The solar fixtures crowning a West Asheville laundromat are not the flat-panel type that's become almost commonplace these days. Like most such devices, they're angled to catch the sun, but each panel also sports a large tubular tank perched atop an array of tubes.
Each "evacuated tube collector" contains a set of glass outer tubes surrounding inner ones containing a copper rod that absorbs the sun's energy. In between, a vacuum has been created to reduce heat loss, making the system more efficient than its flat-panel brethren, explains Accem Scott, the founder of Green Brothers Solar.
The absorbed energy heats water, which is THEN stored in the tank, he explains. In a project Scott participated in at A-B Tech last year, the water in a similar system reached 198 degrees — significantly outperforming the flat-panel system they also tested. "When we opened up the tank, steam shot out," says Scott, who moved to Western North Carolina from Philadelphia about seven years ago.
He spent his first few years here living off the grid, sharing a solar-powered motor home with his wife and young child. That experience, combined with what he'd learned from prior business ventures, helped spark the idea of launching a company to install solar systems.
A mentor — Kevin Wei, who owns the Asheville-based SolarPlusGreen — provided most of the technical training Scott needed. And a class offered by Mountain BizWorks, a local nonprofit, helped him cook up his business plan for Green Brothers Solar, which is now 1 year old. It included collaborating with Asheville Green Opportunities, another nonprofit that trains disadvantaged youth and young adults in green technologies. Scott hired GO graduate Michael Moore who was on the job for the laundromat project, he mentions.
"It's our goal to train and hire within the communities where youth and the unemployed need this opportunity," says Scott.
Another goal is demonstrating that evacuated-tube systems are more efficient and boast lower up-front costs than some other solar technologies. That may take awhile: "We need a few months for the owner to see results," Scott explains. But in the meantime, the business has at least one ingredient that laundromat owner NAME says is crucial: hot water.
Saving the farm
A working-lands conservation easement will add 480 acres of historic Buncombe County farmland to the 3,000 acres already permanently preserved by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy's Farmland Preservation Initiative, the nonprofit reported Feb. 4. The group has partnered with landowners Porter and Martha Ann Claxton to protect the bulk of their 550-acre property. "SAHC has been talking with the family for almost three years about options for placing their farm under conservation," notes Carl Silverstein, the group's executive director. "Claxton Farm is a landmark, a place that's visited and enjoyed by many people."
Located in the Brittain Mountain area of Flat Creek Township, Claxton Farm is home to the largest intact breeding herd of registered Polled Herefords — a type of cattle— in Western North Carolina. A good local example of a modern, viable farming enterprise, Claxton combines traditional farm activities with agrotourism: Weddings and other special events draw some 11,000 visitors each year. A diverse assortment of livestock — including llamas, miniature horses, camels, donkeys and sheep — attracts school groups from surrounding communities.
"We want to share our farm and enjoy having people come visit to see the animals, walk the trails and share their special occasions," Martha Ann explains. The farm features 360-degree views where no other buildings can be seen — "just mountainsides and pastures with animals grazing on the hillsides," she notes.
The Claxton family donated 84 percent of the $6 million appraised value, with the remainder covered by grant funds.
"This easement ensures that [Claxton Farm] will be there to be enjoyed for future generations," says Silverstein.
In other news…
The comment period for Evergreen Packaging's wastewater permit has been extended to Feb. 25, state officials report. Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., the company owns Blue Ridge Paper Products in Canton, N.C., which discharges effluent into the Pigeon River.
To download a fact sheet about the permit, go to http://bit.ly/acFjD9. Written comments may be mailed to Dina Sprinkle, N.C. Division of Water Quality/NPDES Unit, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617, or e-mailed to email@example.com. Include the permit number NC0000272 for Blue Ridge Paper Products.
Send your environmental news to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 251-1333, ext. 152.