| Feb 02, 2006


Feature Article - February 2, 2006

Feature Article

February 2, 2006

Steve Lapp: fighting global warming one light bulb at a time

by Jeff Green

The South Frontenac Natural Environment Action Committee chose Steve Lapp, a Sydenham-based alternative technology consultant who has taken on an exciting role at St. Lawrence College, as the first speaker in a series of nature seminars the group is planning.

Planning events in January is always risky, and organizers couldn’t also have expected that Sydenham would be shrouded in thick fog, but an overflow crowd of about 60 people came out to the township office to hear Steve Lapp’s presentation.

Although the seminar was titled Alternative Energy: Why should we care and what should we do?, Steve Lapp emphasized energy conservation as much as new technology as a practical way for people to limit the amount of emissions they are responsible for in their daily lives - and save money at the same time.

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First, he went quickly over the mounting evidence that green house gas emissions are having an impact on the temperature of the planet, bringing the matter home by pointing out that Sydenham Lake has open water this winter for the first time in memory.

Steve Lapp takes a global perspective on the warming of the planet. “Global warming has the potential to cause more human suffering than any event in human history,” he said. “But there is good news, because dramatic reversals in carbon dioxide emissions, the primary greenhouse gas, are possible. Europeans use 1/3 of the fuel that we use. They do it by driving smaller cars, using less water, and by having governments that have built conservation into their economic policies.”

Electricity and fuel costs are much higher in Europe than they are in North America, and this makes a huge difference in the kinds of choices people make, according to Steve Lapp, who spent much of the evening talking about the financial realities people face in their day-to-day lives.

Ongoing and accelerating increases in the price of electricity and oil in North America have changed the cost of living for everyone, and this has made it in people’s short term financial interests to act as environmentally sensitive consumers.

One of the simple examples he cited are light bulbs. Although it costs more to purchase compact fluorescent bulbs than incandescent bulbs, cost savings brought about by the energy efficiency of compact fluorescents are large. “Compact fluorescents save money and reduce the demand for electricity,” said Lapp, “but I notice that the lights in this hall are all incandescent. Maybe Council will consider changing to compact fluorescents to save taxpayers money.”

He also talked about the Energuide program, which provides for an energy audit of residences for a nominal fee of $150, and rebates for renovations which result in a more energy efficient home.

In the interest of limiting domestic electricity use, Steve Lapp showed a measuring instrument that can be used to determine exactly how much energy any given electrical appliance uses, from chest freezers to home computers to light fixtures. The measuring instruments go by the trade name of “Kill-a-Watt” and are available at retailers in Kingston.

Steve Lapp is known for his expertise in alternative energy, and has worked as a consultant for solar and wind power projects for 20 years through his company, Lapp Renewables. His own home has become a demonstration site for the developing alternative energy technology. Throughout Monday night’s presentation, members of the audience peppered him with questions about a variety of topics, from hybrid cars (which he said are starting to be competitive in terms of long term cost with equivalent gasoline operated vehicles), to home wind power turbines.

His enthusiasm for all forms of energy conservation and renewable energy production is infectious, but Lapp keeps his eye clearly on the investment costs people face when they choose alternative energy in their lives, and on how long it will take to recover those costs through energy savings.

Last September, Steve Lapp took a job at St. Lawrence College as the coordinator of a new program in Energy Systems Engineering Technology. As part of the program, two old portables at St. Lawrence College have been turned into Energy House, a demonstration site for renewable technologies.

This new role has put his consulting business on hiatus, but will produce, over years, scores of trained technicians who will be able to put renewable energy applications into practice.

Judging from the interest in alternative and conservation technology that was expressed in Sydenham this week, these people will have very busy careers once they graduate from St. Lawrence.

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