Well, it’s dividend dispersal day in Alaska (at least if you do direct deposit). It’s also my dad’s birthday! Happy birthday dad! I know a few people who do not sign up for the dividend on principle, since it is oil money, and a fairly good bribe to the populous to be happy with business as usual – drill, pump and burn. I have always looked at it a bit like Norway does though, as an opportunity to use the proceeds of what is happening anyway (not that we can’t work against that directly as well…) to lessen personal/collective oil/fossil fuel dependence. I know I don’t need to give you the whys here, but suffice it to say that I prefer clean air, a lack of catastrophic climate change, lower utility bills, a home that remains comfortable even if enstar has supply issues this winter, etc… Call me crazy. Ok, did that make you feel better? 🙂
So, how could you use your ill-begotten oil money for the powers of good? I’m sure a quick websearch or a quick thought experiment would reveal many ways in which a thousand dollars could make your life less oily and gassy (and coaly). akenergyefficiency.org is one good resource – it is the new clearing house website for all things alaska and energy and efficiency – tips, resources, etc, etc. Some of my thoughts are below, and keep in mind that many energy efficiency measures will actually give you a much higher return on the investment than if you stuck the money in a CD or the stock market. I thought about giving some sample ROIs in real numbers for the dividend amount, but it is pretty dependent on your personal details, so I’ll let you do the hard math. I’ll organize my personal possibilities into two main categories, transport and home:
Transportation is the main way I would use oil – since my heat and electricity is mainly gas and some hydro. In rural alaska, though, diesel is the main source of electricity and fuel oil provides heat. I digress. Well, I am still the car-less wonder (there are a few of us hardy souls in Anchorage – I am certainly not the only one), but I may be contributing soon to the death of the species, as I will need wheels for work occasionally. I could use the money to help start a carshare, or take taxis to my destinations the few times I really need to get somewhere far and fast (so that I can avoid the expense and temptation of a ready-to-go, insurance-paid vehicle). Although most transportation options for my situation involve an upping of my fossil fuel usage, this is somewhat unique. For those in a different starting position, investing in a more fuel efficient car or a winter-ready bike may make sense to lower your oil dependence. Or a year bus pass.
I am separating out heating and electricity here as the two broad categories of home fuel use. In the heating side of things I have already slapped 4″ of blueboard over the outside of my whole house to up the R-value to about 3x what it was (effective R-value of old 2×4 walls: approximately R-10, new value: approximately R-30). I should get a chunk of the costs back from the Alaska home energy rebate program, probably about 1/3. I will post a more detailed economic calculation of this later, it’s not perfect but the payback is within the lifetime of the improvement even without higher natural gas prices in the future – and I think we can all guess which way those prices will go with time. I also need to throw the additional batts of fiberglass I bought for the attic up there, on top of the existing 1′ of attic insulation. I replaced a couple of leaky old single pane windows with seriously good windows too, and upgraded the water heater to an indirect one working off my fairly efficient boiler.
Look how thick my walls are now!!
What else do I want to do? I want to some day replace a few more older windows and install masonry wood stoves in the bottom two floors for heating. But what I have already done is pretty major, and I am hoping to see the bulk of my decrease in fuel use from what has already been accomplished. Graphs will follow this winter!
What else could I do? My boiler is only 82% efficient, so that could be upgraded, although the boiler is only about 4 years old, so not worth it from a lifecycle/embodied energy analysis. The doors could be replaced with more efficient ones. I could add thermal curtains or shutters. Someday I’ll probably get serious about solar hot water. I could go build a passivhaus, and maybe someday I will!
I have already replaced most of the lighting, but I still have some older fluorescent tube fixtures in the drop ceilings. When I drywall those ceilings I would like to add normal fixtures and fill them with LCD or CFL bulbs. Some lighting, such as in the hallway, could get occupancy sensors. I would like to add some daylighting improvements to reduce the need for other lighting – a solar tube in the upstairs hall and in my bathroom and downstairs living room would be nice. More south windows in the lower 2 floors with opened walls to get the light into the living rooms would be nice. Lighter colored floor covering in my living room would help.
Two of the four fridges in the building are old and need to be swapped out for energy star ones. Ditto the coin-op washer and dryer, and the two dishwashers in the building. Separating the electricity from one meter into one for each unit would be a good way to encourage tenant efficiency/conservations (although having only one meter right now removes my split-incentive barrier – meaning since I pay for all the electricity, it encourages me to upgrade fridges and things that short-time tenants would never touch), as would visible ‘smart meters’ inside the units.
Some folks off the grid might reasonably invest in a solar panel or two to allow a bit of lights or computer time without firing up a generator. If none of this works for you, you could always donate the whole chunk to a worthy cause or non-profit! Other things, like improving your garden space or planting fruit trees or joining a local CSA could decrease the oil that goes into shipping your food.
What am I really going to use my dividend for? Probably most directly and quickly on replacing the two energy-hog fridges, but all those things on my list will be done someday soon! What are you using yours on?