Wednesday was Earth Day, but as businesses, schools, governmental entities and homeowners increasingly look for ways to save money and natural resources through practices that protect the environment, going “green” has become a year-round endeavor.

Wednesday was Earth Day, but as businesses, schools, governmental entities and homeowners increasingly look for ways to save money and natural resources through practices that protect the environment, going “green” has become a year-round endeavor.

Here are three local success stories.

Ground power

PETERSBURG — A geothermal heating and cooling system installed last year at PORTA High School already is saving the district in energy costs.

School Superintendent Matt Brue said the district so far has spent only about $86,000 of the $200,000 budgeted this year for electricity at the high school.

“I’m expecting that we’ll cut our electricity (costs) in half, just with the geothermal,” said Brue.

The new heating and cooling system is part of a $7.6 million school-improvement project that includes a 600-kilowatt wind generator that’s expected to be erected in June behind the high school.

Brue said he and the school board embarked on the project because “it made sense to find ways to replace existing equipment that was old and inefficient with newer technology that’s energy-efficient and green.”

“We felt we needed to be more proactive about our energy use, or creation of energy, and take control of our future as best as we could,” he said, noting that the endeavor also will serve as an educational tool in math, science and technology courses.

Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat stored in the earth or groundwater into a building during the winter and transfer it out of the building and back into the ground during the summer. The ground “acts as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy Web site.

Board members chose geothermal over the traditional natural gas/electric heating and cooling system because it’s efficient as well as “easily sustainable.”

“While it’s more costly for us to put in, over time it’s going to pay dividends,” Brue said.

The board sold bonds to finance the project, intending to have it paid off in about 14 years, Brue said.

Once the wind turbine — which is being built abroad — is up, it will provide power to both the high school and nearby PORTA Central School, which houses third through sixth grades.

Brue expects the geothermal system and wind generator ultimately to save the district $375,000 in annual energy costs, based on current energy prices.

“This was definitely the right step to take,” Brue said. “Our board is behind it 100 percent and really proud that we’re doing this.”

— Ann Gorman

Hybrid-drivin’ nuns

Eight years ago, the Dominican sisters of Springfield went “green” with their transportation.

They began driving hybrid cars powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity.

Although hybrid cars’ sticker prices tend to be higher, the investment is in keeping with the nuns’ desire to be good environmental stewards and to “live our values,” according to Sister Karen Freund.

Said Sister Phyllis Schenk of the hybrids: “They are more environmentally friendly and get better gas mileage. Because they use less gas, there are fewer emissions into the air.”

Instead of relying solely on a gasoline internal combustion engine, a hybrid uses both a gasoline engine and an electric motor.

Schenk and Freund share a Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric mid-size car that first went on sale in Japan in 1997 and was introduced worldwide in 2001.

The hybrid driven by Schenk and Freund averages 48 to 50 miles per gallon.

“Fifty-seven miles to the gallon was the highest gas mileage we’ve had,” Schenk said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks the Prius as among the cleanest-running vehicles sold in the United States.

Family, friends and even strangers have asked the Dominican sisters, “How do you like your hybrid?” they say.

Schenk and Freund respond that they are pleased with the decision to move to hybrid vehicles and see it as helping preserve God’s resources and providing for a healthier environment.

“If we take good care of the environment, we are also taking good care of ourselves,” Freund said.

— Debra Landis

Green at the top

At the University of Illinois at Springfield, campus officials anticipate that “green” efforts will help extend the life of the Founders Hall roof.

Founders Hall, a $16.8 million on-campus residence for freshmen, opened in August. One of the unusual features of the building is a layer of plant life on the roof. The plants should lower energy costs somewhat and also extend the life of the roof, said Dave Barrows, associate chancellor of administrative affairs at UIS.

“If a standard membrane roof is suppose to last 20 years, hopefully this will extend it another five or 10 years,” Barrows said.

Some green roofs include one to two feet of dirt for plant material, which acts as insulation, but the system at UIS is different.

Founders Hall already has sufficient insulation, so the main purpose of the plants is to protect the underlying roof from ultraviolet rays.

The plants are in 2-by-3-foot pallets about three to four inches deep that contain a growing medium. The plant material is designed to grow to about four to six inches.

When it was installed, the plants were often watered.

“That was the hottest time of the summer,” Barrows said. He said he had hoped that the plants would make it through the winter, and he was pleased to see some green Tuesday when he went up on the roof.

“We are really in a wait-and-see mode to see how much manpower it takes to maintain the roof,” Barrows said.

— John Reynolds

State Journal-Register