Surviving and exploiting the sun’s energy

July 8, 2012

A break in the heat but not in the drought

It’s nice to be able to sit on the back porch again without melting into a puddle. Not only did we see the first 100 degree day in seven years in Chicago–we saw three of them in a row. Does that mean that we’ll go another 21 years before we hit the century mark again? Um…do the words “climate change” ring a bell?

Of course, as meteorologist Rick DiMaio says, it’s important to gather the data and look at what it means after the event. On the other hand, 3,215 daily high temperature records were set in the U.S. in the month of June, leading some people to point out that the events we’ve been seeing in America are exactly the kinds of things that have been predicted by climate change models.

Regardless of whether or not our 2012 weather events have been caused by climate change or are just freakish weather, there’s no doubt that we are in the middle of a very dry period–not just in Illinois but in all of the lower 48 states. An analysis compiled by the National Drought Mitigation Center shows 27 of the 48 states (56%) in some stage of drought.

Which brings us to what all of this heat and lack of water are doing to your trees, shrubs and perennials. Plant Information Specialist Doris Taylor from the Morton Arboretum stops by today to tell us what she’s been seeing in the Plant Clinic and what advice she has for gardeners and homeowners.

Meanwhile, my buddy Dan Kosta from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale offers some watering tips:

1. Water EARLY in the morning, before the sun is strong.

2. Evening watering is okay when it’s hot. The foliage will dry quickly on hot days and the plants can absorb the water all night without the stress of the sun.

3. If a plant is wilted, water it, no matter what time it is.

4. Always water thoroughly. Water should freely run out of the drainage holes. You need to give about the same amount of water as if the pot were empty and you were filling the pot with water.

5. Check that the soil is absorbing the water. Dig in a little to see that the soil is wet and not still dry. If the soil stays dry. water it generously with lukewarm water.

6. Do not worry about droplets of water on the leaves causing burning. It doesn’t happen. The droplet may form a sort of lens but the focal length ( the distance to where the light is focused to a pinpoint) is well beyond the leaf surface.

7. Do not fertilize when i’ts over about 85. Plants stop growing at that point and will not use the fertilizer. It can then build up in the soil and burn the root hairs which are the parts that absorb the water for the plant.

8. Do not spray insecticides or fungicides when it’s over 85.They will become phytotoxic and harm the plant. Curling or burning of the foliage is the usual symptom.

9. I’ts good to mist the foliage in the heat of the afternoon. It will cool the leaves and make them more active. Between 2 pm and 4 pm is good.

10. One inch of water per week is best for most plants (1/4 inch per week for lawns). Apply this all at one time. Check to see how long it takes your sprinkler to deliver one inch of water (approximately an empty tuna fish can ) and set it to run that long once a week. Several light waterings over the course of a week keep the roots near the surface, and the plants are less resistant to drought and stress.

Energizing our legislators to support solar power

Last week’s show featured a Who’s Who of environmental leaders in Illinois, includin Jack Darin of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Max Muller from Environment Illinois, Jennifer Walling of The Illinois Environmental Council and Tom Shepherd from Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF). I was fortunate enough to have them in studio to discuss a slew of enviornmental bills–good, bad and ugly–that came out of the recently concluded legislative session in Springfield.

A couple of those bills had to do with the road that we as a state are going to travel–will we continue to pollute our air and water by extracting fossil fuels or will we finally make the move to renewable energy, like solar power? It seems like a no-brainer but, unfortunately, many of our legislators just don’t get it, perhaps because there is so much coal money floating around in Springfield. Well, folks, that’s why we have elections. If you don’t like who’s in there now, get rid of them.

That’s basically the idea behind the Clean Energy Illinois PAC (CEI), a newly formed political PAC, has been designed to fund election efforts for Illinois candidates that support local clean energy legislation. Once this objective is achieved, the CEI PAC will work on implementing legislation to ensure a robust future for renewable energy in Illinois, benefiting individuals and the community, at large while creating jobs and revenue in the state.

To that end, the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA) is hosting a Solar Drinks event this Tuesday, July 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Emmett’s Ale House, 5200 Main Street in Downers Grove, Illinois. The event is free to ISEA members and $5.00 for others.

Featured speakers are Sarah Wochos & Barry Matchett. Among the issues to be covered:

  • The Solar & Wind Energy Rebate Program
  • Distributed generation REC procurement
  • Solar Installer Certification
  • The effect of municipal aggregation on the Illinois RPS

That first bullet point is in reference to one of the “ugly” things that came out of Springfield in May. A last minute addition to the Illinois budget saw $3.7 million swept from the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (managed by DCEO) to go to the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN).  This is a loss of 75% of DCEO’s renewable energy funding, which makes continuing the solar & wind energy rebate program unlikely.

Like I said, it’s all about elections. Lisa Albrecht, renewable energy specialist with Solar Service Inc., returns to the show this morning to talk about the future of solar power in Illinois. To contribute to the Clean Energy PAC, go to their website, or follow their group on Facebook.

Abby Goldberg visits the governor

As I mentioned earlier, there were good, bad and ugly environmental bills that came out of Springfield in their legislative session.

One of the “ugly” bills that we discussed was SB 3442, The Statewide Plastic Bag Recycling Bill. While the bill was written ostensibly to require plastic bag manufacturers to set up collection and recycling programs, pay fees and register with the state, it would also–with the exception of Chicago–prohibit Illinois communities from passing stronger laws, even if they wanted to tax or ban plastic bags altogether. If enacted, this would be the most restrictive law in the country banning municipal plastic bag reduction programs. While this bill purports to create a statewide recycling program for bags and film, would only increase plastic bag and film recycling by only one tenth of one percent [.1%].

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the bill being signed…it might not be. Abby Goldberg, a 12-year-old girl from Grayslake, Illinois started a petition on to get the governor to veto the bill and more than 155,000 people signed on. That encouraged Max Muller to invite her to bring her petitions to a news conference at James R. Thompson Center in Chicago on July 3. There, she stood alongside represenatives of various environmental groups (I was there as president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition), and even the Mayor of Champaign, Illinois, Don Gerard.

Remarkably, the event was covered by just about every media outlet in town (they were covering the environment so it must have been a slow news day). And then something even more remarkable happened. We all got word that Governor Pat Quinn would be coming out of his office to personally accept Abby’s petitions. Which he did. He even carried the sacks full of paper back into his office…by himself!

Does it mean that he will veto the bill or strip out the provisions that prohibit municipalities from enforcing plastic bag taxes or bans? We don’t know. But it was a good sign. You can still call The Gov and tell him to veto this bill. The number in Chicago is 312-814-2121.

Meanwhile, another one of the “ugly” bills that we discussed was SB 3766, The Leucadia Coal Gasification Bill. This bill, which is also sitting on Governor Quinn’s desk, would guarantee funding for the plant at on Chicago’s Southeast Side115th Street & Burley Avenue. As you can imagine, SETF is dead set against this bill and wants the governor to issue a veto because of pollution concerns for this already over-polluted area. Not only that, but the bill would force customers of Nicor Gas and Ameren to pay 95 percent of the cost to build and operate a $3 billion coal-to-gas plant and be stuck with that cost for 30 years. No wonder that even the Chicago Tribune wants the governor to issue a veto.

The SETF has planned a rally for Tuesday, July 10 at noon at the Thompson Center to get Governor Quinn to veto SB 3766. For south siders, there will be bus rides from two departure points: 1) The Zone (11731 S. Avenue O) and 2) Altgeld Gardens @ UpTop Store (13116 S. Ellis Ave.) Pick-up is at 10:00 a.m. and you will return by 1:00 p.m. To reserve a seat on the bus, call 773-819-5239. Of course, if you can’t attend, you can always call the Governor about this issue, too. The number again is 312-814-2121/