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Monday, November 29, 2010

No-Cost and Low-Cost Ways to Lower Your Power Bill

By: James Stevenson, Extension Urban Sustainability Specialist

With Old Man Winter poised to rap his icy (OK, chilly) knuckles upon our door, it is time to begin to plan on energy savings throughout the cool season.

Believe it or not, there are ways to improve a home’s energy efficiency that cost nothing or nearly nothing. Let’s start with the number one consumer of electricity in the house (no, not teenagers); the HVAC or Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning System. Perhaps yours has had a break during October and November, but soon we will be conditioning our indoor space for comfort in cooler weather.

The University recommends setting the thermostat at 68°F in winter. Drafty windows and doors can make 68 degrees seem much cooler, so check for leaks. Caulk and weather stripping are inexpensive fixes to keep heated air INDOORS.

Of course, change your system’s filter now if you have not done so already. This keeps the system running smoothly. Make sure the outdoor unit of your heat pump is free of debris. Keep foliage at least 2 feet away from the unit so it can do its job efficiently.

If you have a ceiling fan, set it to turn clock-wise for winter. It can help bring warm air down from the ceiling. Make sure it is on a low setting; otherwise it will feel like a cool breeze on your skin!

There are many more tips and hints to ensure an affordable, yet comfortable winter. Join us for a free webinar as we explore the latest from the University of Florida. Sign-up for Solutions in 30, on December 8th and we will talk you through easy and cheap ways to lower your energy bills year-round!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Treat Your Guests for Less this Holiday Season

Guest Blogger: Suzanne Grant, APR
Spokesperson/Lead Communications Specialist
Progress Energy

Holiday gatherings spark the potential for significant energy savings!

If your home is the home for family and friends this holiday season, chances are you’re looking for ways to keep everyone comfortable and content while sharing in the holiday cheer. Progress Energy offers a number of suggestions to help the hospitable host control energy costs without taking away from the holiday fun.

The quest to save energy and money this holiday season begins in the kitchen.

An oven costs 33 cents an hour to operate. Save time and money by baking holiday goodies together.

When reheating yesterday’s treats, opt for the toaster oven or microwave. A toaster oven costs just 7 cents per hour to operate, and a microwave typically uses about 75 percent less energy than an oven. When possible, consider using a slow cooker, which can cook an entire meal using only about 17 cents worth of electricity.

Chances are the flurry of excitement within your home will mean more people than usual are heading to the fridge. Minimize the impact of every trip by keeping your refrigerator well stocked. This will lessen the amount of time and energy it takes to cool back down after the door is opened. Better yet, put your guests’ drinks on ice to give your fridge a break while allowing yourself room to work in the kitchen.

If you’re entertaining guests with a passion for technology, there’s a good chance they could spend some time playing video games in front of the TV. Be sure they’re not running up your energy bill in the process. A plasma TV and a video game system can use as much energy as a refrigerator. Even when they’re turned off, these electronics and others often draw a charge. The best solution is to turn off the power strip connected to any unused electronics.

If there is a fireplace in your home, you can reduce the amount of energy used to keep your guests warm and cozy by lighting a fire instead of turning on the central heating system. Just remember to close the flue when the fireplace isn’t in use to prevent the loss of warm air.

For more energy-saving tips, visit

Progress Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN), provides electricity and related services to more than 1.6 million customers in Florida. The company is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., and serves a territory encompassing more than 20,000 square miles, including the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as the Central Florida area surrounding Orlando. Progress Energy Florida is pursuing a balanced approach to meeting the future energy needs of the region. That balance includes increased energy-efficiency programs, investments in renewable energy technologies and a state-of-the-art electricity system. For more information about Progress Energy, visit

Presents with a Purpose

Looking for inspiration for your gift giving this holiday season without all the stress of long lines and traffic jams at the mall? Here are some ideas for some meaningful gifts with a smaller environmental impact.

Make your own gifts
Gifts you make yourself are more personal, can be less expensive and don't have wasteful packaging. Take those treasured family recipes and copy them into a colorful journal or print them on festive recipe cards. Pack them up into a basket with various kitchen items. Small herb plants nestled together in a pretty basket with a favorite recipe card for using each herb is a great gift idea.

If you are not the crafty type there are many local art and craft shows that help you find that special something. Buying from local artists helps support the local economy. The Florida Botanical Gardens is having a special gift and plant sale on December 12. Visit for information on the event.

Give your time
The holidays are about giving and sharing. Make a coupon book filled with orders for good deeds. The coupons could include a home-cooked meal, car wash, a day of babysitting or several trips to the grocery store for that elderly neighbor. Volunteerism, especially around the holidays, offers an ideal opportunity for families to have fun and feel closer to each other. By reaching out to others in the community you drive home the message that giving is much more than laying down cash for the latest hot gift of the season.

Give an experience
An idea for giving without all the wrapping is the gift of “an experience”. A gift certificate might be just the thing for someone who would like to begin a new hobby, polish the skills they have already learned or go some place new. A membership to a gym, museum or the zoo is could be a perfect gift for a family member or friend. Consider signing someone up for lessons in music or a foreign language or sport like golf or tennis.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission invites you to attend an introduction to the Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative for the Tampa Bay area.

This event, hosted by Florida Sea Grant, will be held:

Wednesday, December 1st(for non-government)6:00 –9:00 p.m.

Thursday, December 2nd(for government) 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

At the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center 5300 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach.

The Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative is a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission program with the mission of: Ensuring the long-term conservation of native wildlife in coastal ecosystems throughout Florida in balance with human activities. Join us to discuss a partnership & strategies to address coastal area issues of concern.

We ask that you let us know if you plan to attend. Please register:

If you have any questions or would like additional information, contact:
Laura DiGruttolo,
CWCI Coordinator, or 386.758.0525

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Get Rid of Unwanted Mail?

By: Mary Campbell, Urban Sustainability Agent

I often get asked this question when discussing reducing paper use. Since we each use approximately 700 pounds of paper each year, the amount of energy to make, transport and dispose of this paper is significant. So we print on both sides, widen our margins, only print when we must and recycle as much as we can. Then we open the mailbox and are faced with a flood of paper in the form of catalogs, advertising, and product offers. How do we stop this flood of unwanted mail? I found an excellent resource for this information: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Protection.

The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service has a website that walks you through the options to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies. Once you have filled out the forms and selected your preferences it will reduce the selected mail for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail marketers. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service, go to

As we move into the season for catalogs, look for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle this paper. Go on-line to the catalog website and ask to receive only on-line information, offer catalogs to others who may be interested, and always recycle the catalogs when done. Make your preference for less paper known to businesses so they can be part of the solution to reduce waste.

Additional Resource:
EPA Paper Use -

Monday, November 1, 2010

Carbon Capture – Natural vs. Artificial

By: Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent

Geoengineering or climate engineering is an engineering concept that focuses on the deliberate manipulation of the environment to counteract global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. Geoengineering is currently being applied to carbon capture in the environment in an effort to mitigate climate change impacts.

It is a known biological fact that plants and trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and releases oxygen thereby reducing the damaging effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is it possible to create a piece of “equipment” that can function like a natural tree?

Recent science has shown that “50% of global carbon dioxide emissions are emitted from non stationary and dispersed sources with… 20% from the transportation sector…” (IME, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 2009). If an artificial tree can duplicate a natural process, then it is possible to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale provided of course, that the trees are mass produced and well distributed.

An artificial tree can operate in 3 phases – capture, removal and storage. In phase one, the “tree” traps carbon dioxide using a filter chamber that absorbs the CO2. The filter chamber and material mimic the functioning of the leaves. In phase two, the CO2 is removed from the filter and released by a cleaning process. Finally, the carbon dioxide can be transported, stored and secured according to the principles for conventional carbon capture and storage.

Some of the obvious advantages of the artificial tree include portability – it can be placed anywhere. With some tweaking of existing technology, the artificial tree can surpass a natural tree in its ability to capture and release the CO2. The obvious disadvantage with an artificial tree is its cost of production and relative energy consumption in the removal and storage process for CO2.

Despite these limitations, imagine the possibility of urban highways and forests with artificial trees that may each remove up to 1 ton of CO2 per day, the equivalent of 20 vehicles in the U.S.

For some perspective on the natural versus artificial argument, consider the regenerative capacity of the natural tree, the limitation imposed by type and location of urban forests, and the energy used to produce organic compounds in the photosynthetic process. An artificial tree can be:

  • manufactured to specific carbon capture standards so there is no need to wait 100 years to see its carbon capture potential

  • can be placed anywhere

  • there is no need to use energy to produce organic compounds like sugars to “feed” the tree

This type of commercial scale carbon sequestration strategy is already occurring in countries like Canada and Norway. Here in the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy is conducting research on using the technology.

Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), United Kingdom
Geo-engineering options
Department of Energy
National Academy of Sciences