It’s Not Easy Being ‘Green’

02/25/04 by Salisbury Post

It’s Not Easy Being ‘Green’

By Mark Wineka, February 25, 2004, issue of the Salisbury Post

The state’s energy director says local communities have the power to change how they use and produce energy and doing so will save them money and improve the environment.

So what’s that have to do with cleaner air? Everything, Larry Shirley told a large gathering at Catawba College Center for the Environment Tuesday night.

If Rowan County plans to grapple with the problem of its poor air quality, it better be prepared to deal with energy issues. The two are inseparable, Shirley said.

Shirley served as the second guest speaker in the Center for the Environment’s Clean Air Lecture Series. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory kicked off the series Feb. 4.

While McCrory concentrated on topics such as road building and land-use planning, Shirley focused on how saving energy and tapping renewable energy sources translate to less pollution from things such as smokestacks and cars.

The lectures are part of an educational component in a three-year effort in Rowan County to create a model for the region in how a community can improve its air quality.

Shirley, relying on audio-visuals throughout his presentation, had suggestions for some of the things local government or business might try to save energy, reduce costs and improve the environment:

-Hire an “energy manager.” The savings he identifies through conservation and renewable energy sources will easily pay for his salary and benefits.
-Issue bonds to finance energy improvements.
-Convert fleets to alternative fuels and hybrid
vehicles.
-Devise a community energy program.
-Use performance contracting, which uses energy savings to finance more energy efficiency improvements.
-Require the purchase of only “Energy Star” appliances.
-Tap city and county landfills for their methane gas.
-Buy “green electricity” through the NC Green Power program. Businesses, governments and individuals can make monthly contributions on their utility bills to go toward development of renewable energy sources such as the sun and wind.
-Require all government and corporate buildings use high performance energy efficient guidelines.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us,” Shirley said. But the biggest challenge, he added, is making the connection for people between energy and the environment.

Shirley, former director of the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University, spoke often Tuesday of developing solar and wind power, both with zero emissions.

All of the state’s utilities are participating in NC Green Power as a way to develop these “green” sources, used to supplement the power coming from nuclear plants, hydroelectric, coal-powered and natural gas-powered facilities.

Shirley said the best way to grow green power is for consumers to demand it. He highlighted a program called the Million Roofs Initiative, which hopes to get a million solar systems on roofs by 2010, and using the coastal and mountain areas to expand wind power.

Farmers could receive lease payments for having wind machines on their land, Shirley said, as an example. Nationwide, wind power is one of the fastest growing energy sources, and its costs are coming down to where it’s becoming competitive with coal.

North Carolina also has great potential for using animal waste, through anaerobic digesters in which the methane gas could be tapped as an energy source, Shirley said.

Shirley also spoke at length on “sustainable construction.” Communities must realize energy efficiency doesn’t fit with low-bid concepts. Instead, builders should be looking at the life of a project and what’s most cost-effective in relation to energy use, he said.

The state has 15 community college buildings going up that are using green-building guidelines, much like the Center for the Environment was built at Catawba College.

Shirley said the state has taken the last 18 months to focus on making its own energy-saving improvements in all state buildings.

“And, boy, what a mess,” he added.

An early energy audit has shown that the state can save at least $25 million by just making no-cost or low-cost energy improvements. State employees also are receiving training on energy conservation, and the state has set a goal of 4 percent reductions in energy costs a year over the next five years.

Shirley and John Wear Jr., director of the Center for the Environment, took time Tuesday to recognize Salisbury-based Food Lion, which will receive an Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award in March for its efforts to conserve energy.

The company has made energy improvements in more than 100 stores through changes in refrigeration, lighting, heating, cooling and tracking of utility uses.

The 550 billion BTUs the company has saved translates to taking more than 40,000 cars off the road, Wear said.

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