Sunday, August 9, 2009

Portland, Green and Weird

Portland Oregon is an eco-friendly place. As Gregory Hancock of Grid Insight put it, "Portland is a progressive city of readers, bicyclists, roller derby fans, skeptics, car-haters, weirdos, hipster alt-conformists, ex-loggers, beer snobs, extreme endurance athletes, eco-nuts, and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of extremely talented engineers."

Despite being in a rainy corner of the country, Portland ranks among the highest in solar power production.
Want a 10'x20' storage unit for your old junk? In Portland, you can soon get a LEED certified, solar powered storage unit.

Sustainlane has labeled Portland the #1 Sustainable City for multiple years running. Popular Science agreed and named Portland the 2008 greenest city in the US. Among Portland's secrets are growth boundaries that restrain sprawl and smart planning to create walkable, bike friendly communities. It has light rail and street cars to get around in and a Solar powered trees illuminating one of the many stops. If walking, biking, or the train cannot get you there, the city has the highest per capita hybrid ownership of any place in the US. Here in Portland, AAA roadside service will even assist you on a bike.

Portlanders seem happy to be a little different. Breaking from the status quo, whether for organized zombie walks or city wide pillow fights is a way of life in stump town. A marching band with stilt-walkers, unicycles, fire eaters, puppets, flag twirlers, burlesque dancers, clown antics, and acrobatics or a donut shop with voodoo doll pastries pierced by pretzels and oozing raspberry filling are just a couple of the eclectic things you can find.

Finding ways to live life a little better is another detour from the ordinary. In Portland, you can attend a solar power convention in a convention center powered by solar. A Southeast neighborhood worked together create a solar thermal heater that heats all the homes on the block. It is part of the eco-block concept of sustainable urban planning. A gray water recycling bill is in the legislature and the city is adopting a community energy plan in Portland's North Pearl District.

You can drink a beer that is solar brewed (and it is good microbrew, I'll add). There is even a solar powered public toilet or the solar loo as it is referred to locally. The green creds continue at a gym where your spin class or treadmill miles generate electricity. The largest solar manufacturing plant in North America is in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro. You can see solar projects all over the city here.

You can even find a Portland company that recycles wind turbines (double green score). The city has dozens of electric vehicle charging stations in place and has plans to install over 500 of them around the city and another 500 around the state as they court Think, Nissan, Mitsubishi, BYD, & Better Place to the Portland market.

Free Geek is a Portland based non-profit that keeps technology equipment out of the landfill. Free Cycle was not a Portland start-up, but quick to latch on to good ideas, Portland soon became the most active free cycle city. Speaking of used items, Powell's "City of Books" is a musty must see with a 100kW PV system on the warehouse roof powering much of the building.

You can even find a K-8 school that emphasizes environmentalism.

Portland has plans to get CO2 emissions down to 1990 levels by the end of 2010. One milestone along that path was recently met. The city now has in excess of 5 megawatts of renewable energy scattered throughout the city.

This was not done by a new wind farm or giant solar power plant. Instead this is the collective capacity of 370 customers that have PV or small scale wind turbines. It’s enough to power more than 450 homes and offset 3,325 tons of carbon annually.

Solar installations have jumped in recent years and surplus energy is exported to the electrical grid, adding clean, renewable energy into the mix for everyone on the grid.

Let's hope that other cities can learn to be a little more weird and not be afraid to try something new.

Links:
Is Portland green enough for BYD?5 Great Green Ways US Cities Are Leading by Example

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