Friday, January 9, 2009

What If LIPA Had Spent $6 billion on Conservation?

Showing once again the critical importance of having a functioning, professional news organization, Newsday revealed today that the Long Island Power Authority has spent $6 billion to feed our supposedly insatiable appetite for power.

LIPA, under one-time consumer advocate Richie Kessel, put all that money in on its bet that the residents of Long Island would never kick the power habit. So we'll be paying $1.49 billion for the privilege of buying power (fuel costs are separate and will be added) for the next 20 years generated by the new Caithness plant in Yaphank. Contracts giving us access to out-of-state power via new the new Neptune cable will cost us $2.7 billion. And so on.

Of course, the way consumer rates for electricty are set, LIPA had every incentive to go along with the never-ending growth scenario. Falling usage means falling revenue the way the game is rigged, and shrinking an organization on purpose--well, in your dreams.

But just think how much power, money and air pollution could have been saved if LIPA had invested even $1 billion in conservation and alternative power. Gordian Raacke, founder of Renewable Energy Long Island, lamented in an email to me that "we are investing these billions in technologies of the past rather than those of the future. What we need are investments in 21st Century state-of-the-art energy technologies like energy efficiency and renewable power like solar and wind."

Indeed, but the wind project was supposedly too expensive. Now we must ask, compared to what?

Raacke went on to write that LIPA plans to spend only about $32 million on its energy efficiency program and $14 million this year on its solar program. That's less than 1 % of its $3.845 billion operating budget.

In a different scenario, in which LIPA's leaders were really serious about conservation, they could have shoved some of that $6 billion into a program to give every Long Islander a half-dozen compact fluorescent bulbs. Just watch your bills drop with those! They could have lowered our school and town taxes by giving away bulbs to school districts and municipalities, enough of them to trade out every old-technology incandescent bulb.

LIPA could could have financed completely or heavily subsidized the installation of a huge number of solar panels on homes, as has occured in other countries like Germany. The solar incentive program LIPA has been running for several years puts the pay-off for the investment out at 10 years, too long for most people. A bigger subsidy could have brought that down to 5 years, or even 3, and then it would have been a no-brainer for most people. Solar panels would have sprouted almost as fast as crab grass, and on those scorching days of summer, all those panels could have been sending excess power back into the grid--at a cost so much less than Caithness, etc., it makes me want to cry $6 billion tears.

LIPA could have enlarged its program of rebates for purchases of the most efficient appliances on the market, giving people a good reason to ditch their old refrigerators and power-glutton air conditioners.

It could have funded extensive public education programs to teach people about the importance of conservation.

Instead, we'll all suffer for the next 20 years for decisions made in secret by this so-called "public" authority. this quasi-governmental creation that was designed and is used to hide their operations from the public. (Just think about other "Authorities" like the MTA, and you get the idea.)

Let's not forget that we have Newsday to thank for this revelation. Newsday, whose excellent reporters and editors have been bought out and laid off in droves, gutted by a succession of owners who saw it only as a money machine to pay off the huge debt they took on to build a media empire.

It's time, folks, to rise up, to lead our elected officials by the nose so that they get the idea: we really want conservation. We really want lower taxes and know there are ways to lower them. We really want to preserve our planet. We really get it.

For cost-effective ideas on how to conserve energy (the most cost effective is improving insulation) go to the website for Renewable Energy Long Island. And weep some $6 billion tears.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Diet Season: The Gimmicks Multiply

I just received an email seeking publicity for a new book touting junk food as a way to help manage your weight. Sure. I want to believe that 100-calorie packs of cookies and Cheetos, mini-cheese burgers and such will melt those pounds away. I'd also like to believe that the drop in my 401k account was actually a mistake, and I'm richer, not poorer.

But it just ain't so. And so, I'm not going to name that new book here, partly because the author is a former executive of Coca Cola and Genera Mills.

The bigger reason is that believing you can lose weight by snacking is just another delusion, a way to keep people spending money on diets and gimmicks that just don't work.

I ought to know. I've been fighting this battle since I was a child, and I've done a fair amount of research over the years about nutrition and fad diets.

Here we are at the beginning of a New Year, and everyone who has made a resolution to lose weight--this year! for sure!--is looking for an easy way.

There isn't one. As the leader at my local Weight Watchers meeting repeats every week: there is no cure for obesity.

Weight Watchers isn't paying me to write this. But the truth is that their comprehensive approach to weight loss is the only one that gives you a real chance to feel comfortable in your body.

For example, in recent years their plan has focused on research indicating that people need to consume a relatively large quantity of food in order to feel satisfied and not give in to temptations to binge (one of my weaknesses). In fact, I've come to realize that I need to spend a good amount of time chewing, just raising that fork or spoon to my mouth, in order not to feel deprived.

The key to eating a lot but losing weight is to eat filling but low-calorie foods--like fruits, vegetables, soups, salads, whole grains, beans. Not 100-calorie snack packs, whose sugar content, in my case, seems to trigger a physiological desire for more sugar that can make it almost impossible for me to stop eating until the whole box of snack packs or a pint of Haagen-Dazs is gone.

Motivated by health problems, I lost 20 pounds in 2008 following the Weight Watchers method, and I believe if I work at it, I can lose more this year.

But the operative word here is "work." It takes planning, cooking, concentration, regular exercise and reinforcement that the weekly Weight Watcher meetings supply. A slim woman at a recent meeting said she had lost 85 pounds 14 years ago and has kept it off, in part by still attending meetings for support. That could be discouraging, if you want to dwell on the fact that she still needs help after all these years.

Or, you could, as I have, take inspiration from her example. It's possible to get thin and stay thin. But let's not kid ourselves. It's not easy, and believing in tooth fairy versions of diets won't get you there.