Monday, January 28, 2008

More about renting solar panels

If you are looking into solar panels, you might be interested in checking out the yellow banner on the right. The company has provide us with a good Q & A about how much this will cost you and why renting can be a good option for you. But be sure to check out the website at to read a lot more about what we are offering. If you have more questions, just send me an email or call. I can also guide you through the sign-up process to make sure you get everything right. The main risk to this system right now is that there will be a long waiting period of up to a couple of years, because there are already 27,000 homeowners on the waiting list.

How will I be charged?

You will pay a flat monthly rental fee. This rent is determined by the amount of energy you use, the solar resource in your area and the cost of energy in your region. A system designer will come to your home, look at your roof size, angle and shading to size the system for your location. They will also look at your historic energy usage. If you are interested in saving more money and energy, they can show you simple and cost effective ways to conserve in your home. With all of that information, they will determine the size of a solar electric (PV) system that would work best for you, and give you the final monthly rental cost.

Can you tell me now what my exact rental cost will be?

Until the system designer visits your house, all we can do is estimate your rent. This is because we don't have all of the information necessary to make that calculation until the system designer has examined your house and the manner in which you currently use electricity.

What if the estimate I get when I sign up turns out to be different than the final actual rent? I mean, after the designer comes to my house, what if there is a big difference?

It is possible that there might be a difference. When we do the initial estimate, we assume that the conditions at your home are good for solar, that your orientation is correct, etc. It may turn out that there are reasons why your location, roof orientation, shading, etc. will accommodate a PV system but at a less-then ideal size. In that case, there may be a difference between the original estimate and the final rent. However, because there could be a difference, we do not ask you to make a commitment based on the estimate. You only make a final commitment to rent after the system has been designed. In this way, there is no possibility that you will be locked into anything without your approval. In essence, you have no risk.

What do you mean "no risk?"

By submitting your Forward Rental Agreement Applications now, you reserve your position in the queue. We already have over 27,000 customers who have signed up for our solution, so the sooner we get your paperwork in the better.

If you are not comfortable with the contract for any reason, you can cancel with no penalty at anytime if you do so before the system designer comes to your home.
During the site design visit, you can also cancel with no penalty. This means that, if you find that the final rental fee is significantly different than the original estimate, you can simply cancel the agreement at that time. There is absolutely no penalty if you choose not to proceed after you have seen the final rent. There is no risk of entering into any agreement that you do not completely approve. We want you to be fully comfortable with the system design and the pricing before you accept the agreement.

There are two other times when you could cancel the agreement. If you cancel for no reason after we have sent the site designer to your home, but before the system is actually installed, you may do so with no financial penalty. In that instance, however, we do reserve the right to put you on a "do not serve list" for the future. It costs a lot for our systems designers to do a site visit and we would never want to waste your time or theirs.

Finally, you always have the right to cancel the agreement after the system has been installed. Only then, if you cancel and we must return to your home to retrieve the system, under those conditions you would forfeit your security deposit.

So how do I know that your system will not cost me more money?

If you have special pricing from your utility for low income or low energy usage, our pricing could be slightly higher at the beginning. But remember that our monthly rental is locked in for entire term of the contract, so as utility prices increase, our model gets better and better.

When the solar designer comes to your house, they will finalize the size and monthly rental costs for your system. They will also put in your contract the total amount of Kilowatt hours that your system is guaranteed to produce.

If your solar system produces less than the contract guarantees, then you will get a rebate in that amount. For example, if the contract says that your system will produce 1000 kWh, and it only produces 900 kWh, that would be 10% less than your guarantee, so 10% of your yearly rental would be returned to you. If your system produces more than the guaranteed amount, than you get to use that “extra” power at no additional cost. So you see…you can win, but you can’t lose.

So do I have any risk?

You pay us no money upfront, so you have no risk prior to installation. We do not accept the security deposit until you have agreed to the final system size and design and you have signed that final paperwork. In short, you have no risk at all until the system has been installed on your home.

Even then, your only financial risk is the amount of the security deposit, usually $500.

One risk is that you will have to wait a while. There is a huge demand for our solution.

We suggest that if you can afford to buy solar now—do it. The sooner you can start using renewable energy, the better. I can help you find a great local installer if you are interested in purchasing a solar system. But if you are like most of us and you don't want to spend large amounts (for example $40,000 is an estimated average) in a technology that may become outdated, then sign up and we will rent you our solution at our risk.

What do you mean "at your risk?"

Imagine that some great new technology comes out that produces energy at 1/10th the current costs. If you have just purchased a system at $40,000, your investment is in a technology that is now outdated. You are stuck.

With us, if anything supercedes our systems, there are two possible outcomes. First, you can simply cancel your contract, even after we install in the system, and all you would lose is your security deposit. But the more likely scenario is that we would replace your system with an upgrade that incorporates the great new technology.

How much is the security deposit?

Between $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of your system.

Why do different regions have different pricing?

Our mission is to provide a nationwide solution. Yet the solar resource is different in different areas of the country. By the same token, energy usage and electricity costs also vary widely across the entire U.S., from Maine to southern California, Washington State to Florida.

Unlike other solar companies, we don't want to work only in the areas with favorable conditions and ignore the other markets.

The calculations of our rental rates take into account all three of these variables (energy usage, local rates, and solar resource availability) to develop the final rent for each area. In most cases, this rent will be very close to what you are currently paying for electricity.

But, unlike your utility, which will continue to increase its rates as needed, we will lock in that rent. This means that your rent will not go up for the entire length of your contract.

This way, we provide a green solution that can actually save you a significant amount of money over the years, all the time you are producing clean, planet-saving electricity on your own home.

Green power and savings--what could make more sense than that?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Future With Renewable Energy

In this interview, San Francisco scientist Dr. Donald Aitken (, talks about the inevitablity of a future with renewable energy, and insists that we have to stop thinking about how much oil and natural gas we have left, but just start converting to renewables.

In about 30 minutes he covers almost all kinds of renewables: solar, wind, biomass, tidal, hydrogen, and particularly efficiency. Dr. Donald Aitken trained as a nuclear physicist, but is now a solar architect and former lead scientist at the Union of Concerned of Concerned Scientists.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Corporate Responsibility - Starbucks is going the wrong way!

I just read a blog by Jesse Kornbluth about Starbucks, telling about how Starbucks has gotten too big for its britches and not earning as well as it used to. And now it's getting competition from Dunkin' Donuts and McDonalds. Kornbluth of course has some good suggestions:
Starbucks sells some "fair trade" coffee, but most isn't. Why not be the first to use only coffee that wasn't grown by exploited workers?

Starbucks should own the "organic" category. So why is Starbucks about to stop offering organic milk in its coffee drinks?
My experience with Starbucks organics and free trade has been dismal. I embarrassed my husband no end once when I asked for organic milk and the barrista didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

So then I went home to check out their website, where Corporate Social Responsibility then had a really big position on the page. It is now buried under "About Us," but it still has a lot to say about how good they are. Why isn't this evident in their coffee and milk?
Doing Business in a Different Way
Contributing positively to our communities and environment is so important to Starbucks that it’s one of the six guiding principles of our mission statement. We work together on a daily basis with partners (employees), suppliers and farmers to help create a more sustainable approach to high-quality coffee production, to help build stronger local communities, to minimize our environmental footprint and to be responsive to our customers’ health and wellness needs.
They even have a little game about sustainability you can play online.

One thing positive about Starbucks is that they at least claim to source all their milk from non-rBGH milk:
As of the beginning of January, our entire core dairy supply – fluid milk, half and half and whipping cream –is sourced from suppliers that do not use rBGH, a synthetic growth hormone. We take our customers’ requests seriously. After over a year of work with our suppliers, every espresso drink that’s ordered in our company-operated stores now comes with dairy sourced without the use of rBGH.


  • But why are they stopping organic milk, rather than increasing it, so that it's actually available to everyone - or just used always?
  • Why don't they increase their use of Free Trade coffee since they're so pround of how they work with the growers and give them a good life?

What you can do:

Read their Corporate Social Responsibility 2006 Annual Report and then give them some feedback in their survey on the same page. Be sure to write comments, because most of it is "what did you like best?"

Or go to their Contact Us page and reccommend that they do better, maybe along the line Kornbluth recommends.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Plastic comes from the sun

albatross with plastic in gut: Photo by Cynthia Vanderlip

(Most) plastic is derived from petroleum products, which of course was made eons ago by storing the sun's energy in decomposing plants. But what we've done with the sun's energy is nothing to be proud of. I found an interesting website about all you need to know about plastic while searching for an appropriate picture for this entry - at

Now-a-days, we're rushing through this stored solar power like nobody's business and messing up the planet with it at the same time. Burning the stuff lets out CO2 and other nasty pollutants. Particularly burning plastics, like PVC creates enormously toxic dioxins.

If we dump plastic wastes in a landfill, they'll be there the next 1000 years according one reference I read, although no one can know for sure, because there's never been any plastic around that long. At any rate, some of the components will leach into the soil and the ground water long before that.

If we don't take care of our wastes, but throw empty plastic bags on the ground or out the car window like cigarette butts, they (and balloons, and other wonderful plastic items) will end up in the waterways, eventually leading to the sea. An special series about the Oceans in the LA Times a while back really brought this home to me, particularly Part 4 about the plastic trash in the ocean. See also Plastic in the Seas and Lakes.

For shopping bags, I had always wondered whether it was better to use paper bags (from trees from our time) or plastic (ancient trees,) although after living in Europe for so many years, I had developed a habit of using cloth bags. I had gotten rather lax on this after moving to California, but the recent ban on plastic bags in San Francisco as well as an offer of 10 reusable bags for $10 at Mom's supermarket made me rethink all this again. So now I have a bag in my knapsack, in my bike basket, several in my shopping cart and in the car, so they're always there when I need one (except today, when I got a paper bag and put the rest in my knapsack.) I've even stopped getting the small plastic bags for the larger veggies. But you have to be quick to say "No plastic please" when the baggers start packing!

For refrigerator storage of leftovers, we bought a number of glass containers in various sizes (with plastic tops, however) to prevent seeping of chemicals into our food. I even found some unbleached waxed paper sandwich bags in a store the other day, so we can store like Mom did. Waxed paper seems otherwise to have become parchment paper (also unbleached,) but I doubt it is as good for storage.

Food packaging is becoming my newest issue, as you have noticed if you read this blog regularly. I've written blogs about Green Mountain Coffee Roaster's plastic K-Cups and Clif Bars (and many others) non-biodegradable mylar packaging. So I look now to see if there is an alternative with a better package. Like glass bottles, paper milk cartons, not plastic jugs, etc. But companies do not make this easy!

A really old issue for me is throw-away diapers. When my children were born I didn't have a washing machine, so we opted for the new Pampers and other products. A friend had read about a survey that said that the use of water, soap and energy was actually less with Pampers, so I went along with it. But many years later I started a diaper service (Blebilen) in Denmark, designing my own diaper which was used with covers, and working with a laundry that is now environmentally certified. In other words, diapers from a diaper service is the very best for the environment.
I am really worried about the effects of the non-recyclable diapers. They not only fill people's trash containers so they have to borrow space in the neighbor's, but the plastic in them will clog landfills for centuries. Even more worrying is that kids take forever to stop using them because they feel so dry and comfortable. And worse yet, there are chemicals in the diapers that are very close to their genitals, and possibly causing infertility that the first Pampers generation has been experiencing.

And while we're talking about babies - I hope those wonderfully light plastic baby bottles that my kids could hold themselves haven't also played havoc with their endocrine systems!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Green Mountain Coffee is Generating More Trash

Green Mountain Coffee has fallen to the "convenience" myth and is now putting its organic, fair-trade coffees into small plastic "K=cups" so people don't have to worry about smelly filters and whose turn it is to make the coffee.

These are coffees with names like Paul Newman's Own and Heifer, which really hurts, since Heifer is trying to eliminate hunger sustainably ("Ending Hunger, Caring for the World.")

They package coffee, tea and chocolate in these non-biodegradable cups at a time where people are learning to buy unbleached coffee filters and carry their own shopping bags with them instead of using the store's plastic bags.

All this plastic ends either in landfills or in waterways, where it gets in fish's bellies. They use petroleum to create the plastic - petroleum that now costs $100 barrel, because there's not enough of it to go around (thank goodness) and which produces CO2 and other nasties in its refining and production.

What's wrong with using unbleached filters of 100% postconsumer paper? Because it's brown? Which is what it gets to be anyway afterwards.
Why is tea packaged in plastic anyway - or even in teabags? It's very easy to make a cup or pot of tea with a tea steeper, like this one from Adagio Teas.

This is the same problem that I have discussed earlier with "sustainable" Clif's Bars using non-biodegradable plastic candy wrappers. If you want to market a sustainable product, the product has to be 100% sustainable!

I will now contact Heifer, Newman's Own and Green Mountain and ask them to reconsider. You can do that, too, by clicking those links.

Monday, January 7, 2008

After the rains

After the rains - Mt Baldy
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.
After several days of rainy weather, when our view to the north is just clouds, this morning we could see that our mountain is covered with snow!
I don't know how many times I've taken this picture, but it's different, of course, each time!
If I'd gotten out earlier to take my picture the sky would have been even bluer. I think another front is on its way. But I love the billowing clouds down in the valley between here and there.

When my now husband asked me to join him here in Upland, I found the town on Yahoo maps and was horrified at the precise mesh of the streets (which I have since discovered was laid out by a Canadian mathematician named Chaffey, which is why our main street is called Euclid Ave.)

But then I could see that there was a large area to the north of town that didn't seem to have any roads, so I figured that was encouraging, without knowing what was there. (This was before Google maps!)

John says that when he first started coming to the area, before he retired here, that the smog was usually so bad that he wasn't even aware of the mountains, and he'd only been up the Mt Baldy Rd once. as far as the village.

All of my first pictures (in August 2000) had the mountain in the background, including one from the Walmart parking lot, which has a great almost undisturbed view of the mountains. The chain of mountains starts at the coast as the Santa Monica Mountains, continues past Pasadena as the San Gabriels (which is what these are), goes down a bit to the Cajon Pass, where Interstate 15 takes people to Las Vegas, goes up again becomng the San Bernardinos with Big Bear Mountain, down to the pass where Interstate 10 takes us to Palm Springs, and then turns south with Mt San Jacinto, almost all the way to the Mexican border, passing the Anza Borrego Desert along the way.

That gives us a lovely protected valley. The mountain ranges unfortunately also trap the winds coming accross the Los Angeles basin filled with smog from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, often causing a yellow layer of smog down the valley. Since we live at about 1500 ft, we are usually looking down on it when we look south down Euclid.

I love the sound of the rain at night. I've been missing it. And we need the rain to fill up our water reserves which are sorely depleted. We have to learn to use less water, particularly for gardening and lawns. Nevertheless, we are learning. I read recently that Los Angeles used 30% less water recently than, say 20 years ago, because of conservation and efficiency efforts, including low flow toilets and more efficient watering systems, all in a period with high population growth. So it can be done!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Story of Stuff

I've been so busy since we got home from Kaua'i trying to get through the piles on my desk, that I kept putting off clicking the link to the video Story of Stuff that I have received from several friends. I finally got around to it today, and was very impressed.

The 20 minute video with Annie Leonard tells about the implications of all the products we buy, and a little about why we buy them. I don't really think it says anything we don't know already, but it is good to get reminded every once in a while about where our "stuff" comes from and what happens with it after we're tired of it (unless you're the packrat type like us, who keep thinking that it will be useful someday and put it away in some safe place.

I think it would be an excellent way to illustrate the concepts to children, while reminding the rest of us who ought to understand it all that we should think twice before we accumulate more! The website has a wealth of resources as well to keep learning.

Here is the introduction to it, so you can get an idea:

There is also a banner for it in my banner collection on the right.