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Doing everything on sunshine but walking: local Solar Tour

"We want to make a point that solar energy isn't just in California, but that it's all over Western Pennsylvania, in great quantities," says Evan Endres, project coordinator in PennFuture's local office. "Whatever neighborhood you're in, there's solar."
That's the reason PennFuture -- Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future -- has created the Pittsburgh Solar Tour on Oct. 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., guiding those interested in installing solar themselves, or simply in seeing creative uses, through homes and businesses in Allegheny County and beyond. A $5 ticket available online covers all the self-guided stops and the same tour Website has a full-color guide, map and smartphone app. The Solar Tour highlights 30 of the approximately 300 solar sites in the 10-county region.

"We could have put the most spectacular green homes on the tour, but that's not the experience most Pittsburghers are likely to have," says Endres. Instead, for most people, he hopes the tour lets them see homes that make them think, "'This is [like] my house. I want to go talk to the person and see how they did it.'"
Those homes may include houses featured in Mt. Lebanon and the South Hills, a first-time homeowner using solar in Point Breeze, and a South Side house turned solar -- although like two others on the tour, the residents of this small classic Pittsburgh dwelling also use their personal grid to power an electric car.
Of course, there are more elaborate and involved solar uses featured on the tour as well. Those include stops at:
  • A solar installer’s own solar house in Regent Square, which eliminates 100 percent of his electricity bill
  • A Squirrel Hill green house that features other sustainability solutions and holds monthly Sustainability Salons
  • A North Side loft that is completely green, using reclaimed materials. "That's a real standout and represents the renaissance that Pittsburgh is going through," says Endres.
  • The EECO Center (Environment and Energy Community Outreach) in the East End that offers advice on greening homes and businesses
  • A Friendship Victorian restored on the outside and retrofitted with sustainable technologies on the inside
  • An Aliquippa home honey-maker gone solar
  • Frankferd Farms Foods Inc. in Saxonburg and the Ferderber Farm and Frankferd Farms Milling in Valencia, an organic farm featuring a solar-powered milling operation, and
  • A ground-mounted solar array used for a home in Rochester
Whether you're contemplating solar for the money or planet savings, says Endres, "an event like this helps people who made this investment talk to future solar owners in the area."
Do Good: Ready to go solar yourself? Find a guide at Three Rivers Solar Source.  
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Evan Endres, PennFuture

Yinzerhood and clean energy go together, says PennFuture

Even though clean energy sources like wind and solar are everywhere, there are particularly Burgh-ish reasons to switch to them, says Tiffany Hickman, Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (or PennFuture) – and reasons not to doubt their usefulness.
“We have cloudy days here and a lot of people think that solar is not a viable energy here,” notes Hickman. Actually, she says, many local solar suppliers are getting “great results” from solar energy installations. “Wind is becoming a big thing in Pennsylvania in general,” she adds, and people throughout the state may not realize that, thanks to electricity deregulation, they can now choose to purchase 100-percent wind-powered electricity from certain companies.
That’s why PennFuture is holding the final part of their FutureFest, called “Clean Energy Matters,” on May 24 at the Phipps Conservatory. The event is geared to homeowners who want to know more about their options, students who are interested in learning more about sustainable technologies, and people in the energy industry.
Main presenter Andrea Luecke of the national Solar Foundation, which promotes sun-powered energy through education and research, will present the latest perspectives on solar use and how its implementation is getting past recent hurdles.
Local presenters include Tony Prelec of Pepco Energy Services, who will discuss the hot topics of thermal storage and landfill methane; Frank Bursic of Rentricity, who will talk about hydrokinetic energy recovery (capturing the energy created by water rushing through our pipes); and Katie Belessa of EverPower Wind, who wants you to buy local wind.
“It’s part of a sustainable future for Pennsylvania,” Hickman says. “Pennsylvania can be a very strong purveyor of wind here and set a standard for the rest of the country.”
Do Good:
Learn more about the environmental needs specific to our region at the Frick Environmental Center.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Tiffany Hickman, PennFuture

Nuclear power, weapons danger linked for Remembering Hiroshima in light of tsunami

"The question of nuclear weapons is more relevant today than ever before," says Robin Alexander. That's why the group Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace has several months of films, speakers and other gatherings this fall.

Alexander is director of international affairs for the United Electrical Workers union -- one of many local groups who make up a self-described "loose coalition of labor, peace, educational, environmental, and cultural organizations." Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace has been working to end nuclear proliferation for the past several years. "This year, for the first time, because of the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi [nuclear power] plant in Japan, we've added the issue of nuclear power," she says. Nuclear weaponry and nuclear power, she notes, "have been closely linked by young activists in Japan who we've spoken to ..." during previous Remembering events this year. "Both of them pose immense danger to a civilian population."

Set for October (all beginning at 7 p.m., and all free) are:

• A showing of Barefoot Gen 2, a 1986 anime depicting a fourth-grader working alone amid Hiroshima's ruins to try to feed his family (Oct. 2, Doherty Hall 2315, Carnegie Mellon University);

• A talk by Junko Kayashige, an artist and Hiroshima survivor. She will speak about the after-effect of her two sisters' deaths and her own radiation poisoning and burns (October 12, Porter Hall 100, Carnegie Mellon University);

• A town hall forum titled "Grappling with Nuclear Power," featuring Patricia DeMarco, director of the Rachel Carson Institute; Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C.; Larry Foulke of the University of Pittsburgh's Nuclear Engineering Certificate Program; and Gregory Reed, director of Pitt's Center for Energy (October 19: O'Hara Student Center Ballroom, Pitt, 4024 O'Hara St.).

Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace continues in November.

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Robin Alexander, Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace

Drinking on the roof: Green Building Alliance has a good excuse

"At its core it's a research study, but it's a very cool place to see and touch and demonstrate what's happening," says Aurora L. Sharrard.
What's happening is three types of solar energy technology on one roof, where the Green Building Alliance (for which Sharrard serves as director of innovation) is inviting the public on Sept. 1 to drink something cold and see something hot: Scalo Solar Solutions' Sunscape Demonstration Project. The energy-saving technology on display (and really working as part of a research project) includes five vegetative green roof systems and three types of solar cells, plus other up-and-coming energy-efficiency products.
The roof includes Solyndra -- cylindrical solar panels that absorb from all angles -- on a white roof; a thin film (sitting on top of an anti-reflective coating) that wraps around objects to absorb light; and more traditional photovoltaic cells on a black roof. Some of those cells are tilted at 25 degrees to the sun, others at 15 degrees, hoping to determine which tilt will be more efficient in generating solar power at Pittsburgh's latitude.
The site has a full weather station and data logger, and Scalo is working with a multi-university advisory team to monitor the project.
"Using your roof to generate on-site energy actually makes a lot of sense," says Sharrard. That's especially true in Pennsylvania, where coal-fired power plants are big sources of pollution.
Still, every project must make different decisions about how to proceed, which is where Scalo's roof comes in. The company is trying to determine whether a combination of technologies is better than one alone.
The Green Building Alliance is hoping to get a wider variety of people to view this experiment in action. "It's not just commercial buildings that are green buildings anymore," Sharrard notes. "It's a lot of public buildings and a lot of houses. And you don't have to be an expert to come and check out what people are doing."
There's one caution: Space is at a premium. "There is a limit," she says. "Due to the fact that it is a roof."
Do Good:
Sign up for Happy Hour on the Roof here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Aurora L. Sharrard, Green Building Alliance
Image courtesy of Green Building Alliance

Aviary's glamorous Night in the Tropics will fund education and conservation

This Saturday night, several hundred Pittsburghers will be "nose to beak" with some of the most spectacular birds at the National Aviary. "Night in the Tropics," the Aviary's annual fundraiser and "celebration of summer" is expected to draw a crowd of about 800. Guests will have full access to exhibits and "greeter birds" will serenade the crowd.

"People will be able to visit with the penguins," says director of development Jeanne Minnicks, and will be able to mingle with flamingos along the beaches of the wetlands exhibit.

Connecting visitors closely with the birds is a main focus of the Aviary. "Many exhibits are free-flight," Minnicks says. The birds are freely flying around, and "they're singing, they're mating, they're making noise with one another, interacting with guests."

The purpose of that goes beyond entertainment: "Our mission is inspiring a respect for nature through an appreciation of birds," she says, and by bringing people close to the birds "we can sort of personalize the conservation message. Because if they have a good interaction or experience, they're more likely to want to care and preserve the species and habitats. They've made a personal connection with wildlife."

Presented this year by BNY Mellon, Night in the Tropics will raise funds for the Aviary's education and wildlife conservation programs, including cutting-edge medical research that benefits birds throughout the world.

Another research at the Aviary is being funded by a recently announced grant of $193,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). That project is a detailed, multi-year study of the potential impacts of wind energy development in Pennsylvania on migratory patterns and flight behaviors of eastern golden eagles.

Locally developed, high-frequency GPS telemetry systems will be used to track the birds' location, altitude and flight speed. Researchers can then identify not only their path, but also how individual migrating golden eagles move in relation to landscapes and topography of Pennsylvania. That data will be used to predict which wind turbines will impact eagles moving through the region and identify how turbines can be constructed that would not impact the birds.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Laura Ellis/Jeanne Minnicks, National Aviary
Image posted by antaean via Flickr

Clean water news: IRRC gives drillers clear rules for protecting our drinking water

For Pittsburghers who are concerned about the environmental impact of shale drilling in our region, PennFuture's announcement last week was heartening: They publicly praised members of the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) for passing two key new regulations that are designed to protect our drinking water, streams and rivers from pollution from Marcellus Shale drilling and new development projects.

The new regulations will require drillers to treat their toxic and salt-laden wastewater to drinking water standards, if they want to dispose of it in Pennsylvania's waterways. The other rules will require some developers to maintain or create a 150-foot natural vegetative buffer beside Pennsylvania's best rivers and streams.

There will be a waiting period -- the State Senate Environment Committee has passed a resolution to delay implementation of the drilling regulations by two weeks and the House Committee has passed a motion to delay the buffer. If the committees don't disapprove of the regulations within 14 days, both will be reviewed by the Attorney General, then will be published and become law.

But according to Jan Jarrett, PennFuture's president and CEO, there is much here to celebrate: "The IRRC deserves praise for taking two giant steps in protecting safe drinking water and our rivers and streams," Jarrett said. "These updated rules give both the Marcellus Shale drillers and developers across the state a clear roadmap for water protection. Now it's time to stop any excuses, and follow the rules."

"Frankly, I'm tired of the 'Yes, buts' from the drillers, and to a lesser extent from the development community," Jarrett said in a statement about the regulations. "They always claim they want to protect our environment and economy, but then they fight against commonsense regulations requiring them to do so. And the recent drilling accidents make it clear to every Pennsylvanian that we need strong regulations in place to protect the public, workers, and natural resources."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: PennFuture
Image posted by daveynin via Flickr

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Creating jobs and saving energy: Pittsburgh Foundation's Coordinated Weatherization Campaign

Last year, the government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) increased funding for low-income homeowners interested in weatherizing their homes. Around the same time, the Pittsburgh Foundation received funding from the philanthropic consortium Living Cities to help put entry-level workers on the path to "green-collar" careers.

Jane Downing, the Pittsburgh Foundation's Senior Program Officer for Economic and Community Development, saw an opportunity to create jobs local jobs in the business of weatherizing local homes. The Coordinated Weatherization Campaign was born. Since then, the program has created a steady trickle of jobs. And it has also had a broader economic and environmental impact.

"The Coordinated Weatherization Campaign has brought a number of stakeholders together (utility companies, weatherization providers, community-based organizations, local government, foundations, etc.) in order to move toward the common goal of reduced utility bills and energy consumption, as well as comfortable, healthier homes for low-income individuals in Southwestern Pennsylvania," says Lindsay Ruprecht, Sustainable Community Development Coordinator at ACTION-Housing, Inc., which is a major provider of low-income weatherization services in the region.

"The partnerships that have come about due to the CWC have assisted with the expansion and development of other efforts focused on environmental conservation and sustainability in the region," she says. Job creation remains a goal, but an added focus is engaging low-income communities in creating strategies for reducing energy consumption and furthering grassroots communication in neighborhoods.

Although the CWC is working effectively in areas where the conversation about energy conservation had not been going on, Ruprecht says "outreach is also being coordinated along with other conservation-based organizations or networks such as the East End's Urban Green Growth Collaborative (UGGC) and the Hilltop's social service-based Hilltop Alliance."

"We are able to bring strength to the missions of energy efficiency, reduced bills and healthier, more comfortable homes by weaving all of these stakeholders and networks together. The way in which the CWC and UGGC have unified diverse interests has changed the way potential clients are learning about the program and becoming involved in both their own homes' weatherization and their neighborhoods' conservation efforts."

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Lindsay Ruprecht, ACTION-Housing
Image by Josh Franzos courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation

Clean Energy Jobs Tour ends with rally tonight at the Point

Head down to the Point tonight and you'll find a star-studded festival that focuses on "the need to create millions of clean energy 'green' jobs in America," says the office of Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Lawrenceville). The Rally for Clean Energy Jobs, which begins at 6 p.m. tonight, is the culmination of the Clean Energy Jobs Tour, which has criss-crossed the country in recent weeks. The event has a heavy-hitting list of backers: Along with Ferlo, it's sponsored by the United Steel Workers, the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Blue Green Alliance, Repower America and the AFL-CIO.

If that's not enough to convince you to brave the G-20 traffic downtown, check out the list of entertainers scheduled to appear: Da Flow Band, the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Kathy Mattea and Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers.

We're told the event is designed to showcase Pittsburgh as a natural choice for leading a clean energy jobs initiative, and its mix of "interactive entertainment and education is designed to provide a platform for the people of Pittsburgh to send a clear message to the world." Said Ferlo in a statement: "I chose to focus on advocating for this issue during the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit, because transforming our economy through alternative energy investments that modernize infrastructure and job markets should be our top priority as a nation and a planet."

The event is free and open to the public, and Repower America's LaShonda Shepherd tells me they're expecting a great turnout despite the threat of traffic and road closures.

Ferlo describes the gathering as "a family-friendly event that hopes to draw the participation and interest of every Pittsburgher."

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: LaShonda Shepherd, Repower America

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