American Clay Natural Plasters

clay.jpg

I heard an interesting program on NPR this morning about an environmentally friendly wall plaster manufactured in my very own home state of New Mexico. The radio show talked about how back in the good ol’ days of the Spanish Conquest, people here in the great Southwest used natural clays and other materials as a sort of plaster for their homes. (I imagine the Spanish stole this idea from the indigenous peoples of this region.) Nowadays, we have the technology to improve on this technique while using these natural materials for an eco-friendly building material. American Clay is the company, and here’s their pitch!

American Clay Natural Earth Plasters bring the appealing finishes of Nature to your Home, Office, School, Business, anywhere you want to add healthful beauty to your interior walls and ceilings. Manufactured in and using materials from the United States, American Clay uses natural clays, recycled and reclaimed aggregates, and vibrant natural pigments in each of our three beautiful finishes: LOMA, PORCELINA, and MARITTIMO.

You don’t have to be a conquistador to love natural plasters!


If you can’t convince people to switch, legislate it!

I’m not so sure about this one.

Compact fluorescents are great. I switched out almost all the bulbs in my house except for a few places where I have switches with a dimmer (because most of them won’t work with a dimmer). I would encourage anyone else who wants to save money to switch to them too. Each bulb you switch out can save you a serious amount of money. The US government run Energy Star site says each bulb will save you about $30 over the lifetime. So what’s not to like about them?

With all that said, I’m not so sure about how I feel about legislating a switch to them, as California is considering doing.

Should everyone be FORCED to use compact fluorescents? I don’t know if I really think so. If anything, they should just add a state tax to incandescent lights so that each bulb costs a lot more than a compact fluorescent. The upfront higher cost of the bulb is typically cited as one of the reasons that more people don’t switch. That would still give people the freedom to choose, but would set pricing in a way that actually encouraged people to buy the more efficient bulb.

A California lawmaker wants to make his state the first to ban incandescent lightbulbs as part of California’s groundbreaking initiatives to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The “How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act” would ban incandescent lightbulbs by 2012 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

What do you think?


Wal-Mart to sell renewable energy in Texas?

Okay, I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “What’s this guy’s obsession with Wal-Mart?”

I’m not obsessed. I just keep finding these weird articles.

Here’s a new one from the Dallas Morning News (registration required).

Wal-Mart bought its own power company in Texas. That means that Wal-Mart actually buys its own power at wholesale, directly on the electricity market, saving itself something like $15 million a year.

It’s kind of like how Wal-Mart wanted to buy a commercial bank so that it could reduce all those credit card transaction fees, except that they actually did it with power. (Bankers are afraid that Wal-Mart might open up retail banks inside their stores, so they are all fighting hard to keep Wal-Mart from doing it and even lobbying for laws to prevent it. It might ruin their $35 bounced check fees to have low price competition, I guess.)

Anyway, here’s the interesting speculation part of the article:

Mr. Hendrix said he would consider selling electricity to consumers or to Wal-Mart’s suppliers, if that’s what customers want. But his main focus is buying power for Wal-Mart itself.

He said he would consider buying a renewable-energy power plant, such as a wind farm, if the company can’t find enough vendors to meet Wal-Mart’s eventual goal of using only renewable power.

And here are the other facts about how much power all the Wal-Mart stores in Texas use:

Wal-Mart’s stores in Texas use 1.6 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. That accounts for 0.5 percent of the Texas power grid last year. It’s enough juice to power 133,000 homes. And it’s about one-third of the annual output of one of the new coal-fired power plants TXU Corp. has proposed.

My question about those facts would be:

Wal-Mart uses that much Texas power. How much money do they generate in sales tax in Texas each year, as a percentage?

Is it just me, or does Wal-Mart buying a bunch of other companies in vertical markets remind you of Standard Oil?


Alternative energy still too expensive to make much of a dent

Every time we get a blast of expensive oil prices and high gasoline prices at the pump, we see another round of media stories about alternative energy and how it’s going to change everything.

This media coverage is mostly right, but only if oil stays expensive. When oil prices fall back down around $50 and less, then suddenly these alternatives become too costly to be implemented.

A News.com article illustrates some of the issues with alternative energy. How much it costs, and what kind of an impact it might make in the next decade or so.

It is a little bit depressing.

In 2004, oil accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. oil budget, while coal took up 26 percent. Natural gas accounted for 21 percent and nuclear power accounted for 6 percent. Renewable energy accounted for 7 percent.

Flash forward to 2030. Oil is 40 percent, coal is 23 percent, natural gas is 23 percent and renewable is 6 percent.

The worldwide figures aren’t that much better. Renewable energy accounted for 14 percent in 2002 and is projected to be 14 percent again in 2030. While the renewable figure is higher worldwide, that’s only because many people in emerging nations rely on dung and wood fires, which account for a disproportionate amount of those renewable energy sources.

Dung and wood fires as “renewable energy?” I don’t think that’s what environmentalists have in mind when they say they want more renewables!


Wind power generation in the US growing by double digits

An American Wind Energy Association news release announces that wind power generating capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006, and is expected to grow a similar percentage in 2007.

Here’s what else the release says:

The U.S. wind energy industry installed 2,454 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2006, an investment of approximately $4 billion, billing wind as one of the largest sources of new power generation in the country — second only to natural gas — for the second year in a row. New wind farms boosted cumulative U.S. installed wind energy capacity by 27 percent to 11,603 MW, well above the 10,000-MW milestone reached in August 2006. One megawatt of wind power produces enough electricity to serve 250 to 300 homes on average each day.

Wind energy facilities currently installed in the U.S. will produce an estimated 31 billion kilowatt-hours annually or enough electricity to serve 2.9 million American homes. This 100 percent clean source of electricity will displace approximately 23 million tons of carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas — each year, which would otherwise be emitted by traditional energy sources such as coal, natural gas, oil and other sources.

I read something a couple of weeks ago in the NY Times about wind energy that I had never considered before.

In Texas, as in many other parts of the country, power companies are scrambling to build generating stations to meet growing peak demands, generally driven by air-conditioning for new homes and businesses. But power plants that run on coal or gas must “be built along with every megawatt of wind capacity,” said William Bojorquez, director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The reason is that in Texas, and most of the United States, the hottest days are the least windy. As a result, wind turns out to be a good way to save fuel, but not a good way to avoid building plants that burn coal. A wind machine is a bit like a bicycle that a commuter keeps in the garage for sunny days. It saves gasoline, but the commuter has to own a car anyway.