Joy Wallace Dickinson and Susan Windmiller
Today’s Hot Topics was a classic League of Women Voters event: It was all about educating League members and the public on vital issues. Given that it took place on a sizzling day that was expected to be Orlando’s hottest this year—a day that also saw a rare national “excessive heat warning”—it was as if Mother Nature herself was agreeing that this was an important and necessary conversation.
As moderator George Waldenberger noted in kicking off the program, it’s an especially vital conversation because it “affects us all.”
Waldenberger, a veteran meteorologist with WFTV-Channel 9, posed a series of detailed questions to panelists Ashley P. Van Stone, City of Orlando Sustainability Manager; Philip Fairey of the Florida Solar Energy Center; Lisa Pearcy, CEO of the company 15 lightyears; and architect Philip Donovan of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, who designed Florida’s first zero-energy school, in Osceola County (see more on the panel below).
Questions for the panel began with noting that “buildings account for 75 percent of electricity generated and 40 percent of emissions” and dove deep into a complex subject that ranged across both commercial and residential buildings. Topics ranged from the use of software simulations to energy tax credits to energy-rating indexes, and plenty more.
The panelists seemed to agree about the importance of education and advocacy—education for homeowners, renters, builders, and even school-age children, to begin awareness at a young age, and advocacy to elect candidates who support zero-energy policies.
At one point, Philip Fairey emphasized the importance of energy efficiency. We need to make sure that our buildings are as efficient as possible in every way and then work on using renewable energy, he noted. Efficiency can involve windows (keeping out heat), efficient air conditioning, or LED lighting that provides lots of light but much uses less energy than older lighting methods.
Philip Donovan stressed that, while design is incredibly important, it’s also important to monitor how buildings are used—especially listening to people who use a building. It’s not enough to design and build high-performance buildings, he said, but to make sure that they remain so over the long term.
In a “lightning round” of quick responses, panelists were asked to offer key takeaways from the conversation, including how can League members help.
Ashley Van Stone stressed the importance of increasing educational events such as today’s program, as well as voting for leaders who support energy efficiency and zero-energy buildings. Philip Donovan looked to the future and the importance of fostering empathy for future generations. “We are all connected,” he said. Lisa Pearcy urged the value of listening, learning, and getting curious, and (as noted above), Philip Fairy stressed a focus first on energy efficiency, and then adding renewable energy as much as possible.
The panel advised attendees to request a free Home Energy Audit from our utility companies. It’s a great place to start.
As LWVOC Vice President Lee Rambeau Kemp noted in introducing the program, a new “space race” has begun—except instead of going to the stars, it’s a race to reimagine Earth’s spaces, the infrastructure where we all live, work, and play.
Thanks to the Hot Topics Committee and Energy Subcommittee and to Mary Dipboye, who chairs the Energy Subcommittee and who organized today’s panel.