Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Is Al Gore a Hypocrite? Am I? Are you?

The Fox News people seemed to enjoy reporting on Al Gore’s utility bills. The source of their reports was the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a conservative non-profit that obtained the past two years of Al’s electricity bills. They are high. His twenty-room home and pool house consumed nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours. Apparently his pool is heated. An Al Gore spokesperson offered a number of defenses on his behalf. He and Tipper work out of the home. They have to maintain electric security systems. They bought an old house and it takes time to increase its efficiency. They have plans to install solar panels. In the meantime, they buy their energy from green sources and purchase carbon offsets. So he’s not really a hypocrite.

I wasn’t surprised that the Fox News report on Al’s utility bills was unfair and unbalanced. I am surprised about the heated pool. Surely Al can exercise or enjoy himself some other way in the winter? I’m glad he was called on it. The lifestyles of public figures should be scrutinized if they claim special authority. Another example would be a gay-bashing gay preacher. He should be outed. Likewise, Al Gore’s heated pool is news.

What about us? How do DaddyG, MaGreen, and BabyG compare against the 10,656 kilowatt-hours average? I pulled out MaGreen’s electricity file and added up the figures. The bill lists our “KWh Electricity Used” very plainly. Our total electricity usage for 2006 was 7,802 kilowatt-hours – three-fourths of the national average. In your face Al! We win, you lose. You, Al, are a hypocrite and we are the high priests of green. So what if your documentary helped establish a public consensus on global warming? We walk the walk. I haven't even mentioned yet that we buy our electricity from Green Mountain Energy, a wind energy company.

I guess it helps that our home has four rooms not twenty. We have a gas stove and water heater. We keep our windows open and the air-conditioning off when possible. And most importantly, we have a special kind of motivation that’s missing in Al’s life – a tight budget. (I just heard that the reduction of my hours to 75% full-time that I requested will happen. That’s great news for our overall well-being, I think, but our budget’s about to get even tighter.) We can’t rest on our laurels, we need to reduce our electricity usage and our bill. Our total electricity cost for the past year was $1,500. It would be great if we could cut that by 20%.

I logged into the Green Mountain website, guessing that they might provide some statistics. The website not only gives basic statistics, it automatically generates nifty charts showing our usage by month. Below is a graph for 2006:

I learned a lot from that graph. Clearly air-conditioning is the number one source of our electricity consumption. Our August usage, when the air-conditioner runs at full blast, is almost quadruple our usage in January when our gas heater runs.

The sad thing about this piece of knowledge is that I don’t know what to do about it. We live in Houston. It’s very difficult to live without air-conditioning here. Maybe getting insulating curtains would help cut our energy consumption, but those curtains can be expensive. I’m not sure that we would recuperate the cost of buying and installing them. And from what I’ve read, they keep the heat in during the winter. They don’t keep the heat out in the summer. I also read about these electricity meters in England that help people monitor their usage. Even if I could find one for our home in the US, I don’t think micromanaging our appliances will help that much.

I’m hoping that by paying more attention to the monthly bills, keeping our ceiling fans running more often, and being more mindful of when we turn the airconditioning on, we can cut our usage without suffering in the coming heat.


Heather Bigley said...

As a Green Mountain Energy applicant reject, I have found that keeping my energy use down is not always at the top of my list. For one, I really smarted after GME rejected me. For twos, living in the south can be incredibly uncomfortable. (Especially because my current energy consumption includes lots of dessert).

But I'm always interested in keeping the COSTS low. So in the winter I don't turn on the heat. And in the summer, I try to keep the thermostat at 78 degrees.

But I'm single and live alone. I was never good at negotiating with roommates over these issues.

Gary said...

Al Gore also purchased from a green energy company and in addition he bought carbon offsets. Where are your carbon offsets?

I am surprised the conservatives are after Al for being a millionaire. I thought they loved millionaires. They are also after Sen. John Edwards for being a millionaire with a big house.

GreenDaddy said...

We haven't bought carbon offsets. I'm planning on looking into it. Coop America recently published a guide to carbon offset companies, which I want to read. First, I want to understand our own consumption better.

I just want to note that I have tremendous respect for Al Gore. I'm trying to turn the criticism of Al Gore in on ourselves. We can try to use the media frenzy as an occasion for self-reflection.

jip said...

so here's a thought to reduce costs. we have window air conditioners in our house and dont have central. it keeps the costs at about half of what yours are. or at least you could get a window air conditioner for the bedroom and only run that one at night. its a thought.

is that an electricity figure for only your apartment or for the whole complex?

MaGreen said...

another way to cut electricity, i've read, is to use less hot water. i've turned down our hot water heater a lot, but it could go down more.

and greendaddy, since you happened to bring up the idea of hypocrite and you also happen to take 15 minute showers despite my having tried to convince you to take shorter ones for the past three years...you might, finally, decide to take shorter ones...

MaGreen said...

also, since as you write this i have a downed comforter hanging over the window in the bedroom, to stave off the freezing cold that enters through the windows as if they were, actually, NOT windows....i would say we need to find some way to weatherize the windows.

where i grew up in utah, people used to staple gun large sheathes of plastic over the windows. that's cheaper than insulating curtains, probably even more effective, but it's ugly.

maybe we could buy colored plastics and it'd be like stained glass. but then, all that plastic woudl be gross.

Anonymous said...

Since we have single pane windows here's something I'm going to try; you can buy sheet plexiglass, cut it to match the size of a window, lay it into the window on the inside and then calk it tight and border it with quarter round molding, (calked and nailed in). Since our home is the typical 1979 style stick-built junk on a slab they build around here, the windows are "irregular" by today's standards and buying double pane windows is inordinately expensive. The above described remedy should serve to "double" pane the windows and if the plexiglass is sufficiently thick, should be virtually unbreakable, (though not bullet proof), thus making it much less likely the roaming "evil" will easily gain entry into the abode. As for "buying carbon offsets", that just angers me. For me it's all about the money. I'd recommend the rich Hummer, Suburban, and Diesel truck owners be taxed to the max to pay for my piddling carbon contribution. It's past time to make the rich pigs pay up!

GreenDaddy said...

I admit I take long showers. Before I change my behavior, I want to look at the gas and water bills.

Anonymous, let us know how the plexiglass thing goes.

I just read about "smart" thermostats. They are supposed to help cut airconditioning costs. We should get one of those. Our thermostat looks like the 1950s original installed when the house was built. But I don't want to get a window unit. They're expensive to buy and you have to pop out a window. Although the method that jip suggests is what my cousin's in India do.

MaGreen said...

anonymous, thanks for the comment, although one of the things i've read is that housewives have the highest cancer rates in america (i mean, versus people who work out of home) and it's widely attributed to being locked in houses full of toxins from cleaning, rugs, couches, paint, etc. the suggestion is, generally, to open your windows. so i'd make sure there's a way to let ouside air into your home (like maybe install a screen door, or keep a couple of them uncovered, or something) if you seal your windows.

Haley-O said...

Wow, I hadn't heard that Fox report. Sucks for Gore.... I wish I could find a solution for my NEED for fresh air. Being newly preggers, I need fresh air, and, having a young toddler in the house, I can't exactly turn off the heat. So, I have an open window in the bedroom in a heated house.... I'm glad the spring and warm weather is coming. That will help -- is maybe my only solution.

Anonymous said...

great point about "venting" and such. It's a conundrum, I admit, and I'm still working on the design. For those interested, (haley-o?), I'm now investigating a small, stand up room air conditioning unit I've seen in a barber shop in my neighborhood. It vents out a round hole in the window using a hose-pipe much like that vent duct stuff at the back of the typical clothes dryer. They are very energy efficient and move a lot of air out while cooling the room. I think they are manufactured by Panasonic. Here's the kicker, since Hurricane Rita, they get sold out long before an approaching Huricane system, so pick one up now if you want one. One item I'm unsure of is how they dispose of the water taken out of the air, probably a seperate drain pipe. New window units are inexpensive and energy efficient, but our window system isn't compatible therewith. As for toxins, we've removed all the wall to wall carpet, repainted the walls and ceiling. In two rooms we're on the bare concrete. My French wife is alergic and cleans daily.

Ah, the hot water woes. I've been searching for the "electrical leak" in our house since last summer and found it early one, cold morning. It's the hot water heater. About 7 or 8 years ago, we had to replace the hot water heater. The old one had one of those insulation wraps on it. When the install guy arrived he said we didn't need that because the new one's have an internal stuffing or something. Yea, right! There I am at 2:00 a.m. in the very cold garage and guess what I hear? That blasted water heater coming on! Come on guys, no one was in a shower! So I'm going to 1) turn down the temp and 2) wrap that rascal before the next cold front.

Good luck, it's an uphill fight! Trust no one selling anything.

goldtop said...

I dont understand buying carbon offsets. The way I see it, if you have enough money, you pay some company and you can do whatever you want but still claim to be "green". What does this company do with your money? Is this a non profit company? Who is on the board of directors? Is it public or private company, can I buy stock? But my main question is really this; since I do not have the money to buy carbon offsets, I have to live as Al Gore says, not as he does? Does this seem fair to anyone?

Laura said...

Have you tried a dehumidifier? Uses less energy than an air conditioner but makes things feel a lot more comfortable. 80 degrees and humid is still sweat-inducing; but 80 degrees and not humid is actually rather comfortable. With a dehumidifier you can keep the temp. higher (that is, run your a/c less).

In any case, good luck and kudos to you for being self-aware about this!

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at the number of ordinary people who'll make excuses for their favorite political hypoctrite just because they belong to the same party.

If you really want to see a dedicated environmentalist you need to watch "Living With Ed" on HGTV. Ed lives what he believes.


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Lulabelle said...

this post was nicely done. i'd be interested in reading about your findings on the carbon offsets.

Anonymous said...

gore gives me a headache. i drive a honda, recycle, my electric bill is about 900 dollars a year, if i fly i fly commercial. if and when gore gets rid of private jets, suv's, and turns a light out in his house maybe i'll try to do more. in the meantime, the biggest cause of global warming is all the hot air coming from this buffon.

Marilyn said...

Detailed instructions on plexiglass window weatherization.


My partner and I are trying this out during the winter this year.

Anonymous said...

If you are concerned about reducing electrical consumption due to air conditioning, check to see if your roof is vented, so that air comes in at the eaves (bottom) and out at the ridge (top). In older houses, roofs were not vented and heat is trapped in the roof space warming the house. You may be able to retrofit special venting tiles and other features.

During the summer, shading south facing windows from the direct sun with aluminum foil stuck to the OUTSIDE, covering say half or two thirds of the window is also good, cheap and effective. The rest of the window can be covered with the more expensive transparent heat reflective foil, or you could use that over the whole window for less of an effect. A more expensive option is to fit external shutters. You may also consider a light shelf, that projects out from the top of the window to shade it.

If you are using natural ventilation, ventilate across the whole house (to increase the differential pressure and so maximize air velocity) along the east-west axis (so that incoming air is cooler), unless there is wind from the north.

Shading the house will also be beneficial. Horizontal trellis with a dense vine, or carefully selected and positioned trees will help. A porch or canopy can do a good job for the ground floor, but those are not cheap.

Consider passive solutions first, then active solutions such as solar powered air conditioners.

GreenDaddy said...

Thanks! Tinfoil. That sounds like something I can do.

HouseDouche said...

I liked your post. I like being green but I don't like al gore. It's one thing to have a huge house and it's quite another to have a huge house and preach to everyone else that they have a moral obligation to use less energy. I, like al gorlioni also work from home and I only need 1 extra room - not 15.