Tag: energy


 I Speak For The Trees

[continued from Part 1]

After meeting with the contractor that Ameren dispatched to walk my property line and mark trees, he invited me to walk the line with him. I was glad I did. Not only did this give me an opportunity to recalibrate his understanding of easements, but it gave him a chance to come clean and admit that he had already marked a half dozen of my trees with orange spray paint — designating them for removal! These trees were nowhere near the easement, but he said that they look for trees that will become a problem in the next few years and remove them as a preventative measure. He was very reasonable, and agreed to cover up the paint so that Nelson Tree Service would not touch them. (If it were only that easy!)

In my second letter to Ray Wiesehan, I recounted all of this and included photographs of the trees that had been painted. I concluded by telling him:

I very much appreciate your time and attention in coordinating with me prior to the trimming activity. However, it will have all been a waste of time if this information is not communicated to the Nelson Tree Service crew who actually performs the work. I have erected four Private Property signs along my property line to aid the crew in determining where they are allowed to cut. I have done everything I can reasonably do to protect my property. Now it is my expectation that you will do the same.

It quickly became apparent that all of my work had been for naught. Despite my due diligence, there had been no coordination whatsoever on Ameren’s part. The showdown I had hoped to avoid occurred May 5, when Nelson Tree Service showed up with their Super-Axe-Hackers, ready to fell my beloved Truffula Trees. I explained the situation to their supervisor, Randy Jennings, and he was also a very reasonable gentleman, but his complete lack of concern for where his crew was cutting left me quite dismayed. I asked him if anyone had talked to him with regard to my property, or if he even had a map of the property lines. The answer, of course, was no, and obviously, without a map, easements have no meaning.

The irony is that Ameren’s own web site says, “Ameren may have to remove trees that we deem a high risk to electrical service … A contractor from Ameren will notify the homeowner regarding the need for removal.” This is nonsense. It is painfully clear that even if a homeowner goes out of her way to demand this kind of interaction, it probably won’t happen. No, the only way to protect your trees from Ameren’s hired vandals is to camp out in your yard and be ready to speak on their behalf.

 I Am The Lorax

I am not a fan of Ameren. Ever since I spent seven days without electricity in the throes of a St. Louis summer, there is very little that company can do to find favor with me. I’m sure I’m not alone. That incident in July 2006, where a half million residents lost power for days following some severe storms, actually gave Ameren enough of a black eye that they started to at least pretend that they cared about their customers. In response to the public outcry, Ameren launched an initiative to make their service more reliable. What they actually launched was a War on Trees.

I’ve always been a fan of trees. Spending your entire childhood right next to the woods surrounding a creek will do that to you. The value of a tree is difficult to quantify when you consider all of its benefits. Beyond the sheer beauty, there are the obvious environmental benefits, not to mention the financial benefits of a shade tree that makes your air conditioner more efficient. In our current house, I’ve discovered that the abatement of noise and visual nuisances is one of a tree’s most valuable functions. I’ve also discovered that unless you are willing to speak in defense of your trees, you are likely to lose them to people who do not care.

So let’s ignore for the moment that Ameren is a monopoly that acts as an agent of the government (which by itself is plenty of reason to despise them), and focus on just the impenetrable bureaucracy of a public utility. In March I received a notice in the mail from Ameren that they were once again beginning their quadrennial assault on our arboreal assets. In response, I fired off a letter to Ray Weisehan, “Onceler” of Vegetation Management, asking that he direct his chainsaw mercenaries (Nelson Tree Service) to carefully consult their maps before setting foot on my property so that they would know which trees were in the Ameren easement, and which trees to leave alone.

To my surprise, Ameren actually responded by dispatching a Jared Rielson from the Utilimap Corporation to walk my property line and mark the trees that should be targeted. One might expect that a contractor from a company called Utilimap would have consulted an actual map before performing his duties. One would be wrong. It also came as a surprise when I told him that Ameren’s easement extended a mere five feet on either side of their electrical lines, and not the ten feet that he had been led to believe. But the last surprise was on me when we finally walked the property together…

[continued in Part 2]

 Stop Draggin’ My Car Around

Last year I wrote about the state of the electric car market, so I wanted to revisit the topic and provide an update. I’m still planning to buy an electric car one day, so this is something I have been following pretty closely for years now. I previously wrote about how GM started advertising its electric hybrids in 1969, and given that a New York City taxi driver was jailed for speeding in his electric car in 1899, I think it’s important to note that electric cars are not a new technology by any means. Cars that run on batteries are as old as cars themselves. So, as I lamented last year, what is taking so long?

Well, the good news is if you live in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas or Washington, you can buy an all-electric Nissan Leaf today. Likewise, Chevy’s plug-in hybrid, the Volt, is available now (in somewhat limited numbers).

The bad news? Standby for sticker shock. These cars start in the mid-30s, with some variants topping $50K. And let’s not even talk about the Tesla Roadster‘s price tag of $100K each. I suppose if enough buy them, the prices on these unique vehicles will eventually come down. But I’m tired of waiting. Come on people, go out there and buy some electric cars, so I can afford one!

 Electric Cars Still Coming

A year ago I wrote about the electric car from Zenn Motors that was on the verge of becoming a reality. A year later, it doesn’t appear to be any closer to real, unfortunately. I’m pretty bummed about that, but I can’t say I’m surprised. The promise of an electric car has been made and broken my entire life. Please click the picture to see an ad from Hot Rod Magazine for an electric hybrid car that GM was promising. Also, please note the ad appeared in 1969!

So yeah, electric cars are coming. Just like the flying car, the personal jet-pack, and video phones. Those technologies have been on the horizon my entire life as well, and we are no closer to them today than we were during the Johnson administration. It’s not that I’ve given up hope completely. Nissan is now taking reservations for the Leaf, the Chevy Volt is right around the corner, and of course if you have the dough, you can always drop $100K on a Tesla. So the cars are around, but you still have to ask yourself the question, why has it taken so long?

 An Inconvenient Purpose

A few years ago some folks started asking the question, What Would Jesus Drive? I’m not sure how seriously the question was supposed to be taken, as it was part of a campaign to demonize SUVs and the gas-guzzling ways of the people who drive them, but author Richard Gasaway has recently offered his answer to this question, and I don’t think it matters what kind of car it is, as long as it is powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

His book, An Inconvenient Purpose, approaches the environmental movement from the unique perspective of Christians seeking to act as stewards of God’s creation. He calls for the perceived conflict on this issue between left and right to be ignored in favor of doing what is right for the planet and what is right in God’s eyes, regardless of one’s political affiliation. I think this is an important point, and one that does not receive much attention. The debate is always framed in the media as left versus right, and those on the right, who have not taken the time to educate themselves, assume (wrongly) that because Al Gore advocates it, it must be wrong.

The author does a great job in this book of appealing to this demographic, and laying out a case for stewardship that transcends politics. He covers all aspects of the movement, from pursuing alternative energy sources, to lessening our dependence on foreign energy for national security reasons, to the environmental impact of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But he keeps coming back to hydrogen as the clean solution to our dirty addiction to oil — and that cleanliness is next to godliness.

My readers know that I frequently cover alternative energies, and that I’m a fan of electric cars. So, I may not share the author’s conviction that hydrogen fuel cells are the absolute best solution, but I found this point from the book to be very good:

People talk of the inefficiency in creating hydrogen, and all the energy that must be expended to generate hydrogen molecules. However, people don’t think twice about the inefficiency of creating electricity from start to finish. The electricity arriving at the normal house outlet often contains only a third of the energy content that orginated in the coal from which it started. Factor in the incandescent bulb inefficiencies of a typical house lamp plugged into that outlet and you’re at about five percent.

That is something to consider when criticizing an alternative energy — remove the beam from thine own eye before casting out the mote from thy brother’s eye. An Inconvenient Purpose carves out a well-defined niche for Christians in the environmental movement, and acknowledges their obligation to participate, it tackles the complicated issues involved in very accessible layman’s terms, all while offering an optimistic view of the future and the path we should all be following.

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