Archive for March 2012
This is another of the Press Releases that I get, and unusually this one struck a nerve. First off there was the CBC news report this morning that Barack Obama was using his “bully pulpit” to persuade congress to end the massive subsidies to the oil industry. They have been getting them for over a hundred years to subsidize exploration and drilling – and not only do they not need them (they are, after all, hugely profitable) but there are much better things to spend taxpayers money on. (Buried in the block quote below you will find this gem “fossil fuels benefit from decades of subsidies and the support of powerful interests”. Indeed.) Secondly the Green Party of BC is in the process of developing its own “technology road map for the production of clean energy”, so it would certainly help if we could have access to one that has already been developed.
What also attracted me was the first recommendation of the authors is energy efficiency. This goes back to my days as a provincial civil servant at MEMPR’s Energy Management Branch. While everyone else in the energy ministry was busy try to get ever more coal, oil and gas out of the ground,we were trying to make better use of the stuff we already had. And since in the mid-nineties energy prices were low (though plenty of people didn’t see it that way) we had to work to find things with sensible payback periods. That wasn’t hard, even then – and is even easier now, I think. One thing we have to do is stop being quite so blinkered. Like the gas inspector from the City of Richmond who insisted that if I installed a high-efficiency gas fire in my living room, it would also need an air brick through an outside wall for combustion. Actually, no it didn’t, it gets that from the flue but I suppose he had not seen the drawings and did not like to admit ignorance.
The WorldWatch Institute has a web page you should visit, even if the idea of sustainable energy roadmap is not top of your mind. You can also buy a copy of the report from there as a pdf or hard copy for $12.95. They are doing these studies in places like the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. Not that you will find those easily on this graphic of where the energy gets used.
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues.
Sustainable Energy Roadmaps Chart Course to Healthier Economies and Societies
Mix of GIS, technical and financing advice helps countries shift
from high-carbon imports to low-carbon domestic energy
Washington, D.C.—-By embracing an integrated mix of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid technologies, countries can put their energy systems on a more sustainable path while developing economically, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. The report, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps: Guiding the Global Shift to Domestic Renewables, lays out an innovative, targeted approach that details how countries can take specific technical, policy, governance, and financial steps to help make the shift to sustainable energy a reality.
“Still today, an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity, and another 1 billion have unreliable access,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Program and the lead author of the report. ”But expanding fossil fuels is not the solution to the world’s energy challenges. We need solutions that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable—-many of which are now at hand.Implementing our Sustainable Energy Roadmaps will enable decision makers to pursue strategies that are in the true interest of their people while protecting Earth’s climate.”
To develop a Sustainable Energy Roadmap, Worldwatch analyzes an area’s potential for energy efficiency gains and undertakes detailed GIS mapping of local renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, and biomass. The Institute also produces an infrastructure inventory that assesses solutions for grid renovation and energy storage. In addition to technical analysis, the Roadmaps explore the socioeconomic impacts of diverse energy pathways, including the potential for sustainable energy development to create jobs and reduce healthcare and electricity costs. Worldwatch’s Roadmaps can be applied almost anywhere—-in industrialized and developing countries—-and at multiple levels of political organization, from the municipal to the regional.
“When governments, energy specialists, and the public join in a guided conversation to consider their country’s energy status and potential, they can see more easily the options for freeing themselves from dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. “The Roadmaps show a route to sustained long-term economic development, universal energy access, cleaner local environments, healthier populations, and carbon-free energy systems. It’s impressive that some developing countries are now poised to make this shift more rapidly than many countries that are much wealthier.”
The burning of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels is a leading driver of global climate change and many other environmental and socioeconomic problems worldwide. Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion contributes to smog, water pollution, and acid rain and can trigger or exacerbate health conditions, including chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, and asthma. Many countries rely heavily on fossil fuel imports, making them dependent on foreign energy supplies and vulnerable to price fluctuations on the global market. Competition among energy-insecure countries over dwindling fossil fuel resources also contributes to civil or international conflicts, creating an unnecessary obstacle to development and prosperity in many regions.
Due in large part to massive subsidies to fossil fuels, the world’s energy resources are not utilized as effectively or efficiently as they could be. Coal, oil, and natural gas still account for more than 80 percent of the world’s primary energy consumption, despite the adverse impacts of these fuels on the well-being of both present and future generations. And although energy production from all major renewable energy sources—-wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal—-is booming, it remains far from its full potential. Developing local renewable energy resources, alongside job training and education programs, can provide quality long-term employment and help countries build strong economies with sustained growth.
In Sustainable Energy Roadmaps, Worldwatch emphasizes four key components that can help countries and regions transition successfully to sustainable energy use:
- Capture synergies from energy efficiency and renewable energy. Expanding both energy efficiency and renewable energy capacity simultaneously results in increased energy benefits. Reducing energy demand through efficiency measures means that renewable energy can displace fossil fuels more rapidly. At the same time, many sources of renewable energy, such as solar photovoltaic (PV), have much higher efficiency rates than conventional energy sources. And, since renewable energy is often produced at or close to the location where it is consumed, less energy is lost in distribution through the grid.
- Integrate multiple renewable energy sites and sources. One challenge to a rapid transition to a renewable energy economy is the “variability” of renewable resources such as wind and solar: power generation depends on factors like the time of day, cloud cover, and wind patterns. Such variability can be reduced greatly by harnessing renewable resources from both different areas as well as different energy sources. In the Dominican Republic, for example, wind resources in the north are strongest in the early evening and peak in the winter months, whereas wind resources in the south are strongest in the morning and peak in the summer. Integrating wind power from both areas into the electricity system can provide a relatively consistent level of wind power throughout the day and year. Similarly, wind and solar power can be integrated with the burning of combustible renewable fuels such as biomass and biogas, which can provide reliable generation on short notice during periods of particularly high energy demand, or at times of low generation from other renewable sources.
- Promote strong and feasible policy solutions. Identifying both energy efficiency measures and strong renewable resource potentials are important steps to making smart energy planning decisions, but effective policies are vital to ensure that the benefits of sustainable energy are fully realized. A long-term vision for sustainable energy, concrete policy tools and incentives, and a streamlined and transparent governance structure are all important to creating a stable and profitable investment environment for scaled-up investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Analyzing the regulatory environment in a country or region is an important first step to understanding what policy tools are most effective and politically acceptable. A toolbox full of proven effective and affordable mechanisms exists, and best practices from around the world provide important guidance for action. But ultimately, policymakers must decide which concrete tools to apply.
- Identify lifecycle costs and financing opportunities. Around the world, renewable energy is already cost-competitive with fossil fuels—-if the long-term economic and societal costs are taken into account. But fossil fuels benefit from decades of subsidies and the support of powerful interests. It is therefore essential that energy developers seeking to pursue energy efficiency and renewable energy projects gain access to appropriate financing tools. Because the renewable energy industry is still relatively new, there is a general lack of knowledge on the part of investors and banks about how to effectively fund such projects. Capacity building within the financial sector is necessary to develop long-term loans for renewable energy development and to minimize the perceived riskiness of sustainable energy investment. Options within domestic public funds, multilateral lending agencies, and bilateral financing must be explored, and networks between the key finance actors must be actively promoted.
In October 2011, Worldwatch released the first detailed country study implementing its roadmap approach, a wind and solar roadmap for the Dominican Republic entitled Roadmap to a Sustainable Energy System: Harnessing the Dominican Republic’s Wind and Solar Resources. The Institute is currently developing national Sustainable Energy Roadmaps for the governments of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. Worldwatch recently embarked on its first project at the regional level, providing advice to the seven member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA). The Institute is actively exploring opportunities elsewhere to help decision makers pursue a strategy for transitioning to domestic sustainable energy solutions.
Premier Christy Clark has ordered an audit of TransLink to address a shortfall in funding for the transportation authority. ...
The premier had referenced a $30 million shortfall for the Evergreen Line, however it is believed she misspoke. “There is still a funding gap for the Evergreen Line — $30 million — and we are going to find that through an audit of TransLink,” Clark said.
Initially the title I have used was just a “working title”. I was going to paste in the title used in the material that promoted the lecture. But take one look at “Progress Lost, Progress Redefined, Progress Regained – How Location Efficiency Performance Measures Are Being Used to Achieve Economic Security” and I think you will agree that it is hardly a grabber.
This was the second of two talks by Scott Bernstein, President, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Visiting Fellow in Urban Sustainable Development in SFU’s Urban Studies Program. The most noticeable thing at the start was the nearly empty room. I got there fifteen minutes early so I could sit near an electrical outlet, but I need not have worried. There was a very late start, and a very long introduction: this included the information that “The Visiting Fellowship in Urban Sustainable Development is funded from an endowment by the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.” Which makes me wonder why the room wasn’t populated by the development community. Michael Geller was there and sent a few tweets: there will be a video of the talks at the Urban Studies web page, in due course.
In fairness I think it will help if I insert the “blurb” that went on the ad for this talk
A new index of combined affordability of housing + transportation, which cost households at least half of their available income, are being tested by federal agencies, metropolitan organizations, states and local governments. The results are encouraging. Agencies taking combined affordability into account have shifted billions of dollars in long-term commitments from highways to transit; provided incentives for locational preference in subsidized housing; and awarded capital intended to demonstrate the efficacy of place-based integrated resource strategies.
Location-efficient neighborhood residents felt only one-quarter the economic “pain” felt due to gas prices by those in average neighborhoods, while those in the least-efficient places experienced their region’s highest foreclosure & bankruptcy rates.
Bernstein started by saying that he intended to take a “fresh look at the benefits of transportation and better cities” and why it’s worth paying attention to the efficiency of location. One of the advantages of confining the study to the US is the relatively open source data available everywhere. This is in stark contrast to Canada, of course, where StatsCan has been trying to make data sales a major source of revenue and has only recently begun to relent from that disastrous decision. Even so our Prime Minister, who clearly dislikes the way that facts and figures get int he way of his prejudices, cancelled the long form census which deprives us of about the only data on commuting behaviour across the country.
What is different is that he focuses on what to expect from our public investment, its benefits, not just the costs. He mentioned how gobsmacked Stephen Quinn of the CBC was at this notion, when he appeared on the Early Edition recently. All the prepared questions were simply about the amounts of money that would be spent – not the returns that would generate. This illustrates the ignorance of why infrastructure is important to cities. It “provides the stuff you need to make the buildings work” and includes municipal services. He estimated that in residential developments this amounts to US$50-100k per unit plus the land cost – which is roughly similar. Basically what he is advocating is how to get the infrastructure shared by more units, so that the cost gets lowered. Over the last 30 years we have seen better solutions emerge. For instance, we no longer see rain as a dangerous waste product once it hits the ground.
The development of green infrastructure has produced a new mind set. Previously the purpose of investment was to promote consumption: now it can be to increase productivity – e.g. streets to connect people rather than promote car use. It has even proved more efficient to pay people to consume less energy than build new power plants. Findings from recent polls show that people want better, more affordable transportation but are not wiling to raise gas tax to pay for it. They do not trust the system to deliver the promised benefits. 13 states allow voter initiatives ”tax elections” which show that people will vote for increased taxes provided that there are specific conditions in place to ensure delivery, and the ability for voters to sanction those that do not deliver. These programs are always local or regional in nature and not led by a state or federal government.
There have been some very significant demographic and price trends. Since the beginning of the twentieth century household size has been steadily declining. At the same time developers have increased home sizes. They have found that they cannot sell that product any more. Gasoline prices were $1.13 a gallon in 2002 and $4.33 now – with the clear expectation that they will rise further. People who live in new exurban developments, where there are no services find that they have to spend a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. The increase in gas price has been 8x faster than income. There has been ten years of foreclosures in the suburbs – not just since the 2008 market crash.
Currently the most attractive investment is high density Transit Oriented Development (TOD). He noted that it is harder than it should be to do TOD here! He showed a graphic which contrasted the “Nourishing economy” where connectedness = prosperity, compared to the conventional model of residential cul de sacs, and limited access highways, which is where economic distress is note widespread. His advice was that we should tear down the viaducts – just as other cities are doing.
A good example of what he advocates is the Pearl district in Portland OR where affordable housing is mandated at 25% on all development. It is not concentrated in one place, and there is no displacement due to development. The idea is to build things worth keeping up.
He eulogized Ellen Swallow Richards – inventor of the calorie counter, and the standardized home budget. She thought it important to teach people financial literacy and persuaded high schools to have mandatory home economic courses. “Somehow we got through the Depression” – mainly because people understood how to economize. Her structures included “Don’t go into debt for an automobile”. Eventually home ec was squeezed out by drivers ed. This was because federal funding of freeways required that there be a road safety component.
The revolution between 1885 and 1902 was the introduction of streetcars – which was equivalent in its day as the internet has been tom our era. There was one system in 1885 and 1 in every city of 10,000 by 1902. He did, in my view, somewhat confuse the issue by talking of streetcars and interurbans as though they were the same thing. He said that the streetcar was an illustration of a network economy. The first telephone was a curiosity: it was not until there was another one that it had any use, and the use grew exponentially as more telephones were added to the system.
He showed an illustration of Vancouver in the 1890s, which showed the city was designed to have a grid of streets, connected to the port and the railway. It was said to be a developer’s design since it had more corners! This is simply because land value peaks at intersections. There were freely available maps of land value surveys to demonstrate that then but ”Nobody is doing that now!’
Location efficiency = you don’t need to drive as much. A combination of density and transit access (proximity, frequency, connectedness) lowers the cost of living. Good transit access equals one car less per household , the equivalent of an increase of 10 to 20% in income tax free, or around $5k to $8k pa.
Location Efficient Mortgages way outperformed the market. In 30,000 transactions there was only one default and not one repossession Fanny MAE only committed to one experiment – it did not fail! This is in strong contrast to the “drive until you qualify” approach, traditionally used by lenders. There is in economists language “severe information asymmetry”. A British popular song ended with the tag “a week’s wage for a month’s rent”. This was the extent of the support for the notion that a household can support a mortgage at 30% of salary. In many years of searching he has found no research backing for 30% affordability. And, of course, no reckoning of transportation cost.
The Housing + Transportation Cost Index has been published in two books – “A Heavy Load” and “Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish” but there are now two new online tools using US data. He also pointed out that other researchers have found very similar results in London and Tokyo.
“Who cares? You should!”
While I am quoting him I feel I must mention that no-one had corrected him talking about “the Frasier valley”! He said that HUD (Housing and Development) and DOT (Department of Transportation) both US federal government departments are using it to screen grant applications, MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations mandated by federal transport funding requirements) are using it to rescreen transportation plans.
At this point I feel I need to explain that he was using slides with two columns and five paragraphs in each. There was too much information presented in a very short time and some of it was impossible to absorb. All I can do here is give some highlights that stuck in my mind or I was able to type.
El Paso TX is now directing affordable housing to areas of low transportation costs. Washington DC which was looking at one or two streetcar lines has now decide to build 20.
He said that there is now a 200% net return on public investment (I assume he was either talking about streetcars or TOD) .
Do you want to succeed for the long term?
The Q&A was not recorded by me but will be on the SFU video.
If you do a search of this blog on the term “Location Efficient Mortgages” you will see that what he is talking about is not exactly news. He has been at this for thirty three and a third years (he said). The questions that come to my mind revolve around why it is taking so long for these ideas to get adopted. In this region, of course, we have gone in completely the reverse direction. The BC Liberal government decided to expand the freeway and to hobble public transport. Christy Clark is simply following in the footsteps of Gordon Campbell – and Ujjal Dosanjh.
There is indeed a task force on affordable housing - and a fat headed approach to transit funding, which prevents any real progress towards sustainability in this region. There was a criticism of the Livable Region Strategic Plan in that it did not address affordable housing. That seems to be to miss the point completely. If we had done what the LRSP aimed to do – build a compact urban region, with complete communities that protected the Green Zone and increased transportation choice – then we would not have the crisis we now face.
There is some transportation choice in Vancouver and Burnaby – but it rapidly declines away from these municipalities. Everywhere else – and to some extent in those cities too – we have seen workplaces decentralize (something the LRSP did not anticipate) and steadily increasing suburban sprawl. Most of Vancouver south of 12th Avenue is suburban, and all of it unaffordable by any measure.
One thing that cropped up more than once in his lecture – usually as unscripted asides – was the potential for our region to see the same real estate crash that has affected the US. We certainly do not have what he termed funky mortgages like theirs. But most people here have very little financial room to manoeuvre and are just as vulnerable to rising gas prices, with often no realistic alternative to driving. Not just for work, but for everything. And the real estate sponsors of this talk are ensuring that we will see low density, single family subdivisions endlessly extending up the valley for the foreseeable future – with Squamish now added for good measure. This is a recipe for financial disaster, and is nothing like a sustainable region.
Pete McMartin had been going up in my estimation. His latest opinion piece in the Sun puts him right back where he started, as far as I am concerned. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion and he gets paid to publish it. He does not have to worry too much about facts – which are supposed to be sacred – nor does he seem to do much research. He usually relies on the old “when I were a lad” formula. One of the comments on his piece calls him on it and cites data to show he is wrong. He dismisses current concerns about affordability in Vancouver on the basis of “’twas always thus” citing nothing more than his own experience of moving to the suburbs to buy a house.
Short commutes and easy access to an Ethiopian restaurant are not the natural order of things.
Actually short commutes were very much the order of things for nearly all of human history. Most people lived near to the fields where they worked, or over the shop. Most miners were housed a short walk from the pit head. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that zoning ordinances (here) and the Town & Country planning movement (in the UK) were successful in separating out residential areas from industrial areas. And most of that was driven by concerns about the environmental impact of factories, and the ability to move lots of people around cheaply by the new electric trains and tram(street)cars. Sprawl was already under way fifty years before cars were even beginning to appear on the roads, and they did not become widespread for another fifty years after that. But the suburbs were promising a healthier, safer place to live long before the subsidies to home ownership and car use caused the explosion of post war growth.
There will, of course, be much more on location efficiency here tomorrow – as that is the subject of tonight’s SFU lecture.
But there is also a whole raft of reasons why people would like to be able to bring up their families in Vancouver than Delta. Not the least of these is simple walkability. Where I live at the edge of the built up area in Richmond, there is now nowhere that I can buy basic daily necessities in less than a mile’s walk. Bus scheduling is such that there at least a fifteen minute gap if I miss one of two buses that are meant to run together. There is no bike lane on Steveston Highway – and no-one who drives on it observes the 50 km/hr limit – so riding on it is simply not something I am prepared to do any more. And mapping of the region shows that this is common outside of the City of Vancouver.
There are also other considerations beyond restaurant variety. One of them is family: many people would like to stay in their neighbourhood. For many young people, the only way they can do that is to live in their parent’s house – or in the granny flat. It is not simply that people with families insist on a ground oriented house, on its own lot, with a yard. There are many takers for apartments – and growing demand for schools in newly rezoned residential areas downtown. And how are day care workers, for instance (always among the lowest paid) to find somewhere to live where they can be at work before the commuters arrive to drop off their kids? Many residents of Vancouver commute to the suburbs to their jobs, which tend to be in office parks in the suburbs near the freeway exits.
Much of what happens in Vancouver is driven by the political system of “at large” councillors – which up until recently had tended to favour conservative councils. A lot more is resistance to change in established neighbourhoods, but initiatives like lane way housing are showing that increased density can be accommodated without too much angst.
But affordability is still the number one issue, and it is not a minority concern, nor one that can be quite so readily – and airily – dismissed.
I would have a to more to say about this but I have to go to SFU downtown this evening, which means I must have an early supper, before the hour long commute downtown. It would be nice if I could afford somewhere smaller, and more convenient and closer to the things I like to do. But selling a three bedroom strata titled town house in Richmond does not buy anything in the downtown core.
Walking is the most important transportation mode – and therefore the one that we tend to think about least. Let us start with something that I found on the Guardian yesterday. Their story was about the idea that children need to know how to tie their own shoe laces – or rather, perhaps they don’t now that shoes have velcro straps. That led me to this talk – it only takes three minutes and it is well worth your time.
I had actually noticed that there was a problem some time ago. I had been in the habit of wearing slip on shoes – and while those are perfectly adequate for office life, they can become downright painful if you walk any distance. So I bought proper walking shoes with laces, and found I had to stop every so often to retie them.
For simple health reasons, you should walk at least half an hour every day. Without a doubt the most effective way to do that is to incorporate walking into your routine. Walking is part of your commute whatever mode you use – so making that walk a bit longer ought to be a no brainer. Yes, your commute may take a bit longer. But a longer commute is not necessarily a higher cost – it is actually a benefit under some circumstances and improving your health is certainly one them, of you a re like most people in “advanced” countries and have a generally sedentary lifestyle.
I doubt that transportation models based on generalized cost can actually get the true mode comparison right. After all, for many years we have known that people like riding the train because the time is actually useful – unlike driving – and in many places they chose a longer commute because there is a train.
Of course this is not addressed to those who already cycle everywhere – but they are still in a very small minority. Nor does it help those who do not commute.
We are actually quite good at making walking for exercise attractive. There are lots of places designed for walking – but not usually for walking as part of a trip. In cities which has some of the best walking paths – the Vancouver seawall, the Richmond dyke – there are many streets that have no sidewalks or even sidewalks that are continuous.
We are also adept at providing gyms where there are treadmills on which you can walk in complete safety while wearing a headset to listen to a book or music – or even watch tv. Driving to the gym to walk or cycle actually makes sense to a lot of people, who have been convinced of the dangers of being a pedestrian or a cyclist. Driving actually reduces their knowledge of the city: they know that “you can’t get through there” in a car and may not even think about getting from here to there as a walk that is shorter than the drive.
A people are reluctant to walk in unfamiliar places: research in Portland as part of their Travel$mart program persuaded them to produce way finding maps and better signage. Our current access to GPS ought to help, but not every system is adapted well to pedestrian routes – or maybe that’s just what I have noticed on Ovi maps that come with Nokia phones.
These kinds of arrangements ought to be more prevalent than they are. In some locations, people just simply create their own path - there is a beaten track from the corner of W35th Ave and East Boulevard to the Arbutus CP right of way just visible in the Google streetsview image. Of course the CP r.o.w. itself is private property but has become a car free walking and cycling route simply by usage.
Now I chose the title deliberately because I wanted to share some knowledge – but really it is off topic for this blog. I travel to New York every so often because my son is there. I have found that many travel search engines seem to ignore Cathay Pacific as a possible carrier on this route even though people like Doug Coupland have long recommended them in print. I used hipmunk to compare travel cost and convenience: Cathay came top. There is a direct overnight flight between YVR and JFK both ways – and that also saves two hotel nights. Hipmunk links to Orbitz for booking both flights and accommodation and also found us a cheap place to stay. The combination of AirTrain and subway is about as cheap and convenient a transfer to downtown as you can get – we were literally steps from our hotel to 7th Ave/49th St station. Certainly better than subway plus New Jersey Transit to EWR. Cathay has better leg room and on board service than Air Canada – and does not load to 100% capacity apparently. So your chance to stretch out across three seats isn’t bad either. And since the plane has come from Hong Kong you board through the international terminal, clearing US customs and immigration at JFK with the HK passengers. That means, if you check in on line and check no baggage, you really do not need to be at the airport 2 hours early. Not many people are going through security at that time of evening so the line up is minimal, and you cannot actually get access to the boarding area until the in-transit passengers have got back on the plane. The flight crew will do the document check at the gate. The only downside is that on the return, there is no Canada Line – and a long line up for cabs. When in New York you can buy an unlimited MetroCard for a week. That may be cheaper than loading a card with money to be deducted for each ride since the opportunities for free transfers are very limited. But if you are staying in midtown, you will probably walk most places, just like we did. Soon after I returned I was asked to do a consumer survey: one question was how often I had exercised the previous week, and I could truthfully say that I had walked for more than two hours every day. I doubt I would have done that if we had bought unlimited ride Metrocards.