Category Archives: Community

Energy Masters Program energizes Arlington County

An Energy Masters Program volunteer caulks a window to prevent drafts and keep moisture from rotting the wood around the window.

An Energy Masters Program volunteer caulks a window to prevent drafts and keep moisture from rotting the wood around the window.

Volunteers in Arlington County and Alexandria are making a difference — one light bulb and toilet tank at a time. With more than 6,000 hours of volunteer service, these masters of energy efficiency are helping low-income families make their homes more comfortable while reducing their water and energy bills.

The Energy Masters Program, funded by the Arlington County Community Development Fund, has made strides in improving energy efficiency for residents living in affordable housing units in Arlington County neighborhoods. The program is a collaboration between the Virginia Cooperative Extension Arlington County Office and two county nonprofit organizations — Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and Arlington Thrive.

“Training teams of volunteers to go into low-income apartments and do energy- and water-saving improvements helps lower the utility bills of both the residents and the property owners, ultimately improving the environment by eliminating the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere,” said Jennifer Abel, family and consumer sciences Extension agent in Arlington County. “Since starting the program in 2011, we’ve trained 152 volunteers, and we’ve made improvements in 591 apartments.”

The impetus for the program was a phone call to Abel from a board member of Arlington Thrive — a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to low-income residents who are struggling to pay their rent or utility bills — regarding the costly utility bills of those living in affordable housing units. Arlington Thrive collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment on applying for a grant to fund the energy efficiency improvement program.

Some of the improvements include:

  • Sealing gaps and holes around windows and door frames.
  • Inserting foam gaskets behind light switch plates and outlet covers to prevent air leakage.
  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.
  • Installing low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads.
  • Mounting a Toilet Tummy in toilet tanks, which reduces the amount of water used.
  • Cleaning the coils under refrigerators to help improve cooling efficiency.

“The sense that I get from the volunteers is that they see the real, tangible results of the work they’re doing,” Abel said. “After they see this huge gap in a wall and seal it up, they can immediately feel that they’ve stopped the air leakage that was occurring and therefore have improved the overall comfort of the residents in their homes. That’s definitely the most exciting thing, and that’s what keeps the volunteers coming back.”

Energy Masters Program volunteer Guillermo Ortiz got involved with the program and immediately recognized its value to the community.

“In addition to the educational aspects, improving energy efficiency in low-income communities was something that really piqued my interest and prompted my involvement,” Ortiz said. “The Energy Masters Program offered me the opportunity to pair my interests in climate change, energy efficiency, and civic engagement, while allowing me to make a difference in historically underserved communities.”

In addition to the retrofits in the apartments, the program now includes one-on-one home visits with residents and more education on steps they can take to improve their energy efficiency. Many of the volunteers also provide education in local elementary, middle, and high schools to teach students about energy efficiency and the importance of energy conservation.

The program expanded to Alexandria in 2016 with support from a grant from the city. Volunteer teams conducted retrofits in 38 Alexandria apartments and are looking forward to doing many more. “Hopefully this program can expand to other parts of the state and ideally to other parts of the country as well,” Abel said.

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International policy starts in Blacksburg

Jason Grant, director of the  Center for Agricultural Trade

Jason Grant, director of the
Center for Agricultural Trade

The new Center for Agricultural Trade at Virginia Tech is paying big dividends for the commonwealth and the nation.

Recently the center found itself in the midst of the highly contested international trade relations negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The topic? The heavily protected global dairy market.

The center relentlessly produced up-to-the-minute export models during the negotiations, which were under discussion until the eleventh hour. The models provided clear-cut export scenarios that put the realities of trade tariffs into sharper focus. The International Trade Commission and the Office of the Chief Economist — a political body that reports directly to the president of the United States — used the models.

Part think tank, part classroom, and part idea incubator, the center’s mission is to become the leader in creation and dissemination of information on agricultural policy for legislators, educators, and industry leaders.

“With our proximity to Washington, D.C., and our port in Hampton, Virginia, we are perfectly situated to function as a practical resource for policymakers,” said Jason Grant, center director and associate professor of agricultural and applied economics.

Participating in the TPP talks is just one example of the many ways the center plays a key role in shaping national agricultural policy.

During the TPP negotiations that were held in Atlanta last year, Grant and his team provided key modeling information regarding the tightly regulated markets in the global dairy sector that paid off big time.

The concrete gains and losses laid out in black and white allowed the U.S. to solidify a huge win for negotiations around dairy exports and resulted in gaining access to lucrative markets in previously out-of-reach countries like Japan and Canada.

Now U.S. producers enjoy a duty-free quota in Japanese markets and have acquired access to tightly held Canadian markets. Items that run the gamut from cheeses and butter to milk powder and heavy cream are part of the product landscape that Japanese and Canadian consumers will enjoy thanks to Grant and his team.

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