As noted in earlier posts, there are a great number of good eco-energy stories going on in the US and abroad. Many of these stories are grass-roots efforts or small in scope, but they are replicable elsewhere. I read about one yesterday in my home state of North Carolina (NC) which marries two of my favorite passions and concerns – alternative energy and helping those in need. A non-profit group called NC WARN (NC Waste Awareness and Reduction Network) has been around 24 years and is a huge proponent of alternative energy, climate protection and energy conservation. They have been a vigilant watchdog over the misuse of energy and have been a driver behind the push in NC to become the third most prolific state in solar energy development.
As reported in the Raleigh News and Observer earlier this week, NC WARN has donated solar panels, technology and installation services to another non-profit called Freedom House Recovery Center in Chapel Hill, a group that helps people address mental health issues and recover from substance abuse addictions. Freedom House provides services in addition to housing clients in a facility designed for both short and long term rehabilitation. NC WARN has worked in concert with a private, anonymous donor and two separate solar power installation companies – Yes!Solar Solutions and Solar Consultants. The two solar firms helped install solar panels for power and solar hot water heaters. NC WARN notes that non-profits who have significant water use are ideal candidates for such a program.
Trish Hussey, the executive director of Freedom House Recovery Center said ” This is a gift that truly keeps on giving. We anticipate that these solar energy systems will save the agency thousands of dollars each year…..and will allow at least 10 clients with severe and persistent mental illness and/ or addiction disorders to receive ongoing treatment….” A similar system installed in May at another agency is saving about $250 per month.
This is part of an overall campaign to donate solar power to non-profit facilities providing services for people in need in NC. By working with local solar installation companies, the group is promoting solar power as a solid, affordable investment for most homes and businesses, and a key element of the much needed statewide shift to climate protecting renewable energy economy. NC WARN is donating rooftop solar systems and energy efficiency upgrades to a number of service organizations including homeless shelters, group homes and rehabilitation centers.
NC WARN says high quality solar photovoltaic systems are now powering NC homes for a net investment of $6,000 to $10,000 – about the price of a used car. They note the solar hot water systems are even more affordable. And, with federal and state tax incentives the systems can be paid off in 5 to 8 years while benefiting owners for 20 to 30 years while helping the environment by decreasing greenhouse gases. With their donations of the systems and installation labor to other non-profits, they can establish several demonstration projects as well as helping the recipient agencies use more of their dollars to help their clients. You can learn more about their efforts at http://www.ncwarn.org.
I have heard people say solar power is still too expensive, but as the usage of solar energy expands, the industry continues to show cost reductions. I read earlier this year the cost of solar power has declined from $9 a watt to $3 a watt over the past few years. And, it is very conceivable to be down to $1 a watt in the near future. This is a key component of Germany’s efforts to become 80% alternative energy powered by 2030, without the use of nuclear power and Germany is ten years ahead of the US in its efforts.
I recognize the US cannot divorce itself from fossil fuels, but we need a strident plan to lessen their use beginning yesterday. There is a huge oil/ gas industry push on fracking to harvest natural gas as a solution. Fracking causes more issues than the industry lets on and, as we are seeing in Kansas, a major debate is occurring between the frackers, government and farmers over water usage during the drought. Fracking takes 4 to 6 million gallons of water per fracking well. So, more rationale debate with all of the facts and constituents needs to occur on the veracity of this approach. The fuel for solar energy is free and harnessing it continues to become more cost-effective. The same is true for wind energy, which blows heavily in many regions in the US and off its shores.
Yet, we need to enter the use of water into the debate on any approach. Water is the new oil and the impact on global warming is leading to longer and more severe droughts, which was predicted by the scientists. Solar and wind energy, as well as others energy solutions, do not require water and do not cause greenhouse gases. Any energy source, that use irreplaceable water in its efforts needs to be discounted. I use the term “irreplaceable” in that water is used in many fossil fuel approaches which burn to create steam to turn the turbines which turn the generators creating the power. Yet, that water can flow back into the system as it is not polluted. Other measures such as fracking, the water is toxic as it loaded with fracking chemicals, so it cannot and must not be intermixed into the water system.
NC WARN’s demonstration project is timely and demonstrative. We need louder voices to help share their and other like stories. And, we need to join Germany and the rest of the world in moving down the cleaner, less water intensive and less problematic energy paths.