Island residents focus energy on reducing carbon emissions
The notion of rising sea levels - as depicted in the film "An Inconvenient Truth," which has been playing in local theaters this summer - is prompting many people to ask what they can do to reduce their individual "carbon footprint." The term describes the emission of carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels and other sources in a person's everyday life.
The truth is there are plenty of easy ways that everybody can reduce their carbon footprint. Conveniently these often serve to reduce one's energy costs, as well. From solar technology to energy efficiency, people on the Island are helping to take stress off the earth's atmosphere, and off the cables and transformers that provide electricity from the mainland, while saving money on their electric bills.
Christine Conley, VEP's intern, offered information about solar energy and other ways to cut back on fossil fuels to people who stopped by the Vineyard Energy Project table at Farmer's Market, last Saturday in West Tisbury. Photo by Martha Shaw
As of June 2006, the Island can boast of 153 solar energy systems that are generating clean energy without the carbon bi-product. They include solar electric panels, solar hot water heaters and solar collectors to heat pools that can pay for themselves in one summer swimming pool season.
Meanwhile biodiesel has become the fuel of choice for some island contractors and trucking businesses as a contribution to a healthier environment and perhaps even a more peaceful world. Hybrid cars that use 50-75 percent less fuel than conventional vehicles have also become a more familiar sight on Island roads. Considering that all Island fuel is imported and that each gallon of gas a car burns puts 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the increase in hybrid owners can make a big difference.
While climate change, pollution, and finite resources may be the greatest environmental challenges in the world, the Vineyard's dependence on power from the mainland and a $64,000,000 annual energy bill brings the issue home. During winter, the heating bills skyrocket, and during summer tourist season, the cables and transformers approach capacity.
One of the local entities on the Island that focuses on these issues is the Vineyard Energy Project (VEP), a nonprofit group formed in 2003 to address concerns about the Vineyard's energy future. Through grants and private donations, VEP brings programs, workshops, educational curriculum and public awareness to the Island in order to be ahead of the curve on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Among the most important milestones of the VEP was the completion of the 10-year Energy Action Plan that assesses the Island's energy usage and makes recommendations for the next decade. Included are improved energy efficiency in everything from home appliances to construction practices, alternative fuels and hybrid technology for transportation, the utilization of biomass and composting, the expansion of solar electricity, solar hot water and wind power, and education to create more awareness about reducing energy consumption by flipping off lights and electronics when not in use.
Taking the Vineyard Lighting Challenge is one of the easiest things a person can do to reduce the Island's energy consumption. The Challenge asks each household and business, seasonal and year-round, to switch out at least 15 light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). According to the Energy Action Plan, if every household joined the Challenge, this effort could lower the Island's total electrical demand by 7 percent. Each light bulb that is switched out reduces one's carbon footprint by a half ton.
The Island has long been known for its spirit of independence, and remarkable ingenuity. Its approach to energy is no exception. By working together, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things. Throughout the year, the VEP has sponsored talks and workshops that have motivated everyone from teachers and contractors to political leaders and homeowners to take a look at how the Island can use energy more wisely.
On July 25, at Chilmark Library, 8 pm, and on August 8 at Vineyard Haven Library, at 7:30 pm, talks entitled "A Vineyard Unplugged" will focus on things the summer community can do to propel the Island toward greater energy independence. The public is welcome to stop by the Vineyard Energy Project at 1085 State Road in West Tisbury (10 am-noon, Tues., Thurs., and Sat.) to learn about the Island's energy efforts and to learn about how to participate. For more details on what's going on regarding energy independence on Martha's Vineyard, visit www.vineyardenergyproject.org.
This article is sponsored by the Vineyard Energy Project through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Vineyard Energy Project promotes sustainable energy choices through education, outreach, and renewable energy projects. The author, Martha Shaw, is a member of the Vineyard Energy Project's advisory board. The Times publishes these columns as a service to its readers.