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Going Solar…with Todd Kreisman

10422233_10153002354944557_5642750807133000150_nMy friend Todd Kreisman and his wife recently added solar panels to their Southern California home, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the process.

1. What made you decide to go solar?

We were approached by Zero Energy, who had representatives going door-to-door in our neighborhood and who told us we were qualified for subsidies through Energy Upgrade California.** In the last few months, we’ve had insulation put in our attic and walls, gotten weather stripping, more energy efficient shower head and other devices replaced, etc.

2. Do you own your panels or did you lease them? What are the terms?

The deal was $0 down and then we make a monthly payment so that eventually we’ll own them. The tricky thing is that it’s built into the cost of everything else they did, so I’m trying to figure out how much it was for just the panels… I think it was in the $5k range all together.

3. What were your average monthly summer and winter electrical bills when you were using conventional energy sources? How much of that cost do you anticipate being able to cover with the new panels?

DWP bills were getting pretty insane – in the $300-500 range per two month billing period. Hoping/expecting we can get that down to around $100-150.

4. Are you able to sell your extra energy back to your local provider?

Never heard anything about that mentioned, so assuming no.

5. Were there any surprises about the process that you didn’t anticipate?

Yes. We have a metal roof, and they couldn’t install the panels on top of them. Fortunately for us, the guy who came out originally goofed and said they could do it, so when it came time to install them, I ended up being put in contact with the (I think) CEO of Zero Energy who said it was their bad, and they were going to pay to have another company come out and re-tile that portion of the roof so that the panels could be installed. There were also some major delays in getting the work done (we initially signed up for these in September and they were finally installed this month.)

**Note that it appears that subsidies for solar panels appear to be exhausted. Will look into this further, but I know the state periodically funds these upgrades, companies like Zero Energy aggressively market to homeowners until the subsidies are gone, and then you typically have to wait for the next round. I tried the subsidy finder for my zip code and came up with nothing. However, there is still a relevant tax credit available.

Thanks, Todd! Would love to get an update in six months or so to see how your new bills compare.

CropMobster

If you live in one of four counties in northern California (Sonoma, Alameda, San Francisco, or Marin) and would find it useful to know about local food surpluses that may be available for you for free, I highly recommend CropMobster. This is a great service for food banks who distribute to the hungry public, provided you can handle the sudden influx of 200 pounds of ripe tomatoes! Sign up for alerts on social media to keep updated!

The same goes, obviously, if you might have half a ton of cucumbers of 100 chickens to give away.

They also list farm jobs, potential barter opportunities, and thematically-related events!

Non-profit wish lists

Seals_001My boyfriend and I visited the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California, this weekend, where sick and injured seals and sea lions are treated and re-released into the ocean. In times of great stress, they’ve cared for 500 animals at a time — and that means they go through a lot of supplies. If you happen to have a significant amount of Karo (light corn) syrup, distilled water, duct tape, vitamins (C, B-1, and E), or kitchen supplies, like paper towels, laundry detergent, trash bags, and latex gloves, they would be glad to take them off your hands. They have an extensive wish list.

If you don’t have anything immediately on hand and you want to help them, you can donate through their Amazon wish list or send them cash. Money is always a better alternative than buying new supplies because it allows them to buy in bulk (and possibly at a discount) and gives them flexibility to address their most pressing supply needs.

Note that, like most small non-profits, the MMCC can always use office supply gift cards, toilet paper, coffee, and other standard office items. Check out your favorite non-profit’s wish list to see how you can help them out!

Unwanted Baby Stuff

Outfitting babies with everything they need can be dauntingly expensive for low-income parents. Luckily for those on the east coast, Room to Grow collects and distributes clothing, strollers, blankets, swings — and pretty much everything else a growing baby needs.

used-jogging-stroller-baby-trend-expedition-21560925Breast pumps, bottles, and a few other items are only accepted in new condition. And some things — diapers, formula and stuffed animals — are turned away for hygienic reasons.

There are dropoff locations in both New York (on West 21st Street) and Boston (corner of Berkeley Street and Columbus Avenue). So if your baby isn’t a baby anymore, pass on their stuff to a baby who can use it!

All My Trash Fits in a Mason Jar

Not my trash, unfortunately, but this woman’s, and two years’ worth! As a New Yorker, she notes that this kind of minimalism it a lot harder to pull off in a city like Los Angeles, which does not have the widely available composting programs that New York does. As a Los Angeles resident, I can attest to this, as well as the general complexity of the recycling programs. Still, very inspirational!

 

Post-Halloween blues?

Did you do do a little too well this year on your Halloween candy haul, and you’ve backed yourself into a sweet, delectable corner? Consider the Halloween Candy BuyBack program, which buys Halloween candy for $1/pound and sends it to overseas troops.  They have a handy search field on their front page to find a dropoff location near you. Most likely a dentist!

Just added — Ipods!

You can now donate used ipods to Music & Memory, which provides personalized playlists for the elderly and infirm. You know you’ll want someone to bust out some Duran Duran/Britney Spears/Nickelback for you when your time comes, so help them out if you can! Please include relevant chargers, etc.

Honey Love promotes urban beekeeping

Western_honeybeeThe earth has a serious bee problem. Since 2005-2006 between 20-35% of all bees have been dying off every winter in what has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Though bees have inherent value unrelated to their impact on humans, obviously, it is worth noting that bees are responsible for pollinating much of our food, and play a crucial role in the earth’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that the main cause of CCD is use of neonicotinoid pesticides, so it’s kind of on us to fix this. What can you do to help? Keep a pesticide-free garden, offer water sources to passing bees, and embark on a path of urban beekeeping! If you live in L.A., you can get hands-on assistance from Chelsea and Rob McFarland, founders of HoneyLove, who provide resources and a community of like-minded people. Chelsea kindly took the time to answer a few of my bee-related questions:

1. What kind of physical set up does an L.A. resident need to keep a Chelsea_Mcfarlandbeehive on their property?
There are no official rules. Here are some general guidelines:
(1)   Hives should be located at least five feet from all property lines.
(2)   Hive entrances should face away from or parallel to the nearest property line(s).
(3)   Hives must either be screened so that the bees fly over a six-foot barrier, which may be vegetative, before leaving the property, or be placed at least eight feet above the adjacent ground level.

2. What kind of financial and time commitment does beekeeping require?
Approximately $500 and 2+ hours every two to three weeks. More details are available on the HoneyLove site.

3. What is the current legal status of beekeeping in the city?
Beekeeping is legal in Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, and the county of Los Angeles. However, L.A. currently only allows beekeeping in manufacturing and commercial zones. The L.A. City Council is still studying our motion to allow beekeeping in residential zones and is scheduled to vote on it at some point in the next few months. (Fingers crossed!)

4. You note that HoneyLove encourages people to contact live bee removal services for stray unwanted hives. How much does this cost, and where do they take the bees?
It costs roughly the same as an exterminator. The live bee removal services take bees and give them a new home, while the exterminators simply kill them.

5. Do urban beekeepers ever run into issues with neighbors that may have bee allergies? Are there potential legal ramifications with this? The city of Seattle legalized beekeeping over 50 years ago and has rarely received complaints about it, categorizing beekeeping as a “non-issue.” That’s typical of cities which have legalized the practice. On average, there are already between nine and eleven colonies of bees in every square mile of Los Angeles. We are hoping to add a dedicated base of volunteers to expand on this already natural occurrence  — bees in the city!

6. A lot of concern about Colony Collapse Disorder centers around bees not being around to pollinate plants. Given their relatively short reach, what plants are bees likely to pollinate in an urban, non-agricultural, area?
Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants (including 100 different food crops), and cities actually provide more robust habitats than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping. That’s because the practice of monoculture — planting of a single crop over a large area — means that all the plants in a given area are either in bloom or not at any given time. When they’re not, these   vast plots are devoid of the pollen and nectar that hives require for survival. Cities, however, provide greater biodiversity for foraging bees throughout the year, because of the greater variety of plant life.
flower_for_bees City bees are also less likely to encounter pesticides when feeding than their rural counterparts, thus eliminating one more reason for their decline.

7. How many hives are being kept by urban beekeepers in L.A.? Is this trend also catching on nationally and internationally? There is no official registration for beekeepers, but we have nearly 500 members in our Meetup group. When I speak to the other cities around the nation who have legalized beekeeping, they report around one percent of their population registering as beekeepers. This is an international trend for sure.

Thanks so much, Chelsea! Be sure to contact HoneyLove if you want to pursue your urban beekeeping dream!

Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

A French supermarket started selling unattractive fruits and vegetables at a 30% discount and it worked incredibly well! Previously, these items had been thrown away, though they were perfectly edible, but simply not up to supermarket standards in appearance. They also made some of these products into juices.

This followed a campaign from the EU Parliament to reduce food waste, which was estimated at 179 kg per capita per year.

For more info on wasted food overall, check out Jonathan Bloom’s site. He wrote an entire book on the topic.

 

 

Locks of Love controversy

A recent report from Nonprofit investor indicates there is some question about how well Locks of Love handles their hair donations, which are intended to be made into hairpieces for children that suffer from medical-related hair loss. Some of these donations are, doubtless, legitimately unusable, as they are too short, too grey, or otherwise compromised. However, it does seem clear that they are not very well-run at the very least, given that they claim they don’t even catalog the number of donations they receive, the number of wigs they make, or the hair they resell.

Here are some alternative organizations that will accept your hair:

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Wigs for Kids

Children With Hair Loss

Wigs for Kids

The hair generally has to be at least ten inches long, clean and dry, and free of chemical processing — each organization lists its specific requirements. As always, I encourage anyone donating any product to consider also throwing in a cash donation to pay for the processing of the physical one.