By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, February 25, 2011

Charlottesville, Albemarle County and University of Virginia officials held a workshop Thursday to collect ideas from citizens about strategies to reduce energy consumption in the area.

“We have a lot of [information], but we came to the recognition that we’ve never had a chance to initiate a two-way dialogue on the topic,” said

Kristel Riddervold

, the city’s environmental administrator.

For the past 18 months, a

Local Climate Action Planning Process

steering committee has been working on an effort to coordinate regional programs to help area residents lower their energy usage. One of the goals is to help the region attain reductions in carbon emissions over the next several decades.

Riddervold said the intent is not to mandate energy reduction choices through government edicts, but to educate the public on the many benefits that come with doing so.

“I don’t think we can be effective if this is a top-down approach,” said Riddervold. “As a community we can be a lot more effective if everyone has the chance to identify what strategy works for them. For some people, it is 100 percent for economic reasons and wanting to save money, and for others it’s a health issue.”

Potential strategies could include encouraging mass transit, raising awareness about electricity usage and education about energy efficiency in the home.

“Buildings are producing 49 percent of all the carbon dioxide that is put in the atmosphere, and of that 70 percent is by the housing sector,” said former Albemarle Planning Commissioner

William A. Edgerton

. Edgerton is an architect who manages an energy sustainability program that seeks to encourage energy efficiency in affordable housing projects.

“Traditional affordable housing has been built using the least expensive products, meaning cheap windows and cheap heating and cooling systems,” he said.

Jay Willer is a former official with the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association who is on the LCAPP steering committee.

“Most new homes have a lot of energy efficient features in them,” said Willer. “Every builder in this area has adopted the practices because buyers look for them.”

However, most homes in the area are not new.

“We’ve taken many steps, but there’s much more that must be done,” Edgerton said.

“Our existing building environment uses more energy than it could or should. That means we’re paying too much to heat, cool and light them.”

That’s where the non-profit

Local Energy Alliance Program

could come in. City resident Wendy Roberman has already retrofitted her 1960’s-era home to reduce energy usage by taking advantage of the LEAP program.

“I’ve insulated the attic, sealed my ducts and put in new windows and a new heating system,” Roberman said. “I’ve definitely saved on the energy bills, and the house is much more comfortable to live in.”

Cynthia Adams, the director of LEAP, said the first step to use the program is to answer some questions about utility bills on the program’s website.

“Two reports will come back,” Adams said. “First, you’ll learn what improvements can be done based on what we can tell about the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems. The second is a peer report so you can see how you compare to your neightbors.”

This initial step is free, but interested homeowners can get a rebate if they then decide to have a home energy audit.

Feedback collected at the workshop will inform work to be done as part of a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Some of the money will allow the city and county to hire a temporary planner to address sustainability in this year’s review of both jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans.

Nearly 100 people attended the workshop, which featured information on current programs. Participants were asked to answer questions about what government incentives and policies would be most effective in helping individuals reduce their carbon footprint.


Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.