Wednesday, December 10, 2014

La Plata County in the LEED

There is some good news for a previous bank building on 11th Street in Durango. It is being renovated to the tune of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED Certification.

La Plata County purchased the 12,658 square foot building, formerly owned by Vectra Bank, to accommodate the offices of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners, the County Assessor, County Administration and Finance. The building will be called the La Plata County Administration Building.

Mark McKibben, General Services Director
The $3.9 million project is being funded in part by a $1.5 million Energy Impact Assistance Grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Working with LEED Accredited Professional Michelle Reott of Earthly Ideas, La Plata County is striving for LEED Gold certification for the project.

Highlights of the project include:
  • Adding significant roof insulation to keep heat in during cold months and a white roof, membrane to reflect the sun in warm months,
  • Replacing windows with more energy efficient models,
  • Installing conduit for potential future electric vehicle charging stations,
  • Adding an elevator to provided access for those with disabilities, 
  • Using recycled concrete as fill material,
  • Installing a sophisticated building automation system to ensure efficient energy management,
  • Recycling all its materials using local firm Phoenix Recycling,
  • A much needed county training room with wireless, carts and technology upgrades,
  • Green power credits purchased from LPEA.
The finished building, with a total of 16,147 square feet with additions, is slated to be open and occupied in July of 2015. Compared to a 'code-compliant building', the remodeled La Plata County Administration Building will realize approximately 20% annual electricity and gas cost savings, saving taxpayers money for years to come. It is clear from this project, along with other LEED and ENERGY STAR buildings in the area, that Southwest Colorado is a leader in energy reduction and sustainable building initiatives.

About the Author
Teresa Shishim is a Colorado native who is dedicated to improving where we live through collaboration. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at Western Washington University and has significant experience managing and coordinating projects and programs, including marketing campaigns, volunteer programs, and events. She gained this experience through a variety of positions, including serving as the Director of a non-profit river restoration group and as Marketing Manager for a start-up software company. Teresa also owns the graphic design company Yoka Design.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One Millennial Can't Code

As a Millennial I feel somewhat ashamed to admit, I know nothing about writing code and practically nothing about website design. I know many Milliennials who not only know how to write code and build their own websites, but they practically taught themselves these skills. Not to say that people from other generations don’t have these skills, but it seems more common place in the Millennial generation. After all it’s impossible for most Milliennials to remember a time when home computers didn’t exist, let alone life without the internet, and as someone from this tech savvy generation I find my knowledge and skills of web design and code writing to be poor at best.

Despite my lack of knowledge of code writing and web design, I decided to undertake updating our 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage. Initially, I was thinking I would make some suggestions and then have Teresa, our website manager, make the changes for me. Teresa had other ideas however, and she gave me the necessary permissions and short tutorials necessary to make the changes myself. I started off just making minor edits regarding the details of the Refuel Colorado program and inserting new information on alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) that I thought might be helpful for fleets and the public at large. Soon afterwards, I found myself wanting the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage to do more.

I started off by embedding the Clean Cities YouTube Channel directly into the page so viewers can watch these videos without having to leave the 4CORE site. I then moved on to create an online sign up form for fleets to complete if they’re interested in a FREE fleet analysis for AFVs. While I didn’t embed this form into the website, I thought a clickable button would be a nice way for interested fleets to sign up for a FREE analysis (turns out having Teresa write the code and create the button for me was easier than her teaching me how to write the code and create the button).

I did manage to create and embed a “Statement of Interest” form to help demonstrate what the demand for alternative fuels may be like if the necessary fueling infrastructure were available in our area. Unfortunately, the form was too small and you couldn’t see the entire thing at once. Upon looking at the code I made a guess as to what numbers, symbols, and the like, were related to the size of the form. My guess was right and I made many changes to the code (actually I changed one number multiple times) until the form was the size I wanted.

Finally, I created and embedded a calculator for determining potential tax credits for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

Did you know if you buy a Tesla in Colorado, you could be eligible for up to $13,500 in state and federal tax credits? With the 4CORE Calculator for Determining Tax Credits for Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicles (I know the title isn’t very catchy) anyone can enter information specific to their electric vehicle purchase (cost, battery capacity, and incentives) and it will calculate the estimated state and federal tax credits they could receive. There is even more to the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage and I highly recommend taking a look at it!

Take time to browse the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage; play with the tax credit calculator, watch some Clean Cities YouTube videos, explore the various resources on AFVs, and register to attend the 4CORE/Colorado Energy Office (CEO) Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicle Event.

Event details:

Friday, December 12th, from 9:00 am - 11:00 am
La Plata County Road and Bridge Facility
365 S. Camino del Rio, Durango, CO 81303
FREE coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit for those who attend!

Eventbrite - 4CORE/Colorado Energy Office CNG Vehicle Event

We hope to see you there!

About the Author
Sarah is the Program Specialist at 4CORE who runs the Alternative Fuels Program. She is a Colorado native who fell in love with the Durango area while earning her Bachelor’s in Anthropology at Fort Lewis College. After graduation in 2010 she earned a Master’s in Anthropology and Certificate in Sustainable Urban Infrastructure from the University of Colorado Denver. Sarah moved back to Durango in 2012 in hopes of starting a career in the field of sustainable development. After a grueling 11 month AmeriCorps service term installing weatherization upgrades to low income housing in Southwest Colorado, Sarah is excited to be working with 4CORE on improving the sustainability and resiliency of our local communities.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part Three

Photo by Ethan Lofton
We began telling Will Finn's story this month in Part 1 and Part 2, and we wrap it up with this: They are not done yet.

After saving as much energy with efficiency measures in Part 1 and joining the Durango Community Solar Garden in Part 2, you'd think that Finn and Family would be finished with saving energy and money. But they are not.

'Q' is for Quality

Once he has completed all the efficiency upgrades that were prescribed in the HomeRx report, Finn plans to get a quality inspection from 4CORE to ensure the air leaks are plugged and his new appliances are working properly. Setting up the blower door for a second time after he has made the changes will let Finn rest assured that his home is sealed tight and the energy he needs to heat and cool will decrease.

Options for a Clean Commute

Will has recently become a big fan of the "Way to Go Club" in Durango. The little gifts every so often help keep him commuting by bike and connect him with others who are doing the same.

Additionally, Sandra commutes quite a way and now that they subscribe to solar power, they are looking into an electric car to commute responsibly. The Tesla models are the only electric cars that offer a long enough range for her commute. However, the financial investment is a barrier at this point. Will and Sandra are biding their time, as Tesla has announced a new Model 3 that will arrive in 2017, offering an affordable price with the range Sandra needs to get all the way to work. They are using this time to save up for another purchase from a solar garden to power this electric car.

Saving Water Outside

Most water at home is used on lawns and gardens in the summer. Will and Sandra will begin xeriscaping their front yard to reduce water use this coming spring. This will save water resources, as well as on water bills, which are likely to increase by next summer.

How About You?

Now that you've heard about Will, Sandra and Jasper, what is YOUR story? 4CORE would love to hear about your efforts in the comment section below!

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part Two

It is National Energy Awareness Month and we're celebrating by continuing our story about a family who is reducing their energy use.

In Part One of this story, we found out about the energy Will Finn and Sandra Beirne are saving at their home through an energy assessment and upgrades. Just around the time of this HomeRx Assessment, Solarize La Plata was accepting participants. Finn and Beirne signed up to take part.

As part of the process, Shaw Solar came to their home and did a site assessment. The outcome was not what they'd hoped for.

Shaw solar's utility bill analysis surmised that they would need a 6 kilowatt (kW) system to power their family's needs. The roof is marginal because they are shaded by a hillside and many trees. The house is oriented on north-south axis with the roof facing east and west. Because of these issues, Shaw recommended a pole mount system, which would have shaded their family garden and created what some might consider an eyesore in their neighborhood.

Though this was a setback for the family, sunnier news came quickly in the form of a Community Solar Garden. 

John Shaw & Friends
 at the Girls and Boys Club
At about the time they found out that the roof-mounted system would be out of reach, La Plata Electric Association approved Policy 366, which made it possible for the creation of Community Solar Gardens. Shaw Solar had two gardens to choose from- one in Ignacio and one in Durango. 

Because the Durango array will be located on the Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County building, Finn opted for this closer array so that his son could see where their power was being produced. Since the array will be visible from Main Avenue and  it is located on a non-profit that works with kids, there is a good chance that his son and other kids will be learning about the benefits of solar in their community- which were positives for Sandra and Will.

Using a 5% increase in electricity costs, Shaw estimated their payback to be approximately twelve years. Finn's family feels good knowing that electric prices will likely be rising faster than that (potentially producing a faster payback) and the environmental choice to take part in this Community Solar Garden was clear for them. They are now signed up to subscribe for 6 kW of power from this garden and feel much relieved that this was an option since their own roof mounted array was not.   

So they've got a safe and efficient home. They are on their way to solar power. What more can they do and what is next?

Find out the surprising answer in the third and final part of this series by subscribing to the 4CORE newsletter.

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part One

Will Finn and his family moved to their Durango home in April of 2013. Built in 1990, they were soon to find out how the home needed some attention to safety and efficiency.

Finn and family moved from Shiprock New Mexico, where he was briefly involved with a taskforce that worked to improve the efficiency of area homes so that they could move toward taking advantage of the area's abundant solar energy. This experience familiarized him with the notion that if a home is leaky and inefficient, there is no sense in investing in solar. Making a financial or an environmental decision for your home starts with efficiency.

Finn and his wife Sandra heard about 4CORE from La Plata Electric Association, who conducted an electricity usage assessment at no cost. The LPEA staff suggested several things that could make their home more efficient, including window blinds and a deeper analysis of their home through 4CORE's HomeRx Program.

Will and Sandra signed up for a comprehensive home assessment while getting a bid for new blinds. The estimate for insulating blinds was $6,000. In the end, they were glad to have the in-depth testing by 4CORE, which provided a blower-door and other technical assessments. Not only did these tests reveal they didn't need new blinds after all (they just needed to latch their windows), they discovered carbon monoxide was leaking from their furnace room, situated right next to the bedroom of their son.
“4CORE's thorough professional evaluation revealed many shortcomings of our home that we never would have noticed, including a potentially dangerous carbon monoxide back-draft on a part of our home that wasn't built to code.” 
Money Matters

Incentives made it possible for Finn to receive a total of $250 off the assessment and another $500 toward efficiency improvements that were recommended in the HomeRx report. All told with rebates and the federal tax credit, Finn saved $1,875 on their home improvement projects.

 Amount  Product/Service Grantor
 $150 HomeRx Assessment Energy Smart/ Atmos
 $400 Efficient Furnace Atmos
 $25 Programable thermostat Atmos
 $50 Proper Furnace sizing Atmos
 $100 HomeRx Assessment City of Durango
 $500 Efficient Furnace City of Durango
 $300 Fed tax credit for solar attic fans US Fed IRS
 $100 Marathon Water heater LPEA
 $250 30 LED bulbs LPEA
 $1,875 Total

New energy efficient furnace and marathon water heater
The 'To Get Done' List
"Many of these recommendations are cheap and easy to do on our own, but we are contracting out the bigger items, which is helping provide work for some local companies.”
The HomeRx Assessment helped educate Finn about specific tasks that would improve his home safety and efficiency. Here is the substantial list of improvements they have accomplished:
  • Sealed a heat duct that was causing an unsafe carbon monoxide back draft. Now they have a closed system in their furnace closet so that it isn't vented right next to their son's bedroom. 
  • Replaced their furnace with an efficient model 
  • Replaced water heater with a Marathon Model 
  • Installed a programmable thermostat to regulate temperature when they are not at home
  • Put a timer on the water heater in case 'time of use' from LPEA is an option. 
  • Replaced 57 light bulbs with efficient LED and CFL bulbs. This was a bigger project than he anticipated, but he took advantage of LPEA rebate of up to $10 per LED bulb. 
  • Caulked along windows
  • Insulated the attic hatch
  • Replaced recessed light housing because of the direct access to the attic from these cans. This is something he never would have done otherwise, but was a need that HomeRx revealed.
  • Installed solar powered attic fans. 
  • Sealed a heating vent in the laundry room (there were two heating vents in the laundry room so it was excessively warm) 
  • Installed new, more energy efficient bathroom fan in each bathroom
The last item that Finn is currently working on is to replace the foam board in the garage storage room.

A conservative estimate of $424 per year in energy cost savings based on these improvements was calculated by 4CORE.

Now that their home is more efficient, they are ready for the next step in their 'Journey to the Sun'. Stay tuned to the 4CORE newsletter for the Part Two!

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Energy Efficiency: The Carrot or the Stick?

Driving The VolvoMost of the time when I casually talk to people about energy consumption, they think the transportation sector is the largest consumer. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 40% of the total energy consumed in the United States in 2013, was consumed by residential and commercial buildings, and is equivalent to 40,000,000,000,000,000 BTUs. The same amount of energy is contained in over 320 Million gallons of gasoline.

If my car could last long enough I could drive 16.86 Million miles with all that gasoline. With our buildings consuming so much energy, most of which is coming from fossil fuels, what are we doing to curb this consumption?

Strategies for improving the energy efficiency of buildings include mandatory and voluntary programs. In some parts of the country there are time-of-sale, energy efficiency mandates in real estate transactions. Generally, these programs save between 3% and 6% on electricity, and between 5% and 15% on natural gas. In areas where time of sale energy efficiency mandates are in place, participation rates are around 89%. However, in areas where time-of-sale energy efficiency programs are voluntary, participation rates are less than 1%.

Green buildings, such as certified Energy STAR or LEED buildings, can see total energy savings between 20% and 33%. Across the country voluntary green building programs for new constructions have participation rates from less than 1% up to almost 8%.

In San Francisco, all newly constructed commercial buildings over 20,000 square feet, must be LEED certified. However, only about 0.2% of commercial building space is built new every year. Energy information display meters, which allow for real time viewing of energy consumption, can save between 6% and 12% of household electricity consumption. However, voluntary energy display meter programs have participation rates around 4% and I’m not currently aware of any mandatory energy display meter programs.

While these energy efficiency related programs have the potential to save a significant amount of energy, the majority of households and commercial businesses are not engaging in this programs.

CFL GlowLighting, which composes about 11% of a building’s total energy consumption, is one of the best energy efficient investments that people can make. Today there are federal regulations regarding lighting efficiency and a multitude of voluntary lighting efficiency programs. President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) in to law seven years ago. This mandate was intended to phase out old inefficient incandescent bulbs and bring lights that are 25% more efficient to the market at reasonable costs to consumers. However, in 2012 Congress passed an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act which denies funding for the Department of Energy to enforce the 2007 EISA. Thus, there is a federal mandate for energy efficient lighting, but there is no one enforcing the mandate.

In Seattle, a voluntary mail-in rebate for free compact fluorescent (CFL) lights, resulted in a 50% participation rate. In Denver, a door-to-door campaign, which gave two free CFLs to every household, resulted in a participation rate of about 10%. Other voluntary energy efficient lighting programs include demand side management offered by utility companies. While these voluntary lighting programs can have good results, lighting efficiency alone, is not enough to reduce the energy consumption of our buildings.

Energy audits, can proved building owners and occupants with a comprehensive list of energy efficiency upgrades to improve the buildings overall efficiency. For low-income residents there is the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides households with a free energy audit and free energy efficiency upgrades. Unfortunately, the demand for weatherization services exceeds the amount that can be covered by current funding. Only about 0.4% of the total housing stock receives free weatherization services.

In door-to-door campaigns in Denver that offered free energy audits to homeowner had participation rates around 10%; however only about 4% of those who received free energy audits followed through with installing energy efficiency upgrades. Over the last few years 4CORE has been providing homeowners with energy audits for a modest fee ($450-$650).

4CORE has performed energy audits on less than 1% of the homes in La Plata County that do not qualify for weatherization services. Has your home been assessed yet?

Through hard work and collaboration 4CORE has brought multiple incentives to the community for energy audits, including discounts from the City of Durango, ATMOS Energy, and Source Gas. Some homes in Durango could qualify for $250 in discounts for an energy audit performed by 4CORE. These programs are voluntary, and as an a-political nonprofit, 4CORE will not advocate for mandated energy audit programs. Rather, 4CORE will serve the community as a hub for energy efficiency information and inspire the community to invest further in energy efficiency on a voluntary basis.

Much of the information in this blog cam from “Quantifying Carbon Mitigation Wedges in U.S. Cities: Near-Term Strategy Analysis and Critical Review” by Ramaswami in Environmental Science and Technology, April 3, 2012.

For more information on the EISA legislation read the “How Many Politicians Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?” blog from the Alliance to Save Energy.

About the Author
Sarah Rank

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Switch: A Journey to the Future of Global Energy

Browsing through a newsletter several months ago, I stumbled across the name of a documentary created by a respected geologist and energy researcher, Dr. Scott Tinker. The name of the documentary was Switch. Intrigued, I Googled the title and discovered a treasure-trove of resources supporting a film and educational program called Switch Energy Project. After watching the trailer, I needed to see the film.

I had finally found what I was looking for: an unbiased, agenda-free documentary reporting the realities of our energy landscape. But first, let me provide a little background on why this documentary was important to me.

Coal mine from Switch
Last summer I received an internship with a major gold mining company in Nevada. At that time, I had little idea of what mining was about, or how I felt about the processes they use. All of the things I had ever read about it were extremely negative and spoke of toxic releases, damage to natural habitat, and threats to the health of humans and wildlife. After three months of working in production, I became familiar with the incredible amount of time, effort, and capital spent to produce an ounce of gold from the ground. And as I observed the immense efforts to stay within strict environmental permitting guidelines, helped in conducting a preliminary wildlife evaluation in an exploratory area, and witnessed the reclamation and replanting of native grasslands on former mine sites, my mind began to change about what it meant to safely and conscientiously extract metals and materials that our society demands. The process isn’t perfect, and many risks are involved, but our dependence on raw materials and goods will always require and support the existence of mining.

As a student immersed in the geosciences and familiar with the extractive industries, I have found myself on the fence between two warring sides in a longstanding battle between environmentalists and industry. I was, and still am, attempting to see both perspectives in a world that believes you can only choose one. The more I learned, the more I became disappointed and frustrated by the disinformation and slander exhorted by both sides. I began to search for an educational resource to share with my college and community to shed the light on the facts behind some of the most highly politicized and volatile arguments involving the extractive industries, without the presence of an industry or environmental agenda. For months, I found nothing that fit the bill until I stumbled upon Switch.

Concentrated Solar from Switch
Switch is not another documentary telling you what do. Instead, it presents the facts on our current state of energy consumption, quantitatively describes each resource in detail, and offers a prediction for the future of our energy landscape. It provides numerous interviews from leading energy experts, researchers, and officials, and brings the audience on a tour of diverse energy sites around the world to explore restricted areas rarely seen by anyone outside of industry. Its compelling and unbiased narrative has earned critical acclaim, numerous awards, and support from industry, policymaking, and environmental groups alike.

I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with the Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency (4CORE) to bring this film to Durango. It is my desire that Switch will spark tolerant and intelligent conversations about energy and our responsibility in conserving it. I hope that the realities presented in this film provide a sober awareness of the state of our energy needs and those required by a burgeoning population in the near future.

I hope members of our community leave more educated on the traditional, unconventional, and renewable energy resources available to us and use this knowledge in their future personal, political, and environmental decisions regarding energy.

For more info on Switch, visit their website. Two screenings will take place in Durango on Thursday, September 18th and Friday, September 19th. Join us for an evening of energy exploration!

About the Author

Sara Holden is a geology student entering her senior year at Fort Lewis College. Over the past year, she has grown increasingly interested in energy resources and her responsibility as a future geologist in their management. Luck led her to an internship with 4CORE, where for the past summer she has worked on bringing a particularly unique documentary to the Durango community.