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[1THING] Blog: Archive for September, 2014

[ Study: nature walks reduce stress, make us happier ]

A new study has scientifically proven what so many of us already intuitively know: walks in nature decrease stress and increase mental well-being.



[ Summit Tackles India’s Sustainable Energy Goals ]

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday, clean energy was on the agenda. A joint editorial from the leaders promised they would discuss ways to “expand affordable renewable energy” in India during the prime minister’s visit, his first official trip to the States.

The word “affordable” is key everywhere, but especially in India, where some 300 million people still lack access to electricity. Certainly coal, which currently accounts for 59 percent of India’s power capacity, will help meet that demand. But India’s quest to meet its energy needs occurs against the backdrop of increasing international pressure for nations to act on climate change, and there seems to be a recognition in India that even without that pressure, renewable sources such as wind and solar will need to be part of the solution. (See related story: “India’s Push for Renewable Energy: Is It Enough?“)

Prime Minister Modi is said to be seeking U.S. help in a bid to add 100 gigawatts each of solar and wind energy to the India grid within the next decade.

How can India get there? That was among the questions before a group of private and public sector leaders meeting today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-India Partnership Summit. The summit was convened by Yale University and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a sustainable development organization led by Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and an adviser to the Great Energy Challenge.

Many comments at the summit suggested that the work of creating sustainable energy and smarter cities in India is actively proceeding, but still an evolving effort that needs better parameters and more solutions to problems of infrastructure and financing.

Ajit Gulabchand, whose Hindustan Construction Company is building what it bills “India’s first smart city,” talked about formidable challenges in building a 20,000-acre hill city where 80 percent of the people—300,000—will live in only 20 percent of the entire area. The Lavasa development, which lies 115 miles(186 kilometers)  from Mumbai, aims to draw not only residents but tourists, students, and businesses.

“We were looking at building a city which India needs very badly,” Gulabchand said, but “there was not enough understanding of how to build this” in terms of sustainability.

Gulabchand said that his company was obligated to restore what was environmentally damaged during the construction of Lavasa, but that the developers found “the whole place was considerably denuded.” The challenge of building the city was compounded by the need to enhance the land area in general, even where construction was not taking place, Gulabchand said. And the endeavor goes beyond building a city; Lavasa aims to be its own self-sustaining economy.

“It is a remarkable project with remarkable problems,” Gulabchand said.

An ad for Lavasa proclaims, “Some day all cities will be created this way.” Indeed, Gulabchand and others in India are threading their way through a process of sustainable development that still lacks a common set of standards, a point mentioned by multiple panelists at the summit.

“Creating standards [for buildings] at the outset will be critical to ensuring that the emissions are as low as possible,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Other participants mentioned the need for public-private partnerships, a federal loan-guarantee program similar to that of the U.S. Department of Energy, and a better way for financiers, contractors, and government to connect.

A new report from NRDC also says that “the Indian government and business leaders must overcome financing obstacles to achieve the country’s renewable energy goals and reach the full time growth potential of the clean energy sector.” But it also notes that India’s solar market has grown more than 100-fold in four years, and that India is the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer.

Despite the many challenges for India’s clean energy sector that were raised at the summit, many expressed optimism that a serious expansion along the lines of Prime Minister Modi’s 100-gigawatt goals is realistic.

“It’s very doable, and as more and more [renewable energy] gets unleashed, that will unleash more,” Beinecke said. “Which is exactly what’s going to happen in India.”


[ Which public wildlands can I visit with my dog? Answers here ]

It’s often been said that dogs are man’s best friends. Dogs can be great company on the trail, too.



[ 7 can’t-miss wildlife sightings this fall ]

We all know fall offers opportunities to spy gorgeous forest displays as the leaves change color.



[ Bipartisan Marine Monument Helps Protect Vital Ocean Systems, Ongoing Research ]

Michael Reinemer

The Wilderness Society applauds the Obama Administration for advancing bipartisan efforts to further protect ocean ecosystems and their scientific value by using the Antiquities Act to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, an undisturbed island and atoll chain located 1,000



[ Next few months will be critical for renewable energy and land protection in the California desert ]

For years there has been a growing demand on public lands in California and other parts of the west to support clean sources of energy like wind and solar power.



[ Some See Garbage, Others See an Opportunity: Installing Solar on Landfills ]

by Laurie Guevara-Stone

Green Mountain Power just broke ground on a 2 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) plant in Rutland, Vermont. While some other large PV systems planned for the area have met with strong opposition (some residents worry large, ground-mount solar arrays will be an eyesore on the state’s pastoral landscape), this project seems to be welcomed with open arms. Why? It’s being built on a 9.5-acre closed landfill.

The number of active municipal solid waste landfills that accept our household waste have been on a major decline, from nearly 8,000 in the late 1980s to less than 2,000 by the mid-2000s. All of the closed landfills around the country (not to mention closed cells on still-active landfills) leave us with a big question: What to do with those brownfields of largely undevelopable land? Many cities and towns —from Massachusetts to Colorado and Georgia to Nevada—are taking the same approach as Rutland, and using that unused and often unusable land to generate revenue and/or save on energy costs through solar farms. (See related post: “Fight Over Solar in Bridgeport: Two Types of Environmentalism Collide.”)

What makes landfills such an ideal spot for solar? For one, often the disrupted or even contaminated land may not be suitable for commercial or residential development. Also, putting solar on landfill sites is often cheaper, less impactful, and raises less community concerns than an installation on a greenfield site.

Another reason why landfills make such good areas to put solar farms on is the fact that many municipalities don’t have large areas of green space. However, it’s estimated that there are over 10,000 old municipal landfills in the country, many of which are located in close proximity to an existing utility grid, making interconnection economical.

Massachusetts has taken the lead in repurposing its landfills with large-scale and utility-scale solar, and much of that work has been done by PV financing and contracting company Borrego Solar. “When I look at a landfill I see a great opportunity,” Amy McDonough, senior project developer for Borrego Solar, told RMI. “Putting a solar energy generating system on land that couldn’t be used for anything else and that will save the municipality millions of dollars over the terms of the PPA [power purchase agreement] is a win-win situation.”

Once a landfill’s useful life is over, it gets capped. Capping consists of putting a barrier over the landfill, the geomembrane, to separate any harmful elements from people and the environment. Then comes a layer of sand for drainage, then vegetation. The geomembrane must not be penetrated, so Borrego Solar has engineered a ballast system for the racks. Since every solar array rack has two ballasts it costs more than doing a regular foundation, adding about 25 cents per watt to the total price of the system.

Massachusetts incentivizes solar installations on brownfields, though, helping improve the economics for landfill-based solar, which despite certain addition requirements like the ballast system already benefits from economies of scale associated with utility-scale PV projects. Now Borrego Solar is working with the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) to convince that agency to put in incentives for brownfields as well.

According to McDonough, the Northeast has a lot of great landfill opportunities. “A lot of the landfills are small, often with flat tops,” McDonough explains. “A properly closed landfill offers a really great base for a solar project. If it’s been closed for 10 or 12 years you don’t have to worry about settlement. But you can’t build a building on it, so there’s not much else you can do with it.”

One success story can be seen in the Town of Ludlow in Hampden County. The Town signed a 20-year PPA with Borrego Solar to lease 17 acres of the town’s closed landfill. Ludlow now purchases the energy produced from the solar panels at a rate of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour—compared to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour charged by the local utility. The 2.6 megawatt system is saving the town approximately $140,000 a year on energy bills, created local construction jobs on land that had been previously written off as undevelopable, and is estimated to offset 4.3 million pounds of CO2 each year.

Massachusetts now has dozens of solar farms on landfills generating over 78 megawatts of power, but other states in the Northeast are joining the trend. Vermont’s first solar landfill project, a 2.7 megawatt system, is currently being installed in Coventry, on the only active landfill in the state. Although the landfill is still active, the solar system is being built on the buffer zone, the required land that separates the landfill from other usable land. Since very little can be built on buffer zones, solar farms present a great option. The landfill in Rutland, Vermont, meanwhile is making headlines as it is including 4 MW of battery storage to shave peak electricity demand and to provide emergency backup power for Rutland High School (an emergency shelter) during outages.

New Jersey has also hopped on board as just last year the Garden State approved a proposal to turn the state’s 800 closed landfills into solar farms. And New York State is about to turn the world’s largest landfill—2,200 acres on Staten Island—into a park with a 47-acre, 10-megawatt solar farm.

Although the Northeast seems to be taking the lead in solar landfill development, the area is home to only 7 percent of the landfills in the U.S.—40 percent are in the western U.S. and 35 percent in the South. In fact, the largest solar energy generating facility in Georgia is a 1 MW farm on the Hickory Ridge landfill that uses a geomembrane cap covered with 7,000 thin-film PV panels.

While as of February 2013 there are 15 solar PV farms on landfills producing 30 megawatts of power, that number is growing quickly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prescreened 1,600 landfills for solar potential. One study estimates closed landfills cover hundreds of thousands of acres of solar opportunity. A 2013 NREL study estimated that municipal solid waste landfills and other contaminated sites covered an astounding 15 million acres across the United States. Once other states get on board offering incentives for brownfield development, we may see those old heaps of garbage turning into electricity generating stations across the country.

This post originally appeared at the Rocky Mountain Institute and has been republished with permission.


[ Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 7 Coffee Tips for National Coffee Day ]

According to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey, about 83 percent of adults nationwide coffeedrink coffee. That averages to three cups a day per person, or 587 million cups, making the U.S. the world’s biggest coffee guzzler.  Since today is National Coffee Day, what better day to share these simple steps you can take toward a guilt-free cup of Joe:

Ditch the paper cup: Fifty-eight billion paper cups are thrown away each year, according to BetaCup. Although the cups’ plastic resin coating helps insulate our brew and prevent leaking, it also complicates recycling. Do your part to reduce paper waste, and opt for a reusable mug.  Bonus points if you choose a mug made of ceramic or stainless steel instead of plastic.

Forget paper filters: As long as you’re abandoning paper cups, why not forego paper filters, too? Instead of a traditional coffee pot, consider buying a French press, which doesn’t require a filter.  It’s also cheaper and makes more flavorful drinks. A reusable mesh filter is an option for those who already brew their Joe in a pot. Linda Green Homes offers an array of reusable filters for the gamut of coffee brewer brands.

Look for socially and environmentally responsible labeling: Next time you refill on coffee beans, make sure you choose bags bearing the following labels:

USDA organic: To earn USDA’s organic seal, coffee farmers must not have used synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers for at least three years.  Growing coffee organically could help minimize the risk of environmental contamination and accidents involving toxic chemicals.

Fair trade: Fair trade certification helps protect suppliers from exploitation by ensuring that they’re paid a fair price for their hard-earned crop. In return for providing good working conditions and just wages, producers get paid more for their coffee. Although the certification serves a primarily social purpose, when farmers get a fair price for their beans, they need less land to support themselves and their families. That means more land preserved for natural habitat.

Shade-grown: Traditionally, coffee has been grown beneath the forest canopy. Now forests are cleared so that coffee can grow under the sun, which promotes higher, faster growing yields. Shade gown coffee, however, comes from plantations with the tree canopy and associated biodiversity still intact.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do your own research. Since no official shade-grown certification exists, most coffee brands bearing the label have set their own standards. “Shade-grown” can range from full tree cover to full sun. Rustic is the most sustainable shade category option, in which the coffee grows in the existing forest with little disturbance of native vegetation. You can learn more about shade categories from Coffee & Conservation’s website.

Get the rest of the tips by visiting the Sierra Club’s website here.


[ EPA Announces Excellence in Site Reuse Award for Pa. Lehigh Gap Nature Center ]

Redevelopment of Once-Contaminated Site Now Benefits Community, Nature

Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin presented the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and its Executive Director Dan Kunkle with a 2014 Excellence in Site Reuse Award.   The EPA Regional award recognizes the work that led to the redevelopment of a major portion of the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site into a wildlife preserve and habitat, promoting conservation, education and research.

“The Lehigh Gap Nature Center, under the leadership of Dan Kunkle, has worked tirelessly to achieve the ultimate environmental goal of turning a formerly contaminated site back to nature,” said EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “I commend them for their bold vision, dedication and success in creating a place that the community can enjoy for generations. EPA strongly supports the innovative and beneficial reuse of sites, such as Palmerton, as a key component for protecting people’s health and our environment.”

The nature preserve and habitat consists of a 2.5 mile stretch on the Kittatinny Ridge between the Appalachian Trail and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail, which parallel each other, then intersect at Lehigh Gap near the Nature Center’s Osprey House.

Since 2002, property owned by the Lehigh Gap Nature Center has been transformed from a barren landscape into valuable habitat for resident species, and a corridor and stopover site for migratory species, especially raptors and Neotropical songbirds. This habitat was created by the re-vegetation and reforestation of the Palmerton site with native warm season grasses and 13,000 trees, including 4,000 of the nearly extinct America Chestnut tree. EPA’s cleanup decision to use this approach was influenced by the Center’s vision and its cooperation with parties potentially responsible for the cleanup of 750 acres on Blue Mountain.

The wildlife habitat is a place for research carried out by center staff and volunteers in partnership with local colleges and universities. The center is an outdoor classroom for many local educational programs.  In addition, people use the area for recreational activities including hiking, wildlife watching, and photography.

Collaboration between the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, EPA, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, the potentially responsible parties, local and other partners has created a valuable reuse of the site with both ecological and community benefits.

EPA established the Excellence in Site Reuse award to recognize those who have created extraordinary results in revitalizing and reusing formerly contaminated sites.

For more information about the Lehigh Gap Nature Center visit: http://lgnc.org/

For more information about Palmerton Superfund Site visit: http://www.epa.gov/reg3hscd/super/sites/PAD002395887/index.htm#Contacts


[ State Police to Accept Expired, Unwanted Prescription Medications ]

The Pennsylvania State Police will accept unwanted, expired and unused prescription drugs tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 27, as part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

Take-Back Day is a national initiative, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), aimed at encouraging the public to dispose of expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs that are prone to abuse and theft.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., unwanted prescription medications may be dropped off at select State Police barracks. No personal information is required for drop-off. To find a drop-off location, visit www.psp.pa.gov and visit the Public Safety area of the website.

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, secure, and environmentally responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse and trafficking of medications. This is important because the non-medical use of controlled substance (CS) medications is at an all-time high, with 6.8 million Americans reporting having abused prescription drugs in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) released in 2013. That same study revealed more than 54 percent of people who abuse prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet.

During the eighth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on April 26, 2014, 780,158 pounds of expired and unwanted medications were turned in for safe and proper disposal nationwide.