Blagojevich to cut greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020

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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to develop a cost effective strategy to cut Illinois greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. The goal is similar to that of a new California law initiated by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is refreshing to see both political parties focused on solving a problem of concern to the majority of Americans.

While the goals of both states are similar, Illinois will present some unique challenges as the administration has already approved of the construction of five new coal-fired plants. The plant approved for Springfield includes provisions to purchase wind energy to offset its carbon emissions. If the other four coal plants made similar investments, the state would be on its way to meeting another Blagojevich goal of acquiring 10 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2015.

Replacing some old polluting coal-fired plants with cleaner, more efficient plants could also help limit greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most effective ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to use less energy and use it more efficiently. Energy experts claim cost-effective energy efficiency strategies can save between 30 and 70 percent of our current energy consumption.

We have seen many attractive energy efficient homes with high levels of insulation and energy-efficient windows and doors that perform admirably. The newest versions are known as One-Watt Homes, Zero Net Energy Homes and Energy Plus Homes. A One-Watt Home uses 90 percent less energy than a traditional home and costs about 10 percent more to build. A Zero Net Energy home is also energy efficient but generates as much energy from the sun during a year as it draws from the grid. The Energy Plus Home is designed to produce more electricity over the course of a year than it uses.

While construction costs for these homes are higher than conventional, savings on energy bills defray the added costs. In times of costly, uncertain energy supplies, these homes provide owners with a measure of energy security. With appropriately written mortgages, monthly payments will reflect the lower operating costs of the buildings.

Upgrading insulation in an older building or curtailing energy losses through windows and doors will cut monthly energy bills and make a building more comfortable. Federal tax credits are available for such improvements. Similar credits are available to encourage people to purchase Energy Star appliances and equipment for home and office use.

Government purchases could stimulate increased use of more fuel-efficient vehicles including hybrid electrics, plug-in hybrids and more efficient gasoline and diesel engines using cleaner fuels, which help cut emissions. The Rockford Park District has used such vehicles for several years.

While technological solutions are available and important, strategies to change our energy consumptive lifestyles are essential. One approach is to lessen urban sprawl and redevelop underutilized urban areas to make walking, biking, busing and light rail service more attractive and economical. Living closer to work, schools, churches and medical and recreational services reduces our need to drive as many miles as we do.

Our society has spent the last 60 years undoing the communities which were energy efficient and less reliant on everyday use of cars and trucks. With global warming and the need to reduce our reliance on energy imports, updated versions of these earlier communities could be effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adjusting to peaking oil and natural gas will present us with new economic opportunities that can serve to revitalize our economy, lessen the massive costs involved in importing oil and natural gas, provide new job opportunities and improve environmental quality.

While we welcome the governor’s new initiative and await its outcome, there is no need to wait to implement energy-efficient practices in our homes and communities. We recently talked with the owner of a mall who purchased compact fluorescent bulbs on sale and proudly pointed to a fixture holding them. He calculated the bulbs will pay for themselves in energy savings within six weeks.

During previous energy savings discussions with him, he acknowledged the economic benefits of changing those bulbs but had not acted on that knowledge. We suspect there are more people who know what they should do, but for whatever reason, just have not done it. If you are one of them, it is time for you to save energy and money.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

From the Feb. 21-27, 2007, issue

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