Inspiration for conservation

By Julian Wise - May 11, 2006

Students from the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School have their mini-vehicles on their marks, getting set to compete in the Solar Car Race. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Energy conservation often seems like the weather; everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Saturday's Energy Day at the Grange in West Tisbury offered Islanders the opportunity to learn about a new wave of technological initiatives that are helping conservation and alternative energy bridge the gap between idealism and practical reality.

Outside the hall, a giant green R.M. Packer truck displayed B-20 bio-diesel fuel made with plant-based oils. Fuel deliveryman Ed Benner said the fuel's been available on the Island for the past two years and is slowly gaining popularity as an alternative method of heating homes and powering autos. Inside the Grange, a panoply of booths offered information on wind and solar power, biomass composting, transportation efficiency, and other methods of reducing our reliance on foreign petroleum. One booth promoted rooftop turbines as a way of providing self-generated electricity. Representatives from the Honeywell Corporation discussed their Energy Expert services for the home with programmable thermostats and zoning systems that limit heating and cooling to the rooms in use. Nelson Mechanical Designs demonstrated how home construction can incorporate energy efficiency from the ground up. Michael Berry of the Weatherization Services at Lower Cape Housing Assistance Corporation, explained how the Hyannis-based nonprofit organization will help weather-strip and insulate homes for qualifying Islanders." We will come to your house," he said. "You don't pay anything."

It's never too early to learn about energy conservation. Here, visitor Dougie Norton (right) takes part in the energy treasure hunt with Doug Brown of RISE Home Energy Improvement in Rhode Island.

Stephen Kanipe, Chief Building Official of Aspen, Colo., gave a presentation on the methods his city has used to increase its energy independence and reduce pollution. After the speech, he drew comparisons between the Vineyard and Aspen. "We too are isolated geographically, at the dead end of a valley," he pointed out.

Mr. Kanipe recommended solar energy as an excellent starting place for the Vineyard and praised the network of information Kate Warner has established on the island with her solar energy initiative. "A lot of communities haven't gotten that far," he noted.

For a long time, alternative energy usage in the home has been perceived as a costly, idealistic caprice practiced more likely to be practice by college professors in Vermont than mainstream individuals. With improved technology and lowered costs, conservation and alternative energy generation is being perceived differently. As architects, engineers, and contractors become partners in the conservation process, efficiency becomes seen as an economic asset rather than an idealistic notion imposed by greens and unrepentant hippies.

Andrew and Peter Ruimerman working on their wind energy demonstration project at last Saturday's Energy Day at the Grange in West Tisbury.

Mr. Kanipe cited the initial conservation movement in Boulder, Colo., going forward under the title "Green Building Program" and meeting resistance because the word "Green" was associated with extra cost. "When the name was changed to "Efficient Building Program," it was better received," he says.

Student projects adorned the hall, including a display by Ben Hopkins analyzing the methane output from the solid wastes of goats, sheep, and chickens.

The much-anticipated solar car race pitted students from across the Island against each other as they strived to design the speediest car design.

Some of the cars skidded across the rough tarmac of the basketball court while others stalled out at the starting line. Cheers went up as the winning cars crossed the finish line. There were several ties and by-a-nose victories.

Guest speaker Brian Nelson of Nelson Mechanical Designs in Vineyard Haven told the audience about energy-efficient home building.

Linda Thompson, a judge for the race, said, "All of the students were really knowledgeable. I was very impressed. Everyone is a winner."

Tisbury Selectman Denys Wortman attended the forum on energy efficiency at the community level and expressed interest in the message. "I think it's always interesting to learn where other places have been successful," he said. "It's an awakening for everybody. Everyone should look at their house and see where they can save and conserve."

Mr. Wortman said that he sees the Island as poised to create a positive model of energy usage for other communities around the nation. "Just being an island makes it your own little world," he says. "It sets an example of what can be done."

Julian Wise, a teaching assistant at the Oak Bluffs School, is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and performing arts.