Friday, August 31, 2007

Green Bars in Arlington? Not So Much.

A couple of friends who I met through the Arlington Young Democrats recently organized a green bar crawl for their birthdays. Here was the itinerary (their notes, not mine):

7:00 PM- Ragtime in Courthouse (Ragtime recycles all card board boxes and cooking oil)
8:00 PM - Ireland's Four Courts (2051 Wilson Boulevard) By far the greenest of all the bars - Ireland's Four Courts recycles glass and card board.
9:00 PM - Whitlow's on Wilson (2854 Wilson Boulevard) Whitlow's recycles card board and cooking oil.

10:30 PM - Tallula's (2761 Washington Boulevard.) Tallula's recycles card board and serves an organic beer.
11:30 PM - Royal Lee (2211 Pershing Drive) for some late night karaoke. We don't care if they are green or not, they have karaoke, therefore, they are exempt.

It's a marginally green list -- and these are the best of the best! It's sad how few Arlington bars and restaurants do even the bare minimum to recycle empty beer bottles. Most customers just assume their bottles do get recycled, but in reality, most go right in the trash. And good luck finding organic beer -- only Lost Dog Cafe and Tallula serve organic beer in Arlington.

Know of any Arlington bars that try to be green? Or serve organic beer? Post them in the comments!

Speaking of the Arlington Young Democrats, they're co-hosting the annual
Joint Campaign Chili Cookoff on Monday (Labor Day) from 4-6pm at the Lyon Park Community Center (414 N. Filmore St., closest Metro is Clarendon). Tickets are $35 for individuals (children under 15 are free), $25 for AYD/Roosevelt Society. They're also asking attendees to bring new schools supplies to be donated to Arlington students in need.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beyond Organic: New Belgium's Sustainable Brewing

I was in a Red Sox bar, Fat Face Fenners's Fishack, in Los Angeles recently and asked about a beer on tap I'd never seen before, Fat Tire. I asked our waitress, "I've never seen that beer with the bicycle on the tap before, what's that like?"

"Umm, that's Fat Tire," she said.

Right name, lousy description. "Yes, what's it like?" I asked.

"Umm, it's brewed in Colorado," she continued, skillfully avoiding anything that might give away what the beer actually tasted like. "It's good."

With the possibility remaining open that Fat Tire could taste like anything from sewer rat to pumpkin pie, I just ordered whatever light beer was on draft.

But days later, I caught a mention of the beer in Outside Magazine's green issue. Turns out the brewery that makes Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium Brewing, might be the greenest brewery in the country.

While New Belgium only brews one organic beer, Mothership Wit, it uses sustainable practices from the start of its brewing process (using far less water than most breweries) to the finish (using bottles made out of recycled glass and shipping on biodiesel trucks).

Here are some excerpts from New Belgium's other green efforts:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction: In 1998, New Belgium took an employee vote and became the country's first brewery to subscribe to wind energy. ... Employee owners voted to dip into their bonus pool to help finance the conversion.

Healthy Watersheds: Through recapture and reuse, New Belgium uses less than four barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer, significantly less than the industry average.

Green Building: In 2002 we agreed to participate in the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) pilot program. From sun tubes and daylighting throughout the facility to reusing heat in the brewhouse, we continue to search out new ways to close loops and conserve resources.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The three "R's" of being an environmental steward. Our reuse program includes heat for the brewing process, cleaning chemicals, water and much more. Recycling at New Belgium takes on many forms, from turning "waste" products into something new and useful (like spent grain to cattle feed), to supporting the recycling market in creative ways (like turning our keg caps into table surfaces). We also buy recycled whenever we can, from paper to office furniture. Reduction surrounds us, from motion sensors on the lights throughout the building to induction fans that pull in cool winter air to chill our beers. Offsetting our energy needs is the cornerstone to being environmentally efficient.

Living Sustainably: Having our own Sustainability Specialist, Nic Thiesen, has given us access to all sorts of great information. If you want to learn more about any of the programs to which New Belgium subscribes or maybe you’d like to have wind power at your home, check out these links.

Not that I don't love Wolaver's organic beer, but all that seems to blow Wolaver's sustainability page out of the water, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, New Belgium isn't sold east of the Mississippi. It's not even available at DC's vaunted Brickskeller, home to 300 or so beers. But if you're traveling out west (or God forbid someone out west has stumbled upon this blog) give it a try!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How The Green Miles Became a Miller Lite Drinker

When I'm drinking beer at the ballpark, as long as it's cold, I don't really care whether it's Bud Light, Coors Light, or Miller Lite. (Of course, the Nationals have shown an amazing ability to keep me from drinking beer altogether.)

But recently Miller Lite became my cheapo beer of choice, thanks to the
Climate Counts scorecard. It ranks companies by product type based on how they:

- Measured their climate footprint
- Reduced their impact on global warming
- Supported (or suggest intent to block) progressive climate legislation
- Publicly disclosed their climate actions clearly and comprehensively
Miller scored highest among major American breweries, beating out Anheuser-Busch (which includes Bud, Michelob Ultra, and Rolling Rock). Molson Coors (which includes Heineken, Corona, Foster's, Keystone, and Killian's Irish Red) finished dead last.

At home I'll still lean towards organic beer like
Wolaver's or locally-produced beer like Yuengling and Victory. But when I'm at the ballpark, it's nice to know I can be a better climate consumer, putting my beer drinking dollars towards a company doing more than others to stop global warming.

Will buying Miller Lite save the planet? No. Especially not at RFK Stadium, where there's no recycling. So if I'm heading straight home from the game, I'll bring my empties home with me (where there's
also no recycling, but there's a recycling center nearby). Every little bit helps, right?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kicking Off Beer Week: 2nd Annual ACE Organic Beer Tasting

It's Beer Week here at The Green Miles! Why? Ummm ... because Labor Day is traditionally a big BBQ weekend? Last weekend of summer? Buying any of this? You shouldn't be. I just like drinking beer and felt like doing a few posts about it this week. And if you can't deal with that, clearly you need to watch this video of kittens playing with a box.

Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment is planning its 2nd Annual Organic Beer Tasting in September! And this year's event should be even bigger and better than the first. It will take place on Thursday September 20th at 7pm at Potomac Overlook Regional Park.

We'll be sampling around half a dozen varieties of Wolaver's, which has generously agreed to donate the beer for the tasting. You can find Wolaver's for sale in local Whole Foods.

We'll also have a special guest host, Chris O'Brien, author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World. Chris also writes one of The Green Miles' favorite blogs, Beer Activist.

Tickets are $25 for ACE members, $30 for nonmembers. We expect the event to fill up fast, so reserve your place now!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sierra Club's "Pick Your Poison": Are All Oil Companies the Same?

The Green Miles' sweet ride got a new addition this week when my Sierra Club air freshener arrived in the mail! Like with any air freshener, its pine scent was a little, um, bold at first, but it softened up after a couple of days.

I got the air freshener free from It's part of their Pick Your Poison report, rating the environmental record of each of the major oil companies. Here are the results with links to the full write-ups of each of the companies:

Top of the Barrel

Middle of the Barrel
Royal Dutch Shell
Valero Energy Corporation

Bottom of the Barrel

Reports like this are perfect for making sure my consumer choices reflect my climate conscience. Is there a term for that? I don't think so, therefore I'm making one up right now -- climate consumerism. Done.

The air fresheners take it one step further, getting that clear, concise information to the exact place I need it as I'm making your choices. Unfortunately, the Sierra Club's website now says they're out of the air fresheners.

Obviously there's not going to be a BP or Sunoco around the corner every time I need to gas up. But in the long term, it'll help direct my dollars away from climate deniers and towards oil companies that are taking some steps to reduce their environmental impact.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Should Facebook Have Banished Ranger Rick?

Coworkers here at the National Wildlife Federation were up in arms earlier this week as word spread that Facebook had canceled Ranger Rick's account. Any attack on Ranger Rick is an attack on The Green Miles, because we're one and the same in Arlington's Neighborhood Day parade each year (to the right is RR/TGM with Arlington County Board Chair Paul Ferguson).

Granted, Ranger Rick is not an actual person, a nominal violation of Facebook's rules that require a profile represent a real person. Facebook says nonprofits can still use the group function.

However, you could easily counter that by saying Facebook allows pseudo-profiles of politicians all the time. Anyone think the actual Hillary Clinton is checking who tagged her wall today? And for nonprofits like the NWF, creating a group or mascot profile protects the privacy of the staffers who work to reach out to members through social networking sites. Does Hillary's Facebook staffer wants to have his/her personal info out there for 35,000 supporters to see?

But here's the bottom line -- of all the fake profiles on Facebook, why has Facebook targeted the beloved Ranger Rick? A quick search shows six fake Paris Hilton profiles. Why kill off Ranger Rick? Would it really have torn a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum to look the other way while Ranger Rick spread cuteness across the Internet?

If you think Ranger Rick was unjustly targeted, join the Set Ranger Rick Free Facebook group, and tell Facebook to knock it off by emailing them here.

Lung Assoc. Urges Webb to Co-Sponsor Anti-Smoking Bill

Regular readers know I'm a big supporter of smoking bans in bars and restaurants. Or at least in Virginia, the ability of communities to make their own decisions about such things.

So tobacco issues catch my eye, and I was surprised to see our own Sen. Jim Webb featured on this request for volunteers from the American Lung Association Of Virginia Legislative Advocacy Network:

It's hard to believe, but every day 1200 people die from smoking-related causes. This summer Congress is acting to help stop this deadly toll and make sure the tobacco companies stop marketing to our kids. But we can't pass this life-saving legislation without your help!

We're launching a grassroots campaign in Virginia to support the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act (S.625). From July 31 to August 31, we are asking Virginians to contact Senator Webb and as him to support the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act (S.625). It's easy, and we're not asking for a lot of time.

We hope that with the encouragement of thousands his constituents, Senator Webb will sign on as a co-sponsor of S. 625. This bill would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. This legislation would provide the FDA with the tools and resources necessary to effectively regulate the manufacturing, marketing, labeling, distribution and sale of tobacco products, and in turn help prevent our youth from making harmful and potentially fatal decisions.

This bill already has 53 sponsors in the Senate. However, we still need to convince Senator Webb to get on board. We're close but he really needs to hear from citizens who care about public health. We can't wait, each day 4,000 kids will try smoking for the first time and 1,000 will become addicted.

Will you join thousands of concerned citizens and help pass this historic bill by volunteering on August 25?

WHERE: Del Ray Farmer's Market, Oxford Avenue & Mt. Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA
WHEN: Saturday August 25, 2007, 8am – Noon
WHAT: We will be circulating petitions and gathering signatures.

email Carrie for more details.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

As Board Sets Hearing Date, EnviroCAB Gets Big Boost

Wow. A proposal to bring hybrid taxis to Arlington is getting a huge boost from a key Arlington County official:
County Manager Ron Carlee has recommended that nearly 60 percent of new taxi operating certificates be awarded to a start-up cab company, a significantly higher percentage than was recommended by the county government's transportation commission.

Carlee's recommendation came in a report to the County Board, which on Sept. 8 is slated to consider issuing new operating certificates for taxicabs. Currently, about 650 taxis are permitted to operate in Arlington.

Carlee recommended Envirocab be given 50 of a total 86 new operating certificates, or 58 percent of the total.

The firm, which currently does not operate in any other local jurisdictions, had asked for 100 certificates; the transportation commission recommended that they receive 35.
I hope the County Board follows Carlee's lead, although as I've written before, I've been underwhelmed by some public statements so far.

Another plug for strong action comes in a letter to the editor in this week's Sun Gazette. Key factoid:
As many people may not be aware, Arlington's permitted taxis emit about 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air each year, significantly contributing to the poor air quality in our county.
So how can you support hybrid cabs? The best thing you can do is speak at the County Board hearing on September 8 at 8:30am. You can't sign up in advance, so you'll have to get there early to fill out a public comment slip, which will get you two minutes to address board members. The full procedures are listed here.

If you're like The Green Miles and you can't make the hearing, you can also
email County Board members. Here's the email I just sent, feel free to lift some of the language for your own email:
If Arlington County hopes to cut its carbon emissions 80% by 2050, the amount scientists say is needed to curb the worst impacts of global warming, we must tackle the two biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions -- energy and transportation. While the Fresh AIRE program is boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy usage, we must do whatever we can to promote fuel efficient vehicles.

On September 8th, the County Board has a rare opportunity to cut emissions and improve our air quality by approving as many hybrid taxis as possible. While enviroCAB has taken the lead on requesting hybrid taxi permits, the company is less important than the fuel efficiency. A typical cab vehicle like the Ford Crown Victoria gets just 14 miles per gallon, while a Ford Escape taxi gets 36 miles per gallon.

Long term, I hope the County Board follows New York City's lead and sets a goal of converting its entire taxi fleet to hybrids. While hybrid vehicles are initially more expensive, New York City officials say the increase in fuel efficiency could save taxi operators more than $10,000 per year. Why can't Arlington do the same?
Every email helps! Send yours to now to

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Connecting the Dots on Dominion's Transmission Line Proposal

Have you been following the debate over Dominion Virginia Power's plan to build a 268-mile, $1.4 billion high-voltage transmission line through Virginia? It seems like there are very few people not employed by Dominion who think it's a good idea. At least, that's the impression that I got from this article.

You can't blame Dominion. In Virginia, Dominion's profits are based on how much energy it sells, so of course it wants more transmission lines to sell the most power produced at the lowest cost to Dominion (meaning coal). Some states are moving away from this model, rewarding utilities not based on how much power they sell but on how efficiently they meet the needs of customers. It's a concept known as decoupling.

I don't support the transmission line for several reasons. One is economic -- Dominion plans to pass all of the $1.4 billion cost to us. But more importantly, if we're going to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, we're not only going to need to cut our total power usage through energy efficiency, we need to look at ways to turn each building into a power generator through solar panels and individual wind power stations.

I'm less convinced by arguments that the transmission line will ruin views. If I'm going to make the case that wind farms are worth altering certain views, it would be hypocritical of me to turn around and accuse Dominion of view vandalism. And then there's the Daily Show's recent evisceration of Cape Wind opponents.

So what can you do about it? Got this alert from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Education Fund:

Dominion Power is asking Legislators to Support Another Environmentally Destructive Plan
Take Action! Tell Your Legislators: Don’t Endorse Dominion’s Plan

Dear Concerned Citizen,

Dominion Power is asking Legislators to Support Another Environmentally Destructive Plan
We have learned that Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Energy are actively soliciting support for a massive 500-kV transmission line that would cut through private land, park land, historic sites, historic districts, civil war battlefields, magnificent viewsheds and a high concentration of conservation easements. Dominion and Allegheny are asking Delegates, Senators and private citizens from all over the state to send letters to the State Corporation Commission in support of this ill-conceived proposal.

Tell Your Legislators: Don't Endorse Dominion's Plan
Ask your Legislators to respect the State Corporation Commission (SCC) process. This transmission line proposal is highly controversial and subject to an SCC proceeding (case # PUE-2007-00031) to determine whether or not it is necessary. So far, only Dominion and Allegheny's experts have been heard and evidentiary hearings do not begin until January of 2008. Please write your Legislator today and ask them not to take a position of support on the Dominion/Allegheny transmission line until both sides of the story have been heard.

There Are Better Ways to Guarantee Secure and Reliable Power
The environmental community has been unified in its opposition to this transmission line. Alternative solutions would better provide for the reliability and security of electricity supply without harming the residents, natural resources, history and scenic beauty of Virginia. For example, a recent study by Summit Blue Consulting stated that using pre-existing technologies and demand response methods, Virginia could easily reduce peak demand by 17% within the next ten years. Energy conservation and efficiency should be treated as the first resource to meet Virginia's energy needs and are a key component in reducing mercury, CO2 and other harmful emissions.

To find out more about the transmission line fight, visit
our website.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crabdawgs, And Other Things The Green Miles Enjoyed This Weekend

A few notes from the weekend ...

* If it's below 80 degrees, it's too cool to go tubing. Had a great time at Butts Tubes on the Potomac Sunday, but by the time we got to the pickup spot, I was ready to dry off and warm up.

Of course, The Green Miles couldn't leave the river without doing a mini-cleanup of items that floated past in the water. I grabbed a few floating empty cans, which went in the recycling bin, a few full Capri Suns, which went in the trash, and even a few unopened beers that had escaped their coolers, which will get washed and put in my fridge. I always laugh when people grimace about me drinking a beer I fished out of the river. Floating in the questionable water for 3 hours is OK, but drinking an airtight container that had been floating in that water is gross?

* Ordered a new tshirt. Yes, I'm a treehugging dork. But you knew that by now.

* Spent Friday night manning the ACE booth at the County Fair:

- Just heard of a company called EcoCoach that offers "ideas and tools for you, your organization, and your place of leisure to become more environmentally friendly, healthy, and aware." Check out their website here.

- There's a "Sierra Club and Beer Night" at Carpool in Ballston on Tuesday September 18th from 7-9pm. The event isn't listed on the Sierra Club website, so call 202-237-0754 if you want more details.

- Got interviewed by Jennifer Cipparuolo of the Arlington Video Network on Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Green Living Challenge. As soon as I find out when it'll air, I'll let you know.

- Crabdawgs = wicked awesome. Combines the tastiness of a crab cake with the crispiness of an egg roll. They're available to order online. According to their calendar, this was the company's last planned visit to Virginia this year, but you can catch them at the Prince George's County Fair Sept. 6-9.

* Watching The Green Mile on FX right now. Obviously one of my favorites. Loved the Stephen King serials, and the film version is one of the few movies that's at least as good as the book. Hard to make a bad movie with Tom Hanks, but it also features some of the best understated actors around -- David Morse, James Cromwell, Bonnie Hunt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Genuine or Greenwashing: The Arlington County Fair

For this installment of Genuine or Greenwashing, we'll take a look at the Arlington County Fair, going on through Sunday at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center. Growing up in Boston I didn't get to many fairs, so I still get a kick out of rides and pig races and such. And I'm shocked at how many people have not yet discovered the culinary delight that is fried Oreos.

But my favorite part of the fair is definitely the booths inside TJ. Row after row of government agencies and community groups with information about programs you didn't even know existed. If you're new to Arlington or just want to learn more about what's going on in your neighborhood, it's a must-see. The Green Miles will be working the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment booth on Friday night, so if you're at the fair, stop by and say hello!

On to the question at hand: Is the County Fair genuine or greenwashing? The county's press release hits one of my pet peeves right away, starting off by declaring, "The Arlington County Fair is going 'green'." As I said recently in relation to the new Harry Potter book, giving away compact fluorescent light bulbs does not make you The Lorax. And it was a bit annoying to see them hyping giveaway items as being made from recycled materials. That's a step forward and the reusable bags are great, but as I said about Live Earth, recycled worthless junk is still worthless junk.

But Arlington County should get its due for the many environmental features it's incorporating into the fair, far more than you'll see at most fairs nationwide:

- A game to give away (among other things) bicycles, energy saving devices, and a Toyota Prius.
- Giving away reusable AIRE tote bags made from recycled cotton and plastic bottles.
- Free valet parking for bikes will be available, thanks to a partnership with the Washington Area Bicyclists Association.
- Mobile Commuter Store will be at the County Fair this year with information about Metro, buses, carpools, and many transportation alternatives.
- Arlington Transit (ART) is displaying one of its new buses, fueled by CNG.
- Recycling for cans and bottles available; recycling information and tips will also be available.
- Every department will showcase how it is supporting the Fresh AIRE campaign.
- Fresh AIRE team will be demonstrating and giving away compact fluorescent light bulbs.
- Demonstration of the fire hazards -- and high energy consumption -- of halogen lamps.
I'd love to see more, though. Rather than just recycling bottles and cans, why not use Greenware and have bins for composting? Why not make a renewable energy purchase equal to the Fair's energy usage? And I won't even get into the generators that power the carnival

The bottom line? The effort to make the Arlington County Fair green is genuine, but there's more
that could be done at future fairs.

In the meantime, get out and enjoy it! The weather should be near-perfect. TJ is at 3501 S. Second St. with shuttles running from Ballston Metro. The fair is only about a 30 minute walk from Ballston area, but considering it's going to be in the high 80s/low 90s this week, the shuttle may be a better option. And an incentive to ride your bicycle -- there will also be valet bike parking.

The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

OK, let's get some things out of the way first. I am not a scientist and I suck at math. I'm more with the hugging the trees and the writing the funny stories. I'm going to do the best I can here and if I screwed anything up, tell me and I'll fix it. If you do not agree with this disclaimer, please click here to be taken to a picture of a puppy sitting on a kitten.

So right now, I'm paying about $0.0596 per kilowatt hour (slightly more in summer, slightly less in winter) for Dominion's standard mix of dirty coal and nuclear power. According to Pepco's, here are my options:

Green Mix (hydro, solar, wind & biomass) -- $0.1018/kwh
Wind Only -- $0.1098/kwh
I decided to go with the Green Mix (my term) because it's a little cheaper and I'm not picky about whether it's zero-carb(on) or just almost-zero-carb.

How much will it cost me? In the past year, my roommate and I used 3,550 kilowatt hours of electricity. (Because my roommate and I live in a small apartment, aren't home very often, and only run the heat/air conditioning when we need it, we use relatively little power.) It's cost us $211 in direct payments for electricity supply service, and a little less than that for distribution service (about $10-40 per month for ESS plus $10-20 per month for DS).

Assuming our power usage stays the same, the Green Mix will increase our direct payments for ESS to $361 (closer to $15-60 per month) and our DS costs will go up as well ($15-30 per month). However, I've recently cut our power usage by 10% through power strips and compact fluorescent light bulbs, so the hit won't be that bad.

How much will it help the environment? Here's where the impacts get really remarkable. According to one carbon footprint calculator, here's how just switching my electricity source will alter my carbon footprint:

Total with mostly coal power: 6.3 tons of carbon dioxide emitted
Total with renewable energy: 4.75 tons of CO2 emitted

Just switching my electricity to renewable energy will keep over 3,000 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. Add in my roommate's half of the bill, and it's up to 6,000 pounds of CO2, or three tons. It's about the same impact as cutting my driving 5,000 miles a year. Considering I started this whole process because I'm now driving more, it's nice to see a strong correlation there. (Speaking of driving, for a fun game go to the carbon calculator and see how much your carbon emissions go up if you switch your car to a 2006 Lincoln Navigator.)

The bottom line? Yes, it'll cost more. But for me, it's a far more convenient way to slash my carbon footprint than selling my car. I already work out of our DC office one day a week and carpool one or two days a week, but taking public transportation from Ballston to Reston the remaining days would be a major pain -- it takes at least twice as long as driving.

But what's most critical is that the benefits I'm buying aren't theoretical or hippie mumbo-jumbo. Switching your power to renewable energy has a clear cause-and-effect impact -- less coal is burned resulting in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As the Washington Post details today, if you rely on carbon offsets, the results are much less clear:

A closer look reveals an unregulated market in which some improvements bought by customers are only estimated, extrapolated, hoped-for or nil. Some offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others deliver results difficult to measure.

Switching to renewable energy, on the other hand, will get a huge bang for my buck -- even more than if I'd switched my car to a new Toyota Prius (that would cut 1.3 tons of CO2 off my annual carbon footprint and cost a lot more than a couple of hundred dollars).

Check it out for yourself at Pepco's website.

Monday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins
Tuesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks
Wednesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money
Thursday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money

As I detailed earlier this week, Dominion Virginia Power won't sell me renewable energy directly and their system for buying it through a third party is really convoluted.

The nice Dominion lady I talked to recommended going straight to the Virginia Energy Choice website to check out my energy options directly. I clicked through a couple of the power providers and it seemed like Pepco was my best bet. I say "best" meaning "willing to charge me twice as much as I pay now but at least they'll sell me renewable energy at all."

However, I was reluctant to start forking over twice as much for power considering what little detail the Pepco website offered. Would they bill me directly through Dominion? Would the twice-as-much be on top of what Dominion charged me, or would that replace what Dominion charged me? The website offered few answers.

I tried calling Pepco. But as I'm sure you've experienced with what passes for customer service these days, I was shunted off to various automated answer lines. Finally I got an operator and said, "I'm a residential customer in Virginia who wants to buy renewable energy through Pepco." Surely such a direct plea to give them my money would result in action!

So she transferred me to voicemail. In fact, I left two voicemails that day saying I wanted to buy renewable energy from Pepco, but didn't hear back. Finally I told the operator of my plight and she said, "Oh, the person who handles that is off today."

Renewable energy in Virginia is such a priority for power companies, there's a total of one person assigned to it. And you wonder why I keep calling for the federal government to set a
strong national renewable energy standard.

The next week I traded voicemails with a customer service agent. And the week after that. It took me about a month to finally connect. She confirmed that Pepco would bill me directly through Dominion, meaning I would still only get one power bill. This is how the third party system works:

- I tell Pepco I want to buy renewable energy
- Dominion tells Pepco how much energy I've used in a given month, and buys that much renewable power from Pepco
- Dominion bills me for what Pepco charged them
According to Pepco's, here are my options:

Green mix (hydro, solar, wind and biomass) -- $0.1018/kilowatt hour
Wind only -- $0.1098/kilowatt hour

So how would switching to those options impact my power bill? Tomorrow we will, in the words of the immortal MC Hammer ... break it down.

Monday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins
Tuesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks
Wednesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money
Thursday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks

As I wrote yesterday, I recently decided to make another run at buying green power since my electricity, like most of America, comes primarily from the burning of coal. Not clean coal -- old-fashioned dirty coal.

I looked around Dominion's website, but could only find the same form I'd filled out last year that failed to deliver any results.

I called Dominion's customer service line and talked to a very nice woman who said Dominion does not offer any renewable energy for sale to its customers. However, through the Virginia Renewable Energy Program, Dominion customers can buy green energy from a third party and have that power delivered to Dominion's grid.

She told me to fill out the same form I'd filled out last year and that suppliers would get back to me. Having had no luck with that, I pressed her for another solution. She pointed me to the Virginia Energy Choice website, where I could contact the suppliers directly.

I thanked the woman for her help, and she asked if I had any other questions. I said, "Well, to be honest, I'm wondering why Dominion makes it so hard to get renewable energy."

"I wish I knew that myself!" she laughed. "There's a lot of websites to go to," she added, then paused trying to measure her words carefully. "And a lot of ... this and that. Just trying to get anything done, there are so many processes you have to go through!"

So there you have it. Even Dominion's workers can't defend the complicated process Dominion has set up to keep you from buying renewable energy.

Ultimately, I decided to try going through Pepco's site. Would their process make it any easier for me to buy green power? (Would I need a four-part post if it did?)

Monday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins
Tuesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks
Wednesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money
Thursday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins

I've already used a Remo Williams reference to begin a recurring segment:

For those of you who enjoy bad movies, the title of this blog refers to the disastrous Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, which killed several careers and left Joel Grey seriously wounded. My favorite part was Remo spending the entire movie strengthening his fingers so he could spend two seconds breaking this dude's gas mask. You also have to love that they were so confident the movie would spawn sequels they titled it The Adventure Begins. And if all that doesn't get you, there's the twirling.
But since that "The Adventure Begins" thing never fails to crack me up, I may make using that to open a recurring segment a recurring segment in itself. Now that that's settled, let's move on.

I've been tinkering around with the idea of switching my apartment over to green power for about a year now. I'm reminded of it every time I visit my dad in Quincy, MA, who has a great view of this beautiful wind power station outside Boston.

The problem is, Dominion Virginia Power doesn't make it easy.

Dominion actually does not offer renewable energy in Virginia. You have to use their energy choice program to buy from an outside vendor, who will then deliver your monthly power usage worth of green power to Dominion's grid.

Last year I tried to start the process by filling out the Renewable Energy Contact Form. That form will send email notices to all suppliers of green power in Virginia, letting them know you're interested in purchasing from them.

So what response did I get last year? Nothing. Unless you count the one away message I got saying that one company's representative was away through the 4th of July.

I gave up on buying renewable energy at that point. But after recently deciding I shouldn't sell my car, I wanted to do something more to reduce my carbon footprint (calculate yours here).

I decided to give it another shot, and it was even more frustrating than my last experience with Dominion on green power. But this time, I wasn't taking no for an answer.

Monday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins
Tuesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks
Wednesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money
Thursday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

Friday, August 10, 2007

Guerrilla Green: These Come From Trees

A while back in my post about guerrilla green tactics, I mentioned The site promotes small stickers to be placed on paper towel dispensers reminding people that the paper towels come from trees, so people should only take what they need.

The people who run the site saw my post and sent me a bunch of the stickers, and The Green Miles went to town:

Airport in Sarasota, FL

Washington Nationals game at RFK Stadium

Bar in Arlington, VA

My favorite moment of the experiment so far came at DC's Shakespeare Theatre. Before the show, The Green Girlfriend came out of the restroom and excitedly said, "There's a 'These Come From Trees' sticker in there!" It felt like we were part of the League of Shadows or something and one of our members had already left our mark.

As I mentioned a while back, there's not a whole lot of difference between using a paper towels and an air dryer, but there's no need to waste either. This is a very cool, very subtle reminder for people to think about how the little things that they do can impact the environment.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Is the Tide Turning Against Bottled Water?

Americans have long been sold on the idea that bottled water is healthier than tap water. I remember back in the mid-'80s there was a scare about lead water in Boston's drinking water, and despite the fact that you'd have to drink something like 10 gallons of tap water a day to have gotten lead poisoning from it, The Green Mom sent The Green Miles to the doctor for a blood test (I was fine).

But isolated incidents aside, our tap water is just as healthy for us as bottled water. In fact, more and more bottled water companies are admitting their bottled water is tap water:

PepsiCo Inc. is the latest company to offer some clarity about the source of its top-selling bottled water as it announced on Friday it would change the label on Aquafina water bottles to spell out that the drink comes from the same source as tap water.

Last month alone, a barrage of news hit the industry: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city-funded purchases of bottled water; New York City launched an ad campaign called “Get Your Fill” to promote the benefits of tap water; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution to bring attention to the importance of public water systems and the negative impact of bottled water.
Even the Arlington County Board is getting into the act:

County Board members have a new environmental mission: Limiting the use of disposable, plastic water bottles.

Board member Jay Fisette is spearheading the effort, and has the support of his colleagues.

“Whenever possible, we're going to be drinking tap water,” County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson said.
Why the sudden swing against bottled water? Because while tap water and bottled water are a wash (no pun intended) when it comes to our health, bottled water is vastly worse for our environment.

Think about it -- there's environmental damage at every step of the way:

- The bottles themselves are made out of plastic -- a petroleum product
- The bottles are then placed on ships or trucks and hauled thousands of miles to your local store, burning gasoline all along the way
- Once the water is consumed, 90% of the bottles end up in a landfill
You can read more about the environmental impact of bottled water here.

So what should you do? Drink bottled water as little as possible. It's not hard. At home, fill your glass from the tap or use a filtered pitcher. If you're heading to the coffee shop, bring a reusable mug. At work, drink from the fountain (if your office cooler has a big plastic jug on the top, it's bottled water -- ask your boss to switch to a filtered cooler). If you're heading to a softball game, fill a reusable bottle.

You won't just be saving the environment, you'll be saving yourself money, too. Considering how much joy I get over saving 50 cents here and there at the grocery store, you can imagine how satisfying it is to save $4 on bottled water every time I go to a Nats game by bringing my own bottle and filling it up at the fountain.

And if you're out and about and you need to buy a bottle of water, that's fine. Just make sure the bottle gets recycled, even if you have to throw the flattened empty in your briefcase, backpack, or purse until you find a bin.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Newsweek Exposes Global Warming Denial Industry

Newsweek has a great cover story this week exposing how companies like ExxonMobil fund global warming deniers:

Sen. Barbara Boxer had been chair of the Senate's Environment Committee for less than a month when the verdict landed last February. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," concluded a report by 600 scientists from governments, academia, green groups and businesses in 40 countries. Worse, there was now at least a 90 percent likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves, way up from earlier studies. Those who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change have spent decades disputing that. But Boxer figured that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered." As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. "I realized," says Boxer, "there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."


The response to the international climate panel's latest report, in February, showed that greenhouse doubters have a lot of fight left in them. In addition to offering $10,000 to scientists willing to attack the report, which so angered Boxer, they are emphasizing a new theme. Even if the world is warming now, and even if that warming is due in part to the greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, there's nothing to worry about. As Lindzen wrote in a guest editorial in NEWSWEEK International in April, "There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe."


This summer, Texas was hit by exactly the kind of downpours and flooding expected in a greenhouse world, and Las Vegas and other cities broiled in record triple-digit temperatures. Just last week the most accurate study to date concluded that the length of heat waves in Europe has doubled, and their frequency nearly tripled, in the past century. The frequency of Atlantic hurricanes has already doubled in the last century. Snowpack whose water is crucial to both cities and farms is diminishing. It's enough to make you wish that climate change were a hoax, rather than the reality it is.

My only question is, if the global warming denial business has been booming for 20 years now, why has it taken Newsweek (and the rest of the mainstream media) this long to expose it?

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Green Miles Meets The Green Monster

I'm back from a few days up in Massachusetts. I was hoping to post from my laptop while I was up there, but Somerset and Fairhaven are not exactly hotbeds of WiFi.

I got to go to my first Red Sox game in eight years (tickets are expensive and hard to get). Recently in Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff wrote, "The greenest ballpark in the country may be Fenway Park, because only an idiot would try driving and parking there."

We did take the T to the park, but unfortunately, there didn't seem to be a lot of environmental features included in Fenway's recent renovations. We sat on top of the Green Monster and had a great time, but at the beer stands, the vendors opened cans of beer, poured them into plastic cups, then threw away the aluminum cans. How wasteful is that? No recycling bins to be found elsewhere in the park, either.

But how much can I complain? It was a beautiful day, Manny gave me the double-point, and the Sox gave Tim Wakefield his 150th win. Here's the view from my cell phone camera:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Attention Cheapskate Treehuggers: Save on Gas, Give a Free Gift

I was listening to NPR yesterday as they talked about how some cities aren't waiting for the federal government to finally act on carbon emissions. They're trying to meet the Kyoto protocols themselves:
But it won't be easy. Boulder and other cities face a problem with tailpipe emissions. After electricity generation, the second-biggest source of greenhouse gases is vehicles. Even in Boulder, where you can bike or take a bus anywhere, Cohen sighs, "People like their cars."
I heard this story as I was driving in my car. Awkward. At least I was ride-sharing and carrying back a full carload of stuff from Target, so it was a worthy use of a car trip.

But a new program from Arlington County's Fresh AIRE may be just the thing to get you to change at least one of your unnecessary trips:
Looking for a special gift to mark a birthday, anniversary, wedding, or graduation…or just because? How about a gift that honors a person or milestone and helps our environment at the same time?

As part of Arlington’s Fresh AIRE Initiative, Arlington County has designated 1200 “giving trees” for planting this year. Trees will be planted by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Resources in various locations in the County. There is no charge to “gift” a tree, but you must be an Arlington County resident to participate.

Trees will be planted by County staff on public land. The recipient will receive a handsome electronic certificate praising your environmental effort and announcing your gift. Although we will not be able to identify the exact tree you are giving, the County Parks department has committed to planting one tree for every certificate sent.

All you have to do to be eligible to gift a tree is commit to reduce emissions by NOT driving!

Here’s how to gift a tree to someone:

1. Choose whom you would like to honor by having a tree planted
2. Commit to reduce your own emissions by not driving somewhere
3. Tell us the specifics of your commitment so we can calculate the savings.
4. Bask in gratitude from your recipient when they receive their electronic Gift a Tree certificate from you!

To gift a tree, go here!