Different ways to avoid food waste, Hawai'i's changing how they charge for electricity
Plus: Breaking old ground for chesnut trees, and a coal plant becomes a battery
Back to quick roundup stories for December. Next week will be the last regular email of the year: I’ll be taking the week before Christmas off and paid members will get their monthly resource email in the last week of December.
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One of my favorite stories I wrote this year was about Shuggie’s Trash Pie, a restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District that put a special focus on using food waste, and tried bring a sense of levity to learning about food’s impact on climate.
As much as I liked Shuggie’s, I worried it was a bit of a “only-in-San Francisco” story. The unique relationships Shuggie’s has with farmers and suppliers, as well as the deep well of well-paid foodie and scene-seeking San Franciscans that would likely make up much of their clientele made it hard to see how that would be replicated elsewhere, much less outside of California.
But this week Planet Detroit reports on a pizza place in Detroit that has taken a less flashy but still effective approach to food waste:
Co-owner Alessandra Carreon and her team have been making intentional choices about which dishes stay and go since the restaurant opened about five years ago, driven by a desire to avoid sending edible items to the landfill. Careful menu planning is the crux of PizzaPlex’s source reduction strategy—actions taken to eliminate or prevent food waste.
Simplicity actually does much of this food-waste fighting work for PizzaPlex. Since they’ve opened their focus, hours and menu have sharpened. The restaurant also works with a company to take its food waste to compost and is trialing more local food sources.
Recently, PizzaPlex stopped offering a side of white beans after sales began to dwindle. And it was a relatively swift decision. “If people don’t order it, then we remove it altogether from the menu,” Carreon said. “People will buy it once in a while, but not enough to justify carrying something.”
Not every restaurant food waste success story has to come with a sparkly bar and a model-size David in its bathroom — Shuggie’s owners stressed to me that menu planning was just as important to their efforts as sourcing wasted food. The lessons can still apply.
Shifting electricity timing state-wide in Hawai'i
Hawai'i’s electricity grid has lots of solar potential, and it’s thousands of miles away from the next closest part of the country. It can’t share electricity back and forth like many of the lower 48’s grid operators do. As a result, it’s long been heavily reliant on imported oil to run its power plants.
But Hawai'i is in the midst of a state-encouraged solar rooftop boom and it’s decided to change its electricity rates to help manage it.
Canary Media outlines the change:
Hawaiian Electric customers will soon see their bills made up of three components. A small fixed charge covers utility billing and payment-collection expenses, which everyone incurs. In addition, there’s a “grid-access charge” that’s proportional to the capacity a customer pulls from the grid in a given month — so for example, a small apartment will pay less than a mansion with three Teslas and a jacuzzi.
But the bulk of the monthly payment will be determined by a time-of-use rate that splits the day into three sections: electricity in the evening peak hours costs three times more than it does in the sunny hours of booming solar production. The middle of the night is cheaper than the peak but more expensive than the sunny hours.
This is a something called a “time-of-use” rate (TOUR): it’s designed to incentivize people to use more electricity during the times when renewable energy — in this case solar — is most plentiful, and flatten the curve of electricity demand as it spikes in the afternoon and evening, preventing blackouts.
Incentivizing people to not turn on their dishwasher and laundry at the same time as they are making dinner does appear to work — provided the cost difference is high enough. California utilities have partially moved to TOURs but don’t include grid access charges. Hawaii’s plan seems intended to curtail issues with customers on the extremes: the heaviest electric users or households with enough solar panels that they could sell back their entire bill to the grid.
In California, I reported on why changing to TOURs may be too dependent on people who don’t have the opportunity or technology to shift the timing of their biggest sources of electricity - although the utilities are still operating it on an opt-out model.
But Hawai'i is in a rush to decarbonize their grid — for climate reasons but also because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made oil prices — and their electricity prices — jump this year. As of Aug, Hawaii’s residential electricity price was 200% the US average. Adding more solar is intended to get those prices down.
Although I don’t live in California anymore, I have pretty strong muscle memory about shifting my electricity use where I can. So I recently looked at a TOUR, as we’re considering installing an electric car charger at our house in DC. Local utility PEPCO only makes this rate structure available for electric car owners. It’s beneficial if you charge your car primarily overnight during the lowest demand hours.
But I was shocked to see the way PEPCO structured it: the peak period was not 5-7pm or even 4-9pm, but 12-8pm. If I had a full-electric car, that pricing for my overall electricity bill would make sense. But for a two-person work-from-home household with a plug-in hybrid, I’ll need to look at least a half-years’ worth of data before figuring out if the TOUR is right for us.
More local climate actions stories
- How public prosecution models could stop worst polluters down in less time
- How washing my hands with “toilet water” cut my water bills in half. (Californians, please try this and report back)
- Public frustration with DTE is growing. So are its charitable and political spending.
- Georgia's legislature passes some rules to handle an increased number of electric vehicles but shelves the most contested proposals for now
- How a Massachusetts Chestnut Grower Seeks to Shape a More Sustainable Food Future
- In historic move, Los Angeles bans new oil wells, will phase out existing ones
- This former coal plant is becoming a battery
- The December deadline for North Carolina's most important carbon reduction plan is almost here
- Madison, Wisconsin looks to build the need for less parking and fewer cars into their new developments