An Illinois River Almanac Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Winter has Arrived Mon, 08 Jan 2018 12:21:00 +0000 I feel like it has been a very long time since we have had a truly cold winter. Last winter was so mild I think we all forgot what a real winter feels like in Illinois. And the way that November and most of December felt like I think we all thought that we were going to get away with a second mild winter. However, winter is here and it feels like it is making up for the past couple of years.

Winter is bleak and dreary but there is some true beauty in winter as well. Particularly when there is snow on the ground. Though the past couple of weeks have made it difficult to imagine being outside for more than a few seconds there are some absolutely wonderful things to do in the winter.

  1. Go for a snow hike. In my mind, there are few things more beautiful than the woods when there is snow on the ground (or better yet when it is snowing). The woods are so quiet when there is snow on the ground and there is so much beauty in the monochromatic landscape. Try and track some of the critters that we have in our woods in the winter, take a camera and try your hand at some photography or just enjoy the quiet of the woods.
  2. Go Skiing. I know what you are thinking. This is Illinois one of the flattest states, but there is more than just downhill skiing. Cross-country skiing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and maybe try something new. Is Cross-country skiing too daunting? You could also try snowshoeing.
  3. Go to a State Park. There are a number of spectacular places to see how beautiful nature can be in winter. Taking a hike at places like Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks will reward you with frozen waterfalls and a great opportunity to see some eagles on the Illinois River. Illini State Park offers an outdoor skating pool, as well as hiking and other winter sports. Mississippi Palisades offers some spectacular views and also the opportunity to see eagles along the mighty Mississippi. There is no better time to see the animals at Wildlife Prairie Park. The animals are active and easily spotted in the snow.

Though it is cold outside now that does not mean that you cannot enjoy nature. Bundle up and go on a winter adventure in your backyard.

A Better Choice Fri, 03 Nov 2017 08:32:00 +0000 We have been hearing about how Monarch Butterflies are in trouble. The question is "what to do to help the Monarch's?" The common answer has been to plant more milkweed, but is this the best advice to give? Is the answer to the Monarch question much more complicated than just planting more milkweed?

Monarch Butterflies are amazing creatures. I cannot think of any other creature that begins a journey in one place and finds its way to a place that it has never been. Monarchs, from much of North America, spend the winter months in the highlands in southern Mexico. They make this journey from the northern part of North America, flying all the way down to Mexico.

The conservation of Monarch Butterflies is a complicated question. One of the biggest influences on populations has been the loss of habitat, which is where the common practice of planting milkweed has developed. However, this is only one piece to the puzzle and not all Milkweed is created equal (at least not in Illinois and the Midwest). One Milkweed in particular in question is the "Tropical Milkweed." If you have read some of my other writings, you know that I am a huge fan of native plants. The benefits of native plants are numerous, but this is not going to be about native plants and their benefits.

Tropical Milkweed is a popular choice for many gardeners because of its bright color, long bloom time and ease of care. Tropical Milkweed, however, is not native to any part of the US and some recent research is suggesting that there are some potential negative effects on Monarch Butterflies in the Midwest. One report suggests that the longer bloom time has had some effect on delaying the start of Monarch migration. In addition, there are also suggestions that the use of Tropical Milkweed in the Southern US is also causing problems. It is creating winter breeding habitats in the mild winters of southern Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and in Florida. The butterflies that overwintered in the US were five times more likely to have a very serious, debilitating infection known as OE.

With this in mind, there is a much better choice when looking to plant milkweed. Native species are going to be a much better choice. However, they are a little more difficult to find it is becoming more common and easier to find. When you are thinking about adding Milkweed to your yard, or helping monarchs, reach for a native species before you reach for Tropical Milkweed.

Heating Efficiently Fri, 06 Oct 2017 09:30:00 +0000 Heating your home is an expensive endeavor. According to Department of Energy estimates in the average American home, 29% of energy costs are for heating the home. This is by far the largest percentage of energy costs on an annual basis. But there are ways to make sure that you are using your money as efficiently as possible.

The simplest and least expensive way to save money on your heating bill is to turn the temperature down. For every degree you lower the temperature in your home, you will save an average of 1% on your heating bill. Though that does not sound significant, in the long run you will save a lot of money. A programmable thermostat can raise and lower the temperature in your home when you are not there, and you do not have to break the bank to get one. A basic programmable thermostat costs between $25 and $30. They can be programmed to lower the temperature while you are at work and bring it back to what you feel is comfortable when you get home. The Department of Energy recommends that the temperature should not fluctuate more than 10 degrees, because you will then lose the benefits of lowering the temperature.

Making sure your furnace is operating at peak efficiency is another good way to reduce energy usage. Having your furnace checked during the fall before you need the furnace is an easy and cost-effective way of ensuring that your heating system is working properly and that you will not have any nasty surprises later in the year. Changing the furnace filter is an easy, inexpensive way to improve the efficiency of your furnace, as well. The older the filter, the harder it is to move air through the filter. More energy is required to move the heated air through your home. Filters should be changed every three months for best efficiency, though if you have pets that shed, you may have to change it more often. If you are noticing that your heat is running for long periods and shutting down for a short time, checking your filter is a good place to start.

If you want to put a new heating system in your home, there are many options from which to choose. There are also some rebates that might be available through your energy provider. Check with your energy provider to see if there are any available. Choosing a new heating system can be a little daunting, but knowing your options can be helpful.

  • If you are able, an in-floor radiant heating system is a good option. In radiant heat, always choose hot water. The electric options are so inefficient they will end up costing you more over the life of the system, which is much shorter than the heated water systems. In testing done with in-floor systems, subjects reported being more comfortable in rooms fitted with the in-floor system than a forced air system set to the same temperature.
  • Gas heating is always going to be the most efficient way of heating your home. If you have to replace the furnace in your home, when practical choose gas over electric.
  • In Illinois, heat pumps are more efficient, but during a particularly cold winter they tend to be less efficient than other options. They have to rely on the gas or electric element to augment the heating needs in the home.
  • Geothermal is an excellent and very efficient choice for heating your home. Geothermal heating is a great option for a new home and is not going to have a significant increase in cost of construction. In an existing home, however, it can be difficult and very expensive to put in. Sizing is very important in these systems. If the system is too small, you will have to rely on a backup system a lot. Though it will offset the cost of heating your home, you will not receive all of the benefits of the geothermal heating. Going the other way is not the answer either. A system that is too large will be inefficient, because it is constantly cycling on and off. A backup system is also needed with geothermal. When it is particularly cold outside, your geothermal system may not be able to keep up with your demand for heat. Having a gas back-up system is a good idea.

If you have any questions about heating your home efficiently, please contact Jason Haupt (

Using Energy Smarter Wed, 30 Aug 2017 07:51:00 +0000 We all keep a close eye on our utility bills each month. This makes sense as energy usage accounts for between five and fifteen percent of the average American households expenses. There are many ways that you can cut down on energy usage, and they all have an impact on how much you are spending each year. Energy efficiency benefits your pocket book on a monthly or annual basis, but it can also have an effect on your energy costs in the long run. By making yourself more energy efficient, it means that you are consuming less energy and your energy providers do not have to build more infrastructure to keep up with demand. New infrastructure costs result in higher energy costs for the consumer.

Energy companies in Illinois have been updating their metering system over the past couple of years to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Ameren Illinois and ComEd recently began upgrading the meters on homes with what is commonly called "smart meters." The smart meters come with some significant benefits for the residents. Older meters would only give a daily, weekly or monthly usage for customers but the new smart meters will be able to look at energy consumption on an hourly basis providing customers access to some fantastic benefits.

  • Get a better understanding of when you are using electricity. Once a smart meter has been installed you can sign up for an account with your provider and see when you are using the most energy. This gives you the opportunity to investigate what is using so much electricity and make some changes to your habits to reduce energy consumption and save yourself some money.
  • Participation in Peak Time Rebates –Both Ameren Illinois and ComEd have programs that reward their customers for reducing power consumption during peak energy demand times. These programs look at previous years usage and give the customer a rebate on their bill when they reduce their usage during times of particularly high demand. During the summer this tends to be between the hours of 3 pm to 5 pm when people are starting to make it home and cool their homes, and office buildings are still using cooling systems. By turning up your air conditioner, not running the dishwasher, or doing laundry during these times will help to reduce electrical demand and can result in a rebate on your bill.
  • Access to real time pricing –Smart meters will give customers the option to pay the going rate of electricity for a particular time. The price of electricity fluctuates throughout the day based on the demand. Currently, prices are flat based on a daily average cost of electricity which is static and based on your providers negotiated price. With real time pricing, you will be able to take advantage of a reduction in price when demand is lower. With a few habit changes and using this program, you could see savings on your electric bill. There is some risk with this type of pricing as using power during peak times of demand will result in paying a premium for power during those high demand times.
Natives are the Best Wed, 23 Aug 2017 07:44:00 +0000 The past few years have seen an increase in concern for helping pollinators and other insects. To me, this is the top concern for anyone who is gardening. When I go back and look at the questions that I received over the past year or so, the majority of them have to do with creating habitat for butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinators. Creating habitat is not a bad thing, far from it, but when I suggest that the answer to this question is native plants, I often get a look that makes me wonder if I have two heads. Native plants are a major part of the solution to creating sustainable pollinator habitats. Here are a few reason to choose native plants over any others.

  1. Native plants serve as a host to a much larger number of species than non-native species. In a study done at the University of Delaware, 69 non-native plants were compared to 101 native plants. In this comparison, the 69 non-native plants served as host plants to four species of caterpillar, where the 101 native species hosted 72 species of caterpillar. That is 18 times the number of species supported. It is estimated (conservatively) that native species play host to an average of 10 times the number of species when compared to similar non-native plants.
  2. Choose Native plants even over "Native Cultivars." Though these native cultivars may seem the same on the surface, there may be some subtle difference that will reduce the number of species that they potentially host. Steril cultivars will not produce seeds and will not support bird species that might ordinarily use the seeds as a food source.
  3. Native plants are much more efficient. Native plants use water more efficiently and are adapted to the highly variable weather found in Illinois. The root system in native plants is much deeper than those of non-native plants. Most native plants have root systems that extend 6 feet or more into the ground. This means that they have access to deeper water, and also increases the amount of organic material in the soil. More organic material means the soil can hold more water and has more nutrients available to the plants.

There are many ways to introduce native plants to your yard.

  • Purchasing native plants from a nursery that specializes in native plants is one of the best ways to get high-quality native plants for your flower beds. When you are purchasing native plants, one thing to keep in mind is that local ecotypes of the plants are going to be the best. A native plant that comes from Ohio is not going to be as well adapted to Illinois as one that comes from within 300 miles of your location.
  • Local Native Plant Societies have native plant sales every spring. This is an excellent opportunity to get local native plants and support an organization that is promoting the use and benefits of native plants in your area.
  • Purchasing native plants from your local nursery is an option to consider as well. Be careful to read the plant label when buying from a local nursery. Be sure you are purchasing a native plant and not a native cultivar. As more people request native plants for their native landscapes, these plants are becoming more common at many nurseries.
The Alternative Energy Run Down Mon, 19 Jun 2017 13:21:00 +0000 Alternative energy gets a lot of time in many of the discussions I have had recently. Many of them are extensions of other topics, but somehow the conversation is moved to some form of alternative energy. Several of them start out with "But how does this type of energy affect (fill in the blank)?" With this in mind, here are the most popular forms of alternative energy production with some pros and cons. The important thing to consider is "There is NO FREE Lunch."

Wind Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost Efficient; One of the easiest forms of energy to maintain; Lots of Research is being done in this area, which makes it less expensive each year; Green House Gas (GHG) neutral energy.

Cons: Not everyone likes the way the equipment look/they destroy beautiful views; There is compelling research that shows them as one of many dangers to migrating birds; Wind is not constant; Not all areas are ideal for wind production and "transportation" of energy reduces the energy delivered; Very expensive to build.

Solar Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost efficient; One of the oldest and most understood of the clean energy choices; There are lots of options for residential use, including leasing or purchasing equipment; Easy to add to existing buildings; Is viable in all areas of the country; GHG neutral energy.

Cons: On historic buildings, solar panels can destroy the historic charm or are not allowed on historic buildings due to local historic preservation codes; The sun is not out all the time; There are durability issues associated with commercial solar energy production; There is some research showing that large solar farms could affect migrating birds.


Pros: Relatively inexpensive to install in new construction (for heating/cooling); Can produce heating/cooling and electricity; GHG neutral; extremely efficient; No fuel costs, so price is very stable once installed.

Cons: Not viable in all areas, particularly for energy production; High maintenance costs of equipment, as some geothermal sources can be highly corrosive to equipment; High up-front costs to build (electrical production); Some concerns with the liquids used in closed-loop systems if there is a leak.

Alternative Fuels (Biomass, Biofuels, and others):

Pros: Renewable; readily available; Supports National Economy; Reduces dependence on fossil fuels; Possibility of multiple uses for field crops; requires less infrastructure alterations; Inexpensive.

Cons: Still releases GHGs; Some Biofuels are not viable in all climates; The current production capabilities would not provide for the entire country; Some loss of efficiency; Transition to exclusive use would be long and expensive; Some fear of "new" crops having the potential to become invasive; Possibility of destruction of "natural areas" for energy production.

I have not touched on all of the pros and cons of each of these alternative energy types, but these are the most prevalent. Although there are many options from which to choose, no one option will be the answer for future energy production. Just remember, There is NO FREE Lunch.]]>
Feeding Wildlife Fri, 02 Jun 2017 09:30:00 +0000 How many of us have gone to feed the ducks at a local park or pond near our homes? I would guess that most if not all people have done this at some point in our lives. Whoever it was that took you to the pond to feed the ducks more than likely it was done with a bag of white bread or bread heels, and those ducks went nuts for that bread. However, have you stopped to think about what feeding wildlife does to wildlife? I am not talking about putting a bird feeder out in the winter to help support birds that live here year-round; this has some very positive effects on these birds. There are many disadvantages to feeding wildlife.

  1. It creates a dependence on humans. Feeding wildlife creates a dependence on humans for food. We have all been in a state or national park and seen the signs that say "Please Do Not Feed the Wildlife" there is a reason for this. When we feed wildlife, particularly when there are young individuals involved the animals can lose their ability to forage effectively, or they do not learn to forage.
  2. It can create health problems in wildlife. The foods that we commonly feed wildlife are things that lack the necessary nutrients for wildlife. In the case of ducks, geese and, other waterfowl the lack of sufficient nutrients can cause joint issues in the wings either severely restricting flight or can stop them from flying at all. This makes them easy prey for predators and keeps them from being able to migrate.
  3. Can keep wildlife from migrating. Having a stable ready food supply that is available throughout the year can indicate to some species that would usually migrate that they do not need to migrate. It takes a lot of energy to migrate, and if they do not have to, they might stay put. This puts additional, unnecessary stress on the species that would ordinarily stay. It also might delay migration in some animals, which puts extra stress on the individuals that are moving through an area on their normal migration. This makes the migration process much more difficult.
  4. Can cause a loss of fear of humans. It is important that animals keep a natural fear of humans. If a fear of humans is lost, animals will approach humans and can become aggressive when food is not available. This can increase animal attacks and the spread of disease.
  5. Can destroy habitats and cause a loss of biodiversity. When we feed animals, they tend to congregate in the "feeding" areas. This creates a population that cannot be supported in an area. This causes the over browsing of plants in an area and can restrict the spread of seeds, or if a plant is under too much stress, they may not set seeds at all. This affects not only the plants but also the insects that need the flowers or leaves. The higher populations of animals can also lead to aggressive behavior in animals as they compete for resources and can lead to starvation and very poor health in animals in the area.

Feeding wildlife is a fun activity on the surface but when you feed animals think about what the consequences for your fun are? Think before you go out and feed the ducks. Take young children out to admire the wildlife and teach them that they are enjoyed from a distance.