Friday, July 22, 2016

Fighting TEP for Tucson's Future and Solar Power

To be entirely sustainable here in Tucson means transitioning to solar energy. Dan and I are looking forward to getting our own solar panels on our roof. But, if Tucson Electric Power gets its way, it will become more difficult. TEP recently submitted a rate change proposal to the Arizona Corporation Commission. The net effect will be higher electric rates for all of us in Tucson (with the exception of industrial users, whose rates will go down). But the worst part is that the changes would hit customers who have installed solar panels on their homes especially hard. TEP plans to reduce the credit for surplus energy generated by solar installations by more than half. They also plan to double the service charge for being connected to the power grid from $10 per month to $20 per month. That hurts all of us, but especially those who don't use much electricity (namely people generating their own power and low income families). As if that wasn't enough, TEP proposes changing the way you are charged for your power usage, from a rate based on how much energy you use throughout the day to a charge based on your peak usage for the day. Essentially, TEP is discouraging energy conservation and, once again, sticking it to customers who have installed solar panels.

TEP even spent more on tech upgrades than solar in the past three years!
Can we trust them to serve our interests?
TEP says it needs to do all these things in order to transition to renewable energy and meet their (not very ambitious) "30 by 30" goal: having 30% of our electricity generated using renewable energy by 2030. They also claim that the current rates haven't covered the costs of the investments they've already made. These investments that have been really imbalanced: only $103 million for community-scale solar energy generation vs more than $600 million for dirty coal-fired power plants. Yet, somehow, they've still managed to be the biggest profit center in their Canadian owner's energy portfolio! It's obvious that TEP is really just trying to get rid of the competition, while only making token efforts to make our power greener in a part of the country where solar power should be a no-brainer.

Our state is at an important crossroads - dirty coal or clean energy.  Please, let the Arizona Corporation Commission know that this rate increase is unacceptable. Rooftop solar benefits us all. We need to be supporting those who are transitioning to solar, not penalizing them.

Here's the letter Jana sent in:
Dear Arizona Corporation Commission: 
As an environmentally conscious homeowner, I look forward to the day when we can afford to install our own rooftop solar so we can stop contributing to the problem of CO2 emissions and the depletion of our limited water supply caused by coal fired power plants.  That is why it is so disturbing that TEP is setting up a rate case on rooftop solar users now – to make it financially prohibitive for middle-income families to switch to rooftop solar in the future (when the price of the units becomes more affordable.)  TEP is not serving its customers' best interests.  Instead of taking this as an opportunity to transition to clean energy, they are forcing out the competition. 
In the 22 years I’ve lived in Tucson, it has gotten increasingly hotter. If we are going to stay here, we are going to need to power our air-conditioners and have an adequate water supply.  Tucson has been in a drought for over 17 years, so it is vital to the city’s future that we conserve our depleted ground water. Coal generating stations require coal and water to run the turbines. It takes even more water to extract the coal from the ground.  The mines create poisonous tailings that seep into our streams and rivers. That is just irresponsible when there is another choice: clean, renewable solar energy. And there is one resource that Tucson has plenty of – sunlight.  This is our big opportunity to lead the way in solar energy. 
While Tucson Water recognizes the urgency in conserving our ground water and is working with our local Watershed Management Group to restore our aquifer, TEP is using this rate increase to destroy the environmentally sound choice while it continues to invest in coal-fired power plants.  On their rate proposal, TEP claims that they want rooftop customers to use their community-scale solar. But they plan to get only 1/3 of their power generated by solar. The company has invested roughly $600 million in dirty, coal fired powered plants and only $103 million on solar in the last three years.
You have an important decision to make that will have a huge impact on Tucson’s future.  Please, don’t let TEP stop individual homeowners from doing their part to make Tucson’s energy cleaner and conserve our limited water supply.
Jana K Segal

Here's the email Dan sent to the Chairman and Commissioners of the ACC:
Dear Chairman Little and Commissioners Tobin, Forese, Stump, and Burns,  
I am writing as a customer of Tucson Electric Power to express my concerns about their proposed rate case changes. Several of the proposed changes will negatively impact both lower-income utility customers and customers who have made the investment in residential solar. TEP has argued that they need to increase energy rates for residential and small and medium business owners, while lowering the rates for industrial users. Since most of the business growth in Tucson since 2008 has largely been in the small to medium business sectors, the proposed increase of $21 - $280 per month in these sectors seems likely to slow down growth. 
The proposed doubling of the residential customer charge, which is not indexed in any way to household energy usage, will disproportionately harm low-income customers. However, it affects every residential customer in Tucson at a time when income in Tucson is not keeping pace with the cost of living or national average incomes.  
Even more disturbing is TEP's plan to make residential solar installations less affordable by decreasing the net metering credit by more than 50%, while also changing the billing methodology from use-based to peak charges. This disincentivizes energy conservation and ensures nearly all customers will pay higher rates.  
TEP justifies these rate increases by saying they are necessary to increase their renewable energy portfolio to 30% by 2030. However, given their current installed capacity and their planned increases, the rate of increase in their renewable portfolio is glacial - certainly not enough to justify their exorbitant rate increase proposals. TEP has also argued that they need to stop "subsidizing" residential solar in order to install community-scale solar arrays. They even cite an MIT Future of Energy study in the FAQs on their rate increase proposal page as their justification for lowering the net metering credit, but they misquote the study. It actually states that both residential distributed and utility scale solar installations are needed and should be incentivized.  
TEP has shown they are not an honest agent in this proposal. Also, given that UNS Energy is the most profitable holding in the regulated energy business segment of Fortis, Inc., it's hard to see this rate increase proposal as anything other than a plan to further increase the profit margins of TEPs parent company, rather than a necessary increase to fund needed upgrades in our power grid.  
Please do not approve this rate case from TEP! 
Daniel P Stormont 

Don't let them get away with this! Make your voice heard. It doesn't have to be as verbose as Dan and I!

You are also invited to join us for a rally to deliver a petition to TEP headquarters on August 31:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sharing in the Bounty of Community Supported Agriculture

Our first CSA bounty!  
One aspect of sustainable living we try to incorporate into our daily routine is eating more local produce. It's good for the enviroment and so much healthier. The more recently the veggies have been harvested, the more vitamins they retain. We also like to know how they've been grown.

But I soon discovered it's not easy to find local produce in Tucson. While doing research for my blog Food Security in the Desert, I learned that only 1% of the produce at our neighborhood grocery store, Sprouts, was grown in Arizona. It is difficult for local farmers to compete with conveniently located supermarkets that carry a wide diversity of affordable crops year around.  But there is a bigger cost to consider. Imagine the carbon foot print of transporting all that produce hundreds of miles from Mexico or California or shipping it across the ocean. Thousands of pounds of damaged produce is thrown into landfills every day while poverty stricken farm workers can't afford to eat the produce they harvest.

Woohoo! Beets!
Sadly, Dan and I have been unable to swing shopping at the weekly farmers markets (often held on the other end of town). So when we heard that Sleeping Frog Farms would be delivering fresh produce to the nearby WMG office through their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, we happily signed on. We knew we wanted to help support a local (Benson) farmer make a consistent living, but we really didn't know what to expect. We pre-paid $300 for a share of their weekly crops for a season ($25 a week.)  But we weren't sure that we would be able to use the seasonal produce.

That first Wednesday, I excitedly toted my reusable cowgirl bag to pick up our share. I was surprised that there were seven nice bunches of veggies! Curly kale, chioddia beets, carrots, burgundy colored chard, cilantro, kohlrabi (what's that?), and arugula. This was our chance to try some healthy greens (yikes!) and even some weird veggies we had never heard of.

Oh, no... Not curly kale! Dan was the only one who would eat it out of our own garden!

We were delighted to see beets included in our weekly offerings. Roasted beets are a family favorite! When we cut into them there was a cool surprise: pink stripes!

Our first CSA meal: roasted beets and carrots, steamed beet greens, and  salmon.
With rushing off to several meetings and screenings a week, how would we find the time to prepare all of these vegetables? We certainly didn't want to waste any. (One goal of sustainable living is to reduce waste...) We decided we would have to serve 2 or 3 veggies at dinner each night to get through them all. That would be some feat since we rarely manage the 3-5 vegetables the USDA recommends a day...

We didn't know what to do with all of the veggies. What is this strange alien plant kohlrabi?  But one of the benefits of being in a CSA, is that you can get cooking advice from the other members when they pick up their share. One guy suggested that we peel the kohlrabi like broccoli (you don't peal broccoli, do you?) and steam them. Dan googled kohlrabi. (Google is Dan's best friend.) It is also known as a German turnip or turnip cabbage. We're kinda roastin' fools, soooo...

 roasted kohlrabi and steamed chard
Wednesday rolled around again, so I checked to see what foods hadn't been eaten...

Argh!  Despite our best efforts all this was left in the so-called "crisper."

hmph! wilted cilantro 
Our second pickup at the CSA

mmm sage

Gonga! Leeks! 
When I bemoaned the wilted veggies from the first share, a young man suggested that we eat perishables first in a salad. I told him how there was still kale left even after Dan had a big plate of it. They suggested that we bake up some yummy kale chips.

Determined to keep those veggies from the compost pit, we decided we would eat several that night. We noticed the chard that had reseeded itself in our garden was starting to wilt too. We added it to the menu.

I also picked some fresh parsley from our garden to liven up our quinoa. We had steamed chard; quinoa with leaks, onions, and parsley; roasted carrots; and beets topped with feta. The USDA would be proud!

vegetarian dinner for two
We decided to dry the wilted cilantro...

We learned to add steamed greens to any meal. (And we liked it!) We added leeks to pasta with leftover salmon for an easy dinner. And baked up some yummy kale chips. My teen not only tried them, but tried to steal the whole bowl!

a side of colorful chard with potato leek soup
Best way to get your teen on board with the veggies - add them to potato-leek soup with fresh dill in a bread-bowl topped with lots o' cheez and green onions (also from CSA!)

"Why do I have to be in the pic?"

Having a share in Sleeping Frog Farm's CSA, encouraged us to try new foods, grow to love kale, be creative, and eat healthier.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Celebrating Imperfection: A Zero-Waste Journey

A waaahmbulance, whine, and french cries.

by guest blogger Alex Kosmider

I was a bit floored by Jana's invitation to write as a guest blogger about my experiences with zero waste.  So thanks for the opportunity to share what I know.

Ain't she cute?
My mother’s influence has made aspects of Zero Waste a part of my life for as long as I can remember. She gardens, cans, sews, nags employers to implement recycling programs, and hands out reusable bags at the grocery store. She was president of the PTA at my elementary school and even painted a mural in our cafeteria of children holding hands around Planet Earth (I know--cutest thing ever, right?) She planted my favorite tree at the time (a willow) and organized a school-wide grounds improvement day. When I left the family nest, I already had a sense that nature, and coexisting within it, was important and needed to be protected. (Thanks for that, mom!)
However, my appreciation for considerately sharing our habitat with other species went hand-in-hand with a realization that we humans are seriously screwing with our natural resources. Two books really made me feel the sheer weight of the problem of waste: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I had always viscerally cringed at single-use plastic and full plates of food thrown away back when I worked as a buffet server. When I moved to Japan, I observed that packaging was abundant yet kept tidily out of sight for the sake of a harmonious environment. I saw the adorable, ice cream truck-like Japanese trash compactors bring trash and recycling “away,” but I knew that “away” doesn’t exist: I mentally envisioned the truckloads dumping into the ground or (in the case of Japan,) lining up at incinerators to send up billows of toxic smoke. Since then, my interest in a zero-waste lifestyle has bordered on obsession. I feel empowered to take control of my own consumption at home. Thus the seeds of my environmental evangelism were planted.
With this knowledge, I try to live in a way that is as zero-waste as I can muster. My relationship with "stuff" is informed strongly by the principles Bea Johnson outlines in her book, which shares some simply-put advice on how to reduce the physical waste in your home  I add this mini-lecture only because this knowledge blew my mind a bit: she adds two more steps to the traditional model of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" that takes the reduction of waste to the next level.
Notice that the "new" concept of refusal is the first and largest part of the pyramid. Kind of a big shift in thinking, huh? Refusal to accept unnecessary packaging or to buy new things (within reason, of course) guides how I use, repair, and re-purpose the things I already own before I look to purchase anything else. And in a country where companies spend literally hundreds of billions of dollars trying to get you TO buy new things, refusal requires some skills that big businesses have spent the last couple of decades getting us to forget, like how to mend, repair, re-purpose, buy used or make do. And with two dogs and a toddler (with one on the way), there are pretty much endless opportunities around my home for repair and reuse. Here are some tricks I've picked up along the way, as well as some local Tucson resources for the tools and know-how.
My daughter atop Lily, her noble scissor-toothed steed, complete with repurposed bucket as battle helmet.
Mending: Lily is my wonderful, sweet, neurotic 70-pound lapdog with a nervous habit of scissor-chewing through fabrics. So I have a bit more experience with this than I ever wanted to have. However, I like that each mend you make gives you the potential to leave your creative mark on that item. Suddenly there is a story behind that article of clothing that the visible mend commemorates. Frankly, though, I derive the most satisfaction from the fact that mending my clothes helps me not to contribute to the problem of the 21 BILLION POUNDS of post-consumer textile waste that Americans produce annually. There are a few techniques I rely on extensively like patching and embroidery.
Aren't these jeans pretty? You don't have to turn your mangled denim jeans into a pond landscape, though. It'd be great to say I did that one myself; my repair jobs are much more mundane, like these shorts, masticated by my dog.
Mending art!
I affectionately refer to them as Frankenshorts, as the mend is clearly visible, since I had no matching thread available.  But don't they just scream, "Let me tell you the story of my shorts!?" Either way, they work just as well as other shorts to enable the important work of toddlers.
Like caring for teddy bears and watching out for “dun-doh!” (thunder!)

A pretty painless mend saved these pajamas, which don't look bad, if you ask me!
Practically unnoticeable, right? Just say, "yes."

Scared of needles or just don't want to deal with it? Iron-on patches often do the trick.  Admittedly I like the idea of not having to rely on an iron and adhesives, but the process can be quick and painless, and sometimes patches just look cool.
Iron-on patches are so hot right now.
I also found in repairing a sofa (also caused by dog chewing) a great stitch that sews up tears quite well.
If your piece has a hole rather than a tear, darning apparently works, but I have never hand-darned.  Instead, I have used a technique similar to that used in this video where a denim mender sews over the same area over and over in many directions until new fabric is created. I was able to prolong the life of my husband's favorite jeans using this method.  The jeans have since passed (may they rest in peace), but I will say that it gives one the satisfaction (I suspect) of a surgeon stitching up a gaping wound, minus the years of schooling and the terrible stress! Or you could just patch it.
I literally "heart" my pants
Don't feel confident enough to do it yourself? Search for a local tailor or seamstress. I have gotten a zipper repaired on a pair of favorite athletic skorts. Fifteen dollars and a lot of procrastination later, I have a functioning wardrobe staple again!
Speaking of procrastination, here is my "to mend" pile. Perhaps I should take my own advice and bring some of these items to a tailor. However, being quite stingy with my money, I am willing to let non-essential stuff sit in a pile until I find the time to repair it. Sustainable? Kind of...
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. You let me pro-craaa-stiiii-naaate!” Pretty sure that’s how the song goes.
Unfortunately, sometimes the damage is not worth repairing and the clothing becomes raw fabric for any number of purposes. This is where I must tread the fine line between sensible storage and packrattery. Much smaller pieces become household rags. Goodwill also accepts rags and other fabric scraps to be recycled (so I trust, anyway) just bring a bag labeled "RAGS."
My Goodwill Rag Bag. Seriously, what's up with my dog?
Repair, non-clothing: This topic can be a bit tricky, and is a bit more out of my comfort zone than clothing-related maladies. Unfortunately, due to wasteful production practices such as planned obsolecence--where companies specifically make an item flimsy or easily breakable so consumers must buy another--many things we have in our homes are specifically designed to be difficult or impossible to repair, or not even worth the cost of repairing. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Frankly, the greatest extent of my own successful repairs involve Gorilla Glue and broken ceramics--hat tip to my friend, a potter, for this gold nugget of wisdom. I have to say that Gorilla Glue is fantastic at bonding ceramics together, so much so that they are watertight and therefore remain in everyday use. I have saved bowls, mugs, a salt shaker, some IKEA furniture that I apparently don't know how to assemble correctly, among other things.
Gorilla Glue is amazing.
I would love to start a repair cafe where volunteers can offer their fixing expertise. But I am excited to try the closest thing we have here in Tucson - Xerocraft. It is a workshop that offers classes on woodworking, sewing, laser cutting, welding, and other stuff that is helpful in repairing.
What other repair resources do you know of in Tucson?

Reuse: Here are some things that I've done to reuse--ideas that you could...ahem...reuse.

Bulky and Brush pickup days. (This could probably be a blog post all on its own.) Essentially there is always somewhere in Tucson where households put their Brush and Bulky trash out for collection. Yes, I’m talking dumpster diving, minus the dumpster. If you have a friend with a truck (or another appropriately-sized vehicle that you don't mind getting a little dirty), this is such a gold mine for large items that can be reused with a bit of creativity.

While some of the things that people throw away are genuinely toxic and probably shouldn't have existed in the first place, as Jim Carrey says as The Grinch, "One man's toxic sludge is another man's potpourri." My sentiments exactly. So the last time we had this pickup in our neighborhood, I scored some tires, wood, and stumps for my toddler to play with in our backyard.
Wood boards and a few tires make a fun natural-ish play area for the toddler.

I worked up the guts to ask the homeowner if they would help me load these freshly-cut Palo Verde stumps from her Brush and Bulky pile, as the heavier ones easily exceeded 100 pounds.
This is my bag, baby.
Mesh produce bags. While I try to use my homemade produce/bulk bags whenever possible for groceries, I occasionally succumb to the pull of non-local mandarin oranges that come in plastic mesh bags, which I prefer to a plastic produce bag because many are quite durable and can be made into reusable mesh produce bags  Cool, right? Of course, it does require some knowledge of crochet, but it's easy enough to learn.
"Make do": I have yet to determine what exactly makes certain objects such coveted targets for my dogs, but many things in my home have been diminished to a still-useful-but-not-pretty state via mastication. If the object is still usable, why not continue to use it?
See this half-pen? The important half is still intact, so a quick snip with the scissors prolonged its life. Of course, in an ideal world I would own a refillable fountain pen, but I would hate for my pets to ruin that investment.

And no one really sees these combs, so they remain in our rotation. Perhaps that is obvious, but a Zero-Waste lifestyle embraces this kind of imperfection. A few missing teeth is just a sign that you stand for something, right?
We'll call her nubs.

These suggestions are in no way exhaustive. In fact, they are just the beginning! I am several years into my journey, and frankly I still have a long way to go. But I'm glad to see the desire to mend, repair and reuse (rather than buying new) getting a 21st-century makeover, thanks to people like you who made it all the way through this post!
If you are interested in discussing more ways you can reduce your contribution to the landfill, please, visit my Facebook group, Zero Waste Tucson. We welcome your ideas, questions, and discussion related to reducing packaging, food, and water waste.

Feel free to reuse this post!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Still Crazy about Purslane

squeeze lime on purslane, potato, dill, cucumber salad
When I posted my blog on purslane, I had no idea it would get such a huge response. Enthusiastic conversations sprouted up on several facebook pages. Apparently, purslane is a thing. People all over the world gather this healthy, versatile, edible "weed." (Purslane has more omega 3 than most green veggies.)  We have been experimenting with it ever since. Here's a few easy recipes I came up with. 

If you pick the tops off the purslane they grow back! 

One of my favorite concoctions is purslane, potato, cucumber, and dill salad. We like it so much that we served it at our 4th of July BBQ. There was some purslane left from my neighborhood foraging, but after a few days it was starting to get a little wilted. Purslane always tastes best when fresh. So I planted the remaining plants (roots and all) in the garden. I managed to pick a small handful of purslane from those that had grown back from a recent harvest. (If you leave part of the plant intact they grow back!) I avoided any that had flowers budding because I knew from experience that they would be bitter.

wash carefully
Be sure you wash the purslane well or your will have some unwanted crunchy dirt in your salad. We also found a cute garden beetle in there. If you wash them over a bowl you can catch the little black seeds and pour them where you want purslane to grow in your yard. I like to pour them around plants I already water. 

coarsely chopping purslane leaves and stems

Cut off the roots. Then dice the purslane, stems and all. The stems have a slightly lemony, parsley taste. They add a nice crisp bite to the salad. Feel free to leave the healthy peelings on the cucumber and potatoes. (Though I peeled the cuke so that the purslane would stand out more.) You can also add some diced green onion, but being a newlywed, I still opt for kissable breath.

ingredients for purslane salad (except lime)

1 bunch of purslane (coarsely diced)
1 small bunch of fresh dill (leaves finely diced)
5-6 medium yellow potatoes (cut in wedges, cooked and chilled)
1 cucumber (cut in wedges)
3 tablespoons sour cream
the juice of 1/2 of a lime or lemon

Stir all the ingredients together. Serve chilled. Craveable!

One purslane fan suggested that you can sauté the purslane (with stems) and add it to an omelet. (Dan  tried this dish and said you don't even have to sauté the purslane first.)

I had some leftover pesto so I decided to try it as a scramble. I sautéed the purslane in 2 tablespoons of pesto (sautéing it until the purslane was tender.)

I added a couple of wedges of canned artichoke. Then I scrambled in 4 eggs and topped it with crumbled feta cheese. Yummy!


1 bunch of purslane (chopped)
2 tablespoons of pesto (or more to taste)
4 eggs
1-2 wedges of canned artichoke diced (optional)
crumbled feta cheese

pesto purslane scramble and home fries 

2-3 medium potatoes (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
olive oil for frying
1 small can of diced green chiles
3-4 eggs
1/2 cup of cheddar cheese

small bunch of purslane (coarsely diced)
1/2 of a 15 oz can of green chile enchilada sauce

Fry home fries in oil. When cooked, sauté diced green chiles, scramble in eggs, melt cheese on top. Roll up in a tortilla.

In a small saucepan, add purslane to green chile sauce. Simmer until purslane is tender. Pour over burrito.

green chile and purslane smothered breakfast burrito 
There are so many cool recipes I'd like to try, like adding purslane to lentil soup in place of spinach or adding it into a Greek style quinoa salad. You can pretty much add it in place of leafy veggies in most recipes. 

It's a great way for vegetarians to get their omega 3. Purslane has the highest level of alpha-linolenic which is an omega 3 fatty acid essential for human nutrition compared to any leafy green vegetable. A 100 g sample of purslane contains 300–400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

More information at: 

Obsessed with Purslane