No Dumping Grounds: NGOs and waste management in Tunisia

Waste management is something we tend to take for granted in the U.S. We put the trash out once a week, make a trip to the recycling center once a month and there you have it. Problem solved. 

Well in Tunisia the story is quite different. Waste management and recycling there are still fledgling industries. Littering isn’t yet a punishable crime — and plastic bags, bottles, and any other garbage you can think of, is everywhere.

But progress toward change is happening. Welcome to this week’s blog.

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While in Tunisia, the group of journalists I was with was privy to a tour of an NGO (non-governmental organization) headquarters for recycling in the region of Kelibia. 

Before the NGO (Kelibia Environmental Association) there were several problems.  First, there was no recycling center in the area. Most of the plastics, cardboards, glass and aluminum wound up on the side of the road. Second, many of the people living around the area were un- or underemployed. Third, may of the children didn’t have a place to hang out. 

The Kelibia Environmental Association took all of these factors together and came up with a solution: a community recycling center.

The center opened in 2003; since then it’s flourished. Jenhani Wahid, who oversees the center, explained. The NGO recycling center accepts four different kinds of plastic, cardboard, paper, glass, aluminum and iron. They pay members of the community to collect those items from the surrounding countryside for recycling. 

The NGO is more of a middle man then anything else, he said. They pay for collecting and storing the waste, and then turn around and sell it to local companies who actually do the recycling. “Collecting is the hard part,” Mr. Wahid said. “Recycling is easy.”

The NGO outfits 80 people (68 men and 12 women) with collecting supplies — basically a big cart, bags (like the one pictured above) and gloves —and sets them loose. In addition to those community members, the NGO also pays any of the children who collect recyclables and turn them into the NGO headquarters.

This is where it starts to get really cool.

The NGO headquarters, or citizen checkpoint as they sometimes call it, is also a community center for children and teens in the region. They have a library there, free computer and Internet access, a yard and an arts and crafts area. The arts and crafts supplies are actually the same plastic bottles and cans that the children collect. The kids  can cut, paint and construct them in any way they want. Many of the kids come there to hang out everyday it’s open (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.). There are about 200 children who participate regularly.

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There are a few more things worth noting: All of the organic matter the NGO collects they put into a compost heap and then use the fertilizer in their gardens. They also encourage the women to use it in their private gardens at home. 

Additionally, the NGO gives the children trees to plant all over the region (they’re goal is to plant 10,000), runs a free summer camp each year, organizes community meetings to explain the recycling program to citizens, and provides education to children about the importance of keeping the costliness free from trash as well as water pollution. Why focus of the children so much? Well, in Mr. Wahid words: “When you have the children with you, you don’t have to worry about the future.”

Even for a skeptical journalist — I was impressed. For any other skeptics out there, I’ll go into a little bit of their financing and background.

The Kelibia Environment Association has two full-time employees (Mr. Wahid is one of them), a few part-time workers, and LOTS of volunteers. The operation costs of the program are about 100,000 dinar a year (about $67,000).

It’s funded through ANGED, which is a acronym in French that stands for the Ministry of Environment, as well as through foreign investors including Japan and Switzerland. Oftentimes, more developed countries invest in helping underdeveloped countries go green as a part of their own environmental plan — we all share the same planet, right?  😉 

Electricity for the recycling center (which is separate from the community center) comes from solar panels. Mr. Wahid said they work “reasonably well.”  😉 Similar to Bowling Green, the one recyclable he said they have trouble selling is glass. If you’ll remember back to one of my earlier posts (“Reduce, reuse, RECYCLE” | 22 Sept. 2008), the Bowling Green recycling center also is unable to find a good market for its glass — it’s almost too difficult to be worth it. But both the Kelibia Environment Association and the Bowling Green recycling center (and probably countless others) continue to accept glass so it doesn’t wind up in landfills or elsewhere as litter.

Well, that’s a lot of it, in terms of information. But I think some of the pictures below will give a better idea about the group and some of the work it does. 

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This is some of the plastic stored at the recycling center. Mr. Wahid said it took about two months to collect this much — impressive considering it’s all done by hand. (Just imagine this beforehand — littered across the region).

 

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Some of the bags of recyclables the community waste collectors picked up. The cartoon animal on the front of the bags here (and pictured above) is a Labeeb, which means desert fox in Arabic. (I believe it’s called a “fennec” in English) The best way to describe him is that Labeeb is pretty much like Tunisia’s Smokey the Bear — only he’s concerned about all of the environment, not just the forests.

 

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These are some of the saplings that the NGO provides to the children to plant around the region. The goal is to plant about 10,000 throughout Kelibia.

 

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This is a section of the library in the community center. They’ve got a mix of books in Arabic, French and English. The books are in French because Tunisia, like Algeria and most of North Africa, was colonized by France at one time. Because of this a majority of the population, especially in the cities, speaks perfect French.

 

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Some of the waste collected by the children at the community center that was not turned into art projects (they have to recycle some of it!) 🙂 Mr. Washid said they pay the children both in money and in gifts for their work. 

 

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I thought I’d leave you with another one of the art projects by the children at the center. The community center is literally crammed full with creations like this one. They line the walls, tables and bookshelves — but it gives the room a nice, positive vibe.

 

Be sure to check back for more of what’s going green in BG — and around the world.

Until then,

Laura

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Letters home: Visual literacy and environmentalism

At its heart, environmentalism, or going green, is really all about learning to think in new ways. It’s about thinking outside of the box and then sharing that knowledge with the public — because knowledge always predicates positive action.

That kind of thinking is what this post is all about.

I have to thank my friend from Algerian Television, Reporter Nor El Houda, for the information contained in this post. She presented some of it publically at the conference and more of it privately in greater detail.

Nor, a reporter for a Monday morning television program on Algerian TV, researches and reports on Algerian environmentalism — and this is the best part — she does it through postage stamps.

Seriously, and it’s fantastic.

I’ll provide a little history to put this in context. The country is located in the North of Africa and therefore is largely a desert. Geographically, it is the largest country in Africa.

Algeria won independence from France on July 5, 1962. At that time it was largely undeveloped and its population was very spread out — water and fertile soil were scarce and valuable resources.

Right after the war the country’s fledgling government realized it was going to have to create a campaign to address the serious environmental issues it faced, most notably, desertification. Without tackling these issues head-on, the country could not remain sovereign.  Algeria needed to educate its people on ways they could help the country conserve what precious resources it had.

So, the question we’re all wondering: Why did they do it through postage stamps?

The answer is a practical one. Every year millions of letters are sent all across Algeria — even to the most remote regions. Millions of letters, millions of eyes and millions of minds. Both the sender and the receiver of a letter see the stamp it’s sent with. Images are a powerful medium and visual literacy succeeds where traditional literacy cannot.

With these factors taken into consideration it’s obvious why postage stamps became a dominant way to educate citizens on the environment.

Over the years the massages have ranged from tackling desertification and conserving water, to disaster relief for the devastating Algiers earthquake of 2003. There are also stamps on the national parks, endangered species, Arbor Day and the dangers of pollution, to name just a few.

Algeria is still a country that lacks development in many regions, and so postage stamps are still used as a dominate means to spread environmental messages. And information

Nor said she’s been collecting these stamps for years. The last time she counted was in 1997 — at that time she had over 500,000. 

That number includes some of these duplicates she was kind enough to give to me:

This stamp from 1976 was designed to educate the public about ho they could help to fight desertification. The men shown are soldiers demonstrating how to plant trees strategically to create a “green dam” or an area of desert boxed in by trees. Eventually, the land within the green dam would transform from barren wasteland to fertile soil, and could then be reclaimed.

 

 

This stamp from 2003 is designed to show how water has historically been conserved in the region — from early civilizations through today. The idea here, according to Nor, is to pass on knowledge about how the region has dealt with the issue through time, so that current citizens can learn from successful strategies of the past. 

 

 

This stamp from 2001 commemorates the National Parks of Algeria in order to reinforce the value of protecting wild areas and natural resources. These parks are areas of exceptional biological diversity in terms of the country’s flora and fauna. 

 

 

This stamp is another call to action about desertification. Ne désertez pas les zones arides! Roughly translated: Don’t desert arid regions! — Pun intended 😉 This call continues to be a major theme of Algerian environmentalism. 

 

 

This allegory stamp from 1985 is intended to spread the idea that environmental conservation includes not only the land, but the ocean and marine life as well. 

 

Be sure to check back next week for more information from: Going Green Beyond Borders — Tunisia, Algeria and the U.S.

Until then,

Laura

 

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Going Green Beyond Borders — Tunisia, Algeria and the U.S.

As my faithful readers may have noticed — I haven’t posted in about two weeks. Calm down, calm down. There’s good reason: Tunisia.

That’s right, for the last two weeks, I’ve been attending an environmental journalism workshop in Tunis, Tunisia.  We discussed all kinds of issues relating to contemporary media coverage of the environment, specifically focusing on Tunisia, Algeria and the United States. 

The workshop was the second installment of a three part project, funded by the U.S. State Department and offered through my university, Bowling Green State. Since I had the incredible opportunity to be a part of this historic project, I will be passing on some of what I learned while there. There’s too much to fit into one blog post, so I’m hoping to do it in two — one this week and one next week. 

Stay tuned.

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Obama and energy: How the economic crisis could affect campaign promises

The economy is still in turmoil and the environment is still in shambles, but we have a new president-elect: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Although this blog tends to focus on Bowling Green, Ohio, a presidential election only comes around every four years, and arguably this last one was the most important of a generation. For these reasons we’ll go national this week, keeping in mind that national policy always has local implications.

Throughout the campaign Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., fought to distinguish themselves on the campaign trail by offering the best set of plans for our country’s future. In the end, Obama won.

Now that he has, let’s take a look at what he’s promised to do. Then we’ll take a look at promised changes he, and we, might have to give up thanks to Wall Street and its $700 billion bailout.
Welcome to this week’s topic.

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In the first year and a half of this campaign spirits were high and so were promises. Obama said he would work on tax restructuring, education, health care, the War in Iraq and clean energy and global climate change: A heavy plate for anyone — even in the best of economic situations.

As you may have noticed we are not in the best of economic situations — quite the opposite, in fact.

Regardless, here’s what Obama had promised to do in terms of new energy and global climate change:

• Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump (Arguably, this is no longer necessary in light of recent gas prices — $1.81 this week at USA Gas!)

• Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.

• Within ten years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.

• Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon —on the road by 2015; cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.

• Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.

• Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

*Barack Obama’s Web site has slightly more a detailed outline of these plans, specifically more information on how they are to be accomplished.

$700 billion later …

As Obama spent the end of the week choosing top aids and appointing cabinet positions, he has repeatedly acknowledged that some of his plans will be put on the backburner, in light of the financial crisis strangling the nation. Some of them may not even be able to be accomplished at all. However in an interview on CNN, Obama ranked his top priorities:

1.) An economic recovery package that would include middle-class tax relief

2.) Energy

3.) Health care

4.) Tax restructuring

5.) Education

Seeing energy sitting pretty at No. 2 is definitely a good sign because it openly acknowledges how central it is to the future health, economy, safety and security of the U.S.

Another positive factor for those who are green at heart is that a large part of Obama’s new energy plan involves the creation of a “green collar” industry in the U.S. — including about 5 million new jobs over the next 20 years. Here might be a silver lining of the economic crisis. Our country needs more jobs and if we can get them through environmentally responsibly means, all the better.

The New York Times, among others, reported Friday that the economy shed 240,000 jobs during the month of October and another 280,000 during September, brining our current unemployment rate to 6.5 percent. This is the highest it’s been in 14 years.

(Interestingly, 14 years ago was right in year two of president Bill Clinton’s first term. Meaning the last time the economy was this bad was right after George Bush Sr. left office).

Anyway, because of these factors, I think it would be unlikely Obama would put the still fledgling green industry on the political back burner. It’s much more likely that some of his new economic policy will hinge on job creation in that sector. The local impact here is two-fold because of the auto-industries in Toledo and Detroit.

However, as many top news organizations including the New York Times, are reporting, this doesn’t negate the fact that Obama’s plans are likely to be slimmed down to some extent. As John Tuck, a former aid to President Ronald Reagan, put it: “The poor man has his hands tied by the economic and financial mess we have right now. … I don’t know what his options are. They’re very, very limited.”

But Obama has said many of the things he promised, “can’t afford to wait.”

“We can’t afford to wait on moving forward on the key priorities that I identified during the campaign, including clean energy, health care, education and tax relief for middle class families,” he said.

Also in the New York Times this weekend was official speculation on what just form Obama’s revised plans might take:

“On energy and climate change, Mr. Obama’s focus has shifted markedly over the course of the year as the economy has weakened.

An earlier proposal put an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gases, requiring industry and utilities to buy credits from the government to emit carbon dioxide. That plan would produce hundreds of billions of dollars in government revenue and drive up the cost of energy for everyone.

Mr. Obama is now emphasizing a program to spend $150 billion over 10 years to develop renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar and biofuels, and to encourage energy conservation in homes, offices and public buildings. He would also provide substantial financial help to the auto industry to develop high-mileage and electric cars.”

One key part in there is the $150 billion over 10 years for the development of renewable resources. That is where Obama has said the 5 million new “green collar” jobs will come from.

To look locally, that could bode well for companies like Calderon Energy. Based in Bowling Green the company researches and develops clean coal technology, which Obama has said could be a priority.

Coal is America’s most abundant energy resource, but it’s also a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Obama has said he wants to create five, first of a kind, demonstration clean coal-fired power plants. The plants would use carbon capture and sequestration techniques so they wouldn’t add any greenhouse gasses, he said.

In terms of combating global climate change, there’s good news and bad news. Obama has said he will “re-engage” in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in order to help make the U.S. a leader in that struggle.

Obama has also said he would renegotiate or possible pull out of NAFTA, which has been a source of both environmental and human rights violations and problems since President Clinton signed it into law.

However, speculators consider this unlikely because of the political and economic costs that would come with it. During the campaign, this had been something I was particularly interested in, and I know Latin America had been paying attention as well. Unfortunately, in light of the economic crisis, this issue might not, and in fact probably won’t, get tackled. According to the New York Times:

“No legal hurdle would prevent President-elect Obama from pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a distinction from other trade deals. … [But] with little political upside and so much potential downside, this may be one issue Mr. Obama prefers not to touch.”

For now it’s a kind of waiting game to see which campaign promises get scrapped and which get funding. This election year had some of the highest voter turnout in the history of the U.S. In Wood County, turnout was above 60 percent — in nearby Henry County turnout was a record-breaking 98 percent.

The same level interest showed on Nov. 4, needs to be carried over the next four years. If the last eight years has taught us anything it should be that only be paying attention and critiquing our leaders decisions can any real positive change come about.

As Obama said once: “I’m asking you to believe, not just in my ability to bring change to Washington, but to yours.”

Be sure to check back for more of what’s going green in BG.

Until then,

Laura

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In his own words: A video of Obama’s “blueprint for change” in energy policy.

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A bright future

So far we’ve talked about wind energy, ethanol and the recycling process. But this week we’ve got an energy solution that “outshines” all of those — the sun.

Driving around Bowling Green you can’t help but notice the solar panels in place. There are solar panels on top of the BGSU ice arena, the Bowling Green High School, and on the roofs of several houses in town. There’s a solar panel by the “Welcome to Bowling Green” sign on North Main Street. The pedestrian crosswalk on Mercer Street is also powered by the sun. Additionally, because it really wouldn’t have made sense to do it otherwise, the information station for the wind turbines on Route 6 is also run off of solar panels. And perhaps most notably, the stoplights at the intersection of Main and Wooster streets are powered by solar panels.

That’s a lot — but that’s not even all.

Solar power impacts the average Bowling Green resident nearly every day — but most of us know virtually nothing about it.

Welcome to today’s topic: The Hows and Whys of solar energy.

Once you start looking around you’ll see that solar power is everywhere: from those cheap plastic calculators that teachers farmed out to you in your elementary school math class to the acres of solar mirrors laid out in desert fields in the Southwest.

There are two basic ways to gather and produce energy from the sun — the most common is solar panels, and the second, which we’ll get to a little later, involves a little “smoke and mirrors.” 😉

Let’s start with some background on solar panels or cells.

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic cells — photo, meaning light, and voltaic, meaning electricity (PV cells for short).

A PV cell is made of a material called a semiconductor. A semiconductor is exactly what it sounds like — is a material that semi-conducts. Basically, it can conduct a small amount of energy — think of it as a middle road between full-on conductors, like copper, and full-on insulators, like plastic or wood.

The semiconductor used most often in solar panels is Silicon. This is where it gets a bit sciency, but bare with me.

Because of the silicon used to make them, each solar panel has its own electric field. Again that’s because silicon is a semiconductor.

The final thing to keep in mind is that a Silicon atom has 14 electrons — don’t worry about that too much — just keep it in mind.

Now that we know something about the panel, let’s see what happens when we stick it in the sun.

The basic process:

• The sunlight shines on the solar cell, which absorbs some of that light.

• The energy from that absorbed light “knocks loose” some of the Silicon electrons, so now they can move freely — kind of. Like we said, each solar cell already has a built in electrical field — a by-product of Silicon used to make them. So the electrons that were “knocked loose” a minute ago by the incoming sunlight are essentially forced to flow in the same direction as the cell’s natural electrical field.

• This movement creates an electric current.

• Finally, by placing metal on the top and bottom of each solar cell, we can draw energy off of that current, thus creating electricity to power things — like that cheap plastic calculator from Math class or the traffic lights at Main and Wooster streets.

So that’s basically how solar works. Cool, huh?

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If you’re interested in some more details — such as why Silicon has an electric current, or how come only some of the light from the sun is absorbed — scroll down to the bottom of this blog to read on. For the rest of you let’s head for the “smoke and mirrors” I mentioned before.

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Now, compared to the process behind the solar panel, this is simple. Essentially, a bunch of mirrors are laid out across acres of desert, usually in the Southwest.

A solar field in Arizona. *Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

A solar field in Arizona. *Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

The mirrors reflect the sunlight towards large vats of fluid.

The heat from the reflected sunlight on these vats causes the fluid to make steam. The steam turns a turbine, which generates electricity. Essentially, smoke and mirrors, right?   😉

An article in the New York Times goes into some more detail about the potential future of these large scale “sun-farms” — there aren’t that many right now.

For obvious reasons, namely the persistent cloud cover, this would not be an option for many places in the U.S., including Northwest Ohio. However, once the energy produced by these sun-farms is tied into the power grid, essentially any municipal power group could purchase a share of the clean solar energy.

As you can see the potential for solar is really heating up — both across the U.S. and here in Bowling Green. Now that you’ve got a little knowledge about solar, be sure to impress your friends by spouting off facts next time you drive downtown … or by the high school …. or the north side of town … or by the ice area … or … well you get the idea. Be sure to check back next week for more of what’s going green in BG 🙂

Until then,

Laura

 

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So how come only some of the sun’s light is absorbed? Why not all of it?

OK. So, on a typical sunny day, the sun shines about 1,000 watts of energy per square meter on the Earth’s surface — that could pretty easily power every home and business in the U.S. However, a fully productive solar cell can only absorb 25 percent of the sun’s light — and it’s usually much less than this — closer to 15 percent.

Bummer, I know. Here’s why:

First of all, Silicon is a reflective material, and any reflected light can’t be absorbed by the solar cell. To compensate, an antireflective coating is applied, and this cuts down on loses, but even with that, about 5 percent of the total incoming light is still reflected away.

But most of the energy loss has to do with the nature of light in general. You probably remember from 8th grade science class that there are many different kinds of light — not just visible light. Simply put, not all of these lights can be absorbed effectively within the solar cell.

Each kind of light has a different kind of wavelength. So sunlight in general has a wide array of energies. Remember, the light coming in has to have enough energy to “knock loose” the Silicon electrons.

Some of the light doesn’t have enough energy to do that, so all of that energy is lost.

On the flip side, other types of light have too much energy. So any energy left over is lost as well.

This accounts for the other 70 percent of the total lost energy. So adding everything together we get a maximum productivity of 25 percent for each solar panel. The reason it’s typically a bit lower than this (about 15 percent of the sun’s light is normally absorbed) is because of cloud cover.

As for the electric current in Silicon …

The reason each solar panel has an electric current is because the silicon used to make the panel isn’t pure — it’s doped. Doping Silicon atoms means adding another chemical to them.

The electric current within each solar cell is created by mixing these modified Silicon atoms.

There are two main types of modified Silicon used: N-type (negative) and P-type (positive). The N-type is Silicon mixed with Phosphorus and has extra electrons. The P-type is Silicon mixed with Boron and has too few electrons.

Basically, when these two modified Silicones are mixed together the extra electrons rush to fill up the holes, creating a small electrical current. Here’s a simplified picture:

If you’re still looking for more, you’re obviously procrastinating. BUT …

The New York Times explains how large corporations and chain stores are using solar panels.

Additionally, an electric company in California is installing a “patchwork” of solar panels on two square miles of rooftops. 

 

Sources:

HowStuffWorks. “How Stuff Works: Solar Cell” <http://science.howstuffworks.com/solar-cell1.htm&gt;;

And all of the cited New York Times articles. 

 

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Return of the “2” and its effect on green

Amid falling gas prices and a struggling economy green energies may take a hit, despite many campaign promises. What are the national trends and forecasts, and how will that play out locally? Welcome to today’s topic.

Lower gas prices and a sour economy combine to make the future of green energy uncertain.

A Perfect Storm: Lower gas prices and a sour economy have combined, making the future of green energy uncertain. *Photo credit - George Frey, Bloomberg News

 As most anyone with a car has noticed gas prices have fallen — a lot. Thomas Friedman, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, observed, “the 2 is back.”

The “2” is most definitely back. As I type the USA Gas gas station on South Main Street in Bowling Green is selling unleaded for $2.15 a gallon. As the line of cars waiting to fill-up earlier tonight would suggest, people are taking advantage of the lower gas costs. But what’s the price to green energies?

As the New York Times put it earlier this week, alternative energy is suddenly facing headwinds. 

A business news article from Wednesday states:

“Advocates are concerned that if the prices for oil and gas keep falling, the incentive for utilities and consumers to buy expensive renewable energy will shrink. That is what happened in the 1980s when a decade of advances for alternative energy collapsed amid falling prices for conventional fuels.”

Additionally important to take into consideration is the climate on Wall Street as banks refuse to loan to each other — or to anyone in general, it seems — an its impact. Without loans companies can’t acquire the capital needed for investment in green technologies, which typically require enormous initial investments. There had been incredible growth in this area, until recently.

The Times continues:

“Worldwide project financings for new construction of wind, solar, biofuels and other alternative energy projects this year fell to $17.8 billion in the third quarter, from $23.2 billion in the second quarter, according to New Energy Finance, a research firm in London. The slide is expected to be sharper in the fourth quarter and next year.”

Friedman elaborated on this point in his Thursday op-ed “Bailout (and Build up),” by painting a picture of this kind of Perfect Storm working against going green. 

He wrote:

“with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of our budding clean-tech revolution?

This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends — with our re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for our economy, trade balance, security and environment.”

To that, OPEC decided this week to reduce its production of crude oil by 1.5 million barrels a day in an effort to re-inflate prices. They’re expected to meet again this week and could potentially cut production by another 0.5 million barrels a ay. However, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, OPEC members are infamous for not following their own mandates. What all of this serves to further is the idea that gas prices are likely to remain low for some time as the economy continues to weaken. 

As nice as it feels to get a break at the pump, that break combined with the unprecedented economic concerns facing the country, may very well serve to weaken the green resolve of many – from utilities and states, to presidential candidates – forcing a backsliding on new energy technology as it becomes too expensive in a time where everyone is looking to save.

As the Times notes,

“after years of rapid growth, the sudden headwinds facing renewables point to slowing momentum and greater dependence on government subsidies, mandates and research financing, at a time when Washington is overloaded with economic problems.”

It concludes by stating,

“some analysts say the government supports may not be enough to propel continued growth for renewables, noting that several states have already relaxed their goals.

‘When they can’t meet their targets … they change them.’”

Now, since this is a local blog, lets steer the conversation a little closer to home. Locally, green technology has been an issue gaining a lot of attention.

Several candidates on the November ballot are running on green-tech platforms. Republican Jim Carter, running for re-election to the Wood County Commissioners, has for years been a supporter of green industries including wind technology (last week’s blog has more info on wind energy), and capturing methane gas from the county landfill.

Carter has also said he wants to encourage job creation in the county by attracting new industries — the marriage of these two ideas could provide an ideal solution.

His opponent, Democrat Joel Kuhlman, is also campaigning on the advancement of green energy. According to a recent article in the Sentinel-Tribune:

“One of Kuhlman’s goals would be to establish a reputation in the county as a place willing to grow green energy and great schools – not just be excited when they locate here, but actually push for their arrival.”

Perhaps both men have it right. Depending on the steps taken in the next few years, the economic downturn could mark either the end or the beginning of the green movement and new energy technology.

As Friedman argues,

“It has to be the latter. We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.”

We know from last week that, among other things Bowling Green has set an unofficial goal of being 40 percent renewable in the next two to three years. With all of these new concerns, can that scenario still play out? Will other green efforts in the county go through?

Either way, it will be important to pay attention as this Perfect Storm plays out on local and national levels.

Until next time,

Laura

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Articles for further reading:

• The New York Times, “Alternative energy suddenly faces head winds”

A summary of where green industry is, how it got there and where it might go now.

• Thomas Friedman, “Green the Bailout”

An energy technology revolution is the way to save America’s troubled economy.

• Thomas Friedman, “Bailout (And Buildup)”

The return of $2 gasoline and its effects on green energy technology.

• Interesting commentary on the competition between American consumption rates and desires to go green.

•  Joel Kuhlman, Democratic candidate for the Wood County Commissioner, states his new energy philosophy.

• Jim Carter, Republican incumbent running against Kuhlman, gives his green vision for Wood County

 

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Energy? The answer is blowing in the wind

This week’s post is all about wind.

Actually it’s all about the four windmills outside of town, (the state’s only utility-sized wind farm!) and how they work.

But first, a bit of local history.

Paul Brock, assistant utilities director for Bowling Green, said the 7.2 Megawatt wind farm was the “brain child” of former Utilities Director. Back in 1999 he put up a 50-meter wind monitoring station to see if having turbines in BG would be feasible.

As anyone who’s ever walked anywhere in BG in the winter knows — it was.

So in 2003 the city purchased the two initial turbines at a cost of $2.5 million each. A year later, the last two were purchased bring the grand total to $10 million. At this point the city refinanced the windmills through AMP-Ohio, a utilities co-op that supplies Bowling Green’s power.

The power generated by the windmills is enough to power about 1,500 homes for one year — basically 2 percent of BG’s power comes form the windmills. 

Brock said the windmills would be entirely paid off in 10 years. At that point the city would be essentially receiving “free” power (minus the cost of maintenance and upkeep, which Brock put at $200,000 a year for all of the windmills). The lifespan of a windmill is as long as the city chooses to maintain it.

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Now that you’ve go a bit of history go ahead and take a tour of the wind farm … 

Now give it some context. See how Bowling Green stacks up with other Ohio cities in terms of green energy …


Lookin’ some additional info?

In terms of their performance, Brock said the best months for the windmills are in the winter, and the worst months are during the summer:

(On both photos, click for a larger image)

 And here’s a more detailed break down of the combined output of the four turbines during the month of February (2008):

 

And as a brief historical aside …

As you might imagine, today’s windmills are a far cry from their predecessors. Check it out:

Photo Credit Enoch Wu, The BG News

One of the Wind turbines outside of BG

Photo Credit Enoch Wu, The BG News

 

During the winter of 1887-88 Charles Brush* built what is today believed to be the first automatically operating wind turbine for electricity generation.

During the winter of 1887-88 Charles Brush* built what is today believed to be the first automatically operating wind turbine for electricity generation.

*Charles Brush is kind of the forgotten wind pioneer, and he’s actually from Cleveland, Ohio. The windmill pictured above is at what would become the corner of 37th and Euclid streets.

The Danish Wind Energy Association provides some good information about him and his turbines. 

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That pretty much cover it for this week folks. But be sure to check back next week for more of what’s going green in Bowling Green.

Until next time,

Laura

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