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Kilowatt Ours

February 29, 2008

Last week, the Frontier Café in Brunswick, Maine hosted a viewing of Kilowatt Ours–a short film about different ways we can all improve our energy efficiency. The slightly kitschy film starring Jeff Barrie (the filmmaker) and his wife explores the impacts of our large appetite for energy and the importance of finding alternatives to our current reliance on coal.     

Barrie sets the stage with footage of coal mining practices in Appalachia–namely mountain top removal coal mining which literally involves blasting away whole mountains to get at the coal underneath. The most compelling footage, however, is of a coal slurry spill in Appalachia. In October 2000, a total of 300 million gallons of coal slurry (a toxic mix of carcinogens and heavy metals that is a by-product of “cleaning” the coal after it comes out of the ground) poured into a fork of the Big Sandy River when a containment pond failed. The slurry buried over 75 miles of waterway, effectively killing the river. It flooded houses and yards, contaminated the drinking water of countless communities and disrupted or killed tons of wildlife. 

So, how do we reduce our reliance on coal?  

By increasing our efficiency and tapping into alternative energies. There are a bunch of ways to do this and some of them will save you a chunk of change in the long run. (The Barrie’s cut their power bill in half by changing to CFLs and upgrading their fridge.)  

  •      You’ve heard it before, but replacing your regular incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (or CFLs) is a quick way to save money and use less energy. Although CFLs cost a little more than regular lightbulbs, they last way longer and use three quarters less energy. One warning: they’ve got mercury in them so make sure you follow the specific guidelines for recycling and cleaning up broken bulbs.
  •      When it comes time to replace your appliances, make sure you buy Energy Star certified ones. Energy Star is a certification program that rates appliances on how much energy they use–or more appropriately, how much energy they save. New models are constantly improving their efficiency–today’s fridges are 20% more efficient than the ones built just 2 years ago–so even if you could squeeze another year or so out of an old clunker, it may save you more money to replace it with a more efficient model.
  •      If your furnace dates back to the original Star Wars movie you’ll probably need an upgrade sometime soon. Rather than just replacing your HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) with a newer model, consider installing a geothermal heat pump. Geothermal pumps tap into the stable temperature of the ground in order to provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. It can be expensive to install, but the savings more than make up for it over the life of the system–especially considering the rising cost of oil. 
  •      Installing solar panels or a wind turbine can also save you money. And if you generate more power than you need, the excess electricity gets put back into the system and your power meter spins backwards. Solar panels are becoming increasingly more affordable, even on par with coal (see Nanosolar ). And the technology is getting way cooler. Now you can get roof shingles that double as solar panels and soon hybrid drivers will be able to buy aluminum solar panels for the roofs of their cars. 
  •      If you can’t afford to generate your own “green energy,” you can always switch to buying green electricity from your local utilities. Most suppliers offer green alternatives–electricity generated from solar arrays, wind turbines and low-impact hydro electric dams–at just a slight premium. This won’t save you any money, but it reduces our dependance on fossil fuels. Here’s the deal: the more alternative energy we ask for, the less electricity will come from coal–that means more solar arrays and less coal-fired power plants.

 There’s lots of information on energy efficiency / alternative energy out there, but if you have a question, please post a comment. And if we can answer it, we will.  

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    February 29, 2008 7:52 pm

    CFLs really help. There are a couple great online tools available to see what bulbs would work best in your home. For example, there is a nice color temperature chart at .

    Want to see how much money, electricy and carbon you can save? Check out this CFL savings calculator at <a href=””?

    Save even more energy by not leaving your home to make the switch, you can buy these things right online at several different places. I used and replaced almost my whole home.

    I still need to find some that are dimmable for my ceiling fans. That is my only challenge at the moment.

    I don’t worry a lot about the mercury. In researching I found that the mercury in these bulbs is barely enough to cover the tip of a pin. The amount of mercury these things save from being put into the air way more than justifies the purchase of these bulbs.

  2. Susy permalink
    March 2, 2008 8:55 pm

    I am very happy that you mentioned the mercury in CFLs! Energy star likes to leave out that little fact because they think people won’t buy them if they know that. Now if energy star and EPA would just work together to figure out better disposal options…

  3. March 27, 2008 3:17 pm

    I will need to check that film out!

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