E is for Energy

Maybe you've heard about the energy chatter in Vermont's Mad River Valley. Or maybe not.

There isn't really a quick way to explain it. If I had to, I might start with localvores and the idea of "localizing" food production, then draw a parallel to the idea of doing the same thing with how we create the energy we use every day.

But I might also start with oil ... the fuel that drives our cars and heats our homes in New England, the one that underwrites ongoing shipments of Vermont soldiers to the middle east, the one that also spewed and destroyed the Gulf of Mexico last spring, and the one that can send an entire nation into full freakout mode when the price starts creeping up at the pump.

An important layer to add is the looming spectre of a nearby nuclear plant. But the ghoulish fright factor of Vermont Yankee isn't just the leaks and the obfuscated reporting and a historical lack of transparency: it's the hole in output that would result from a closed nuke plant. Turns out it's a big one.

And to put the frosting on the top, you've got your locals. A big batch of which work for local-ish renewable companies (Northern Power, NRG systems, AllEarth Renewables, Alteris), and another big batch of which are either pining for Howard Dean to run for president, or counting the days till Vermont secedes from the union and becomes a haven for dirt roads and legal weed. Around here, they like their tea green and put Hakkepalitas on their biodiesel jettas. And when renewable-friendly Obama won the nomination, they gathered at the local movie theater to watch the Daily Show cover the historic occasion.

It's a community that looks quite green on paper. But when it comes to local energy production, things are actually a bit more grey.

Three big events from the last six months have underlined the color change with a huge black Sharpie. One was the proposal to put an industrial wind farm on the valley's pristine eastern border. The second was the subisidy-fueled arrival of a few dozen "solar trackers" -- home-sized solar units that look sort of like the love child of a satellite dish and a drive-in theater movie screen -- along well traveled scenic routes. And the third was the town's realization that they had almost zero control over either (a handful of folks on the state's Public Service Board make those final decisions).

In the wake of those developments, things have got noisy around here. And organized. And occasionally somewhat pissy.

For the three of you who'll actually read this whole post, I think you'll agree with me on this: regardless of what side you're on in the renewable debate, emotion has been the main winner.

In other words, it's easy to find the line between those who love local renewable energy production and those who hate it. But it's hard to find somebody -- on either side -- who's arguing their point with actual information.

You might imagine how the lights went off in my head when I had the good fortune to not space out about last month's Planning Commission meeting. This was the one that featured a couple designers from the Vermont Energy Atlas, presenting the website and its snapshot of possible renewable energy output for each home and property in the state. And oh, it's got maps ... for solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and efficiency. It's also got graphs that can chart your home's solar potential, for example, against the average in the rest of the state. And it's got sliding scales that can help you figure out how long it'll take to pay off a home-based system, based on how much you're paying for electricity right now.

The more I watched the team poke around the Atlas, the more I realized that on a personal scale, it's tough to imagine a better tool for right here, right now. And what the Atlas didn't provide ... fortunately, the Atlas team brought that as well: a working draft equation for the total energy required to provide 100% of Waitsfield's electricity and transportation needs (heating oil wasn't included, alas). And according to this calculation -- which was more about the concept than promoting one energy type over another -- it would take solar panels on 211 acres of land to provide 100% of these energy needs in an ongoing, sustainable manner. (Note: solar was chosen "randomly" for this calculation. It just as easily could be wind or another renewable energy source).

It's a rough equation. But it's a start. And from this vantage point, a more educated, less emotional conversation can get moving about how much we're using in energy right now, and how much we feel is the right amount to offset in the future. Maybe we start with a very basic percentage like 10% and grow from there. Or maybe we get more aggressive right out of the gate.

But either way, it's progress.

Ok.... here are the stats if you can't read them in the slide.


* Population = 1,678

* ~12,500 miles/capita/year
(Source: Waitsfield Town Plan)

* 500 gallons/capita/year (@25mpg)

* 1 US gallon Gas = 114,000 BTU/gal
(Source: Wikipedia)

* 3,412 BTU’s/kWh
(Source: Wikipedia)

* 4.3kWh/day in VT meaning a 1kW solar array
(Source – National Solar Radiation Database, e.g., 5 – 200W panels, 4 – 250W panels etc.) will produce on average 4.3kWh/Day of power, amortized throughout the year with length of day, average weather conditions (snow, rain, cloudy days etc.)

Total transportation fuel?
1678 people * 500g/person/year = 839,000 gallons

Total kWh Equivalent
(839,000g * 114,000btu)/3412btu/kWh = 28,032,239 kWh (28,032 Mwh/year)

OFFSET SCENARIO 1: Ground Mounted Solar Offset (100%):

1 Mw array requires ~ 6 acres of land producing 1 Mw x 4.3h/day x 365 days/yr x 0.8 Derate Factor = 1,250 Mwh/yr:
(Source: Acres/1Mw array of RACK MOUNTED SOLAR (Not Trackers) from Alteris Renewables 200kW array in Berlin, VT on 1.2 acres & 1.2Mw array being built in Ferrisburg, VT on 7 acres; “Derate Factor” see NREL PVWatts Help - http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculators/PVWATTS/derate.cgi for general discussion, I ended up using a value of .8 vs. .77 based on feedback from VT solar professionals, e.g., AllEarth Renewables, Alteris etc.)

For Transportation Fuels, 100% liquid fuel offset:
(28,032 Mwh/1,250 Mwh/yr) * 6 acres/Mw = 134 acres

For Electric Consumption (2008), 100% electric consumption offset:
(16,038 Mwh/1,250 Mwh/yr) * 6 acres/Mw = 77 acres

Total Offset for Electric & Transportation - Rough Estimate = 211 acres


2010: World's easiest outdoorsy halloween costumes

10. La Nina

Just steal what Farley did.

9. Chilean Miner & Mistress
Poncho? Check. Moustache? Check. Sexy South American arm candy? Keep looking.

8. Al Gore & 'An Inconvenient Truth'
The new 'Ghost of Christmas Past.'

7. Ambiguous Renewable Duo
Solar and Wind. Nobody quite sure how to react.

6. Floyd Landis
Follows Lance Armstrong around all night, trying to get somebody, anybody, to bust him.

5. Scary windmill guy
Coming to YOUR backyard. Ooooh!

4. Sexy windmill lady
Super hot, especially when she's trick-or-treating in a neighborhood that's not her own.

3. Elin Nordegren
Lovely lady with a three iron and a suitcase of cash.

2, Aron Ralston
Curly haried guy with one arm and a suitcase of cash.

1. BP executives
Will buy a drink for anybody.


Because we all need a little more 'Mountain' in our lives

A few days ago, I got the season's first issue of Mountain in my PO Box. It was fat with ads, packed with features, and sported a pro-print editor's note (reprinted here, with permission) that got me fired up to power down and hunker down with the mag and a cup of the blackest coffee I could find.

Mountain launched last fall. For those of you keeping score at home, yes, that was also the fall where the death of print was loudly proclaimed by castles at every corner of the kingdom. And yes, it was also the fall after the collapse of a couple notable outdoorsy titles.

So to see a full-scale magazine rise from the carnage .... hell, to see it practically puking with ads in my mailbox in its second season ... is heartwarming. Maybe it's because of the lean spirit of the publication (their minimalist office in North North North Boulder is renowned for daily homemade burger grill sessions). But maybe it's because their recipe is working.

The editorial vision for Mountain comes from the mind of Marc Peruzzi ... a former editor at Outside and Skiing, who a few years ago penned the best article ever written on the love-hate relationship we all have with Boulder, Colorado (as well as another gem on "pot for athletes"). I pestered him via email until he answered a few of my questions.

WO: Was the kernel of the idea behind Mountain to offer content that isn't already available out there? Or was it to gather together an advertiser community that wasn't being served in some way?

MP: The answer to that question is “both.” Here’s why: I’ve always thought that there was a void in the market between the vertical ski, bike, climb, backpack titles and the bigger general interest, lifestyle-driven outdoor mags. Ultimately you write for the people you know, and I know a lot of people who are passionate skiers, cyclists, and mountain athletes that are looking for sharp content that speaks to a sense of place—the mountains of North America. Our readers have generally outgrown the verticals, but they also don’t connect with six-pack abs in Sayulita, or Lance on Everest stories either. So we can give them their correct dose of skiing and trail running (not the overdose of a vertical) and then surprise them with a story about wolf reintroduction or meth in the high country or an advocacy piece about grass fed beef. You would have to subscribe to five or six magazines to come close to our mix of content. And even at that you wouldn’t see the photography we run.

But none of that would matter much if we couldn’t get the ad support to make it happen. We went into this knowing that people who live or vacation in the mountains have a lot in common. Do you know any skiers who don’t own mountain bikes? Do you know any trail runners who don’t own a waterproof shell? Any Nordic skiers who don’t care about their food supply? Obviously the resorts understand this and that’s where we get most of our support; we push people to the mountains. But regional craft brewers, bike companies, apparel makers, ski manufacturers and on and on, like our readership, too. There’s no waste. We aren’t selling magazines to surfers or people looking to vacation in Monaco.

WO: If I were a writer, and I was looking to pitch you a story, what should I say to guarantee I get the assignment?

MP: First I’d subscribe to and read the magazine. Which is the first thing I learned in Intro to Magazine Article Writing in college. Spending a few dollars to potentially earn hundreds or thousands just makes business sense. And I’m nauseated by freelancers who bemoan the state of print but don’t give anything back. After that, I need to know that you’ll crush it on draft 1. There’s a tendency among today’s writers to phone in the first version because they’ve been trained by fat edit staffs to expect multiple rewrites. I don’t work in that world. One sloppy draft and you’re out forever. I’m not expecting everyone to deliver copy like a Hampton Sides, Mike Kessler, or Florence Williams, but work to the best of your ability.

WO: Now that half the world's freelance outdoor writers live in Boulder, is Boulder the best place on earth to run a magazine or the worst?

MP: Occasionally I capitalize on all the great local freelancers here in Boulder, but our creative director lives in Glorietta, New Mexico, and our contributors are, by design, spread out throughout the mountains of North America. If I had a connection I could do my job from a cave in the Sawtooths. But the ad sales guys are in a good place,

WO: How many medical marijuana dispensaries do you go past on your ride to work?

MP: On my 1.5 mile bike commute I pass four. One just opened across the street (they put out green balloons for their open house.) My favorite has a crude hand painted plywood sign that advertises: Used Books, LPs, Weed.

WO: Back when you were at Skiing, you worked on a couple generations of "Mountain Summer" ... a warm-weather edition for the Skiing crowd. But as I recall, the issue really struggled to draw advertisers. What did you learn from that experience that's being used by the crew at Mountain?

MP: Thankfully that was before my time. Just like you can’t write about dogs in Cat Fancy, you can’t write about anything other than skiing in Skiing. The audience was correct, but if I was an advertiser I wouldn’t buy it either. For our part, we never wanted to produce just another ski title. Ski titles had more relevance back in the 70s and 80s when people identified themselves as skiers and nothing else. But the user group has matured. I’m a skier, but I’m a cyclist, and a backpacker, and a backcountry skier, and a hack paddler too. And I also care about the environment and social issues related to the mountains. Mountain isn’t limited by the seasons.

WO: How many press releases do you get in a week? And how many do you read?

MP: I unsubscribe from a half dozen a day. I only read the ones that come from somebody who gets it. Please don’t pitch me on electric shavers or anything that you would bring to the beach.

WO: You were on staff at Outside, right? And Skiing? What is it about magazines that keep you coming back for more?

MP: Before getting into the magazine business I was a philosophy major and a ski shop manager, but I was always a heavy magazine consumer. Ultimately I pursued a journalism degree with the sole intention of writing magazine articles. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. It’s true that newspapers and newsweeklies have taken a hit from the new technology. But magazines that are about something will always matter.

WO: Who would win in a 100 yard dash: you, Sam Moulton or Tom Bie?

MP: Sam wins. Tom would show up 15 minutes late, muttering about fish. I would go for a ski.


The Daily Wedgie: Alta rope tow

Hat tip to Cas at The Adventure Life for the "Camel-towed rare wedgie spotted in the wild."

The Daily Shred: Wonder Woman

There are so many killer aspects to this clip, it's tough to know where to start with the praise. Is it the magical spin that creates a skate helmet (why didn't she just spin up some car keys?), the fast-motion filming to add speed to her descent, or the iso-cam closeups? Regardless, Happy Friday.

All thanks to Pedro for finding this beauty. LINK