Category: Renewable energy sources

Bunny Brundred met  Jim Murray during World War II  where she trained in the service as an aviation mechanic and attended Officer Candidate School. They married soon after they were discharged. In 1953, James and Jean “Bunny” Murray left  New York, and purchased a group of adjoining farms in central Virginia which they named Panorama Farm for its beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The farm sits on land that is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Jim ran a manufacturing business and taught at U.Va. and Bunny ran the farm, raised cattle, sheep and eight sons.

In its early years, Panorama Farms was home to a number of conventional farming enterprises of agriculture and livestock.  In 1996 they decided to rethink their vision for the farm. “We began looking at the farm as a resource,” says Panorama Pay-Dirt founder Steve Murray of the property he grew up on. “Out of that decision, came Panorama Pay-Dirt, Panorama Running, and Panorama Trails. We also lease hay-making and hunting rights.”

So far, so good. “Our efforts have made the farm sustainable into the next generation,” Murray says.

Hitting Pay-Dirt

Establishing the compost business and other alternatives to conventional agriculture has allowed the Murray family to preserve the beautiful 850-acre property as an agricultural enterprise. At the same time, they are recycling organic matter that would otherwise be headed for the landfill, and they are supplying area gardeners, landscapers, and farmers with a product that adds vital nutrients to the soil. “The response has been enormously favorable,” says Pay-Dirt co-founder Drew Murray. “My brother and I take pride in the TLC we put into our product, and our customers seem to appreciate it too.”

 The Farm is also the home course for the University of Virginia and Albemarle County High Schools’ cross country teams. Additionally, the Farm hosts the A.R.C. Natural History Day Camp for three weeks every summer.


The first anaerobic dry fermentation biodigester in the western hemisphere is up and running at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The alternative power system has been producing clean, renewable electricity from plant and food waste to supply electricity and heat for the university campus since Oct. 3.

University staff and students involved with the development of the power system had been stockpiling agricultural plant and food waste as feedstock in airless chambers and feeding it into the dry anaerobic biodigester since last summer in anticipation of bringing it online.

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. As part of an integrated waste management system, anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of methane gas, CO2, and “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs into the atmosphere.  Anaerobic digestion is also used as a renewable energy source since the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production.

As the name indicates, ‘dry,’ as opposed to ‘wet,’ anaerobic digesters break down dry organic materials with moisture content of less than 75%, such as agricultural waste and plant material traditionally left over after harvesting a crop.

On Oct. 3, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh team decided they had enough biogas to start-up energy production, so they turned on the plant’s gas turbine engines. The biogas from the biodigester drives the turbines, which are expected to generate enough electricity in the start-up phase to meet 5% of the university’s electricity and heating needs.

Besides producing clean, renewable energy from agricultural and food waste – corn stalks, husks, leaves, and discarded food – the bio-energy plant is serving as an ideal site for experiential learning, particularly for biology and environmental students.

Proposed plans call for revenue from the plant to flow into student scholarships, campus laboratory upgrades and expansion, and the creation of a rural community development innovation center.


In less than a month, President Obama will make a decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. Through the Tar Sands Action campaign, activists are working to encourage Obama to deny its construction. A sit-in to stop the pipeline was held August 20 to September 3 in Washington D.C.. During this two-week period of sustained civil disobedience, 1,252 people were arrested, among them junior environmental science major Adam Kranz from Lawrence University.

The pipeline, proposed by the TransCanada Corporation, would move crude oil 1,700 miles on its way from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

With a projected cost of $7 billion, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day and create thousands of construction jobs. However, heated debate has arisen over the environmental damage the pipeline would cause. In order to extract oil from the tar sands, forests must be cut down, high amounts of carbon dioxide may be emitted, water sources will be threatened and spills and leaks are likely.

Circle the White House on November 6th &  write letters

As part of the Tar Sands Action project, campus organizations including LU’s Greenfire, Amnesty International and SWAHP have been working to protest the planned Keystone XL pipeline. Greenfire hopes to mail off approximately 1,000 letters as part of their campaign.

Pending funding, Greenfire hopes to send students to the final action of the Tar Sands Campaign on Nov. 6, precisely one year before the 2012 elections. Protestors plan to encircle the White House in a motion of solidarity and a final attempt to send their message to the President.

Kranz concluded, “This isn’t just an issue about climate change. It’s about environmental justice. It’s not an abstract thing. People in Canada are already dying of cancers. Our way of life is already being destroyed by the infrastructure and the spills that have taken place. It’s important to remember that this issue is not just about preserving the environment, it’s about protecting people.”


The town of Edmonston, one of the Washington, DC area’s lowest-lying communities, has had numerous clashes with its environment.  The Anacostia River splits the town in two, causing flooding during heavy rains. There have been four floods in the last decade. Two bridges, one for cars, bikes and pedestrians; and one for freight trains — reconnect Edmonston’s east and west sides. 

Located in Prince George’s County between much larger Hyattsville and Bladensburg, Edmonston is a middle class town of 1,400.  But Edmonston is now calling Decatur the “East Coast’s greenest street,” thanks to $1.3 million in stimulus money and a year of construction.

“We have no confirmation on that, but I will boast that it is the greenest street in the country,” said volunteer Mayor Adam C. Ortiz, who began working on revamping Decatur in 2007. “Block by block, from the tops of the trees to the stormwater system under the ground, it is as environmentally responsible as possible.”

Before the rain gardens were planted, dirty stormwater flowed through street drains emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. During storms, water would flood the streets. Now, the streets are clean and water-free, and the plants do most of the filtering work.

“This is the most important thing right here. These gardens — they’re low-tech, they’re affordable, and they’re completely sustainable,” Ortiz said.

“We wanted to show that there’s another way to build, there’s another way to prosper, that accepts full responsibility and does not pass problems downstream, and that it can be beautiful and livable.”

Edmonston officials unveiled the new Decatur Street in November 2010. Running three-fourths of a mile, it is now lined with about 30 maple, elm, sycamore and oak trees and energy-efficient, wind-powered streetlights. Crews installed a bike lane made of permeable asphalt that reduces storm runoff and pollution. They also narrowed the roadway by about eight feet, reducing the amount of pavement. The new sidewalks are made of permeable concrete blocks and landscaped areas, or “rain gardens,” that filter water naturally through the ground.

The Bigger Picture

Green streets have been built before, in Seattle and Portland, Ore., but they’re hard to find in towns like Edmonston, which has no stormwater filtration system.

Decatur Street has already won its admirers. The Chesapeake Bay Trust, which provided the initial $25,000 grant for the Edmonston project, plans to announce eight other green-street initiatives in Southeast Washington and the Baltimore area Wednesday, said Associate Director Jana L.D. Davis.

“If this can be replicated, many of these surprisingly inexpensive features can really help the environmental health of the bay,”  she said.

The first zero-energy multifamily community in the US is now open, demonstrating that cutting edge green building technologies are not only possible – but also scalable – for mainstream housing production.

Located in Issaquah, Wash., zHome’s 10 townhomes use zero net energy; 70% less water; nearly 80% Forest Stewardship Council certified wood; healthy, low-toxicity materials; and salmon-friendly site practices.

“This pioneering project sets a new standard for how homes can – and should – be built in our region and country,” says Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger. “Our vision is that zHome’s innovative approach will catalyze the market for much greener building materials and technologies, as well as inspire the next generation of homebuilders through examples that are replicable and market rate.”

zHome was built thanks to a public/private partnership spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, in conjunction with Built Green, King County, Port Blakely Communities, Puget Sound Energy and the Washington State University Energy Program. The homes were built and developed by Ichijo USA and Seattle builder Matt Howland.

The partners have also created a sustained, long-term education and marketing program to accelerate market adoption of sustainable housing in the region. One of zHome’s 10 units will remain as a Stewardship Center for the next five years, offering educational programming and tours for the community, builders, designers and students.

“Buildings account for 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions nationally, yet modern homes are about as innovative as the Model T,” says zHome project manager Brad Liljequist with the City of Issaquah. The Stewardship Center will also offer folks innovative and practical steps for replicating zHome’s approach in their own home building or remodeling projects.”  

zHome is designed to push the limits of green building and hit aggressive, numeric benchmarks in energy, water, materials, construction waste and site development.  The benchmarks include:

  • Zero net energy and carbon neutral because of energy-efficient construction practices and solar panels.
  • Use 70% less water than the average home, achieved through an integrated rainwater recycling system and water-efficient fixtures.
  • Incorporate 78% FSC-certified wood products and a high percentage of recycled, reclaimed and regional materials.
  • Diverted 90% of all construction-related debris through waste prevention, reuse and recycling.
  • Offer high indoor air quality through low toxicity materials and proper ventilation.
  • Reduce stormwater impact through low-impact site development strategies – including recharging runoff onsite – to mimic the site’s original, forested state.
  • Achieve the highest ever Built Green certification score of 850 points.
  • Developed in conjunction with an adjacent 150-unit YWCA Family Village workforce housing community. Together, they form a transit-oriented development adjacent to a regional transit center.  


Duane Reade is the first US retail pharmacy in New York City to electrify its truck fleet as part of a pilot program with Smith Electric Vehicles. Duane Reade is part of the Walgreens family of companies and the largest drug store chain in NYC.

The vehicles are ideal for urban delivery applications that demand heavy stop-and-go driving. Smith Electric medium-duty electric trucks will be included in its delivery fleet.

The “Newton” vehicle has a range that exceeds 100 miles on a single overnight charge and can carry over 16,000 pounds. Its average annual operating cost is 33%-50% of conventional diesel trucks. The electric truck is virtually silent and features a regenerative braking system that reduces wear on the brakes while restoring charge to the battery.

All new and renovated Duane Reade stores have LED lighting, which is reducing power consumption by 40% a year. The efficient lighting allows the stores eliminate energy consumptive air conditioning units, which were previously needed to mitigate the excessive heat produced by traditional light sources.

Other companies in NYC that are buying Smith’s electric trucks include Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola and Down East Seafood.

Campus of Naropa University

Image via Wikipedia

Going to a green college may sound trendy, but for some students, a school with green, sustainable policies will be much more appealing to them.  Although they may not major in environmental studies, going to a green college will have a positive impact on their quality of life.

LEED Certified Buildings

When colleges, like Lawrence University, add new buildings they are often LEED certified which means they reduce energy and water use, improve air quality and use natural lighting when possible. Green garden roofs are often used to absorb energy, cool the building or reduce runoff by capturing rainwater.  Other colleges have renovated their residential halls  to make them more comfortable and less dorm-like to live in. 

 Eating Local and Organic

Other schools grow their own fruits and vegetables or support their community by buying from local farmers and dairies. Since organic vegetables have a shorter shelf life than commercially grown vegetables, they can quickly be used in cafeterias on college campuses that often serve three meals a day. Schools like Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, shun long-distance, low-grade cafeteria food, offering their students only the good stuff.

Do you need a car?

Can you walk from your dorm or apartment to classes? If the campus is large, is there plenty of public transportation?  What kinds of transportation is available? Green schools such as Arizona State University and University of Arkansas-Fayetteville provide a myriad of transportation options, from free bus passes to bike share and even car share programs.

Design freedom with metal roofing, house in Da...

Image via Wikipedia

Three main types of solar roofing systems are available to homeowners: solar metal roof, traditional solar roof and a metal roof. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, but how effective a system is also depends on environment, local climate and where the roof is located.

Metal roof

A metal roof will last forever, if taken care of properly and can come with a warranty of  up to 50 years, so you’ll never have to go back to asphalt shingles. Other advantages include saving up to 40% on summer energy bills with metal because of its reflectivity.  A metal roof might also provide a discount on your home owners’ insurance, depending on where you live, due to its storm resistant properties.

Traditional solar roof

Solar roofing panels can be mounted on traditional roofing materials such as asphalt shingles or clamped on to metal roofing and jut out from the roof’s exterior.  The panels are often fixed facing south or mounted on a tracking device that follow the sun, allowing the panels to capture the most sunlight. Traditional solar cells are made of silicon, are flat-plate and usually the most efficient.

Solar metal roof

Solar laminate panels adhere to the surface of a metal roof and can capture the sun from many angles in cloudy or shady weather conditions. The laminate may require more surface area than solar panels to generate comparable energy. Although the cost of a solar metal roof can be recouped in roughly six years through lower utility bills and net metering,  many consumers can’t see beyond the additional cost.


If you’re deciding between a metal or solar metal roof, get an energy audit and then get several bids from contractors who can provide a cost-benefit analysis of several systems.  Your research will pay off when you find the system that will fit your budget, net the most savings and increase the curb appeal of your home.

Cover of "Yoga Chant"

Cover of Yoga Chant

I came to the Christine Center several years ago to hear a Kirtan group play on a Saturday night. Although I was certain the place would be overrun by uptight nuns in habits, I thought I’d give it a try.

The Kirtan group led by Ragini was dynamic and magical. Turns out Kirtan by Ragini is the largest independent and ongoing yoga chant scene in the nation. I’d never heard of Kirtan, ever. Or the Christine Center.

Nestled in the Wisconsin woods on 125 acres, the spiritual center is a place to slow down and be. A variety of workshops are available as well as guided retreats, work/study programs, body/energy work;  however you can come just to read or hiking with the deer. Rustic hermitages, camping and guest houses are available with fresh vegetarian meals three times a day.  Simply put, it’s a quiet place to renew your body, mind, heart and spirit.  

In alignment with their philosophy, the center is eco-friendly; they recycle and reuse as much as possible. Many of the buildings have solar and radiant heat. They grow and can most of their vegetables from several large gardens. And they barter and trade with the folks in Willard whenever possible, rather than using cash.


Will Allen nets a Tilapia at the urban farm Gr...

Image via Wikipedia

Sweet Water Organics is an urban fish and vegetable farm with a big dream. In 2009 a couple of guys from Milwaukee leased a former crane factory, fixed it up, built tanks and planting beds and created an indoor wetland.

The sustainable aquaponics system was inspired by Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, a non-profit urban farming operation. In the re-circulating systems, fish waste acts as a  natural fertilizer for plant growth and plants act as a water filter. Sweet Water wants to expand Will’s vision, and prove this type of venture can be profitable.

The urban fish and vegetable farm currently sells lettuce, basil, peppers, watercress, chard, spinach and perch.  Local restaurants purchase the perch for their Friday fish fries, a long-standing Milwaukee tradition.

Co-founders Josh Fraundorf  and James Godsil have plans to expand this site, add two more sites in Milwaukee and sell 400,000 pounds of perch a year and 800 to 1,000 pounds of produce a week.

Sweet Water Organics is part of  Sweet Water Foundation which seeks to develop intergenerational and interdisciplinary educational programming for sustainability with a focus on the potential of urban agriculture and aquaculture in the 21st century setting.