Green Ideas We Love

Big news: Delaware is going green. Following, a smattering of advancements we applaud and encourage—including the hottest topic Delaware has debated in years: a wind farm.

Bluewater Wind president Peter Mandelstam
wants to bring wind power to the First State.


Photograph by Thom Thompson

- Advertisement -




A Wind-Wind Situation?
The plan for wind-generated electricity in Delaware is not without detractors. Then again, neither is a future that still depends on fossil fuels.

- Partner Content -

With Bluewater Wind’s plans for a 150-turbine, $1.6 billion wind farm 11.5 nautical miles off of Rehoboth Beach, the First State has a unique opportunity to become the first to fulfill a significant portion of its energy needs directly from wind.

And it would seem like a no-brainer. Wind farms produce no pollution, and there’s no risk of running out of the resources needed to generate power. Yet the effort has generated a unique controversy.

Three companies—Bluewater Wind LLC, Delmarva Power and NRG Energy—last year made bids to build a new source of power. Local energy giant Delmarva Power urged the state to reject them, arguing it could meet energy needs and control prices by promoting conservation measures among customers.

But because wind power seemed to be a popular idea, Delmarva and Bluewater were to sign an agreement in December that would require Delmarva to buy electricity from Bluewater for 25 years. When Senator Harris B. McDowell III announced that his  Senate Energy Committee would convene a series of hearings on the wind farm, many suspected that McDowell, a longtime ally of Delmarva, was trying to create opposition. Officials expect a decision about the farm early this month.

Locally, wind means less pollution produced by the state’s own energy plants and the creation—out of thin air, one might say—of an entirely new energy source.

- Advertisement -

Bluewater Wind president Peter Mandelstam says the proposed 150 40-story-tall turbines would create up to 450 megawatts of electricity—enough to provide nearly 30 percent of the energy now consumed by coastal customers of Delmarva Power.

Wind allows Delaware to avoid buying from out-of-state producers that use coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power. That would  mean fewer pollutants put into the atmosphere. Yet many oppose the project, largely because it would increase their monthly electricity bills. Many claim wind does nothing to diminish our dependence on foreign oil, nor does it reduce the need to build conventinal power plants.

Bluewater Wind’s plans call for a 150-turbine wind
farm located about 11 miles off Rehoboth Beach.

Yet for Delawareans, Bluewater promises other benefits, having agreed to make the state its hub for projects it plans throughout the Mid-Atlantic. So if Maryland, New Jersey and New York decide to move on their own Bluewater projects, it will be citizens of Delaware who benefit most directly from the planning, implementation and construction of the additional wind parks.

“We’re very proud Bluewater’s parent company, Babcock & Brown, agreed that Delaware be a regional hub, and we do believe that it will mean more jobs, more economic development and a chance for a new clean technology industry to develop in Delaware,” Mandelstam says. “If they’re the first state with offshore wind, they’ll be the first state to get all these jobs and benefits.”

Even without moving to Delaware, Bluewater’s project would have a significant economic effect. Initial analysis by engineering firm Fluor, which will be in charge of the wind park’s construction, shows that the project means at least 500 union jobs in the coastal staging area.

Studies by the University of Delaware have suggested that the multiplier effect will create an immense ripple of money moving outward from the Bluewater project, improving the fortunes of workers in retail, hospitality, food service and any number of smaller niche industries.

Yet Mandelstam doesn’t like to theorize on ripples. “We leave it to others to calculate that, but we can speak to the direct labor cost for those construction jobs, which is $95 million in wages.”

Skeptics, mostly those in the energy industry who will lose money on the deal by not getting a contract for a new fossil fuel plant, have a list of complaints. Among those are that wind power is unreliable and costs more than traditionally produced power.

As to its supposed unreliability, consider that European wind farms run at 70 percent to 90 percent efficiency. The Bluewater sites are estimated to generate electricity between 85 percent and 89 percent of the time.

Prices for consumers will rise initially, but because the price for wind power won’t fluctuate with the market or as the result of unrest in some far-flung oil-producing country, the price of power will be reduced over time, Mandelstam says.

“It’s energy security,” he says. “It’s domestic energy not subject to embargoes or price spikes or dictators in other parts of the world that fix the price.”

KW Solar Solutions in Bear installed  200-watt solar
panels at Cermet Materials in Newport. The panels
are made in Delaware.

Working Man’s Solar
Forget efficiency and technological viability. Solar energy is over the image problem that has plagued it since the late 1970s. Thanks to partnerships between Bear-based KW Solar Solutions and several housing developers, solar electricity and hot water can become the power source of Everyman.

“It’s not like some kind of hippie movement anymore,” says Mark Berry, a sales and installation associate with KW. “Utility prices are going up, people are looking for ways to save money, and it’s proven technology.”

New solar customers are evenly split into people who want to do right by the environment and those who look at the bottom line first. “Whether they’re liberal or conservative or whatever, they look at the economics with solar subsidy and compare it to a stock market investment with the rate of return,” Berry says. “It’s something that pays for itself, and then you’re in the black. Helping out the environment is great, too.”

With growing interest comes a growing number of developers who are incorporating solar in new construction. Reybold Homes will include solar hot water systems on all homes in its new Ascot Landing development, and DiSabatino Construction is planning to offer solar electric systems for the 180 homes it plans to build in Hummingbird Meadows near Ellendale.

“What I want to try to capture is the first time homebuyer, the blue collar worker and the retirees,” says Harold Smoker, executive vice president of DiSabatino. “If we can show them where in seven years they start to get a return on their money, within 13 or 14 years, they’ve got a couple of grand in their pocket.”

Businesses have gotten in on the act, too. In November, Delaware Renewable Energy Company, a recent division of Ocean Atlantic in Rehoboth Beach, installed solar panels at its office.

UD introduced its hydrogen-powered bus last spring.

Getting on the Bus
Introducing some buses you might actually want to get stuck behind. The Brandywine School District has been among the first bus fleet operators in the state to take advantage of pollution-reducing technology in its diesel vehicles. Last April, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded $570,000 to the district through the Clean School Bus USA program to retrofit 67 of its buses with filters that, in combination with ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel, significantly reduce pollution from exhaust.

Inclined to scoff at the notion that kids are breathing soot on the bus? Consider a California study that showed, even with the windows closed, students inside buses were exposed to surprising amounts of pollution, which can penetrate deep into lungs and aggravate conditions like asthma. Combined with already polluted air, the problem only gets worse.

The University of Delaware is also hopping on the clean bus bandwagon with the hydrogen-powered model it introduced to its Newark campus in April of last year. Spearheaded by the university’s College of Engineering, the project involved installing a hydrogen fuel cell on an existing bus, with the school’s own takes on the technology, of course.

Several transportation companies have jumped on board, so don’t be surprised if around the state “it smells like the back of a bus” becomes a less brutal comment.

PhillyCarShare now has five pick-up and drop-off
stations in Wilmington.

Baby, You Can Share My Car
The idea was elegantly simplistic: Buy a fleet of cars, then let people pay to borrow them through a hometown non-profit organization, saving drivers the expense, upkeep and environmental impact of owning a car.

The concept became the PhillyCarShare in 2002, and has spread like wildfire through Philly and its suburbs.

At $2.90 an hour or $29 a day (with insurance, gas and children’s car seats included), it beats standard car rentals hands down and is the perfect solution for folks who don’t want to own a car.

The program started in Delaware with one client, the City of Wilmington, last year. Since the city turned the key, 16 businesses have joined and five “pods”—what PhillyCarShare calls its pick-up and drop-off stations—have been established for the general public. The group plans to double the number soon, says Clayton Lane, executive deputy director of PhillyCarShare.

“We’re working with communities in Wilmington and council people to set up pods west of I-95 in the Trolley Square neighborhood,” he says. “I think that, once we do, there’s going to be an even bigger influx of new membership.” Beyond the corporate membership, more than 200 individuals are now members.

The service allows members to choose from more than 20 different models of vehicle, many of them hybrids. Other models include Cooper Minis, BMWs, pickup trucks and vans.

“Our purpose for existing is the public benefit—the environmental impact—to get people to drive less, take cars off the road, get people in hybrids,” Lane says. “But people generally join and use the service because it works for them. The environmental aspect is just icing on the cake. They use us because we’re convenient and affordable. They love us because we’re green.”


Up on the Roof
Few things are worse for a building than a flat, black roof.

Lack of a significant grade practically begs for pooling of water, and pooling makes for leaks. Water that does run off flows into municipal storm drains, carrying pollutants and increasing the load on an already taxed infrastructure.

Traditional black tar sealing can raise a building’s internal temperature, as well as the amount of heat it gives off as part of the urban “heat island” effect. As a result, the popularity of live green roofs is growing in Delaware.

One of the most public examples is the roof of the new Barclays Bank building in Wilmington. The green roof is included as part of a company-wide focus on green initiatives. It will serve to modulate the building’s temperature, limit rainwater runoff and lengthen the life of the roof.

On a smaller scale, Francine’s Organic in Hockessin will include a green roof as part of a holistic effort in design and construction. The interior will include a wide array of furnishings made from recycled and renewable products. The roof itself will be planted with greens and succulent plants this spring, and water that runs off will be collected in barrels to irrigate the store’s 40-by-40 foot organic garden.

“This building is so visible that it’s really going to be a lot of fun,” Cavelli says. “Not that it doesn’t look cool, but there are so many benefits for the environment and our building with the energy costs. This is about a much bigger picture. It’s about the planet and doing what we can to save the planet. We have to start somewhere, and we have to do it together.”

Dave Matushik converted his 1982
Mercedes to run on filtered fryer grease.
Photograph by Greg Sachs

Your One-Stop Eco-Shop
Given the spotty efforts of municipalities in the state, many businesses that wanted to recycle the waste they generated found it difficult to do so. Enter Green Delaware Recycling in Wilmington, which helps clients find more ecologically friendly paths for the waste.

That’s Dave Matushik’s end of the business. His partner, Jason Begany, through Delaware Eco Design, then provides clients with a source for goods that have been made from recycled materials. Part of the endeavor involves taking the GDR space—the old Mammele’s Paint Shop in Wilmington—and converting it into something of an environmentally enlightened tree house. Plans for the building include solar electric power, a green roof, biodiesel-fueled furnaces, renewable materials like bamboo and glasscrete, (a concrete amalgam made from recycled glass). And let’s not forget the 1,500 square feet of gallery space for artists to display their works in the front window.

Begany and Matushik, who drives a 1982 Mercedes 240D that he converted to biodiesel (think filtered fryer grease), also run a bio-fuel cooperative. “I’m in the sustainability industry, so I have to practice what I preach,” Matushik says. The pair also visits schools as members of the Delaware Environmental Sustainability Coalition to educate children about the value of recycling.

“Anything I can do to inspire people to be in harmony with nature is what I want to do,” Begany says.


Making Recycling Work
Wish your workplace recycled? You’re not alone. But one thing employees around Delaware are realizing is that if their bosses won’t make the move toward reducing the waste that goes into landfills, the rank-and-file might have to take the reins.

Just ask Sandy Glenn-Vernon, a patient care facilitator in the pediatric intensive care unit at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. She and the other nurses, doctors and clerks of the PICU took stock of the amount of consumer trash—plastic water bottles, soda cans and paper—that employees and patients threw away every day. The results were staggering. The unit alone generated five institutional-sized garbage bags of plastic in one day.

Because the hospital would have to pay to have recyclable trash removed and this effort so far is limited to the PICU, Glenn-Vernon and her night-shift counterpart, Kara Eichenlaub, must take care of it themselves, loading it into their cars and taking it to a recycling center. “We haul that away about every other day,” she says. “And that’s just what we do. Can you imagine the people that don’t recycle?”

Right now, the focus for the unit is on awareness of the program. Doctors, nurses and family members of patients are encouraged to use the designated recycling containers. “My goal is to get a grant to expand it,” Glenn-Vernon says. “Right now the hospital is not interested in recycling. I’m trying to push that along to make it happen.”

Speaking of schools, Centreville School formed a Green Team that gathers paper, newspapers, aluminum and glass for recycling. The effort earned the school a $5,000 grant from RecycleBank and Coca-Cola. “The goal is to protect the environment and make the earth a cleaner place for everyone,” says head of school Victoria Yatzus.

The Center for the Inland Bays headquarters is
a model of eco-friendly design.

Building the Low-Impact Way
Far from the old concept of a yurt woven from organically grown hemp, green buildings in the 21st century incorporate a number of environmentally friendly principles—efficient use of land or existing structures, use of renewable or recycled products and building supplies, and energy efficiency among them.

Among green buildings in the state, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays headquarters in Rehoboth Beach serves as one of the best examples. The building was once the Coast Guard barracks for Delaware Seashore State Park, which meant that there was no need to clear land for a new building. Once the retrofit was complete, the center became a model of eco-friendly design, using solar electric collection; renewable woods; countertops, upholstery and carpets made from recycled materials; paints low in volatile organic compounds; and energy efficient lights, appliances and insulation.

Outside, the structure’s ramp and boardwalk are made from “lumber” made of recycled plastic. The building also features a rainwater collection system to limit runoff and provides water for irrigation of the property.

The center stands not alone. The Chesapeake Bay Girl Scouts Council is building a green math, science and technology lodge in Hockessin. Both the beautiful Black Rock Corporate Center on Philadelphia Pike and the New Castle County Administration Building near New Castle are LEED certified. So is the barn at Blue Ball Farm in Wilmington, which is on the Northern Delaware Greenway. And the Delaware Children’s Museum, coming to the Wilmington Riverfront, will join them.

The Center for the Inland Bays may trump the others for location, but each building serves as an excellent example for other interested builders of what is possible—and necessary—in the future.


Back to the Land
In Delaware, open space often means space that hasn’t been developed yet.

But in Clayton, open space has gotten the upper hand at a site once thought to be out of reach. St. Joseph’s at Providence Creek has sold 37.5 acres for the development of an over-55 community (with 12.5 acres to be developed as a park and leased back to the foundation) and 33 acres to the Providence Creek Academy charter school for construction of its own campus. The 20-acre central campus will remain a community asset, with special attention paid to the chapel, built in 1896, which once served as the church for Clayton’s Catholic parish.

But the big boon for nature lovers, residents of Clayton, and the areas of New Castle and Kent counties that the site overlaps is that the remaining acreage will be maintained as public woodland and wetland, which will serve as a kind of time capsule of the region’s natural and agricultural history, says Marc C. Ostroff, executive director of St. Joseph’s at Providence Creek.

A natural resources committee has been formed to inventory the flora and fauna of the site in hopes of getting a better understanding of what is there and to educate visitors.

“The purpose of this natural resources program is to preserve what we have, get a handle on what is there, enhance what we have,” such as walkways and public access, “and sort of feed the third phase, which is to make something accessible to the public to enjoy that wildlife, wetlands and habitat,” Ostroff says.


Unpaved Paradise
Asphalt is an enemy of clean water, impedes absorption of water by the ground, which filters it of pollutants and recharges aquifers that supply drinking water. Instead, paved surfaces send the water straight to storm drains, which can sometimes cause sewage systems to overflow directly into streams and rivers.

To lessen such effects, Winterthur, An American Country Estate, has stripped an entire staff parking lot of its paving. The lot will eventually return to meadow. The move was in keeping with the wishes of founder Henry Francis duPont, who wanted visitors to appreciate the serenity of the grounds.

But it’s not necessary to deprive drivers of parking space to help solve the asphalt dilemma. Instead, many developers are moving toward porous asphalt, which is laid over a base of loose stone, which allows water to permeate. DuPont’s Barley Mill Plaza facility was designed with a parking lot of porous asphalt to avoid having to build a retention basin for runoff traditional asphalt.

And because water on permeable lots doesn’t pool, the dangers of icing are greatly reduced. That means less damage from expansion and contraction in cold weather, fewer accidents from black ice and safer transit for pedestrians.

Best of all, according to Cahill and Associates engineers of West Chester, Pennsylvania, which designs such parking lots, any extra costs in the initial construction are offset by eliminating the need for storm drain inlets, pipes and retention basins.


Greening the Grid
As proof that big ideas come from small places, take a look at Montchanin-based holding company Acorn Energy Inc. Acorn puts a cleaner, greener spin on rehabbing devalued businesses by buying and capitalizing on those that specialize in making power use and distribution more efficient and cost effective.

It may not be as sexy as solar panels popping up on roofs, but CEO John A. Moore says his company and its subsidiaries would much rather get long-term benefits and profits from existing, proven technology than risk losing money on theories.

Many of Acorn’s companies had been overlooked by Wall Street and global finance markets, which focus on companies engaged in inventing new processes. Acorn seeks companies that have already developed new technology, but are undercapitalized because they focus on a holistic approach to ease what Moore warns is an impending power supply crisis.

“As a result, we’re able to buy great little companies that are making a huge impact while everyone else is looking the other way, without a lot of competition from ‘the smart guys,’” Moore says. “And it’s really the smart guys that are attracted by the shiny objects and don’t want to understand the [workings of the power] grid.”

Two Acorn companies stand out: Comverge, which applies computing to the power grid to manage its response to demands, and LocalPower, which allows municipalities to choose their electric providers—specifically those that use cleaner energy and energy from renewable sources—instead of companies that still generate from nuclear or fossil fuels.

Acorn also introduces forward-thinking companies to players in the existing energy infrastructure, allowing them to take advantage of what each has to offer without either being forced to go out on a financial or technological limb.

What results is a more successful existence for the small companies Acorn buys, a better return for shareholders in those companies, and a better environmental return with more renewable and efficient processess

Our Best of Delaware Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.