Arlington, VA

A Catholic church is Nauck is making a big move to solar power, installing a large, cross-shaped set of solar panels over the last few weeks.

Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, located at 2700 19th Street S. on the border of the Army Navy Country Club, announced what it described as “the largest solar array at a place of worship” in Arlington in a press release yesterday (Tuesday).

The church says the new solar array includes 319 panels in all, generating a total of “over 95 kilowatts of solar capacity.” That should help the church account for just under half of all its power needs across its buildings on the property.

Parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Peace said they were inspired to take on the solar project by Pope Francis’ efforts to spur Catholics to take action on climate change, in addition to recent warnings from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change that countries around the world must take drastic steps to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

“We wanted to try to get as much energy as we can from a renewable source,” church parishioner Luc DeWolf wrote in a statement.

The church is working with the D.C.-based firm Ipsun Solar on the project. According to the company’s blog, an investor will provide the $233,000 in up-front costs for the project, then the church plans to sell back excess energy generated by the panels to Dominion Energy. The church hopes to then pay back that investor with the cash it raises through that process, and even support its operating budget going forward.

Parishioners project that in the solar array’s first year alone, it will “reduce carbon emissions by an amount equal to preventing nearly half a railcar of coal from being burned.”

Our Lady Queen Peace will hold a reception Saturday (March 9) at 10 a.m. for anyone interested in learning more about the solar project.

Photo 2 via Ipsun Solar

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Anyone looking to get a little recognition for their favorite tree can now ask the county to designate it as a “notable tree.”

Nominations are open for the next month, through Nov. 15, for trees to earn the designation.

The county has accepted nominations since 1987 to honor notable trees “and those who care for them,” according to the county’s website. Officials will evaluate trees for inclusion based on the following categories:

  • Maturity (Size/Age)
  • Historical or community interest
  • Uniqueness of species
  • Special significance to the neighborhood

Notable trees will earn a certificate or plaque, placement on a county register of trees and could be included on neighborhood walking tours.

Anyone can submit an online form to make a nomination on the county’s website. However, if a tree sits on private property, the county encourages people to contact the property owner for permission first.

County staffers will evaluate each tree, then make recommendations to the Urban Forestry Commission, which has the final say on the matter. The county identified 28 notable trees earlier this year.

Even if a tree earns such a designation, the county notes that private property owners still have a large amount of discretion about the tree’s future.

County officials took quite a bit of flak recently for allowing a large dawn redwood tree, which earned a whole host of local and state commendations, to be chopped down as part of a redevelopment in a Williamsburg neighborhood. Arlington leaders said they worked to avoid that outcome, but said their hands were tied, as the tree was indeed on private property.

File photo

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Fall Tree Giveaway Kicks Off

As part of an effort to expand Arlington’s tree canopy, the Department of Parks and Recreation will be giving away 400 trees for free this fall.

Arlington Residents can apply through the Parks and Recreation website to receive a “whip”; trees in two gallon containers ranging from two to four feet in size.

There are currently nine different types of trees available for pick up. There is a limit of one tree per residential property. Multi-family properties can contact the Tree Stewards organization to acquire more than one.

There will be two distribution days to pick up your trees.

  • Sat., Oct. 20, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Arlington County Nursery – 4240 S Four Mile Run Dr. 22206.
  • Wed., Oct. 24, 3-6 p.m. Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden Parking Lot – 850 N Lexington St. 22205.

Photo courtesy Arlington County

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A local environmental group is launching a slew of new advocacy efforts to eliminate the use of plastic products of all kinds in Arlington.

The newly re-branded EcoAction Arlington is hoping the new campaigns can convince restaurants and everyday Arlingtonians alike to abandon plastic straws, bags, bottles and more, as part of a growing national movement to keep plastic out of oceans and other waterways to protect sea life.

“We’re hoping to give people a whole spectrum of ways to reduce how much plastic they use,” Executive Director Elenor Hodges told ARLnow.

One effort involves EcoAction joining a regional campaign dubbed the “Plastic Free Challenge,” which kicked off yesterday (Monday) and will run through Oct. 19. The campaign will include a range of activities over that time period to help people think about avoiding plastic in their daily lives.

But EcoAction is also focusing on Arlington specifically with its “Straw Free Arlington” push, designed to cut back on the roughly 345,000 straws they estimate that Arlington residents use each day. While they hope the effort convinces people to rely on reusable straws instead, it’s primarily focused on pushing local restaurants to embrace paper straws or even reusable straws instead.

EcoAction is offering resources for restaurant owners looking to make the switch, and plans to list any eateries refusing plastic straws on a map on its website for plastic-free consumers. The group will also hand out window stickers for restaurants swearing off plastic, and promote the companies involved among its followers on social media and elsewhere.

But the effort won’t be solely focused on straws — Hodges notes that she also wants restaurants thinking about other one-use items, like plastic carryout containers, and her group plans to rate each restaurant based on what sort of commitment it makes to turning away from plastic.

So far, EcoAction has already convinced two Rosslyn restaurants — Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Kona Grill — to take the straw-free pledge.

Photo via EcoAction Arlington

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Despite some intense opposition from conservationists and the community, plans to chop down a massive dawn redwood tree in North Arlington are moving ahead.

Since April, a developer has been hoping to remove the 114-foot-tall tree as part of a larger project on a property along the 3200 block of N. Ohio Street in Williamsburg.

The county recently approved a permit to let that work move ahead, according to a community letter sent Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the County Board and provided to ARLnow. A county spokesman confirmed the letter’s veracity, and added that the developer “intends to move forward with removal of the tree.”

Environmentalists had hoped to save the dawn redwood, as it’s recognized as one of the largest of its species by both county and state officials, and it could live to be up to 600 years old if left in place. The tree also sits within a “Resource Protection Area,” known as an “RPA,” giving the county the chance to scrutinize these construction plans quite closely.

But the Board wrote in the letter that it just couldn’t find any way to justify denying the permit, citing the developer’s “considerable rights as a private property owner” to redevelop the site. Richmond Custom Homes is hoping knock down the existing single-family home on the property, and build two in its place, a tactic frequently favored by developers in Arlington’s residential neighborhoods.

“While staff did ask Richmond Custom Homes to explore options to preserve the tree, the developer could not identify a design that both provided for the subdivision of the property and preserved the dawn redwood,” the Board wrote. “Pushing the homes to the rear of the lots would impact other large trees on the property also located within the RPA — and likely still would have jeopardized the dawn redwood during construction.”

The Board did note, however, that the approved plan “does protect multiple large trees on the back end of the property, which provide a significant benefit to the watershed adjacent to the Little Pimmit Run stream,” pointing out that the developer also agreed to replace the trees removed during the construction.

Nevertheless, the whole process has left conservationists feeling like the county isn’t listening to their concerns.

“The county could find ‘no’ way to preserve this living fossil, which had become extinct in North America and worldwide millennia ago, with the exception of a few remaining trees located in China and the few planted here in an effort to save the species,” Suzanne Sundberg, a local activist focused on environmental issues, told ARLnow. “What does that tell you about the county ordinance?…County staff and the Board are not doing all that they could to preserve the mature tree canopy here in Arlington.”

The Arlington Tree Action Group was similarly critical of the Board, arguing in a statement that it “decided not to use the powers at its disposal in its own Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance” to contest the developer’s plans, making this a “landmark case.”

“In failing to make a decision in favor of the environment and the voices of concerned residents, the county puts at risk its own widely touted ‘progressive’ credentials in environmental protection,” the group wrote. “The letter does not provide reassurances of how the RPA, which runs the length of the lot, will be protected once the lot is subdivided.  ATAG will be looking for answers.”

The Board noted in its letter that members “share community concerns about the significant pressures on mature trees from redevelopment of properties across the county” and plans to kick off the process of updating the county’s Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan early next year.

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TreeStewards, an organization that works to advocate and care for trees, is looking for new volunteers to train in Arlington.

Volunteer efforts include activities, such as planting and pruning, along with education and advocacy initiatives, like holding neighborhood “Tree Walks” and informational booths at farmers’ markets and festivals.

Training will kick off on Oct. 2 and is split into four modules. Each module includes between two and four mandatory classes and one field session.

The first module covers topics such as fall tree identification and correct tree planting methods. The fourth and final module begins April 16, and will cover topics like pests, diseases and care of mature trees.

Those interested should apply online by Aug. 22.

Photo via Facebook

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Arlington ranks as one of the most sustainably powered localities in the country, according to a new study, thanks to its large share of energy-efficient buildings and bevy of electric vehicle options.

Commercial Cafe, a blog tracking commercial real estate trends, ranked Arlington 15th in the country in a new study of America’s greenest cities.

The group awarded localities points based on how much they rely on sustainable forms of energy, like wind, solar and hydropower, and docked points for how much carbon dioxide they generate, or how much they rely on traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas.

Arlington scored poorly when it came the total amount of greenhouses gases the county generates, but made up for those poor marks with its high numbers of commuters who bike or walk to work, and large number of electric vehicle charging stations.

Additionally, Arlington ranked seventh in the country with one of the highest shares of office buildings that are LEED-certified for energy efficiency by the U.S. Green Building Council. Of the county’s 452 buildings, Commercial Cafe found that 106 have LEED certifications, with another eight on the way that are set to meet that specification.

Overall, San Francisco, Seattle and Oakland took the top three spots in the company’s rankings, while D.C. placed ninth.

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An Arlington elementary school is earning some kudos for its energy efficiency, after it generated more energy than it used last year.

The nonprofit International Living Future Institute awarded Discovery Elementary School with its “zero energy” certification on May 2, meaning that the school was powered completely by on-site renewable energy sources over the course of a whole year.

Discovery, which opened in September 2015, is just the fourth school across the country to earn this certification, and the largest building of any type with such a distinction, according to a press release.

The building’s designer, Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects, says Discovery’s energy systems saved Arlington Public Schools roughly $117,000 in annual utility costs. The firm also estimates that the building sent roughly 100,000 kilowatt hours of excess energy back to the electrical grid, enough to meet the average power needs of 7.5 households.

APS partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to help design plans for “zero energy” school facilities, and last year changed its procurement rules to require that contractors can meet that energy standard. The school also designs lessons about renewable energy around the building’s systems, giving students hands-on experience with the facility.

“What is most important about [Discovery] is that it allows teachers to think about how students learn,” Discovery principal Erin Russo wrote in a statement. “Curriculum is just something the state gives to us and you can teach that anywhere, but with this space, we can get creative, experiment and shepherd meaningful experiences.”

Photo via @DiscoveryAPS

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The conservationists with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment are celebrating the group’s 40th anniversary by adopting a new name: EcoAction Arlington.

The group made the change official on Earth Day, April 22, but executive director Elenor Hodges says the rebranding has been in the works for the last year-and-a-half or so.

“We’ve moved a little beyond just working toward a clean environment,” Hodges told ARLnow. “1978 was a different time.”

Those behind the newly christened EcoAction Arlington have worked for decades to organize environmentally-focused community initiatives, like programs to help people save energy at home or move to solar power. But Lydia Cole, the group’s communications manager, felt the organization just wasn’t reaching younger Arlingtonians and needed a bit of a change.

“People who’ve engaged with ACE in the past were part of the baby boomer generation, or Generation X,” Cole said. “Now, there are lots of millennials, lots of young professionals in Arlington, but we’re not getting many of them. So that was our focus in how we approached our new name. They’re going to be the future.”

The group’s leaders first started mulling a name change in earnest as they worked to overhaul the organization’s strategic plan three years ago. As the group charted out a new direction, Cole says it also wanted a name that better reflects its goals.

“ACE definitely spoke to who we were and some of what we do, but it didn’t speak at all to how we go about doing it,” Cole said.

Cole worked together with a graphic designer to brainstorm possible new names and logos, and compiled a list of about 20 or 30 possibilities. She says they even convened a focus group to sort through some of those options to whittle down the list even further.

Ultimately, the group’s board of directors opted for “EcoAction” because it conveyed their desire to focus on “action-oriented events and activities” centered on the environment.

For example, in the coming months EcoAction will be launching a drive encouraging people to use less plastic in their homes. By the fall, Hodges also hopes to start working with Arlington restaurants to convince them to abandon plastic straws. With those new programs and the new name, she aims to pull in a younger crowd sooner rather than later.

“Just being able to find us more easily, I think, will help, as well as increasing opportunities to get involved,” Hodges said. “If picking up trash isn’t your thing, we’ll have options for you.”

Photo via EcoAction Arlington

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An apartment building in Clarendon has earned LEED Platinum status from the United States Green Building Council, the first multifamily community in Arlington to do so.

Ten at Clarendon, at 3110 10th Street N., is a luxury apartment building with live-work spaces on the ground floor and a rooftop garden.

LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certification is achieved by earning points across several sustainability-related categories. LEED Platinum, the highest ranking, requires a project to receive 80 or more points. The next step down, LEED Gold, requires 60-79 points.

A council representative confirmed the accolade for Ten at Clarendon, which was not yet registered on the public certification directory as of Tuesday (April 17).

There are currently 1,741 platinum-rated commercial projects in the country, and 3,013 globally.

More from a press release, after the jump.

Read More

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If you live in a single-family home in Arlington, the trash you put out for collection each week eventually comes back to you — in the form of electricity.

While the Arlington recycling rate is nearly 50 percent, well above the national average of about 35 percent, that means that there still is plenty of garbage to deal with. All that waste has to go somewhere and much of it ends up at a waste-to-energy plant in Alexandria, near the Van Dorn Street Metro station, that Arlington jointly owns with the city.

Covanta, the company that operates the facility, estimates that they process 975 tons of solid waste per day, distributed among the three 325 ton-per-day furnaces on-site, preventing it from ending up in a landfill.

“In some ways, the U.S. can be seen as a third-world country, with the way we’re putting garbage in landfills,” said James Regan, Covanta’s media director.

Arlington and Alexandria’s municipal waste goes through an emissions-controlled incinerator, where the controlled fire reaches temperatures just under 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire boils water, which in turn generates steam and, through that, electricity.

That generates about 23 megawatts of baseload power, according to Regan, enough to power about 20,000 homes.

Emissions are monitored throughout the processes, with a few-dozen-or-so knobs, buttons and devices each focused on a different aspect of the process.

With all the capabilities, however, the control room’s goal is threefold: to monitor multiple security camera feeds in case of the occasional, small fire in the trash pit; to monitor temperatures in the combustion chamber; and pollution monitoring and emissions controls.

The combustion has led to a 90 percent reduction of waste by volume, which the company says offsets, on average, one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent for each ton of waste processed.

Both ferrous and non-ferrous metals are able to be extracted from the combustion and recycled, and Covanta is currently developing ways to reuse ash “as aggregate for roadways and construction materials.”

The facility has been burning trash since February 1988, according to Bryan Donnelly, the Arlington/Alexandria facility manager.

Prior to that, there was another incinerator, but it didn’t have the emissions controls or metal recovery program that the current waste-to-energy plant has.

New plants can cost as much as $500 million, but tend to be much larger than Arlington’s plant, which is only four acres — the smallest operated by Covanta. Most other plants are closer to 24 acres, according to Regan.

He estimates that this facility, in today’s dollars, would have cost about $200 million.

“We’re not saying take everything to [a waste-to-energy] facility,” said Regan. “We’re saying, let’s recycle more, to 65 percent. Let’s reduce the amount of landfill that [the U.S.] is doing,”

Exterior view via Google Maps

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