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by Alex Koma May 8, 2018 at 10:55 am 0

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

by Alex Koma May 2, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

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

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 18, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

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.

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by Bridget Reed Morawski April 6, 2018 at 10:55 am 0

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

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 3, 2018 at 9:55 am 0

A group calling itself ‘Friends of Upton Hill’ has created a website to oppose a plan for a new ropes course and a new parking lot at Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington.

Upton Hill park hosts a water park, a mini golf course, batting cages, and walking trails. NOVA Parks — the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority — plans on adding 33,000 square feet of asphalt to the park in the form of a entrance road and parking spaces, as well as a “high adventure course” and other amenities.

The project cost is estimated at $3 million, according to a November presentation.

The park’s “friends” wrote on the site that they believe NOVA Parks has been deficient in maintaining the mostly wooded park and that “trash and invasive species are taking over the forest.”

Preferring that the park authority shift its focus from bigger parking lots to forest restoration and facilities maintenance, the group quoted Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song Big Yellow Taxi, writing that “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

“NOVA Parks should focus on restoring the forest, removing trash and invasives, and improving maintenance of the existing facilities — the water-park, miniature golf, batting cage, playground and picnic pavilion — to make for a more pleasant and attractive park experience,” the website says.

This past fall, however, a renewed effort to combat the invasive species was undertaken at the park, according to the Arlington Sun Gazette.

NOVA Parks representatives presented the Upton Hill plan to the Arlington County Board on Nov. 28. Paul Gilbert, the NOVA Parks executive director, asserted that the parking lot expansion would not “impact the natural resources.” He said that the ropes course, with sweeping views of Arlington, would be a marquee feature for park and for the county at large.

Gilbert noted that the existing parking lot is packed in the summer months. However, the Friends of Upton Hill website argued that the lot is nearly deserted during chillier months of the year.

“We started our group because NOVA Parks is more bent on paving over Upton Hill Park than preserving it as parkland,” wrote says the Friends of Upton Hill website. “In the Seven Corners area we need to keep and improve every existing square foot of green space rather than add yet another parking lot — particularly one that sits empty for three quarters of the year.”

NOVA Parks operates 32 parks across Northern Virginia, including three parks in the county — Upton Hill, Potomac Overlook, and the W&OD Trail.

An email sent to a listed Friends of Upton Hill email address was not immediately returned.

by Bridget Reed Morawski February 9, 2018 at 4:15 pm 0

Why did the salamander cross the road? To get to the vernal pool breeding grounds, of course.

Most people wouldn’t laugh at that, but the joke might have killed at Thursday’s salamander patrol training session at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center.

The nature center holds yearly salamander training sessions to educate volunteers on the dangers that salamanders and other vernal-pool-dwelling amphibians face during the annual migration.

Amphibians generally live in ponds but some, like the spotted salamander or wood frog, only live in vernal pools — watering holes that dry up in the fall. These are ideal spots for the critters to thrive in, because predators like fish and other amphibians prefer year-round pools.

But because only two or three vernal pools remain in the increasingly urbanized county, hundreds of salamanders and wood frogs have no choice but to cross the pool-adjacent driveways and sidewalks, according to Jennifer Soles, an Arlington County naturalist and long-time Arlington resident.

Soles began the salamander squad program in 2013 after attending a master naturalist training the year prior. As Long Branch Nature Center volunteers were leaving the class, salamanders and frogs began their breeding ground migration — across the parking lot, and under a lot of car tires.

“They’re all there because they love nature and it’s their master naturalist training,” said Soles. “And everyone is running over the frogs and salamanders.”

Soles grabbed a flashlight and began escorting the unhurried salamanders off of the pavement, joined by other horrified naturalists.

Arlington’s naturalists have since tried to prevent further amphibian annihilation through the salamander training sessions. At the Feb. 8 training session, at least 16 community members learned how to protect their local croakers from another Arlington County naturalist, Rachael Tolman.

The session focused on frog and salamander biology and breeding habits, and taught volunteers safe handling practices. Tolman walked volunteers through filling out scientific forms that allow on-site naturalists to predict travel patterns.

“If it’s a little squish, it’s a [spring] peeper, if it’s a medium squish, it’s a wood frog,” said Tolman, explaining how to fill out the alive-or-dead count portion of the form for the rundown animals. “If it’s kind of a spotted, long squish, it’s probably a spotted salamander.”

A salamander patrolman is nothing without his or her tool kit, which includes a reflective vest, headlamps, pens — and a garden spade for scraping squished salamanders off of the road.

While the event was intended to be for ages 13 or older, few teenagers were in attendance. Most volunteers were much older with a more developed environmental interest.

Peter Hansen, a Federal Reserve Board researcher, is a 24-year-old Arlington resident and one of the county’s master naturalists.

“I saw the email blast about the salamander patrol, and it sounded really hype,” said Hansen, noting that several of his friends are nature enthusiasts that he admires for their vast knowledge of the environment.

“I can add a lot of color to my experience in nature,” said Hansen. Most likely, he’ll be returning to serve on the salamander squad.

by Chris Teale December 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Arlington County is the first community in the country to win a top award for its environmentally-friendly policies from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The county was named a Platinum level community by USGBC under its new LEED for Communities program.

USGBC said the certification recognizes the county’s creation of a “sustainable and resilient urban environment that has long-proven success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing stormwater, ensuring economic prosperity and focusing on education, affordable housing, health and safety for residents and businesses.”

LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a rating system by USGBC that evaluates how environmentally-friendly buildings are.

“It is truly an honor, and a validation of Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, to be the first to earn LEED for Communities Platinum certification,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “This has been a community effort, achieved by having a vision of combating climate change and promoting energy efficiency on a local level, and putting in place innovative policies and practices to achieve it. Now, more than ever, the responsibility for progress on climate change rests with local and state governments and with the private sector.”

The award honors communities that have set goals for environmental sustainability and then met them. It tracks energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience (education, prosperity, equitability and health and safety) before awarding certification.

“Arlington County understands the value of LEED and its ability to help set goals and deploy strategies that can improve the quality of life for residents across the community,” Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC, said in a statement. “Arlington’s LEED for Communities Platinum certification demonstrates a commitment to improving performance and creating a more resilient and sustainable future.”

More details from a press release after the jump:

(more…)

by Chris Teale December 6, 2017 at 10:00 am 0

Arlington Public Schools plans to add solar panels to five school buildings, including the soon-to-be-built Alice West Fleet Elementary School.

APS issued a Request for Proposals on December 1, calling for companies to bid to install solar panels at Kenmore and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, Tuckahoe and Fleet Elementary Schools and Washington-Lee High School.

Fleet Elementary School will be built on the site of Thomas Jefferson, and is projected to be open in September 2019.

In the call for proposals, APS said it is seeking to be increasingly environmentally friendly in construction projects and its existing buildings, and hopes the panels will help it keep up with its schools’ energy demands.

“APS stresses energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in the design of all construction and maintenance projects,” it reads. “APS is aware of the energy and environmental advantages of solar power and has multiple buildings used as schools for all age groups and administrative offices which appear to have design characteristics which make them appropriate for the installation of [solar panels] which will produce electric power to meet, or contribute to meeting, the power needs of APS.”

The successful bidder would install the solar panels, and operate and maintain them under a lease agreement with APS for a minimum of 15 years. APS said the winning company would also be responsible for all installation and maintenance costs, but would pay rent of $1 a year for the panels.

Proposals are due on March 19, 2018. The RFP comes months after Kenmore was one of six sites in Virginia selected to have a solar panel installed on its roof as part of the Solar for Students program, which encourages hands-on learning about clean energy.

by Chris Teale November 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

Drivers of electric cars now have one less place to charge their vehicles in Arlington County.

A tipster reported the car charging station in the parking lot of the former Walgreens Pharmacy at 2825 Wilson Blvd in Clarendon was removed last week.

At the time it was first and only station in the county from EVgo, which owned the ports and installed them in 2013. Anyone interested in using them could buy a monthly subscription.

Representatives with EVgo did not respond to requests for further comment, but on its website, the Clarendon charging location has been removed. Other EVgo charging stations remain at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall.

Other charging stations from other companies are available in other neighborhoods, including Ballston, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Pentagon City and Shirlington.

by Chris Teale November 28, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Local all-hybrid taxi service Envirocab is no more.

A tipster reported calling the Columbia Pike-based company last week, but getting a message on the phone saying they were no longer in service.

Calls to the company this week yielded the same result, while its website is “Temporarily out of service.”

“We are sorry to inform you that this service is no longer in operation. Thank you,” the message said. Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said Envirocab closed on November 1.

The 50-cab service was sold in 2013 to transportation conglomerate Veolia Transportation, which operates more than 2,400 taxicabs around the country. It began in 2008, and back then was the first all-hybrid fleet in the country. Since then, hybrid cabs have become more commonplace among local taxi fleets.

A Yelp review of Envirocab posted last month complained that the “service continues to deteriorate” and that “the last two times I attempted to use Envirocab, they failed to show up.”

by Chris Teale September 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

Arlington County residents can register now to receive a free tree for their homes.

One tree is available per home in the county’s annual free tree distribution. Anyone who lives in a multi-family property like an apartment building, however, must contact TreeStewards.org for assistance in getting more trees.

“The trees being distributed are generally termed ‘whips’ in the nursery trade and are in two-gallon containers and ranging 2-4 feet in size,” organizers wrote. “You should carefully consider the spot you intend to plant your tree.”

The distribution will take place next month in two places:

  • Saturday, October 14, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Arlington County nursery (4240 S. Four Mile Run Drive)
  • Wednesday, October 18, 5-8 p.m. at the Quincy Park parking lot (1021 N. Quincy Street)

Photo via Arlington County

by Chris Teale September 6, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

A group of local residents have launched a petition against an Arlington County plan to remove more than 80 trees at the Donaldson Run Nature Area.

The nature area, part of Donaldson Run Park at 4020 30th Street N. between Military Road and N. Upton Street, is set to have a section of its stream restored early next year.

The project on Tributary B is designed to help prevent erosion by creating a new natural stream and re-connecting it with the flood plain. Opponents said the project would remove 81 trees, endanger another 52 and remove vegetation along 1,400 feet of Donaldson Run. Work to restore the stream’s Tributary A was completed in 2006.

But a group of residents have launched an online campaign against what it described as the “rapid loss of trees on public and private lands” and urged the county to reconsider.

“The Donaldson Run Tributary B [stream] restoration project, costing taxpayers over $1 million, sacrifices broad local natural environmental benefits for a narrow distant storm water purpose,” the petition reads. “This project must be put on hold until… comprehensive technical and cost/benefit reviews can be completed that include better alternatives that use the money most effectively to meet all the community’s goals.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had received 14 signatures.

Opponents of the project will host an event on Sunday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the nature area to hand out free saplings to “expand our urban forest.”

Photo No. 4 via petition, photo No. 5 via Google Maps.

by Chris Teale August 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

Residents can have their food waste composted by the county as part of a pilot program launched earlier this month.

From 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, any county resident can take their food scraps to the Department of Environmental Services’ Solid Waste Bureau at 4300 29th Street S. in Shirlington, near the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s headquarters.

There, the scraps are being collected in two green carts at the bottom of the scale house, at the top of the Trades Center hill. Staff will be on hand to assist with disposal.

Per a county fact sheet on the program, the following food scraps are being accepted:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • food soiled paper (paper towels, napkins and paper plates)
  • coffee grounds, filters and tea bags
  • breads, grains and pasta
  • meat and seafood (including bones)
  • plate scrapings

Collected scraps are processed at the county’s Earth Products Recycling Yard using a composter. The compost that is produced will then be given to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation to use in landscaping projects and to amend topsoil in public spaces.

DES staff said they launched the pilot program to “address increasing interest from residents to manage food disposal through a more environmentally conscious process.”

by Chris Teale July 27, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

A local co-op formed earlier this year to drive down the cost of home solar installation selected two providers to install the panels.

The 83-member group chose Ashburn-based Independent Solar Solutions and Sigora Solar of Charlottesville earlier this month from 10 firms after an open and competitive bidding process.

A spokesman for the co-op said the two firms were selected because of their competitive pricing, quality components and warranties available.

According to Solar Power Rocks, a firm that provides guidance on solar power for all 50 states and D.C., installing a 5-kW solar panel system on a house in Virginia can cost homeowners just over $18,000. Over the course of 25 years, the firm estimates it will have produced $16,000 in income from energy savings. Co-op members can save up to 20 percent on installation costs as they buy as a group in bulk.

The chosen installers will now develop personalized proposals for each co-op member, who will then review that proposal and decide if the panels are suitable for them. Being a co-op member does not mean a commitment to buying panels. New members are being accepted until October 1 from Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County.

“We’re are excited to be working with Greater Arlington residents to help them go solar at a great price” Niko Eckart, owner of Independent Solar Solutions, said in a statement.

“We’re incredibly honored to be part of this co-op and are excited to see the solar momentum build in Northern Virginia,” Jonathan Gellings, a solar analyst at Sigora Solar, added.

The group is partnered with Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods, the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment to help educate and recruit members about going solar. Co-op members can save up to 20 percent off the cost of going solar by doing so in a group.

More than 80 people have already gone solar in similar schemes, and the current cohort said the process of finding providers was helped by working as a group.

“As someone who has considered installing [solar panels] several times over the past few years, I can say with certitude that working through the co-op was far easier than interviewing installers on my own,” said co-op member Jessica Olson in a statement. “The co-op is a great way to make an informed decision on a significant investment. We’re really excited to work with our installer and see how much I can save with my system.”

by Katherine Berko June 9, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

Kenmore Middle School was one of six sites in Virginia selected to have a solar panel installed on its roof as part of the Solar for Students program, which encourages hands-on learning about clean energy.

A 1.2 kilowatt panel will be installed on the school’s roof to convert sunlight into electricity, with real-time data displays to help classroom learning. It is estimated the panel will generate enough electricity to power 18 desktop computers, or 15 42-inch LED TVs.

In addition to the panel, the program comes with technical support, training for teachers and educational materials that will enable students to monitor, track and learn about solar power production.

In June 2015, Dominion Energy partnered with the nonprofit National Energy Education Development Project to launch the program. The program is for Virginia students, teachers and communities in areas served by Dominion, and gives them hands-on experience with solar power.

Kenmore will share the $150,000 solar panel grant with schools across Virginia and the Children’s Museum in Richmond, having been selected from 35 applicants statewide. Jeff Politzer, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) teacher at Kenmore, helped apply for the grant.

“We started the process months ago and then we had to meet with people form Arlington County,” he said. “We did a site supervise, we did a walk through. We wanted to see what location would be best.”

Around 750 students gathered in the school’s auditorium today to learn about their gift.

Scott Reamy, external affairs manager at Dominion Energy, built up to the announcement by having the students guess what the surprise was.

“I want to see if you all can figure it out,” he said. “It was created in 1958. It’s been to space and back.”

“Solar panels!” shouted a student in the back of the room.

The solar panel has not yet been installed at the school. At the event, officials had no further information on when the school can expect its new panel to be added.

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