Lessons From Australia: Drought Can Help Georgia Economy

3 02 2009


David Beasley | Global Atlanta

Paul Dalby traveled to Atlanta from Australia with stories of a drought so severe that rivers stop flowing, lakes turn toxic and farmers abandon their land in frustration.

Dr. Dalby’s  message, delivered as metro Atlanta struggles to map strategies for coping with severe water shortages, focused on his country’s past and America’s future.

“Australia is where America could be in a few years,” said Dr. Dalby, a consultant with an Australian-funded institute, the International Center of  Excellence in Water Resource Management.

Yet he offered hope for Atlanta. Droughts might be drastic. However, Australia’s experience proves that less water can spark innovation, new companies and products and even more profit for some farmers, said Dr. Dalby.

In a recent interview at the Australian Consulate General in Atlanta, Dr. Dalby told the story of the Murray River and what happened when Australia drained too much water out of it for human consumption. It is a story that may resonate in metro Atlanta, where the waters of the Chattahoochee River are at the center of a long-ranging federal court fight between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, involving an array of competing business, government and environmental interests.  

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DeKalb to Earth: Have we got a school for you!

2 02 2009


Kristina Torres | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It will be Georgia’s premier “green” school —- one of the first public schools in the state with a national certification for environmental construction and perhaps the only one with an environmentally themed curriculum.

DeKalb County’s Arabia Mountain High School opens Aug. 10, but officials are already working to get the sparkling new campus ready —- installation crews are putting on the final touches and a teachers job fair and parents’ meetings are scheduled this week.

Here’s a look at the school.


The campus sits in southeastern DeKalb near the Arabia Mountain national heritage area, which comprises thousands of acres of protected green space and is one of 37 federally designated heritage areas nationwide. On campus, easy access to miles of trails in and around the forested area is just past the practice football field behind the school building —- where deer are often spotted checking out their new neighbor.


All subjects will be infused with the standardized EIC curriculum —- which stands for using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning. Simply put, all teachers will use the environment as a backdrop for their lessons. The curriculum, developed jointly among 16 state education departments, can be seen at http://www.seer.org.

The school also will incorporate small learning communities. Students will be divided among different programs, with students going to class within these programs for all four years. The concept has been around in various forms for many years but has regained favor as schools try to increase graduation rates and student performance.

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Officials eye faster rail link from N.C. to Atlanta

26 01 2009



Transportation officials are considering the development of a rapid passenger rail service that would link Charlotte and Atlanta with a train that would travel at about 100 mph.

A federal study released this month found that officials could realistically develop service that travels between 90 and 110 mph without needing major changes to the existing rail corridor.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Amtrak service on the route currently has a top speed of 79 mph but still takes more than five hours to make a trip that takes less than four hours in a car.

The preliminary study assumed there would be as many as nine stops between Charlotte and Atlanta, serving passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Gastonia, Spartanburg, S.C., Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, Greenville, S.C., Clemson, S.C., Toccoa, Ga., Gainesville, Ga., and Atlanta. The study also looked at continuing rail service to Macon, Ga.

Officials in the three states are now preparing to conduct a more detailed study to assess ridership potential and costs.

The railway would not meet the definition of a “high-speed” line, which is generally reserved for those tracks that move faster than 125 mph. But trains traveling at that speed need costly track upgrades.

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Rabun Gap plant to add green power to Georgia EMC grid

26 01 2009


Consumers in Middle Georgia interested in using green power will soon have more available to them.

Green Power EMC, a partnership of 38 of the state’s electrical membership corporations, announced recently that it has agreed to purchase 17 megawatts of biomass energy from Multitrade Rabun Gap.

That electrical power, in turn, will be available to customers of the 11 area EMCs that are part of the Green Power partnership – Altamaha EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Flint Energies, Little Ocmulgee EMC, Middle Georgia EMC, Ocmulgee EMC, Oconee EMC, Southern Rivers Energy, Tri-County EMC, Upson EMC and Washington EMC.

Green power is electricity generated from renewable, environmental-friendly technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and low-impact hydropower. Biomass includes landfill gas and agricultural wastes.

The $21.5 million Rabun Gap facility will use woody waste from Georgia’s forestry industry as the primary fuel in a conventional boiler for generation of steam to power a steam-turbine electricity generator.

The North Georgia plant is expected to produce 17 megawatts of electricity when it goes online in August. That is enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes. A megawatt is 1 million watts.

Michael Whiteside, Green Power’s president, says the Rabun Gap project is “renewable” in several other ways, in addition to its use of woody waste as fuel.

The facility is adapting an existing power plant, including its boiler, in a former Fruit of the Loom factory that closed in 2006, with a loss of 900 jobs. The Rabun Gap power plant will employ only 20 people, but another 75 jobs will be needed for people to gather and transport the biomass to the facility.

The Rabun Gap electricity will be added to about 8.3 megawatts now available through the Green Power EMC partnership — 5 megawatts produced in two landfill methane gas operations in Taylor County and in Fayetteville, 2.3 megawatts from the Tallassee Shoals low-impact hydroelectric plant on the Middle Oconee River near Athens and 1 megawatt from an experimental wind power operation of Oglethorpe Power near Rome.

Green Power EMC also expects to add 20 to 23 megawatts of power later this year from Plant Carl near Carnesville, a biomass facility using poultry waste as fuel.

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‘Generation Y’ forcing home builders to rethink projects

7 10 2008


People in their 20s — Generation Y — are changing residential real estate in Atlanta.

Gen Y is “our largest current clientele. It’s our largest future clientele,” said Patrick O’Donnell, a partner in the Lane Co., a multifamily developer.  Born from 1979 to 1996, the 80 million people in Gen Y represent more than 26 percent of the U.S. population and $1.6 trillion in earning power, according to the research firm Robert Charles Lesser & Co.

By 2015, Gen Y will be more than a third of U.S residents, said James Johnson, professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Their expectations are forcing developers to rethink how projects are designed, built and sold.

In Atlanta, interest in Gen Y is particularly keen because only New York and Los Angeles rate higher as places to live, Robert Charles Lesser says. And while most Gen Y folks living on their own today are renters, in four years they’ll be a home-buying force, the company says.

O’Donnell and others spoke at a recent forum called “The Impacts of Gen Y on Real Estate Development,” sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Atlanta.

Bottom line: Many in Gen Y have little interest in the lawn mowing, cul de sac life that’s characteristic of so much of Atlanta. At least for now.

Instead, Gen Y wants high-tech convenience and communication, walkability, green building standards and diversity. They’ll sacrifice space, and some will even pay more, to incorporate those qualities into their lives, real estate experts say.

That’s good news for infill redevelopment efforts. “Intown areas and inner suburbs will really remain on an upward trajectory” when the housing market turns around, said Sarah Kirsch, senior principal at Robert Charles Lesser.

Charlie Bible, 22, bought a condominium at the top of Viewpoint, a new highrise in Midtown, because of its central location, views and the sleek steel-and-glass look. And because “I love high-tech gadgets,” he said.

Bible watches ESPN and the news on small LCD screens that are part of the fitness equipment at Viewpoint. Novare Group, the developer, also installed a virtual art gallery and an online system where residents will be able to place restaurant orders or program their thermostats from remote locations.

Upgrades at Viewpoint include built-in iPod docking stations. Gen Y already is about 40 percent of the customer base for Novare, the biggest condo developer in Atlanta.

“This is a generation that has always known a computer,” said Uri Vaknin, vice president of business development at the Marketing Directors, a condo sales company. “They want these programmed lives.”

Oakland Park, a condo building in Grant Park, boasts that it’s LEED certified, meaning it has met national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. That includes floors of bamboo — a fast-growing renewable resource — and dual-flush toilets that conserve water.

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Smyrna couple goes green to cut energy costs

7 10 2008

When Jon and Brenda Gallagher decided to embark on a kitchen overhaul last year, they consulted Smyrna neighbor and energy-efficiency expert Matt Hoots, president of the Hoots Group. But for Hoots, a contractor specializing in EarthCraft homes, a remodel isn’t just about an attractive floorplan. He wanted to give the Gallaghers a “greenovation.”

“Because Matt is so knowledgeable about green building, we realized, ‘Oh, we can remodel and save some money, too?’” Brenda Gallagher recalled.

The project included new ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, new lighting, locally sourced cabinetry (cutting down on fuel use in transport, Hoots said), and paint low in volatile organic compounds. Hoots also installed programmable thermostats in three areas, allowing the Gallaghers to regulate heat and cooling in the rooms they use most. A crawlspace was draped in thick plastic, inhibiting humidity, odors and mold growth from seeping into the home. The couple plan to swap out old windows with energy-efficient models.

Products that carry the WaterSense and ENERGY STAR labels are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But you don’t have to make sweeping changes in your home to save on your energy bill, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace. Cutting down on costs can be as easy as swapping out old light bulbs in favor of ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent bulbs, such as the ones found throughout the Gallagher home.

“I know in this economy people don’t have a lot of extra money, but if you spend a little upfront, you’ll save money in the longterm,” she said.

Not sure where to begin conserving energy in your home? Wallace said Georgia Power customers can request a free energy audit of their home with an ENERGY STAR expert.

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‘Green’ homeowners insurance now available in Georgia

30 09 2008


Georgia homeowners who use environmentally friendly solar panels and recycled building materials on their houses can now get insurance specially designed for “green” homes, officials announced Tuesday.

The state insurance commissioner’s office has approved the first-ever green homeowners insurance policies in Georgia, commissioner John Oxendine said. The program – for customers of the California-based Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. – guarantees that environmentally friendly homes will be rebuilt in the same way if they’re damaged or destroyed.

“We hope this will encourage and promote people to be green in their homes,” Oxendine said at a news conference at one of Atlanta’s houses with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Georgia joins 26 other states where green insurance is available. Fireman’s officials say about two dozen Georgia homeowners have signed on so far.

Even homeowners who don’t have environmentally friendly houses can buy the green add-on from Fireman’s Fund to complement their existing insurance policy with the company, Oxendine said. That means if a house is destroyed in a fire or damaged by a tornado, for instance, the insurance company will rebuild it with a green design. It also will pay the hefty cost of hauling construction waste to recycling companies rather than junkyards, he said.

Laura Turner Seydel, daughter of media mogul Ted Turner, is one of the state’s new green insurance customers with her LEED-certified home in Atlanta’s posh Buckhead district. The home, called the EcoManor, has solar panels on the roof, natural lighting in almost every room, naturally dyed furniture and rugs, cabinets made from pressed hay, and a plumbing system that reuses rainwater and wastewater.

“I feel like I look better, think better and operate better,” Seydel said during a tour of her home Tuesday. “We have built a much healthier home for our family,” noting the home doesn’t have the chemicals and toxins often found in dyes, paints and construction materials.

Green building is more expensive because it requires specially designed appliances, hard-to-find plumbing fixtures and construction materials from within a 500-mile radius. But experts say green homeowners save about 30 percent on utility bills each month, which can quickly recoup the added cost of construction.

Seydel’s home is one of three LEED-certified homes in Georgia, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. The certification means those homes meet a lengthy checklist of environmentally friendly requirements.

However, scores of Georgia homes are built with green components and energy-efficient designs, even though they don’t meet the stringent LEED certification, according to Southface, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that promotes green construction.