Friday, December 30, 2011

Google PowerMeter: The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed

Wanted to share this article on Google's PowerMeter from

Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter?

Google’s philanthropic branch launched Google PowerMeter in February 2009. Its goal was to put the power of seeing electricity usage into the hands of the consumer. The idea was born of a study that showed that those that had access to daily energy data reduced usage by 10 percent. A powerful concept that information delivered could have such a great effect.

I was lucky enough to live in SDG&E territory and smart meters have been installed. I received a postcard from SDG&E inviting me and 100,000 of my fellow San Diegans to join Google PowerMeter. I also receive emails from the CCSE ( so I was in the loop. I installed the software and awaited the launch.

The data was excellent. It would show always on usage so you could see your baseline make changes and see immediate effect which in turn is immediate satisfaction in my estimation. You could look at hourly charts, daily charts, weekly charts, yearly charts. The ability to set goals was also part of the system and you could see when you met these goals with a star designation on that day of your data. I had it on my Google home page and it was up every time I booted up my system as I have Google as my homepage.

All this data for the price of nothing, zilch, nada, neinte, ingting.  The price was certainly right. The product performed well. It was available to a large city whose utility promoted the service. With all this going for it why did it fail?

 On September 16th 2011 Google pulled the plug on PowerMeter.
A criticism I had right away was that it did not include gas to which is also billed from the same utility with smart meters also installed.  How hard would it be to track both and make the tool twice as powerful?

With PowerMeter shuttering its door there are many theories.
  • Not available on a Universal scale.
  • The 24 hour lag time and no access to real time data.
  • The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed and buried it into obscurity
  • Pressure from Wall Street to stop “wasting money” on unpopular projects
  • Lack of access by third party developers
  • Lack of commitment by Google
While I can agree with the first point that it was not available on a large scale out the gate I am not sure that is reason enough for its failure. The immediate data is a good point but does that cause you not to even use it? That the utilities buried it into obscurity sound a bit conspiracy theory like and  does not make sense. SDG&E has a watered down version available on the web immediately after Google shuttering its door. It is called Energy Charts and is not as sexy as PowerMeter but is quite good and the data is there. If they are attempting to hide it then why spend money to keep a version of it.  I seriously doubt that Wall Street dictates anything to Google. When Wall Street has that power I would suggest you dump your shares if you are holding it. Third party developers felt left out but there is a privacy issue as well. If Google couldn’t give it away where was the market for the third party developers? Google has increased its investment in green technology to over 700 million so far in 2011. That shows a pretty strong commitment to me.

So why did it fail then?

I think the answer is quite simple really. Energy Costs are not painful enough for most to show interest. It is a strange commodity in the sense that every customer is more willing to accept the bill as the part of the cost of living. And we all have to live. While families will often cut back to save for whatever reason the power bill is often overlooked and or the last place they look to save. It seems only the folks who are already interested in saving electricity costs are the ones that signed up to use PowerMeter. According to Wiki, about six percent of SDG&E customers signed up for PowerMeter or a total of 11,000 homes.

I would contend that with a two year run and a six percent penetration the market is clearly apathetic. That apathy, more than anything else is the reason I believe is responsible for the failure of PowerMeter.

Is it all doom and gloom for the energy efficiency market?

Hardly, I will take the half full glass please.  94 percent of the market is out there waiting for the news. It is easy to save on power consumption with the right information. The costs are low and the paybacks fast. Real energy savings work every day and night of the week rain or shine. The house as a system approach leads to a healthier more energy efficient environment where we spend a great deal of time, our home. The market is there undeveloped.

Google PowerMeter Graph

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solar Shaky as US Policy Fails and China Backs Futures

Although global demand for solar power is still growing — about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010 — bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of the solar energy industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the world into a new energy age.

Only a handful of manufacturers are now profitable in the face of too much capacity, which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed. Prices for solar panels started 2011 near $1.60 per watt, but a buildup of inventory forced manufacturers into a fire sale toward the end of the second quarter that has pushed prices to near $1 per watt now.
'The prices that we're seeing today are likely not covering manufacturing costs in many cases,' says Ralph Romero.
With at least seven solar-panel manufacturers filing for bankruptcy or insolvency in the last several months and six of the ten largest publicly traded companies making solar components reporting losses in the third quarter, public-market investors are punishing the solar sector, sending shares down nearly 57% this year.
Winners are expected to emerge eventually, the question is how much more carnage there will be before that happens. 'The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows which solar companies will be pushed out of business or be forced to merge,' writes industry analyst Rodolfo Avalos. ' Nobody knows how long it will take for the solar industry to improve even when the foretasted solar global demand for the next 5-10 years is quite promising.'"
German company Solar Millennium on Wednesday filed for insolvency, putting in doubt the future of its 2,250-megawatt pipeline of power plants in the United States. The bankruptcy filing is the just the latest in a series of solar company failures. Besides the controversial collapse of Silicon Valley solar panel maker Solyndra, Stirling Energy Systems went belly up in September along with SpectraWatt and Evergreen. This week, BP pulled the plug on its four-decade-old solar division.

But all is not doom and gloom. Warren Buffett last week bought a $2 billion photovoltaic power plant in California being built by First Solar and on Monday Google and leveraged buyout giant KKR agreed to acquire four solar power plants under construction by Recurrent Energy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

America Beyond Capitalism: System Transformation is the Goal

New Models and New Vision bring CONFLICT.
What is our goal in American Democracy?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

That Which Once Was

Every day I wonder why people don't get it.

Watch That Which Once Was on PBS. See more from FutureStates.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Introducing 25e: The First Performance Based Tax Credit

Introducting 25E: The First Performance Based Tax Credit for Homes from Efficiency First on Vimeo

As the HomeSTAR legislation evolves into standards for software and quality assurance, we need to support the effort to keep scientific and predictive methods at the core of the building-performance work.

25e = a tax credit incentive for performance based energy efficiency improvements from 20%-50% ($2000-$5000) based upon on a software energy modeling of the improvements made, calibrated by past energy bills.

The work-scope is set and the home-owner and the contractor work together to complete the work. The process is monitored via a percentage of the jobs being audited by third party analysis, and photos before and after.

This program is standardized across all 50 states, and therefore needs no local approval from the state, county or municipal level. Both RESNET and BPI standards will qualify for this energy audit tax credit.

They project that 1,000,000 homes can be retrofitted in the USA between 2012-2016, with an average energy savings of 25% and cost of $2500 per home, costing the US Treasury about $2-Billion, while creating about 19,000 net jobs.

The incentives to create market penetration, combined with education, and codes and standards that lock in better practices to guarantee savings, taken together create jobs and new markets.

Whole Home Retrofits - are different than 25c tax credit which applies to single appliance or single item purchases (Windows or HVAC).

This kind of program increases efficiency which benefits the environment, gives the USA energy security, promotes individualist self-reliance.

National Resource Development Center - NRDC
GoldSTAR pathway of HomeSTAR - performance based incentive (tax credit)
Acronym Alert: Quality Control/Quality Assurance = QC/QA
The Alliance to Save Energy - conglomerate of organizations

For More information see Efficiency First - Americas Home Performance Workforce

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Home Weatherization Standards from NREL

Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades: a conversation with NREL’s Dr. Richard Knaub

by Jane Pulaski Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades
Known as standard work specifications, or SWS, the simple, written descriptions explain how to perform specific tasks safely, efficiently, and of the highest quality.  Standard work specifications, when correctly used by the workforce, help eliminate inefficiencies and waste, nurture continued improvement, and assure the consumer of a quality product or service.  And now, thanks to the work of NREL and DOE, guidelines for the energy efficiency workforce using SWS are almost ready for prime time.
Knaub, a Project Leader in Weatherization & Workforce Development, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been actively participating in the Weatherization training and standards development both at the state and national levels for the last several years.  NREL has been leading the development of the Guidelines (no small task).  In fact, according to Knaub, some 300 stakeholders have been involved in the process.  Technicians, trainers, home performance contractors, labor, healthy homes professionals, building scientists and other experts in the building trades and retrofit industry have been at the table for this project.
Because it’s such a big deal (and voluminous–620 pages), I wanted to know more—how this got started in the first place, and when we might see the final product.  Richard was kind enough to answer some questions about SMS for us. Here’s that conversation:

Sunday, November 27, 2011


When people talk about "Sustainability" they often have very different concepts in mind. This is what I mean by SUSTAINABLE Architecture. The Living Bridges of Megalaya, in India, span rivers in monsoon season and live 500 years. They take many lifetimes to complete, but easily outlast all other brides, in this land that some years gets 25m of rain.
Now that is sustainable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

MIT Entrepreneur moves business to China!

Listen to this report from PRI's Here and Now

About an foreign student and entrepreneur at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston Power founder, Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, who developed a new form of Lithium Ion Battery for automobiles that actually works, and decided to move her new 'gleaming' factory and jobs to China! She really is focused upon the money she wanted from the U.S. Department of Energy, then in the same breath claims she is saving the Earth. She will not personally move to China, but Christina is very excited to be at the table, and sell out for just $125-Million.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Amptran is developing an electric engine with capacity to travel 400 miles between charges using lithium air technology. The break-through could revolutionize the car industry --and eliminate U.S. dependence on OPEC Mideast oil
In an exclusive interview with ECM, Heartland Coalition executive director Mark Hanson unveiled plans to bring Amptran Motor Corporation to San Diego and to open a new Greensmart Technical College facility in Otay Mesa, where certified electric vehicle technicians will be trained for good-paying local jobs through Heartland’s Project Greensmart, starting in spring 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum

The Appraisal Institute recently released a three-page form called the Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum to collect information about energy efficient and green features, such as insulation values, efficiencies of heating and air equipment, high peformance windows, geothermal heat pumps, ENERGY STAR qualification or a HERS Rating, etc.  The form is meant to be used by appraisers, lenders, home energy raters and builders.  The Appraisal Institute is encouraging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to use the form and even request it from appraisers.  This form should be extremely helpful by somewhat formalizing the process, and also by educating all of the stakeholders.

more about how this affects the Home Performance industry

more about the real-estate Appraisal Institute

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shame on Weatherization Contractors

I always blame the Carbon-Energy Corporations and the Investor Owned Utilities for the failure of the American Energy Efficiency Industry, but apparently they are not the only ones to blame. There are a number of dirty government contractors who are so incompetent that they helped destroy their own business.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing energy from the grid | Video on

Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing energy from the grid | Video on
What would happen if we could generate power from our windowpanes? In this moving talk, entrepreneur Justin Hall-Tipping shows the materials that could make that possible, and how questioning our notion of 'normal' can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs.

If we can turn infrared wave-length photons into electrons, then we can reverse entropy locally. Carbon nano-tubes and a battery. Then clean water for free.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gulf Oil Spill: It can happen again

Call for a moratorium on deep water oil drilling, we can't control the damage.

Read the book "Black Tide" by Antonia Juhasz

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Public urged to testify at hearings in San Diego area Oct. 10-13

September 27, 2011 (San Diego)-- UCAN, the Utility Consumers' Action Network, announced on September 22 the results of a one-year probe into SDG&E's rate-setting activities.  “UCAN's intensive audit shows that in the last three years, SDG&E’s rates have skyrocketed, its profits have soared, and its executives have reaped enormous bonuses even as its customers have suffered through the worst recession since 1929,” a UCAN press release states.

For 2012, SDG&E is seeking a "general rate" increase of $168 million.  Residents can make their voices heard at eight public hearings that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be holding on the proposed rate hikes Oct. 10-13 in San Diego County, including two in East County, as ECM previously reported: . 

SDG&E claims its costs of doing business is higher and it needs more money from its customers.  UCAN's team of experts -- 11 of them, pored through SDG&E's books and found that SDG&E should be lowering rates, not raising them.  This means a rate reduction could be in the offing, the consumer watchdog group concluded.

UCAN was able to document $142 million in inflated costs.  UCAN's audit shows that SDG&E's rate increase should be pared back to $26 million. What’s more, the regulatory staff at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)  found an even larger potential for saving as much as $200 million in reductions.  Between UCAN's work and that of the CPUC staff, there's a good chance  for a rate reduction.

"This case comes down to a question of fairness." says UCAN's Executive Director, Michael Shames, "In the middle  of the worst recession in many of our lifetimes, SDG&E’s rate request is lavish, extravagant, and unnecessary."

UCAN says its experts have shown a tremendous amount of waste and deceit in SDG&E's request for more money. 

Similary, the regulators' own staff has found that SDG&E padded costs.  The CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) also recommended a rate decrease for SDG&E customers. DRA's 10-month audit found the magnitude of SDG&E's reuest for additional revenues to cover costs associated with its operations, maintenance and capital investments to be unwarrented. DRA forecasted lower levels of expenses than SDG&E in several categories.

In San Diego's East County, some ratepayers have also questioned why they should be forced to pay increased costs incurred by SDG&E for problems related to pilot error and mechanical failures (which resulted in dropped/damaged loads during Powerlink construction) or fires that SDG&E has admitted were caused by its lines. Disgruntled ratepayers have suggested that such costs should be paid by SDG&E stockholders instead.   

“We’ve done our work,” said Michael Shames, UCAN executive director. “The regulatory staff has done theirs.  Now it is time for SDG&E customers to express their opinion.  If you can afford a 5-7% rate increase locked in for the next four years, then you needn't do anything but sit on a couch and wave goodbye to your money. But if you feel that you simply can't afford higher gas and electric prices at the moment, you need to make these facts known at the upcoming public hearings.”

Here are just some of the disturbing facts uncovered by UCAN's experts. 

  • Deceptive Budgeting Gambits:   Two of UCAN's analysis teams found that SDG&E management slashed spending at the company during 2009 and 2010.  However, the increased net profits caused by the under spending was paid out in executive bonuses and inflating shareholder returns. Not a dime of it went to lower rates.  And now, SDG&E is asking for double-digit increases above the rate of inflation, including the same operations/expenses that its management cut in 2010. SDG&E  is demanding those increases across the organization, rather than in specific identified accounts to distract and confuse regulators from focusing on any one aspect of its operation.
  • Highest Electric Rates in the Nation: Since 2008, SDG&E’s system average rates have leapfrogged to the highest in the continental United States and the highest in California, b -- 15% -- higher than any other utility. Just five years ago SDG&E's rates were about the same as the other California utilities, but now, rates have increases by double-digits in the midst of a full-blown recession.  As of 2011, SDG&E's residential average rates are 18.4 cents per kWhr. 
  • SDG&E's customers are currently paying 13% more than SCE customers and almost 15% more than PG&E customers. Notably, at the last rate case in 2008, the residential rates for all three utilities were just about the same (15.6 for SDG&E, 15.0 for both SCE and PG&E).  
  • Bonus Happy Managers: In almost every single operational department, SDG&E's bonus-happy managers have found reasons to increase their annual budgets. The only department with a substantial decrease:  meter reading. That's only because there are no more meter readers due to the $578 million spent on installing smart meters. SDG&E then inflated costs in almost every operating account, after reducing costs the previous year, through use of a five-year average. 
  • Failure to Answer Questions SDG&E only offered cursory justifications for most increases, thus requiring an extensive and time-consuming discovery process for every account.  UCAN had to pose 72 sets of data requests containing over 5000 questions and, in many cases, never secured complete answers.  One glaring example was its failure to detail its over $6 million in public affairs expenses, despite the CPUC requiring SDG&E to provide “a more detailed justification for all public affairs and outreach expense to demonstrate genuine customer benefit that outweighs any incidental corporate image enhancement." 
  • Pork barrel Spending: SDG&E wants $83 million to “help” customers who buy electric cars and for burdens caused by customers who use solar to generate their own power. UCAN's experts have found that electric car customers do not need SDG&E's help and that solar panels help SDG&E's system, they don't cause additional costs to the system.
  • Unnecessary Undergrounding: SDG&E seeks $13 million to place power lines underground so as to make them less susceptible to fires. A number of the proposed undergrounding projects however are not located in fire-prone areas.
  • Unneeded Construction: SDG&E proposes to spending  $14 million to "fire proof" a transmission line to Mount Laguna.  Mount Laguna has 32 households suggesting SDG&E wants to “fire proof” that transmission line at a  cost of $437,500 per house.
  • Bad Solar Investments: SDG&E wants $6.9 million to place solar panel installations on its SDG&E properties.  But SDG&E's version of solar PV is so expensive that it will take 53 years to pay it back.
Hearings will be held at 2pm and 7pm at each of the four locations:

• San Diego: October 10, 2011 (Al Bahr Shriners Center, 5440 Kearny Mesa Road, San Diego 92111)
• Chula Vista: October 11, 2011 (Comfort Inn & Suites, 632 E. St., Chula Vista 91910)
• El Cajon: October 12, 2011 (El Cajon City Hall Council Chambers, 200 E. Main St, El Cajon 92020)
• Oceanside: October 13, 2011 (Civic Center Library, 330 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside 92054)

More information about UCAN's experts' findings can be found at:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Urban Farming Guys

Epic story of about 20 families that uprooted from suburbia and made their homes for good in one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the U.S. Lykins Neighborhood 64127 Inner City KCMO to invest thier lives into the youth and poor. We've seen it all, yet together as Lykins Neighborhood we believe there is hope. And the game is changing, Crime is dropping! 21% over the last 2 years and the adventure continues to unfold. Follow the story at Featuring Aquaponics, Neighborhood Transformation, Permaculture, Urban Farming and lots of fun taking back the neighborhood. Come join the conversation on Facebook : and the Blog at
... (more info)

Instant Aquaculture: Quick and Dirty (but where do the fish come from?)
Tags: Duckweed, Vortex Filter, Vermaculture, Amonia/Nitrogen Cycle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jermy Rifkin's new Book

From HuffingtonPost Green:

Rampant unemployment, rising food prices, a collapsed housing market, ballooning debt -- to Jeremy Rifkin, the American economist and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, these are not simply symptoms of a temporary economic malaise. Rather, they are signs that the current world order -- long infused with and defined by fossil fuels -- is collapsing around us.

In its place, decentralized systems of advanced, clean-energy production and digital power distribution are already starting to rise, Rifkin suggests, and they will reorder not just the way we turn on our lights, but how whole economies -- indeed, whole societies -- operate. Why? In a nutshell, Rifkin argues that as the ability to tap, generate and distribute power shifts from the exclusive province of governments and lease-holding corporations toward individual actors and communities armed increasingly with solar panels and wind turbines and smart grids, so too will bedrock relationships between producer and consumer, the government and the governed, be forever changed.

In such a world of democratized energy, cooperation trumps control, and the drive toward productivity is replaced by a quest for sustainability.

Rifkin's new book, the The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World.

What Obama is lacking is a narrative. We are left with a collection of pilot projects and siloed programs, none of which connects with the others to tell a compelling story of a new economic vision for the world. We’re strapped with a lot of dead-end initiatives, wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money with nothing to show for it. If President Obama clearly understood the underlying dynamics of the five-pillar infrastructure of the next great industrial revolution and how the parts connect, he might have been able to sell the American public on a comprehensive economic plan for the country’s future.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who’s Building the Do-It-Ourselves Economy?

From Truthout

Sunday 18 September 2011

by: Sarah van Gelder and Doug Pibel, YES! Magazine | News Analysis

Kelly Wiedemer, an information technology operations analyst who said she was told she would be a "hard sell" because she had been out of work for more than six months, at her mother's home in Westminster, Colo., July 18, 2011. A recent review of job postings on popular sites revealed hundreds that said employers would consider, or at least "strongly prefer," only people currently employed or just recently laid off. (Photo: Kevin Moloney / The New York Times)
Corbyn Hightower was doing everything right. She worked long hours selling natural skin care products, flying between cities to meet customers, staying in posh hotels. She pulled down a salary that provided her family of five with a comfortable home in a planned community, a Honda SUV, health insurance, and regular shopping trips for the best natural foods, clothes, shoes, and toys.
Then the recession hit.
Her commissions dried up, and the layoff soon followed. Life for Corbyn, her stay-at-home husband, and three children changed quickly.
First the family moved to a low-rent house down the street from a homeless shelter. They dropped cable TV, Wi-Fi, gym membership, and most of the shopping. Giving up health insurance was the most difficult step—it seemed to Corbyn that she was failing to provide for her young daughters. Giving up the car was nearly as difficult.
As our economy goes through tectonic shifts, this sort of adaptation is becoming the new normal. Security for our families will increasingly depend on rebuilding our local and regional economies and on our own adaptability and skills at working together. At the same time, we need government to work on behalf of struggling families and to make the investments that create jobs now and opportunities for coming generations. That will require popular movements of ordinary people, willing to push back against powerful moneyed interests.

Where Are the Jobs?

How did we get to an economy in which millions are struggling?
Officially, the “Great Recession” ended in the second quarter of 2009. For some people, the recovery is well under way. Corporate profits are at or above pre-recession levels, and the CEOs of the 200 biggest corporations averaged over $10 million in compensation in 2010—a 23 percent increase over 2009.
But for most Americans, there’s no recovery, and some are confronting homelessness and hunger. Twenty-five million are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work. Forty-five percent of unemployed people have been without a job for more than 27 weeks, the highest percentage since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 1948. There’s a growing army of “99ers,” people who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks and have exhausted all unemployment benefits.
Fifty-three percent of Americans say jobs and the economy are the most important issues facing the country; just 7 percent say the deficit is the most important. Yet budget cuts and austerity have replaced job creation in the national dialogue.
American workers have become expendable to many of the corporations that run the economy; NAFTA and other trade laws opened the floodgates of outsourcing to low-wage countries. Many of the jobs that can’t be outsourced are being eliminated, or hours, pay, and benefits are being cut.
As corporations amass greater power, wealth, and influence, they successfully lobby for tax breaks and federal subsidies and set the national policy agenda. As long as the giveaways continue, along with massive military spending, governments have to cut education, public services, and infrastructure investments—and the jobs that go with these public benefits.

Real Solutions

Leaders in both parties tell us growth is what’s needed, but the evidence suggests growth alone won’t help most Americans. GDP has grown steadily and is now back to pre-recession levels.
But since the official end of the recession, virtually all of the new income—92 percent as of the first quarter of 2011—has gone to corporate profits, according to a May report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. None of the increased GDP has gone to boost wages and salaries.
More importantly, since World War II, growth has been built on cheap energy—particularly petroleum—and low-cost dumping of the effluents of a wasteful global economy. Now the easy-to-pump oil is nearly used up, and the cost of extracting petroleum is rising. At the same time, we’ve used up the Earth’s capacity to absorb climate-changing gases and other forms of pollution. Changes in the delicate balance of atmospheric gases are already disrupting the climate, and extreme weather events are happening with increasing frequency. Growth has failed to yield prosperity, and the planet cannot bear more of it.
So how do we create an economy that provides dignified livelihoods to all who are willing to work, without undermining the natural systems we, and our children, rely on?
A real solution requires a vision that is both humble in terms of the material wealth we can expect and ambitious about the fairness, mutual support, and quality of life we can build.
Here is a three-part plan for building real prosperity in an age of limits:

1. Local Economies, Local Ecosystems

The corporate economy has failed to offer economic security to most Americans and has undermined the environment and the living standards of people around the world. Strong local and regional economies are the way to a sustainable and resilient recovery. Small businesses actually create more jobs and innovation than big corporations. And entrepreneurs with long-term stakes in their local environment and economy have both the means and the motivation to protect them. There are many simple ways individuals and communities can support the transition to local economies.
Buy local. By buying goods and services locally and regionally, we keep money circulating in the Main Street economy, where new jobs are most likely to be created. Shop at a big box store, and the money goes to corporate headquarters almost immediately. Buy local food and your money stays home. We can also generate energy locally. Farmers are earning extra income by installing windmills. In Cleveland, a university and the city government are contracting to buy the electricity generated by solar panels a worker-owned co-op installs on their buildings (see page 26). Investment in weatherization immediately creates local jobs while reducing energy payments that leave the community. State and local governments, too, can strengthen their economies, and ultimately their tax bases, by buying as locally as possible. Substitute local for “imported,” and you create local jobs built on the solid foundation of local demand.
Bank local, too. Capital is the life-blood of enterprise. When banks are located in the community, they come to know local businesses and what sorts of loans are likely to work. When banks hold the loans, rather than sell them, they have an incentive to make wise loans. Credit unions, community-rooted banks, and state banks (see page 46) invest in the local economy, instead of siphoning off our bank deposits to use for global speculation.
Start with strengths. Under the old economic development strategy, communities compete with each other for jobs by offering corporations ever greater tax breaks and concessions on health and safety regulations and union rights. This race-to-the-bottom strategy may yield occasional wins, but it’s a long-term loser. A more successful strategy is to build economies from the grassroots up, starting with existing assets. For some communities, their primary asset might be a vibrant local arts scene (see page 29). For others, it’s a natural resource, like forests or farmland. Or it might be a hospital, university, high-tech enterprise, or other “anchor institution” that isn’t going away (see page 26).
Start by finding ways to turn these assets into sustainable livelihoods. An unused building could provide a place for start-up farmers to try vertical farming, for example. Then look for ways to link these core enterprises to local customers, vendors, a skilled labor pool, and so on. 
Use wasted resources. Instead of demolishing and landfilling obsolete buildings, local entrepreneurs are creating jobs by disassembling them and selling components. Other common wastes: used clothes and books and repairable appliances. Unharvested fruit trees. Church kitchens that sit empty most of the week but could be health department certified for food processing start-ups. Methane from landfills, which could heat homes instead of the climate. Front yards that could be farmed. Each wasted resource could be transfomed into a job.
Do it cooperatively. Well-paid workers are a community asset, and even more so when they own their workplaces. Cooperative work arrangements are available not just to well-educated entrepreneurs. Home health care workers, house cleaners, grocery store clerks, and laundry workers have all become worker-owners of successful cooperatives. These workers tend to spend their paychecks, and with a steady family income they are more able to contribute to the well-being of their community. And, since they share in the profits of their enterprise, they develop a nest egg they can use for buying a home, educating their children, and helping relatives through difficult times.
Allow communities to control their resources. Community-controlled forests are more likely to be sustainably managed than corporate-controlled ones; sustainable agriculture is more labor-intensive but less polluting. Sustainable and fair practices create jobs that last while boosting local resilience.
Keep ownership human. When owners are workers, customers, or the community at large, an enterprise can operate in accordance with multiple values, such as human well-being, the good of future generations, and ecological health. Corporate owners are constrained by law to put profits first.

2. Redefining Middle-Class

Building the local and regional economy will create real prosperity and keep the benefits circulating among ordinary people. But we are approaching the end of an era of cheap energy and seemingly limitless growth. To live within our means, we’ll need to produce and consume less stuff. That may mean less paid work available, at least in some sectors of the economy, so it makes sense to share those jobs and work fewer hours.
Many Americans work too much and are starved for downtime. A shorter workweek could benefit them while opening new jobs for the unemployed. Productivity increases when workers aren’t overstretched. Profits now going to the wealthiest could be distributed to workers so they could afford to work fewer hours and have more time for the rest of life.
Working less also means we have more time to do things for ourselves.
After Corbyn Hightower lost her corporate position, her husband started working at a low-wage job. The family saves money by fixing things that break and making things themselves. Corbyn is refurbishing an old dollhouse with her preschoolers. They spend hours together on this creative project.
Community exchanges transform the Hightowers’ experience from a lonely and scary adventure into a way of life Corbyn has come to appreciate. She shares the harvest from her pear, apple, and orange trees with her neighbors and gives some fruit to a nearby homeless shelter. Her neighbors share with her their apricots, lemons, peaches, plums, blackberries, and cherries.
Learning new DIY skills and building relationships with friends and neighbors builds greater self-reliance and offers opportunities to develop multiple facets of ourselves.
And frequent exchanges among neighbors help reweave a community fabric that has been badly frayed by overstressed lives. Once you get the tools to repair your bicycle, you can fix other people’s bikes or teach them how. When you’re canning jam, it’s easy to make some extra for gifts and exchanges.
All this means we can live with less money, so we can afford to spend less time at a job, which also becomes less central as a source of identity. And these rich networks and practical skills enhance our resilience as we face an uncertain future.

3. A Movement to Rebuild the Dream

We are still a wealthy country. We could use our tax dollars to put Americans to work replacing obsolete energy, water, transportation, and waste systems with infrastructure that can serve us in the resource-constrained times ahead.
We could invest in universal health coverage, which offers people the security to risk launching new businesses and helps make shorter workweeks more feasible. We could fully fund education and job training.
We could save money by cutting the bloated military budget, oversized prison populations, and the drug war. And we’d have the money if everyone—including the wealthiest Americans and large corporations—paid taxes at the rates they paid during the Clinton administration.
To get these sorts of changes, we need the American government to work for all of us, not just for corporations.
Powerful moneyed interests won’t willingly give back the power that has allowed them to acquire most of America’s wealth. We need strong people’s movements to get government to work for ordinary Americans. That’s the way American workers won the 8-hour day, women secured the right to vote, and African Americans ended segregation.
Enlightened politicians may cooperate with these movements, but few will lead them. We the people—through unions, community associations, advocacy groups, and local political groups—will have to set our own agenda and insist that government respond. The Movement to Rebuild the American Dream (see page 48), which is bringing together groups ranging from to AFSCME, offers a promising path toward that end.

The Do-It-Ourselves Economy

Corbyn’s family has not had it easy since they slipped into poverty. They sold their SUV to cover rent and other necessities, and Corbyn blogs about the challenges of biking in the rain and in the blistering heat of the Sacramento area. But she also celebrates getting in shape, saving money, and the discoveries she and her children make when they travel at a slower pace.
Her 12-year-old tells Corbyn she loves her life. Who wouldn’t want chickens in the backyard, long bike rides with the family, and picking apples to take to the homeless shelter?
Corbyn has come to appreciate special moments: “Yesterday we feasted on the first truly awesome strawberries of this spring, red all the way through, without the slightly-too-tart tang of previous early-season pints. We tried to savor them, to make them last, to appreciate each strawberry for how it’s slightly different from the rest. The way the sparkling flavor and the seeds make it taste almost carbonated. ...
“I think we have to reinvent ‘poor.’ Most everyone in my life is enduring new poverty. … It’s an unfamiliar and scary leap. … And if it turns out that some of these changes feel good, well, then it’s a win-win. The Great Recession is a watershed time for my generation, possibly the era that will live on to define us.”
Many of us have stories like Corbyn’s from our family histories or maybe from right now—stories of hard work, stubborn resilience, and neighbors helping neighbors. Stories of people waking up each day doing what had to be done for the children.
Our descendants need those qualities from us—not acquiescence to powerful interests or passive acceptance of a no-longer-tenable status quo. Our descendants need us to be as radical and as tenacious as our ancestors were.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Combating Ignorance

From Truthout: On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it is tempting to want to linger on the part about ''being right,'' but it's more important to focus on why ''it didn't matter'' because we are still right, and it still doesn't matter. And It is going to get worse.

Others spoke out and organized, but offered no framework for understanding the invasions - liberal Democrats who prefer less brutal methods of empire maintenance or simply reject wars started by Republican presidents; isolationists, including some Republicans, who think that reducing military adventures will preserve US affluence; and folks who identify as pacifist and reject any war.

So, we are right, and we are a failed movement. As someone who has participated in these organizing and education efforts, I have been part of the failure. I know that I could have done more, taken more risks, pressed harder - but I don't know if that would have made a significant difference. I don't know whether there was a winning strategy leftists could have employed, or whether historical forces doomed our efforts from the start. Whatever the case, we failed, and it's sensible to try to learn from that failure.
Manipulated Ignorance: Knowing Incorrectly
Some of that ignorance is the result of the conscious efforts to divert and deceive people. The sophisticated techniques to shape public attitudes developed by the public relations and advertising industries are used effectively by corporations and politicians, with the independent news media - consciously or unconsciously - often serving an important transmission function. Much of this is designed to make sure people don't know things, to create or deepen ignorance.
This ignorance matters.
With each misperception, support for the war increases, and in a society where basic facts can be so slickly and easily repackaged by power - where black is white and up is down - then there is no possibility of meaningful debate in the mainstream political culture.
Willed Ignorance: Not Knowing

As distressing as this manipulated ignorance can be, it is the willed ignorance of so much of the population that is most troubling. This ignorance is willed, the product of people making a choice to not know so they don't have to face the moral and political implications of knowing.

There seem to be two routine ways to ensure this not knowing.

One is to avoid exposure to any in-depth information and analysis, even though one has the resources and time to find and evaluate the material - keep your head down and don't look at what's happening. We can call this a deliberate diversion from a disturbing world.

The other strategy, employed by those who are too curious simply to ignore the world around them, is to bemoan the lack of trustworthy news sources, or express confusion over the mutually exclusive accounts of the world that circulate, or note the maddening level of complexity in a globalized world - whatever the reason, there are so many impediments that to actually know anything is impossible. We can call this a feigned frustration with a complex world.
Implications of Ignorance
My experience tells me there are conservatives and liberals in each of these ignorance camps, manipulated and willed.

So, we were right, but in this political culture it doesn't matter. The anti-empire movement hasn't been defeated by a superior argument that does a better job of explaining the world, nor has it been suppressed through the large-scale violence and coercion that has destroyed movements in other times and places (though in the contemporary United States such violence is used selectively and is always available should things get out of hand). Instead, this critique has been rendered irrelevant by power interests that work to create ignorance, and a citizenry that hides in ignorance.

To be clear: I am not arguing that the problem is that ''people are stupid.'' Yes, people often are stupid. I am often stupid. I say and do stupid things on a regular basis, and so does everyone else - that's part of being human. But also part of being human in a democratic political system is accepting the benefits and burdens of participation, and participation requires that we strive to not be stupid about politics. Democracy works only if we care enough to know about the world.
Avoiding Arrogance
I also recognize that I could be wrong on basic aspects of that analysis, and that even if I'm right, I should constantly be looping back to question my assumptions, collect new data, listen to counterarguments, and recalibrate strategy based on this process. Life is a balance of asserting what we believe with confidence and remembering how wrong we can be. With that caution, I return to where I started:

The Living World
In addition to the crimes committed by the powerful against the powerless, we face even greater threats in the human assault on the living world.

We face multiple, cascading ecological crises - groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of ''dead zones'' in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity. And don't forget global warming/climate change/climate disruption/global weirding.
High-energy/high-technology societies pose a serious threat to the ability of the ecosphere to sustain human life as we know it. Grasping that reality is a challenge, and coping with the implications is an even greater challenge. We likely have a chance to stave off the most catastrophic consequences if we act dramatically and quickly. If we continue to drag our feet, it's ''game over.''
Whether people's ignorance about this is manipulated or willed - whether we deny climate change and pretend no change is necessary, or accept it but refuse to support those changes - the result is the same: game over. To date, the movements advocating these necessary changes have not been defeated by a superior argument nor suppressed through the large-scale violence and coercion. Instead, these movements have been marginalized by power interests that work to create ignorance, and a citizenry that hides in ignorance.

What can save us? My honest answer is, ''probably nothing.'' But that answer doesn't keep me from working in projects to promote social justice and ecological sustainability. I pursue that work without a guarantee of success, without illusions about my own ability to devise a winning strategy, without certainty that I know it all. But I'm pretty sure I'm right in my basic framework.

I'm also pretty sure that I can't argue people into accepting that framework, no matter how compelling a case I can present. The key to attracting more people to radical political positions is not to adopt the manipulative tactics of the powerful or to pretend we aren't facing such overwhelming challenges. Instead, I believe we have to think about how to create spaces for people to experience the solidarity that bolsters our courage to explore new ideas and to take risks to challenge power.
In Austin, Texas, people with varied interests in social justice and ecological sustainability have joined forces to create one such space in a community center with offices, meeting space, and gardens. The core organizers of ''5604 Manor'' ( share a radical politics, but a radical badge isn't required for entry. The work going on there is focused not only on immediate political objectives, but also on creating resilient communities that can face the challenges ahead. The project may fail, but even in failure we will advance radical politics in this one place.

Our task is to create as many of those places as we can. In those places, we are right and it will matter.
An edited version of this talk will be presented at the Third Coast Activist Resource Center 9/11 anniversary event at 5604 Manor in Austin, Texas, September 11, 2011.
Creative Commons License

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Warning: San Diego Blackout

Yesterday, 5-Million Electric Customers in San Diego, Orange & Riverside Counties, plus parts of Arizona and Mexico were suddenly plunged into darkness for 12 hours. Anyone else see a problem with Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) providing Centralized Electricity? If every building was upgraded and made efficient, then DISTRIBUTED RENEWABLE energy was rolled out in each neighborhood, we would never build another publicly funded carbon-power-plant, we would have no shortage of high paying jobs, and we would have no more black-outs.

If every building, starting with the oldest, were retrofitted for energy efficiency and then adapted with renewable energy generation to make it energy neutral, we could employ all the out of work construction contractors, and create a new, educated energy workforce.

We can change this economy, we can change the way we live, and the way we burn our resources to pay for it. When I travel the wealthy communities of San Diego I look to the roof-tops and see solar arrays, the wealthy know what is coming. Look at UCSD and the Private Universities around San Diego, they have used government incentives and private money to build out tons of renewable energy infrastructure, they know what is coming. Look at the homes of the Executive Board of SDG&E and SEMPRA Energy, their mansions all have Photovoltaic Solar Panels, they know what is coming.

The San Diego Blackout is a warning, telling us just how fragile our economy, nay our lives, actually are. Imagine if it had lasted 48 hours ... all your food would have spoiled. Imagine 72 hours, you wouldn't be able to charge your cell phone, or answer emails. Imagine 100 hours, you dog would have died due to heat exhaustion without air conditioning. Do you have kids? Imagine.

The wealthy among us are secure, they already have renewable energy, and batteries. Many of the rich have multiple homes, with back-up water supplies, and home gardens to provide food. I can't stress how the potential for unrest scares them. If last night's black-out had lasted a day or two, their would have been looting, riots, fires, and we don't have the police, the communications, the power to stop such social reactions. There are too many people living day-to-day, without jobs, without hope or a future. And this is the USA. What happens when the 3-Million People in Tia Juana realize that we have no power?

Because a single worker in Arizona tripped a switch, San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) shut down 2200-MegaWatts of capacity. We didn't even have traffic signals. What happens when we have the earthquake, the tidal wave, the fires, and the floods? Did you note that all the stores were closed yesterday? Did you have enough gas, food, water? When you have no power, you have no stores, no jobs, no communications. What happens when they call out the national guard and military to 'control' our population because we have no electricity?

We stand on the edge of a precipice, our leaders have failed to educate us to the dangers, and are afraid of the back-lash and panic if they do. The public is unwilling to make the difficult decisions, to pay the tax, to re-establish our economy, because they are used to cushy, wasteful practices and fear the hard work necessary to pay for our mistakes. The solutions we need are available, the technology exists to solve all our problems, if we are unified, if we work together and invest in our communities. Will that ever happen? Or, will we choose to continue to compete, to fight over the ruins of our former lives?

Did you listen to the radio yesterday, could you? Only one local station adapted to the power outage. AT&T and most of the Telecoms and Wireless communications stayed up, but they too need power. Did you have enough ice to keep your perishable food? Did you have batteries and flash-lights? How fun was it without air conditioning or TV? It was only 12 hours.

I want a Sustainable Future, now you know the danger, and you know what it is possible. Your choice, pay now or pay later.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Solar Bankruptcy

Bloomberg and HuffingtonPost both report that a major California Solar Company is filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

 "Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar energy firm, subsidized to the tune of $500 million and held as a 'gleaming example of green technology,' announced bankruptcy yesterday. 1,100 employees fired."
In May, 2010, President Obama visited Solyndra and told an audience of employees that the "incredible, cutting-edge solar panels" being manufactured there were "testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world."

Solyndra Inc., a maker of solar modules that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department, suspended operations and plans to file for bankruptcy, saying it couldn’t compete with larger rivals.

Solyndra produces cylindrical panels that convert sunlight into electricity using copper-indium-gallium-diselenide thin- film technology. Standard solar panels are flat. “Manufacturing and assembly costs associated with a Solyndra module aren’t particularly scalable,” Krop said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, reiterated that. Recent bankruptcies of U.S. solar companies are a warning and “we should be doing everything possible to ensure the United States does not cede the renewable energy market to China and other countries,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
SpectraWatt Inc., a solar company backed by units of Intel Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 19, and Evergreen Solar Inc. did so Aug. 15.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watching our Government Work

This video of our California State Assembly at work makes me wonder how we ever get anything done.
Andrew from CCSE testifies upon the current state of public incentives and problems with the industry.
Watch minute 38-60

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lawrence Lessig Keynote at Coffee Party Convention 2010

It has become apparent to me watching our local leaders and seeing the influence of the Utility Corporations, the Carbon-Energy Companies, the Building Industry, and Land Developers, that we are in an unsustainable economy, where the money has corrupted our systems of government against the common good.

Why are our kids dying from diabetes? Why are vegetables more expensive than hamburgers? Why do windmills require more research oversight than deep-water oil-rigs? How have the U.S. Banks privatized profit and socialized risk? How are these issues related, and what is the root of our problem?

Fair Elections Now and Fix Congress First have tired to change the system from the inside.

We all have individual issues, and we all have different individual goals, but despite our differences, it is our common enemy, the broken government system, that must unite us. Look back 100 years, and you see what progressives did to save us from the 'Fat-Cats' money. The 'people' have been replaced by those who fund our elections.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. - Abe Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
The people must wage a civil-war to save democracy. If you believe in democracy, you must pick a side, and join in battle. What we have now is unsustainable.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Energy Upgrade California

Energy Upgrade California is a program designed to help jump-start the home energy efficiency remodels in California. The program mirrors a Federally proposed program called HomeSTAR, which was supposed to provide energy efficiency ratings for single family homes similar to the way EnergySTAR ratings work for appliances.

As a certified Building Performance Institute Home Energy and Safety Auditor, Michael Russell is available to inspect your home and consult with homeowners about the Energy Upgrade programs.

If you would like to know more about what options you have for retrofits and upgrades, see the interactive online home tour. You can find San Diego Contractors who are certified to apply for Energy Upgrade funds on the website. Below is a video provided by Energy Upgrade California.


5-minute Program Video (English) from Energy Upgrade California on Vimeo.

This program is intended as a state wide marketing push to put construction contractors back to work. The average building upgrade costs about $12,000-$14,000, and you can expect a $1,000-$5,000 in rebates, incentives, and/or tax credits. These upgrades do not include plug-load appliances or renewable energy solutions such as solar-panels and solar-thermal water-heating, but these can be added to any project, and there are similar tax incentives, rebates, and credits available.

For a whole home energy audit, safety inspection, and efficiency plan, please consult with a BPI Certified home energy & safety analyst, like MICHAEL RUSSELL.