Monday, March 26, 2012

Energy Group meets to prioritize actions: March 2012

On March 23rd an energetic group of folks met at the Riverbend Clubhouse for the second
meeting of the Energy Working Group. Jacqui, Robb, Libby, Jeff, Monica, Len, Robyn and solar
experts, Greg and Brian munched on delish home-made brownies and cookies as they
discussed which actions would be most useful to make this region more energy resilient.
The start of the meeting involved back tracking to the Energy Open Space meeting from last
January to fill in the newbies on what ideas were generated. Each topic was discussed in detail.
For Transportation, it was posited that there are already plans afoot elsewhere to create light rail
links from Charlotte to Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. to Charlotte, as well as Charlotte to
Asheville. Other interesting projects would be to focus on an assessment of planning priorities
with respect to biking and the walkability of our neighborhoods; however, this could also be
seen as falling under the remit of the Government Working Group (not yet formed). Rail to Trail
networks (taking up train tracks to create safe hiking routes) were also discussed as a valuable

When the Psychology of Change was discussed, it was agreed that whatever actions the group
takes, the barriers to change need to be addressed to help folks take on board paradigm shifts
and behavioral changes.

Household efficiency measures and green refurbishment brought up lots of great ideas. First, we
pondered that if the service to weatherize houses is already commercially available, why should
this be a project for our group? Also, a basic energy audit of your house is available free on-line
at Duke Power’s website. However, it was brought up that there are low income folks who
cannot pay for the professional to come in to do the audit and weatherize their property, but
who could benefit from a free workshop or other educational materials (instructional leaflet and
directory for sourcing materials) to do it on their own.

Next, with two solar experts in attendance (and of course oodles of sunshine in our area!) we
tackled Renewables. Fertile ground, obviously! It was agreed that an educational program to
help folks understand that solar power, thermal and PV (solar electric), is both viable and
affordable should be the task of our Energy group. This would help to dispel the myth that solar
is uneconomic, which is what the general media would have us believe. Micro-generation
using solar hot water, for instance, is the low hanging fruit. In Bermuda Robb built a solar hot
water batch heater out of mostly recycled materials and installed and tested it in the guest house
where we were staying; it shaved 25% off the domestic hot water bill. SIMPLE!

There were many target audiences identified for this initiative: Senior folks with more time to
spare could work on these types of projects; High School Science classes could have fun
building a hot water batch heater and promoting it; and low income families could collect the
recycled materials to make one very cheaply. All that is needed is the promotion of these ideas
followed by education and instruction. Lastly, the group concluded that there are some things
worth paying money for to build in sustainability.

The group agreed that this educational initiative might best be offered in conjunction with one
on household efficiency rather than separately.

The biggest and most interesting project under review was Community Ownership of Energy.
Jeff summarized the proposal of supplying Granite Falls (population 2,800) with micro-hydro;
they already have a cooperative that supplies them with energy, rather than Duke Power. The
Mill Pond waterfall could provide electricity for the town without destroying the beauty of that
environment. A study from MIT has researched a new liquid metal battery the size of a storage
bin, an array of which could provide the storage for that energy, or it could be directed to the
grid and purchased by Duke Power.

Applying to the government for a grant would involve involving local businesses and other town
authorities to put together a grant application.

To go about this would involve extensive initial research. How would buy back of the electricity
work? Who owns the land? Permission? Grant application eligibility? Battery storage?
However, this project ticks a lot of boxes in terms of it being a local action that would
significantly increase energy resilience, as well as offering an opportunity for local investing,
thus promoting local economy.

Next meeting: May 11th at the Riverbend Clubhouse, 7pm - thanks, Libby!

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