If all counties were Arlington … we’d be Energy Smart …

There are good examples out there, of places and areas which are moving on a path toward a better tomorrow, who are taking the steps to Energize America.

Arlington County, Virginia , in sight of the US Capitol and home of Arlington Cemetary and The Pentagon, is one of those communities.

Paul Ferguson, the County Board Chairman, announced his objectives with his inaugral speech, with the key section:

My special focus this year is on the environment.

Let’s take a quick look at that focus and how it is going.

Again, Ferguson’s inaugral speech sets out some worthy elements:

My Chairman’s initiative will focus on steps that Arlington can take to improve the environment and save money on energy costs in future years.

This is something very much in line with the core principles and values of EA2020 (as discussed in Energize America Yearly Kos 2006 presentation: Pt 4: Principles and Exemplary Acts).  Let us start, quite seriously, with figuring out how to make the right choice, the easy choice. 

From my perspective, we can go quite a long way to ameliorating Global Warming and moving away from fossil fuel in ‘cost effective’ (even profitable) ways, even before considering the very serious free ride (some call this externalities) given to polluting energy.  Energy efficiency, quite simply, is quite straightforward, is profitable, but is quite complex.  But, pursuing it will be cost effective (even, can we say, profitable) for the taxpayers.

This is a critical element of EA2020’s Energy Smart Communities Act (pdf) (see, also, the discussion Energize America and Good Governance): to help local government’s move toward a sustainable energy structure … but this is also to help move the situation forward.

In terms of motivation, it is interesting to note that Ferguson (a long-time environmentalist (past head of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment)) states that he was driven to this inititiative by seeing An Inconvenient Truth

Our climate is changing, and that change is causing harm. The question is, what can each of us do to slow the trend and eventually reverse it?

What are some of the targets Ferguson set?

To achieve this goal, Arlington will take the following steps in the coming year:

* Expand our commitment to renewable energy sources by increasing the purchase of wind-generated electricity to 5% of the County Government’s total electricity use in 2007, compared with 3% currently.

* Install solar energy technology (e.g., solar water heating) in one or two County facilities to demonstrate its use and feasibility.

* Continue to invest in energy efficiency in County facilities, reducing energy usage by at least 2% a year.

* Prepare a strategic energy plan and climate action plan for County operations and the community.

* Strengthen the County’s green building policy for public buildings by requiring new major public buildings to achieve LEED certification.

* Partner with Arlington Public Schools to reduce emissions in their facilities.

* Plant at least 1,200 trees as a key component of an integrated environmental strategy.

To underscore Arlington’s commitment, I will today ask the Arlington County Board to endorse the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and to join the Sierra Club’s “Cool Cities” effort.

Note the combination of action, education (at all levels), planning for the future, and partnering with others across the United States.  This is a holistic strategy, attacking the problem and issues from multiple angles, clearly demonstrating the understanding that there is no single silver bullet out there to slay the Global Warming dragon.

And, speaking from his position, 100% of these should be achievable … it does not look like Ferguson promised anything is beyond Arlington County’s ability to achieve.

The overall objective:

the County Board adopt an emissions reduction target for Arlington County Government of 10% below this County’s 2000 emissions level by 2012.

I truly like Ferguson’s speech, his objectives, his actions.  There is, however, one major area of disagreement.  “To achieve an emissions reduction of this magnitude in six years is an ambitious goal.”  He started that paragraph with the statement:  “Our goal is ambitious.”  Well, this might be “ambitious” in terms of politics in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This is a good goal and it certainly should be achievable, but this is an objective level that the entire nation should have as a baseline with an ambition to do even more.  Is 10% really enough to move us off a serious Global Warming disaster trajectory? As a relatively rich area, with incredible resources on tap in terms of engaged populace and expertise, Arlington’s 10% objective should be a starting point, rather than “ambitious” …

But … BUT … BUT

* There are multiple ways to look at it. A different way is that Ferguson is starting the ball rolling … that these targets will be achieved, even exceeded, creating a momentum for even more steps forward into the future.

* And, concerns over the level of targets should not take away from the importance of looking at Arlington County steps as an example for counties, cities, towns, communities across the nation.

As per Mike Tidwell, head of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network,

It’s a fantastic initiative that leads through example. It’s a good start and a positive start. They’re doing a lot of the right things.

Ferguson leads with government responsibilities and actions but also spoke in January to the fact that

Every individual can make a difference in this effort by conserving energy.

In his speech, Ferguson noted, for example, that he had an energy audit and that provided the concept for County funding for “20 demonstration home energy audits.”

The Washington Post covered Ferguson’s speech in January with Arlington Takes On Global Warming. On Memorial Day, the Post published Homeowners Are Hot On Energy Thieves’ Trail, alook at the Home Energy Audit part of Ferguson’s vision and action.

The thinking with the free audits, according to Ferguson … is that if the 20 people see how much energy they waste and make changes, they’ll tell two friends, who’ll do the same and who’ll tell two friends who’ll tell two friends. And over time there will be an appreciable decrease in the county’s “carbon footprint.”

Let me say clearly, Energy Audits are a good thing. Many people live in areas of the country (California, Vermont, etc …) where there are free or income-assisted energy audits. (If you can get one for free, what are you waiting for?) Most homes in the country are wasteful in terms of energy and an audit, unlike the IRS-kind, can help you save money and reduce your GHG footprint. (An excellent place to start on an energy audit is with the book Home Energy Diet (Energy Bookshelf: Putting your home on a diet).)

Now, the Post followed one specific audit out of the 20:

And that’s how David and Susan Gaines came to find out, on a recent sweltering day after a three-hour energy audit, that their house has so many little holes and gaps that all its air escapes twice every hour. That’s right, the auditor explained to the disbelieving Gaines: Every last molecule of expensively heated or cooled air in their house leaks out and is replaced and leaks out and is replaced again every hour, 24 times a day.

And their home is pretty typical.

A 48 per day turnover rate!!!  Typical? Think of how much extra heating and cooling that means. As noted by the Post, an 8 rate (once every three hours) is about the rate for a healthy energy-efficient home. 

How to deal with it?  Some of it is incredibly straightforward and inexpensive — such as putting toddler-proof plugs into outlets, caulking under shoe molding, and spray foam to plug holes.  How do I know this?  Because I’ve lived doing this in my nearly 50-year old home over the past couple years (see Making Energy Cents — From the Home to the Globe). You can quickly cut the utility costs with quick financial paybacks, making the house more comfortable, and reducing your greenhouse gas footprint. How do you say WIN-WIN-WIN? (Okay, coal companies might lose a little …)

This audit was done in Arlington on a sweltering day … and, not surprisingly, the attic was ferociously hot. Recommendation:  a radiant barrier which reflects back solar radiation — helping cool the attic and, to a certain extent, the earth (by sending radiation back skyward). 

The idea of sponsoring Home Energy Audits as demonstration projects, to get local attention via press and otherwise. Each audit is a small impact but, as Ferguson notes,

they’ll tell two friends, who’ll do the same and who’ll tell two friends who’ll tell two friends. And over time there will be an appreciable decrease in the county’s “carbon footprint.

Will you tell two friends?

Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part?


* Cross-posted from Daily Kos and Raising Kaine. Raising Kaine (RK) has had good coverage of Ferguson’s initiatives, such as Ferguson Briefs Reid.

* The best local Arlington environmental blogging that I know of is at: The Green Miles.


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