• Home

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bike Racks for Small Businesses

One of the first things I fell in love with about the city of Pittsburgh was the prevalence of small businesses lining the streets from Carson Street to Butler Street to Penn Ave. What better fit in this big city with a small town feel than a small business bike rack program? Today, Mayor Ravenstahl and BikePGH announced the program with 200 bike racks available to small businesses. Apply here.

It's vital to maintain our community of small businesses. They have the flexibility to make these small changes to improve the lives of city residents so much more quickly than a corporation like Walmart. Plus, the owners tend to live in the city (or even directly above their businesses), so they have an added bonus to improve the city. Kudos to Mayor Ravenstahl's administration for jumping aboard the small business bandwagon.

Next up, a small business solar panel program, right Lindsay?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Raleigh Convention Center joins the ranks of LEED certified Convention Centers

From NewRaleigh.com - Raleigh joins Pittsburgh and five other cities in having LEED certified convention centers. Additional photos by Brian Gassel can be found at the official RCC website. The website also lists the criteria for which the center was awarded LEED sliver status.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Huge day for the Obama Administration, Clean Energy, and EVs

Despite taking place in the heart of tea party country, President Obama braved the handful of teabaggers protesting everything from cap and trade, to solar power to yes, health care reform for the opening of Florida Power and Light's new solar energy power plant in Arcadia, FL. The 40 megawatt 90,000+ solar panel plant, which have been installed across 180 acres of the 5,000 acre FPL property, is expected to generate enough clean electricity to power 3,000 homes. So far the FPL plant is the largest operating solar power plant in the US. During the event President Obama also announced the largest stimulus fund award to date - grants of $3.4 billion awarded to one hundred private companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners for development of smart grid technologies. Below is the official White House press release.

“The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid.

Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. "
Not to be outdone, Vice President Biden was in Wilmington Delaware today to announce Fisker Automotive's purchase and reopening of a GM auto plant that was recently closed down. The electric vehicle manufacturer, an EV competitor of California's Tesla Motors, is expected to manufacturer moderately priced sedans at its new Wilmington location. The new Fisker plant is expected to employ 2,000 workers, up from the 450 workers there when GM closed the plant down last summer. This is huge news for not only electric vehicle enthusiasts but our nations's beleagured automotive industry and manufacturing base.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mayoral Interviews: Luke Ravenstahl

Over the past month, I took the opportunity to meet with the mayoral candidates for Pittsburgh (or in the current mayor's case, his sustainability coordinator). It was an enlightening experience and hopefully my questions will help you decide who to vote for on November 3.

My interview with Mayor Ravenstahl's office was actually with Lindsay Baxter, his sustainability coordinator. She was quite happy to see my interest in spreading the green word of the candidates. She shied away from questions about public transportation in the city, saying that was outside of her responsibility. Similarly, she said that she and Stephen Patchen, the city's Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator are largely independent. She views her job as largely a communicative, collaborative role. We already have a recycling, bicycle, and tree departments. Her job as sustainability coordinator is to connect them all together, not "reinvent the wheel."

Lindsay Catches Some Tough Questions

As Lindsay is currently in the Mayor's office (and has his ear), a lot of my questions hit close to home. It's a lot easier to explain what you would do than to explain what you are doing and how it isn't enough yet.

When I asked her why the city of Pittsburgh has dropped out of city rankings for green building. She says we are at an unfair advantage in these rankings. Even if every new building is built LEED-certified, we still can't keep up with cities like Chicago because we just don't build enough new buildings. More importantly, she says we should focus on our existing housing stock and retrofitting it. She highlighted the CCI building on the South Side as a great example of how we can be a leader in that field. However, she says she regularly gets contacted about and says we are known outside the city for our green building in spite of not being in official rankings. On top of all that, she touted the recently passed city legislation requiring LEED certification for any projects that receive public dollars.

She is serving on the board for the Pittsburgh Green Innovators project as Mayor Ravenstahl's representative, and regularly attends meetings along with her counterpart at the county level. Unfortunately, a lot of those meetings are super-secret and she could not share many details. However, on the same day I interviewed her, a state grant was made announcing $2 million in funding for this worthwhile program to educate "green collar" workers in the city.

From the wonkier side of her job, Lindsay is also extraordinarily proud of the Climate Action Plan she compiled for the city. It is the first plan of its kind which addresses the 4 main sectors of the city - businesses, non-profits, education, and municipal. It's a comprehensive plan which can serve as a model throughout the country. Feel free to read the 102-page plan if you're in the mood. Otherwise, you can just quote the city's goal: 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the 2003 level by 2023.

Why Not Solar Pittsburgh?
Regarding solar energy, she thinks Pittsburgh needs to overcome its mental block about solar energy. We're actually more suited for solar than we are for wind - although she dropped hints about a potential plan for a windmill somewhere in Pittsburgh (but not on Mt Washington which could never clear the necessary zoning and bureaucratic hurdles.) She is working with the URA sustainable design coordinator, Matt Smutz, to roll out plans for programs to help small businesses and residences install solar panels.

Start Local
A recurring theme with Lindsay was starting local. The city wants to test the waters locally before expanding programs city-wide. So, first they are installing solar panels on a local firehouse. They are also working on improving the efficiency of the City-County Building, home of the mayor's and Lindsay's offices. Lastly, they are testing out green resident programs on city employees. The Black and Gold City Goes Green is largely focused on city employees and they have set up friendly competitions between departments to see who can amass the most green points. Next up, competing neighborhoods?

Lindsay was clearly very knowledgeable and had strong answers for most questions. For any question she was unsure of she said she would get back to me (and did.) She had a lot of plans and ideas for the future, which I was happy to hear, and I'm happy to be able to share with readers. Some of those ideas are starting to come to fruition (like the street light program which is currently under study.) The city would benefit from more transparency in these plannings and meetings and a speedier process. As a city, we have the potential to act much quicker than the Federal government or state, but it seems like so many of these projects get stalled in the pipeline. If the greater public was more aware of these initiatives, maybe we would all pressure for more progress and see more of these plans brought to fruition.

For more information on Mayor Ravenstahl, see his campaign website.

For more information on the other candidates, stay tuned to this blog. Don't forget to vote for mayor on November 3.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mayoral Interviews: Kevin Acklin

Over the past few weeks, I took the opportunity to meet with the mayoral candidates for Pittsburgh (or in the current mayor's case, his sustainability coordinator). It was an enlightening experience and hopefully my questions will help you decide who to vote for on November 3.

Kevin Acklin has his office space off Carson Street on the South Side of Pittsburgh. My interview with Acklin was the week of the G20, so things were even more hectic than usual in the campaign office. However, we sat down in a "press" room, and he devoted a lunch break to answering my questions.

Kevin Acklin, the Lawyer
In his day job, Acklin works with venture capital, private equity, and tech companies. He says he has worked with many of Pittsburgh's green start-ups, and is counsel to the Pittsburgh Tech Council. But he feels a lot of our problems boil down to coal. The new LEED-certified hockey arena will be named the Consol Energy Center. Coal is crucial to our area's history and is not going away anytime soon. It's a legacy we need to deal with.

Kevin gave props to former Pittsburgh Mayor David Lawrence (for whom the green convention center is named) for spearheading the crossover from heating homes with coal to the much cleaner natural gas. He wants to see a Mayor do a similar major change now.

Acklin Criticizes Port Authority
In terms of Port Authority, Acklin is acutely aware of the double-edged sword. The authority has a history of money mismanagement and at the same time not getting enough funding. One of the most common complaints he has heard from residents involves service cuts by Port Authority. He said that "the only way to grow the city is to work on public transportation." It's a mistake to think it's too late for Pittsburgh to do so. However, the North Shore Connector is not about connecting neighborhoods, and Maglev would be another boondoggle. Given the choice between rail to the airport and rail between downtown and Oakland, he chooses Oakland hands down.

Pittsburgh's Strengths of Hard Work and Innovation
Acklin lights up when he's talking about the future of Pittsburgh. He feels that we have great potential to be one of the greenest cities in the country. We have an exciting combination of manufacturing history and innovation. Between our legendary workforce and schools, we are in a unique place to spearhead change in the country. We just need to learn to adapt. He thinks our focus in the future should be green technology companies from fuel cells to wind power to biofuel. These are tough challenges but, as he says, "no harder than the war effort."

During the interview, Acklin orderly went through my list of questions, and he had solid answers for each of them, whether I agree with him or not. It's not surprising that this Harvard graduate answered questions smartly, but he also showed off his knowledge of the city and its residents. I was impressed that he had an anecdote from a resident for almost every question. (Editor's Note: Kevin Acklin's campaign has dropped off literature at my house, but I was not at home to talk to them.)

For more information on Kevin Acklin, see his campaign website.

For more information on the other candidates, stay tuned to this blog. Don't forget to vote for mayor on November 3.

Monday, October 19, 2009

PA State Rep Daryl Metcalfe: Veterans supporting global warming and climate change legislation should "Remember Benedict Arnold"

Via Keystone Progress, Pennsylvania legislator Daryl Metcalfe (R - Cranberry Twp) responded to in invitation to an energy independence bus tour with a letter of his own, stating that any veterans "promoting the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change" would be traitors to "the oath they took to defend the Constitution of our great nation." I'm not making this up. I'm sure the teabaggers are eating this up, but I find it outrageous that an elected official would equate supporting a Cap and Trade system to the treasonous acts of Benedict Arnold.

Below is the letter from Rep. Metcalfe:

Subject: Re: Veterans for American Power Bus Tour coming to your state

As a veteran,

I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist
propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control
more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type
policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath
he or she took defend the Constitution of our great nation!

Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses
their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda.

Drill Baby Drill!!!

For Liberty,

Daryl Metcalfe

State Representative

Veteran U.S. Army"

Progressive group Keystone Progress is calling on constituents to reject Rep. Metcalfe's position and call for an apology to our veterans. Jon Powers, Iraq veteran and COO of the Truman Project, provides his take on the controversy over at his diary on the Daily Kos.

PNC's Living Wall

I just made my first trip back to Pittsburgh since we moved to Raleigh-Durham back in May. In addition to seeing first hand how it looks like a bomb was dropped on Market Square, I managed to check out PNC Financial's Living Wall at their headquarters on 5th Avenue. Very neat! In case you missed our earlier post about the proposed wall, Fast Company has the details on The Green Wall of Pittsburgh. Could this finally be the start of what I referred to as the transformation of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle to The Green Triangle? Here is a post from over two years back where I envisioned a downtown of green roofs and green spaces. The new Market Square and PNC's living wall are a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mayoral Interviews: Franco Dok Harris

Over the past month, I took the opportunity to meet with the mayoral candidates for Pittsburgh (or in the current mayor's case, his sustainability coordinator). It was an enlightening experience and hopefully my questions will help you decide who to vote for on November 3.

Franco Dok Harris' campaign office is abuzz and in action. It's run by an excited and motivated group of people in the heart of Oakland. I'm not sure if the hand-me-down couch I'm asked to sit in while I wait is a sign of frugality or green ethics, but either way, this is clearly a campaign running on heart rather than big dollars.

Dok is a Businessman
Throughout my 45 minutes with Dok, he displayed his business background on his sleeve. He discussed light rail not in terms of its environmental impact, but in terms of its effectiveness in luring international headquarters to the city (highly effective and a necessary component of our future growth.) He feels future subways, however are way too expensive given our current infrastructure.

Regarding Port Authority, Dok says he wants "a mayor who will ride the buses not sit back in his office." He says he has ridden the buses in the past, but admitted that he is not a regular rider. (Editor's Note: I rarely take the bus, but I did ride my bike to Oakland for this interview.)

Regarding Pittsburgh's low ranking in green cities lists, Dok says there is a "lack of commitment from top to bottom." Pittsburgh has a "strong mayoral system" which requires strong leadership. He is against more legislation regarding green initiatives because that will inhibit growth. He also commented that he sees an association between "cool cities" and environmental cities. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco are making great green commitments and are very attractive to young people. Thereby, if Pittsburgh can put more focus on green initiatives, maybe we will also attract more young people and be cool?

Investing in Walkable Neighborhoods
An issue that is near and dear to Dok's campaign is walkable neighborhoods. He repeatedly mentioned ways that he wants to retain and grow our existing neighborhoods. Neighborhoods where people are walking everywhere are safer, friendlier, and ultimately greener. He wants to open a small business office as part of the mayor's office. This office would help small businesses get through all the red tape of starting a business. It would connect them with inexpensive properties in struggling neighborhoods and connect them with workers from those same neighborhoods.

Investing in Green Technologies
Lastly, we discussed Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial potential. Dok wants to match up the law students and management students at the University of Pittsburgh with the engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University. There are a lot of green technologies coming out of CMU, and with a little more venture capital and know-how, we could be a world leader.

Overall, Dok made a strong case for how Pittsburgh can prosper by aligning its business and green initiatives. While, he was short on details about programs like the Pittsburgh Green Innovators, he has a good grasp of the big green picture. Hopefully after a few conversations with Bill Peduto, he would come around to agreeing on sensible green legislation that would encourage business instead of stifling it.

For more information on Franco Dok Harris, see his campaign website.

For more information on the other candidates, stay tuned to this blog. Don't forget to vote for mayor on November 3.

Pittsburgh's Green Initiatives in the Limelight Again

Like it or not, Pittsburgh has been vaulted onto the world stage. Next up, World Environment Day (WED) will be hosted in Pittsburgh. Previous hosts of this day include Wellington, New Zealand and Mexico City, Mexico. The last time (and only time) the day was held in the United States was in San Fransisco in 2005. That's some stiff international competition.

"During an announcement this morning at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side, Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, deputy director of UNEP, said several factors contributed to Pittsburgh's selection including its significance as the birthplace of environmentalist Rachel Carson and because the city recently hosted the G-20 summit."