Castleton Home Part of Green Energy Doors Open

By: Valerie MacDonald

Rammed earth home co-owner, Stephen Cavalier, surveys the forest view from the front deck of the unique, environmentally-green Castleton house. VALERIE MACDONALD/Northumberland Today

CASTLETON – A unique Castleton home built in the ancient “rammed earth” style of the Great Wall of China is part of the Green Energy Doors Open event taking place in September across Canada.

Retired teachers Ruth Cook and Stephen Cavalier wanted to build a home that was good for the environment on an ongoing basis and with the aid of a designer and engineer built one into a hill in a wooden area of Castleton in 2010/11.

With that experience, Cook has gone on to establish a company ( and has started her second career, she explained during a recent telephone interview from the Bruce Peninsula where her latest client’s home is under construction.

The first home in Canada where she ever saw such rammed earth construction was musician Randy Bachman’s Salt Spring Island home in B.C., she said.

“It absolutely captured me,” Cook recalls, spurring her forward to creating a truly sustainable house for she and her husband.

Forms are put up to form the walls and then a mixture of earth and some steel reinforcing rods are put between them with special pneumatic tampers “ramming” down the earth – hence the name of the construction type.

There is six inches of insulation in the middle of these walls too.

Not only will this type of construction last hundreds of years, or longer, it provides the structure for minimal heating requirements due, in part, to the passive solar heat sink wall of rammed earth construction which is warmed via strategically-place windows that shine the sun onto it, and which provides a coolness so there is no need for air conditioning during the hot weather, Cavalier explained during an interview at his home.

When you walk into the house, it is strangely silent as the walls seem to absorb sound. And indeed, it is this feature that has made for soundproofing a wonderful music studio that the family built in the lower level.

The second floor exterior is natural cedar and the huge deck on the front overlooking more of their forest is supported by huge white pine beams harvested from their very property.

The windows are triple panes.

To date, Cook’s company has built about “half a dozen” such homes, including another in the Castleton area, but it is not on this year’s Green Energy Doors Open Tour.

“The thermal mass of rammed earth is higher than concrete,” Cook explained.

It uses 90 per cent local earth from closed gravel pits. The actual carbon footprint is therefor reduced from both a construction perspective and its on-going impact on the environment and energy draws because it needs minimal heating and no cooling, she said.

“I could heat it with a hair dryer.”

Then there are the intangible benefits of the sound, feel and natural smell of rammed earth construction…no plastic off-gassing, for example.

The rammed earth walls absorb humidity, sound and toxins. They are sustainable during flooding and fire proof as well, Cook added.

They have an attractive natural look that blends into the environment in a very pleasing way.

If you want to see this type of construction up close and personal, the Green Energy Doors Open (GEDO) Tour takes place Sept. 24 and 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A release states that this annual showcase weekend “celebrates sustainable energy projects and success stories in provinces across Canada.

“Every year in early autumn, businesses, organizations, community cooperatives, indigenous communities, municipalities and homeowners open their doors and host events to promote the sustainable energy initiatives and technologies in their communities. GEDO is free to participate in as a host and to attend, and aims to raise awareness, support, education and enthusiasm around sustainable energy in Canada.”

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Green Energy Success Stories From Hurricane Irma and Beyond

Noya Fields / CC BY-SA 2.0

By: Juan Cole

After Hurricane Irma in Florida, millions have been without electricity. But those Floridians who had solar panels plus an inverter or a Tesla powerwall were able to recover electricity immediately. Likewise, cities used solar to power traffic lights and other essential services after the huge storm had blown past.

Likewise, solar panels kept the lights on in India during the horrific storms and floods of monsoon this year.

The CEO of REC, Steve O’Neil which makes solar panels, reveals some amazing progress on green energy:

In 2010, there were 50 gigawatts of solar power in the world. Today it is 305 gigawatts.

Globally, solar installations increased by 50% in 2016 alone.

The average cost of solar-generated electricity worldwide is currently 8 cents a kilowatt hour. That is down 70% since 2010!

But, US solar power arrays are at an average of 6 cents a kilowatt hour. That is competitive with coal and gas, and you haven’t seen anything yet. Prices will come on down to 2 cents a kilowatt hour in only a few years.

India, a country of 1.2 billion people, has the seventh largest gross domestic product in the world (ahead of Italy and Brazil and just behind France).

India has gone from having 2.65 gigawatts of solar in 2014 to having 13 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2017.

India’s federal and many state governments strongly back solar, so that it is expected to take off during the next decade. India added 5.525 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2016-2017 alone.

And in Asia it isn’t just India. China will add some 8-10 gigawatts of solar capacity to its present 80 gigawatts this month.


Solar Farm Report Card From a Cowichan Carbon Buster

Peter Nix stands with his retirement investment: a solar farm he’s installed on his property in Maple Bay. (Peter Nix photo)

“My solar farm demonstrates the new economics of renewable vs. fossil fuel energy”.

By: Peter Nix

My solar farm demonstrates the new economics of renewable vs. fossil fuel energy.

Spend or invest in renewable energy — and make money. Spend on gas cars or appliances and/or heating systems that use fossil fuels — and lose money.

I sell clean renewable energy to BC Hydro for about 10 cents per kilowatt hour from 192 solar panels in Maple Bay. In 2016, I made a taxable return on investment of three per cent.

But the real financial return was likely four or five per cent because I ripped out my oil furnace and use only electric heating. No more home heating oil needed — a big saving my accountant does not see.

And if BC Hydro ever pays off its massive debt, hydro rates will surely increase, while I make more profit. I sell electricity.

Mid-east countries are building solar farms that will sell electricity at five cents per kwh — equal to $10 per barrel of oil. No oil company can compete with solar at those prices.

My solar panels will work with little maintenance for over 25 years, capturing free photons of energy from the sun. So my solar pension dividend of three to four per cent looks like a secure, long-term, investment. But it’s not all about money.

As a retired environmental consultant, I understand the huge misery and destruction that the climate change storm is bringing us. So as a motivated carbon buster, there are social and environmental issues in my accounting.

My solar panels produce energy at less cost than will the Site C dam project, operate with infinitely less environmental damage than will the Kinder Morgan oil sands pipeline expansion project, and emit massively less greenhouse gases than burning any fossil fuel.

Most know that a do-nothing behaviour about climate change is a serious threat to our planet’s future. But perhaps you feel helpless. I understand.

Not everyone has my opportunity to invest their pension money in a solar farm. But you can consider renewable energy every time you buy something: an electric car or heat pump, a bicycle, more vegetables and less meat — anything or any activity that burns less fossil fuel.

For example, on journeys in my e-car, I drive right past gas stations. And when I return home, that great car sucks back some of my solar farm’s electricity from BC Hydro’s grid to power up for the next trip.

So I buy no gas, and save money. I sell electricity, and make money. How great is that?

If you have a small amount of money to invest, SolShare Energy is a community-owned renewable energy project in Vancouver that pays dividends.

If you have more money, install solar panels on your roof at a cost of $10 to $15,000; that money will be returned to you over the long-term through lower Hydro bills.

My solar farm’s triple bottom line: financially, it makes money; environmentally, it reduces the impact of climate change; and socially, it contributes to a sustainable future for my kids.

Sure it’s a long-term investment; but so is raising a family.

Peter Nix is a self-described Cowichan carbon buster who lives in Maple Bay.


Renewable Energy Celebrated at Darlington Raceway

By: Matt Bise

Dusk at Darlington Raceway during Bojangle’s Southern 500 Matt Bise

As the promotion to highlight NASCAR’s bygone era unfolded on the track so did the plan to make the sport more environmentally friendly for the future, with the help of Santee Cooper.

Using renewable energy is not new at Darlington Raceway but this year the well-known Darlington Stripe has a little green included. The notorious turn four was painted green to honor the renewable energy effort during the sport’s throwback campaign weekend.

“We are proud the say that our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Bojangles’ Southern 500 race weekend will be 100 percent powered by green energy thanks to Pee Dee Electric Cooperative and Santee Cooper,” said track president Kerry Tharp. “Darlington Raceway takes great pride in being a facility that is powered by green energy.”

In comes Santee Cooper headquartered in Berkeley where the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” certainly fits.

“Santee Cooper is really the leader in green power production in South Carolina,” said Willard Strong from the Corporate Communications Department with Santee Cooper. “We take methane gas from decaying refuse or garbage and we make electricity out of it.”

And it is certainly enough to power the track for the entire Labor Day race weekend. Santee Cooper has 25 megawatts of clean renewable green power sources which includes six landfill methane gas generating stations, six solar arrays and one wind turbine.

“We offer it [methane gas] to our customers for three dollars per 100 kilowatt hour,” said Strong.

So how much was used over the weekend during both the NASCAR XFFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts, VFW 200 on Saturday and Sunday’s BoJangles’ 500? “Over Saturday and Sunday 1.3 megawatts of power is going to be consumed,” Strong said. “It will be that amount of green power that is sold through Pee Dee electric cooperative which gets its power from Santee Cooper.”

Denny Hamlin won both races over the weekend.


Almost Every Country in the World Can Power Itself with Renewable Energy

The planet is pretty much ready to go 100 percent renewable by 2050.