Category Archives: Earth Matters

Why You Should Go Solar Now

The Right Thing To Do

My wife and I installed solar panels on our condo in Rossmoor back in 2003. Our main objective wasn’t to save money. We simply thought it was the right thing to do. Our system cost us about 12 cents a watt after rebates and tax incentives. I am told that today I could replace the system at somewhere around four cents a watt.

Energy experts say that by 2016 power from solar will be cheaper than power generated by coal or natural gas in all but three states. It’s not hard to imagine that California isn’t one of those three states. Solar has never been cheaper. The average California homeowner going solar saves $1,560 a year on his electric bill.

But here’s the catch: Like most government programs, the tax rebate is temporary. PG&E is also mandated by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to use a percentage of renewable energy in its mix. I understand that PG&E is getting close to that cap now, and sometime soon it will start discouraging solar.

Residential solar has been increasing at about 30 percent a year. It isn’t exactly a new idea. There are about 200 different companies that have installed panels on one or more Walnut Creek homes. It’s a highly competitive business. That competitive atmosphere is good for you. If you don’t have any cash on hand to pay for the installations, there are companies out there that will install them for no money down and guarantee a savings on your electric bill. How can you lose on that? However, if you can pay cash, you are probably better off to go that route, so that when you sell your unit the lease won’t complicate the sale.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which is approved by the city of Walnut Creek. A PACE loan pays for the installation and your payments are made through your yearly property tax. The additional tax payments will be lower than your savings on the electricity bill. This, of course, won’t be an option if you live in a co-op.

December 2016 is a date to remember. That is when the 30 percent federal tax credit expires and your net cost will take a bump. If you do the installation now you will be much better off.

If the south- and west-facing roofs on your building are shaded by large trees, solar probably isn’t for you. If your building is scheduled to have its roof replaced in a year or two, it would probably be smart to wait. You will be responsible for paying for the panels to be removed and then re-installed. Otherwise, it is to your financial well-being to make your move now.

Some of our Rossmoor Mutuals are welcoming solar and moving ahead with plans to solve the potential problem of two or more homeowners in a building vying for the same sunny roof space. This will need to be ironed out. In the meantime, my advice is to call two or three solar companies for bids and let your Mutual know you are ready to move. It will save you money on your electric bills, give you a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that you are doing something to reduce carbon emissions and increase the value of your home.

This article first appeared in the Rossmoor News on August 19, 2015. Author: Bob Hanson 

Why Artificial Grass Is Bad for the Earth

Artificial turf is bad for people, for animals and for the earth.

Rossmoor was smart in limiting the use of artificial turf to our dog park. The plan was well researched; it has complete shade, was properly installed and is cleaned regularly with appropriate compounds. And users get their paws washed after a visit. Unfortunately, many Californians now regret their uninformed decisions to replace real lawn with fake — assuming it would save water as well as maintenance time and money.

Members of the Rossmoor Water Conservation Committee were encouraged to testify when EBMUD voted last month on whether to offer a rebate for users who replaced real grass with fake grass. So we did some research and learned a lot from experts there.

Why is Artificial Grass Harmful?

Artificial turf retains heat. Temperatures reach nearly 200 degrees F both above and below it [“Synthetic Surface Heat Studies” Brigham Young University, 2002]. Typically, pets and barefoot children cannot tolerate walking on it on warm, let alone hot days. It creates a “heat island” effect, which holds in heat during the day and releases it at night – not what we need during a drought.

Underneath, it kills healthy soil bacteria, worms and root systems. It must be watered regularly to keep it cool — water that can be better used to maintain any of several types of drought-resistant sod (if a playing surface is needed) or lush drought-resistant planting. It also requires water to wash it, and is far from maintenance-free. Herbicides (like Roundup) and fungicides are included in the washing — both are bad for the water table below. Real lawn or plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. Artificial turf doesn’t, and sadly it diminishes the incentive to learn healthy drought-sensitive planting, mulching and irrigating.

Another serious drawback is its expense; current prices range from $8 to $15 per square foot. It can easily cost $5,000 to cover a small yard and over $100,000 for an athletic field. The cost includes preparing the ground and using specific layers of padding underneath to help drainage. The older forms of artificial turf were made of various synthetic ingredients, including crumbled old tires. These are considered more toxic for reasons I’ll include below, but they are still on the market, and are typically sold more cheaply – attracting cost-conscious buyers.

It’s Toxic Too

The toxins in artificial turf threaten our health via contact, consumption (via water), and inhalation. All these routes expose humans and other living things to acetone, arsenic, benzene, chromium, halogenated flame retardants, lead, mercury, dioxin, carbon black, styrene and Butadiene. These chemicals have been proven to cause cancer and other diseases. As the turf degrades over time, larger quantities of chemicals are released.

When worn-out synthetic turf is replaced, the old pieces will likely end up in landfills, and that can lead to toxic water runoff. Plants and organisms that absorb contaminated water often increase its concentration – a special concern if eaten by humans or other animals. The EPA strictly regulates the disposal of rubber tires; however, there is no regulation of the disposal of artificial turf containing crumbled tires. The newer, more expensive forms of turf have replaced the bits of tires with materials that are untested.

The turf is a reservoir for not only fungus and bacteria, but also contaminated organic matter. It lacks the normal biocycles in nature that reduce the hazards of this exposure. Serious skin abrasions and infections (including MRSA — antibiotic resistant “super bugs”) are among the reasons the women’s soccer league recently took legal action to avoid playing on it.[NIH 2011, CDC 2013].

As the turf becomes warmer, the amount of its “off-gassing” increases; this is code for toxic fumes. There are measurable short term ill effects from this; long-term side effects have not been studied — often a concern to neighbors. The industry knows about the risk of high heat – that’s why their turf is impregnated with flame retardants. The effects of drinking, eating (via plants raised with toxic water) and regularly inhaling this flame retardant have not been studied.

The seven EMBUD directors found it easy to “just say NO” (their words) to the proposed rebate for artificial turf. However, the use of artificial turf is increasing. Many cities and counties are considering lifting previous bans on its use. Governor Jerry Brown, who was previously opposed, has recently said that he’d “now consider it due to the drought.” We need to contact these elected officials. A list of their emails and phone numbers is available on request.

This article originally appeared in the Rossmoor News, August 02, 2015. Authored by Carol Weed, M.D.

A New Column for ‘A Wonderful World’

Congratulations!  You are reading the first entry of the Rossmoor News’ latest column.

Last week, Maureen O’Rourke, the managing editor of the Rossmoor News, met with about a dozen leaders of SolarPowered Rossmoor and cemented plans for an every-other-week column featuring environmental news and views. I have the honor of being “first at bat.”

One of my favorite songs is Louie Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.”  I do believe that we are blessed to be able to live on this Earth…the green and blue gem of the universe. Those of us who will be writing this biweekly column are all determined to do our part to ensure that the good life we have enjoyed will be available for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

After a short get-together with O’Rourke, the SolarPowered members met to come up with a name for this new endeavor. The group considered dozens of variations using words such as sustainability, green, challenges, issues, conservation, environment, etc. We were searching for a phrase that would grab the attention of both conservatives and progressives.  We want everyone at Rossmoor to hear what we have to say.

Earth Matters

The closest to consensus we were able to get was “Our Living Earth.”  But later, Susie Clark emailed me and asked, what about “Earth Matters”?  That name seemed to hit a good chord with the rest of us, so that’s what we will call this column. Check the News in two weeks to see if we have found something that everyone likes better.

I will be the coordinator of the writers, but there will be several other authors contributing.  Just as the club has become involved in issues other than solar energy, this column will deal with a wide range of topics that SolarPowered Rossmoor thinks should be of interest to Rossmoor residents: climate change, water issues, energy conservation, endangered species, recycling, food choices, fossil fuel, new ideas in renewable energy and much more.

The environmental movement is relatively new.  It all started here in Northern California with John Muir and the newly formed Sierra Club back about 100 years ago. Lots has happened since then. For one, the population of the world has tripled (a quarter of a million more people inhabit the world each day). This population explosion leads to increased pollution, depletion of resources and conflicts.  Business as usual won’t work anymore.  Every one of us has an influence on the world we live in…let’s make sure it is mostly positive.  Hopefully, this column will help readers walk the earth with a softer footprint.

This article was originally published in the Rossmoor News on July 22, 2015 by author Bob Hanson.