Solar

Roxborough's Liz Robinson, left, celebrates the installation of solar panels on her Henry Avenue home. Alongside her is a Solar States technician.

As noted here many times, one of the pleasures for me, a naturalist working in Roxborough, is the unusually large number of environmental professionals who call Roxborough home: landscape architects and architects; planners and park employees; birders and more. We’ve profiled your naturally inclined neighbors many times here, and if you know one, please let me know.

So I was completely unsurprised to walk to a bus stop on the Ridge a little while back and bump into Liz Robinson, one of the most dedicated energy advocates working in Philadelphia in the past 30 years. Of course she would be standing at a bus stop on Ridge Avenue.

She told me – as she and I were engulfed by some 30 students waiting to take the bus to Roxborough High – she's been living in Roxborough for 30 years.

“I was living in West Philly,” she recounted, “and got married. We wanted a single-family home with a large yard, and I felt comfortable in Roxborough.” Her home has a “huge yard and lots of trees,” and even better, she’s only a block from the Wissahickon.

“We can enter the park on skis when it snows,” she said. And her husband used to golf at Walnut Lane, where they also go sledding.

She has the unique accomplishment of founding not one but two conservation agencies. Currently the executive director of the Philadelphia Solar Energy Association, she founded and led for 32 years the Energy Coordinating Agency, a nonprofit that she described as “providing energy conservation to low-income households.”

The agency solarized and weatherized thousands of home across Philadelphia – giving hundreds of people jobs in the energy sector – while also advocating for the city’s low-income residents to get access to heating and lighting their homes. On its website, the nonprofit says it has saved Philly families more than $250 million, weatherized 45,000 homes, and repaired or replaced 50,000 heating systems.

Through her work at ECA, where she came to be lobbying for statewide energy policies, she also founded the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance, a trade association of utilities and energy companies that advocates for energy efficiency at the state level.

The Philadelphia Solar Energy Association is best known for the Junior Solar Sprint, which she says is “the perfect way to introduce children – students – to solar energy.” The sprint, started by the Army, amazingly, asks students in grades five to eight to build and race solar-powered cars, and is sponsored by Drexel University. Teachers volunteers for the program, and locally at least Houston School in Mt. Airy participates.

While the Solar Sprint is a national competition, “we’re the only place in Pennsylvania running the program.” Drexel’s engineering students “are incredibly helpful – they run the race, keep score, run the trouble-shooting table. It’s great.”

In these politically charged days of climate change heating up, Liz “would encourage everyone to do as much as you can to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. Go solar, take public transportation, buy an electric car, get behind powerful policies to save energy.”

Speaking of Philadelphia, where Democrat Mayor Jim Kenney was just re-elected, “the city has good leadership (on this issue). But the state level is nowhere near where it needs to be. Nowhere. We need to push as hard as we can” in Harrisburg.

She’s heartened that, when we spoke, Gov. Tom Wolf had just taken executive action asking his Department of Environmental Protection to join a regional greenhouse gas initiative where every state from Maine to Virginia has committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Finally, she intimated. Because of fracking, “Pennsylvania is now the third largest fossil fuel exporter in the world,” she offered, “and we generate more carbon than all the other states in the initiative combined.”

States are given greenhouse gas thresholds to meet, needing to reduce greenhouse gases by 7% annually, and must hold auctions to purchase the ability to exceed that amount.

“This will generate $300 million a year for Pennsylvania,” she calculates. And it has a net benefit to the state: “Studies show jobs increase faster in states within the initiative. Energy efficiency and solar are both huge job creators, she notes, “and the worst job creators are fracking, coal and nuclear power, the more centralized ones.”

No surprise that she walked her talk by solarizing her own home. She actually owns a second home on her Roxborough street, solarized that one, and her home down the block enjoys the benefits of solar power as well. So it was a two-for-one deal.

Liz exhorts her Roxborough neighbors to jump into the energy conversation.

“A lot of people think policy is mysterious and difficult. It’s not! People need to get energized – join a group, send emails, get your church involved. Support clean energy in any way you can.”

The race to remove carbon from the economy is on, and will become the largest story of the next decade. But Liz Robinsion has been at the heart of this story for more than 30 years, and yet is just another of your many amazing Roxborough neighbors, any one of whom might be standing at a bus stop alongside you.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education-- which has its own solar panels alongside its parking lot-- tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

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