According to a recent article from The Guardian, coal is now more expensive as an energy source than renewable energy in the United States. Citing conclusions drawn from a study on the topic conducted by Energy Innovation, the article explains that a combination of rising costs to run and maintain aging coal burning plants and investments in renewable energy from the Inflation Reduction Act have resulted in renewable energy costing about one third less than coal sources.
The inevitability of the cost changes seem clear, as renewable sources of energy continue to grow in availability and maintaining what is becoming an antiquated system that relies on coal becomes more expensive. While experts don’t advocate closing all 210 coal burning facilities immediately, transitioning to renewable sources is more feasible than ever before, with communities that surround these coal burning facilities in need of investment to support such a transition. Regardless, the experts agree that building solar fields and wind turbine clusters and connecting those to the grid is less expensive than maintaining the existing coal facilities.
Coal is a fossil fuel that is “ responsible for 60% of planet-heating emissions from electricity generation,” according to the article. While it was once a major source of energy for domestic use, it has declined steadily since its heyday decades ago, except for the uptick it received resulting from the war in Ukraine and amid energy concerns related to the conflict. But despite some efforts to associate coal with energy independence around the world, this study clearly indicates that real energy independence will come from continued investment in renewable sources.
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by Jack Barnett
No, the government won’t pay you…
…to install solar, or other clean energy improvements on your home. But there are plenty of new or improved tax incentives included in the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, effective as of January 1.
The IRA as it’s known (not to be confused with retirement finance), signed by President Biden in August last year is over 720 pages of dense regulatory language. While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has yet to provide most of the rules and procedures for claiming these benefits, the White House and others have been trying to get the word out, and unfortunately, some not-so-honest advertisers are spamming us with false or mostly false information. The IRA has over $370 billion over the next 10 years in various agency authorizations; healthcare, labor, transportation and environmental improvements, and economic incentives to domestic manufacturers, businesses and individuals. Way more than I can discuss here or just figure out.
Specific to residential clean energy, the IRA has new or improved tax incentives for many home energy conservation and upgrade projects (dollar amounts and rules vary by type), such as for energy audits, electrical upgrades, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, upgrading windows and insulation, water heating and even electric cooking. The IRA also returns the residential renewable energy tax credit to 30% of the cost for installing solar, wind, geothermal, and now also battery storage systems. These upgrades and installations can be for second homes as well as for your primary home.
With the extra high prices for fuel and electricity this year, these home projects can significantly reduce your utility bills by lowering your energy purchases. That’s an investment that pays back, not just from the tax savings, but on your utility bills for years to come. Plus, energy efficient homes are more valuable when it comes time to sell.
The IRA has reinvigorated the $7500 ‘clean vehicle’ federal tax credit, too. Individual purchases of new (and now some used, but reduced to $4000), domestically assembled fuel-cell, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles could be eligible. However, there are also new qualification limits, including your maximum income level, maximum price and minimum battery size. Check carefully with your dealer rather than assume a purchase is eligible.
In the past with most federal tax credits, to receive the benefit you had to file taxes and have a significant federal tax liability, which not all of us have. With these new rules, that’s changing. Some of these individual federal tax credits are to become “transferable,” meaning that a contractor, dealer or bank could receive the benefit or the payment from your tax credit, even if you don’t have a tax liability.
How this will work is one of the most unanswered questions awaiting details from the IRS. But given the risks and paperwork complexity it’s also likely those entities won’t give a full dollar-for-dollar upfront discount in exchange for the year-end transfer of your tax credit. Nevertheless, the expectation is that many more people will benefit from these improved clean energy incentives.
These, plus also the IRA’s many additional incentives for industry and businesses, are the reason for the claim that the IRA will, by 2030, reduce the United States climate-impacting annual emissions by 40% from 2005 levels. That’s a good start but still a long way to go to reach our international commitment of net-zero emissions by 2050.
From burning 1,000 gallons of heating oil to ZERO A Homeowner’s Journey
18 years ago, the three-floor, cathedral ceiling home we purchased in NEPA had three heat sources. The primary was an oil burner on the first-floor foundation level; secondary were an inefficient propane fireplace on the middle floor and antiquated electric baseboard heaters on the top floor. Initially our focus was on cost savings, so to offset the approximately 1,000 gallons of oil annually needed to heat the house we installed a wood burning pellet stove on the foundation level. The basic concept was that the pellet stove’s heat would rise through door and floor vents, with the help of fans, into the upper level which has a high, 29-foot cathedral ceiling. That’s when we learned about something called the stack effect. Essentially, pressure from the volume of cooler air in the upper level prevented hot air from rising; the pellet stove could heat the foundation level to 90 plus degrees, yet that heat could not sufficiently rise through the vents into the upper levels.
Meanwhile, the inefficient propane fireplace would turn off if the flue was not opened wide enough, consequently most of the heat it produced simply went out the chimney. So, after seeing how much heat the pellet stove produced, we replaced the propane fireplace with the pellet stove.
We also learned about outdoor wood burning furnaces. Basically, they heat water that gets circulated through the oil burner at a temperature high enough to prevent the oil burner from coming on. These furnaces can burn wood logs or pellets, as well as corn. At the time our aging electric hot water heater also started to leak, and the oil burner technician told us it could be replaced with a unit that utilized hot water from the oil burner. Subsequently, in cold months the outdoor wood furnace overrode the oil burner, so in addition to heating the house it heated our domestic hot water — a win win! Until we realized we were still burning 400-500 gallons of oil annually in warm months just for domestic hot water.
At this point there were multiple reasons why we wanted to completely stop burning oil. We consulted SEEDS local contractors listings and found Black Cherry Services & Renewable Energy Solutions, aka Gordon Smith. By this time our hot water heater once again needed to be replaced. Gordon recommended hybrid heat pump water heaters. Initially, we were excited by these — how can you go wrong with this new technology that was extremely energy efficient, would pay for itself through electric cost savings in a short time, plus removed humidity and cool the space in hot months? But we could not find another heating/cooling contractor that thought they were good for this area; in our research we learned they were used mostly in hotter parts of the country. The concern has to do with the way they operate, by taking in warm moist air from the surrounding space, while exhausting cool, dry air. As mentioned, this is a real plus in hot months, though the cool, dry air they exhaust is a concern in cold months. In other words, how much additional heat would be required to offset the cold exhaust? This is not an overriding factor when it can be installed in a lesser utilized basement area or attached garage. We were unable to find a local homeowner that operated a heat pump water heater in a fully conditioned setting like ours. The foundation level of our house includes two bedrooms and a bathroom which need to be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. So, here is how Gordon handled these issues, which worked beyond our expectations.
An electric hybrid heat pump water heater was installed in the boiler room on the foundation level in the early summer. In previous years summertime meant the foundation level would become uncomfortably hot and humid, require dehumidifiers (which generate heat), and exacerbated when the oil burner came on to heat domestic hot water. By contrast, with an electric hybrid water heater, which requires only 5 kilowatts-hours of daily electricity on average, the entire foundation level was comfortably dehumidified and cooled as a byproduct of the unit’s functioning. Next the oil burner and tanks were removed and replaced with a compact electric boiler which along with the water heater, were tied into the outdoor furnace. (Plus, all the freed-up space allowed us to add a laundry sink and move the washer and dryer into the boiler room.) Now during cold months, the outdoor furnace supplies hot water which overrides any need for the electric boiler or water heater to come on at all.
Gordon’s Renewable Energy Solution eliminated our dependency on burning fossil fuel, while lowering our heating and cooling costs. Before vs after savings are already apparent, though complete numbers will not be fully available until we have multiple years of comparative usage. That’s how we went from burning 1,000 gallons of oil to zero — protect our environment and save money, a definite win win!
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1,071 Acres of Land in Pike County
Preserved as Protected State Game Lands
According to PA Environment Digest, 1,071 acres in Shohola Township, Pike County, PA have recently been added to state game lands, linking two existing state land sites to create a “43 mile corridor of protected lands.” Purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania and then transferred to State Game Commission, the land is now protected from development and other infringement that could damage the wildlife and ecosystems, something increasingly more urgent amid climate change realities.
The purchase was possible due to the collaboration of a number of funding sources all dedicated to protecting the area, which, the article explains, “acts as a natural filter for clean water in the headwater streams of the Delaware River Watershed, which provides drinking water for approximately 15 million people, including residents of Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington and New York City.”
The article also explains that the land purchased “… lies downstream from Shohola Lake, includes more than a mile of frontage on Shohola Creek and six tributary streams. It also encompasses Bald Hill, a landscape that provides habitat for several plant and animal species of concern.” As it was transferred immediately to the Pennsylvania Game Commission it is now public land and open to all who would enjoy it. Read more about it here.
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