One small step towards environmental sustainability in Crozet

If you get antsy listening to a lot of ideas without any action, you really wanted to be at the meeting on Sunday evening, January 28, when about 40 people gathered in the basement of Tabor Presbyterian Church to talk about the environment. The meeting was a follow-up to an earlier meeting at which “An Inconvenient Truth” was shown. After that apparently quite depressing evening, this evening was unofficially described as Chapter Two: What We Can Do to Make a Difference. Steve Brown, of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, led most of the meeting. (VIPL, an organization that began in 2004 and has 20 state chapters, works to spread the word about small and large ways concerned communities can make a difference regarding the environment.)

Rather than spending too much time re-hashing what a mess we’re in, Mr. Brown quickly got the ball rolling on things we can do RIGHT NOW to make a difference. He speaks from experience, as he built his own “net-zero” house in Charlottesville–a house that costs $30 per month to operate completely and often earns (rather than costs) him money from the power company, due to its solar panels. This got my attention right away.

Mr. Brown showed a DVD called “Kilowatt Ours,” a documentary created by Jeff Barry about the current sources of power in this country and their impact –and what we can do to make a difference. I highly recommend seeing the DVD to get the full impact of how simple these changes can be–on a small and large scale. Put simply:

1. Use energy efficiently.
2. Move towards using renewable sources of energy (such as wind and solar power).

Okay, I know that’s obvious. But we don’t do it, do we? Let me give you some juicy details:

-One kilowatt hour (kwh) of energy (which would run your AC about 30 minutes) burns one pound of coal in order to be produced. The average home in the southeast uses 36 kwh per day. That’s 36 pounds of coal. And we all know where that coal comes from, right? Watch the mountains disappear in West Virginia, if you’re not sure. The average home will use 6 TONS of coal per year to create its electricity. Of course, producing that energy also causes CO2 emissions and mercury to enter the air.

So, every time you flip a light switch, you burn coal. When you know that, you think differently about using electricity. But what can you do RIGHT NOW that will make a difference?

Change every single lightbulb in your house to long-lasting, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs. If we all changed the bulbs in just ONE ROOM, according to Mr. Barry, we would eliminate 1 trillion pounds of CO2 emissions going into our atmosphere. Imagine what changing the bulbs throughout the whole house would do.

Folks there had other good, immediate, and easy suggestions for ways to make your own energy use more efficient:

-turn off your computer (and everything else) at night
-put a timer on your hot water heater so that it works in the morning and evening, but not all day, when there’s no one there
-buy only energy efficient appliances, such as “Energy Star” appliances–front loading washing machines, for example

Bigger changes you can make:

-install a geothermal heating system (will pay for itself in 7 years, according to Mr. Brown)
-install solar panels to make use of the sun’s energy–a 2400 square foot house could install a $20,000 system and run coal/nuclear power free — if that sounds daunting, realize that just about ANY roof space can be utilized to collect solar energy

Mr Brown suggests that if you are building a new house, you can make it a “Net Zero” house–that is, a house that costs nothing for energy use–by paying 15 – 25% more per square foot.

All of these changes will save you money in the long run (after the initial expense of the new materials), but, even more importantly, you’ll be making less of an impact on the environment every single day. Even if you can’t afford solar panels, I bet you can afford to change one room’s worth of light bulbs! Right??

Now, what about our community? What can we do to make a difference regarding the environment? Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy!

1. Write or call Michael Freitas, Chief of Public Works for the County (401 McIntire Rd Rm 224, Charlottesville, VA 22902-4579 ; 434- 296-5816) and tell him WE WANT A RECYCLING CENTER IN CROZET. The County’s plan includes, supposedly, three recycling centers in the county. It hasn’t happened yet. Let’s make it happen. Bruce Edmunds of Rivanna Solid Waste Authority says that RSWA will run it. Let’s get the County moving on finding a site and making it happen. Do I need to explain why? Human beings, it is said, create 600 times their weight in trash in their lifetime–and 75% of what we throw away is recyclable. Recycling 1 can saves enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours. Think how many more people would recycle if we didn’t have to schlep it all to McIntire! Curbside recycling is problematic due to expense and the use of energy for the collection vehicles. So let’s get a center open. Waynesboro (pop 20,000) did it–and its center serves 1200 people a day!

2. Tell the County, in any way you can, that ALL NEW DEVELOPMENTS AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS should meet “green” standards. We have a chance to speak now before things are built–let’s demand that they get built the right way. Waynesboro is an example of a city making changes: they use a system called “daylighting” that makes better use of natural light in their new elementary school, and Kate Collins Middle School is going geothermal. They’ve dug 320 wells for the geothermal coils in the school’s front yard, and the system is predicted to pay for itself in 5 – 7years. Mr. David Wayand , who was there as a Crozet resident and spoke also as a County government member, reminded us that we can lead the County, instead of waiting for it. We are already leaders, in that we are the first community with a Master Plan. Old Trail has to come in with a new site plan because of rezoning, so we have a chance to lead, rather than be at the mercy of circumstances.

3. Work for things already in place in many states –rebates for installing solar panels; a deal in which people using solar power get paid the peak rate for the energy their panels produce, and pay the non-peak rate for whatever energy they use off of the grid.

4. Make the environment an election issue–locally, state-wise, and nationally. Denmark gets 28% of its power from renewable sources. The US gets 0.1% (one tenth of one percent). We can do better than this. A New England Consortium of states has pledged that they will aim for 12 – 20% of their power coming from renewable sources. It’s only a pledge, but we don’t even have that at this point.

Good news: Albemarle County has joined the Kyoto Protocols and has also changed to LED lights in all of its traffic lights and exit lights, reducing energy use enormously.

I left the meeting inspired, ready to make a difference instantly in my own home and more slowly but surely in my community. For my children’s air, for the fields I want them to play in and the mountains I hope they get to climb, I am glad I saw Mr. Barry’s DVD and heard Mr. Brown speak. I’m staying tuned for the next meeting and the next steps.

Ed note: All it takes is one person to start the conversation. It’s up to the rest of us to listen and act.

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