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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A house without a power bill, who wouldn’t want that?

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent

The ground breaking ceremony for the first Zero Energy Home in Pinellas County was held on June 25th in Palm Harbor. Zero Energy Home, or ZEH for short, offers the homeowner the luxury of a tight building envelope, energy efficient appliances, and renewable energy options, which when combined reduces and eliminates the home’s dependence on a power grid.

It may seem far fetched to have a home that does not generate a power bill but the reality is that it’s already been done in the State of Florida. The Florida Solar Energy Center Building America Industrialized Housing Partnership partnered with builder Tommy Williams to build the first true net zero home in Florida. The Longleaf home in Gainesville,FL was built in 2009 and was assessed on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) with a HERS Index of -2 which means that it can produce more energy than it consumes. When this happens, the homeowner may receive a credit from the electric company!

ZEH homes in Florida rely on solar panels to create the energy that the home needs. The homes also employ other green features like dual flush toilets, low flow fixtures and native landscaping. The Gainesville experience resulted in the production of a series of “ready made” home plans for Net-Zero Energy homes.

The Palm Harbor ZEH will be built by Marc Rutenberg in the Hawks Landing subdivision in northern Pinellas County in partnership with Zero Energy America. The concrete pour started at 11:40 a.m. and was performed by Blue World Crete, makers of Blue Crete, a low carbon footprint cement product. The Palm Harbor ZEH will be complete in 2011 but in the meantime check out the video link and stay tuned for the PBS documentary that will be produced by Bluewater Media.

energy smart home plans

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cyberbullying and Cybercitizenship

By Vestina Crayton

Remember when you were young and there was always that one kid who was known as ‘the school bully?’ Nowadays, with all the advanced communication technologies such as texting and the use of social networks, students not only have to deal with bullies in the schools, they have to deal with cyberbullying too!

What is Cyberbullying?
According to Extension 4-H Specialist Cheryl R. Vamadoe of the University of Georgia, it is defined as ‘being cruel to others sending or posting harmful material using technological means; an individual or group that uses information and communication involving electronic technologies to facilitate deliberate and repeated harassment or threat to an individual or group.’

Parry Aftab, a US lawyer and one of the leading experts on cyberlaw, has compiled the following alarming statistics: 90% of middle school students they polled had their feelings hurt online; and 65% of their students between 8-14 have been involved directly or indirectly in a Cyberbullying incident as the cyberbully, victim or friend; 75% visited a website bashing.

With statistics such as these, it is important for our youth to learn proper online etiquette so that they are communicating safely and responsibly.

To learn more about Cyberbullying and teaching your youth how to be a good Cybercitizen, register here for the June 30th Solutions in 30 Webinar – Cyberbullying and Cybercitizenship

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DOE Halts Sales of Inefficient Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

The Department of Energy (DOE) has ordered three manufacturers to stop distributing 61 models of heat pumps and one air conditioner model that do not comply with federal energy conservation standards.

On June 3, DOE ordered Aspen Manufacturing, Inc.; Summit Manufacturing; and Advanced Distributor Products to halt the distribution of the noncompliant models and to notify all previous buyers of the noncompliant models. If the companies fail to respond or to notify their customers, DOE will seek a judicial order to prevent the sale of the noncompliant models.

Under federal law, manufacturers of certain products covered by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act must certify with DOE that their models meet the applicable minimum energy conservation standards. Based on certification information submitted to DOE, the agency discovered that Aspen Manufacturing had certified 58 heat pumps models and one air conditioner model that failed to meet federal energy efficiency standards by up to 7%. DOE also found one heat pump model manufactured by Summit Manufacturing that failed the energy use standards by about 16%, as well as two heat pump models manufactured by Advanced Distributor Products that missed the standard by 1%-2%.

DOE press release

DOE Appliances and Commercial Equipment Standards Program


Monday, June 21, 2010

Socially Responsible Investing

By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

Whether you call it green investing, sustainable investing, or socially responsible investing (SRI) they all mean basically the same thing. Investors are beginning to take a look at companies that not only make money, but make positive contributions to society and/or the environment.

For a long time investors didn’t really reflect on the long term effects of company business, but today some are starting to consider whether or not they want their money supporting such industries as weapons, tobacco, gambling, and alcohol, just to name a few. Also business practices may be taken into account such as whether or not fair wages are being paid and if diversity exists in the workplace. Lastly, investors may also consider what the environmental impact is to produce the good or service.

The term “socially responsible” can have many different meanings to that end; a couple of different screening processes have been developed to help investors make a decision about which companies to invest in.

Negative Screening
The original focus of SRIs was to avoid investments in companies engaged in undesirable activities. Therefore companies were included or excluded from consideration depending on the types of negative activities they were involved in.

Positive Screening
Positive screening grew out of the negative screening process. Some investors began to realize they could actively seek out and include companies with desirable characteristics in their portfolios, rather than simply avoiding companies that were not living up to their expectations.

So the next time you are looking at businesses to invest in, you may want to consider choosing a company that will not only be of benefit economically, but socially and environmentally as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Be a PEEPer!

The Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project kicked-off on April 24th with a dozen citizens receiving energy-saving light bulbs and information on how to save energy and money in the home. Our next class will be held at Seminole Community Library on Saturday, June 19th from 10:30-11:30 a.m. All of the classes are free and are offered as part of the US Department of Energy’s $3.5 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded to Pinellas County late last year. Pinellas County Extension’s application included money to provide education and energy-saving materials to the community at-large.

We are excited to bring the citizens of Pinellas County the tools they need to make significant energy savings in their homes. We have especially been targeting those citizens who would not have ready-access to energy saving information and equipment. The goals of this project include:
  • Providing information and equipment to Pinellas County citizens to help reduce energy consumption in the home.

  • Promoting a significant and quantifiable reduction in energy consumption in Pinellas County Facilitating a significant and quantifiable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Pinellas County.

Participants in this class will become part of a larger project, and will be contacted no more than three times to track the energy-saving measures they have taken.
Click here to register for this class. Remember that space is limited and registration closes 24 hours prior to class.

We hope to see you on June 19th!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE): Florida Legislature Passes Energy Financing Program

Written By:
Mary Campbell
Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent

A bill that will establish a renewable energy program in Florida was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2010. A PACE program allows local governments to finance renewable energy and storm resistance improvements for homeowner’s and businesses. There are 16 states with PACE programs already. Adding the storm resistance retrofits for Florida homes is a plus. A PACE bond provides a financing program through the local government to make improvements (solar systems or energy efficiency retrofits) that reduces up front costs. It is paid through property tax bills over 20 years and the goal is to create a positive cash flow with annual savings greater than the cost of the improvements.

Advantages for Homeowner’s

  • Lower energy bills and substantially reduced upfront costs for energy retrofits

  • Improved return on investment/positive cash flow on retrofits (annual savings greater than the cost)

A PACE program can significantly accelerate renewable energy, energy independence, green job creation and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Since the improvements stay with the property, so does the tax obligation—if the property is transferred or sold, the new owners will pay the remaining tax obligation. This helps reduce the barrier for homeowner’s that may not want to invest in a home they are not sure how long they will own. Supporting local government efforts to create this financing option is important to promote renewable energy.


U.S. Department of Energy PACE


Renewable Funding

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Environmental Film Festival June 11th & 12th




Join the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and other environmental partners for Wild & Scenic Film Festival. You will leave “feeling INSPIRED and MOTIVATED to go out and make a difference in your community and the world.”

June 11th from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm the Festival will be held at:
Curtis Fundamental Elementary School Auditorium
531 Beltrees St.
Dunedin, FL

June 12th from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm the Festival will be held at:
St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus
University Partnership Center Digitorium
9200 113th St.
Seminole, FL

There are different movies each night, please visit Creative Loafing for movie listings.

Tickets are $10 ($8 for students with ID) and can be purchased at the venue, online, and at Wilcox Nursery.

Door prizes will include 60w compact florescent light bulb courtesy of the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project.