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Issue 591

06/07/2012 at 3:57pm

Green LivingGreen Island Living

They say no man is an island, but one Islander is leading by example. He has forged a way of living sustainably both at home and at work, and he has taken serious steps towards getting off the grid.

The term "green living” gets bandied about a lot these days. Indeed, each of us can do our part to help the greening initiative if we feel so inclined. For Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the concept of green living is "to live in such a way as to be very friendly to the environment and also to one's fellow neighbors on the planet, so that in the long term we are not doing harm to another person.”

"I grew up with a family of five sisters and two brothers in the country. There were a lot of us and we spent a lot of time in nature so we learned what it means to have respect for nature and each other,” said Hommerding.

Perhaps the fact that emphasis was placed on being outdoors helped foster his deep connection with the environment. "It is a challenge in today's society because we have so much emphasis on technology and also on the individual not recognizing our relationship to other people. There is something in terms of how we are living as a society that shows we are not supporting each other enough and it is evident by the failure of so many of our relationships,” he said.

In his own personal life, he tries to eat food with as few additives as possible. "I try to shop in such a way that I am not buying heavily packaged items that are contributing in the long term to the landfill.” For the past fifteen years he has been driving hybrid cars, but he has now taken that a step further. "Just recently I got an electric car, a Nissan Leaf, which is totally electric and uses no gas at all. It's fun! It's like a regular car; you can take it out on the freeway and go seventy miles an hour. It has the same pickup. The only thing you notice is that it is very quiet. It's like being in a golf cart—you don't hear anything inside the car. Plus the monitor tells you how efficient the drive is. It tells you how many kilowatts are being consumed.”

He plugs the car in right at home. "One of the requirements when you purchase a Leaf is that you must have a docking station installed in your home. There are very few docking stations currently. There are many more in other states like California that have made a commitment to going green for a decade or more and consequently their economy is geared towards that. We are just beginning to take steps in that direction.” He sees this as a logical direction for communities to be moving towards. "The price of gas is not going to go down, plus, as we have more people and as they become more sensitive towards a friendly environment, people start to think ‘how can we live so that we're not doing harm.'”

No need to buy gas, it's quiet and the electric car has zero emissions! What is the down side? Hommerding explains, "The initial cost is more expensive. It's an investment and you have to make a commitment to it. Right away it would cost ten thousand dollars more.” There are some government based initiatives that may serve as an incentive for people interested in moving towards an electric car.” For current information about Florida rebates and incentives, contact the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles at dmv@hsmv.state.fl.us or (850) 922-9000.

The other down side is that an electric car may not be able to be your only vehicle if you drive long distances because it can only go one hundred miles on a full charge.

Love it or hate it, our island gets congested and many times we find ourselves just sitting in traffic. This idle time is an advantage with an electric car. "While you are sitting in traffic, it actually charges your battery!” said Hommerding.

When he gets home in the evening he simply plugs it into his docking station. So he must have an exorbitant electric bill, right? "I don't because I've had solar panels installed in my home, so all of the electricity that I use I generate by the panels.” He explained that FPL has a bi-directional meter. "When you are consuming electricity it's coming from the grid, but when you are generating electricity from the solar panels it ends up putting that electricity back into the grid. At the end of the month FPL subtracts the number of KW used from what you produced and earned, and I always have a surplus. At the end of the year, they pay you two or three cents per KW. So for me the electric car is a total bonus. It's not costing me anything extra.”

If you are interested in learning more about installing solar panels in your home, Dr. Hommerding has some advice. "I would firstly advise someone to go the Florida Solar Association. They have some really good information.” He also suggested looking at FPLsolarrebates.com to find out when the next cut off is for being able to apply for a rebate for a solar panel system. "I put my system in and in seven years I will have paid for the entire system. It is definitely an investment initially but it pays back in dividends.”

Dr. Hommerding, who is the Library Director at the Beach Library, is committed to the environment in his professional life as well. Dr. Hommerding and the Library Board have spent ten years planning greening initiatives for the new library. First, there is a massive ten thousand gallon rainwater collection system that has been installed in the back of the property. That water will be used for irrigation and for flushing toilets. "That means there is no runoff! We also put in a paver system (in the parking lot) that allows the water to run in between the pavers. From there it seeps down where there is a layer of stone which filters the water and allows it to gradually sift out into the bay on its own,” he explained. "We've also sloped the property so that if it rains rapidly, the water runs into the corner of the property into a grass swale and goes through a filter and eventually into a reservoir unit. If we get two inches, one reservoir unit is enough, but as we get more we have a second reservoir, and in the event we get six inches or more we have a third reservoir. Then eventually the water seeps out each day and returns to the bay filtered.”

All of the irrigation is done as a drip system to decrease the waste of water through evaporation, and all of the landscaping is native and drought tolerant. They have also installed solar panels on the roof. "It's a real nice design, and if you look on the roof you'll see the darker panels and those are the solar panels.” The outside of the building is being painted with heat reflective paint so it provides energy savings by providing some insulation. "We've put in a chiller yard so it's actually cooling water at night. During the day, the air is always humidity controlled which is really important for a library with all of its books and resources.”

The library will also be equipped with waterless urinals with dual flush toilets. There are occupancy sensors in many areas so that lights won't come on unless someone walks in to that area. "We used a lot of LED lighting, which is not only friendly for the turtles, but it also means the bulbs don't generate heat and the bulbs themselves last ten years! Imagine for a library, how many hours we would take to change bulbs each week.”

Eighty percent of the waste is recycled from the library. Cardboard and plastic all goes that route. Regarding all of these initiatives, Hommerding said, "You don't just achieve this overnight. It is something you have to really work on. The planning required a really long term focus.”

It has taken a community of like-minded folks that value environmental as well as economic forethought to produce an environmentally and economically sound design embodied in the new library. "Luckily, on the board of directors we had three Master Gardeners, so we had people that were really aware of how we could develop what we are doing in a really environmentally and economically feasible way.”

"Libraries are only going to become busier places. We are expected to do more each year. The library of today is the living room for the community. It is so natural for libraries to do this,” Hommerding explains. "Libraries are the pioneers of sharing! That's our philosophy. We have a reciprocal relationship with FGCU so that our full time residents can present their library card to Florida Gulf Coast, and we will issue our cards to FGCU card holders. Long before organizations were going green, libraries were showing the way to shared resources. We have open access for unfettered information of all kinds, which is a keystone to a healthy democracy.”

The new expansion will open the end of the July, and the current space will undergo renovation with a prospective date of December for total completion.

While Dr. Hommerding has made green living a priority in his personal and professional life, he is not one to take credit as an individual. "I much prefer not having attention called to myself. To me, that is part of sharing. I would really like credit to go to the community for being so forward in supporting the direction we are moving and to the board who have put in a great deal of effort. Plus we've had so much support in the past ten years. We've had half a million dollars in donations which really indicates that people are putting themselves into this. And in a down economy that kind of support is even more moving.”

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." These words by Margaret Mead embody the spirit of our beach community. We have nothing if not thoughtful, committed citizens, and Dr. Leroy Hommerding is one example of such a citizen.

To view pictures of the weekly progress of the library construction including many of the greening initiatives, visit www.thenewbeachlibrary.com

Amanda Parke