Approaching Open Water
With the Climate Conference underway in Paris (which I’ll circle back to further in this post), it seems an apt time to update on the first Carbon Zero project.
It’s been a long summer here at CZH.
Given that we just passed Thanksgiving and Minneapolis got its first true shot of snow, this seems a bit of an absurd statement… unless you function in the nonprofit/civic world. Then it’s spot-on.
Carbon Zero Home was awarded the contract to rehab our “Brick House” project in the Hawthorne EcoVillage in June. The contract was signed in September. We tried to pull the permit in July, then again in August, and we now expect (realistically, I do believe) to have a permit this month.
After 25 years of renovating individuals’ homes, I would compare remodeling a kitchen or bath to taking a sailboat out for the day. I’d compare a property rehab that involves city, state, and federal money to sailing a freighter across the ocean. There’s a lot more planning. There’s a lot more dependence on others. There’s a pace that can lull a person to sleep. It’s all been a big reminder of why I chose to work for myself.
The biggest hold-up (among many) has been getting the asbestos removed. The City of Minneapolis sold the house to Project for Pride in Living (the developer that contracted CZH to perform the rehab) with the stipulation that we pull a permit as a condition of sale. Unfortunately, the city also required us to remove the asbestos before we can begin the permitting process. PPL was uncomfortable spending money on a house they didn’t own (understandably), and so around the mulberry bush we went– at least a dozen times, per my count– before everyone agreed to what would happen first.
It makes sense to remove the asbestos first, before any other work occurs. Then everyone working at the property is safe. And since the state Department of Health oversees the asbestos abatement process, the city’s only means to insure it happens is to withhold the permit.
During the foreclosure crisis, a lot of property was sold to developers and contractors who left the asbestos in place and put houses back on the market in unsafe condition. Contractors were shaving costs, but some of the responsibility falls on the city inspectors who provided Certificates of Occupancy.
PPL spent a lot of money removing the asbestos; 6 grand and change. More than necessary, in my opinion. We will also spend a lot money removing the lead paint from inside the house. I am licensed by the EPA to remove lead, but HUD requires a state license (which requires a hefty investment to obtain), so the lead will be abated by others too. Again, it’s about making the property safe, but an industry develops around this concern, and that industry seeks to sustain itself sometimes at the expense of its purpose.
It’s one of the great ironies of Affordable Housing. The same work in a rising neighborhood costs more than it does in an upscale neighborhood. Well-intentioned people trying to solve a large problem get bogged down in rule-making, bureaucracy, and protecting their own interests. The complications of our house project are a microcosm of the complications involved in the global project of transitioning to clean energy.
Which brings me back to Paris.
It’s seems no coincidence to me that ISIS attacked Paris two weeks prior, not just because a wave of fear in a city where so many leaders of the world are convening multiplies its effect, but also because resolving the Climate problem reduces the terrorist group’s financial support and their social impact. Extreme groups thrive in extreme environments. The four year drought in Syria was part of the genesis of its civil war, which in turn helped jettison ISIS. Here at home, our Mr Trump, who is championing a kind of Americanized version of a Caliphate (What should one call it? White Bread Thuggery? Brown Shirts with Comb-overs?), denies the existence of the Climate problem yet– I have no doubt– privately appreciates all the stressors and subsequent anxiety a destabilized climate brings.
If you want to fight terrorists, one of the best methods is to remove their funding. Investing in renewable energy does that. I wish this connection was made more often.
Unlike Kyoto in 97 and Copenhagen in 2009, the Paris Summit is being billed as realistic because there is no expectation that it will produce a solution. Instead, the chatter goes, it could create “a good first step”. The idea that an international conference could deliver a “solution” denotes a lack of understanding of the problem. The resolution is a transition, moving our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewables, and this is such a fundamental shift that it can only happen in steps.
What Paris could deliver is more tools for reducing the cost of renewable energy, and this is significant because we are approaching a tipping point: Grid Parity is the term we energy nerds use for what is visible on the horizon. Al Gore compares grid parity to the difference between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 33, when what is frozen becomes liquid. When the cost of renewable energy drops below the cost of fossil fuel supplied energy (and this has already happened in many places in the world), the market will tip in the direction of the transition.
This could lead to a rapidly accelerating transition.
This is why there is some realistic hope coming out of Paris this week.
So while our little project here in Minneapolis is finally getting tugged into open water, it seems also that the transition to a clean energy economy may finally leave port. Yes, there’s an ocean to cross. But being at the helm gives one a sense of optimism.