Alternatives for today, tomorrow

Renewable fuel displayed at Clean Energy Expo

October 27, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Brian Funk is rehabilitating a 120-year-old Canton townhouse, hoping to make it energy-efficient while keeping it historically accurate. To help achieve that tricky balance, Funk went shopping for helpful hints at the Clean Energy Expo at Goucher College yesterday, an event that focused on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power and corn-burning stoves.

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the expo exhibited sun-powered appliances and "futuristic vehicles," hybrid cars fueled by gas and electricity. Visitors also could take a virtual tour of a Maryland home that is heated with corn.

"With coal and oil in finite supply, the renewables have to take precedence, and they make economic sense," said Funk, an environmental engineer. "They lessen our demand for foreign oil. As other energy costs go up, the costs of this technology will go down. Once the systems are in, they are pretty much maintenance-free."

Funk is installing a solar water heater and a high-efficiency furnace in his Canton home. And his rooftop deck will offer a view of the city skyline as well as house the thermal panels that will help heat the house. But, he is a little hesitant about the corn-burning stove.

"I don't know how well that fits into a rowhouse scenario, but it's good technology," Funk said.

Patti Havranek came to the expo for information on electric cars and energy-saving appliances. She has considered installing a wood-burning stove in her Reisterstown home, but she saw yesterday that corn is cleaner, cheaper and easier to come by.

"Maryland has eliminated sales taxes on energy-efficient items, and that is quite an incentive to look into these things and for people to do something good for the environment," she said.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network, lives in what he calls a "pioneering home" in Tacoma Park. Tidwell and his wife, Catherine Varchaver, have held seven open houses this year that have drawn nearly 1,500 people to their 90-year-old, two-story cottage, which is fully powered by renewable resources. A video the couple made that detailed their home's environmental advantages was shown repeatedly yesterday.

Tidwell's low utility bills - the lowest monthly heating charge last winter was $16.50 - have helped to convince his neighbors that corn is an alternative to fossil fuel. Also at the expo, three hybrid-car owners showed off energy-efficient vehicles that get about 50 miles to a gallon of gas.

After an exhaustive search, Margaret Carruthers of Silver Spring said that she bought one of the cars featured yesterday, a Toyota Prius, which has a gas engine and an electric generator/motor. The car is fairly new to the United States but has been on the road for about four years in Japan.

Clouds proved the only glitch in the expo, and forced Tidwell to renege his promise to serve fresh cookies baked in a solar oven.

"With good sun, I can bake a batch of cookies as fast as any gas oven," he said. "Weather is just compromising solar baking today."

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