Groups challenge Islanders to make their homes ‘coal-free zones’

Bill Moyer, right, watches as Alison Shirk finds a piece of coal in her stocking. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Bill Moyer, right, watches as Alison Shirk finds a piece of coal in her stocking.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

The Backbone Campaign’s newest venture is to reduce Vashon’s dependence on coal, making the Island a “coal-free zone” by 2015.

Not everyone knows that 36 percent of Vashon’s electric power comes from coal-fired plants, said Backbone Campaign executive director Bill Moyer. As an Island, we’ve been “naughty” without even knowing it, he said — and one recent Saturday, he handed out coal-filled stockings to let Islanders know about their imperfect power consumption ways.

If Islanders could reduce their electricity-consumption by 36 percent, Moyer added, it would provide symbolic proof that Vashon doesn’t need coal to power its residences and businesses.

“Coal is the dirtiest source of power we have,” Moyer said. “It adds more greenhouse gases per kilowatt of electricity that it generates than any other source.”

The effort to become a “coal-free zone” is an idea original to the Backbone Campaign and Sustainable Vashon. Moyer and others hope Islanders will make the commitment to reduce their electricity consumption by 36 percent, through conservation or solar power generation. When a residence or business lowers its electricity consumption enough, Moyer will give its owner a sign designating the building a “Coal-Free Zone.”

Coal-fired power plants are huge polluters and contributors to global climate change, Moyer said.

“In Washington, 10 percent of our greenhouse gases come from one coal power plant in Centralia,” he said. “If any place in the country can do without coal, we can.”

Any reduction of power consumption is a good thing, said Janie Starr, a founder of Sustainable Vashon.

“I think if this campaign can get people energized to be more energy wise, that’s a really good thing for individuals and businesses, and also for our Island,” she said.

Moyer and Starr hope Vashon can be an example for other communities, demonstrating that electrical consumption can be reduced significantly and proving to utility companies that coal power plants should be a thing of the past.

“We’re using Vashon as a laboratory to create a template for what it means to have a coal-free zone, so other communities can benefit and copy that template,” Moyer said.

“Because Vashon Island is small and has a really high percentage of informed people, it makes us a great laboratory,” Starr added. “People could say, ‘Well, Vashon Island did it; we can do it, too.’”

Before Christmas, Moyer spent time near Thriftway, handing out small stockings filled with rock candy — or “coal” — and a tiny flier explaining how Islanders have been “naughty” by consuming electricity that is coal generated.

“When you don’t know you’re consuming coal, how can you be a steward of the community?” Moyer said. “So we’re out here trying to let people know.”

He said Islanders will get “the biggest bang for our buck” by conserving electricity, through energy-efficient appliances and home-weatherization projects that help them heat their houses more effectively.

One Island venture, WisEnergy, hopes to help Vashon residents reduce their consumption of electricity by weatherizing their homes, Moyer said.

The startup organization’s goal is to perform 200 weatherizations in each of the next few years, said WisEnergy board member Lynn Greiner, which would reduce Vashon’s demand for power significantly.

Weatherization includes thinks like caulking cracks and holes, insulating attics and floors and wrapping pipes and ducts, Greiner said.

“There’s a lot of old housing stock here that’s really inefficient, and with a few simple measures, people can tighten up their homes, save money and do the right thing for the environment,” she said.

How often, Starr said, “can you say you’re saving money and helping save the planet at the same time?”

If Vashon residents are committed to reducing their dependence on coal, and seek help weatherizing their homes, the demand for weatherizations will create more green jobs on Vashon — another added benefit of going “coal-free,” Moyer said.

He’s hoping his efforts to raise awareness of Vashon’s “naughty” power consumption will encourage Islanders to reduce electrical use.

“Unless people see that there’s a need, they won’t change their behavior,” he said.

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