During Lent in 2019, St. Columba's Environment committee presented a series of five “Living Green” workshops with the goal of providing concrete and practical options to live a more Earth-friendly life. The five transformative topics included: The Son and the Sun, Green Homes, Green Community, Green World, and Green Gardens. Here is a summary by Kris Moore of the valuable information and green ideas that were shared.
The Son and the Sun – Solar Power
- Welcome and Religious Perspective on Living Green – the Rev. David Griswold
- Overview of Solar Options – Avery Davis, Interfaith Power and Light
- DC Solar Programs – Daniel White, DC Department of Energy and Environment
Solar Energy. Rev. Griswold reminded participants that caring for God’s creation is a religious, as well as a practical, responsibility.
Avery Davis noted that 75 congregations now have solar, including St. Columba’s. Avery described solar cooperatives as groups of homeowners who come together and do a bidding process, for example, with Solar United Neighbors. He noted that the 51st State Cooperative is still open to DC residents until the end of April.
Community Solar is available in Maryland and DC for those who cannot do solar on their own roof. Homeowners can also get 100% renewable energy through Groundswell, e.g., wind energy.
The Clean Energy DC Act calls for 100% renewables by 2032, and solar and wind are the fastest growing industries in the US. Solar panels were described as very sturdy, with a 15- to 20-year life span; and they come with warranties.
Daniel White described two ways to get solar energy in DC. One is the DC Solar Tool, to learn about the potential of your site. Installers will be contacted, and they will do a site assessment and provide a quote. There are a number of financing options, and there is a 30% Federal credit until the end of 2019, when it becomes 26%. Solar United Neighbors helps homeowners get solar panels. The cost is $3 to $3.20 per watt; residences usually need about 3,000 kilowatts, which costs $9-12,000 (before the tax credit). Payback takes 3-5 years. There is also a solar renewable energy credit, or SREC, which can yield payments to households with solar.
The second way is for low- and medium-income households: Solar for All. The income limit ranges from $65,000 for a one-person household to $123,750 for an 8-person household.
- Interfaith Power and Light – Maddie Smith on energy audits
- Green America – Todd Larsen on green practices and products
- Solar United Neighbors – Lauren Barchi on how to sign-up for solar cooperative
- Groundswell – Nadya Dutchin
Maddie Smith from Interfaith Power and Light described energy audits through the DC Sustainability Energy Utility, which provides a do-it-yourself walk-through and provides information about water heaters, etc.
Todd Larsen of Green America noted that the first step in having a green home is to only purchase things that you need and will use. He noted that our homes contain thousands of chemicals, many untested, and he suggested organic foods and Mom’s Organic Market. He feels that organic foods from other stores are also safe. He encouraged folks to choose ceramic cookware and glass storage containers. For cleaning, Todd recommended mixing baking soda and vinegar, or purchasing products like Seventh Generation. He recommended getting a “green” mattress and considering a climate victory garden which can sequester carbon. Todd suggested writing to companies requesting green and safe products, noting that companies will respond to consumer feedback.
Lauren Barchi described the work her organization does to help homeowners navigate the task of getting solar on their residence. She urged folks to go to the Solar United Neighbors’ website, sign up as a member for free, provide your address and put an arrow on the part of your property where you would like to have solar. If the property is eligible, further information will be provided. When 30-50 people have signed up, a group process will select an installer; the chosen installer will then provide free proposals for each residence. They will also help homeowners with tax credits. Solar Renewable Energy Credits or SRECs provide a valuable energy credit.
Nadya Dutchin described Groundswell’s work with wind energy. She also described community solar, where the solar panels are not on one’s own home, so it is appropriate for renters as well as owners. It costs $45 a month, so the returns are less than with solar panels; but, for every three homeowners who sign up, one low-income family can have solar installed.
- Green investing – Michael Levesque, Green Eagle, and Will Bruno
- Green Banks – Alex Kragie
- Dan Guilbeault, Chief, DC Sustainability and Equity Branch, on community gardens, trees, rain gardens, transit
Sustained and Responsible Investing. This movement originated in the faith community and now provides hundreds of investment options (not just solar) with a strong return. The perception that you cannot get a good return with responsible social investments is a myth. Morningstar was recommended as a good resource about possible investments. Some investment options avoid harmful practices including fossil fuels (which actually represent a bad investment because oil resources are likely to be stranded and remain in the ground). Other options are very diverse, including solar. Michael noted that investors have an opportunity to vote and attend meetings and affect corporate practices, such as Starbucks’ decision regarding plastic straws.
Green Banks. Another financial option that is taking off rapidly is the development of green banks by states, though Alex noted that federal options are possible with support from Congress. These are public non-profits designed to maximize investment in energy efficient sectors. They are not personal banks with savings and checking. They finance energy projects in part or in whole, and they serve to reduce risk. DC’s green bank is about to be announced.
Sustainable DC. Since 2013, DC has had sustainability goals designed to make DC the healthiest and the most green and livable city in the US, and substantial progress has been made. DC has partnerships with 8 universities, 22 hospitals, and many businesses. To reduce stormwater runoff, there are generous incentives through the River Smart program. The city supports use of local plants that use less water and provide habitat for pollinators, and DC is planting trees. In the Anacostia, styrofoam, plastic bags, snack wrappers and plastic beverage bottles are the main sources of trash. Dan noted that the bag bill charging a nickel for each plastic bag is a good example of an efficient and effective initiative to create a green community.
- Sustainable Villages Honduras – Neil Orlando and Betsy and Collie Agle
- Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) – Karen Allen and Victoria Knabe
Trinidad Conservation Project, now Sustainable Villages Honduras. St. Columba’s is a co-founder of this effective local organization in rural Honduras. Projects focus on providing a clean and sufficient water supply, reforestation, resilience to challenges wrought by climate change (such as less rainfall), and community development projects such as kitchen gardens, chicken coops, and wood-conserving stoves. Parishioners are welcome to support this initiative by contributing financially or going to Honduras to help out.
Solar Electric Light Fund. 1.2 billion people worldwide experience a lack of reliable energy. This organization works closely to meet the unique needs felt by local communities. For example, they provided solar energy to pump water into a reservoir, so villagers could grow and even sell food. In another community, they provided solar energy to keep vaccines cool in a refrigerator. They are also training technicians to maintain and expand the solar equipment over time. They welcome contributions at www.SELF.org.
- Bird and bee-friendly plants, composting, rain barrels, rain gardens, dealing with pests and pesticides, insect-friendly plants, perennials – Jeff Moore and Brent Blackwelder
Jeff Moore described himself as a non-professional, saying that, if he can do it, anyone can have a green yard. His family got rid of the grass in their front yard (“this is not England, after all”); and planted perennials that provide habitat to bees, butterflies, and birds. No mowing is needed, the plants are beautiful, and storm water is absorbed by the plants with less runoff. He explained that stormwater is hot (from asphalt) and polluted and harmful to fish, making it important to reduce stormwater runoff.
The DC River Smart program will cover many of the costs for projects that reduce stormwater runoff. Casey Trees will provide a $100 rebate for planting a tree, while Pepco’s Right Tree program will provide a $50 co-pay.
Jeff shared pictures of his pollinator-friendly front yard, as well as a composting pile for leaves and grass and composting tumblers for kitchen waste (everything but meat and cheese). In the kitchen, a small bin is used to collect plant-based waste, coffee grounds, and egg shells. There are also companies, such as Compost Cab and Veterans Compost, that will pick up waste weekly and return compost to homeowners if desired. He also shared photos of a bird bath and a bat house, noting that bats are a good way to reduce mosquitoes. It is better to use bug repellent than to spray harmful chemicals. Also, rain barrels can collect water from roofs and be used to water the garden; they are available for free from River Smart.
Brent Blackwelder described the importance of these kinds of efforts by individual homeowners, noting that loss of habitat and food and increased pollution have decimated pollinators. In fact, it is estimated that we have lost 95% of all species since the time of the Pilgrims. Baby birds need to eat insects (not seeds), he noted, and a company named Beyond Pesticides will come to people’s homes to assist homeowners. Alan Cohen of Biological Pest Management is a local expert. Brent’s number one recommendation is to plant more native vegetation. There is, for example, a native azalea, and almost all common swamp milkweed plants are good for butterflies. Local nurseries mostly sell ornamentals, but you can ask for native perennials or order them online, e.g., from Southern Exposure.
Perennials are important, Brent explained, because farms and gardens that plant perennials can absorb rather than release carbon. Some farmers are using perennial grains, as they sequester carbon rather than releasing it when the soil is tilled, typically using tractors and fertilizers that are fossil fuel based.
Interfaith Power and Light
DC Department of Energy and Environment
Solar Electric Light Fund