Green Building News

Green Building News June 1999

June 30, 1999

SMUD Buys Down PV System Costs

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District second-generation PV program will buy down the cost of grid-connected photovoltaic systems. The systems will be owned by consumers and SMUD will buy the power under a net-metering arrangement. Excess power is sold back to the utility. On days when the PV panels can't meet a household's demand, the customer buys the additional energy from the utility district. Modular systems are available for existing buildings while roof-integrated systems would be more appropriate for new construction. SMUD sells and installs a standard 2-kilowatt PV system for less than $5,000 (50 percent of SMUD's cost) and offers 10-year financing. Funding for the program -- called PV Pioneers II -- will be available through 2002.

GreenMountain To Install PV Systems on Philadelphia Rooftops

Photovoltaic systems will begin appearing on Philadelphia homes under an initiative operated by GreenMountain Energy. Thanks to funds awarded by the Department of Energy, the first 30 of these systems will be reduced from suggested retail prices - at savings of up to $5,800. After savings are applied, thin film systems will be available at $9,000-$13,000, and polycrystalline systems will cost $14,000 - $21,000.

Thanks to recent legislation regulations, Green Mountain Solar(sm) customers in Pennsylvania will receive credit for the electricity they produce. If at any time a customer produces more electricity than he consumes in a month, his meter will actually, in essence, run backwards until his account balance is zero. These solar 1.2 - 2.1kW systems will enable Green Mountain Solar(sm) residential customers to produce between 20 and 40 percent of their own electricity, greatly reducing their need to purchase grid electricity. Homeowners remain connected to the grid, and can buy their grid electricity from or the company of their choice. Typical monthly electricity bill savings are estimated at $17 - $30. has entered into an agreement with Applied Power Corporation (APC) to design and install Green Mountain Solar rooftop systems.

Green Building Advisor Gives You a Desktop Consultant

While the interest in sustainable design and construction continues to grow, it seems that there are often more questions than answers. The first challenge is identifying the issues. Green Building Advisor (GBA) is a software program that helps you identify actions to reduce the environmental impacts of a building project, while ensuring healthy and productive indoor spaces. It's a revolutionary way of learning about green design and the cutting edge techniques and technologies to accomplish it.

GBA will show you specific design strategies that can improve the environmental performance, cost-effectiveness, and healthiness of all phases of a building and its site, from pre-design through occupancy. The strategies are prioritized by the program based on information you give it about your project, such as the location, type and size of the building and characteristics of the site.

The program is designed for architects, designers, planners, students, and educators who want to evaluate the environmental opportunities of specific projects or learn about the many elements of green building design. It will also prove invaluable for those hiring design services -- private companies, government agencies, and homeowners who are planning to build and want to make sure their designers are aware of green building opportunities.

Fluorescent Lamps Easier To Recycle

Fluorescent lamps containing mercury will be easier and cheaper to recycle under new hazardous waste rules announced Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The new rule will make recycling of fluorescent bulbs easier and cheaper. States now will be able to encourage consumers to voluntarily recycle discarded fluorescent lamps and other household hazardous waste at approved collection facilities. By encouraging recycling, less of these wastes will end up in municipal landfills and incinerators, providing stronger safeguards for public health and the environment. The new regulations were applauded by Philips Lighting (maker of a low-mercury fluorescent lamp) and several dozen congressmen.

Under the new rule, fluorescent bulbs will be treated as a "universal waste." Universal wastes are usually items commonly thrown into the trash by households and small businesses such as batteries, thermostats and obsolete pesticides. The universal waste rules reduce the amount of hazardous waste items reaching municipal landfills by encouraging greater recycling and proper disposal. Universal waste rules reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes because standards are less stringent for storing, transporting and collecting universal wastes, but the hazardous waste requirements for recycling, treatment or disposal must be complied with fully. Fluorescent bulbs that are not recycled will continue to be treated with the same disposal safeguards that apply to all hazardous wastes.

Before the rule announced today, many used lamps were fully regulated as hazardous waste because they frequently contained mercury and sometimes lead. About 1 billion fluorescent lamps are disposed of annually, many of which are currently subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements. The rule will be published in the Federal Register soon. Copies of the rule can be obtained from EPA's web page under Laws and Regulations or by calling the RCRA Hotline at 1-800-424-9346 or 703-412-9810.

New Mailing List Discussion Group Targets Larger Projects

It's called the Big Green Discussion Group, because it intends to help architects, designers, contractors and others involved in projects larger than single-family homes. Spearheading the group is Drew George, whose work for an international construction company involves him in many such projects. The new group is meant to complement the highly successful Greenbuilding Discussion Group. "Because I'm involved in larger projects, I see many issues that don't affect single-family homes, including institutional obstacles." says George. "I've been looking for a place to talk with others in the same situation." Co-sponsors include Environmental Building News.

Norsk Hydro To Build Aluminum Recycling Plant in U.S.

Norsk Hydro announced that it will build a first of its kind aluminum remelt plant in the United States for recycling aluminum scrap. Their technology will enable the plant to produce primary quality billet and thus provide a breakthrough for recycling efforts in the United States.

The new remelting plant in Henderson, Kentucky will have an initial annual capacity of 90,000 tons and will be in operation in 2001. Hydro will invest $33 million in constructing the plant, which will utilize state of the art technology, ensuring a product interchangeable with primary quality aluminum billet produced from smelters. This concept has been proven by Hydro's remelt plants in Europe, currently producing 200,000 tons of primary billet per year.

Norsk Hydro has achieved significant technical and metallurgical advances in recycling that are viewed as industry benchmarks in Europe, where its remelting facilities are handling a total capacity of 400,000 tons a year. These processes will now be established in the American market, bringing significant cost and environmental advantages to industry. Recycling aluminum, for example, uses less than 5% of the energy that is consumed in the primary production of aluminum. Norsk Hydro is Norway's largest public company, and the largest worldwide supplier of aluminum billet.

Sustainability in the News

Pressure-treated Wood Gets Low Marks from Environmentalists - Environmental News Network

Business Leaders Take Stand Against Sprawl - Environmental News Network

A Sign of the Times: Recycled Concrete - Environmental News Network


June 23, 1999

SierraPine Buys Weyerhauser Panel Plants

SierraPine, maker of Medite and Medex board, has greatly expanded its operation by purchasing four composite panel manufacturing plants and a ply-veneer plant from Weyerhauser Co. The purchase increases SierraPine's composite panel production capacity to approximately 950 million square feet (3/4 inch basis). The expansion virtually doubles their capacity, making them the third largest composite panel producer in North America. The acquisition includes a particleboard and ply-veneer plant in Springfield, Oregon, a particleboard plant in Adel, Georgia, and a particleboard plant and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) plant in Moncure, North Carolina.

The company is best known in green building circles for Medite and Medex. These MDF panels are made with recycled material and use low-formaldehyde adhesives. The company's expansion is expected to have an immediate effect on availability of these products. Sales had previously been concentrated in the west. Now that the company has a national presence they can also supply eastern markets. There is also an opportunity to apply its technology to other plants. SierraPine has improved its ability to meet the needs of specific markets, including sustainable construction.

Weyerhaeuser To Buy MacMillan Bloedel

Weyerhaeuser, the world's largest producer of softwood lumber and market pulp, acquired MacMillan Bloedel Limited in a stock transaction valued at $2.45 billion. Just days before the merger MacMillan Bloedel signed agreements to stop logging its holdings within British Columbia's pristine forests and to phase out clear-cutting of old growth forests. Environmentalists are concerned that Weyerhaeuser won't honor these agreements.

Better Homes and Gardens Builds Home for the Next Millennium

Last month Better Homes and Gardens magazine unveiled its "Blueprint 2000" home. The 3,000 sq. ft. showhouse was inspired by the insights of the magazine's editors and the responses from a survey they commissioned asking subscribers what their dream house for the 21st Century would be like. The show home is under construction in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is scheduled be open to the public for 5 weeks beginning July 3rd. Great emphasis is placed on the home's high-tech features. There are multiple personal computers with video conferencing capabilities, a roaming hand-held tablet PC, flat-screen high-definition TV, home automation and electronic security.

Given the sources of inspiration for the home's design, it's no surprise that many features reflect the conspicuous consumption that has characterized most new home construction for decades. The eight-room house has 3-and-a-half baths. There's a pet feeding station with its own water faucet. The kitchen has warming drawers for food and a two-zone cooler for beverages. The master bath has its own coffee bar. On the other hand, there are several "eco-friendly features and products" listed under their own heading in the features list, including a tree-saving site plan, a built-in recycling center, fiber-cement siding, recycled blown-in insulation, ozone-friendly refrigerant in the central air-conditioners, engineered wood floor joists and trusses. The house was built in a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with its garage in back. Moveable walls and sliding panels between areas add flexibility to the floor plan. An attached studio apartment could serve "boomerang kids" or elderly relatives. While it's encouraging that a few sustainable features have appeared in this mainstream venue, the green features are simple material substitutions or feature add-ons. These represent only a token acknowledgment of growing consumer interest in sustainable housing. Hopefully, the future will bring much more tangible advances in the sustainability of mainstream homes than displayed in this showcase home.

Retail Stores Become Showcase for Solar Energy

A retail development owner who wants to set an example is helping make possible a new showcase for energy efficient buildings in the Colorado high country. Ground was broken this month on the BigHorn Home Improvement Center in Silverthorne, which will boast a series of "firsts" for Colorado: the first retail space to be completely daylit and the first retail space to use net metering with Public Service Company.

Workers install photovoltaic roofing on Phase I of the Bighorn retail complex.

The three-phase project used a "whole building" design concept to incorporate active and passive solar energy systems and energy efficiency strategies. The whole building concept refers to engineering a building's envelope and its energy systems -- such as heating, air conditioning and lighting -- to minimize energy consumption.

Phases 1 and 2, completed last year, included Sears and an adjacent flooring and carpet store. Phase 3, which incorporates the most energy-saving design concepts, will include a building materials warehouse and a chain hardware store.

Phase 3 includes a photovoltaic (PV)-integrated standing-seam metal roof, a transpired solar collector (solar wall), daylighting, energy efficient windows and lighting, radiant heating and extra insulation throughout the development. Together they are expected to cut the center's annual energy bill by about 25 percent compared to a building designed to meet federal energy codes.

Net metering means that extra electricity produced by solar panels on the roof and not used by the building will be fed back to the utility, with credit given to the customer at the same rate as power purchased from the utility. Daylighting uses natural light as a primary source of light during daytime hours. The Bighorn Center's final design includes clerestory windows for daylighting and a south-facing transpired solar collector, or solar wall, for space heating.

Another first for the Bighorn Center is the use in a retail store of dimmable ballasts in High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting. Consistent lighting levels will be maintained as the lights automatically dim or grow brighter based on sensor readings inside the building. Ordinary ballasts would keep lighting at a constant brightness -- the lights are either fully on or off. Dimmable ballasts coupled with daylighting are expected to reduce the building's electrical lighting consumption by 45 percent, reducing overall energy use and saving money.

While innovative electric lighting and daylighting may seem like obvious components in a passive solar building, their use in a retail store is considered a bold move by the owner, who needs to guarantee his merchandise is consistently well lit for customers.

The retail development's cutting-edge technologies were developed by the Center for Buildings and Thermal Systems at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL will continue research efforts on the building through monitoring and evaluation of the technologies.

AIA's Top Ten Green Buildings

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has selected 10 examples of viable architectural design solutions that protect and enhance the environment. The facilities, selected by the executive committee of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), address one or more significant environmental challenges that have a lasting and positive impact on the built and unbuilt environment such as energy and water conservation, use of recycled construction materials, and design that improves indoor air quality. Committee members selected the facilities for a variety of reasons, including environmentally responsible use of building materials, use of daylight over artificial lighting, designs that create efficiency in heating or cooling, and overall sensitivity to local environmental issues. The projects selected for the 1999 Earth Day Top Ten are (listed in alphabetical order):

  • CCI Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Denver Dry Building, Denver, Colorado
  • Duracell Headquarters, Bethel, Connecticut
  • Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart and Stewart, modifications by Rosser Fabrap Int. with Roger Preston + Partners
  • Kansas City Zoo Deramus Education Pavilion, Kansas City, Missouri
  • McKinney ISD Sustainable Elementary School, McKinney, Texas
  • Missouri Historical Society Museum, St. Louis, Missouri
  • New York Life Building, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Real Goods Solar Living Center, Hopland, California
  • REI Seattle Flagship Store, Seattle, Washington

Campaign for Better Buildings

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance is embarking on a $3 million effort to show residents in the region what can be done to make buildings better through energy efficiency. In addition to more productive work spaces and more comfortable homes, these actions will save electricity, which means consumers and businesses pay less on monthly electric bills and help protect the environment. The Alliance will work with homebuyers; commercial building owners and occupants, developers, builders and designers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana during the two-year campaign.

"We want to let people know how improved energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings can lead to better comfort and livability," said Portland General Electric's Carol Brown, chair of the Alliance board of directors. "We're going to remind people about the benefits that energy efficient buildings offer, such as improved quality, better health, increased worker productivity, reduced pollution, and enhanced economic value," Brown explained.

"We believe that once consumers understand the benefits they should expect in their home or workplace, they will demand that designers and contractors build better buildings in the Northwest. At the same time, we'll show the building industry ways to profit from attractive, cost-efficient energy features and upgrades," Brown added.

The Alliance will work with Cole & Weber, a Northwest-based advertising and public relations agency, to prepare the comprehensive public information campaign, which will combine advertising, public relations, public affairs, local and regional partnerships, and interactive communications.

In conjunction with the regional campaign, the Alliance is also embarking on a four-state research project to document current building practices. Ecotope, Inc., based in Seattle, will survey the energy efficient components of hundreds of new residential and commercial buildings, and interview building and design professionals involved in the construction of those buildings. This project will establish a baseline to compare against future energy efficient gains and changes in attitudes.

The non-profit Alliance, a group of electric utilities, state governments, public interest groups and energy efficiency industry representatives, currently funds 32 efficiency projects in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington as part of its commitment to bringing affordable, energy-efficient products and services to the marketplace.


June 16, 1999

Fannie Mae and NAHB Announce $100 million Green Mortgage Partnership

Fannie Mae, the nation's largest source of financing for home mortgages, and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have established a partnership to test and develop mortgage financing products based on "green building" criteria. The move recognizes the growing interest in environmentally-responsible construction methods. Fannie Mae and NAHB will begin working with home builders, lenders and other community partners in six pilot cities where local home builder associations and Fannie Mae Partnership Offices can work together to develop green building initiatives which emphasize the efficient use of resources, such as energy and water, in the design, construction and operation of homes.

These six cities are: Atlanta, GA; Columbus, OH; Albuquerque, NM; Denver, CO; Los Angeles, CA; and Seattle, WA. Fannie Mae is also providing an additional $100 million for investment in environmental product initiatives that test new housing finance products, support local green builder efforts, and develop creative solutions to environmental issues with community partners in these cities.

"Our research in this area reveals new market demand for resource-efficient homes," says Fannie Mae Chairman and CEO, Franklin D. Raines.

"Building homes in a more environmentally-efficient manner is the most important change the housing industry is going to make in coming years," says NAHB President Charlie Ruma. "This new partnership with Fannie Mae is going to help put environmental building at the forefront of the housing industry."

One of the goals of the Fannie Mae/NAHB Partnership is the development of a comprehensive menu of environmental mortgage options that would allow the consumer to capture the benefits of environmentally-responsible construction -- including lower operating costs, reduced maintenance and increased durability. The environmental partnership will help local home builder associations and other community partners promote environmentally-responsible construction methods and materials.

While this move by two powerful housing industry players will clearly boost the green building movement, there are skeptics. Bion Howard, of Building Environmental Science and Technology warns of "the fox guarding the hen house." Howard, a green building consultant with several decades of experience in the field, notes NAHB's long and vociferous opposition to energy and environmental standards, guidelines and regulations.

"NAHB has fought against green building standards consensus processes," he says "on the grounds they create excessive regulation and hurt home building businesses." Pressure from trade groups, with NAHB in the lead, has repeatedly stifled energy-saving improvements in building codes across the US and stalled development of a consensus green building standard for residential construction. Instead, a patchwork of city, state and regional or corporate marketing programs, has emerged.

According to Howard, the technical review of the NAHB-developed criteria, guides and information to be furnished to builders, code officials and lenders has been a closed process. The general community of knowledgeable green building experts appears to have little opportunity for involvement.

"My concern is that programs evolving in a vacuum of independent opinion will produce low performance," says Howard. " I remember the early claims by the solar energy industry and what happened to their credibility when the inevitable problems occurred."

Howard also points to current Energy Efficient Mortgage Programs operated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the late 1970s. They have endorsed many "energy efficient" criteria but lack a clear, consistent approach linked to on-site quality assurance. As a result, appraisers and lenders have not widely recognized the extra value of energy efficiency . "To this day, the EEM programs are still not recognized in the mass-market, and await further promotion, demonstration and fine-tuning against an independent, uniform national set of technical guidelines."

Howard challenges the groups promoting this financing program to open up the process a broad coalition of stakeholders and technical experts to establish an uniform national standard for green building.

PNNL Developing Pint-sized Heat Pumps

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) are developing a heat-actuated heat pump small enough to fit within the walls or floor of a home. In addition to its small size, the unit is also intended to be more efficient than conventional heat pumps. Increased efficiency comes from the fabrication of tiny channels within the heat exchanger, where much of the heat pump's work takes place. Smaller channels result in more effective heat transfer due to the intimate contact between the refrigerant and heat exchanger surfaces. The heat pump uses heat, rather than electricity, to provide cooling. Researchers have developed miniaturized versions of the components for a prototype heat pump and expect to have a working system in about two years. Development has been funded by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Papercrete Offers a New Building Alternative

Papercrete is essentially industrial strength paper maché made with paper, sand and portland cement. These ingredients are mixed together in a slurry and cast into blocks or panels. When it drys, it's light in weight, high in insulation value, and remarkably strong. And since most of the material is free, it's also incredibly cheap.

Shrub-land Fires Aggravated by Urban Sprawl

Catastrophic shrub-land wildfires have raced across southern California in recent years, taking lives, destroying property and pushing residents to seek a solution to the problem.

It was believed that fire suppression was increasing the intensity of the shrub-land fires in the same manner that it had increased the intensity of forest fires, by allowing the buildup of fuel. This is not true, according to a study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) recently published in the journal Science.

Their probe revealed several important facts:

  • Not only has the number of fires per decade increased, but also during the period of the study, no significant decline has occurred in the area burned.
  • The number of fires and area burned increases as population density increases.
  • Very large fires have been reported since the start of record keeping in 1878 and that there has been no increase in the average size of wildfires. ("Indeed," said Keeley, "the average wildfire size has significantly declined in four counties.")

Keeley and his colleagues conclude that wildfire management should focus on strategic locations instead of on the chaparral landscape at large.

Intensive management, said Keeley and his colleagues, should occur at buffer zones where urban lands and wildlands meet. They said that buffer zones should be selected based on the landscape features that the worst wildfires predictably follow.

They warn, however, that even with such management, ecological impacts may be enormous because of the already-extensive size of the still-growing urban-wildland buffer zones. Source: Environmental News Network

Oberlin College Pushes Green Building Envelope

A new building for the Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College is under construction. When completed it may be the most advanced green building in the U.S. boasting a long list of innovative technology. The building is projected to use only 21 percent as much energy as a typical building. Mechanical heating and cooling are provided by geothermal heat pumps. Occupied spaces will enjoy 100 percent outside ventilation air, while a heat exchanger will recapture heat from outgoing stale air. The sun will provide daylighting and heating through a host of solar-friendly design features. A photovoltaic array (3,700 sq. ft.) should provide more electricity than the 64,000 kWh needed to power the building. The building envelope is highly insulated with R-30 to R-40 in the roof and R-21 in the masonry walls. The lighting load will be only 0.9 watts/sq. ft. Low VOC finishes will be used throughout the building. All wood will be certified to come from well managed forests under Forest Stewardship Council standards. Recycled content materials will include steel in framing, aluminum in roof, window frames and curtain walls as well as ceramic tile. A Living Machine will process waste water. The design team includes William McDonough and Partners, Lev Zetlin and Associates, Steven Winter Associates, the Rocky Mountain Institutes, Hal Levin, Living Machines and many more. The CES Web site offers detailed information along with many construction photos.

Group Promotes Durable Housing in Japan

Friends of the Earth - Japan has started an eco-housing program aiming to change the "scrap and build" policy that has led to the clearcutting of forests worldwide. In Japan, houses last about 25 years and are then torn down and rebuilt. The campaign will try to convince Japanese consumers of the value of long-lasting houses made of domestically produced timber. Despite a recent downturn, Japan had over 1.3 housing starts in 1998, an astronomical figure given the size of the population.

The forests of the world are suffering because of Japan's scrap and build housing policy, the group warns. Japan's timber consumption has been a driving force behind over-logging of forests in the Philippines, Russia, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, the U.S., Papua New Guinea, and Equatorial Africa, Friends of the Earth-Japan (FoE-Japan) says.

For the eco-housing campaign, FoE-Japan has teamed up with OM Solar Association, a group of architects who specialize in production of durable, solar-powered houses that use domestic timber and alternative building materials. Source: Lycos Environment News Service

Firm Seeks Civil Engineer

2020 Engineering, located in Bellingham, Washington, has an immediate opening for a civil engineer/CAD designer. Responsibilities include: AutoCAD design/drafting, site design, structural design, and water and "waste"water treatment designs. In addition to the technical requirements, the firm is looking for a strong personal commitment to performing civil engineering designs that support sustainable development and working knowledge of the principals of sustainable/ecological design and "green" building. Full qualifications and application information can be seen at the 2020 Engineering Web site or contact Chris Webb


June 9, 1999

Vaughn Halts Production of GFX

The world's only manufacturer of the GFX drainwater heat recovery (DHR) device has stopped production and terminated it's license to make the product. Vaughn Manufacturing Corp. had been making GFX devices under an exclusive licensing agreement with inventor Dr. Carmine Vasile since 1996. Vaughn manufactures stone-lined water heaters and control devices often marketed in cooperation with electric utilities. Vaughn abruptly terminated its license with Vasile in May. As a result, GFX is temporarily off the consumer market. However, Vasilie says large orders can be filled on a "build-to-print" basis until a new manufacturer can be found. (Vasile is actively seeking new licensees.) GFX is perhaps the only DHR systems with IAPMO and UL approvals, so it doesn't require a plumbing code variance.

Clinton Sets Air Pollution and Efficiency Goals

Federal buildings across the United States will be required to cut their air pollution and emissions by 30 percent under an executive order issued last week by President Bill Clinton. The new policy covers 500,000 government buildings, including the Pentagon. The President also called on the federal government to reduce energy usage by 35 percent by 2010. Clinton previously set a goal of a 30 percent reduction in energy use by 2005. The federal government currently uses about 32 percent more energy per square foot than the average private sector building.

In a speech in the Rose Garden at the White House, Clinton said, "As the single largest consumer of energy in our country, the federal government should be leading the way. That is why today I am directing all federal departments and agencies to take steps to markedly improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. With new technologies and contracts with private companies, the federal government will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. That is the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road. By taking these steps, we will also save the taxpayers over $750 million a year when they are fully implemented."

Agencies will be held accountable to the new goals through a number of means including agency scorecards. The Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Energy and the President's Management Council will monitor progress toward the goals.

As an example of the energy-efficiency improvements, the White House announced that the Pentagon will soon award the largest federal energy-saving contract to date, upgrading 837 buildings on five military installations in the Washington, D.C., area. The 18-year contract will reduce annual energy consumption by 17 percent, saving roughly $219 million over the life of the contract.

In addition to making energy-efficiency improvements, the Order calls for federal agencies to make new investments in renewable energy. These investments may include applications of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass technologies at federal facilities and purchases of electricity from renewable energy sources.

David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a non-profit coalition that promotes energy efficiency, praised the President's action, calling it "a historic climate change commitment for the largest energy user in the world, the federal government." The Alliances' Web site offers a detailed description of the executive order.

DOE Announces Projects Supporting Executive Order on Renewables

As part of President Clinton's Executive Order to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency within federal operations, DOE has awarded $1.5 million to projects across the US. Twenty-six projects will be funded for 109 renewable energy systems, which will save $400,000 a year in energy costs and displace 1,700 tons of carbon emissions. Project costs must be recouped within 25 years, as ordered by Congress. Projects which used off-the-shelf systems were given priority, as were projects that used energy-savings performance contracts. This is the second year that DoE has funded federal agencies for renewable systems.

The projects to receive funds include: 54 new and two renovated solar water heating systems; three large solar electric systems; 11 utility-grid-connected solar electric systems; 19 small, utility-grid-independent solar electric systems; 14 solar-powered lights; and three "solar walls," which preheat outside air for a building's heating, cooling and ventilation system. Funds were also awarded to a project involving two new wind turbines and to another project involving a "hybrid" system, which incorporates both solar and wind energy.

SMUD Sells Green Power to USEPA

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) will provide 100 percent renewable electricity to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laboratory located in Richmond, California. The three-year agreement allows SMUD, for the first time, to replace PG&E system power with Greenergy(SM) -- SMUD's green power program that allows customers to choose electricity made from renewable sources such as geothermal energy and landfill gas. EPA is the first federal agency to purchase 100 percent renewable energy to supply one of its facilities.

Under the terms of the three-year agreement, SMUD will sell to the EPA about 1.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year -- enough to serve 200 average Sacramento homes. SMUD's Greenergy program purchases electricity from generators registered with the California Energy Commission as eligible renewable electricity suppliers. Geothermal energy from the Northern California Power Authority in the Geysers area of Sonoma County will make up about 60 percent of the Greenergy program's energy this year with the remaining 40 percent to come from a new landfill gas resource being built in Sacramento County at the Kiefer landfill site. As its fuel source, the Kiefer plant will use methane gas coming from "green waste" already in the County run landfill.

India Promotes Bamboo to Boost Sustainable Employment

Virtually all bamboo products come to the US from Asia. However, that may change. India's Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, has launched a plan to enhance bamboo resources in his country. Bamboo -- the "timber of the poor'' -- was the World Environment Day's symbolic reminder of ecological conservation. The plan aims to tap the potential of India's interior communities which depend largely on bamboo for their livelihood. By promoting the interests of these people, the plan is expected to generate rural employment and boost the production of value added goods for sale in the domestic market. The huge untapped potential of bamboo in the export market is also likely to be exploited. According to officials, bamboo will be the hallmark of sustainable development in the future by increasing employment and grassroots growth while enabling the local population to protect the biological resources of their area. Source: The Hindu

Kafus Concludes $11 Million of Permanent Financing for Flexform Mat and Panel Plan

Kafus Bio-Composites Inc. is apparently on track to open its Flexform™ composite panel plant in September. They recently closed $11 million of equity and debt in permanent financing to replace interim construction funding for the Flexform manufacturing facility currently under construction in Elkhart, Indiana. All construction and development activities are currently on or ahead of schedule. Commercial operation is planned to begin by September 30th, 1999.

Kafus natural fiber composites are designed as an alternative to traditional composite materials, such as fiberglass, for the automotive, building and furniture industries. Flexform mats and panels can be recovered, reused and recycled. They offer higher strength with lower weight. They are less likely to shatter upon impact or warp under extreme temperature changes. Most importantly, the use of natural fiber composite panels will dramatically reduce the molding time of 3-D parts, lower the emissions of toxic V.O.C.'s and reduce weight while improving the performance of end products.

Currently Kafus Bio-Composites Inc. has purchase commitments for the majority of its initial production run from three major auto suppliers who in turn will use Flexform mats to manufacture finished interior automotive trim components for the big three US automotive OEM manufacturers. Current applications for Kafus' natural fiber components include rear deck trays, full door panels, bolsters, trunk liners, door trim, head liners and related components. Kafus is also the leading grower of Kenaf fiber in the U.S.


June 2, 1999

BPA Dives into Distributed Power

The Bonneville Power Administration has signed a contract to purchase 110 fuel cells from Northwest Power Systems (NPS) of Bend, Oregon. If testing of the new technology is successful, the region will lead a high-tech revolution in the electric power industry.

"Our goal is to adapt clean, efficient fuel cell generators to small-scale consumers and commercial applications," said Jack Robertson, deputy administrator of BPA. "In just a few years, we could see these energy boxes distributed as widely as the home computer."

BPA will take delivery of the first proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems this fall. Northwest utilities will test the 3-kilowatt units for use in homes. After the first ten "alpha" units are installed and operated, NPS will make any necessary adjustments and build 100 more "beta" test units, said NPS President Alan Guggenheim.

BPA will work with local utilities to place the beta units in the homes of interested customers. Trials of prototypes by BPA over the last two years were successful and the agency decided to move ahead with a full-scale test, Robertson said.

"Although fuel cells will not replace large central generating plants, they can help meet load growth and provide clean, efficient electricity in homes," Robertson said. "Over time, the efficiency of these and other types of distributed generation will make them the choice of consumers."

The power units are 85-percent efficient when waste heat is recovered for space and water heating. Conventional generators are less than 35 percent efficient in the use of fuel. The cost of producing the beta units is about $30,000 each, but Guggenheim expects that the price will drop to under $10,000 per unit when they become commercially available in the year 2002.

Santa Monica Powered by 100 percent Green Energy

Santa Monica is the first city in the world to be powered entirely by renewable energy. Taking advantage of California's competitive electricity market, Santa Monica's decision moves the city away from current system power, which relies on air polluting generation from fossil fuel sources and toxic creating nuclear power. Instead, the beach city will now be powered exclusively by clean geothermal sources.

"We've flipped the switch on dirty power," said Santa Monica Mayor Pamela O'Connor. "By going green, Santa Monica is reducing smog-producing air pollution that degrades public health and moving forward with our Sustainable City plan."

"This is a new era for energy policy," Santa Monica City Councilman Michael Feinstein noted. "Since deregulation every one of us now has the ability to take responsibility for the environmental impact of our energy use. This is our chance to change our global energy policy from the ground up."

Renewable or green power is electricity generated by using the sun, wind, or other natural forces and is more environmentally friendly than traditional electric generation. All of Santa Monica's power now comes from geothermal energy supplied by Commonwealth Energy Corporation located in Tustin, California. Source: Excite News

NASEO Adopts HERS Technical Guidelines

The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) has adopted interim Home Energy Rating System Technical Guidelines. This third draft reflects the consensus reached by the NASEO technical review committee at its recent meeting at the NASEO HERS Conference in Florida and other comments received from interested parties. A joint NASEO/RESNET Technical Guidelines Revision Committee will review the interim guidelines and recommend final wording to NASEO by July, 1999. Interested parties are invited to review the interim guidelines and provide input to the revision committee. You can see the third draft on RESNET's web site.

Gore Announces Brownfield Grants

Vice President Gore announced over $32 million in grants to help more than 70 communities across the nation clean up and redevelop brownfields -- abandoned, contaminated properties, often found in distressed areas -- and return them to thriving centers of prosperity.

The announcement included 45 Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund grants totaling $30.6 million to help 65 communities across the nation leverage funding to cleanup and redevelop abandoned industrial properties. With these grants, communities can set up "revolving loan funds," providing low-interest loans to businesses and others so that they can turn brownfields back to productive use.

Also, $1.9 million in Job Training Grants were awarded to 10 communities to train nearly 600 residents in environmental cleanup techniques, allowing them to find well-paying jobs and furthering the cleanup of brownfields across the nation.

Former Steel Mill Site To Become Affordable Housing

Summerset at Frick Park is a construction project to transform a former waste site for the steel-making industry into a community of energy-efficient, affordable homes. It's a "Brownfield" redevelopment initiative, in which an abandoned former industrial site is recycled into productive urban residential use. According to Mark Schneider, Summerset Land Development Associates representative, builders will grade the site, which is currently a slag hill, and install utilities in 1999. They will build the first homes in the first quarter of the year 2000. Summerset will include 336 single-family homes, 121 townhouses and 256 apartments. Fifty-seven percent of the 244 acre site will include open space new neighborhood parks and playgrounds and a major expansion of neighboring Frick Park. This urban infill project is a demonstration of how blighted and underutilized areas can be transformed into a vehicle for urban revitalization.

The Summerset project seeks to build the most energy efficient homes in Western Pennsylvania by incorporating the latest energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies without comprising comfort, quality or durability. The homes will be built to meet guidelines for energy consumption, efficient use of water and lumber, and the use of recycled products. The result will be homes that offer superior energy performance with lower operating expenses at no additional cost.

The community to be called Summerset at Frick Park is one of five national pilot communities in the federal government's Partnership in Advancing Technologies in Housing (PATH), an initiative announced by President Bill Clinton in May 1998.


Cool Roofs Shine in Hot Climates

Commercial and industrial buildings in sunny climates can reduce cooling costs by 10 to 15 percent by selecting light colored roofing material, according to "Cool Roofs, Hot Topic" an article published in the May 1999 edition of Building Operating Management.

Reflective roof products lower roof temperatures by up to 100 degrees F, decreasing the amount of heat transferred into a building's interior. Although some reflective roof products may have a higher initial price than non-reflective alternatives, Energy Star-compliant roof products can save facility executives money and energy over the life of the roof by reducing the amount of air conditioning needed to keep a building comfortable. In addition, reflective roof products can potentially minimize the effects associated with thermal shock, reduce UV degradation, and extend the life of the roof.

"In general, building owners will save the most money on energy bills by installing an Energy Star-labeled roof product if their building has the following characteristics: high air conditioning bills, a large roof surface as compared to the building's overall size, lower levels of insulation and/or a location in a hot, sunny climate," points out Rachel S. Schmeltz, Energy Star program manager. "The most cost-effective time to install an Energy Star-labeled roof product is when re-roofing, constructing new buildings or maintaining a roof by applying a coating."

"Approximately $40 billion is spent annually in the U.S. to air condition buildings," says Rachel Schmeltz, Energy Star program manager. "Reflective roof products that meet the Energy Star specifications can help to reduce energy bills by up to 50 percent and reduce peak cooling demand by 10 percent to 15 percent.

Green Construction Reduces Disaster Losses

Why should insurance companies be concerned with renewable energy systems, energy efficiency and other green construction methods? A report called Applications of Solar Technology for Catastrophe Response, Claims Management and Loss Prevention outlines how renewable energy and other green construction practices can limit damages and speed recovery. The report was written by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have also done extensive work on this topic and have amassed an impressive list of articles, including Energy-Efficiency and Renewable Energy Options For Risk Management and Insurance Loss Reduction.

Four New Hampshire Schools Join Solar Movement

Solar power will soon provide a portion of the electricity needs of four New Hampshire high schools as the result of the new "Solar on Schools" program. The four schools chosen for the program are John Stark Regional High School, Weare; Kennett High School, Conway; Newmarket Junior and Senior High School, and Hopkinton High School. In their proposals for program grants, each school described how it would integrate material on solar and other forms of renewable energy into its educational program. The schools also will develop activities to educate their communities about the importance of renewable energy.

Each of the four 2 kilowatt solar electric (photovoltaic) systems to be installed at the schools will generate over 2,800 kilowatt hours a year of electricity and lower carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3,000 pounds annually. Carbon dioxide is considered the major contributor to global warming.

Grants from the Governor's energy office will fund renewable energy educational materials for the schools and part of the cost of each solar system. Public Service of New Hampshire, the state's largest electric utility, and its parent company, Northeast Utilities, will fund most of the remaining cost with each school asked to make a small contribution. Solar Works, Inc., which contributed substantial time to developing the program, will install the solar systems.

California Kids Exposed to Dangerous Air Pollution in Portable Classrooms

More than 2 million California children attend school in portable classrooms that may be a significant source of exposure to airborne toxins, including formaldehyde and other cancer-causing chemicals, according to a new report by Environmental Working Group.

The report - Reading, Writing and Risk: Air Pollution Inside California's Portable Classrooms, says an estimated 86,500 portable classrooms are in use across the state as a result of class-size reduction mandates. EWG's review of scientific literature shows that long-term exposure to airborne chemicals in concentrations that have been measured in California portable classrooms may increase a child's lifetime risk of cancer by two to three times the level deemed acceptable under federal law. Short-term exposure to chemicals or toxic molds commonly found in portables can cause nausea, headaches, diarrhea and other health effects.

A toxicologist who examined some of the children from the Saugus Union School District reported that their blood contained elevated levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals often found in manufactured buildings.

According to the EWG report, long-term exposure to formaldehyde or other chemicals at levels measured in the Saugus school district poses two to three times the one-in-one-million increased cancer risk allowed under the U.S. Clean Air Act. Portables are also a favored habitat for toxic molds that can cause nausea, breathing problems, nosebleeds, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, death.

Although formaldehyde and other chemicals are emitted from almost all construction materials, whether in portable or conventional buildings, the report argues that schools are a unique indoor environment. Children are known to be more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals, and the tighter construction and ventilation problems of portables may allow the buildup of air contaminants to harmful levels. Schools also typically house four or five times as many occupants per square foot as office buildings.

Sustainability in the News

Amid the gore and scandal that fills the mainstream media, there's a trickle of good news about how people around the U.S. are following a path toward sustainability. Here are a few examples:

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