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No, this is not another post about the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, based on the lack of hits THAT post received I don’t think even my mother read it! This is about my favorite new yard tool! I have been searching for years for a way to take care of my yard and not burn gas to do it. Short of ripping out all the turf grass and replacing it with native plants and grasses, which neither my wife nor my HOA will allow, I have been stymied.

Years ago I tried using one of those throwback mowers. You know the kind, the reel mowers, the kind used before gas powered engines. That experiment did not work. Just ask my son, JT, who was just old enough to help dear old dad with the yard work. Our yard was too big, had too many bumps, twigs, rocks and other things that would get stuck in the blades as they spun bringing the mower, and the mow”er” to an abrupt stop. So we gave up on that idea, donated the reel mower to Goodwill and went back to the old Briggs and Stratton. But…my quest continued.

Fast forward about a decade and half. My wife and I were touring the Smart Home at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (Read More) when we reached the garage, there it was, in the corner, next to the hydrogen powered car, The Neuton, a battery powered lawn mower (Read More). I swear there was a bright light from the heavens and a celestial chorus. (Ok, maybe it was just the solar powered lights in the garage and the radio, but hey, it’s my story). I knew right then and there, I had to have one.

Since it was autumn and it didn’t make much sense to take advantage of the six month money back guarantee when there wasn’t anything move, I anxiously awaited spring. In March, I placed my order. I was concerned about the size of my yard, so I ordered the larger of the two models and an extra battery, and of course I had to have the accessory pack which includes a weed trimmer/edger that attaches to the mower itself…how cool is THAT? Now before you shake your head at my wanton consumerism let me assure you, my current mower was over 10 years old, need significant repairs, AND I ordered one of the used, refurbished models.

I was like a kid at Christmas when it arrived, tore open the box and assembled it right there in the family room. It was a thing of beauty. I don’t know what was used and refurbished about it, it looked brand new!

A few days later it finally stopped raining and I gave it a whirl. It does a tremendous job on the yard. We have about 7,000 square feet of yard and it breezed right through it. I was glad I had ordered the extra battery for trimming, but to mow the yard itself I can do it with one charge. The trimmer attachment does take a little getting used to, but once I got the hang of maneuvering the mower with the trimmer attached it did a great job as well.

One of the amazing things about this mower is how quiet it is. As I am pushing it, I can actually hear the blade cutting through the grass. When my neighbor is mowing at the same time, I can hear the roar of his engine above the sound of the Neuton. I have even startled my wife as she works in the yard because she can’t hear me coming.

As for my old mower, after one time of using the Neuton, I donated the old mower. It’s now almost the end of May, two months into the mowing season here in Indiana, and I have yet to use any gas to mow or trim my yard. The batteries charge in about 24 hours and use just pennies of electricity. If you are looking for a way to reduce your carbon foot print or to stop fooling around with gas cans, I highly recommend the Neuton Mower. They even throw in a stylish ball cap with the lizard logo on it, so now Jim Morrison is not the only Lizard King!

No, this is not another post about the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, based on the lack of hits THAT post received I don’t think even my mother read it! This is about my favorite new yard tool! I have been searching for years for a way to take care of my yard and not burn gas to do it. Short of ripping out all the turf grass and replacing it with native plants and grasses, which neither my wife nor my HOA will allow, I have been stymied.

Years ago I tried using one of those throwback mowers. You know the kind, the reel mowers, the kind used before gas powered engines. That experiment did not work. Just ask my son, JT, who was just old enough to help dear old dad with the yard work. Our yard was too big, had too many bumps, twigs, rocks and other things that would get stuck in the blades as they spun bringing the mower, and the mow”er” to an abrupt stop. So we gave up on that idea, donated the reel mower to Goodwill and went back to the old Briggs and Stratton. But…my quest continued.

Fast forward about a decade and half. My wife and I were touring the Smart Home at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (Read More) when we reached the garage, there it was, in the corner, next to the hydrogen powered car, The Neuton, a battery powered lawn mower (Read More). I swear there was a bright light from the heavens and a celestial chorus. (Ok, maybe it was just the solar powered lights in the garage and the radio, but hey, it’s my story). I knew right then and there, I had to have one.

Since it was autumn and it didn’t make much sense to take advantage of the six month money back guarantee when there wasn’t anything move, I anxiously awaited spring. In March, I placed my order. I was concerned about the size of my yard, so I ordered the larger of the two models and an extra battery, and of course I had to have the accessory pack which includes a weed trimmer/edger that attaches to the mower itself…how cool is THAT? Now before you shake your head at my wanton consumerism let me assure you, my current mower was over 10 years old, need significant repairs, AND I ordered one of the used, refurbished models.

I was like a kid at Christmas when it arrived, tore open the box and assembled it right there in the family room. It was a thing of beauty. I don’t know what was used and refurbished about it, it looked brand new!

A few days later it finally stopped raining and I gave it a whirl. It does a tremendous job on the yard. We have about 7,000 square feet of yard and it breezed right through it. I was glad I had ordered the extra battery for trimming, but to mow the yard itself I can do it with one charge. The trimmer attachment does take a little getting used to, but once I got the hang of maneuvering the mower with the trimmer attached it did a great job as well.

One of the amazing things about this mower is how quiet it is. As I am pushing it, I can actually hear the blade cutting through the grass. When my neighbor is mowing at the same time, I can hear the roar of his engine above the sound of the Neuton. I have even startled my wife as she works in the yard because she can’t hear me coming.

As for my old mower, after one time of using the Neuton, I donated the old mower. It’s now almost the end of May, two months into the mowing season here in Indiana, and I have yet to use any gas to mow or trim my yard. The batteries charge in about 24 hours and use just pennies of electricity. If you are looking for a way to reduce your carbon foot print or to stop fooling around with gas cans, I highly recommend the Neuton Mower. They even throw in a stylish ball cap with the lizard logo on it, so now Jim Morrison is not the only Lizard King!

Since I wrote about receiving a Kill-A-Watt for Christmas last year (see blog post “Kill-A-What?”) I have been bombarded with a slew of inquiries about our progress. (OK, really, one guy asked! But I didn’t even know he was a reader, so it was still cool. Thanks Mark!)

You may recall that I was driving my wife crazy by plugging in the Kill-A-Watt, seeing how much power the device was “stealing”, and then shutting it off. We now have power strips all over the house. In that way we can shut off things like the TV, but leave the cable box with the DVR powered up so we don’t miss Lost; or I can power down my home office but leave the printer and the print server active (yes I AM a geek and we have a home network with more computers than people!). We learned (uh, I learned) don’t shut the power off to the cable box in the bedroom, it takes 10 minutes to reboot and by the time its ready, Letterman is done with his monologue.

So how are we doing? Over the last three months we have reduced our monthly kilowatt usage by almost 17% when compared against the average of the last four years (weather corrected, of course). That’s pretty good, I think. It equates to about a 12% reduction in our bills. Rates have gone up. Oh, wait, let me correct that. Rates have not gone up (they are quite proud of that) but a bunch of extra fees have been added on top of the rates.

My goal was to reach 20% so that we would offset the 20% surcharge we pay to have 100% Green Energy. While I haven’t quite made it to that level yet, it is in reach. I think wrapping the main heat duct in the basement (it’s the warmest room in the house) and wrapping the hot water pipes might push us over the top.

Meanwhile, its spring and my mind has turned to our yard and yard work. I recently purchased a (used) Neuton Lawnmower. The Neuton is a battery powered mower…no gas and MUCH quieter. It even comes with a trimmer attachment, so theoretically I will be able to do my entire yard without burning any gas and for pennies in electricity. I can’t wait to get out and do the first mow. (However, as I write this it is 40 degrees and yesterday it snowed! Maybe by the weekend!

Other yard projects include a small wildlife habitat, complete with native grasses, plants and shrubs and my wife’s favorite…ground cover for some little critters (maybe those chipmunks will move out from under the deck)! In the meantime, it’s more topsoil and mulch than I care to think about at the moment.

Final touches for this year, includes a couple of rain barrels (if approved by the HOA) and perhaps a couple bald cypress trees.

I will let you know how it goes…but you know, if you aren’t doing anything a couple Saturdays from now…beer and burgers at my place…did I mention that top soil and mulch?

Mention Green IT to most CIO’s and they will talk about reducing the energy consumed by their data centers through strategies like virtualization, data de-duplication or cooling alternatives. Some may talk about energy settings on the desktop, LCD monitors vs. CRTs or maybe even desktop virtualization. Fewer still will go beyond the traditional role of IT and talk about things like building lighting systems, HVAC systems or building plug loads. In fact, very few CIOs get involved in facilities management or building operations. 

 As a former CIO, I think it is time we ventured beyond the accounting systems, order management applications, and website software, roll up our sleeves and learn about the buildings we work in every day. Technology can have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building. Let me rephrase that…Technology can have significant impact on the reduction of the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building.

The popular quote, “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” certainly holds true in the area of energy consumption. This is where IT comes in! Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for many years now. Typically, they are a single PC connected to the HVAC system that lets the technicians control the operation of the equipment. Some systems take it a step further and connect the building systems back to a central server that gathers the data, sends out alerts, and provides some reporting on the information. This has given birth to middleware applications that warehouse the data and provide analytics and additional insight into the information. Many of these systems have roots from the equipment manufacturer themselves. This has led to multiple standards, multiple formats and disparate systems that don’t communicate well with each other. As more devices become IP-enabled (lights, window shades, water systems, and yes, even paper towel dispensers) this issue will continue to grow.

This provides an incredible opportunity for IT help the business harness all of these systems and their data and drive costs out of the business. Every dollar saved through energy reductions has a direct impact on the bottom line results of the business. Whether you are a tenant in a building, the building manager or the building owner energy reductions can generate substantial savings, and, in the case of the building owner, increase the value of your asset.

CIOs and IT departments everywhere recently received a huge assist from networking giant, Cisco. They recently announced the launch of a new application, EnergyWise. EnergyWise will reside on Cisco switches and provide the capability to capture energy data from devices connected to the switch and, more importantly, they will be able to control the energy used by the devices connected to the switch. Initially, the management and control will be for devices that are powered by the switch using Power Over Ethernet (POE) technology. Subsequent phases will extend to Non-POE devices and building management systems.

This puts the CIO on center stage and gives him or her the ability to remove thousands of dollars of cost from the company. Remember the IBM commercial about green IT? How much did we spend on energy last year? The opportunity is enormous!

Valley Forge, PA.-The site of George Washington’s famous winter at Valley Forge soon will be home to the nation’s newest power plant. Approval was granted today for the construction of a 250-Megawatt Coal-fired power plant adjacent to the Valley Forge National Park. While the main generating station will not be on park grounds, plans call for four 300+ foot wind turbines and a 400+ smokestack to be located on park property near General Washington’s winter command. Water for the plant will be obtained from the Schuylkill River. Project Manager Tom Jackson, a self-proclaimed revolutionary war buff, states, “I don’t believe the presence of these structures will detract from the historical significance of the park at all. In fact, the steam and exhaust from the smokestack may add to the experience as you envision the smoke from the campfires rising above…”


Ok, now that I have your attention, let me tell you the announcement above is not true. But didn’t it raise some concern? Weren’t you thinking, “How could they do that to such an historic site?” What if instead, I had chosen the Gettysburg Battlefields, or the site of Mount Rushmore, or anyone of our nation’s historic sites? Would that move you to stand up and say, “No!”? What if I told you it was happening in Montana?

 
Over 200 years ago, Captains Lewis and Clark and their team of 30+ men, Sacagawea and her baby were making their way up the Missouri River on their way to the Pacific Ocean. After rowing, poling, and pulling upstream for over 2,000 miles and being away from U.S. civilization for over 14 months they encountered the Great Falls of the Missouri. The falls, while beautiful, were not one cascade as they had understood, but five and were a formidable obstacle between them and the way west. What they thought would be a minor inconvenience of a portage, was in fact over 18 miles and delayed them almost a month while they moved their gear around the falls. Pushing, pulling, and sometimes crawling while they transported hundreds of pounds of provisions in the brutal heat, across punishing prickly pear cactus. It was an epic effort like few others in American history.

 
It is here, at the site of a National Historic Landmark designating the location where the men of the Expedition left the Missouri River and began their toil across the Montana plains, that SME Electric is actually building a 250 Megawatt Coal-fired power plant. The Highwood Generating Plan makes provisions for the wind turbines and smokestack described in my hypothetical story above: they are to be located on and adjacent to the Landmark. In one of the few places left on the 4000+ mile Lewis and Clark Trail that one can still stand and see pretty much what they saw 200 years ago there will now be an enormous power plant, towering wind turbines, smokestacks… and tons and tons of coal ash. This unique site will be lost for eternity.

 
Several organizations are working to halt construction. Some due to environmental concerns, some due to historical preservation concerns, while some say the area just simply does not need the power the plant will generate. Rather than replicating that information here, please take the time to review the links below (I urge you to review the Great Falls Tribune link, it contains some excellent pictures, charts and maps of the area designated for the plant, as well as links to up to the minute news).

 
Links:

Montana Environmental Information Center
Preservationnation.org
Montana Preservation Alliance
Great Falls Tribune
Citizens for Clean Energy

Construction has already begun, but it is not too late to stop the destruction of this piece of our national heritage. I implore you to write your congressmen, your senators and others asking them to step in and stop this project. In addition, please write to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The National Park Service and the US Army Corp of Engineers.

Richard Opper, Director Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Karen Breslin, National Parks Service

US Army Corps of Engineers – Helena, MT – (406) 444-6670

How many like to give money away? I don’t mean charitable giving; I mean paying for something and getting absolutely nothing in return.  Across the country and around the globe we spend millions each year for electricity that we never use. Called phantom power or vampire power, devices all over our homes and businesses are sucking electricity even when they are “turned off”. In the average home this can account for 5-10% of your electric bill. In businesses the power used at “the plug” can be the third or fourth highest user of electricity in an office behind the HVAC and lighting.

In some cases, this phantom power is used to keep a computer or TV in stand-by mode so that it starts in an instant. Other devices use the power to run clocks. From my kitchen I can see four or five different appliances that have a clock…and they never display exactly the same time! Still other devices use the power to do, well, nothing at all.
One of the gifts my wife gave me for Christmas this year was a Kill-A-Watt. (http://www.p3international.com/products/p4460.html)

The Kill-A-Watt comes in two models. I have the Kill-A-Watt EZ which has some additional features. The basic operation of both models is very easy. They plug into any wall outlet, then the device or devices that you want to measure plug into the Kill-A-Watt. It then measures the amount of electricity being consumed and projects the usage over a day, week, month and year. The longer it measures the usage the more accurate the projections become.

On the EZ model, you can also enter the rate your electric company charges for electricity. The EZ can then calculate costs of the electricity over the same time periods. Now, entering the rate sounds easier than it might actually be. After receiving the EZ, I grabbed our latest electric bill and was amazed to find out the actual rate appears nowhere on the bill. In fact, from the invoice itself, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the charges.

Not to be deterred, I called our local electric company. After waiting on hold for a few minutes, I was greeted by a very friendly customer service clerk, who told me that the rates were “too complicated to describe over the phone” and instead, directed me to their website.

I jumped on the web, browsed to their site and proceeded to try to decipher the THIRTY SIX pages of disclosures and descriptions of how my electricity is charged. In the mean time, my wife called back to the electric company and got a supervisor on the phone. He was very nice and tried for 30 minutes to explain the calculations. He was especially proud of the fact that they had not raised residential rates in over 10 years. While, I guess that is true of the base service rates, but did not take into consideration the rider for Demand Management Programs (which I take to be the utility’s costs to promote residential electric efficiency, really, we have to pay extra for that?), nor does it include the Fuel Cost rider that is now being assessed, although it was calculated when oil was almost $150 a barrel rather than the $40 some a barrel today; nor does it include the rider for Environmental Compliance, which means we get to pay the utility for doing something they should have been doing all along, and oh, by the way, we also pay for the Green Power Initiative (and I am very happy to do so) which means our power comes from 100% renewable sources, so we pay for them to clean up from the coal and we don’t even use coal power (don’t even get me started on “clean” coal).
 
But, I digress. I was really writing about the Kill-A-Watt and phantom power. I have been surprised, not only by the amount of phantom power we use, but how easy it has been to begin to make changes. Admittedly they are small changes, but old habits are hard to break, and old lessons are hard to relearn. For years, we were taught to leave our computers on…all the time. How many hours a day does it sit idle? 15? 20? More? Our televisions are in standby when not in use, still consuming power.

Changing these behaviors and relearning these lessons in our offices can have even more of an impact. Walk through your office after hours some time. Count the number of office lights, conference room lights, and hallway lights still burning bright. Then look at how many computers are still turned on, monitors either in full display or with screensavers running. How many other devices are plugged in and using power? It could run into the thousands of dollars a year in utility costs for even an average sized office. Simply turning off the computers at the power strip could make a significant impact to the bottom line!