Friday, September 24, 2010

the potential in my backyard

I just learned of the great technology the National Renewable Energy Labratory has as open source- In My Backyard (IMBY). By using IMBY, one can find their location on Google Earth and then establish the right RE technology, size and degree of appropriate development.

So if you or anyone you know are thinking of installing an on-site RE (solar or wind), check this software out to better understand the potential for generating energy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

the banning of bags

A town to the North, Telluride, Colorado has stepped up to banning plastic bags. One more town to jump on the progressive do-better ban-wagon.

At first council members in Telluride, Colorado thought that an approach to weening the community from plastic and paper bag use could begin by charging customers who use plastic and paper bags, yet came to the conclusion that they should- just ban the bags!

The idea or realization to ban bags began when Aspen, Colorado's Office for Resource Efficiency set a competition between the mountain towns of Telluride, Mountain Village and Aspen to see what community could cut its per capita consumption of plastic bags and encourage more community members to shop with reusable bags. Great initiative that took off and inspired the banning of bags totally- both plastic and paper.

It wasn't just about banning plastic, and not just paper too... “The whole point is that the consumer needs to understand the true cost of taking a bag,” said Councilmember Brian Werner, who asked if council has the ability to require retailers to charge a fee on paper bags." from the Telluride Watch

Banning bags at supermarkets and stores is not an easy thing for a city council to decide. There's a lot to consider when demanding community members have to pay for the use of bags. It's easy to assumer that everyone should just always have a reusable bag on them, but even as much as I try, it is hard to remember and walk into a store with a bag to use. As a council member of Telluride said: “We need an ordinance that makes sense, that is easy to work with, that has the support of a majority of the community and retailers, and that will work well with tourists andlocals."

I think starting with a small fee to use bags, that often are overused excessively, is a good place to start, yet accompanied with initiatives at the local level to educate consumers and provide creative and effective ways to encourage reusable bags- like an annual bag design competition to get community members and youth involved in using, supporting and advocating for reusable bags, as well as local artwork like they do in Frisco, Colorado with their annual contest and in Austin, Texas with 'Keep Austin Beautiful's' "design-a-bag" initiative.

If you are interested in hip and cool recycled material bags, great for the markets, visit my other website and Etsy shop.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hunting Season

... fruit hunting season, that is.
Now is the time that I start my annual urban foraging for fruit hanging from trees, overflowing from local farmer's beds and even wild produce from the mountains, like Chantrell mushrooms.

I live in a mountainous valley that was once a heavy fruit-producing valley, with a large river coming down from the San Juan mountains that still feeds the remnants of this once fertile fruit baring land. This year is not as good of a fruit year as most, due to a hard frost this past spring, yet one can still find plums and apples ripening. An old landlord just called to tell me to come harvest some concord grapes as well. The canning begins.

In most places I have lived and visited in the autumn, I have found fruits for the picking. It just takes an adventurous will and maybe even some networking to find people with unwanted fruit and produce. Some places like Hood River, Oregon have a Fruit Loop Map as well as Portland, Oregon that has a 'pick your own fruit' map.

How can your community design a local urban/rural food map to help people find wanted/unwanted fruit hanging from the trees and overflowing from some farmer's beds that just can't be harvested fast enough? Is it possible for communities to map these local food sources to help direct free food to food pantries and maybe even schools or just help community members access free local produce?

How to get started in creating your local food map?
Start by looking at other communities working with food maps, like those in Hood River, Portland or how Making Local Food Work in England has established a step by step approach to establishing food web mapping.
1. Hold a community meeting or workshop at your local library, coffee house or park.
2. Build a hot core of people dedicated to creating a food map.
3. Bring in people on board from the community- put on a community ride/rides to map out local fruit and produce in your area.
4. Advertise for some local artists to volunteer their talents to design the food map.
5. Distribute and post on local social platforms and city website.
6. Maybe even carry on with your local food campaign by holding canning and preserving workshops, bringing community members together for local food preservation

Monday, September 6, 2010

Encouraging Local Energy

So we all know, by now hopefully, how promising renewable energy development is, how needed it is and how fast the field is developing. Yet, living in the South West of the US (where it is practically raining sunshine 320+ days of the year), RE development- especially on a local, distributed, scale is sluggish and barely seems to exist. How is this possible, that what is needed and pretty much just as easy to implement and develop as other non-renewable dirty and finite industries are? Is it because most renewable energy development in the US is still on the centralized level- a big development situated far from the consumers using it? I like to think the local capacity is there, to support such development, yet there is not the same governmental support here in the States as there is in other countries leading in RE development, like Germany and Denmark. I won't go into this debate, yet draw attention to a solution on the horizon that will hopefully encourage more RE development on the local level- feed-in tariffs.

After traveling through Germany and Denmark and witnessing so many small towns and cities producing their own heat and electricity (combined heat and power), and actually profiting from their RE- it is crazy to come back to the US and see how slow we are in establishing this win-win situation. The thing that has helped countries like Germany and Denmark succeed in their development on a local level is due, in part, to the establishment of the Feed-In Tariff or 'renewable energy payments' at the local and Federal level. A Feed-In Tariff is a policy mechanism to encourage RE development by establishing an adequate, fixed rate for the power generated by the producers, especially in favor of small and/or private producers, like a household or cooperative. So producers, who invest in the technology and take that leap of investment to get RE rolling in their locality can first actually 'access a grid' (the system for storing and distributing energy), have a long-term agreement for the use of energy produced and are not left behind if the cost of energy drops.

I'm very excited that my city's electric company in Durango, is starting to introduce this policy to the community. They will begin by holding an informative meeting with the public and get the ball rolling towards more localized energy production.

Getting Involved in the City

Until recently, I wondered often how I could get more involved in my community's planning and development and yet never thought to look into what was actually happening around the City Council. I'm not sure how I never heard of 'City Boards and Commissions' until now, but what an eye opener for how to get more actively involved in the shaping of my community.

City Boards and Commissions are basically a collection of different boards and commissions, each with their own specific responsibilities that relate to the City Charter, City Codes and other city-specific resolutions and aspects of their long-term action plans. Each Board and Commission makes recommendations to the City Council, with the hopes of maintaining a diverse representation from the community when it comes to planning.

If you want to really get involved in your community, look into sitting on either a board or commission to partake in the integrative and collaborative democratic process, helping your City Council plan, shape and grow your community.

Visit your local City building or website to inquire into what openings may exist with the various boards and commissions.