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Recent Comments on Renewable Energy

June 2, 2017

Terry Martino the renewable energy transition will continue in spite of the decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. The US government has never been a big leader on that other than under Carter.

If you look at the book Drawdown  you will see that many climate change solutions have good paybacks and are a good investment even if you ignore the climate change value.

As I pointed out solar is winning in the market even though the market is heavily rigged for fossil fuels.

Relying too much on a heavily rigged market where many have poor information about real costs and benefits will never alone deliver the best solutions.

We are facing a challenge to our civilization with climate change as many climate scientists say. So unrigging the system is a wise survival move.

Solar and wind do need battery and other storage technologies and large battery plants are being built all around the world to address that. 

Pumped storage hydro and traditional hydro can also act as batteries in some cases.

Also having different types of renewable energy systems like solar/wind/geothermal/methane and having them spread out geographically helps to better meet the demand. For example, the peak winds in Montana are often hours later than the peak winds in Washington. So with some upgrades to our already integrated transmission system, those different peak winds can be used to our advantage.

Also many energy efficiency and peak demand control systems that utilities have put in place can be ramped up to help more. 

Southern California just installed a large battery system for their electrical system.

Yes natural gas plants are used now for backup to renewables and until we have all of the systems I mentioned fully in place we should not likely close those natural gas plants yet. But the case can be made in many places for not building more of them.

Portland General Electric is closing a coal plant and was going to replace it with natural gas plants. But they just withdrew that proposal because they were convinced that investing more in energy efficiency, renewables, and buying energy on the open market would be cheaper and more reliable than an investment in a 40 year gas plant and exposing themselves to wild price fluctuations like natural gas has had in the past instead of the decreasing costs of renewables and efficiency.

Yes short term cheaper oil and natural gas has led to an industrial revival and I think that is better and cheaper than getting our oil and gas from the Mideast which has come at a great cost of military and civilian lives and trillions of dollars.

But right now many energy efficiency investments are better and cheaper than new oil and gas. And oil and gas are starting to lose out to renewables and we soon will see peak demand for them.

Europe's high electricity costs are due to many things. Aging infrastructure, what might be a bad decision on Germany's part to close down all their nuke plants before good reliable alternatives can be put in place, and more.

Renewables and efficiency are the future but I think we have to manage the transition wisely and with good understanding of the energy systems and demands in each place.

It would be reckless to force the transition to happen over night but it is picking up steam and will likely occur faster than most ever imagined.

Published Articles

These articles written by Michael Laurie have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and newsletters over the years...

Beyond Landscaping - Permaculture as a Way of Life

Natural Awakenings Sustainable Living Guide, April, 2015

Low Impact Development and Rain Gardens can protect your water

Vashon Beachcomber, September 24, 2008

Low Impact Development

By Laurence Stockton, Michael Laurie, and Steve Foley

Did you know there are ways to add more beautiful plants to your landscape that can also help control stormwater runoff and erosion, help reduce the pollution of Puget Sound, and you might be able to get a grant or save taxes in the process?

Traditional site development practices disturb the native vegetation, compact the soil and collect the rainwater to convey it away from a building site. The combined effect of increased drainage from hard surfaces like roofs, parking areas, roads and landscapes with compacted soils, increases stormwater runoff and reduces groundwater recharge. Stormwater runoff can then pick up oils, fertilizers, pesticides, and sediment, and carry them downstream where they become the number one source of pollution in Puget Sound.

You can lower the impact of your development and help sustain your water supply by taking measures to reduce stormwater runoff from your site. One of the most versatile and effective ways to manage and treat your stormwater is called Low Impact Development (LID).

Examples of LID include compost amended soils, restored native vegetation, stormwater dispersion or infiltration, permeable paving, and rain gardens. Rain gardens are one of the more attractive ways to collect, absorb, and filter stormwater runoff from roofs, driveways and other areas that don’t allow the rain to infiltrate naturally into the ground. 

A rain garden is a constructed depression filled with 1-2 feet of a special soil mix, planted with select water tolerant plants and topped with mulch. The depression is constructed to allow stormwater to enter and pond to depth of 6-12 inches before overflowing. Depending on the soil conditions at the site, the water may drain away within hours after the rain stops or it may persist for days.

Michael Laurie and Steve Foley will hold a free workshop on Low Impact Development including rain garden design and construction on Saturday October 11 from 9:00 to 11:30 am. The workshop will begin at the Land Trust auditorium with a presentation on the LID provisions in King County presented by Steve Foley. Following the presentation there will be a tour of three rain garden sites to demonstrate the design, construction and maintenance of a rain garden.

Water Conservation Conversation Concentration

Vashon Beachcomber August 8, 2008

One hundred thousand gallons of water; some people use that much water or more trying to keep 6,000 square feet of lawn green all summer, unknowingly over-watering or with an inefficient system. How much water is that? You would have to stand there spraying your garden hose 24 hours/day non-stop for almost 12 days to use that much water. That’s a lot of water and a lot of money to pay for it. Imagine how much more it is when there are also leaks in the system like some people have.

So far we are lucky on Vashon that there are no signs that the underground water supply is permanently dropping due to our water use. There is enough water down there, so far, but meeting our water demand is very expensive, especially in the summer. And as Steve Haworth said in his article, we sometimes come close to exceeding the capacity of our water supply systems in the summer.

I think it is time for more of us to think about letting our lawns go brown as Emma Amiad suggested three weeks ago. We also should think about the idea of replacing some or all of our lawns, landscaping with plants that require much less water, designing and maintaining our landscapes to use less water and watering in ways that use less water.

I encourage everyone to try out some level of rainwater collection and use. But before installing rainwater collection systems that can take many years to pay for their cost through savings, it makes more sense to invest in the things that will likely have a much quicker payback. Several lower cost options include: using compost to help the soil make better use of water, mulching to reduce evaporation and erosion, growing low-water use plants, checking for leaks and breaks in your irrigation system and watering only when the plants need it by checking the soil. Those steps will also allow you to reduce the size and cost of your rainwater system. I currently have about 1,000 gallons of rainwater storage and use at my home.

If your main reason for keeping even part of your lawn is to have low-growing plants that complement or fill in under taller plants, there are many ground cover alternatives to lawns that require far less water and work. Some that can work well here are sweet woodruff, violets, wild ginger, bleeding hearts, false lily of the valley, thyme, kinnikinnik, lady’s mantle, bunchberry, twinflower, starflower, coastal strawberry, and inside-out flower.

If you haven’t already tried it, I encourage you to try watering part of your non-lawn landscape with soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Using soaker hoses and drip can eliminate the problem of some plants blocking the water from reaching others, it will eliminate water blowing away in the wind, and it will help you to deliver more of the water only where you want it. A number of Vashon stores sell soaker hoses. After you buy a soaker hose, uncurl and un-kink it and lay it out along a line of plants or circling large plants. It may have a tendency to want to spring back. If it does, purchase some 6” garden staples from one of the local stores to help hold it in place. Lay the soaker hose lines 12 to 24 inches apart. Place them closer together for sandy soil and farther apart for loam and clay. If you install and use a simple twist timer with your soaker hose it will help you avoid over-watering. Start out watering for 30 minutes two to three times a week and increase it if the plants need more. Annuals and vegetables will need more than most well established perennials. Install a pressure regulator between the soaker hose and the outside faucet to prevent the creation of geysers in the hose. If you are on a well you might want to add a filter to prevent clogging up your soaker hose.

Once you get comfortable with soaker hoses, pressure regulators, and timers you might want to venture into trying drip which often makes it even easier to put the water right where you want it.

Saving summer water can help reduce the peak demand on our island water systems and it has many other benefits. We can have very beautiful landscapes, save money, save time, and maintain a safe buffer of water for fire fighting, emergencies, and stream life (for systems getting some of their water out of streams).

Michael Laurie has his own business, Watershed LLC, as a Water Efficiency Consultant. He works with homeowners and businesses helping them to reduce their water use inside and outside their buildings.

Water Conservation, Why, What, Where?

Vashon Beachcomber, May 8, 2008

Save money, save weeding time, reduce the pollution in Puget Sound, reduce your ecological impact, and adapt to the changing climate. Those are 5 good reasons I can think of for using water more wisely on Vashon and Maury Islands. Many homes have an opportunity to save $200 - $300/year by changing to more water efficient practices outdoors and to save another $200 - $300/year with indoor efficiency practices. Watering more efficiently can mean using drip irrigation to target the water delivery mostly to the plants you want watered instead of spraying a lot around for the weeds. The Partnership for Puget Sound has determined that the largest source of pollution going into Puget Sound is stormwater carrying pollutants including fertilizers and pesticides from our landscapes into the Sound. This harmful runoff can also occur when we overwater our landscapes.

Projections for Western Washington are that we will have more peak winter rain storms which may mean more of the rain running off into the Sound and less into the ground. Those projections also include hotter and drier summers and an increasing population creating a greater demand on a water supply that isn’t growing. Water rights for more water are expected to continue being difficult to obtain. Learning how to use less water now, can help us to be prepared for changing climate and other challenges.  

I encourage people to start with the water conservation measures that we all can do at home relatively easily, the things that will likely provide the greatest savings for the least cost. For island water users who are customers of the island water utilities, it is easier to make the case for which measures provide the best savings at the lowest cost because the cost of a measure can be compared to the estimated savings on the water bill. This is not so easy for those on a well because the cost of your water is mostly the very low cost of the pumping energy and water treatment. Although even in these situations there are some other reasons for using water wisely as noted above. Also, if too many wells, pulling water out of the same part of the aquifer draw out too much at once it could lead to a temporary drop in water pressure or water availability. Another benefit, many septic system experts agree that using water more efficiently indoors will likely lead to our septic systems functioning better and lasting longer.  

The first step in trying to save water should always be to periodically check your water meter at a time when there is no water use. Try this test at home. Turn off all water using appliances and irrigation equipment. Then take a look at your water meter. Many water meters have a small wheel on the face of the meter. This small wheel spins around when water is flowing through the meter. If you see it spinning around after you are sure you have turned all the water using appliances and equipment off, you have a leak. If your meter does not have a wheel, just take a reading on the meter and write it down, then return in about half an hour and read it again. If the reading has increased, you have a leak. To find the leak, turn off the valve on the water line that supplies water to your irrigation system if you have one. If the wheel or numbers on the meter are no longer moving, the leak is in the irrigation system so start looking there. If it is not in the irrigation system investigate the water line to the home or indoors.  

The best bang for the buck items for indoor water savings are typically low flow faucet aerators (1 – 2.5 gallons per minute), low flow showerheads (2 – 2.5 gallons per minute), and fixing leaks. As a first step try to determine the flow rate for your faucets and showerheads in gallons per minute. The maximum flow allowed by code since 1994 is 2.5 gallons per minute in home faucets and showerheads. The flow rate of your faucet or showerhead may be printed on the side. If not you will need to measure the amount of water it puts out over time. This may be difficult to impossible without the use of a shower flow bag available from either or  

If you determine that any of your bathroom faucets have flows great than 1.5 gallons per minute. You can replace the faucet aerator with one that only has a flow of 1.5 gallons per minute. To find high quality faucets and faucet aerators that use 1.5 gallons per minute or less look for the Water Sense label on faucets and aerators that you purchase. Or go to the following EPA web site: The faucets and aerators listed at the EPA site are required to meet a strict third party testing standard for low flow rate and performance. When you go to purchase a new aerator bring one of the old ones with you to the store to ensure that the new one will fit your faucet. One of my favorite low cost items is the simple O-ring washer for use with outdoor watering systems. Sometimes regular flat washers do not stop hose leaks or they are dried out, cracked, and have stopped working. The O-ring washers are more flexible, tend to last longer, and tend to stop more of the difficult leaks. At a cost of about $0.50 or less per washer, at typical island water rates, the investment could be paid back in water savings within 1 – 2 weeks.

Water Conservation for Small Public Water Systems and Private Well OwnersA Hands-On Workshop with Michael LaurieSaturday May 24, 9-11:30 at a private residence on a Group B water system.Please register by contacting Susie Kalhorn 463-4006 or burnhorn@earthlink.netSpace is limited! Michael will help identify the most cost effective ways to conserve water both inside and outside the home, including water-wise irrigation systems. Small public water systems don't use water rates as a way to encourage conservation. Instead, they rely on each homeowner to help keep the water flowing, particularly during the summer drought. Sign-up for the workshop and bring your neighbors. Take a chance at winning a free consultation with licensed waterworks operator, Bob Seibold, just for showing up!

Water Wise Landscape Ideas

from the newsletter of Heights Water, Vashon, WA, June 2007

Michael Laurie

The 7 steps of WaterWise Gardening.

There are 7 steps we all can take to reduce our water use and improve the beauty of our landscapes.

1. Plan & design with water conservation in mind

Evaluate your site and your needs. Note the amount of shade and type of soil you have in different areas and pick plants that will work well in those conditions. Wasabi will grow well in wet and partly shady areas but it will have a hard time in direct sun. Consider how you will be using the different areas of your yard. Plant lawn only where it will serve a purpose. The kids may need a few hundred square feet of lawn to play on but they may not need an acre or more of lawn. Group plants according to their water needs, so you can focus water only where it is needed. If you have drought tolerant plants like sedums mixed in all around blueberries you will have a hard time providing the proper amount of water for both.

 2. Improve the soil – its foundation

Soil improvement is the single most important thing you can do to ensure healthy plants and conserve water. Plant roots will penetrate deeply into soils made more porous and nutritious with added organic matter. Water will soak in and be used better also. Adding compost to boost the organic matter will maintain or improve the health of your plants. Also the compost will help the soil hold onto and slowly release the water to ensure that your plants make more complete use of the water.

 3. Plant and maintain only as much lawn as you need.

Lawns are water guzzlers. One inch of water on one acre is over 27,000 gallons…so keep it small. Plant lawn only in areas where it provides functional benefits. Plant during the fall to take advantage of autumn rains and moderate temperatures which are ideal for growing grass. Consider lawn alternatives such as eco-turf, thyme or other “step-able” ground covers.

4. Select low-water use plants & plant in water-use zones.

Choose plants with the lowest possible irrigation need and group them accordingly. Give plants a head start by planting in the fall, so they can become established during the rainy season. For more information on plants that do not need much water, check out the following web sites:

5. Mulch, mulch, mulch

Use 2 or 3 inches of mulch (bark, wood chips, compost) to cool the soil, minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth, and slow erosion. Remember to leave some breathing room around the plant’s stem or trunk.

 6. Water wisely

Watering deeply but less often encourages deep roots and prevents disease. Reducing excess watering will reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff into streams and groundwater

Water to the plants’ needs, not just to a pre-set schedule. Also, reduce the watering time in the Early and Late Summer.

7. Provide appropriate maintenance.

Limited fertilization, proper pruning, weeding, mulching, organic pest control, and irrigation system adjustments will enable your landscape to thrive. The garden’s best fertilizer if the gardener’s footprint.

I have been working as a water efficiency consultant for over 13 years and helped hundreds of homeowners reduce their water, pesticide, and fertilizer use. If you would like to schedule a customized visit for your landscape, please feel free to contact me at 206-567-5492 or

Book review by Michael Laurie in the Vashon Island Loop about “WorldChanging”

December, 2006. See Page 7 of this issue of The Loop. Look for "

    How to Do Good and

    Have a Good Read

Salmon returning home to Vashon

December 16, 2003, Michael Laurie

At first it was just the sound of a splash, then a wiggle,

then a Coho salmon coming up the middle,

the middle of the Shingelmill,

seconds before the chill chased us all away.

She stopped and stunned us, shimmied a while in place and then slipped upstream.

She reminded us that we are all connected to something very mysterious, breathtakingly beautiful, and very far ranging in time and space.

Salmon have been returning every fall to spawn in Vashon streams for thousands of years.

When they die the pieces of their bodies become part of the life in over 100 different species of winged insects, sleek critters and leaf curling plants.

The salmon weave our world together with strands of food and energy from thousands of miles away.

This year just like the last 4 years, a number of volunteers have each chosen a spot on a Vashon stream to watch for salmon. They return to their creek side place to quietly wait for and witness the dance of creation and death of the salmon. While it may be that salmon do not have emotions like love. Their return certainly provides us with a strong symbol of giving and love provided without any expectation of personal reward.

For my salmon watch, the whole thing starts as a long walking meditation down from the ridge. My body slows as my mind, eyes, and ears open to the winter wren songs, mushrooms popping up, and glimmers of light on the water.

The salmon data we collect is mailed into Jennifer Vanderhoof, an ecologist at the King County Department of Natural Resources. We are working with Jennifer and other King County staff to develop a long term record of how well the salmon are doing on Vashon. We know from the Washington Trout survey a few years ago that there are trout or salmon in over 70 streams on Vashon. Compared to a lot of King County, we have many streams that have relatively good salmon and trout habitat. We should continue to take care of what we have and consider eventually spending the time and money to restore some of the habitat.

Jennifer shared a rough summary of the salmon viewing data she has collected so far this year. 89 Chum, 68 Coho, and 7 unidentified salmon were sited at Judd Creek this year.

11 Coho salmon were sited on a tributary of Judd Creek. Only 1 Coho salmon was sited on Shinglemill creek this year. These numbers are lower than some other years. At this point it is hard to know why the numbers are lower this year.

You are encouraged to get involved in the salmon watching program next year. This year’s program ends in January. There are a number of streams in need of salmon watchers. There will be articles announcing the start of the salmon watcher program next September or October. Please contact the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust at 463-2644, for more information on the program.

Following are some highlights from the viewing experiences of salmon watchers on Vashon this season. One point of clarification is that redds are the places where salmon lay and bury their eggs in the streams. The presence of redds this time of year, is one of the reasons it is a good idea to avoid walking in the streams.

Dec. 15th, Orca Annie Stateler & Odin Lonning, “On December 6, Odin and I beheld a glorious spectacle at the new Judd Creek culvert on 216th St… Incoming fish swam underneath a dead comrade snagged on an overhanging branch. Pairs were mating. Females forcefully dug gravel with their tails to shore up their redds. Males chased and bit each other. Some fertilized eggs. Many fish were in threesomes, two males with one female. At our viewing spot, right under our noses, a large male and female were quite active. The female repeatedly rolled on her side, undulating vigorously. Perhaps she was depositing eggs. The male emitted a milt (sperm) cloud.

Salmon watching is as moving and inspirational as whale watching. Salmon are linchpins. They define our coastal, temperate ecosystem. Orcas would not visit Vashon-Maury if salmon did not return to spawn here. Be grateful for the Salmon Nations. Volunteer to be a Salmon Watcher next year.”

Dec. 15th, Donna Klemka, “I have only had those great big zeros up to this time, and the fish actually took me completely by surprise! I was watching a stretch of the creek about thirty feet from the estuary, in a section that snakes through grasses. A fish 6-8" long darted out from under some overhanging grasses, caught by the current for about 5 feet. Just as quickly as it appeared, it darted back upstream to the same spot it had come from.

This all happened so quickly that I was not able to organize my best powers of observation!!! What I remember is that it was a flash of a reddish, brownish, dark yellowish fish. After reading about possible fish, and consulting with our steward, I concluded it was a cutthroat. Great excitement for such a small fish!!”

Dec. 9th, Ray Heller, the new King County Basin Steward, “On Monday Dec. 8 (yesterday) I was on Maury Island so I thought that I would quickly drop off of Dockton Road into two streams that drain into Quartermaster Harbor to check out the culverts for fish passage. On the downstream side of the road culverts within 100 feet of Dockton Rd. I found salmon redds in both streams and a recently deceased chum carcass at one redd. I am assuming that both streams had spawning chum. That's pretty amazing to me as I didn't look any further and this small but highly successful sample size certainly makes me wonder what the real extent of anadromous usage is of these small steams on Maury and Vashon Islands.”

On Dec. 6th, Richard Rogers, “We saw them swimming up the creek bed, spawning and

swimming through the new culvert at 216 Street. At one point Tuesday

afternoon, there were 8 salmon in the gravel beds. Very amazing to watch.”

Nov. 23rd., Ray Heller, Vashon/Maury Island Steward, “During the Saturday, November 22nd Salmon Watchers field training on Shinglemill Creek we had a female adult Coho join the gathering and we got to view a likely salmon redd. After the training I went down to the 216th Street crossing of Judd Creek and got to view a great display of 6 chum spawning in the upstream portion of the new culvert which speaks well of the work done by King County Roads this year. Two other unidentified salmon were downstream visible through the trees and observed a nicely colored adult Coho and redds about a 1/4 mile upstream along 111th Ave . So there appears to be a lot of spawning activity right now so I hope everyone has an opportunity to get out and observe. I'm especially interested in any adult spawner sightings in streams other than Judd or Shinglemill.”

Nov. 20th, Brian Brenno, “…I saw a few fish they looked like chum at my spot today, then I saw two building a redd near the culvert on 216th and three swim by while I was there they all looked like chum horizontal dark stripe and no red on the belly (I like to peek at other spots on Judd specially at 216th because I used to try and catch fish there when I was a kid) there were two high school kids at the 216th culvert on their lunch and they were amazed that there were salmon in the creek I let them look through my salmon watching glasses they thought it was real cool! I have seen 38 fish so far at my spot this year last year I saw 1! Three days after that huge rain last month we saw 18 - 12 waiting in line to go through the culvert and 6 milling around the pool. I look forward to my time at the creek and it is gratifying to see the fish come by.”

Nov. 6th, Karen Fevold, “Hey there, I'm a Vashon salmon watcher, could you put me on the e-list, I was told that you're managing it. I'm doing a Judd creek headwater location-- singer property, and have seen 2s and 3s-- Coho. nothing today. Seemed to mostly come in after the big rain.”

Oct. 23rd, Kate Lake, “Salmon have been jumping in Fern Cove all week and the seals and eagles are starting their annual line-up (one particular seal eats all morning and lies around on the little dock in front of our place all afternoon—at least she did last year). Haven’t seen any in the creek yet though. kate (thompson) lake”

Oct. 23rd, Barb Gustafson, “Hi All, My site is #534, which is a small tributary of Judd Creek at the sharp corner of 204th and 111th (a bit

downstream from the Sportsman's Club). On Tuesday with water running 1 foot above today's height, I also spotted 8 cutthroat trout. They were all heading upstream, but were sliding downstream. The stream here

is but a ditch on the side of the road, and the 18 inch fish looked enormous! No signs of any fish in the stream on Wed. or today however..” 

Oct. 22nd, Sherry Bottoms, “ hiya Michael, I just wanted to let everyone know I saw my first Coho salmon yesterday on Judd creek. I saw two and a citizen said they saw two Saturday farther up the creek.”

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