Low-Cost Conservation

In the face of climate change and energy challenges, what creative ways are you finding to forge healthy and durable lives and communities? Send submissions — five hundred words or fewer — to Orion, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or via {encode=”moa@orionsociety.org” title=”e-mail”}. Submissions become property of Orion.

The essential challenge for our culture is to subordinate our consumptive lifestyle to the limitations on which all life depends. The Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), based in the Catskill Mountains region of New York, acknowledges this challenge and is working to meet it. A primary focus of our effort is educating the Sullivan County community about the tangible benefits of reducing energy consumption, not just for the environment, but also for the pocketbook. True change will necessarily require a deeper shift in how we value the natural world, but we recognize that taking more time to act is a luxury we can ill afford.

SASD believes important changes in energy consumption become more palatable to the public if people understand there is much they can do on several levels. We’re facilitating this understanding through community workshops and presentations. Just as the power of compounding interest can dramatically increase the value of a savings account over time, low-cost conservation measures can be used to sustain reduced levels of energy consumption into the future. Reducing hot water temperatures, keeping heat registers clean, and washing only full loads of laundry are just some of the many simple energy “deposits” that build over time.

SASD is articulating how these actions help leverage a flourishing renewable energy economy that can feed our local economy, and how doing so helps address national and global problems. For example, in 2006, a typical homeowner in our area would have paid between $14,000 and $20,000 (even after a 50 percent state rebate and applicable tax credits) to install enough solar panels to meet much of her electricity needs. But those panels would have generated only $650 worth of electricity that year. This would be difficult for many to afford, but it represents an important opportunity for using conservation to significantly reduce the size, and therefore the cost, of the system required. Each $1 reduction in her electricity usage she can sustain through conservation means between $20 and $30 worth of solar panels she doesn’t have to install. This practice makes it possible for more people to afford photovoltaic systems that supply most or all of their electricity. Jobs created by training a local labor force to install and maintain these systems are another benefit in an area where many are in need of a living wage.

We also recognize that encouraging municipal facilities to take similar actions and advocating for municipally owned renewable power can spread economic and environmental benefits more broadly across the community. Proceeds from generating local renewable energy could be used to lower property and school taxes and to fund low-interest community loans targeted at further expanding renewable-energy opportunities for as many area residents as possible.