Philly runs on uncertain energy. It’s hard to imagine, but our electricity actually costs less than it could. Currently, our bills are lowered through rate caps applied by the state. On December 31, 2010, those caps expire, prices are expected to spike and no legislation is in place to protect us.
Biogas technology will save Philly some serious money
by Matt Jakubowski
Biogas isn’t sexy. There are no sleek silver solar panels, no turbines on a windswept hill. It’s a part of your regular routine, but we’re only beginning to tap into its explosive potential. Biogas generation, the unmentionable alternative, uses methane, a potent greenhouse gas that comes from our garbage and our raw sewage, to power engines. It’s already used in the United States, and it’s sure to be an inexhaustible supply of energy—and bad jokes—for decades to come.
Around 3 p.m., the girls trickle through the front door of a former upholstery shop. From public and private schools in Germantown, Mount Airy and beyond, they arrive in pleated skirts and blue jeans. Yvonne Haughton welcomes each by name as they shed jackets and knapsacks before helping themselves to pudding and hot chocolate.
An ode to Frankford Ave. And the El
by Nathaniel Popkin
The third-floor factory window frames the view, the restive city in the side-glance of the winter sun. Here’s a swollen plume of white smoke and the granite-colored river, and the Betsy Ross Bridge in the muted but improbable green invented by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Amtrak flies past. Gulls float above a scrap metal yard that faces funny little twin houses with gingerbread details along the roof line.
Liz Robinson talks about Philly’s energy problems and a different path forwardLiz Robinson has been helping Philadelphia conserve energy since 1979. As Executive Director of the Energy Coordinating Agency, an energy nonprofit that services low-income residents, Liz has worked on the Energy
Efficiency Resource Standard, which instituted early efficiency measures for Philly’s affordable housing. She also founded the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance and, in the late 90s, she administered the Philadelphia Million Solar Roofs Partnership. Currently, Liz sits on the Sustainability Advisory Board, which counsels Mark Alan Hughes.
Why a cast iron skillet is all you’ll ever need
Several years ago, I moved into an old house in Madison, WI and found a cast iron skillet in the basement. Raised by Teflon lovers, I was wary. It took a graybeard neighbor—a kind of cast iron prophet—to convince me I should try it. “You won’t get Teflon flakes in your food. They’re carcinogenic, you know,” he said, stoking his wood stove. “Plus, stuff just tastes better cooked in cast iron.” Converted, I ran home, scrubbed the skillet down with steel wool and fried up some kielbasa and potatoes. Damn if the graybeard wasn’t right. Dinner tasted fantastic; the kielbasa browned perfectly and the potatoes were crispy. Later, I learned that cooking with cast iron boosts the iron in your diet and the skillet became my one true pot.
Make your water cooler
At first glance, the office water cooler looks innocuous, especially if you forego the dumpster-bound plastic cup and refill your (Philadelphia Phillies, 2008 World Champions) glass instead. However, there’s one key wasteful component unaccounted for: energy consumption. Yup, those heavy jugs need to be manufactured and then carted around town by big trucks—and they aren’t running on hydrogen. That’s where a bottleless water filtration system, which taps into your existing water line, comes in. The water is purified on the spot, and you might be surprised to learn that tap water quality is regulated, unlike bottled water. For over 22 years, our neighbors in Mount Laurel, NJ Arctic Coolers (www.arcticcoolers.com) have offered this service. Oh, and it seems to save money, too.
Our cover subject, Mike McKinley, surfs, and he exudes a laid-back surfer vibe. But you won’t mistake his cool for indifference; Mike infuses an activist energy into his business, taking time to do educational talks at every opportunity. I’m thrilled to have him on the first cover of Grid.
I’m also excited to have prominent members of the community participating in Grid, as well. Mark Alan Hughes, Philadelphia’s Director of Sustainability, plans to answer questions from our readers on a monthly basis; Bob Pierson, the head of Farm to City, will keep us posted on what is in season and available. Every month we will profile a community leader; this month we had the pleasure of speaking with energy veteran Liz Robinson of the Energy Coordinating Agency.
Q: [What is] your vision for residential solar power in Philadelphia’s energy future?
Many Philadelphians, like me, have homes with flat roofs that receive plenty of
direct sunlight. Is the city considering any programs that would help us tap into that potential power, like California’s “Million Solar Roofs” project?
—Tom Schrand, Director of the Environmental Sustainability Program at Philadelphia University
A: Thanks, Tom. Great question. Just to clarify, Philadelphia’s own Million Solar Roofs Partnership (PMSR) was established in 1999 by the Energy Coordinating Agency and the Sustainable Development Fund. It was a regional effort to contribute new solar installations to a national goal of one million by 2010. Through public/private collaboration, public education, developing a market and infrastructure for solar applications, and providing training opportunities to those interested in solar technologies, the PMSR helped to install approximately 185 systems.
People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation
It’s kind of hard to get a job without knowing how to type or use the Internet. Yet, despite our technologically-driven times, many Philadelphians are computer-starved—one more barrier to opportunity.
Philly's Got Culture
With TV waves going digital this February, Nexus/foundation, an experimental artist collective, thought it might be time to go old-school. So they turned their gallery, located in the Crane Arts Building (1400 N. American St.), into a low-frequency AM radio station for the months of December and January. Their control room, made of 100 percent salvaged materials, has chalked up two months of community- and arts-based programming.
This popped! creator and organizer admits that today’s music festivals aren’t exactly sustainable endeavors, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying. At last summer’s festival, each recycling station was managed by a volunteer who informed festival-goers about proper recycling. Businesses and organizations were discouraged from passing out flyers and encouraged, instead, to present their information through alternative methods. Some vendors used informational videos, some text messaging and others promoted themselves through contests and giveaways. Production and sound companies, as well as all employees, were Philadelphia-based. “Sustainability, to me, is not just recycling and using less energy,” Alexis explains. “It’s also taking a big look at your lifestyle and focusing more on your local community.”
This five block stretch of Germantown Avenue isn’t gushing to tell its secrets. You’ll find tall trees and narrow, stone-laid storefronts, not neon lights. But don’t let the formal appearance fool you. Step inside. A shop owner, who probably lives just a few blocks away, will show you Mount Airy’s experimental side.
Don't Panic, Philly--there's work to do!
by Kenneth D. Smith, Ph.D.
Many Philadelphians feel anxious about the unfolding economic crisis. So far we’ve witnessed eye-popping declines in our 401Ks, unprecedented layoffs from CitiBank to City Hall, and planned cuts in City services, including libraries, firehouses, recreation centers and public swimming pools. Given the tense environment, is there any way to respond?
New legislation could mean Pennsylvania is finally turning around its energy policy
by Will Dean
Pennsylvania has long lagged behind other parts of the country in terms of supporting alternative energy and energy conservation. Perhaps because of our massive coal resources, the Keystone State has kept its thinking about energy production firmly in the past. In 2008, after years of pressure from environmental groups and concerned citizens, that began to change, and, if you’re clever, you can take advantage of the new opportunities.
Alternative energy entrepreneur Mike McKinley talks about what solar can do for Philly
by Dana Henry
Mike Mckinley was a cognitive neuroscientist working for Pfizer in southern California when the lights went out. Utility spikes caused by the deregulations of Enron and Reliant Energy (the same will happen with PECO in 2010) had led to a series of rolling blackouts better known as the California Electricity Crisis of 2000. When the lights came back on, Mike had electric bills of over $300 a month for a 750 square foot apartment. He also had a new outlook. The Philadelphia native and graduate of Central High School decided it was time for a career change. He commuted to New York and went back to school for solar technology.
Efficiency tips save energy and dollars
According to the Energy Coordinating Agency, most of Philly’s aging housing could use around 40 to 60 percent less energy, but it will require more than just changing light bulbs. Many solutions are simple DIY projects, but larger projects carry some risk. Insulation, for example, can cause moisture build-up (and thus mold) and dangerous levels of contaminants like radon and carbon monoxide. It’s always best to consult a professional first.