By REID TUCKER
DeFuniak Springs’ first annual Energy Conservation Discovery Expo demonstrated firsthand how “green” technological innovation can help save the planet while helping individuals and local government alike save greenbacks.
The drizzly, overcast morning on Saturday, May 5, did little to dampen the spirits of the hundreds of Walton County residents who attended the expo, not only the first of what is planned to become a yearly event but also the first of its kind in county history. Visitors and locals alike strolled Circle Drive viewing demonstrations of a variety of alternative fuel sources and innovative building materials just as high-tech as they are environmentally sustainable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the event’s many demonstrations was just how much money could potentially be saved by utilizing these new technologies, most of which offer substantial long-term savings over their more familiar counterparts.
For city Code Enforcement Officer Jason O’Daniels, the event’s organizer, that moment of discovery is what the expo was all about.
“I wanted [DeFuniak Springs] to have a yearly, educational, fun event that highlights the city, brings in money for local businesses, and brings in visitors while also showing people how alternative energy sources can save them money,” he said. “If people come away from this understanding how it’s a lot more economically feasible to utilize innovative technologies like this than to go back to what is known, then this was a success. It’s often the case that for every dollar you spend you get four dollars in savings. There’s really no reason not to use these technologies when you look at it that way.”
Several companies from around the Pandhandle and from as far away as Birmingham, Ala. set up booths showing off their wares, be they vehicles converted to switch between compressed natural gas or propane and regular gasoline or air conditioning units powered by geothermal energy. A Tallahassee-based firm was on hand to offer bulk drive-through shredding services for personal documents. Triangle Chevrolet Buick even got in on the expo, showing off GMs new Chevrolet Volt hybrid vehicle, the dealership’s example of which burned just 16 gallons of gas despite showing approximately 3,000 miles on its odometer.
Some of the tech on display, like the spray-in foam insulation material made from soy and other recycled or renewable materials offered by Gulf Coast Insulation, a DeFuniak Springs company, can reduce homeowners’ utility bills thanks to its superior heat regulation properties. Miramar Beach-based Sustainable Consulting Technologies, LLP gave presentations revolutionary building materials that are not only cheaper, in some cases, than traditional construction materials like wood and concrete but also save an estimated 70 percent on labor due to a modular design that allows fewer workers to finish a structure. Furthermore, they’re certified to withstand earthquakes and Category-4 hurricanes, always a plus, whether a home or office is in Japan or the Gulf Coast.
While the aforementioned firms set up booths with product samples, Ernst Cebert, environmental sciences department head at Alabama A&M University, brought a trailer containing an entire bio-diesel processing plant. Bio-diesel, which can be made from waste cooking grease generated by restaurants, schools and individual homes, is of particular interest to local governments for use in heavy equipment, since the materials needed to make bio-diesel is not only available in a virtually unlimited supply, but also dramatically reduces overall carbon emissions.
O’Daniels said the city of DeFuniak Springs is looking to buy its own 150-gallon bio-diesel processing plant, which, though it costs $4,500, will pay for itself in a few months before going on to save up to $20,000 in yearly fuel costs. Bio-diesel, on average, can be made for 80 cents per gallon on the high end, though prices as low as 70 cents per gallon are possible. O’Daniels said there is virtually “no reason not to use it,” since the city could collect waste cooking grease from local restaurants at no cost.
O’Daniels said the bottom line is to look at multiple energy sources, be they propane, compressed natural gas, bio-diesel or pure electric for the city’s use, rather than focusing looking to one fuel type or new technology as a silver bullet solution. What it ultimately comes down to, he said, is saving money for the city’s taxpayers, which could additional benefits down the road.
“I don’t look at taxpayer money as a dollar sign,” O’Daniels said. “I look at it as an increase in positive services and employment. When we start employing more people we are sustaining our community while not getting into the taxpayers’ pocket because we’re saving so much money. When we save money and instill pride into our community by becoming more self-sustaining, then people will take note and that will draw businesses and more people because it shows we’re taking care of our own.”