May 2009

In this issue:

Energy Law

Early Geothermal

Human Power


President's Corner

Kids' Page

Solar Saves Lives

Solar Calendar

The Pros

Alabama Solar Association, P.O. Box 143 Huntsville, Alabama 35804
Established 1981 to Promote the Use of Our Sun’s Renewable Energy to Preserve Our Environment
Good News, Bad News
Don't Panic Yet!

The Waxman/Markey Energy Bill, “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” is moving forward in the House. It will have a big effect on utility service. Just how much and how is still being determined. There is a lot to like about this bill, but there are a lot of concerns as well. The present version includes four titles:

  • Title 1, Clean Energy: Get 25% of our electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2025. States may meet 20% of this requirement through conservation. Some advocates are trying to stretch the definition of “clean” and “renewable” to include nuclear and other questionable sources.
  • Title 2, Energy Efficiency: Sets standards for everything from buildings to appliances and helps consumers to conserve.
  • Title 3, Reduce Global Warming: Mandates pollution reduction and establishes the controversial “cap and trade” system.
  • Title 4, Transition to a Clean Energy Economy: Make U.S. manufacturers competitive in a global marketplace and create “green” jobs in the USA.

ASES Executive Director has asked we all contact our Congressman and express three concerns:

  1. Let them know that you're concerned about the Energy Bill.
  2. Urge him to add a 20% distributed generation carve-out to the Renewable Energy Standard.
  3. Ask him to amend the climate change title - 10% of the pollution allowances need to be allocated to renewable energy.

Experts predict that this bill will not pass before the 2010 mid-term elections. I plan to watch this legislative development carefully, but I’m not ready to call our congressman yet. Each of us needs to decide the best course of action for ourselves, but we should all follow developments closely.


Early Alabama Power

Early Alabama Geothermal Food storage Unit

Every farm had one. Spring water flowed out of a hillside near where the pioneer selected his homestead. He built a stone floor below ground, walls, and a trough to collect the cool water (spring water in Alabama emerges at about 60°F). He built a low log cabin above this structure, and Had a cool space to keep perishable food during the long summers. Of course, it was not called a “geothermal device,” it was called a spring house. Nevertheless, it harnessed the power of the earth to serve people’s energy needs.

Alabama pioneers were pretty smart. Have we forgotten lessons they learned the hard way? Do we need to study our past to find a path to the future?


Human Power—tried and true

Most of the land east of the Mississippi River was cleared by human power using fewer tools than the average man has in his garage today. Trees were chopped down or sawed by hand, and boulders were dug up and pried out of the way.

With land cleared, manpower shaped trees into log cabins, sheds, and fences. It built stone walls, floors, and foundations. People sharpened axes on hand-powered grinding wheels, and blacksmiths pumped air into the forge with a huge set of billows. You might be lucky enough to have an animal-drawn cart for moving heavy objects long distances, but loading and unloading was strictly by hand.

A recent visit to the grounds of Burrett Museum above Huntsville ( convinced me just how well our ancestors knew how to live in harmony with the earth.

With energy prices rising again, obesity almost a national epidemic, and air that is choking us to death, maybe it’s time to use more human power again. Last month, I mentioned using a bicycle as an excellent form of transportation. Walking to a nearby store might be an option. Maybe we can find other human-powered devices to replace the electric gadgets we have become accustomed to. When I was in the Army, I was issued a push lawn mower to cut my grass. I could have waited to share a power mower, but the push mower was good exercise. In Germany, we often walked to neighborhood stores or to catch the bus to work.

Maybe you can trim bushes with hand shears instead of those electric clippers. You might be able to do your heart a favor and walk up or down stairs before calling an elevator. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Exercise, anyone?


Where's the CAIR?

Think Small.

President’s Corner

What’s the biggest structure in the world?

It’s bigger than the Empire State Building, the twin Towers, and the new tower in Dubai combined. It’s bigger than the Great Wall of China. It’s the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and it was built by some of the smallest beings visible to mankind.

A good energy program is a lot like the Great Barrier Reef, not in Governments and giants of industry doing great things. The solution is a lot of little people doing a lot of little things.

There’s a lot of sunshine in the desert and a lot of wind on the coast, but getting their power to where people need it requires a complex power grid. Why not generate the electricity where it’s needed and use the grid only for backup? Imagine energy-efficient structures that don’t need a lot of energy. Imagine solar panels on the roof and a wind turbine to catch the evening breeze. What great things can the people of the world do working together?


Kid’s Page—Trees

May 2009

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.“

Joyce Kilmer

If you were one of the first kids to move into Alabama with your mom and dad in the early 1800’s, you might not think of trees as lovely at all. Trees probably caused a lot of your most difficult chores: helping to trim the branches off the logs that would become your cabin, gathering firewood, cutting and splitting it into pieces you could use in your fireplace, and many other tasks.

But these trees would actually be the key to your survival. Your log cabin would protect you from the freezing winter winds; the firewood you helped gather would warm the cabin and cook your food. The front porch of your cabin would shade the summer sun.

Before the American Revolution, wood was the only form of energy available and one of the few materials for construction. When cavemen discovered fire, long before people could read or write, they used wood fires to heat their caves, cook their food, and scare away animals. Native Americans used trees to build various forms of shelter as well as for cooking and heating. European soldiers coming to fight in the American Revolution were amazed at the vast numbers of cabins and buildings “these Colonists” had built in the short time since Columbus had discovered America. This American success was due to the vast old-growth forests that covered our land and the hard work of early pioneers.

When Thomas Savery invented the steam engine in 1698, wood became the key to moving people and things across America. Early steam locomotives burned wood to make their steam. Riverboats steamed up and down our great rivers carrying everything anyone could buy to settlers moving south and west; steamboats burned wood from trees along the riverbank until long after the Civil War. Lovely or not, trees were a huge part of early American life, and new trees would grow back to replace the ones we burned.

Trouble in Paradise:
Kids’ Pages
May, 2009

As helpful and as important as wood was to early Americans, including early Alabama settlers, it was not without problems. Passengers on our early trains would come to the end of their trip covered in black soot from the steam locomotives. River banks, with the trees cut down, washed away with spring rains and floods. Travelers nearing the river in New Orleans or Saint Louis would find a brown sky above the entire river valley as the sun tried to shine through all the black smoke. Riverboat captains approaching or departing the dock would even order the firemen to throw pine knots into the fireboxes to make the smoke darker and blacker; black smoke was a symbol of power. But all this smoke was dirty and unhealthy, and it got worse as more people arrived from around the world.

About the time of American independence, coal began to be used instead of wood for making steam. Coal burns hotter than wood, but it still makes a lot of smoke. Gradually, oil became more popular, and soon oil was refined into gasoline and kerosene to make it burn cleaner. While gasoline seems to burn cleaner, much of the pollution it produces is invisible to the eye. Today, a well-maintained car or truck produces its own weight in pollution every three months, and we’ve all seen how many are not well-maintained.

An even bigger problem than the pollution problem of oil is the dwindling supply. Oil began to form even before dinosaurs roamed the earth. We are running out.

A green future:

Despite the problems burning wood for fuel caused in the past, Alabama’s trees may hold the key to future clean travel. Scientists have found a way to convert the cellulose of trees and woody plants into fuel. Alabama farmer and inventor Wayne Keith burns wood chips in his lime green pickup. Engineers at Auburn, Tuskegee, and at Alabama A&M are experimenting with a variety of plants that may produce clean-burning renewable energy without competing with the food supply. Perhaps by the time you learn to drive, you may fill up your tank one of these bio-fuels.

Trees were once the key to a civilized life throughout the. Maybe, one day, they will be again.




Rachel Anders (second from the right) and other volunteers help at a refugee camp.

I’ve always thought that solar saves money, and solar saves the environment, but I never thought of sun power saving people’s lives. In the refugee camps of Africa, it does indeed.

Take two pieces of cardboard, add some tinfoil and sunlight—and you can cook anything. You can even boil water. Best of all, if you are a young girl in a refugee camp, it can literally save your life.

A quarter of a million refugees live in camps of 20,000 each. Life is hard. The only fuel available, besides the sun, is wood. Gathering firewood usually falls to the women, often to young girls. Wood is available only outside the fence. You can only imagine the hazards these girls face when they go out.

“The cookers have made a huge difference," says Rachel Andres, director of the Solar Cooker Project at Jewish World Watch. “The equation is simple,” she says. “A solar cooker keeps you in camp, and that helps keep you alive.”

Numbers back this up. A survey at one refugee camp showed that journeys to collect firewood outside the camps dropped by 86% after the solar cookers were introduced.

Solar cookers also help the local barter economy. Women learn not only how to use the cookers but also to build them. “Suddenly, they have "a new skill and an opportunity to generate income for their families," explains Andres. For Eklass, a Sudanese refugee at the Iridimi camp, the income earned from assembling the cookers "allows me to buy bread, milk, and clothes for my family," she says. "Without this job, my children wouldn't have what they need."

Volunteers train about 20 women in each camp. More than 40 women were taught train-the-trainer skills to teach others. Families receive instructions and sample food kits to try. Cookers will last six to nine months.

Cooking time takes longer than does cooking over a wood fire, but the hands-on time is much less, and you don’t have to search very hard for sunshine in Africa.

Once again, we see that thinking small adds up to big results.


More on helping the people of Africa:

Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project:

The Solar Electric Light Fund:

You can help. Will you?

Solar Happenings

See what's happening in your area

Did we miss anything?

May 11th – 16th, American Solar Energy Society national convention, Buffalo, NY

Tuesday, May 12, 2009, American Solar Energy Society Chapter Conclave, Buffalo, NY and on the Internet via webinar

Tuesday, May 12, 2009, "Noon, Gulf Coast Branch of the US Green Building Council, Complete Streets Study Group of walkable communities, Five Rivers AL Wildlife Resource Center on the causeway," Spanish Fort

Friday, May 15th, deadline for nomination of the 2009 Solar Professional of the Year.

Sunday, May 17, 2009, 2:00 PM, Bike Ride with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, 320 Fountain Circle, Huntsville

Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 5:00 PM, Annual Tour de Arsenal bike ride, NASA Recreation center, Redstone Arsenal

Thursday, May 21, 2009, noon, ASA BoD Meeting, Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Saturday, May 30th, Boy Scouts collect recycling for Meals on Wheels, 109 Weatherly Rd SE, Huntsville

Thursday, June 11th, HATS 2009 Professional of the Year Dinner, von Braun Center

Thursday, June 18, 2009 noon, ASA BoD Meeting, Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Thursday, July 16, 2009 noon, ASA BoD Meeting, Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Thursday, July 16, 2009 6:00 PM, ASA Quarterly General Membership Meeting, Ryan's Steakhouse, South Memorial Parkway, "21st Century Ethics, Huntsville

Saturday, October 3rd, Alabama Solar Tour, Corner, Hoover, Huntsville, Royal, and the Gulf Coast

Thursday, December 3rd, the annual HATS Holiday Reception and the ASA Christmas Party at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens

Those energy professionals who support Alabama Solar Association and solve your energy challenges.

Summerdale, Alabama,
(Mobile Area)
Affordable Solar Hot Water and Power LLC
Barton Craig McManus
P.O. Box 375, Dothan, AL 36302
Green Works
Design - Build - Remodel
  • New Home Designs & Reviews
  • Home Energy Performance Clinics
  • Passive and Active Solar Applications
  • Member Southface Energy Institute
    Stephen Guesman
Mark Friedline
Mobile, AL
Reisz Engineers
3322 Memorial Parkway S.
Huntsville, AL 35807

11807 South Memorial Parkway
Huntsville, AL 35803
(256) 883-9848
Southern Solar has what it takes to meet your energy needs.

Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
18250 Tanner Rd.
Citronelle, AL 36522
(251) 341-0509

Room for two more Solarites here. Anybody know a solar pro not listed here?

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