Friday, November 21, 2008

How I chose to live greener

A lot is being said lately about going green but the fact of the matter is that a few of us have been living greener than most for quite some time. Quite honestly we look at it as a good personal decision and don't make any fanfare.

This past week, I surprised a few friends of mine with the details of how I've made greener choices they didn't even knew existed.

For example, I have an office out an in rural area of North Carolina known as Saxapahaw. Most people have never heard of Saxapahaw and even fewer can spell it correctly the first time. When i was looking at the area, a few things intriqued me.

First, the Saxapahaw River Mill was restored instead of being torn down. Something that examplified the death of the textile society in North Carolina was converted into townhouses, apartments, business spaces, and soon condos. In the process of the conversion there was conservation. Brick walls were kept and restored. The old hardwood floors, posts and support beams were kept and restored. Wherever possible, as much of the old skin of the building was retained while upgrading key components (like windows) for efficiency. Plus the super high ceilings provide a natural cooling effect in the warmer months.

Then there is the particular location. I had found myself driving between Roxboro, Burlington and Chapel Hill. Saxapahaw is located almost exactly half way betweeen Burlington and Chapel Hill. So locating there instantly cut 1/2 of my driving - and fuel consumption. And even deeper cuts in fuel consumption were made possibly by my being able to work so close to home now that I don't need to drive at all some day. Even in the midst of tremendous gas price increases, I managed to cut my monthly fuel budget by 40%.

Now what surprised my friends was how the Saxapahaw area is powered - hydroelectric. Back in the days of the cotton mill there was a hydroelectric dam which provided power to the mill (and originally provided sheer mechanical energy through wheels and pullies before the days of electrification).

The hydroelectric dam had set unused from 1964 until 1980 when a group known as Haw River Hydro Company bought the dam and began the process of restoration. In 1982, the generator was brought back online, a contract was signed with Duke Power and it began distributing clean energy into the Duke Power grid - and subsequently the surrounding Saxapahaw area. The dam generates enough power to continuously provide clean power to about 700 homes. This means that Saxapahaw is carbon neutral for its electric power... and we don't even have to pay extra for it.

More importantly though, this same sort of restoration is beginning over at the old Glencoe Mill on the other side of Alamance county from here. Glencoe, like Rivermill, has a small hydroelectric plant that is being brought back online to generate clean electricity. Glencoe promises to become an interesting mixed use community. Again turning something that was lost in the community into something valuable and sustainable.

Other greening projects are underway here in Saxapahaw. Some are simple - like changing out all of the incandescent lighting that was historically in the building to use florescent and compact florescent bulbs. Some are a bit more complex - like water conservation and sewage mitigation. Since Saxapahaw runs its own water system, conservation is able to take a local flavor and truly reflect the community here.

On a closing note, I must admit I get a little giddy thinking about the fact that when I turn on my electric baseboards or heat pump, there is a little turbine up the street in the river that's generating the power which is providing me heat. And nowhere along the way is a lump of coal or a therm of natural gas -or a gram of plutonium - being consumed.