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June 24, 2010

Blowing coal away

by Anya Gosine, Online Managing, Op/Ed and Food Editor
Senior Nellie Garlow walks into her kitchen and flips on the light switch. She opens the refrigerator to retrieve some fruit and then closes it immediately. She tosses the fruit in the blender to make a smoothie; once done, she pours it into a glass and unplugs the blender. As she heads outside, she flips off the kitchen’s light switch. Thousands of miles away, a wind turbine in Texas just fueled Garlow's afternoon snack.

As people increasingly support wind power, its technology will improve, according to Amanda Douzak. Janet Zhu
As people increasingly support wind power, its technology will improve, according to Amanda Douzak.
Garlow’s family is one of many Blair families that have made the switch to using clean, renewable energy provided by Clean Currents, a clean energy broker/aggregator located in Rockville, Maryland. As part of the program, Garlow’s household receives 100 percent wind energy. “Every time we switch on our lights, we are supporting wind farms,” she says.

In December, Blair’s Green Club joined Clean Currents’ Green Neighborhood Challenge in the effort to promote renewable energy in the Blair community. “The club was looking to be more involved in the Blair community outside of the school building,” Green Club President senior Sanjeev Muralidharan says. For every household that signs up for Clean Currents through the Green Club, the club receives a $10 rebate to go towards funding other eco-friendly projects within the school. The club has received 45 sign-ups as of June, according to Clean Currents Green Power Outreach Coordinator Amanda Douzak. As “going green” becomes an increasingly popular trend, Blazers have been taking advantage of an easy way to integrate environmental support into their daily lives.

Making the turn-around

Garlow’s family signed up for Clean Currents approximately five years ago, when the program was still new. “Both of my parents are environmental activists,” she says, “so we switched as soon as possible.”

Going from coal to clean energy also struck a personal note for Garlow’s parents, who witnessed environmental destruction when they lived in West Virginia. Nellie’s father, Charlie Garlow, grew up on his father’s farm in West Virginia, which was destroyed by coal companies who wanted to mine in the area. “Although [my father] owned the surface rights of the land, the coal companies owned the mineral rights,” Charlie says. “So they were able to rip up the surface of the land to mine.”

The Green Club promoted switching to renewable energy in its Green Neighborhood challenge campaign. Courtesy of Blair Green Club
The Green Club promoted switching to renewable energy in its Green Neighborhood challenge campaign.
When sophomore Tyler Maton joined the Green Club this past winter, he became quickly involved in their Clean Currents campaign. It was not until he brought one of the club's flyers home to his mom that he discovered that his mother had already made the switch to 100 percent wind energy from Clean Currents over a year ago. "She signed up after reading about the program in the Takoma Voice," Maton says. After he learned that his family had made the switch to wind energy he saw how simple it was to make the transition that he had once considered daunting. The fact that his house had switched to wind energy without Maton's knowing was a demonstration for him as to how easy switching was.

Muralidharan's household switched in February while he was working on the campaign with the Green Club. He expresses that while his personal switch to renewable energy was easy, motivating others to do the same has proved to be a challenge. "When it comes to green initiatives, no matter how good the technology is, you need to be able to communicate it to people," he says. "At a school like Blair, diversity in people, background, education, language means that that job is 100 times harder than usual."

'Green' savings

Clean Currents abolishes the widespread belief that making eco-friendly choices requires a financial sacrifice. "Our rates are less expensive than local electric companies like Pepco," Douzak says. Because Clean Currents is an energy broker, consumers can still choose their energy supplier; but they will be receiving it through renewable energy with Clean Currents. "On top of receiving that same electricity, you'll be giving money to wind farms," she says.

When one signs up for a Clean Currents plan they can choose between a one and two-year plan. For each plan, the cost remains fixed over that set amount of time. "Over my two years my cost will never increase, even if Pepco's does," Charlie says. Muralidharan's family has also seen significant financial advantages within the few months they have switched to clean energy. "Financially, we have saved about $8-10 per month, which doesn't sound like a lot, but that means a savings of $120 per year," Muralidharan says.

The use of renewable energy like wind energy as well as solar energy is becoming more common among residences. Janet Zhu
The use of renewable energy like wind energy as well as solar energy is becoming more common among residences.
Another advantage to Blazers' switch to wind energy is the $10 rebate the Green Club receives from Clean Currents for every sign-up that goes towards projects of the club's choice. Last year, the club focused on installing ambient lighting in the school's computer labs and providing environmentally-friendly task lamps for teachers, according to Green Club Sponsor Karen Shilling.

Looking on the sunny side

As using renewable energy in homes remains a relatively new practice, getting more people to switch is no easy feat. In its campaign the Green Club created many flyers, presented them to the Blair PTSA and produced a video to raise awareness within the Blair community. Maton, who gave presentations about Clean Currents in several of his classes, noticed a generally positive response. "I heard that several students talked to their parents about it," he says.

According to Muralidharan, Blair families who receive power from Clean Currents but did not sign up through the Green Club can still also provide the club with their names to support it in the Green Neighborhood Challenge. Muralidharan continues to encourage families to sign up for the program.

Like Muralidharan, Nellie will also continue to help promote healthier energy use. She will attend Franklin and Marshall College in the fall and plans to join the environmental-action club at the school, where she will pursue informing communities about renewable energy. "The most important thing to do right now is raise awareness," she says. "Switching to clean energy helps out the environment," she says, "and we are running out of coal quickly."

Those further interested in signing up for Clean Currents through Blair can e-mail the Green Club at blairgreenclub@gmail.com.



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  • Anon on June 25, 2010 at 2:43 PM
    Yeah, Sanjeev!!!!
  • Drew C. on July 23, 2010 at 1:47 PM
    Found out about the MBHS Green Club from my Clean Currents monthly e-mail. Way to go, guys -- I'm glad to see that my old high school is a leader in environmental sustainability.

    I would like to make a correction/clarification: in the second paragraph there is a sentence that reads, "As part of the program, Garlow’s household receives 100 percent wind energy." Strictly speaking this is not true. When you become a member of Clean Currents your electricity still comes from the local grid, which is mostly coal and nuclear in origin. However, Clean Currents uses your electricity payments to buy renewable energy credits from wind farms across the U.S. (mainly in the Midwest). So you are in effect paying for wind power generated elsewhere, even though your electricity remains locally generated. The good part is that because Clean Currents has locked in low rates from wind power suppliers, it actually costs you less to get your electricity from them than if you were just buying your electricity from Pepco.
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