Green Building Archive


WATCH: Greg Pahl’s Sustainably Heated Home: A Fireplace Insert

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Greg Pahl, author of Power from the People, the latest installment in our Community Resilience Guides Series, also wrote Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options, which we published in 2003.

The book is a guide to using woodstoves, passive and active solar, biomass, and other natural methods for keeping your nest as toasty as possible. It may be too late for you to prep your home for the winter that’s already here, but perhaps the cold weather and the video below can inspire you to scheme some sustainable heating upgrades for your home in the coming year.

Greg Pahl performed an energy overhaul on his 1950s tract home in northern Vermont. In the process, he transformed a house that was built with no consideration for energy efficiency or sustainability into a naturally heated home using sustainable fuel sources.

In this video, Greg explains the conversion of his decorative living room fireplace—a “smoke alarm tester,” as he puts it—into a usable and efficient home heating appliance. He’ll explain what’s involved in installing one in your own home, saving you money and energy this winter.

This video is part of a series. See also:

If you’re curious about Pahl’s new book on community-based renewable energy systems, and our partnership with the Post Carbon Institute, visit Resilience.org to find out more. For an easy intro to the concepts in Power from the People, you can watch a recent webinar that Pahl led, here.

How to End Blackouts Forever: Amory Lovins on Time.com

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

In a recent online article for Time magazine, Amory Lovins spells out what we need to do in order to make our electrical power system more resilient in the face of catastrophic disruption brought by the likes of Hurricane Sandy, wild fires, earthquakes, or solar flares.

Come hell or high water — and Hurricane Sandy brought both to many Americans — most of us can’t get the electricity we need. More than two weeks after the storm’s departure, 25,000 homes were still without power. We live high in the Rockies and were unaffected, but a couple of Februaries ago snowstorms knocked out our neighbors’ electricity on five different days. But ours stayed on — by design. Our house’s efficient lights and appliances save most of the electricity. This shrinks the solar power system that runs our meter backwards and sells back its surplus to the grid. But unlike most solar-powered buildings, ours is wired to work with or without the grid.

A resilient power system wouldn’t be linked together in a top-down trickle, getting energy from a central source. Instead it would be made of independent nodes that can power themselves, and that won’t take the whole network out if they fail. Especially if these nodes gain their power from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, and if the buildings they support are energy efficient to begin with, we could be looking at a completely different relationship to electricity. One that wouldn’t be threatened by a monstrous, climate-change-heated superstorm like Sandy.

Lovins goes on to explain that this strategy seems rational enough for at least one major stakeholder in our country to consider seriously. The Pentagon, caring very much that their war machine offices and bases don’t lose power all at once, is looking into microgrid technology. If it’s good enough for the Pentagon, Lovins argues, it’s good enough for regular folks like us! Read the entire Time article here.

Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute explore an optimistic view of the future of energy in their latest book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Resilience is the name of the game these days, as those of us interested in “sustainability” start to develop a deep understanding of what the word really means, and develop robust tools with which to make it happen. Resilience doesn’t just mean continuing forever as-is, it takes into account the fact that disruptions will happen, and that communities must simply find ways of developing that allow them to bounce back.

Asher Miller’s recent article for the Post Carbon Institute has much the same take as Lovins, and encourages readers to put their money where their beliefs are, and invest in this new vision of efficient, distributed, community-owned electrical power.

On the day following the election, 350.org kicked of a 20-city, 20-day “Do the Math” tour to “mount an unprecedented campaign to cut off the industry’s financial and political support by divesting our schools, churches and government from fossil fuels.”

I want to set out a challenge to everyone who recognizes the need to divest from the fossil fuel industry: Moving our investments from a mutual fund that holds shares in ExxonMobil to some kind of socially responsible investment (SRI) is important, but it’s just a baby step.

What we also need is to invest our capital (both financial and sweat) in community-owned, distributed, and small-scale renewable energy. Why? Because we must fundamentally remake the energy economy as if nature, people, and the future actually mattered.

That means investing in renewable energy that is distributed, because renewable sources themselves are diffuse and distributed, and because redundancy and distribution are key to building resilience in the face of shocks like Superstorm Sandy, which are increasingly likely in a climate-changed world.

It also means investing in renewable energy that is community-owned, because we’ve seen what happens when large, multinational companies control essential human needs, whether they be food, healthcare, or energy. By their very nature, these corporations place profits and shareholders over the well-being of the communities they ostensibly serve. A new energy future must be part of a new economy future, a new economy that puts people and planet over profits.

And finally, it means investing in renewable energy that is small-scale, again because distribution increases resilience but also because even renewable energy can have profoundly negative impacts on ecosystems if not sited and scaled in ways that are appropriate to the environment in which it — and we — reside.

Sounds like a tall order, I know. But thankfully there are a number of great, replicable examples of individuals, institutions, and communities meeting the challenge. Below are just a few. (For a much more complete resource, check out Power from the People: How to Organize, Launch, and Finance Local Energy Projects by Greg Pahl, the 2nd in the Community Resilience Guide Series published by Chelsea Green Publishing and Post Carbon Institute.)

Read Miller’s entire article, including his favorite examples of resilient energy projects, here.

And check out the other books in our Community Resilience Guides Series, Local Dollars, Local Sense (on how to shift investments from Wall Street to Main Street), and the forthcoming Rebuilding the Foodshed (about ways to develop food systems that are secure, appropriately-scaled, and good for the environment).

Project: Save Energy with Insulated Shutters

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Unless you’ve taken special preventative precautions, it’s likely that on cold days much of your house’s heat pours out through your (closed) windows. Most houses—especially old houses—have drafty, uninsulated windows that do little to prevent heat from dumping out into the cold night. Even if your windows aren’t drafty, the expensive heat your furnace has been generating could be escaping.The only way to know for sure is to conduct a home energy audit—either professionally or on your own. Included in a home energy audit is a thermal image of your house on a cold day. This image will show you the hot spots on the exterior of your house—usually around the doors and windows—where (and how much) heat is escaping.

Once you’ve conducted your home energy audit, or decided that your windows are probably leaking heat anyway, you can get to work sealing up the windows to save money, fuel, and energy this winter. Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, have offered the low-cost solution to window heat loss below.

From The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit, by Stephen and Rebekah Hren:

Insulated Curtains and Shutters

A variety of systems have been devised over the years to stop heat transfer through windows. The most obvious is the curtain. While curtains do address heat transfer via radiation, when improperly installed they can increase the convection over the window and potentially lead to a net heat loss. This happens primarily from top to bottom when a large gap allows warm air to be pulled downward from the ceiling between the curtain and the glass. This cools the air, causing it to drop down below the curtain level and escape back out into the room. The cool air entering the room is replaced by additional warm air near the ceiling, and a thermosiphon effect can become established, quickly sucking the heat out of the room.

This can also occur to a lesser degree when curtains have large gaps between the sides and the wall. To make the application of curtains worthwhile from an energy conservation standpoint, it’s necessary to go to some trouble to reduce as much as possible all gaps around the edges of the curtains. Historically, the thermosiphon effect has been reduced by the application of a valance (also called a pelmet) at the top of the window. Often these are applied with aesthetics as the main concern (covering the curtain hardware) instead of energy conservation. To be effective, the valance needs to hug tight to the wall above the window to prevent thermosiphoning. Cloth valances rarely achieve this end. Constructed wood valances, sometimes found in older homes, are more effective.

For windows without curtains or with poorly functioning curtains, there are two options: insulated curtains or shutters. Typically, insulated curtains are held tight to the wall by embedded magnets (or Velcro) in the curtain and window trim. Insulated shutters are typically hinged on one side, although they can be hinged on the top and opened via a pulley and held against the ceiling. They typically consist of a simple 2 × 2 frame with metal on both sides and insulation sandwiched in between, typically high-R-value foamboard. (See image.)

stormwindow.jpg

Insulated curtains are either homemade or purchased affairs. Beware—many big-box retailers sell what they call insulated curtains, but these are thin and don’t seal around the edges. Solar Components (www .solar-components.com/quilts) sells insulated material for making your own sealing insulated curtains. Cozy Curtains (www.cozycurtains.com) will custommake sealing insulated curtains for around $10–12/ square foot. Generally, windows with sealing insulated curtains achieve an R-value of around 7 or 8. The curtains also have excellent sound-deadening and light-blocking qualities.

Project: Sealing Drafts.
Renter friendly.
Project Time: One weekend.
Cost: $5–50.
Energy Saved: High. Drafts can suck much of the heat out a home very quickly.
Ease of Use: N/A.
Maintenance Level: None.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic.
Materials: Caulk, silicone.
Tools: Caulking gun, pry bar, screwdriver, incense or smoke stick.

Blow-in insulation. For older homes, the best way to seal up a drafty house is often by blowing insulation, either

cellulose or fiberglass, into the walls and attic. Loose-fill insulation can reduce airflow to the point where air infiltration is essentially eliminated. If your home is poorly insulated, blowing in insulation in the attic and walls should be your top priority. It’s probably best to hire someone for at least the wall insulation. The reason to hire out is because blowing in sufficient insulation to get up to R-13 or so requires pressure created by a high-powered compressor that is not easy to rent. Walls and attic can be done in an afternoon by a professional. However, the attic doesn’t require high pressure and can be a DIY job if you’re so inclined. Many rental places or big-box stores have the equipment needed to blow in attic insulation.

Checking for air leaks. If your walls are already insulated, you’ll want to check all protrusions into the interior wall

space for potential air leaks. This is easy to do with a stick of incense, when the interior temperature is substantially different than the exterior temperature. Hold a smoking stick close to things such as outlets, tops and bottoms of baseboards, chair rails, picture rails, window trim, plumbing intrusions, and vents, and watch the smoke. If it’s not floating straight up, you found one.

Outlets and switch seals are made of rubber and match the profile of the outlet (receptacle or switch). These can be purchased at most hardware stores. Remove the outlet cover with a screwdriver and stick the seal in between the cover and the wall. Be cautious of live wires; to play it safe turn off the breaker for the circuits you will be working on whenever removing outlet covers.

Drafts from gaps in trim or plumbing and HVAC intrusions can be sealed with either pure silicone (which is preferred as it stays flexible, but it is not paintable) or painter’s caulk with some silicone added. Expandable foam is an option for large cracks (more than a ¼ inch), although it often contains potential toxins like benzene and often uses HCFCs for blowing agents, known to be potent greenhouse gases.

Stopping vertical airflow. If your home is old and your interior walls are extremely drafty, you have two options. The first is to seal either the basement or the attic. This will close either the entrance (basement) or the exit (attic) for the cold air. Again, blowing in insulation in the attic does a great job of essentially eliminating potential basement-to-attic airflow through interior walls. The cheapest (but most difficult) choice is to go into the basement or crawl space and clog any holes made in the floor and walls for systems such as electrical and plumbing. There are often a surprising number of these. This can be done with expanded foam or by stuffing bits of fiberglass insulation into the holes. While fiberglass insulation does let through some air, it reduces airflow by over 90 percent.

If your house is on piers and not enclosed, you’ll need to insulate your floor. This is an unpleasant and difficult task but will go a long way in sealing up your home. Flexible rods are sold to hold floor insulation in place, but we’ve seen these fail on a number of occasions. The best method for holding floor insulation in place is to start with a few of these flexible rods and then staple chicken wire to keep it in place.

Recessed lights and electrical boxes in the ceiling are a common escape route for air. Again, blowing some insulation in the attic will do wonders. Fiberglass batts in the attic also benefit from this treatment, as the gaps between the edges and the joists can let out a fair amount of heat.

Check all ductwork. If you have a conventional furnace or heat pump with forced-air heating, you’ll need to check your ductwork annually. This is because some piece or other has quite likely become detached over the course of time and is lying on the crawl space floor, keeping the crickets warm. To detect a detached duct, check each heating vent in your house, while the heating system is running, by placing your hand over the vent to feel for airflow. What you can’t check from above are slightly detached or leaky connections, which occur with great regularity. Grab the incense stick and check all the lines for leaks, using real duct tape (black, not gray, and quite expensive) to seal any problem areas. Also check for crimped ductwork or holes from squirrels or rodents. Repair any problem areas.

In a really well-sealed home, there’s the potential to have an inadequate amount of fresh air coming in from the outside. If you’ve done a great job sealing your home, and especially if you heat with wood (which uses up a lot of oxygen), you’ll want to install an air exchanger. This brings in fresh air and exhausts interior air through a highly conductive metal passageway that exchanges much of the heat of the outgoing air with the incoming air.

Project: Shag Carpet Your Refrigerator

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Refrigerators are one of the single largest users of energy in the average home. They seem to do a decent job of keeping things cold, but they’re typically not very well insulated. This may have become abundantly clear to any of you who lost power during Hurricane Sandy recently. Food stored in a fridge that has lost power goes bad very quickly. Luckily, adding insulation to your existing fridge is a simple project you can tackle this winter with the tips below.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, are serious about saving energy. And if that means wrapping shag carpeting around their refrigerator to save energy, then by gosh, bring on 1973!

This is one of our favorite projects from The Carbon-Free Home. It wins on sheer style!

Project: Insulation Of Existing Fridge

Renter friendly.
Project Time: Weekend.
Cost: Inexpensive ($50–100, depending on type of insulation used and size of frame to hold it).
Energy Saved: High. Average refrigeration uses 8 percent of the household energy budget. Insulating your refrigerator can reduce energy use by up to 50 percent.
Ease of Use: Easy. Does not affect day-to-day use.
Maintenance Level: Low. Lengthens life of fridge by reducing the compressor load.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Moderate.
Materials: 2 × 4s, insulation, paneling, connector plates, screws, and nails.
Tools: Saw, drill, hammer.

Most household refrigerators needlessly use excess energy simply because they are poorly insulated or they do not close properly. Insulation can be added to the sides, top, and doors to greatly improve your existing refrigerator’s performance. If you are considering putting a wood cookstove in your kitchen, then extra insulation is a must. Ideally, your fridge would be separated from any heat source by being enclosed in its own closet. Before covering the sides with insu­lation, however, check that the coils usually located at the back of the fridge aren’t actually on the side by feeling if one of the sides is especially warm.

Because refrigerators work by radiating heat off the coils attached to the back (often covered with sheet metal in newer models), it is important to maximize airflow on this side, so insulation here is not a good idea. On every other side, the poorly insulated walls of the fridge allow precious cold air to leak out.

The easiest if not the most attractive way to insulate an existing fridge is to glue or tape insulation board to the sides and top. Cut the side panels so that they extend beyond the top of the fridge to the height of the insulation you put on top. Carpet or corkboard or other panels can be used to hide the insulation and add a little more protection. Alternatively, corkboard or carpet can be applied on their own, although the insulating effect will be substantially reduced. Use only a few dabs of construction adhesive to hold the insulation and carpeting or panels in place, or use plenty of two-sided carpet tape, and make sure the surface is clean and dry.

For the fridge and freezer doors, it’s probably best to skip the insulation, as the constant opening and closing could result in the bulky panels getting knocked off. Apply corkboard or carpeting directly to the doors, working around the handles. Clean the front of both doors with a nontoxic household cleaner such as vinegar or baking soda. Then simply cut out the right size of carpet or board and apply two-sided carpeting tape or a few daubs of construction adhesive around the perimeter and in a few strips in between. Get your edge lined up properly (rolling up the carpet will help), and then slowly apply the material. Shag carpet looks best and will impress your friends, who will secretly pet your fridge as they reach in for a beer.

For a top-notch insulating job that will look like fabulous cabinetry, build a 2 × 4 wall on each side, to a height of 3½ inches (one stud width) above the top of the fridge. Run a 2 × 4 along the front and back in between the two walls and connect with a plate. Fill in the two sides and top with the insulating material of your choice (see chapter 7). The sides of the box can be paneled and the front trimmed out for a sharp-looking fridge upgrade. Again, for the doors apply corkboard or carpeting directly.

[Editor's Note: Your friends are only entitled to beer if they help you with this project. That means you, Dennis....]

Videos from The Natural Building Companion

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The Natural Building Companion is a compendium of methods for earth-based construction ranging from straw bale to cob and applicable to a wide range of climates.

To put this encyclopedic book together, we partnered with Yestermorrow Design/Build School, fellow Vermonters from the Mad River valley. Authors Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton are frequent instructors at Yestermorrow, and also run New Frameworks Natural Building.

The book alone is packed with information on how to use traditional tools and low-technology materials to build energy-efficient and beautiful homes, but as an added bonus it also includes an instructional DVD that is cross-referenced with the text to help you learn from Racusin and McArleton’s examples as well.

Below you will find a handful of clips from the DVD to give you a sense of what it contains, and examples of the authors’ passion and skill at teaching these low-energy building techniques.

How to Evaluate Airtightness in a Natural Building Using a Blower Door Test – From Chapter 7

Timber Framing Techniques – From Chapter 13

 

How to Work with Straw Bales: Resizing, Reshaping, and Securing Bales – From Chapter 14

 

How to do a ‘Ribbon Test’ to Evaluate Site Soil for Natural Building – From Chapter 17

 

How to Make Paint from Milk Curds – From Chapter 20 

Power from the People – A Webinar with Greg Pahl

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Renewable power is always better than fossil fuel power, but even solar and wind can stir up environmental concerns. Here in Vermont, where ridgeline construction is limited and restricted, residents are increasingly seeing their beloved landscapes interrupted by wind turbines. Meanwhile, activists in the southwest are seeing huge solar installations disrupt the delicate desert ecology.

But these sorts of massive-scale projects are not the only way to do renewables. Small-scale projects that are funded, planned, and supported by local communities are much more sustainable, and, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy may be more resilient to get back online in the event of knockout storms.

This Friday, November 16th, join Greg Pahl, author of Power From the People, for a webinar on the subject. The talk starts at 10 AM PT, 1 PM ET, 18 GMT.

Communities across the United States are taking power into their own hands by organizing, financing, and launching their own local renewable energy projects! In this webinar, energy expert Greg Pahl will describe the best practices and lessons learned from the community-owned wind, solar, and biofuel projects featured in his latest book, Power From the People (Chelsea Green, 2012). Pahl’s book is part of our Community Resilience Guide series we’re co-publishing with the folks at Post Carbon Institute.

In fact, check out the recent Grist article written by PCI’s Asher Miller about just how we can take the lead from Bill McKibben and divest from Big Oil by investing in our own backyards. Miller cites some of the many examples in Pahl’s books where communities are already doing this – to much success.

This event will comprise a 30 minute presentation followed by a live Q&A. Join by going here at the time of the presentation where you will be able to login and participate.

Playing Nuclear Roulette in Vermont

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Vermont’s lone nuclear reactor — Entergy-owned Vermont Yankee — has been named one of the five worst reactors in the United States, according to the new book Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

For much of the past Vermont Yankee has been the focus of ongoing state and federal regulatory investigations, legislative battles, and ongoing courtroom drama. It started running in 1972, and was recently given a 20-year operating extension by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

This coming weekend, and into next week, activists will renew their attention to the aging reactor in hopes they can finish the work of the Vermont Senate a few years ago — close down Vermont Yankee permanently.

In this new work — which we’re offering on sale this week — investigative journalist Gar Smith lists five nuclear facilities as the “worst reactors” in the United States. They were chosen because they are representative of the poor regulatory oversight that has endangered the public, and poisoned the environment. Many other nuclear power sites around the country have equally disturbing records of poor performance, emergency shutdowns, and close calls, which Smith details in ample supply in Nuclear Roulette.

“The consequences of poor regulatory oversight can be seen in the operating histories of the country’s nuclear reactors,” writes Smith in  Nuclear Roulette.

The other four reactors are: Entergy-owned Indian Point in New York; Davis-Besse in Ohio, and Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California.

Here is the section devoted to Vermont Yankee, which also exemplifies what happens when the industry and its lapdog regulators team up against the wishes of a state’s citizens and elected officials:

Vermont Yankee: The Green Mountain State vs. the NRC

On March 10, 2011, the NRC unanimously approved a 20-year license extension for the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Within hours of the decision, three similar General Electric Mark 1 reactors were knocked off-line by an earthquake in Japan—and all three overheated and exploded. Despite the devastation in Fukushima Prefecture, the NRC stood by its decision to allow the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant to continue operating through 2031. Given Vermont Yankee’s history of breakdowns and cover-ups—and the fact that a reactor accident here could put more than a million Americans at risk—the watchdog group Beyond Nuclear excoriated the NRC’s decision as both “audacious” and “reckless.”

Vermonters received another jolt when it was revealed that the NRC had voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license even though its inspectors had discovered that critical electric cables powering the plant’s safety systems had been “submerged under water for extended periods of time.”

It was not the only maintenance failure of Entergy Corp., which had acquired the plant in 2002. The company has a reputation for “buying reactors cheap and running them into the ground.” In 2004, a poorly maintained electrical system set off a large fire in the plant’s turbine building that forced an emergency shutdown. In 2007, Vermont Yankee experienced a series of maintenance problems that included the dramatic collapse of a cooling tower. A waterfall of high-pressure water burst from a ruptured cooling pipe and tore a gaping hole in the plant’s wall. Entergy was able to hide the damage—but only until a concerned employee leaked a photo of the wreckage to the press. The huge gap in the side of the building was reminiscent of the hole in the side of the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks.

Tritium + Entergy = Perjury

During state hearings in 2009, Entergy executives were asked if radioactive tritium detected in the soil and groundwater near the reactor could have leaked from the plant. Company officials repeatedly swore under oath that this was impossible since there were no underground pipes at the plant. It was not until January 2010, after a leak of radioactive tritium was traced to a series of subsurface pipes, that Entergy changed its story. While the plant didn’t have “underground pipes,” Entergy now explained, it did have “buried pipes.”

Attorney general William Sorrell began a 17-month investigation during which Entergy’s former executive vice president Curtis Hebert admitted that the company’s statements about the pipes “could have been more accurate.” The state ordered Entergy to remove more than 300,000 gallons of radioactive water fron the soil and ground water at the reactor site, and Vermont governor Peter Shumlin demanded the plant’s closure.

There’s another waste problem at the plant: a large and potentially lethal stockpile of used fuel rods. While Fukushima’s six reactors had between 360 and 500 tons of slowly dying fuel rods on-site, the nuclear graveyard at Vermont Yankee is filled with 690 tons of dangerously radioactive waste. And the storage pools for this spent fuel lack both backup cooling systems and backup generators.

Beyond Nuclear’s “Freeze Our Fukushimas” campaign, which aims to close all 23 Mark 1 reactors in the United States, hoped to score its first victory when Vermont Yankee’s 40-year operating license expired on March 21, 2012. The odds were improved by the fact that Vermont is the only state that gives lawmakers the authority to veto a nuclear power plant. In February 2010, a month after Entergy’s tritium scandal was exposed, the Vermont Senate voted 26–4 against issuing a new “certificate of public good” that would allow Vermont Yankee to continue operating.

Entergy Sues Vermont

In April 2011, Entergy’s lawyers responded by suing the governor and the state, claiming, “We have a right to continue operation.” On January 19, 2012, federal judge Garvan Murtha ruled that only the NRC could close a nuclear plant, and therefore Entergy was entitled to its new 20-year operating license. Murtha also made it clear that the Green Mountain State was not entitled to raise any questions regarding plant safety or the prices charged for nuclear power—under federal law, only the NRC could raise such matters.

The decision alarmed Beyond Nuclear and other critics who feared the nuclear industry and the federal government were working in concert “to pre-empt a state’s right to self determination for an energy future in the public good.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) quickly weighed in. “If Vermont wants to move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders told the Burlington Free Press, “no corporation should have the right to force our state to stay tethered to an aging, problem-ridden nuclear plant.”

Eight days after the judge’s decision, Entergy refused the state’s second request to investigate the source of a tritium leak that had poisoned a drinking well on the plant’s property. On July 25, 2011, Entergy further demonstrated its disregard for due process by announcing a $60 million refueling project—an investment that would pay off only if the power plant won its extension.

Entergy’s lawyers publicly confirmed their understanding that the company still needs the permission of Vermont’s Public Service Board (a quasi-official board that oversees Vermont’s utilities) if it is to continue operating its reactors. In a responding press release, however, the state’s Department of Public Service (which represents the interests of utility customers in cases brought before the Public Service Board) cautioned, “Past experience shows Entergy cannot be taken at its word.”

In a daunting struggle that pits 600,000 Vermonters against the US government, the nuclear industry, and the NRC, the state attorney general vowed to appeal Judge Murtha’s decision—all the way to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.

“People don’t trust the NRC,” Bob Audette, a reporter for the Brattleboro Reformer told a film crew from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). “They think it’s the lapdog of the industry. They think it’s there basically to affirm everything the industry does. It’s too cozy with the industry.”

In another interview with the CIR, Anthony Roisman, a legal consultant for New York and Vermont, expressed his concerns with the NRC: “This regulatory agency does not regulate effectively. And until it does, there is no way that the public can have any confidence that plants, whether they are licensed or re-licensed, won’t have some catastrophic event. No one will benefit from a post-catastrophic-event hand-wringing that says, ‘Oh we should have done this and we’ll do better next time.’ The consequences are unimaginable.”

Seize the Power — It’s Energy Awareness Month!

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

If you’re a Chelsea Green fan (read: you’re concerned about the planet) and you suffered through the first Presidential debate last week, your ears probably perked up when the President and Governor Romney faced off about energy. Since they are politicians, we can assume most of what they said was either completely untrue, or so massaged to fit a platform that it would probably be less confusing if it were completely untrue…

But regardless of these gentlemen and their prevarications, energy is one of the most important issues of our time.

October is Energy Awareness Month, and we would like to encourage you to learn a bit more about the problems of fossil fuels, and the promise of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, geothermal, and our favorite “source” of energy: increased efficiency.

Chelsea Green has published important books on renewable energy for almost thirty years. This week, we’ve put a handful on sale for 25% off.

Read on, learn, and enjoy!

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Power cover image
Reg. Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $12.97

Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects

More than ninety percent of the electricity we use to light our communities, and nearly all the energy we use to run our cars, heat our homes, and power our factories comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In Power from the People, energy expert Greg Pahl explains how American communities can plan, finance, and produce their own local, renewable energy that is reliable, safe, and clean.

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Reinventing Fire cover image
Reg. Price: $34.95
Sale Price: $26.21

Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Oil and coal have built our civilization, created our wealth, and enriched the lives of billions. Yet their rising costs to our security, economy, health, and environment now outweigh their benefits. Moreover, that long-awaited energy tipping point—where alternatives work better than oil and coal and compete purely on cost—is no longer decades in the future. It is here and now. And it is the fulcrum of economic transformation.

In Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute offer a new vision to revitalize business models, end-run Washington gridlock, and win the clean energy race—not forced by public policy but led by business for enduring profit. Grounded in 30 years’ practical experience, this ground-breaking, peer-reviewed analysis integrates market-based solutions across transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity.

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Glorious Glut cover image
Reg. Price: $14.95
Sale Price: $11.21

A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office: Navigating the Maze of Solar Options, Incentives, and Installers

Solar power, once a fringe effort limited to DIY enthusiasts, is now fast becoming mainstream. Many home and business owners are curious about solar electric and solar thermal systems, and wonder how to go about getting a clean energy generation system of their own.

A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office explains the options so that property owners can make the right choices both for their energy needs and their financial security. Understanding how solar power systems work will enable readers to be informed customers when dealing with professional installers—the book also provides advice on how to select a qualified installer and understand the expanding variety of tax credits and other incentives that are popping up around the country.

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Reg. Price: $39.95
Sale Price: $26.96

Masonry Heaters: Designing, Building, and Living with a Piece of the Sun

Masonry Heaters is a complete guide to designing and living with one of the oldest, and yet one of the newest, heating devices. A masonry heater’s design, placement in the home, and luxurious radiant heat redefine the hearth for the modern era, turning it into a piece of the sun right inside the home.

Like the feeling one gets from the sun on a spring day, the environment around a masonry heater feels fresh. The radiant heat feels better on the skin. It warms the home both gently and efficiently. In fact, the value of a masonry heater lies in its durability, quality, serviceability, dependability, and health-supporting features. And it is an investment in self-sufficiency and freedom from fossil fuels.

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Reg. Price: $29.95
Sale Price: $26.46

Wind Energy Basics, Second Edition:A Guide to Home- and Community-Scale Wind Energy Systems

Wind Energy Basics offers a how-to for home-based wind applications, with advice on which wind turbines to choose and which to avoid. He guides wind-energy installers through considerations such as renewable investment strategies and gives cautionary tales of wind applications gone wrong. And for the activist, he suggests methods of prodding federal, state, and provincial governments to promote energy independence.

Wind power can realistically not only replace the lion’s share of oil-, coal-, and naturalgas– fired electrical plants in the U.S., but also can add enough extra power capacity to allow for most of the cars in the nation to run on electricity. Gipe explains why such a startlingly straightforward solution is eminently doable and can be accomplished much sooner than previously thought—and will have the capacity to resuscitate small and regional economies.

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Reg. Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $12.97

COMING SOON – AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!

Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth

Nuclear Roulette dismantles the core arguments behind the nuclear-industrial complex’s “Nuclear Renaissance.” While some critiques are familiar—nuclear power is too costly, too dangerous, and too unstable—others are surprisin.

Nuclear Roulette exposes historic links to nuclear weapons, impacts on Indigenous lands and lives, and the ways in which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission too often takes its lead from industry, rewriting rules to keep failing plants in compliance. Nuclear Roulette cites NRC records showing how corporations routinely defer maintenance and lists resulting “near-misses” in the US, which average more than one per month.

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Project: Harvest Rainwater with Sand Filters

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Here’s a great tip from Stephen and Rebekah Hren from their book The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit. Harvested rainwater needs filtration before it is potable. Pollution, particles from the air, debris from the collection system (your gutters) are not things you want to find in your tall glass of ice water. Instead of investing in a garage-sized Brita pitcher, Stephen and Rebekah have another idea: sand.

Curious about more simple and effective energy-saving ideas? You can enter to win a copy of The Carbon-Free Home in our latest giveaway contest in partnership with Mother Earth News! Sign up here for your chance to win this and seven other foundational titles for your sustainable-living library.

From The Carbon-Free Home:

Sand filters (also called biofilters) are a biological way of purifying drinking water. Low turbidity (suspended sediment in the water) is a requirement for sand filters to function effectively. Fortunately, a well-functioning rainwater-catchment system should meet this requirement. Sand filters can purify only small amounts of water at a time, as they are unpressurized and work using gravity, so purifying is limited to drinking water. Essentially a sand filter is a large drum filled with sand. Water enters the top and slowly percolates through. A thin, biologically active layer (called the hypogeal layer) quickly forms on top, feeding on the bits of organic residue and other impurities in the water. By the time the water has made it through the several feet of sand, it is potable and remarkably clean. Eventually, the hypogeal layer becomes too thick and needs to be either scraped off or destroyed by drying and backflushing (the water from the flush being disposed of into a nearby thirsty plant). A new one quickly forms and water filtration can continue.

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Drawing courtesy of Dennis “Mad Man” Pacheco

Waste, An Excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Ever wonder why we humans insist on wasting our human waste? Well, no. Probably not. But I have. And so have Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of our new release The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit.

The following excerpted chapter makes clear that—given the right technologies—we can put our own waste to good use as fertilizer, compost, and even as a source of electricity. That’s right: power your home with your own bowel byproducts! The chapter below has directions and schematics that show you how to build your own biogas digester.

But there’s more to reusing waste than just dookie. The Hrens have created a great system for capturing and reusing laundry water, dish water, and shower water.

Reduce your carbon footprint, save money, and make plenty of poop jokes.

Be sure to check out the Hren’s newest book, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office!

And for a chance to win this and nine other books on sustainable living, sign up for our Homesteading Month Giveaway, in partnership with Mother Earth News!


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