Sustainable energy benefits your wallet, your planet

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Nov. 14, 2011
Shari Hurst, from Hurst Farm in Andover, discusses organic produce with a visitor to the RHAM Energy and Sustainability Fair on Nov. 12. Photo by Melanie Savage.
Shari Hurst, from Hurst Farm in Andover, discusses organic produce with a visitor to the RHAM Energy and Sustainability Fair on Nov. 12. Photo by Melanie Savage.

An energy and sustainability fair held at RHAM on Nov. 12 was part of an effort organized by Regional Energy Initiatives, made up of citizens from the school’s three sending towns of Andover, Hebron and Marlborough.

“We’re trying to have students encourage their households and other people to adopt a variety of conservation initiatives,” said RHAM High School science teacher Rick Linden, one of two RHAM teachers involved with the group. The fair was open to the public, and offered the opportunity to speak with organizations including solar energy and geothermal vendors, green cleaning vendors, local farmers and a number of organizations providing home energy advice and assistance.

“Our first priority is to provide residents with money-saving solutions,” said Linden. “We’re also interested in promoting a better environment by reducing fossil fuel usage and increasing renewable energy usage.” The third goal of the group is to encourage less dependence on foreign countries that provide fossil fuels. “It’s a very destabilizing force,” said Linden, “both for us and for the countries that are the providers. The less dependent we are, the better.”

In conjunction with the Nov. 12 fair, RHAM students at both the high school and the middle school are being encouraged to become involved in sustainability issues through the Sustainability Now! Contest. Open to all of RHAM, the contest asks students to encourage household members and others to adopt a variety of conservation initiatives by the end of the contest period on Dec. 22.

“You’ll save your household some money and help the environment at the same time,” reads a contest brochure. The four students who earn the most points in each school (middle and high) will receive prizes consisting of gift certificates from local merchants.

“At the high school, each class will receive a monetary donation based upon the total number of points earned, as well,” said Linden.
Initiatives vary by difficulty and cost level. A free and relatively simple initiative, for example, involves a discussion of the contest between the RHAM student and an adult member of the household (worth 50 points). A more costly initiative would be to “buy a vehicle with a miles-per-gallon rating of at least 35 mpg or that runs on electricity” (earning 500 points). Initiatives falling into the middle range include: seal cracks in house with caulk, weather-stripping, etc., to prevent heat escape (75 points); buy and begin to use cloth totes for bringing home groceries (25 points); or buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture farm (200 points).

One local farm involved in Community Supported Agriculture was present at the RHAM fair. Hurst Farm, in Andover, sells shares of their growing season production. “Each week people come and pick up their allotted share,” explained Shari Hurst. Utilization of a CSA benefits a number of people, explained Hurst. “It keeps the local economy going, by supporting the local farmer,” she said. “It brings people to the farm and gives them an opportunity to see where their food grows. It promotes healthy eating alternatives.” And it reduces your carbon footprint, because the food isn’t being transported to you from California or some other distant place.

The Hurst farm produces a number of crops, including fruits, berries and vegetables. Their store (746 East St., in Andover) is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, year-round. “We always have maple syrup, honey, jams and jellies,” said Hurst. With a total of nine children, Hurst and her husband feel a responsibility to future generations. Initiatives such as utilizing organic farming methods and moving away from diesel tractors (they use oxen as much as possible) are designed to lessen the farm’s environmental load. “We try to use natural as much as we can,” said Hurst. “We’re teaching the next generation the importance of the farm.”

Also teaching the next generation was Laurel Kohl from the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University. Kohl’s presentation at the RHAM fair focused on home energy efficiency. “The first step, before heading into renewable energy sources, is to make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible,” said Kohl. According to Kohl’s figures, the average home heating with oil will spend $2,799 this winter. The average driver will spend $3,252 on gas. “That’s a big chunk of change,” said Kohl.

One way to reduce home-related energy costs is to participate in a home energy audit. There are a number of companies providing this service in Connecticut, at a cost of $75. Income-eligible residents may qualify for a free visit. A qualified Home Energy Solutions (HES) contractor will provide on-the-spot services such as caulking and sealing of critical air leaks, and provide money-saving rebates on appliances, heating and cooling systems, and more. For more information about the HES program, go to ctenergyinfo.com.

Once you’ve made your home as efficient as possible, there are a number of renewable energy choices available. Businesses participating in the RHAM fair included:

Harness the Sun, providing solar energy installations: 1-877-SUN-9798; info@harnessdelsol.com.

Sunlight Solar, providing solar energy installations: 203-878-9123.

Solar US, manufacturer of solar heating and hot water systems: www.solarusmfg.com.

A and B Cooling and Heating, providing geothermal energy installations: 860-528-4436; abcoolingandheating@yahoo.com; guy@abcoolingandheating.com.

Contact Laurel Kohl at kohll@easternct.edu. For more information about saving energy at home, visit www.ctenergyeducation.com.


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