Sunday, 29 November 2009

Our Big Fat Energy Credit

Anyone depending on sun & wind to power their home dreads the month of November. It's usually the darkest and wind-stillest month of the year. Drizzle and wet snow will come straight down; compare that to the blizzards we can expect very soon, and I suppose we should be grateful for it...

A typical November day: no sun, no wind...

For solar and wind-powered folks like us things are a bit different. We almost welcome those howling storms that make the snow fly horizontally. It means lots of energy is being produced and stored in the battery banks. Same for those bright January and February days, when you can't go out without your sunglasses and sunscreen on: lots of sunlight bouncing off all that snow produces lots of solar energy. Call us crazy, but we can't wait till it gets cold & windy!

Until then, we'll just have to sit this dull November out. Looking at our charts I see we produced a measly 12.5 KW/hrs of solar energy and 9.5 KW/hrs wind energy over the past 7 days; that's a total of 22Kw/hrs. We typically produce that in 2 good days.

Still, the lights stay on at the Nolalu Eco Centre, together with the stereo, the fridge, our computers and even the big-screen video projector for those must-have movie nights.
Of course we're a bit more careful when using power, but what really saves our free-range bacon: it's days like these that we happily dip into the credit we've built up with the Power Utility. Each summer and fall we produce hundreds of excess Kilowatt-hours that all get pumped back into the power grid, producing a big fat credit at Hydro One. Think of it as a Power Piggy Bank that we're now taking some change out of.

Of course we should still be careful how much power we're using, as even big fat credits will come to an end. But at least we don't have to worry too much about those long dark days. And thank goodness, we can still have our movie nights!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Greenwash of the Red (Wine) Variety

The digital ink of my previous post had hardly dried or I came across yet another fine example of greenwashing. Or more accurately: I fell for yet another fine example: this bottle of Eco Trail, an Ontario-made red wine by Pelee Island Winery (a VQA, no less).

That's right: Eco Trail. So being a certified green geek, I made a bee line for this bright green label the moment I spotted it at our local liquor store.
It had all the trappings of the environmentally responsible purchase: a local -or at least regional- product (Ontario), environmentally acceptable packaging (glass), an eco label ("Eco Trail") and a non-impulse purchase (hey, I happen to like a good glass of wine, okay?).

So how come I feel taken advantage of?

Well, upon reading the bottle's fine print on the back label, it appears this winery isn't as "eco" as its label suggest. For me, an environmentally responsible wine maker doesn't use pesticides, doesn't use petro-based fertilizers, doesn't over-irrigate, only uses local varieties of grapes, you get the idea. None of this is mentioned on the loftily-phrased back label.

So why does this vinyard consider itself greener than the competition? Well, there's extensive talk about a near-extinct type of frog which used to live there in large colonies before someone with a business plan turned this frog's natural habitat into a winery. However, a few frogs managed to survive and according to the back label, the winery decided to let them be and not eradicate them (there probably weren't enough of them to do any serious damage).

Somehow I don't think this is "eco". Somehow I don't really think this actually makes our world a better place. Somehow I think: it would have been better if those frogs hadn't been killed in the first place.

My verdict therefore: greenwash of the very first order.
But I must admit, it was a very nice wine...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Green Wave or Green-washing...?

Halloween had hardly left the building or Santa lept on the stage. Judging by his zeal I'm sure he could hardly wait. Already we're surrounded by Christmas songs, Christmas decorations and Christmas advertising. After all, Christmas (the most important time of year for most retailers) is all about buying and selling and excessive consumption, isn't it? And with everyone jumping on the Eco bandwagon, expect to see a lot more "green gifts" and "eco presents".

A good example is this "Eco Dollhouse With Furniture" by Playwell, proud member of the Canadian Toy Association. Their ad claims "This eco-efficient dollhouse is made from chemical-free rubberwood and features replicas of alternative energy sources (including a windmill, solar panels & electric inverter), recycling bins & an adjustable blind to control sunlight & air circulation. It also includes 5 rooms of furniture made from organic cotton" (suggested retail: $269.95).

Why, it's a mini Eco Centre without solar hot water collectors (although they beat us on the organic cotton thing)...!

Only... I'm not so sure what to think of it. Okay, I guess it's better to have this house concept available as it represents a saner life style than the standard consumerism one, but still... I can't shake this feeling something's wrong with it. Maybe it's the whole political correctness-thing of it (forget the kids; their eco-conscious parents can't wait to show it off to their similar-minded friends). Or maybe the nagging feeling that it's very likely "made in China" - the other side of the world, burning oodles of fossil fuel to reach our toy stores' shelves, like 95% of our toys.

Christmas for me is not about $270-dollhouses, no matter how "eco" they may be. Christmas should be less about consuming and more about sharing & restoring. My verdict for now is this is an example of "green-washing", giving consumers the feeling they're helping the environment while conveniently not requiring to change their life style.

Oh, and just for the record: don't ever think of mounting your windmill onto your house - a recipe for disaster.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Morning Snow

Just a picture of two young bucks (that's male deer, for those who don't live up here) in our snow-dusted field this morning. The nights are getting colder, the days shorter, we've gone back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time (Daylight Wasting Time...?), all sure signs that the cold season is closing in.

Pretty soon our fields will be permanently covered with snow, and wildlife (including ourselves) struggling through what promises to be another long cold winter. The wood stove is on most of the days now, just a small fire as our thick straw bale walls keep the house nice and warm.

The Nolalu Eco Centre will be going into hibernation mode, too. Workshops and the Eco Hero contest are done, house tours and presentations are slowing down for the winter, only the occasional B&B guest drops in. New plans and initiatives are in the works, though, there's always plenty to do.
And I just realized our snowshoes haven't even been touched up yet from last year's intensive use...!