Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New American Agenda

Last night, President Obama outlined a new American agenda with special emphasis on three areas critical to the well-being of the citizenry - energy, health care, and education.

In reference to a sustainable energy policy, Mr. Obama remarked:

"It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."

Click here for a transcript of the entire address courtesy of Talking Points Memo, or watch the speech in its entirety on C-SPAN.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Green Stimulus

What's green in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009? The Sierra Club Allegheny Group compiled a list of funding for sustainable projects and initiatives.

• $4.5 billion for the
repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology
• $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid
• $6.3 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants
• $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program
• $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research
• $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced battery systems and components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States.
• $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects.
• $1 billion for energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses, transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances.
• $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
• $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity Rail.
• $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs — especially those improving energy efficiency.
• $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects.
• $6 billion is directed towards environmental cleanup of former weapon production and energy research sites.
• $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements.
• $1.2 billion for EPA’s nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.
• $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.
• $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas.
• $650 million for US Forest Service Capital Improvement and Maintenance to be used for road maintenance and decommissioning, deferred maintenance work, abandoned mine clean up, and other related critical habitat, forest improvement, and watershed enhancement projects.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

White Roofs Cool the World

Arthur Rosenfeld, California's energy commissioner, is advocating painting the town white.

"Everybody who's ever walked on a roof knows if it's white it will only heat up maybe ten degrees above ambient temperature. If it's some nice architectural green or terracotta tiles or whatever, it can heat up to eighty degrees above room temperature. So a white roof reflects solar radiation back into space where it's transparent, where it belongs, and a dark roof traps heat and contributes to the greenhouse effect."

Rosenfeld points out that this is not a new environmental technology. Greeks painted their roofs and whole buildings white 2000 years ago, and Pharaohs whitewashed their roofs 5000 years ago.

The numbers:

"For 1,000 square feet which is like half the area of your house, a white roof as opposed to a dark roof cools the world enough to offset the heating effects of ten tons of carbon dioxide. That's like two and a half years of emissions from your family car... If white roofs took over the world or the urban world over a twenty year program, we would save twenty five billion tons of CO2, which is the same as turning off the whole world's emissions of CO2 for one year."

Click here for a summary on how white roofs cool the earth.

And for an interview with Commissioner Rosenfeld, click on this link for PRI's Living on Earth segment entitled Painting the Town White.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Green Retrofit

Green design is not just for new buildings. This 100+ year old structure has been enhanced with a series of green building technologies including new energy-efficient mechanical systems and lighting, operable windows resulting in a savings of over $1000 per month on energy costs.

This spring, the solar panels and green roof will be installed. Most of the green roof is a low-maintenance roof using indigenous plants and wildflowers that grow heartily without the need for constant supervision. (Think about the plants you see along the highway that grow just fine without being watered by anyone except mother nature.)

We've carved out a 30' x 90' section for a roof garden and "fair-weather classroom" for the five-and-under year old students served by the agency.

The solar panels will supplement the facility's power needs. The amount of power generated will depend on the level of funding generated for the project over the next few months. In the end, this building will not be entirely energy self-sufficient, but close.

BeauSoleil: Open House

A report from the field:

Things have been very busy and progressing well for the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home. Not only are we scheduled for three upcoming events:

March 21 AIA Sporting Clay Tournament
April 4 Bike for BeauSoleil (Bike Tour)
June 5 AGC Golf Tournament

So, not only are we building a sustainable home, but we are promoting healthy and sustainable living as well! Most importantly of the events, though is our upcoming March 4th "BUILDING BEAUSOLEIL." At this event, we will have a blessing of the shell (fabricated by Lousiana System Built Homes) and community leaders and supporters of the BeauSoleil project will post our building permit.

The Solar installation on Madison Hall's rooftop has also been completed and companies such as LUS and Global Data Systems as well as University President Dr. Savoie were walked through the 2nd grid tied system in Lafayette.

The house has been delivered to the BeauSoleil warehouse and the feeling is truly amazing. All team members have been working so hard, and its amazing to see the support and excitement building so rapidly for the project. This is a huge milestone for the us, and motivation to continue pushing on this path to success!

Catherine Guidry, TEAM BeauSoleil

Thursday, February 12, 2009

BeauSoleil: Wall Panels

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website. And check out a short film about the project.

A report from the field:

TEAM Beusoleil has been very busy in the last week!

The momentum is building as the TEAM positions itself to WIN the 2009 Solar Decathlon. Huge strides were made in the last week on the construction front. With the programming of the CNC router completed, students headed to St. Martinville to begin the cutting of the actual walls of the house. The complex design of the BeauSoleil tested the equipment, but the knowledgeable staff at Louisiana System Built Homes are truly professionals and had little trouble making everything go smoothly (thanks Kirt).

The panel cutting was completed Monday with panel assembly beginning Tuesday, once again the collaboration of U.L.L. students and LASBH staff proved to be successful and assembly of panels was completed Wednesday afternoon. Erection of the walls on the completed base is set to begin Thursday morning. Erection of the walls on the completed base is set to begin first thing Thursday morning.

This process allows for the collaboration of students with a third crew – the framing crew – to complete the final stage of construction to be done at LASBH. Then the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home will begin its journey to Lafayette and finally to the BeauSoleil world headquarters for final assembly. The remaining panels for the roof will be cut the end of this week at LASBH with roof assembly happening in Lafayette next week.

TEAM BeauSoleil would like to thank all of the folks at LASBH for their patience and expertise. They are truly a team and a great example of how to work together.

Jeremy Credeur, TEAM BeauSoleil

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"The Party Now is Over"

Obama on stimulus. Check out the news conference in its entirety. The link to C-Span.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Senate Ax

The effectiveness of the stimulus package was significantly neutered in the latest version of the US Senate's proposed bill. For the sake of enticing 3 members of the minority party to support the bill, the leadership went along with cutting the life rope to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people looking for jobs.

Some of the cuts:

$40 billion to shore up distressed cities, towns, and states after years of less-than-the-minimum funding. New infrastructure and planning projects (as well as routine maintenance) have been on hold for years awaiting adequate funding. Now, with light at the end of the tunnel, an army of planners, contractors, material suppliers, laborers (and the families and businesses they would potentially support) may have their hopes dashed.

$3.5 billion from an initiative that will retrofit public buildings for energy-efficiency creating jobs in the short term and saving the citizenry money well into the future.

$16 billion from school construction and modernization. Again, this is a huge job creator. There is plenty of pent-up demand as schools have also been chronically underfunded in recent years.

$1 billion from Early Headstart. This, I can attest to personally. The local Headstart agency, a client of mine, is planning an Early Learning Center. The demand is there, and studies universally show that added attention at this critical age (zero to three) makes a monumental difference in the lives of those served and everyone they touch. If you want to place this in pure economic terms, children served by Early Headstart are far more likely to be productive, taxpaying citizens, thus reducing the burden on taxpayers that the ax-wielders say they say they want. (By the way, I look at this as a human issue, not an economic equation; the economics just happen to work out in the favor of the taxpayer on this one). In addition to job creation in my own office, hundreds of people will gain some level of employment from the project in the planning, construction, and operation of this needed facility.

For a list of the Senate's proposed cuts, link to this CNN story. Let's hope, for the economic health of the nation, that support where needed will not be lost to the same old starvation ideology that got us into the dire straits we're experiencing today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Stimulating Proposition

Yesterday, in a show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed a 10% tax credit (capped at $15,000) for purchasing a home. The bill was presented by Republican Georgia Senator and former real estate agent Johnny Isakson. Sen. Isakson referenced the homebuyer tax credit during the recession of 1974 - then $2,000 - remarking:

“Within one year of the inception of that tax credit, two-thirds of the available inventory that was on the market was gone. The market moved back to a balanced inventory, values stabilized and things became very healthy. The only reason I know all of that is I was selling houses in 1974, that’s what I was doing to feed my family and make a living.”

This points out just how integral a housing market is to employment. It's not just construction workers who are pinched by stagnant home sales; designers, real estate agents, material suppliers, home inspectors, title companies, and all involved in the cycle of housing our citizenry take a hit.

And, I know from experience that it is supremely challenging to build an affordable home these days. Add some progressive innovation, let's say a solar electric system, and phantom costs of getting the contractor, and for that matter the architect (including this one) "up to speed" on the technology comes into play.

Fifteen grand would certainly compensate for the gap in the actual cost and market cost in the delivery of affordable housing. The cap at $15,000 is, I believe, a very wise move that supports the creation of reasonably sized and priced homes. A McMansion costing $1.5 million to build would only recognize a 1% savings, while a home costing $150,000 or less would realize the full 10%.

Read a NYT story on the program here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BeauSoleil: Dream to Reality

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website. And check out a short film about the project.

A report from the field:

Our warehouse will soon be filling up fast with construction now taking place on the exterior deck structure and materials arriving daily as the SIP shell and completed floor deck are slated to arrive within two weeks. Our Cypress cladding is being selected from a local lumber yard this week and going to be milled to a profile designed by the TEAM that incorporates a regionally historical milling process. This profile of wood, according to a Cypress expert of 60 years has been lost for some time but we plan on changing that as it works perfectly with our passive cladding system. The Cypress should be in the warehouse within the next two weeks along with a breathable membrane system being applied to the SIP panels of the home. The operable windows should be making their debut here in the next 3 weeks. The exterior decking which will highlight the dogtrot and Nana wall door system has just been secured as of today and we look forward to its arrival since we are going to use the drop material from the milling process as an integral part of the interior cabinetry and countertops. The dogtrot roof assembly for the solar water heating system is well on its way to completion as the final details are being hashed out with a local sheet metal manufacturing expert.

It is amazing to see the project transform from lines on paper to an actual home with over a years worth of hard work and research. There is truly no greater way to learn and teach sustainability than to experience a project like this from a student standpoint. The new wave of student TEAM members pouring themselves into the project only cements this fact. It is not often that a project like this comes along in a student career that allows you to learn by doing and has the ability to impact public awareness. The buzz is picking up as the fruits of our labor are being constructed, so check back next week for the latest.

Christopher R. Leger

TEAM BeauSoleil

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Natural Light

Clerestory windows in Larry Thomas' garage.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tripple Word Score

This week's newspaper article:

Debate over the national stimulus plan is coming to a head. The proposal - yet to be passed by both bodies of Congress and signed into law by the President – stands as a combination of tax cuts and funding for projects designed to create jobs.

Tax cuts are a foregone conclusion; we can all use a few extra dollars in our pockets.

But some, singing the tired old song that “the best government is the least government,” have suggested that any attempt to stimulate the economy through job creation at the federal level is destined to fail. They say that any money spent on job creation by the federal government is just throwing money away. Thus, the remedy for an ailing national economy involves permanent tax cuts. Period.

In other words, “more of the same, only more of it.” Those people must be terrible Scrabble players.

In the classic board game, the way to score big is by targeting the bonus squares and creating as many words as possible in as many directions as possible in one move.

Scrabble is a two dimensional game. Looking for opportunities to make a play that is both sideways and up-and-down is a winning strategy. Thinking one-dimensionally, meaning every word stands alone, puts a cap on the effectiveness, and almost always results in the bottom end of the score.

Let’s look at a couple of the proposals at play.

The plan calls for weatherizing millions of homes, putting Americans to work in every part of the nation. These jobs, unlike many over the past few years, cannot be outsourced to China.

The bonus? Buildings suck up almost half the energy we use in this country. Inefficient buildings are the worst culprits. Once weatherized, homeowners save money each month on their energy bills (adding up to a tidy sum by the end of the year), and the country is less dependent on dirty and foreign sources of energy.

The proposed stimulus package calls for the construction of the first phase of a national energy “smart grid.” Just like the railroads of the nineteenth century, the interstate highways of the mid-twentieth century, and the Internet of late, this new infrastructure will foster millions of well-paying jobs for decades to come.

The added dimension? Once the smart grid is in place, homegrown renewable energy can be transported from renewable hotspots –wind in the Midwest, solar in the Southeast – all across the country resulting in permanent American jobs, energy security, a clean environment, and lower energy costs for all Americans.

When government proposals are one-dimensional, they may very well be destined for failure. But all of the major proposals by the Administration have multiple dividends, and once accomplished, serve a valuable purpose well into the future.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect President Obama is a very good Scrabble player.