Utah DEQ News

Blue Sky Program = Energy Savings

By Rik Ombach

For those of you who are not familiar with Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program, it is a voluntary option on your electric bill that supports renewable energy development. Specifically, the program supports wind and solar energy programs throughout Utah and the region as well as educational programs on renewable energy. Each “block” of renewable energy costs $1.95 and if you want, you can make all of the energy your home uses come from supported renewable energy. Some local businesses have used this program to advertise that all of their power is from renewable sources. I purchased one block of renewable energy to show my support for renewable energy programs.

I thought it was interesting that there was a bill this last session to add $1.00 to all of our utility bills to allow the public to support air quality programs. I heard this bill was presented in response to a recent survey by Envision Utah that indicated 99% of Utahns are willing to take personal action to improve air quality. While the bill failed, this program is available for you to use right now!

There are 38,000 people in the State that participate in the Blue Sky program. That is a fair amount of people, but statewide, this is a small fraction of the population. The Blue Sky Program is one way to promote renewable energy and contribute to projects like the recently announced solar farm that Blue Sky is helping to fund.

Rik OmbachTo learn more about Blue Sky, check out the program and familiarize yourself with the different resources available. Make that leap today and sign up to help out our air by supporting renewable energy development.

I have been with DEQ for more than 14 years. I spent 11 years with the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation, and the last three years with the Division of Air Quality in the Minor Source Compliance Section doing inspections. I have over 20 years of military experience and am presently serving in the Air National Guard. My hobbies include anything outdoors, but I mostly enjoy canyoneering in Southern Utah with family and friends. I’m looking forward to an upcoming dive trip to Guam in May 2014.


Reusable? Be Environmentally Friendly

By Hilary Arens

So how does “Every Day is Earth Day” work at my house? Well, with toddler twins, some days just feel like survival until bedtime! But since both my husband and I are environmentalists and both work for DEQ, we have instilled some habits in our home that even on the busiest days make us feel like we are contributing to the greater good.

Saving water, for example. Especially living in the desert, we think it is
incredibly important to teach our kids about saving water. While playing in running tap water is fun for them, they’ve learned to turn the water off when brushing their teeth and scrubbing their hands. We have installed low-flow fixtures in our bathroom and got a water audit a few years back to make sure we were not over watering the small bit of grass that remains on our xeriscaped yard.

We’ve tried to reduce the amount of trash we make on a daily basis. We have reusable lunch containers for the kids’ lunches and use Tupperware whenever possible instead of plastic bags. We bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store, and the kids love getting the bags out from the drawer we keep the bags in. Our kids really enjoy sorting our garbage into trash and recycling, and we encourage them to make use of some of the materials in new and creative ways. Most of their bath toys are empty yogurt containers or juice bottles!

Hilary ArensWhile biking is fun, we also use our bikes to run errands in our neighborhood. Our kids still can’t travel too far, but we believe that instilling the use of feet or bikes over cars when possible will become a habit for them as they grow older.

While there are still many things we can do every day to make our environment cleaner and make responsible decisions, having a household mindset of a global consciousness will hopefully help raise our young children to make these same decisions on their own when they’re older.

I’ve worked for the Utah Division of Water Quality for five and a half years in the Watershed Protection Section. My focus has been on the Jordan River Basin and now has expanded to include the Utah Lake watershed. I have a master degree in Watershed Science from Colorado State and an undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Colby College, where Seth and I met. Seth works in the Division of Air Quality. Outside of work, I love being on rivers, skiing, biking and taking our toddler twins where few toddlers usually go.


Be Water Wise: Plant What’s Native to Utah

By Kate Johnson

I grew up in a family that didn’t have money to spare, so my mother was relentless about making us turn off lights, keep the thermostat low, don’t waste water, and so on. The Energy Crisis of the early 1970s led to much media attention about ways to conserve energy, and my brother’s comment to my mother at the time was there was nothing for us to change in our routine: we were already doing all the things!

Nothing has changed as I’ve gotten older, but my focus now is more about
the inherent value of using resources wisely and conservatively. What I don’t use today I hope may be available in the future for my nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors.

On water use, my husband and I have chosen to keep our yard in the most natural state possible. The native plants of Utah know a thing or two about conserving water, after all! Our trees and shrubs are mostly Gambel Oak, Chokecherry, Serviceberry, and some pines and junipers. We’ve planted Elderberries and other fruit-bearing bushes, which are beautiful and also beneficial to wildlife. Native flowers like Penstemon, Butterfly Weed, Globe mallow and others are beautiful to look at and are great for the native pollinators. (And this is the time of year to plant them, before it gets too hot!) We use a drip system to water what needs to be watered, and the system is on timers that we fine-tune during the year, depending on how hot it is and how much rain we’ve been getting.

Not that we don’t have some not-so-guilty pleasures—we have some fruit trees and enjoy some vegetable and flowering plants that do need more regular watering—but we keep those where they are easy to give extra water to individually.

Kate JohnsonThese things do take a little planning and maintenance, but you don’t have to do them all at once. And keep in mind that once you’ve made a few changes, you might have more time to spend with your family on the weekends.

Tired of mowing the lawn? Get rid of some of it and plant some Utah natives. Insects and birds will thank you, you’ll use a lot less water, and you’ll have more time to spend with your family and friends.

I am an Environmental Program Manager in the Division of Drinking Water and oversee the Source Protection program. I’m a geologist by profession, married, love the outdoors, sewing, gardening, and bird watching, and just got a pair of in-line skates that I am nervous (yet excited) about trying out.

Make Your Own Household Cleaner

By Frances Bernards

You don’t have to be a mad scientist to either make your own household cleaner or purchase cleaners that are good for you and the environment. It’s very confusing to choose the best cleaners when confronted with labels that say “natural” or “environmentally-friendly” in the grocery store; how can you distinguish between what’s truly good for you and the
environment from what’s being “green-washed?”

Frances BernardsOne way to keep from being “green-washed” is to look for third-party verification symbols when shopping for household cleaners. If a company says its household cleaner is good for the environment, your first thought should be, “who else says so?” I look for labels from groups like EPA’s Design for the Environment, Green Good Housekeeping Seal, Green Seal, or EcoLogo. These independent or nonprofit organizations have investigated the manufacturer’s claim so I don’t have to. Check out Consumer Report’s Greener Choices program. It includes an Eco-label center that provides consumers with an evaluation of labels on personal care products and household cleaners as well as food.

Needless to say, making your own household cleaner is probably the greenest option of all. Here’s a recipe for an effective kitchen degreaser:

  1. Fill a 24 ounce (approximate) spray bottle with half water and half vinegar.
  2. Add 1 T. Castile Soap (Dr. Bronner’s or other) and 1 T. Citrus Cleaner (Citra-Solv or other). You can purchase a citrus cleaner at your local grocery store (I know Smith’s has it) as well as at Whole Foods Markets.

That’s all there is to it, simple!

You can keep your house—and the environment—clean by taking these few simple steps. Check out Consumer Report’s Homemade Household Cleaners for more recipes or look for the green labels you can trust. Happy green cleaning!

I am an environmental scientist working in DEQ’s Office of Planning and Public Affairs providing businesses with pollution prevention and sustainability resources as well as technical assistance. Outside of work, I am an avid mountain/road biker and skier, and I enjoy the music scene in Salt Lake City.


Want a Clean Vehicle?

By Glade Sowards

I work in the Mobile Sources section at DEQ—we’re the folks who look at emissions from vehicles.

A few weeks back, a couple of us from the Mobile section bumped into DEQ director Amanda Smith as we were coming back from a meeting. She told us she was glad to run into us because her family is considering trading in their older car, and she wanted to get our advice on the best options for purchasing a clean vehicle.

Vehicle emission standards are a complicated mix of two programs—one Vehiclesmanaged by EPA and the other by California—and a mind-numbing alphabet soup of tiers and bin levels (e.g., Tier 2 Bin 5, LEV II, SULEV II, PZEV). It can be pretty confusing.

We hear variations on Amanda’s question a lot in Mobile, but her request made us think about all the other people who want to make a green choice when they buy a car and want clear information. So we decided to put together a Clean Car Fact Sheet to help folks know what to look for when they purchase a vehicle.

The first thing you want to look for is the Smog Rating that’s included on the window stickers of all new cars. The dirtiest vehicles have a Smog Rating of one, while the cleanest vehicles get a rating of 10. The average new car has a rating of around 5. So if you’re in the market for a new car, simply look at the Smog Rating on the window sticker and select the highest rating for the vehicle type that meets your needs. Ideally, we recommend trying to get a clean vehicle with a score of 8, 9, or 10.

Shopping around online before you buy? Interested in a used vehicle? No problem. You can compare cars by make, model and year on the Department of Energy’s fuel economy website. You might be surprised and find a minivan that has lower emissions than a compact car. If you want to look for the most environmentally-friendly vehicles, check out EPA-certified SmartWay vehicles. The website lets you search for cars by state so you can see what your options are here in Utah.

Once you know the ropes, you can become a savvy car buyer and find just the right vehicle to meet your needs and help the environment at the same time. Check it out!

I am an environmental scientist in the Division of Air Quality Mobile Source and Transportation Section. I have a B.A. in Economics and Environmental Studies from Grinnell College and an M.S. in Forestry from Michigan Technological University. I worked at the Utah Energy Office for seven years before coming to work at DAQ. I enjoy playing music, road trips, camping, packrafting and hiking with my girlfriend Elizabeth and our dog, Whiskey.




Solar Energy is POWERfully Successful

By John Kennington

I’m somewhat a tinkerer and like to keep busy at home with an occasional project. So over my 30-plus years in Utah, I’ve stacked up more than a few “home projects” on this modest little abode. As a child of the 1960’s in California, I developed an earthy consciousness that’s kind-of stuck with me over the years. Naturally, that inclination has worked itself into some of these home projects. That’s to say, some of my boondoggles, from adding insulation or skylights, or a “sun room,” to most recently, a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, has actually, really, resulted in some energy savings here at home!

As you may be aware, Rocky Mountain Power allows PV system owners to connect their systems to the electrical grid in “net metering” mode. That is, when your system produces more power than the home is using, that power is pushed back into the grid, essentially turning your electric meter backwards. So you get credit for the excess power you produce, and can also draw any extra power you need from the grid when your system is producing less than your home is using (night time and cloudy days). You are able to save production credit for a full year, until the credit is set back to zero every April Fool’s Day.

Fortunately, over the past year that just ended about two weeks ago, the sun shined on us and our PV system was able to produce more power than we used over the entire year. Many thanks to my powerfully frugal family!

15april2014_john-225x300Want to learn more about solar energy or how you can go solar at your home? Check out Solar Simplified, Utah’s one-stop shop for information on solar energy for your home or business.

I’ve worked in the Division of Water Quality for some 23½ years now and am presently engaged in the Clean Water Act program to protect Utah’s natural surface waters. I’m here to help protect and enhance our quality of life and the tremendous natural beauty we all enjoy in Utah. Although not a native, I’ve lived here in the same house for some 36 years, so this is really “Home!”