Eli Meir Kaplan
Even though he’s a vegetarian, Paul Waxman is willing to handle bacon grease.
Since 2004, the Navy engineer and St. Mary’s County resident has been collecting used cooking oil, even drippings from fried pork, from restaurants, caterers, and colleagues and converting it to pure biodiesel to run his 2000 Volkswagen Jetta.
He gets 48 miles to the gallon and hasn’t been to a gas station for fuel since 2010.
“I don’t think that this is the total solution, but it is one way to turn wastefulness to usefulness,” says Waxman, who is among a growing number of Marylanders seeking to reduce waste by embracing renewable energy sources.
After years of talk, it seems clean energy is finally going mainstream.
No Longer “Alternative”
Solar panels can now be seen on houses, schools, and even a carport at Anne Arundel Community College. Maryland residents and businesses are putting up wind turbines and purchasing wind power to reduce electric bills. Biodiesel fuel stations are popping up, mostly for 18-wheelers.
And the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) has joined forces with public and private entities to create infrastructure that will enable electric-car owners to charge up at roughly 40 stations throughout the state.
Kathy Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC), thinks our collective mindset is starting to change when it comes to these so-called “alternative” technologies.
“When the microwave oven first came out,” she says, “I said I’d never use it. Now I can’t imagine what I’d do without it.”
As a country, we’re becoming more savvy about energy and its impact on the environment, the economy, our health, and on our national security. However, as old technologies are modernized and new ones come to market, we still have a lot to learn.
Further, experts like Magruder remind people that efficiency–and not necessarily buying into the latest and greatest technology—is the key to achieving a clean-energy society.
“The least expensive kilowatt is the unused kilowatt,” she says.
The role of the nonprofit MCEC is to educate consumers about making smarter energy choices, thereby growing the “green-collar” sector so that businesses will offer more and lower-cost options. The center also helps people make sense of what was once a simple choice.
“Now, energy is a complicated subject,” says Magruder, previously chief of staff at the University of Maryland’s Biotechnology Institute.
“It’s not just about flipping a switch. You have to ask how much it costs to flip that switch. Can you buy it cheaper if you shop around? And is it coming from a [polluting or unsustainable] source?”
Maryland might be proactive about adopting clean-energy initiatives, but nationwide, we only rank 25th, at least according to a survey by consulting firm Clean Edge.
The Free State does rank eighth in clean-energy leadership, though, in part because of its adoption of a Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of generating 20 percent of needed power from renewable sources by 2020. Still, the state currently gets just 1 percent of its power from such sources, notes Magruder.
The Good Kind of Audit
While there are many hurdles to overcome, Maryland can reach the goal set forth in the “EmPOWER Maryland” initiative of reducing per-capita energy consumption and peak demand 15 percent by 2015, says Jim Pierobon, the MCEC’s director of communications.
But where should the average citizen start? With a home energy audit, just like Centreville resident Mary Roby did.
When Roby purchased a circa-1915 home, costly energy bills were one sign that the house was leaking air. An audit revealed several areas that needed attention, resulting in Roby adding insulation in the attic, re-insulating the crawlspace, and sealing irregularities in the foundation.