Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surprises on the 2009 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings

Last year I took the Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings. The 2009 Tour was informative and full of surprises for me, plus I got to meet some interesting people. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I plan to go on the 2010 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings on Saturday, October 2nd, 10am-4pm.

To whet your appetite for the 2010 Tour, descriptions of three of the places that I visited last year, along with some photos, are shown below.

First stop, Depew, NY:
I wasn't sure what I was going to find at the so-called "Straw Bale House", having read the story of The Three Little Pigs and learned that straw is not necessarily the preferred building material. I was pleasantly surprised to find the beautiful home pictured above and to find out that, in addition to straw bales, wall construction included wood framing and structural insulated panels. Features of the "earth friendly" home include passive solar and radiant floor heating, solar- and gas-heated water, solar photovoltaic electricity, recycled materials and natural finishes with earthen plasters.
At the home I met the builder, David Lanfear of Bale on Bale Construction, and the architect & designer, Kevin Connors of eco_logic STUDIO, pictured at right inside the home. In recognition of their achievements, these men along with homeowner, Carrie Zaenglein, received a commendation for outstanding leadership in sustainable design from the WNY Sustainable Energy Association Trust.

Second stop, Lancaster, NY:
The photo shows part of the Global Headquarters for Ecology and Environment, Inc.. It looks like a nice place to work, doesn't it? The building interior is not only very beautiful, it is energy efficient and environmentally friendly. In recognition of these and other features of the building, E&E Inc. has been awarded a Platinum designation from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Upon entering the building, visitors can meet ED, the "Earth Day" buffalo, and will see extensive, plant-filled atriums. My tour was led by Robert Gibson, who explained all of the eco-friendly features of the building. Windows open and close automatically depending upon the outside temperature. Solar panels on the roof are linked to a "GreenMeter" that monitors the building's usage of electricity and natural gas as well as the outside temperature. In the parking lot, there is an area reserved for car pool, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Third stop, Buffalo, NY:
The smallest building I visited housed the biggest surprises. The building is an adobe and straw bale greenhouse warmed by the sun and located on Buffalo's West Side, as part of the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). Inside I saw elevated shelves of various green plants, a myriad of pipes and heard the sounds of dripping water. Looking down at the floor level I saw a large water tank filled with fish...lots of fish. What's going on here?

I met the person in charge, Jesse Meeder, who explained that the system is called "aquaponics". The fish eat duckweed and other small plants grown inside the greenhouse, and they live in rain water collected on site. The waste water produced by the fish is pumped up to the green plants to fertilize them. The plants thrive on the waste and, at the same time, clean up the water which is then returned to the fish. Brilliant! A more-or-less self-sustaining eco-system, requiring only a small amount of electricity for the pumps.

Meeder built the system himself using available materials and a small budget. Thinking that Meeder was some sort of bio-engineering grad, I asked him what his major was in college. "English" was his reply. Hmmm, I thought, clearly a Renaissance man!

Last year when I saw the fish, called tilapia, they were tiny. When grown to full size, around 10 inches, there is a market for the fish, and Meeder already had advance orders from restaurants. There is a market for the greens, like parsely, lettuce, and watercress too. Meeder also mentioned plans to expand the operation. Sounded like the makings for not only a good neighbor but also an environmentally-friendly, local business growing on Buffalo's West Side.

Plan to Attend the 2010 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings:
Saturday, October 2nd, 10am-4pm.
The tour is sponsored by the WNY Sustainable Energy Association.
For a List of Homes & Buildings for the 2010 Tour, click here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

People want EPA to Protect Drinking Water

Well water contamination has occurred after gas drilling started
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public meetings in Binghamton NY on Sept. 13 & 15 to hear testimony about possible adverse impacts on drinking water caused by gas drilling using a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". The EPA held a series of such meetings in several states to hear not only from concerned citizens, but also independent experts and industry.

Hundreds of concerned citizens came to express their views in two minute speeches over the course of four meetings in upstate NY. Many demonstrated outside the meeting hall and held placards, as in the photo (courtesy of NRDC.org), and one man carried a jug of fouled drinking water labeled "Dimock, PA", a town where well water contamination has terrified and angered residents who believe that fracking is the cause. Some residents have clear evidence of natural gas in their water since it is flammable and they can ignite their tap water.

The gas industry, on the other hand, has repeatedly declared that the drilling process is safe and has caused no contamination of drinking water. At they same time, they have refused to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, and thus any chemical contamination of drinking water can not be traced to their drilling sites.

Using a new horizontal drilling process, companies are drilling up to 16 horizontal wells from a single vertical well. With as many as 5 million gallons of water per horizontal well, up to 80 million gallons of water are used at each site. Thousands of sites are anticipated, elevating the concern of local residents.

Some of the many questions that the public wants answered are: where the companies are getting the large quantities of water, where the chemically-treated waste water goes, what chemicals are used, what will happen to the waste water that remains underground, and how will the waste water that is returned to the surface be cleaned up?

"There's a big difference between a 100,000 gallon hydrofrack and a three million to five million gallon hydrofrack," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He warned that the Northeast probably lacks the capacity to clean up the chemical-laden hydrofracking fluids. "Water in New York State is the most precious resource we have and we can't afford to contaminate it," he said.

The gas industry says that the chemicals are only present in trace quantities, 0.5% of the water. What they do not say, however, is that 0.5% of 80 million gallons of water per well is a very big number. 80 million gallons of water = 640 million pounds, so by weight, 0.5% equates to 3.2 Million pounds of chemicals! Some of the known chemicals are carcinogenic. How much of these chemicals end up in the drinking water of local residents?

"The EPA's study of hydrofracking will be crucial to understanding the gap between the thousands of reported contamination cases and the gas industry's denials of culpability," said Roger Downs, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "We are confident that a scientific analysis of drilling will demonstrate that fracking, as it is currently practiced, is unsafe."

U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said the study must be "Unbiased and comprehensive, and EPA must get out into the field to understand what is happening and what must be done to protect water supplies and health. EPA must not be influenced by industry or politics, as they were in 2004, and ensure the study is carried out in the public interest."

The 2005 U.S. Energy Act exempted the gas industry from key federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, leaving permitting authority to individual states. The current hearings are a first step in putting the industry under the oversight of the federal government and EPA regulations, and people feel that the gas industry is now in a rush to obtain drilling permits prior to federal control.

The people simply want to know the truth about drinking water contamination by fracking. If fracking is as safe as the gas industry says, they should not be in a rush to drill and should allow the EPA time to determine the truth. If it is not safe, either the process needs to be altered so that it is safe, or else it has to be banned.

To get a feel about what people are going through, listen to some long-time residents of Dimock PA tell their stories about well water contamination which occurred only after the gas drilling started nearby.

There is much to be learned before proceeding with fracking in NY state, and we are fortunate that the EPA has undertaken the task. New Yorkers are also fortunate that the state Senate has passed a bill for a drilling moratorium. However, the bill still needs passage by the state Assembly. To take action, contact Assembly Speaker Silver and your Assembly member by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Buildings Open House

SATURDAY, October 2, 2010
Western NY Sustainable Energy Association

Tour Solar Homes and Green Buildings

[Click image to enlarge]

List of Homes & Buildings in the Buffalo area, click here.

Website: www.nesea.org/greenbuildings

Click Here to view an updated flyer.

Contacts: jkbozer@gmail.com or enarcht@gmail.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

McKibben to Return Historic Solar Panel to White House

Environmentalist and author, Bill McKibben, together with coordinators of the climate activist group, 350.org, came up with an interesting idea to re-boot the shift to clean energy at our nation's capitol by challenging President Obama to put solar panels back on the White House!

President Jimmy Carter, saddled with an energy crisis, not only created the Department of Energy, but also demonstrated his energy leadership in a practical way: by installing solar panels on the roof of the White House. That was 31 years ago!

President Carter wanted to show that America could harness “the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.” Sound familiar? Sadly, we remain cripplingly dependent on foreign oil to this day.

After the solar thermal panels were taken down and warehoused during the Reagan administration, Unity College in Maine salvaged them and installed them at the college, where they continued to produce hot water for the next thirty years. Unity College agreed to donate one of the solar panels back to the White House, in the hope that it will spur President Obama to pick up where Carter left off.

McKibben and Unity College students set out on September 7 in a bio-diesel-powered truck on a journey to Washington DC. Rallies were planned in Boston and NY City along the way. They will arrive in DC on Friday, September 10, and present the solar panel at the White House.

But that's not all: the solar company, Sungevity, has offered to donate a massive, brand new solar array to generate electricity. According to McKibben, there's no definitive answer from the White House. They say they're "interested," but that it's "complicated."

So the question is, will Obama permit the White House to go Green?

McKibben's 350.org group is also organizing a Global Work Party on October 10, 2010...i.e., 10/10/10. They are asking if we can help by registering events in our community to encourage others to "Get to Work on 10/10/10!" or by attending events. The group wishes to send President Obama and all politicians a clear message: we're getting to work, now it's time for you to do your part.

For some Ideas for 10/10/10 Events, click here.
There are so many related projects in place or in the plans for Buffalo, that I'm sure people could come up with many events. Solar panels on City Hall?

Save the Date: November 13, 2010
Bill McKibben will speak in Buffalo at the Environmental Congress sponsored by the WNY Environmental Alliance.

Recently, Bill McKibben appeared on the Letterman show to talk about climate change, putting solar back on the White House, and organizing the Global Work Party on 10/10/10. Check it out here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Shale Gas: Boon or Bane?

South and east of Buffalo, and deep underground, lies the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation recently found to be rich in natural gas [click image to enlarge]. It is a largely untapped gas reserve that could be a boon to the economy. However, extracting shale gas requires a controversial method, called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, that could be an environmental bane and a threat to human health.

Fracking differs
radically from the method used to safely extract natural gas from conventional wells. Fracking requires drilling vertically a mile deep, passing through the aquifer and threatening drinking water. Horizontal drilling is then done for up to several thousand feet, and so the well drilled vertically on one persons property could end up underneath other properties. The process further requires over one million of gallons of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals. Applying pressure to this mixture underground leads to fracturing of the shale, thereby releasing the gas trapped in the rock formations, along with polluted waste water.

Locations in states that have used the fracking process have reported over a thousand cases of drinking water contamination and other evidence of pollution. The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation analyzed wastewater extracted from wells and found levels of a radioactive element up to 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.

A moratorium on fracking in New York state has been called for by citizen groups and student activists, and by a bill sponsored by Sen. Antoine Thompson.
Fracking is also under study by the Environmental Protection Agency and is under investigation by U.S. Congressional committees.

The EPA will hold public meetings in Binghamton NY on September 13 & 15.

An excellent two-part article by Jerry Zremski was published in The
Buffalo News on Sept. 5 & 6, 2010. The first part, Motherlode of gas is fractious pursuit, describes the impact of shale gas fracking in Pennsylvania, in terms of its effects on the economy, the land owners, communities and the landscape. The second part, Amid drilling for clean fuel, why does water go bad?, focuses on environmental hazards and drilling violations associated with fracking.

Stay informed about the impacts of fracking on the environment, economy and public health. Let the Governor and your NY State representatives know how you feel about using the method of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

See some of the many reasons why people are concerned about fracking in a video trailer of the documentary film, GASLAND, shown below. The film by Josh Fox was selected as Best U.S. Documentary Feature at Sundance 2010. Fox traveled across 32 states to meet other rural residents, like himself, who are on the front lines of fracking. He discovered toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, and brutal illnesses...also, a kitchen sink faucet that emits flammable gas!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Corporate Recycling and ReUse on the Rise

Buffalo ReUse teams up with M&T Bank to REUSE green plaza stone

Buffalo, NY. M&T Bank is the most recent corporate citizen to embrace the green movement in Buffalo. With the rehabilitation of One M&T Plaza well underway, M&T Bank has teamed up with Buffalo ReUse, Inc. to donate and reuse over 12,000 square feet of Vermont Green Patio Stones.

Senior Vice President for Corporate Services, Keith Belanger stated, “The donation and reuse of the stone from the Plaza underscores the commitment of our bank to being an environmentally conscious corporate citizen. For us, our collaboration with Buffalo ReUse demonstrates our commitment to making a difference in the world around us. It's what 'being green' is all about.”

In the coming weeks, you'll notice a lot of activity around One M&T Plaza in downtown Buffalo, NY. M&T Bank has planned and initiated multi-year project to rehabilitate the Plaza at One M&T Plaza. The Vermont Green Stone will be replaced with a granite. The estimated completion date for the project is October 2011.

Buffalo ReUse Contact: Michael Gainer, 949-0900, buffaloreuse@gmail.com

M&T Bank Contact: Chet Bridger, 842-5182