Hello comrades! If you're like me, you haven't done nearly as much as you wish to take the big oil companies and the military-industrial complex down. And you don't see the Democrats doing that any time soon either.
But if you're like me, you have managed to make some improvements through your lifestyle and consumption. Follow me below the fold for a look at my attempts to "go green" in Boulder, CO.
It started in the '95, when I moved to Honolulu for grad school. Considering the weather and my starving-student status, I decided to not get a car and try to get around by bicycle. It was heavenly, cheap, and healthy, except for the excessive number of cars that were always accidentally trying to run me over, since I was invisible to them, lurking on the shoulder/curb/sidewalk for survival.
When I left grad school, I looked up "bicycle friendly cities" and decided that Boulder was so much drier than Portland that I should try there. I found myself bicycling everywhere in Boulder, with bike lanes, paths, and great bicycle awareness by cars (compared to every other city where I'd biked). Finally I was free of car dependency and could start most days by bicycling to work. A free bus pass ensured that even in bad weather I could get to work without driving. Step one was complete.
Eventually, I was able to buy a home. My wife and I decided to buy a "permanently affordable" home in Boulder since we are poor by Boulder's standards, and we figured saving over 100k on the purchase price was worth the risk that we would miss out on a future housing bubble (our appreciation for resale is capped at 3%/year max to keep it permanently affordable).
Still, we ended up with a newly constructed townhouse, which, with only 2 people and 3 cats, uses about 4,500/year-- nearly half the national average. So step 2 was to go solar! With over 300 days of sun per year, this is a great place for solar PV panels.
After some wrestling with the HOA, we eventually got approval to get PV panels, though our evil utility Xcel was only willing to give a rebate to one that generated no more than 120% of our historical energy use, so we got panels estimated to produce 5,400kwh/year.
Solar panel cost summary-- gross: 20k, minus 30% federal tax credit, minus 3k solar grant, means we spent about 10k of our own money up front. The Xcel rebate will trickle in at 15 cents per kwh generated by the panels for the next 10 years. And every kwh generated is 10 cents we save in not buying it from the evil Xcel. (Plus, for ROI considerations, the PV panels immediately add to home equity.)
With an estimated 900 "extra" kwh coming in per year, it was now time to get an electric car. My 1988 Toyota Corolla had over 242k miles on it and was time to retire, esp. with a kid on the way. We liked the Nissan Leaf a lot, but we don't make enough money to actually receive the federal tax break for purchasing it, so we decided to take their 2 year, $250/month lease deal, which would protect us in case this car turned out like the latest iPhone, to be greatly surpassed with each year's new model.
Unfortunately, we haven't been unable to get completely off the grid, since at 4.1 miles per kwh, our 900 "extra" kwh from the PV panels only covers about 3,690 miles of driving per year. Since my wife and I are both gigging musicians, we drive to odd parts of Denver at odd times of the night, and between the 2 of us, we put 6k more miles than that on it per year.
Still, for a barely middle class couple, it wasn't that difficult to get mostly off the grid and make a green energy conversion well beyond what most people would need to achieve energy independence and climate stabilization. I haven't been able to take the fossil fuel bastards down, but at least now I'm giving them very little of my money.
If I ever get money in the future, I hope to look into a passive solar water heater awning (my roof is mostly full now) before my boiler needs replacing. And since I'm going to stay with the electric car, I'd love to see about putting up a little residential windmill on my roof to generate enough energy to cover the rest of my house and car's needs. There's no such thing as living perfectly green, but we do our best.