Re: Little Solar Houses for You and Me

Dear Editor:

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As a Winchester, Tenn., resident and strong supporter of renewable energy and sustainable living, I just want to say thanks to Amanda and to Grist for the great article on the renewable-energy scene in Tennessee and the Southeast.

It’s perfect that I stumbled onto your story (via a link from the DOE site). I recently bought an old house and want to retrofit it with as much eco-technology as feasible (and affordable). I’ve been eagerly researching green power options in recent weeks. I knew about the Green Power Switch program from TVA’s advertising around Nashville, but I was ecstatic to learn last week about TVA’s new Generation Partners program to pay homeowners for generating solar power. After reading about programs like these in California and precious few other states, and looking at the improving economics of solar equipment, I began looking into a PV system for myself, but didn’t expect to find a cutting-edge grid-connection program in my own backyard. Now I’m hoping to be one of the first power-generating houses in the Southeast!

While the TVA program looks great, we still don’t exactly have the 50 percent rebates that California is offering (though TVA does offer $500), so the economics of putting a system in are still a stretch for me. But there’s now a lot more incentive to make it work knowing what a pioneering program this is and that I can be one of the first people on board to help promote it. When more people know about it, I’m sure TVA will be signing up a lot more than 15 houses a year.

The Southeast has the resources to lead the nation in green power, and this article should encourage more people to take note of the momentum and the strong potential that are here.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

William Crook

Winchester, Tenn.


Re: Driving a Hard Bargain

Dear Editor:

Like most cure-all ideas, mileage-based insurance rates have not been thoroughly thought through. What about people like me, a home-care hospice nurse? I often have to drive upwards of 70 miles per day to help those suffering through their last days. Should I be monetarily penalized for doing my job?

Be assured, there are many others like me: hardworking, ordinary people, who aren’t out joyriding and burning up precious fossil fuels just for craps and giggles. We’re simply trying to make a living and, in the case of community health workers and their ilk, help our fellow human beings to live as good a life as possible.

I can promise you, if this kind of ill-considered legislation is brought to the floor of Congress, I will gather as many of my colleagues as possible, nationwide, to fight it tooth and nail.

Nancy Miller

Gwynn Oak, Md.


Re: Battery FAQ

Dear Editor:

Our company uses many more batteries (AA and more) than I would care to admit — and not rechargeable, for the most part. But we have found a recycling company with a bucket program that works out great — readers may wish to check it out at

Michelle Ellashek

Phoenix, Ariz.


Re: Battery FAQ

Dear Editor:

Every grocery store and department store where we live (Paris, France) has a small battery-recycling box in a visible part of the store. I’m not sure it’s a law or anything, but it’s been this way for a while. Also, Germany has similar boxes in its stores, and I imagine Switzerland, too.

Sandy Varndell

Paris, France


Re: Defrost Cost

Dear Editor:

With all due respect to your column, Louisa, and her colleagues, I wonder if you’ve missed a few points:

Running a car’s A/C compressor regularly is important to maintain the integrity of the seals in the air-conditioning system. Thus, running the defroster for a few minutes on a cold winter morning may help prevent leakage of nasty refrigerants (older cars still have refrigerants containing CFCs) and the premature replacement of components (which go straight to landfill). This also means that unless you have your A/C system evacuated, you should run it periodically year-round.

Most automatic transmissions do not adequately lubricate themselves when in neutral at freeway speeds. Years ago I carpooled with a frugal fellow who routinely shifted his Honda into neutral down a long slight decline in the freeway; I’m not sure if he ever connected that behavior with the fact that he needed the transmission rebuilt before the car reached 100,000 miles!

Seems that if your readers were obsessed with better mileage they should (1) drive less, (2) drive moderately and (3) in a smaller car with (4) the most efficient engine available and (5) manual transmission — excepting those few cars whose economy is equal or superior with automatic transmission.

Andrew Parker

Novato, Calif.


Re: Gear Factor

Dear Editor:

Putting your car in neutral while coasting may increase fuel consumption. Volkswagen (and I am sure others) has already figured this out. They cut off the fuel to the engine when you are coasting in gear with your foot off the gas. If, however, you put it in neutral, the engine still requires enough fuel to idle — not to mention the fact that you now have to use your brakes more to slow down.

Dave Proctor

Laurel, Md.


Re: Rebel with a Cause?

Dear Editor:

Howard Dean needs to read the latest book on GMOs by Jeffrey Smith, called Seeds of Deception. He needs to be brought up to speed on the latest evidence — especially if he’s going to use his status as an MD to qualify his opinions that apparently are missing the science, history, and bigger picture.

Chris Tarr

Lake Orion, Mich.


Re: The Thrill of Defeat

Dear Editor:

For those of us who are severely allergic to corn, ethanol is very bad news. Corn in any form causes me to have serious allergic reactions, and ethanol is worse then anything. Since ethanol can cause breathing problems, expect to see more asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other serious lung disorders. There must be safer alternatives than a common food allergen. While it may or may not be safer for the environment, it can prove deadly for some of us.

Donna Hoalin

Jackson, Mich.


Re: Liquid Assets

Dear Editor:

I just read this mostly excellent and thought-provoking article. On the whole, it addresses an issue with which community activists who deal with liquid natural gas struggle. I got the impression, however, that toward the end of the article there was an attempt to come to a conclusion that environmentalists need to embrace LNG, and in the process some factual accuracy was lost.

Specifically, the author writes:

“So far, companies have sited re-gasification facilities at safe distances from major cities and funneled the gas into the pipeline supply. Furthermore, that same safety argument could be made of oil tankers, which arrive on our shores daily. To protect against such a crisis, we have developed safety technologies such as bullet-proof containers, and there’s no reason similar features couldn’t be used for LNG transport.”

These statements are not accurate.

First, one of the four LNG receiving terminals currently operating in the U.S. is smack dab in the middle of Everett, Mass., within 900 yards of the downtown. The transport of LNG to Everett through Boston Harbor — with less than a half-mile of buffer on either side of the ships at times — has been the subject of controversy since the 1970s, when it was built. Information on local concerns, including that of the mayor and fire chief of Boston, can be found in the many Boston Globe articles on the topic or by contacting the officials’ offices directly.

While the other three terminals (Elba Island, Ga.; Cove Point, Md.; and Lake Charles, La.) are more reasonably distanced from neighboring communities, that is hardly the case with sites currently proposed in several states. My community of Vallejo, Calif., was one of the first to be openly courted (read by some to mean targeted) by LNG hopefuls Bechtel and Shell for a receiving terminal, storage, and re-gasification facility. The tankers not only would have had to make long trips under the Golden Gate Bridge and through busy San Francisco Bay to reach Vallejo, but the terminal was proposed for less than a mile from schools and neighborhoods. Based on current research by independent experts such as Drs. Fay and Havens, a mile may not be sufficient — let alone a quarter of a mile (as proposed in Freeport/Quintana, Texas, or in the case of several of the five gas companies seeking to break into Baja California) or less than one-half mile (see Calpine’s plan for Humboldt Bay in Northern California, or Mitsubishi’s proposal for Long Beach Harbor).

Further, the analogy to oil tankers is inapt. Not only are most oil tankers significantly smaller than LNG tankers, oil is not concentrated 600 times. Therefore, the mass of firepower in a single LNG tanker is far beyond that of any oil tanker (or storage tank, for that matter).

Nor does spilled oil have LNG’s characteristics — when oil spills, it spills. If it burns, the fire is generally contained to the area and can be fought — even if not very effectively (Boston fire officials are a good source for information on fighting LNG fires). Compare LNG — when it spills, it warms and begins vaporizing, and on water it expands so fast it can look like an explosion. In certain conditions it can form a fog-like “vapor cloud” that is flammable and can travel for miles before it dissipates. When LNG or the vapor ignites, it burns so fast and so hot that thermal radiation is intense. Simply put, for the purpose of a safety discussion, LNG is hardly oil.

Finally, no “bulletproofing” can reasonably be expected to contain LNG — at least not in the near future. LNG is transported in the same type of double-hulled tankers that oil is transported in, which are breached from time to time by small boats carrying bombs. It is highly unlikely that the industry will develop a special bulletproof ship for LNG — it would take an enormous outcry followed by strict regulation to get such safety requirements mandated.

For more on the current “battle of the experts” on LNG safety, refer to the Mobile Register articles on that topic. Mobile Bay is currently the site of an LNG receiving terminal proposal, and the newspaper is doing a first-rate job of researching and covering these issues.

The Griscom article so misrepresents the safety concerns and potential remedies that I can only conclude that this paragraph was written at the last minute, or taken at face value from an industry proponent. The author may well have felt she was getting accurate information. Nevertheless, since safety is the central concern of all communities now dealing with LNG project proposals, accuracy when representing these facts in any article is very important. If even Grist adopts the industry rap, what are we to do?

Ironically, the article skips mention of other characteristics of LNG that make it preferable to oil and coal. For one, LNG — methane — does not mix with water. It vaporizes into the atmosphere whether it burns or not. So you get no deadly and messy oil spills. And, if the terminals are built offshore, the safety issues are minimized. Emissions from the massive tankers are extremely high, but if offshore they may pose less risk to local populations of people and animals.

Of course, few articles can cover every angle, and Ms. Griscom has done an excellent job batting around the various philosophical and practical challenges we are now faced with as the fossil-fuel era passes.

Elena DuCharme

Vallejo, Calif.

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