Archive for March, 2009

The Blessing of the Sun –April 8, 2009 (aka Let the Sunshine In–Part 2)

March 25, 2009

There are so many reasons to like the Sun: longer days, warmer temperatures, sunlight for my garden, etc. This year offers me a chance to appreciate the Sun from a perspective deep within Jewish tradition. In Jewish tradition, this is the year of Birkat Ha-Chammah—the Blessing for the Sun. This occurs every 28 years, and recreates the moment when God created the light and the dark. It turns out that my synagogue is planning an event next month that will link the ancient Blessing of the Sun to contemporary issues of sustainability in general and renewable (solar) energy in particular. I had never thought that renewable (solar) energy could have a spiritual component.

This year, the Birkat Ha-Chammah is Wednesday, April 8, 2009. So that morning at sunrise (that means about 6:30 am), my synagogue (Or Hadash) has planned a special service to recite the ancient blessing (Disclosure: I’m helping to plan it). We will be experiencing the appearance of the light from the dark, not unlike what occurred on the 4th day of creation. For those of us who have not read Chapter I of Genesis for a while, this is when God created the Sun (greater light) to rule over the daylight and the moon (lesser light) to rule over the dark.

The event will include some extra touches to raise awareness of sustainability and renewable (solar) energy (if all goes as planned and funding can be secured). Some of these extras include organic fair trade tea/coffee vs. regular coffee, sunflower bagels vs. regular bagels, and a sample solar light that participants can take home and put in their yards. These are the lights that recharge during the day in order to provide light during the night. I bought a set at Lowe’s last year and they are really cool. They throw off lots of light. I highly recommend them. Hopefully funding will come through for the extras. If not, the participants will still experience the power of the creation of the Sun.

So this should be one pretty cool service. I have never been known as a morning person. However, to commemorate a once in a generation event such as the Blessing of the Sun, I’ll be there.

Let the Sunshine In!

March 17, 2009

With the lengthening days and the coming of spring, my thoughts turn again to the sun. Specifically, the fact that the days are growing longer, and that I would love to have solar panels on my roof. However, this is not happening for awhile. It costs too much. Yes, there are some tax credits available, but it is still a very large up front capital cost which I cannot afford now. However, if I lived in a city like Berkeley, California or Boulder, Colorado, I could potentially take advantage of municipal financing for my (hoped-for) solar roof.

The crux of the program is that municipalities provide a loan to residents interested in installing solar power. The loan is paid back over the course of 20 years via a property tax increase for the homeowner. This is in addition to any other state or federal tax credit or write-off the homeowner can qualify for. A crucial benefit is that If the current homeowner sells the house before the 20 year payment period expires, the payment for this loan becomes part of the new homebuyer’s tax payment. (The new homeowner also gets the benefit of the solar power. )

Contrast this financing to a mortgage or home equity loan, in which the current homeowner is ultimately responsible for paying back the entire loan–no matter if or when the house is sold. For this program, the balance on the loan is attached to the property, not the person owning the property. The 20 year amortization period and the ability to not have the balance of the loan follow you if you sell the house make the finances workable for many more people. This combination helps to alleviate the upfront capital cost hurdle that deters so many people from installing solar panels on their roofs (like me).

The program started in Berkeley, California (no surprise). The program germinated for a year or so, and was approved in September, 2008, On November 5th, the morning of President Obama’s election, the City of Berkeley made this program available. The limit was 5 houses in each of the Berkeley’s 8 City Council districts. The 40 slots sold out in 9 minutes. The program is also in effect in San Francisco, San Diego, Palm Desert and Santa Monica California. Legislation is under consideration in Vermont, New York, Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.

This program is a very fair way of allocating costs and benefits of individual solar power improvements. Everyone wins (over time). The city gets its loan repaid securely via property taxes, the homeowner gets the solar power, while the environment and the utility grid have incrementally less demands put upon them. Sounds like a win-win-win(-win) to me.

Interesting Blogs:

Greening the (U.S.) Capitol

March 6, 2009

Like many people, I was caught up in the excitement of last year’s election. I was especially excited to find another political junkie site—Politico. While getting my daily hit today, an article about “Green the Capitol” caught my eye. When the Democrats took over the House of Representatives after the 2006 elections, one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s early actions was to direct the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the House to come up with a plan to ‘Green the Capitol”. By June 2007, CAO Dan Beard had produced a 40+ page plan to do just that. The 3 major goals were to make the House buildings carbon neutral, reduce the carbon footprint of the House, and to make the House a model of sustainability. A good deal of this plan is being adopted across the House side of the Capitol Complex, which includes the House side of the Capitol, and the four House Office Buildings—Longworth, Cannon, Ford, and Rayburn.

“Green The Capitol’s” section on sustainability called for the development of a House Sustainability Plan to “provide a road map for major steps to sustainability over the next 20 years”.
greenthecapitol/green-the-capitol-final-report.pdf The sustainability plan included items such as lowered water use, landscaping issues, transit and transportation, food service, increased recycling, and procurement of locally or regionally produced environmentally friendly products where possible for building maintenance needs. Examples of these products include low or no VOC paint; office products containing recycled content, bio-based products or certified (sustainably grown) wood, preferably made in the United States; and GreenSeal certified cleaning products.

Probably the most publicly visible initiative was the overhauling of the House cafeteria, which serves 2.5 million meals annually. The cafeteria now serves much more locally grown, organic, sustainable, or seasonal food than it used to. As an example of this, the cafeteria’s fish purchases use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program as a guide. This program provides information as to whether a given species of fish was farmed or fished in a sustainable manner. Another example is that the cutlery and food containers now are now compostable and/or biodegradable.

A much less visible part of the Capitol complex is the Capitol Power Plant, located in Southeast Washington. ( This plant produces steam and chilled water to heat and cool 23 facilities near the Capitol, including the House and Senate Office Buildings, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and Union Station. In 2007, the plant used 49% coal; in Fiscal Year 2008 (ending September 2008), the plant used 35% coal (and 65% natural gas). In February 2009 Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that they want the Power Plant to only burn natural gas. Significant retrofitting will be required, so this may take a while.

The US Capitol is one of the most visible and public spaces in the country, if not the world. It has deep symbolic meaning as a symbol of freedom and opportunity. Hopefully, via the ongoing “Green the Capitol” initiative, it will also become symbolic of the possibilities of sustainable operations.

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