Archive | February, 2014

2013 — A Big Year for Solar Jobs in Missouri!

bigstock_Solar_Panel_Installation_9354038_cropped_300pxMissouri experienced a surge in solar jobs in 2013, according to a report released by the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA) this month. While a total of 399 solar jobs were created in Missouri in 2011 and 2012 combined, 2013 saw the creation of a whopping 1,713 new solar jobs. The report, produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and written by John Farrell, projects that by the end of 2014, Missouri will have a total of 3,775 solar jobs.

MO_solar_increase_graphWhile much of this growth can be attributed to solar rebates offered by investor-owned utilities in Missouri, Farrell projects that with retail electricity prices rising an average of 5 percent per year, solar will continue to be a good long-term investment for electricity customers. In fact, assuming electricity rates rise at that rate, electricity produced from solar will cost less than power provided by utilities by 2019, even without a rebate.

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013, released in January 2014, shows that the U.S. solar industry employs 142,692 workers, an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2012.

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Private fleets and construction reduce emissions by lowering fuel consumption: diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the final post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Previous posts included information about how schools, railroads and local government and utilities are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

DERA-Blog-private-sector-2In earlier blog posts, we talked about diesel retrofit investments made by public entities and rail. Enterprising private fleets and businesses are also a big part of these programs. Like the rail companies, private fleets have taken particular interest in idle reduction and fuel efficiency retrofits, which ultimately reduce vehicle emissions — and improve air quality — by lowering fuel consumption.

Three types of retrofits are most widely used by private entities. The first is retrofitting auxiliary power units (APUs) on Long Haul Class 8 diesel-powered tractor-trailer combinations. These units are small, diesel-operated generators that can power the environmental cab controls, allowing a driver to sleep comfortably and use electrical appliances without idling the vehicle when stopped for the night. The functions provided by an APU vary significantly based on the size of the unit.

The other two retrofits — low rolling resistance tires and trailer side skirts— reduce fuel consumption by cutting friction and drag and improving the aerodynamics of the tractor-trailer combination.

Construction companies have also improved emissions controls on older equipment as part of a broader overhaul. As with the other diesel vehicles we’ve discussed, construction equipment often takes a beating during its lifetime. Upgrading an engine to a higher emission control level or installing a new, cleaner engine helps reduce emissions while also addressing ongoing maintenance needs.

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Railway companies — big commitment, huge impact: Diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the fourth post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Previous posts included information about how schools and local governments and utilities are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner. Tomorrow’s post will cover improvements in private fleets.

DERA-Blog-railroadsRail provides an extremely fuel-efficient and reliable method of transporting materials great distances over land. Diesel locomotives in operation today are incredibly durable, and it is not uncommon to find a locomotive that is 35–40 years old still in operation. The engines for these behemoths were state of the art for their time, but emissions reduction technology has come a very long way since then.

Particularly in rail yards, locomotives are typically left running and ready to work at all times, resulting in upwards of 3,000 hours of idling per locomotive each year! There are reasons for this, though. First, engineers often control locomotives remotely, and if the engine shuts off the equipment can’t communicate. The engine must be started again, which prompts a lengthy and complex restart sequence. Second, water — without antifreeze — is used to cool engines. This contributes to the locomotive’s longevity, but requires coolant temperatures to stay above freezing at all times to prevent significant damage.

The most frequent retrofit for locomotive engines is the Automatic Engine Shutdown/Startup Device (AESSD). This device monitors critical systems such as battery power and coolant temperature and, when engaged, will turn off the engine if there is sufficient battery power and heat to maintain the systems. When the battery or temperature runs low, the AESSD will turn the engine back on. Considering the size and age of the engines, as well as the amount of idling per year, AESSD retrofits can have a big impact on air quality.  Financial incentives and assistance help railway companies retrofit more locomotives more quickly.

A second form of idle reduction technology is the Shore Connection System (SCS) which adds at least one electrical hookup bay within a rail yard and equips multiple locomotives with electrical hookups. Like the AESSD, the SCS allows a locomotive engine to be shut off temporarily. The SCS will maintain the coolant temperature and charge all systems without the need for constant idling.

Railroads seek to replace and upgrade outdated engines as funding allows, butit can be prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, railway companies in the Kansas City region have made huge time and financial investments in reduced idling. AESSDs reduce locomotive idling by 50 percent and cut back fuel consumption by more than 10 percent. That saves more than 1,500 hours of idling and 7,500 gallons of diesel per engine each year! Since 2010, $550,910 has been invested in grant-funded rail projects in the region, including $340,798 (62 percent) in federal assistance, and $210,112 (38 percent) in matching funds invested by rail companies.

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Local governments and utilities are doing their part: diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the third post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how schools, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

DERA-Blog-local-govtLocal governments and utility companies typically maintain a large fleet of heavy-duty trucks and equipment to maintain critical infrastructure. Many government fleets have begun including some vehicles that run on biodiesel fuel, and a few governments in the region — including Kansas City, Mo., and Johnson County, Kan. — are building alternative fuel fleets using compressed natural gas and plug-in electrical power. However, almost all utilities and local governments still use a lot of diesel equipment.

In recent years, city operations and maintenance programs have worked diligently to balance purchasing new equipment — equipped with the latest emissions controls and technology — with the need to pay for other services and investments. Equipment maintenance is extremely important, since cities need to get more working hours out of older equipment while still responding rapidly and effectively to citizen needs. As part of this ongoing maintenance, many city leaders have committed to retrofit older equipment to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality.

Nearly all funding for the diesel retrofits installed on government and utility vehicles has come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Campaign under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA). Most of the retrofits involve the same two types of emissions control devices discussed for buses: Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs) which capture 20–30 percent of tailpipe emissions otherwise released from the muffler; and Closed Crankcase Ventilations systems (CCVs) which reduce emissions another 5–19 percent.

Some cities have opted to retrofit a few vehicles with more expensive — but more effective — diesel particulate filters (DPFs) instead of DOCs. DPFs have a highly reactive filter which collects 90 percent or more of the particulate emitted from the engine.  A number of fuel operated heaters (FOHs) have also been installed on heavy-duty diesel trucks which are needed during critical winter operations. FOHs reduce warm-up time and get vehicles on the road more quickly during winter storms.

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School districts leading the way: Diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

DERA-Blog-school-busThis the second post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how local government, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

The Clean School Buses USA program sought to focus attention on diesel emissions around one of our most vulnerable populations — children.  School bus improvements have continued to be a priority for funding through the National Clean Diesel Campaign over the last four years.

Our region’s school districts have invested heavily in two forms of emissions control devices on buses:

  • Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs) are installed inside the muffler of a bus to capture tailpipe emissions and particulates that would otherwise be released into the air. The captured materials are burned off within the muffler, leaving the exhaust released from the bus cleaner.
  • Closed Crankcase Ventilations systems (CCVs) divert blow-by gases containing harmful emissions, vapor and oil mist back into the engine instead of venting freely into the air. A hose attached to the crankcase collects these gases and sends them to a device which filters out the oil mist, and routes the gases back to the engine’s air intake.

In addition, seven school districts have installed fuel-operated heaters (FOHs) on buses. An FOH has a programmable timer connected to a small, auxiliary diesel heater which pre-heats engine fluids and speeds the warm-up of the bus cabin. This eliminates the need for a bus to idle before its morning route, which reduces fuel usage, emissions and start-up labor. State regulations passed in 2010 and 2011 now limit idling time for empty buses to 15 minutes or less in a 60 minute period. In the past, a solitary mechanic might start hundreds of buses one by one to warm the engines in preparation for drivers and students. The first buses would idle for an hour or more, which wasted fuel and contributed emissions to the air.

These retrofits have contributed to significant reductions of both cost and emissions for school districts. Each DOC captures 20–30 percent of tailpipe emissions, and adding a CCV captures another 5–19 percent. Based on the number of cold-weather idling hours reported by the region’s school districts, FOHs reduce annual fuel consumption by about 62 gallons per bus, for an estimated savings of about $217 (at $3.50 per gallon), and also reduce emissions that would have been caused by using that extra fuel.

To accommodate transportation demands, school districts occasionally have to use and maintain buses for a longer life cycle than they would like, despite poor emissions controls on the older models. In a number of cases, districts have secured supplemental funding in order to purchase a new bus ahead of schedule with the condition that an older, “dirtier” bus be retired and destroyed. This does not allow the district to increase the size of its fleet, but does put a newer, cleaner bus into operation earlier than would have otherwise been possible.

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Diesel emissions reductions in Kansas City

DERA-Blog-overviewThis the first post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how schools, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

Over the last five to 10 years, school districts, local governments, utilities, railroads and private businesses have aggressively implemented programs to reduce air pollution in the Kansas City Area. Many have adopted policies to reduce idling and have experimented with alternative fuels that burn cleaner.

While the future may lie in alternative fuels, most heavy transportation fleets are deeply invested in diesel-powered vehicles due to their history of durability, dependability and power. Unlike a gasoline-powered vehicle, a diesel bus, heavy truck or piece of construction equipment can be expected to operate for 16 to 20 years. Locomotives built 45 years ago still regularly run the rails. As new technologies or alternative fuels are phased in, existing diesel vehicles are generally not required to upgrade their emissions controls.

Funding assistance for these retrofit projects comes largely from programs managed by a variety of federal agencies. These funds are often administered directly by the state, local government or a nonprofit associated with transportation and clean energy. Many retrofit projects have taken place throughout the Kansas City region, and the Mid-America Regional Council has been privileged to coordinate a number of these efforts through  the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Buses USA and National Clean Diesel Campaign and U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality programs.

While eligibility varies by program, these funds provide great opportunities for air-quality-conscious stakeholders to retire older, “dirtier” vehicles earlier in the replacement cycle or pay for after-market retrofits that can reduce emissions and, in some cases, improve fuel economy. In the Kansas City area, the most common diesel retrofits have been Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs), which decrease diesel emissions by 20–30 percent, often for less than $2,000 per vehicle.

To learn more about these programs contact the MARC Air Quality program,

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Solar Ready Initiative honored at solar conference

Laura_M_MOSEIA_awardOn February 2, MARC’s Solar Ready program received a Solar Advocacy Award from the Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association (MOSEIA) at the organization’s annual conference held in Kansas City, Mo. The award is in recognition of MARC’s efforts to facilitate solar installations in the region.

In 2011, MARC was one of 22 teams across the country to receive a Rooftop Solar Challenge I (RSCI) award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The goal of RSCI was to reduce non-hardware costs associated with solar photovoltaic (PV) installation. While the cost of PV panels has decreased rapidly in recent years, soft costs relating to permitting, processing, fees and other installation costs have remained relatively high. In 2012, MARC staff created Solar Ready KC and worked with five local governments — Kansas City, Mo., Lee’s Summit, Mo., Clay County, Mo., Olathe, Kan., and Johnson County, Kan. — to streamline the process of installing solar PV through soft cost reduction measures, making it simpler, faster and less expensive to install solar at a home or business.

In 2013, as a Rooftop Solar Challenge II (RSCII) recipient, MARC was one of eight teams selected by the DOE to continue working on solar soft cost reduction measures. MARC has brought in nine other regional planning councils to learn from the best management practices staff developed during RSCI and expand our model in other regions.  Additionally, MARC is expanding its partnership locally by recruiting other local jurisdictions to work on soft cost reductions. After only three months, the national team (known as Solar Ready II) has recruited 40 jurisdictions to examine and make changes to their laws and practices that impact solar soft costs.

As electricity prices continue to rise across the country, the interest in solar will only grow. Nationwide, installations in 2013 were up 27 percent from 2012. Through both Rooftop Solar Challenge awards, MARC’s work has and continues to make it easier to install solar PV creating clean, local energy in the Kansas City region and beyond.

Read more about the Kansas City’s Solar Ready II program.

Read more about the national Solar Ready II efforts at the National Association of Regional Council’s website.

Photo courtesy of Josh Campbell (
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What to do with your batteries when they stop going and going and going…

batteryToday is National Battery Day! It seems like it’s always time to replace a battery somewhere: in your smoke alarm, your car, your laptop, your flashlight. But recycling those worn-out batteries can get confusing.  How do you know which ones to recycle, and where?

The average household uses three types of batteries on a regular basis: lead-acid batteries in vehicles, and either rechargeable or single-use batteries in electronic devices.

The easiest time to recycle a lead-acid battery is when you take your vehicle in for a battery replacement. Lead-acid batteries are banned from landfill disposal in both Kansas and Missouri, and both states require all businesses that sell new batteries to recycle used ones.  Even if you replace the battery yourself, you can recycle the old one at your local automotive service center. Most accept them for free.

Call2Recycle, Inc. is a nonprofit, public service organization that provides responsible recycling for rechargeable batteries, such as the ones used in laptops or cameras. Call2Recycle collects and recycles rechargeable batteries for free at many office supply stores and electronics retailers. The organization also offers collection box and bulk shipping options to public and private entities.

All lead-acid and rechargeable batteries can also be recycled at your community HHW facility.

Single-use batteries — such as alkaline and button batteries — can be recycled at the Kansas City, Mo., Household Hazardous Waste Facility, which serves residents of communities that participate in the regional HHW program. If you live in a Missouri community that doesn’t currently participate, contact your city council or county commission and ask them to join the regional program. If you live in Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Johnson or Miami counties in Kansas, check with your county HHW facility to find out about recycling single-use batteries.

In addition to recycling, you can take steps to reduce battery waste. Check to see if you already have batteries on hand before buying more and try to purchase electronics that function without batteries. When it is necessary to buy batteries, consider rechargeable batteries, which have a longer life span.

For more information on battery recycling locations, visit


Photo credit: scalespeeder on flickr

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Cycling and Recycling

The MARC Solid Waste Management District  administers an annual grant program that awards funds to local communities and organizations for waste reduction and recycling-related projects. From time to time, we publish updates about recent grant recipients.

Photo of bicycles collected by Revolve at a local recycling extravaganza.

Since 2009, Revolve has contributed to the regional effort to make the Kansas City area a more bicycle-friendly community with its Earn-A-Bike and other programs.The shop has also contributed to local waste diversion efforts by partnering with local communities to collect old, unwanted or broken bicycles during municipal recycling events. When possible, bicycles are refurbished and given back to the community. Bicycles that can’t be refurbished are stripped for usable parts and the metal is recycled.

The district was pleased to provide grant funding to the Revolve bike recycling project in 2012 and 2013. Grant funds helped support a program administrator and a part-time bike mechanic. In 2012, 11 bike collection events diverted 828 bikes from landfill disposal, and in 2013 the organization diverted more than 700 bikes. That’s 17.6 tons of diverted bikes! Revolve has partnered with Lee’s Summit, Lake Lotawana, Gladstone, Parkville, Raytown and other communities for these collection events.

Revolve always needs more bicycles. Visit the organization’s website or Facebook page for more information about donating a bike or money, purchasing a used bike, the Earn-A-Bike program, and Revolve’s bicycle safety training programs.

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Initiatives to ban foam food containers

clamshellRemember the McDonald’s “clamshell?”

This icon disappeared 24 years ago, in 1990, which means that  an entire generation doesn’t remember that McDonald’s hamburgers once came in something other than a paper wrapper or box. A number of cities have taken steps to see that more restaurants and food vendors follow suit and stop using disposable expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam  food-service products — often mistakenly called Styrofoam® — such as takeout containers and coffee cups. These containers are favored by the food-service industry because they are lightweight and are good at keeping food warm or cool.

Unfortunately, EPS foam products are not good for the environment. Because the material is brittle and light it tends to break apart into smaller pieces that are easily dispersed by wind and water, contributing to litter. EPS foam is pervasive in the environment, and is difficult to recycle because it is generally soiled with oil, grease, condiments and leftovers. Many communities, including Kansas City, don’t have recycling programs for EPS foam food service products, which means it usually ends up in landfills.

New York City recently became the largest city to pave the way for an eventual ban on these containers. In December, the city’s lawmakers passed legislation to ban foam food-service products if a year-long study finds that the material can’t be recycled effectively. The ban will also include the sale of loose foam packing peanuts.

Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore., were two of the first cities to successfully ban foam food-service products back in the late 1980s. Since that time, nearly 100 cities and towns have banned foam food-service products, 75 of which are in California. Some larger cities that have fully or partially implemented bans are San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Paul. Chicago and Washington, D.C., are currently considering bans. Many of these cities also require food vendors to use recyclable or compostable food service ware.

These initiatives have been met with opposition, primarily from foam manufacturers and restaurant owners who claim that alternatives are too expensive and that EPS foam containers account for only a small percentage of the total waste stream. Opponents of foam bans have been pushing for community-wide polystyrene recycling programs as an alternative.

There are no ordinances in the Kansas City area banning the use of EPS foam food-service products — but there are no local options for recycling, them either. So, what can you do?

  • Support local restaurants that use alternatives such as paper, molded fiber (think egg cartons) and plant-based, compostable food service products.
  • Take your own reusable container for restaurant leftovers and your own travel mug to coffee shops (some even offer a discount).
  • Avoid using plastic foam food or drink containers or other disposable products at home or for parties.


Photo by kimubert

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