The south isn’t generally known for its green initiatives or general concern for the environment. If asked more people would likely associate us with big, gas guzzling trucks, climate change denial, billboards and trash marring our roadsides and suburban sprawl. Knoxville and east Tennessee certainly has its share of all-of-the-above. It pains me to see visitors to the city in their very large trucks attempting to maneuver in our parking garages.
But there are shoots of green popping up in and around the center city, making me a little hopeful that, at least near the city’s core we are becoming more green. The symptoms have been there for a while: A curbside recycling program was instituted last year. A Victorian era home in Fort Sanders was purchased by Knox Heritage and achieved LEED certification before they sold it. Smarttrips is an active organization that encourages biking, walking, mass transit and car-pooling. Recently Zip cars were added to our mix offering an alternative to car ownership.
Perhaps the biggest ecologically encouraging venture has been the building and design of our transportation center. The location itself was a brilliant idea as it was perched atop James White Parkway making usable space where there was none. From that point on it was nothing but green in its design from the direction the windows open to the kind of glass included in the windows. Solar panels were installed to produce some of the energy used, a garden was planted on top serving as insulation while emitting oxygen back into the air. It also received LEED certification.
Other small steps included adding charging stations to various garages around the city to allow residents and visitors to charge electric cars while they spend time in the city. At least one of the garages, Market Square Garage, has solar panels installed to provide the power for the chargers. The same garage also has lockers for bicycles and has had them for years.
A couple of things have converged recently to make me think along these lines. One is related to the paragraph above: This weekend I noticed that Chesapeake’s has installed two chargers at premium spots near the front door in their parking lot. The spots are reserved for people who are charging their electric cars.
I didn’t see anyone using them, but Rodney, a manager at the restaurant told me he has seen them being used. The restaurant may or may not have had federal assistance to fund the chargers, but I find it admirable that they chose to do so and offered great parking spots. Several of the other restaurants in the group, such as Calhoun’s by the River also have such chargers. If I had an electric car, this would be the kind of restaurant I would want to support. It requires a credit card as the charge is not free.
The other thing that set me on this course recently, was the inspirational talk at the most recent Pecha Kucha by Scott Noethen. He discussed recent solar installation he completed on a farm in Seymour. It was striking because the design made for a multi-use structure. His passion for his work planted him firmly in my brain. His company is Appalachian Renewable Resources and if you have any interest in solar power, I’d encourage you to contact him.
Scott generously agreed to meet with me and we talked for a couple of hours. I learned a few things and didn’t understand a few more, but the same passion I”d observed at Pecha Kucha resonated throughout our time together. Scott spent about ten years hiking some of the most beautiful areas of our country, including the Appalachian Trail and its western counterpart, the Pacific Crest Trail. He spoke of a moment when he walked out among the wind turbines in the Mojave Desert and felt he should do something to make a difference.
Through the course of our time together I came to appreciate some of the complexities of making a decision to install solar panels. It isn’t cheap. Even with rebates and governmental underpinnings, it simply costs a good bit of money. There is also bureaucratic red tape to deal with, including the fact that TVA only allows so much solar installation each year and this year it stopped applications in April. Of course, you make your money back eventually. And you’ve contributed to perhaps saving our planet. It also increases the value of your property.
A city as a living organism is an interesting energy phenomenon. On the one hand, that may people use a lot of power. We also associate cities with smog. On the other hand, cities are much more energy efficient in some respects: We tend to walk more and drive less. We also generally share walls with our neighbors which both provides insulation as well as sharing warmth and cool air.
One of the most damaging features of a city is the fact that every surface is paved. Black pavement and roofs absorbing heat, especially in a climate like ours, makes an urban temperature be higher than a rural environment. City hot is, well, just a little hotter. Some modern rooftops are white in order to reflect heat away from the residents living below.
What if we took all those rooftops and covered them with solar panels? That’s what at least some of the residents at Kendrick Place in downtown Knoxville are considering. Why not have aging buildings serve as modern examples of how we adapt to our environment and utilize our resources wisely? For smaller buildings the savings might offset a significant amount of usage, for larger buildings it would, at least, be another piece in the puzzle of our complex energy needs.
So, if Knoxville isn’t really green, there are certainly green shoots springing up here and there. Can we increase the momentum we may have established? What do you think? Is Knoxville green? Can the most conservative end of a conservative state rally for the ecology?