Saturday, February 20, 2010

Suggestions for Our Book of the Month?

Almost the end of February (already!). That means March will soon arrive and with that a new Book of the Month.

I could throw something out there, but I would rather our readers have a voice. It's a bit old school to try and get book discussions going -- especially virtually -- but I'm a firm believer in the power of books to open new doors.

So, any good "green" book ideas?

For a little inspiration, you may want to consider the Top 10 Books on the Environment for 2010 from Book List Online. (Thanks, Kathy!)

And remember, when you're ready to read tap into our Ocean State Inter-library Loan system through Essex/Union. Why buy when you can borrow?

[Image Credit: bluemaria via flikr]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Coming off the Avatar post I’ve been doing quite a bit of catching up on deep ecology. Through our inter-library loan program, I picked up a wonderful book, “Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings.” It’s a collection of small essays by thought leaders in the deep ecology movement.

While I could write a post on any and all the points discussed in the book, there is one presented by John Seed that has struck a chord with me that I would like to share.

It is about perspective.

Up to now, the modus operandi for most of the green movement has been about protecting the environment in a way that sets humans apart from it. Like we sit outside the eco-sphere some how and in our classic anthropocentric way, need to save it for future use by us. At the end of the day, nature, the environment, and everything within the biosphere exists for the sole purpose of meeting our needs.

Now, what if you were to turn all that inside out? What if the human perspective shifted from one of being apart and above the environment to being an integral part of it? The human species as just another organism in the intricate tapestry of life here on Earth – no more special than any other that breathes the air, drinks the water, lives, dies, and passes its energy on to the next living thing.

So instead of working so hard to protect the environment as some stand-alone entity, we, as being one with the environment, would be working to save ourselves from our own self-destruction.

That’s a game changer, isn’t it?

The analogy of using a 24-hour day to track the 4.5 billion year lifespan of the planet is one that resonates well with people. It is used in “Thinking Like a Mountain”, but in context of the other writings within it is more powerful than ever. Not to spoil it, but modern-day humans only come on the scene at 11:59:59 PM.

Yet, in that one proverbial second, we have systematically eradicated much of the natural resources that came to be in the last several billon years: Mined, drilled, cut, dug, burned, flooded, and pumped the carbon lifeblood on or below the surface; cultivated, bred, factory farmed, genetically altered, and/or drove to extinction that life which grew, swam, slithered, walked, or flew above the crust. We have designed ways to all but eliminate our species from existence with the touch of a button.

When you take a step back and try to look holistically at the trajectory we’re on, it’s questionable what the end of this ride will bring.

But could a shift in perspective on the grandest of scales change that trajectory? How possible is such a notion? Look around at everything happening in front of you: The people, the places, the “problems”. How could such a shift in perspective – in consciousness – even take root, let alone thrive and bear fruit when there are so many day-to-day distractions?

The obvious answer: One person at a time. I just don’t know if there is enough time left to reach all 6.8 billion of us that call this little corner of the solar system home.

So what would you do – how far would you go – to save yourself?

[Image: jasontheaker via flikr]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eco-Industrial Park Presents Its Case

This past Wednesday evening about twenty-five people attended the Tiverton Economic Development Committee’s regularly-scheduled meeting to hear first-hand where the proposed 650-acre “green” development was in its evolution. While the crowd gathered inside the Judson Street Community Center was small, it was far from silent.

Attending on behalf of The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Cooperative (RIREC), the energy systems development wing of the eCo Industrial Park, was CEO Gerald V. Felise, VP of Energy James P. Sweeney, and lead consultant Andrew C. Dzykewicz.

The formal presentation was part vision, part education, but mainly a sales pitch to the town. While prior media coverage of the project has touted the master plan for this development – complete with commercial, residential, and energy production components – the RIREC team focused solely on the latter on Wednesday night. As they put it, if the first phase of the project (energy systems development) can’t move forward, there is no value in the rest.

The driving force behind the RIREC is the allure of what could be a lucrative renewable energy facility boom in the East Bay area thanks to the recently formed East Bay Energy Consortium. Currently comprised of Bristol, Warren, Barrington, East Providence, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton, Middletown and Newport, the Consortium aims to basically develop renewable energy facilities in bulk, and then reap the resulting energy production benefits by leveraging current net metering laws. Such laws allow municipalities to be paid (by National Grid) the full delivered price for energy produced at town-owned facilities up to a certain limit.

The resulting RIREC business model is relatively simple: Aggregate all Consortium-related development into one location to take advantage of economies of scale and keep development costs at a minimum. Finance, build and maintain the facility for participating EBEC member municipalities at no upfront cost to the towns. National Grid then purchases the energy from the Consortium members at a fixed rate. In turn, Consortium members contract with RIREC and pay a set of monthly fees for lease of the energy equipment, ongoing operations and management of the facility, and an overall management. Some of these fees are fixed, others variable.

What is on the table for this Tiverton location is a multi-faceted energy systems development comprised of approximately twelve 2-megawatt turbines, 24 megawatt’s worth of photovoltaic solar panels, and 96-megawatts of energy storage capability. Spread out over the entire 650-acre footprint, these elements will only occupy about 10 percent of the total land area. According to data gathered by RIREC, these combined energy systems will generate 83,522 megawatts of electricity when fully operational.

The turbines would be built first, aided by on-site manufacturing of the towers in to-be constructed facilities. Of particular note was the claim from RIREC that these towers would be constructed out of a new, lightweight carbon fiber instead of the traditional steel. Details about this were scant, only that RIREC was currently in discussions with a company for licensing this technology.

What does Tiverton get with this deal? According to the high-level financials provided, as host to the project the town stands to gain significant amounts of revenue through annual corporate contributions from RIREC, property taxes, operating income from the energy production units, and indirect income gained through activities related to the construction phase such as jobs and in-town business spending. All total, revenue over the life of the project is slated to be around $23 million. If it also participates as part of the Consortium, Tiverton stands to gain an additional $669,000 in revenue annually for at least twenty years through net metering.

If such dollar signs didn’t make the deal sweet enough, RIREC delivered the equivalent of icing on the green economy cake with the promise of sourcing jobs to Tiverton residents and businesses first. What could not be filled in Tiverton would then be sourced out to participating Consortium members.

The price tag for all of this: About $120 million according to RIREC. The entire amount will be privately funded and is in place. All that is required to move forward with construction is the review and approval of the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board (and the subsequent signing of all those contracts and related paperwork). According to RIREC, this decision is slated for April 16, 2010. And while the project does not need the permission of the Town of Tiverton to move forward, having the Town issue a statement of partnership would greatly add to the collaborative model RIREC is hoping to forge with Consortium members. The project has already been endorsed by Governor Carcieri.

All that said, those in attendance peppered the three RIREC executives with plenty of questions. From clarifying wind data to pressing the validity of the stated financials to calling bluff on RIREC’s claim that the entire project could be online and operational by the end of 2010. Not shying away from the robust Q & A, the executives did their best to quell the curiosity. Only the facilitation of Tiverton Economic Development Committee members kept the discussion from lingering on.

At the conclusion of the presentation, members of the Tiverton Economic Development Committee stated that they would deliberate on the discussion and consult with the Town Council on how best to move forward.

My personal thoughts: On paper, it is quite a sell. As a strong proponent of renewable energy development I have a natural bias. But this is big – really big – with the potential for more ups and downs than this small town is used to. But that’s no reason to not continue the exploration and dialogue.

Unanswered questions in my mind include: How will claims by RIREC to keep much of the 650 acres in conservancy play out over the course of the entire multi-phase development? What is the potential impact to the Stafford Pond area on the eastern edge of the acreage? How will the town weigh the potential risk of lower energy prices (which would chip away at the revenue it stands to gain) in its deliberations?

Enough of what I think? What do you have to say?

If you’re interested in PDF copies of the RIREC presentation of business case, email me and I’ll send them to you.

(Photo Credit: Evan McKern via Flikr,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Proposed Eco-Development to get Public Hearing This Thursday

Remember the proposal for a massive 650-acre "eco-development" off of Fish Road that hit the papers in late 2008?

Well, the developer is attending this week's Economic Development Committee meeting and presenting his updated plan. The public is invited to listen and ask questions. Details:

Tiverton Economic Development Committee Meeting
Thursday, February 11, 6:00 PM
Location: Tiverton Community Center, Judson Street

(Thanks to Garry for the heads-up on this.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

January Poll Results; February Poll Launches

In classic fashion, I'm once again late with the poll update. That said, January's poll results were fantastic -- thank you to everyone who took the time to lend their voice.

We asked: What should the top sustainable community agenda items be in 2010?

Education & Engagement topped this list, followed closely by Renewable Energy Investment and Agriculture & Food. In the middle of the pack was Local Economic Development. Rounding out the list with only a few votes were Land Preservation, Transportation Alternatives and Zoning & Related Planning.

While I try to plan some sort of face-to-face gathering in the Tiverton/Little Compton area, you may be interested in checking out one a these local "education & engagement" resources:
  • UMASS Dartmouth's Sustainability Office has an amazing spring line up of events. From films to speakers to workshops, there is a lot of great work going on over there. (Thanks to Nate over at for the heads-up.)

  • The Green Drinks series continues in Newport and Providence. These monthly gatherings bring good food, good drink, and great conversation together in a nice neat package.
Now, on to February's poll.

This month, we're asking about steps you are taking to save energy (and money) at home. With the thick of winter upon us, furnaces firing, and the electric meter spinning, there is never a better time to take some simple steps to make your home more energy efficient.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The "Pay As You Throw" Prep List

Well, it’s coming: Pay As You Throw (PAYT).

With the Tiverton Town Council voting to implement PAYT as a tactic for extending the life of our landfill, boosting municipal recycling rates, and putting away funds for the eventual capping, folks from across town are undoubtedly going to get themselves in a tizzy over it.

According to the Sakonnet Times article last week, we won't see the program start for months while all the details are worked out. That should give everyone plenty of time to get ready. To help, I have taken the liberty to throw together an unofficial list of things you can do to prepare. Good luck!

Number One: Get Educated

Municipalities across the country (including several in RI) have been implementing PAYT programs with success. The U.S. EPA has a great website with all the ins and outs. Or read this great article covering all the pros and cons along with lots of impressive stats.

Number Two: Buy Less

The less you have, the less you have to figure out how to throw away. Take PAYT as that opportunity to start doing more with less, differentiating between ‘need’ and ‘want’, and reducing all that clutter in your life. Need some motivation? Watch the Story of Stuff.

Number Three: Get on the Freecycle Bandwagon

For all that stuff that is still in good shape and could use a second life with someone else, there is freecycling. We are signed up with the Yahoo! Group Freecycle Newport. With thousands of area people using it, you’re bound to find someone who wants your stuff.

Number Four: Pre-Cycle
When you shop, look for packaging that can be recycled. Glass, aluminum, Number 1 and 2 plastics, and paper-based materials can land in your blue and green bins instead of your trash barrel. And remember that buying in bulk can also cut down on the amount of packaging you consume.

Number Five: Start a Compost Pile
Around twenty-five percent of household waste is organic material (e.g., vegetable and non-meat food scraps, lawn and garden clippings, etc.) and can be composted. The whole brown-and-green-layering thing couldn’t be easier and the end result (compost) is the absolute best thing you could ever put in your garden. Check out this great composting resource from URI to learn more.

Number Six: Seize the Teachable Moment with Your Kids

If you haven’t already given your kids the Recycling 101 class, now is the time. Our experience is that the sooner you show kids how to separate recyclables from trash, and tell them why we do it, the sooner they will be helping you without your asking. Make a game out it. Fun stuff rocks.

Number Seven: Get to Know Your Neighbors
Not so long ago, we actually talked with our neighbors. That led to all sorts of great things: From borrowing a cup of sugar to lending a hand with the kids to keeping an eye on each other’s house when you weren’t around. Neighbors use to let each other borrow things big and small. History could repeat itself here. Remember the magic equation: Borrow More = Buy Less = Throw Less Out.