An Illinois River Almanac Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 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.

The Need for Hunting Mon, 22 May 2017 11:39:00 +0000 All creatures modify their habitats to better meet their needs. Some make major modifications, like beavers, and some make minor changes like moles. Humans are no exception to this they fall under the type of creature that makes major changes to their habitats. Humans replace forests and prairies with cities and agriculture fields; displacing different animal species because they pose a threat to our crops, livestock or are simply a perceived threat to our health. The displacement of predators that are perceived as a threat is one of the reasons that hunting is an important part conserving natural habitats.

Predator and prey species have a relationship that is very dependent on each other. When one is removed from an ecosystem the other struggles and can have dire consequences on the habitat in general. The removal of predators has a very significant effect on the habitat. When a major predator (wolfs or mountain lions) is removed from a habitat it allows the prey species (deer) population to expand rapidly. This then has a negative effect on the entire habitat. As the deer numbers increase more of the vegetation is consumed until all of the vegetation that is within reach of the deer is gone. This in turn reduces the number of other species that you might find in the habitat. The significant reduction in plants increases erosion in the habitat creating water quality issues affecting the fish and amphibians. Without an understory there are no hiding spots for birds and small mammals and as deer populations increase the likeliness of automobile accidents involving deer. Hunting provides an important control of population numbers of deer in habitats where the natural predators have been removed. In addition to helping to reduce automobile accidents hunters help to increase biodiversity in the areas around their chosen hunting ground. Predators would have also helped to keep the genetic diversity within a deer population at a healthy level allowing for new genetic material to move into an area by removing an older dominant buck, and allowing new males from outside to move into the area. Hunters do the same thing when they remove that "Trophy Buck" from an area.

Predators have a huge impact on their habitats and they are an important part of the ecosystems in which they function. The biggest evidence of this comes from Yellowstone National Park. Before wolves were reintroduced to the park elk herds were large and biodiversity within the park was lower than it should have been. After the wolves were reintroduces some major changes began to take place. The presence of the wolves helped to reduce the number of elk, this in turn increased biodiversity in the park. The wolves had an unexpected effect on the environment in the park as well. The increase in biodiversity and increased soil stability actually changed the course of the Yellowstone River. The natural control of the elk herds in the park allowed the river to return to its normal movement rather than the "natural channelization" that had occurred over the previous nearly 100 years.

Hunters have an important role to play in the environment when predators have been removed. They are needed to take the place of the creatures that have been removed.

The Mind Mending Power of Nature Fri, 14 Apr 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I am sure that no one will deny that nature is exceptionally beneficial. Trees and other plants provide oxygen; nature provides recreational opportunities and food for some. Access to water without rivers, streams, and lakes would be much more difficult. However, there are some much less tangible benefits to nature as well. Nature provides mental renewal, reduces healing time for patients in hospitals, and can help to reduce stress and behavioral issues in children.

A great deal of research is available on the benefits that nature has on reducing mental fatigue in adults. The definition of nature in these studies is not out in the "backwoods," but rather exposure to green space.

  • In some studies, simply the view of nature was enough to reduce the effects of mental stress in both adults and children.
  • In addition to reducing the effects of mental stress, children with Attention Deficit Disorder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) showed improvement in symptoms while both medicated and unmedicated. Children that participated in a guided hike through green spaces showed notable improvements. More information can be found in "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attentions-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study" By F.E. Kuo and A.F. Taylor
  • Nature has even been shown to reduce aggression and violence in highly urbanized areas. More information can be found in "Aggression and Violence in the Inner City Effects of Environment via Mental Fatigue" By F.E. Kuo and W.C. Sullivan
  • Views of nature can speed recovery time for patients in hospitals and reduce the stress of being in a hospital for both patients and family.
  • When nature is at the very least visible:
  • Creativity, attention span, and comprehension increase in the school environment
  • Stress is reduced in all environments

Nature has many benefits to mental health in both adults and children. Getting out in nature, taking a hike, sitting quietly on a bench under a tree, or just taking a walk in the park will benefit you greatly.

If you have questions about the benefits of nature or would like some ideas of where to get out in nature contact Jason Haupt (

Birds Bees and Wild Things: Sting Like a Bee Fri, 07 Apr 2017 09:30:00 +0000 Pollinators play a significant role in keeping habitats healthy and diverse. They are important to agriculture pollinating crops and help in ensuring a good healthy yield. When most people think of pollinators, their first thought is honeybees. However, there are so many more bees than just honey- bees (which are non-native) and more than 3,500 species of native bees in the United States with 228 of them found in Illinois. Without bees, much of the produce that you love to have in the summer would not be available in the quantities or the quality that you love. Peppers, tomatoes, many root vegetables, and many fruits need bees to pollinate and produce healthy produce. Bees ensure that the flowers properly pollinate and produce healthy and abundant fruits, seeds, and vegetables. Research has also shown that an increased native bee population also makes honeybees produce more honey increasing the yield of local honey.

The problem is that bees of all sorts are starting to become uncommon. In Illinois one native bumblebee, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis), is listed as federally endangered. There is a lot of speculation as to why bee populations are on the decline, but research has shown that one of the greatest threats to bees is habitat loss. This means that there is an easy way for you to help. As you are creating habitat for other types of wildlife, it is easy to incorporate habitat for bees as well.

One of the challenges that scientists in Illinois face is understanding the distribution of bees in the state. The University of Illinois has a citizen scientist project called Bee Spotter. It is very simple to be a part of this project. To be involved you need a smartphone and an account with bee spotter. Simply take a picture of the bee from above and the side and send it into Bee Spotter. This allows the scientists to identify the bee and its location to increase their knowledge of the distribution of native bumblebees around the state. To participate or find more information go to


  • Bees fall into several categories of nesters: ground nesters, tunnel nesters, wood nesters and cavity nesters.
  • Building a "bee house" can be as simple as taking a log and drilling holes in it to create a place for wood-nesting bees to make a home quickly. Plans for more complicated nest blocks for multiple nesting bee types, on the Xerces Society website ( are easy to follow. For ground-nesting bees, having bare soil or mounded soil provide excellent places for nest building


  • Brightly colored flowers will attract bees to your yard.
  • Make sure that flowers are blooming throughout the growing season to keep the bees coming back.
  • Native plants require less maintenance than other plants and are an excellent food source for bees.

For more information on creating bee habitat or other natural resource questions, please contact Jason Haupt (


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