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Baby Steps Toward Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

By Yetta Jager, Green Sanctuary Committee

Baby steps toward reducing our carbon footprint

Our climate is changing faster than expected. Are you curious to see what Knoxville will be like in 2080? Check out our climate-analogue city, But, we have reason to be optimistic.

In the US, a transition to incorporate renewable energy is underway. Photovoltaic solar and wind energy are expected to double between 2022 and 2028, adding 710 GW of electricity (IEA 2023). Offshore wind is growing. Two pilot-scale projects are currently licensed to operate on the Atlantic coast. The first commercial-scale project off the coast of Rhode Island is now under construction and others have been approved off the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts, as well as of Long Island and Massachusetts.

Closer to home, Westside’s carbon can be reduced by making a similar transition. January was a very cold month and we spent over $400 heating the building with natural gas. Can we reduce our use of natural gas in winter? Yes, by shifting our heating to electricity, we can at least track reductions in the carbon footprint of the TVA portfolio. Perhaps, we can go further by adding solar to support summer cooling.

We need to walk before we can run. As one baby step, members of our committee (Craig B. and Jerry T.) met with a representative from TVA on March 13 to initiate an energy audit of our building. TVA will develop an energy assessment based on building plans and specs for our HVAC system, which will allow them to model our building. They also conducted a walk-through during which opportunities for efficiency improvements were identified and we will receive a report on the results. Meanwhile, Charlie D. is researching geothermal heat pumps and he has computed our carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, a next step is doing our homework to figure out how we can best transition to reduce our carbon footprint. We envision a WUUC Green Energy Replacement plan that lays out a timeline for actions ranging from smaller changes to improve the energy efficiency of our building (e.g., fans, windows, thermostats) to larger changes, such as replacing our gas-dependent heating system with electric, possibly geothermal, heat pumps and / or solar. Planning this transition requires some research.

Timing is critical. On the one hand, we shouldn’t wait until the IRA credits disappear. On the other hand, replacing things when they have not reached their end of life is not necessarily the most sustainable or most-economical alternative. For the HVACs, we should consider the expected life span of our HVAC units. For solar, an auspicious time would be when we need to replace our roof. Research needs include defining trigger events, specifications for replacements and/or new purchases, and developing a financing strategy (e.g., via donations to the Fund for the Future, loans).

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