We could have 16% emissions reductions by reducing our vehicle miles traveled and flying less. This means encouraging walking, cycling, using SEPTA, and… tele-commuting! It also calls for being smart about how we move our stuff around.

As we loop in other groups, we’re hearing that we need to move faster on this timeline.

So, though we’ve agreed on 2030, 2035, and 2050 as milestones, when we put our ear to the ground, we hear that we’ll need to move fast, with much sooner milestones, like 2030 — to do away with all emissions, and power only with clean renewable energy sources.

Are you ready? We sure are Ready for 100% !!

In closing, I’d like to thank Council and the entire behind the scene team, for running with us, for getting the Ready for 100 resolution introduced & passed in Council. I look forward to working with you all come January!

Wed Oct 2, 2019, Sierra Club press release: Philadelphia Commits to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy


Posted in clean renewable energy, decarbonization, geothermal, no fossil fuels, Refinery Advisory Group

How about a hemp-based regenerative industry?

On August 6th, 2019, I spoke at the 1st public meeting of the Refinery Advisory Group setup by the City of Philadelphia after a fire in June. That testimony has been shared to the address, and can be found here… About that refinery that just closed

Since then, I realized that the myco-remediation, district geothermal and a solar farm would provide one-time jobs; first for remediation then for the two types of clean energy projects.

Some people in the community suggested we come up with a forestry-based regenerative industry. Later, someone else suggested using hemp for soil remediation. Some quick research helped me connect the two suggestions. 

Hemp is an annual crop, requiring planting, care and harvest each year. 

A fast growing plant, reaching 10-12 feet within one season, the planting would provide 2 services: absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and lift up heavy metals from the soil. 

Once harvested, the woody stalks could be the basis for local production of building materials like insulation and hemp-crete, a concrete substitute. Both needed in our urban region, and likely to foster local manufacturing. 

Over time, as the soil gets cleaner, and we increase the acreage planted, the same woody stalks could be the basis for local textile production — for rope, canvas, even clothing. 

When the soil is clean enough, safe enough, we could consider planting for food & body care products — hemp seed, hemp oil, CBD-products. 

Of course, we should still plan for some geothermal and solar farms, allow for some marshland and wildlife preserve, and certainly, public access to the riverfront.

We have found this article about a town in Italy using hemp to decontaminate their land.

My understanding is that the Rodale Institute has a team researching hemp for industrial applications. How can we develop this idea together? I’m certain we can get public buy-in. 

Posted in clean renewable energy, goals

Are you ready for 100% renewable energy?

The climate crisis. We’ve all been saddened and alarmed by the news—species going extinct, unbreathable air, ice caps melting, extreme flooding and extreme temperatures. That’s why it’s no longer called “global warming,” but a climate crisis affecting us all.

How do we think our way out of this planetary catastrophe? There’s no one person to blame and no one person who can solve it. Instead of shrugging your shoulders and disappearing into your own virtual reality, read about the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign.

This was written for the October 2019 issue of GRID Magazine. Read entire column here.