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Monday, April 19, 2010

Green Notes: Amerts, Army, Urban Agriculture!

As we enjoy what feels like one of the nicest, calmest springs (oh, to run track again in an April like this!), here are some notes on good green news:

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Amert Construction of Madison is doing some good green work in Sioux Falls. They donated some time and effort to pour the slab for the straw bale shed that will be built as part of the Plain Green Conference next week. (The City of Madison still hasn't gotten back to Amerts on their plan to build wind turbines to greet folks coming to Madison on Highway 34. The city's answer should be heck yeah! But the city is discussing its new wind ordinances tonight... which include a proposed prohibition on small wind producers selling their clean electricity to anyone and cutting into the city's monopoly. Hey, what kind of communism is that?)

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Operation Free veterans aren't the only military folks gung ho about green. The United States Armed Forces are recognizing the connection between resource conservation and national security. The Army has cut water use at permanent bases worldwide by 31% since 2004 and energy use per square foot by 10%. They've spent $100 million on spray foam insulation to reduce losses from air conditioning on tents in Iraq and Afghanistan (wait a minute: air conditioning... in tents?). That insulation investment pays for itself in 90 days. The Pentagon is spending $2.7 billion this year on energy efficiency. And before you shout solar panels are for sissies, not Marines, consider: using less fuel means fewer trips for military fuel trucks, which means fewer targets for insurgents and roadside bombs... which means more soldiers making it home with two good legs on which to run to their kids. (Go ahead, Bob: tell me the whole United States military is a bunch of gullible socialist dupes. Better yet, tell the soldiers you know.)

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This editorial notes how a push for urban agriculture could solve a wealth of environmental woes. Consider that 40% of the energy used in agriculture goes to making fertilizers and pesticides. Sure, those chemicals help you get larger yields, but at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Urban organic farmer K. Rashid Nuri notes with pride the growing number of city folks getting away from that addiction to chemicals and quantity by "growing crops on vacant lots, in abandoned fields, in greenhouses, on balconies, by schools, in prison yards, in nursing homes and in countless other creative and engaging places." He notes numerous benefits to urban agriculture: "economic savings, environmental improvement, lifestyle enhancement, increased exercise and family and community bonding." City folks growing rooftop rutabagas may not look quite like Jefferson's yeoman farmer, but when 4 out of 5 Americans live in town, urban farming is a practical way to, as Nuri urges us, "reclaim our agricultural heritage."


  1. It's worth noting that no written policy is worse than a restrictive policy. Without a formal, written policy for wind power generation facilities, it's nearly impossible to move forward. You never know what limitations might be placed on such a project in the middle of construction.

  2. Tony, that's an interesting way of saying that regulation can be better than no regulation. And I agree: you need to know the rules before yous start playing the game.

    But I am a little bugged by the no-resale rule. People can make and sell their own food; why not their own energy? Suppose Amerts wanted to start a little self-sufficient subdivision plugged into their windmills, with residents buying electricity straight from the wind turbines. What's wrong with that?

  3. Well, to be straight forward, the problem is that most people don't understand how the electric power grid functions. Plugging new power generation sources into the grid is not trivial, regardless of source (coal/wind/hydro/etc.).

    I'm not going to go into the details, but a power plant improperly connected to the grid can actually look like a horrible load rather than a generator. Correctly adding power sources to the grid generally requires special equipment and interlinks which must be properly setup by a grid engineer.

    Now, if you mean off the grid completely, that would be more feasible until someone has to figure out 20 years from now how to reconnect that little camp back to the grid. Projects like that are incredibly expensive and best avoided if possible.

    To summarize, the problem is cost and compatibility. If you rig up something with a renewable power source now that is off the grid, it may work, but in the long term is going to be problematic.

    I personally find some appeal to the idea of living entirely off the power grid. That is until I realize that if a substantial portion of the population did this the cost to maintain the infrastructure would be astronomical.


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