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We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans

August 26, 2021 Environment, Featured Comments Off on We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans

For years there was no financial incentive to reduce electricity use during peak periods. Running the dryer &  air conditioning while cooking dinner at 5pm weekdays cost the same as doing them at other times.  With Ameren Missouri’s new smart meters and Tine of Use (TOU) rate plans reducing electric use during peak demand can save money and reduce peak load on the grid.

A smart electric meter is needed for Time of Use (TOU) rate plans.

At the end of June I  posted about signing up for one of the new Time of Use (TOU) rate plans –initially only one was available. Halfway into that billing cycle the other, advanced TOU rate plans became an option for us. I quickly changed plans effective the next cycle.

Now we’ve completed two billing cycles on a basic and an advanced TOU rate plan. Because I’m a spreadsheet nerd I was able to figure out our savings compared to the flat rate plan most still have. The primary savings we realized wasn’t on rates, but on reducing the amount of kWh we used in the billing cycle. Related was a savings on the taxes & fees as all but one are based on kWh. We also saved on the energy used, more with the advanced rate plan than the basic.

Here are some of the details:

Our first TOU billing cycle was the Evening/Morning Savers plan. Like the flat rate, this plan is considered basic. The difference between the peak & off-peak energy is minimal.

For comparison, the summer anytime rate is 11.8¢ per kWh.

This cycle ran from 6/23/2021 through 7/22/2021, the July cycle. We used 652 kWh during this billing cycle. Last year we used 922, in 2019 1,206 — a nearly 30% less than the same cycle last year. Using less energy saved us $31.86 on energy, compared to last year. We saved another $2.31 on additional fees: fuel adjustment, energy efficiency, and renewables.  We saved $1.33 on the St. Louis municipal service charge. Add it all up and just reducing our energy use saved us $35.50 for the July billing cycle.

We used 465 kWh off-peak, and 187 kWh peak during the cycle. We saved another $1.02, which isn’t much. However, being on a TOU plan got me thinking about more ways to save that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.  Added to the above we saved $36.52, nearly 30%!

With the next billing cycle we were now on the Ultimate Savers TOU rate plan.

Ultimate Savers is Ameren’s most advanced plan, with the biggest differences between peak & off-peak raters. The trick with this plan is an additional “demand charge” based on the hour (6am-10pm) of highest use during the cycle.

I was very nervous about what our bill would be, entirely because of the demand charge. Toward the end of the cycle Ameren’s reports improved significantly, allowing me to see we’d save money. Or at least not spend more — a concern I had initially

Like the July cycle, we reduced our energy use compared to the August 2020 cycle (586 kWh vs 978 kWh) — a 40% reduction! We also used less electricity in August compared to June & July.I’m not going to go through the math again to demonstrate the savings compared to last year, but is was 40% less.

We used 529 kWh of off-peak energy, for a cost of $23.12. Our peak energy was 50 kWh, $12.90. Only 8.6% of our energy was used during peak times — this was mostly cooking dinners. Our hour with the highest kWh used was 3.6 kWh. With a rate of $7.03/kWh our demand charge was $25.31 — this was higher than either our peak or off-peak use. Compared to the Anytime flat rate we saved $6.99 before fees/charges, an effective rate of $0.106 vs $0.118 per kWh.

What I don’t is if we’d be better off on one of the other two advanced TOU rate plans, neither have a demand charge. In a few months Ameren will crunch the numbers and let us know the best plan for us.

After February 2021 we were using slightly more electricity than last year, but now we’re using 22% less than we did at this point in 2020.

A smart meter like our, above, is required to change to a TOU plan from the Anytime flat rate. See Ameren’s rate options here. In a future post I’ll share other reports from Ameren that detail where we’re using our electricity — our cooking is as much as cooling!

— Steve Patterson

 

Times Beach Summer Resort Fascinates Me From Beginning To End

July 8, 2021 Environment, Featured, History/Preservation, St. Louis County Comments Off on Times Beach Summer Resort Fascinates Me From Beginning To End

To escape the heat & smell of city life  wealthy St. Louisans in the 19th century would take a train out to various resorts along the Meramec River.

In the late 19th century, several popular summer resorts were founded southwest of St. Louis, Missouri on the Meramec River, including Meramec Highlands, Valley Park, Fenton, and Castle Park. As the Frisco Railroad trains started running on a regular basis to the Meramec Highlands and Valley Park train stations, Meramec River attractions became popular for wealthy St Louis families. Unfortunately, for the masses of St. Louisans, the cost of the train ride prohibited frequent visits for the common folk of St Louis.

The Meramec Highlands “Frisco” Railroad Station was constructed in 1891 by the Meramec Highlands Company, the developers of a summer getaway for wealthy Midwesterners. Located on the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River, two miles west of present-day Kirkwood, the station was built in the Romanesque Revival architecture. Once completed, it was deeded to St Louis and San Francisco Railroad for $1 in exchange for regularly scheduled service. (Source)

By 1896 streetcars had reached the area, allowing the masses to afford the trip to cool off in the water for the day.  The area was no longer exclusive, so the wealthy went elsewhere.

This had to be in mind when the owners of the St. Louis Times newspaper decided to sell off lots on property they owned along the Meramec, but further west.

1920s advertisement for lots in a new resort located too far west for streetcars. The Ford Model T had been on sale since 1908, but many households didn’t own cars. The wealthy did have cars.
Much later aerial photo shows the streets followed the curve of the river.

Decades earlier the wealthy could stay in impressive 2-story cottages in the Meramec Highlands area, but now simpler wood structures were built on the tiny lots. By the mid/late 1020s the wealthy were building impressive homes further from downtown, a bunch of frame shacks doesn’t sound very exclusive.  I think the Times target audience wasn’t wealthy folks, but those much better off than they had been. They’ve got a car and want to drive it somewhere to get away from the heat. Newly middle class.

Along Route 66 at the eastern edge of the Meramec a roadhouse opened in 1935 that catered to elegant dining, appropriately named the Bridgehead Inn.  This was after the start of the Great Depression, so perhaps the truly wealthy were among the first to have summer places here.

Lobby of the Route 66 State Park visitor’s center inside the former roadhouse. Click image for state park website.
By 1946 the Bridgehead Inn was closed, the property sold. The wealthy either lost everything in the depression and had to move out to their summer shack or they moved elsewhere.
Until very recently this old Route 66 bridge over the Meramec was still open to traffic, Times Beach was on the right on the west bank of the river.

For decades Times Beach was home to poor whites, in a flood zone. Municipal tax revenue was limited. Roads went unpaved, which created a lot of dust. The solution to the dust is why no structure from Times Beach survives today. A man was hired to spray used oil on the ground to control dust, but that oil had been mixed with toxic dioxin. In 1983 the EPA shut the town down, becoming a large superfund cleanup site. In 1997 it reopened as Missouri’s Route 66 State Park.

The bridge landing on the Times Beach side
This mound is where some material is buried.
This treeless field is there the large incinerator stood for years.
Much of the 419 acre park is covered with trees.
It’s actually quite picturesque.

So much went wrong with Times Beach, from the initial planning to the later tragic poisoning of the entire town. It was already closed by the first time I drove to St. Louis along I-44 in August 1990. I’d love to go back in time to see it in the first 5-10 years.

Further Reading:

I’m glad we made the trip out there recently to see the visitors center, route 66 bridge (remains), and park.

— Steve Patterson

 

Smart Meter Installed, On A Time Of Use (TOU) Electric Plan

June 30, 2021 Environment, Featured Comments Off on Smart Meter Installed, On A Time Of Use (TOU) Electric Plan

In late April I posted about new electric meters, see Smart Electric Meters & Time Of Use (TOU) Rate Plans Coming To Ameren Missouri Customers. To summarize the new meters show energy use in 15 minute increments, allowing for different rates depending upon the time of the day, summer or winter.

Our new smart electric meter

At the start of this month, while I was traveling, our electric meter was changed.  I login to our Ameren account upon return and can see detailed reports on our use — hour by hour, and one every 15 minutes. I’m a data geek so I was loving it.

Our hour by hour report for Monday June 28, 2021. Looks like I forgot to adjust the a/c and turn off our dehumidifier before starting the dryer in the morning. Click image to see larger version.

I also saw I could change my rate plan, but only one other plan was available — so I picked it. The Evening/Morning Savers plan is only a slight variation from the Anytime plan, but half the day (9am-9pm) is considered peak. This plan began at the start of our current billing cycle, June 23rd.

I’ve been making sure I get our laundry into the dryer in time so it’ll be finished before 9am. I also reduced from 4 loads per week to 3, as the old 2 loads on Friday wasn’t going to happen before 9am.

We run our dishwasher without the heat dry feature because that’s a huge user of energy, we run it after 9pm. Also after 9pm we turn on our dehumidifier to run overnight.

Five days into our new rate plan I see we’re now eligible to sign up for any of the three “advanced” plans, including the one I wanted all along — Ultimate Savers. On July 26th we move to this plan.

The trick with this plan is the demand charge, the highest amount of energy used 6am-10pm daily is multiplied by a number. The demand charge is higher during the four summer months. So the peak period is only 3pm-7pm M-F (summer) but I can’t do two things at once or the demand charge will be higher.

If the demand charge gets too high our bill could be higher than if we had no savings plan at all. But I like a challenge.

Before the new plan begins late next month I’m going to take notes on when we use 1 and 2 burners on the stove, our countertop oven, dishwasher, etc. I want to see now much those consume versus air conditioning, clothes dryer, etc.  I think when I’m cooking or drying clothes I can have Siri set our smart thermostat to “away” mode so the air won’t come on. Regardless, I think I’ll end up with a number between 3-4 each month, just based on reports I’ve seen during our Saturday breakfasts (2 burners + countertop oven). I’d love a more energy efficient induction range, but that’s not going to happen.

Ameren is right, the advanced plans require more effort…at least more planning, scheduling. We may not save any money, but we’re certainly thinking about reducing our energy consumption during high-demand times.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Nature Playscape In Forest Park Is Great For Unstructured Play, Nature Lovers

June 24, 2021 Environment, Featured, Parks Comments Off on New Nature Playscape In Forest Park Is Great For Unstructured Play, Nature Lovers

One hundred forty-five years ago (6/24/1876) Forest Park opened to the public, a very large natural area at the time. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka World’s Fair) opened a little less than 28 years later on April 30, 1904.

As a result, Forest Park was no longer natural, with a few exceptions like Kennedy Forest. Still when it was announced a few years ago that a “nature playscape” was to be built in a park I kinda laughed. Uh, a park outdoors is in nature. Like I said, the park no longer resembled nature.

This free new attraction opened June 2, 2021

This isn’t a playground as we know them, with swings, slides, etc. Instead it is a natural landscape designed for unstructured play.

Unstructured play is a category of play (as opposed to a type of play) in which children engage in open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. Unlike structured play, unstructured play is not instructor-led, so parents, teachers, and other adults do not give directions. It also does not have a particular strategy behind it.

Unstructured play is often informally referred to as simply “letting kids be kids” or “just play.” At times, you may also hear it called “free play” or self-play.”

As a kid I spent hours playing outdoors with my friends, but that was the 1970s when parents didn’t hover. Today’s kids are kept on a very short leash.

This new space, one of only a few nationally, is worth a visit.

The Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape is a 17-acre experiential play space with natural landscapes that include native and diverse species. Featuring nine distinct activity distinct activity areas, the free destination includes sand play areas, willow tunnels, stump steppers, boulders and rocks, hand water pumps and much more. The goal: Encourage visitors — especially kids — to connect with nature as they engage their senses as they explore, discover and learn. (Forest Park Forever)

Before I begin to explain why it’s worth a visit, let’s talk about where it is and now to get there. This new space is just southeast of the World’s Fair Pavilion, see PDF map. Photo of the site with the activity areas labeled here.

Ideally you’d take the #90 (Hampton) MetroBus like I did. There are bus stops for both northbound and southbound #90 buses very close on Concourse Drive (the street on the east side of the Zoo). Biking, walking, jogging, etc are also excellent ways to enter the park.
If you drive there is a variety of parking around the three entrances. Some is parallel on the road, others are diagonal on pervious surfaces. There is accessible parking at each entrance.

It’s 17 acres so it’s huge, but don’t expect to see big fancy entrance gates. There are no fences or gates, it’s just a free part of the park open for everyone during park hours.

The biggest of the 3 entrances is near the traffic circle near the Zoo & World’s Fair Pavilion. All 3 entrances have the wood post with a map of the layout.
Another entrance is close to the east side of the World’s Fair Pavilion.
The 3rd entrance is down the hillside on Carr Lane Drive.

All entrances have nearby car parking, bike racks, a map on the post, etc. Don’t look for any printed maps because they didn’t want the waste/trash. Year-round restrooms are in the World’s Fair Comfort Station, just south of the World’s Fair Pavilion — close to the first two entrances. Seasonal restrooms are also inside the 17 acre space, near the 3rd entrance. There is potable water for refilling water bottles as well as non-drinkable water near some activity zones to help clean the kids up, to wash off all the nature.

Ok, let’s go inside.

The main path, more than a mile long, is crushed stone. It was a good solid surface for my power wheelchair. Side paths are wood bark, which my chair also handled fine.
All the plants are native perennials, those new to the paths from containers (40k). Further away areas were seeded. The little sign asks that you not step onto the tender plants. Plants aren’t identified, this isn’t a botanical garden. However, my guide showed me a free app that will identify plants, animals, insects, fungi, etc. — click image for app info.
For the most part the topography of the 17-acre site wasn’t changed, so your view changes with every turn of the path.
At the top of a hill is a spring. OK, it’s not natural — a mechanical pump keeps the water flowing.
The water, naturally, flows downhill.
The wetlands area is apparently very popular.
The spring/wetlands becomes a dry stream at the bottom of the hill.
Play spaces vary in size. Seating on stones or logs for parents is around the perimeter. One pic I have with two kids playing had the dad right in there with them. I know it’s hard, but parents need to let their kids figure stuff out on their own. Just sit back and watch.

As a huge fan of native perennials I love the space, so much more rewarding than a formal space. Reminded me of hiking at Shaw Nature Reserve years ago, except accessible by public transit and wheelchair friendly. Seating is frequent and varied, with space for strollers and/or wheelchairs out of the path.

I want to return with my husband, and meet friends and their kids here. On my one recent visit those using the space didn’t appear to represent the wide ethnic diversity 0f the region, hopefully that’ll change.

I saw couples without kids using this for their walk/exercise, so don’t think you need kids to show up. If you’ve got young kids, nieces/nephews, cousins, etc please bring them here for a visit. Happy 145th birthday to Forest Park!

— Steve Patterson

 

Eleven New Trees Replaced Along Broadway at Baer Plaza

June 7, 2021 Downtown, Environment, Featured, Walkability Comments Off on Eleven New Trees Replaced Along Broadway at Baer Plaza

Early last month I saw landscapers planting new trees along Broadway next to Baer Plaza, across from the dome.

On May 3. 2021 I saw workers busy planting new trees on the east side of Broadway.

I frequently take Broadway to/from the central business district. Living north of the convention center & dome, Broadway (5th)& 9th are the only options to get around the massive facility that closed 8th, 7th, and 6th streets. Sometimes to make things interesting I roll on the east side of Broadway, so I knew exactly where they were planting.

On October 1, 2020 I snapped a few pics of the empty spots where trees had once been:

Looking north you could see the numerous empty squares where the allee vanished.
Some were just bare dirt.
Others still had some liriope (aka monkey grass)

There were 11 trees missing, very obvious sign of neglect. Not sure why, but I didn’t post the pictures to social media. So last month I was very happy to see workers busy planting eleven new trees. I retuned on May 7th to get these pics.

The new trees are small compared to the more mature trees further north, but they’re quite big for new trees.
Another view.

I don’t know trees to tell you the variety or how fast they’ll grow. Hopefully within a few years they’ll fill out nicely.  I’m going to take the east side of Broadway more often, especially when going to Laclede’s Landing, Eads Bridge, Arch grounds, etc.

— Steve Patterson

 

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