Category: Uncategorized

Retiring the Blog

I’m officially retiring this blog. Please see my Chapel Hill Environmental FAQ for descriptions of environmental problems in the area and links to stories about what’s being done about them. I’ve enjoyed keeping up with the environmental news in the area and hope to continue covering the topic at The Daily Tar Heel.


The N.C. General Assembly may consider fracking this Sunday in a special session, according to a email from the Center for Community Alternatives.

The SB 709 bill allowing fracking was passed last year by the general assembly but Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed it.

The bill may be under consideration for a veto override, would allow both fracking for natural gas (currently illegal in N.C.) and off-shore oil drilling.

No legislative agenda has been posted, but the email said fracking consideration is likely because many legislators will not be present. Some Republican legislators may hope that this will increase the likelihood of passing such a bill.

Also on the agenda may be a repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which attempts to help close the disparity between blacks and whites receiving the death penalty. Black victims are 2.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty in North Carolina according to a Michigan State University study.

Voters in Durham County approved a half cent sales tax that will be used to fund transit improvements and a light-rail transit system.

The tax will not take effect unless Orange and Wake counties also approve a similar measure.

If the other counties enact a similar tax, bus service would be expanded and a light rail line from Durham to UNC will be built.

A commuter rail line would also be built from downtown Durham to eastern Wake County.

For more information, see the Daily Tar Heel and the News and Observer.

Even the youngest of Chapel Hill’s residents will now be carrying on the town’s image of being environmentally focused.

Officials from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ sustainability committee are considering a program to compost food at local schools.

The committee conducted an audit at Estes Hills Elementary School last week to see how much and what types of compostable trash students throw away.

The audit aimed to see if the district can collect the 4,000 pounds of trash it would need to generate each month to join Carolina Dining Services and local restaurants in a program that composts food waste.

Based on a November audit, one school’s kitchen made just 650 pounds of compostable trash, not enough to make collection cost-effective.

To collect enough waste, the schools are now looking past the kitchen — and into the cafeteria.

See the rest of the article at the Daily Tar Heel.

Tomorrow is election day in Chapel Hill and many candidates have made sustainability a chief concern for their campaigns.

The North Carolina Sierra Club chose to endorse Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Donna Bell, Jim Ward, Lee Storrow and Jason Baker, according to a Daily Tar Heel article.

Jason Baker and Donna Bell also both listed sustainability as one of the most pressing issues facing the town, according to the Daily Tar Heel voter guide.

The Town Council is an important voice in sustainability that has decided issues such as Jordan Lake water allocation and home energy efficiency improvement funding.

To learn more about the candidates and the issues facing the town, also take a look at Indy Week’s endorsements.

Occupy Durham and Raging Grannies

Occupy Durham and the Raging Grannies protested the proposed Duke Energy rate increase Wednesday.

People start to gather outside Durham City Hall.

Many at the meeting were from the Occupy Durham protest group.

About 30 minutes before the official start of the meeting, the crowd got larger. About 70 people were in attendance at this point.

Gary Phillips, a Weaver Street realty broker in Carrboro, supported the protesters.

The Raging Grannies sang protest songs about the rate increase.

A Raging Granny hat closeup.

Protesters against the Duke Energy rate increase filled the council room and clapped to support the Raging Grannies.

Well spoken appeals against the rate increase received standing ovations.

Attend the 7 p.m. Utility Commission Hearing in Durham, which will be held in the Durham City Hall Council Chambers at 101 City Hall Plaza.

The meeting will focus on Duke Energy’s proposed rate increases.

Duke Energy is seeking an 18.6 percent rate increase for residential electricity customers and 14 percent for businesses. This will be on top of a 8 percent increase since January 2010 and 5 percent increase in fuel surcharges in September.

According to a Duke Energy press release, the rate increase is necessary to recover $4.8 billion in infrastructure investments.

Morrison Residence Hall may have won an Environmental Protection Agency national award for energy reduction last year, but the building’s environmentally friendly upgrades did not live up to initial expectations.

Hot water producing solar panels were added to the residence hall in 2006. The student-run renewable energy special projects committee contributed $185,600 and the N.C. Energy Office contributed $137,000 toward the project, said Assistant Director of Facilities Steve Lofgren.

During an annual tour of the rooftop solar panels held Saturday, Lofgren said green upgrades to the building were not straightforward.

The project designer was not well equipped to plan the unusually large installation and the company that sold the panels would not provide input, Lofgren said.

This led to a system with less than optimal hot water output.

“They thought they knew what they were doing but they didn’t completely,” Lofgren said. “The university had to step up.”

Even though facility service workers weren’t trained to deal with the system, engineers worked hard to become more knowledgeable and to make improvements, he said.

The solar system – originally intended to provide hot water to faucets, showers and washers  – was tied to the building’s heating and cooling system by university engineers.

This regularly decreases the amount of steam the university’s cogeneration power plant needs to provide to the residence hall.

The 172 rooftop solar panels now provide an average of 40 percent of the building’s hot water usage, according to a UNC-CH sustainability office press release.

In September, the system reduced carbon dioxide output by 15,201 pounds, according to a document from the department of Housing and Residential Education. This is about the same amount of carbon dioxide that comes from burning 760 gallons of gasoline.

“We didn’t get it right out of the gate,” Lofgren said. “It’s a learning institution and it caused the institution to do some learning, and that’s always a good thing.”

To go beyond the rooftop panels in advancing Morrison Residence Hall’s sustainability mission, building leaders are competing in the Residential Green Games this year, Morrison Community Director Taris Mullins said.

The Residential Green Games is an environmental competition that seeks to promote sustainable behavioral change and education in UNC-CH residence halls.

“Morrison Community is not leading Green Games, we are doing quite well so far this year,” Mullins said. “We encourage sustainability in a number of ways through bulletin boards, encouraging residents to bring their own items to programs, and also looking for creative ways to reduce our footprint in the community.”

Luz Cuaboy, a Morrison resident who attended the tour, said she appreciated the green focus of the building even though the expense of the hot water producing solar panels surprised her.

“I think the cost is justified,” Cuaboy said “Over a long period of time, it’s going to do some good.”

View From The Top

Students explore the solar thermal system on top of Morrison Residence Hall Saturday afternoon.

Despite budgeting problems, the expanded Chapel Hill Public Library will be the first town building slated to receive a sustainability certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Because the construction company could not guarantee a price below the $12.5 million budgeted for the expansion after receiving bids from subcontractors, town officials are changing some aspects of the library’s design to reduce construction costs.

“All of the proposed modifications have been reviewed and approved by Robert A. M. Stern and Associates, the lead architect, for consistency with their intended design concept, and with library staff to assure that the functionality of the project is not compromised,” said Town Manger Roger Stancil in an email to town council members.

“The proposed modifications retain the project’s eligibility for LEED silver certification and do not include changes to the size of the building,” he said.

All new public buildings in Chapel Hill are required by a 2004 town ordinance to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED ratings come in four levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

The Chapel Hill Public Library will be the first building to fall under the ordinance, Town Sustainability Officer John Richardson said.

No green features will be cut from the library despite budgeting problems, said Curtis Brooks, urban forester for the town, even though not all of them are required for LEED certification and many involve large upfront costs.

It wouldn’t make sense, he said, considering all the money that had been spent in the planning phase to design the green features.

“Half the cost has already been paid,” Brooks said.

Planned features include a high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a path to a nearby bus stop, rooftop solar panels, covered bicycle storage, expansive windows, natural lighting and electric vehicle charging stations.

Instead of shedding these features, the town is working to give developers a variety of choices in material use and specifying less expensive aesthetics to lower construction costs.

While some of the environmentally friendly library features are expensive, Richardson said that incorporating green building practices at the beginning of the design process can save money long-term.

“Although LEED certified projects were initially reported as being costly to build, more recent findings suggest that these projects can be cost-competitive,” Richardson said. “Green building proponents often times flip the question around to ask, ‘What are the costs of not doing green building?'”

These costs include higher electricity bills, Brooks said.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that will be installed could account for as much as 10 percent of the upfront building cost, Brooks said.

“The high-efficiency HVAC system will, by its nature, cost more,” Brooks said. “But that system will generate savings in the long run.”

Not all features will significantly help with LEED certification or energy savings – like having large windows – but they will improve the library user experience, Brooks said.

Despite the bidding setback, town officials hope the library will be completed January 2013.

New bids are due Nov. 3 and changes will not be finalized until the town council reviews them at the Nov. 21 town council meeting.