Eco Crusaders


Like organic produce and hydrogen fuel cells, environmentalists come in all shapes and sizes. These four green advocates work in different ways but they share a single goal: taking care of the planet.



 

Bob Stonerock
Bob Stonerock stands in a neighbor’s yard to show off his solar ‘Tower of Power’

Power Ranger

Bob Stonerock lives off the grid, running his manse with solar energy.

Renewable energy advocate Dr. Bob Stonerock lives in a home that would appear to have a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint, and he makes no apologies for living large, either. He has a stack of monthly electric company statements and a notepad full of daily meter readings to prove he’s a good soldier in the fight against global warming.

To wit: he hasn’t paid an electric bill since last September, when the Orlando Utilities Commission charged him $69 to cool and power the 6,900-square-foot Lancaster Park home he shares with his wife, Marty. On a sunny, cool day in early March, Stonerock proudly points to an electric meter alongside the garage. Its digital display flashes an arrow pointing backward, meaning that at this very moment more power is going out from his home than is coming into it. OUC actually owed him $630 at the end of February, for electricity his “Tower of Power” solar energy system provided.

The “tower” is a 33-by-33-foot square panel of photovoltaic modules, rising at an angle from 11 feet to 24 feet off the ground. It faces south, absorbing sunlight as the sun crosses the sky.

In 1996, Stonerock became the first resident in the city proper to harness solar energy as electricity for home use, installing a rooftop system that provided an eighth of his home’s electrical demand of about 2,400 kilowatt hours per month on average. (The average residential consumer in Florida uses about half that, according to the Florida Energy Office.) In early 2002, he doubled the number of photovoltaic panels on his roof, increasing the solar-energy output to meet a quarter of his home’s electrical demand. Finally, last year, he went all out and had the tower built, increasing his solar energy output to 20.8 kilowatts, four times the performance of most residential solar power systems in Florida. Jennifer Szaro, OUC’s renewable energy projects engineer, says Stonerock’s power system produces 83 kilowatts on sunny days. On cloudy days and at night, the Stonerock home taps into the electric grid and draws on the surplus energy the solar panels sent into it earlier.

“I’ve been a renewable energy aficionado for decades,” says Stonerock, 61, a semi-retired nephrologist who has lived in Orlando’s “Pill Hill” neighborhood for 45 years. “I was just intrigued by the alchemy of solar energy.”

So intrigued that he spent about $170,000, more than three times the going rate, on his solar power system. It’s an elaborate layout of photovoltaic (PV) modules, encased wiring and power-inverter boxes that constantly hum with the sound of clean energy.

To be sure, it’s the Hummer of PV power, possibly the biggest residential solar power system in the Sunshine State. (The state doesn’t record the size of residential PV systems beyond 5 kilowatts per hour, at which point they qualify for the maximum $20,000 rebate.)

Bob Reedy of UCF’s Solar Energy Center predicts that by 2012 “every home [in Florida] will be built covered with PV” because the production of photovoltaic cells has increased exponentially, creating demand and driving down prices. He points to PV manufacturer Advanced Solar Photonics’ recent opening of a plant in Lake Mary as evidence of a growing movement toward solar energy.

Stonerock has no complaints about paying a premium for being a solar-energy pioneer in Orlando. He says he wanted to show people that alternative and clean sources for energy will work.

“This is a demonstration of my concern about the global climate change and sea-level rising,” he says of his solar-powered home. “I try to live by example.” —Mike Boslet

 

Beth Hollenbeck
Beth Hollenbeck works to make Central Florida’s waters safe for wildlife

 

Captain Clean-Up

ECO-Action’s Beth Hollenbeck helps to clear our waterways of debris.

Before she co-founded ECO-Action in 1993, Beth Hollenbeck was a corporate exec on the fast track.

But somewhere along the line her attention turned from banking to the biosphere. And now, as executive director of the local green-initiative organization, she spends a lot of her time working on Canoe Clean-Up, an ECO-Action (eco-action.net) effort to tidy up Central Florida’s waterways.

A native of Poughkeepsie, New York, Hollenbeck has lived in Central Florida since 1982 and used to own The ECO-Store, the fondly remembered eco-friendly products shop that was located in College Park. On Sundays for the past 12 years, she and a group of volunteers in canoes have been “cleaning up solid waste, hazardous waste and treacherous debris along the shorelines with the goal of protecting wildlife,” says the Winter Springs resident, speaking in the sort of authoritative tones and precise cadences that are perhaps a legacy of her days in the business world.

What set Hollenbeck on her eco-crusade was what she calls “outrage” at how people are manipulated by “big business.” It wasn’t long before she began focusing on environmental efforts like Canoe Clean-Up—a program that offers rewards for its participants that go far beyond the financial kind.

“There are times when we have actually encountered an animal in distress and been able to . . . have them fly or swim away,” she says. “All the volunteers are weeping and hugging. It’s a wonderful feeling.” —Jay Boyar

 

Julie Norris
Julie Norris and her Dandelion Café are standard-bearers for sustainability

Grassroots  Goddess

Earth mother Julie Norris plants the seeds for responsible living in Orlando. 

Julie Norris hadn’t heard of “organic” when, as a college student, she bit into one of the most delicious pieces of fruit she had ever tasted.

“I grew up eating TV dinners and Little Debbies,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why this [banana] tasted so good.”

Norris, 30, began educating herself about organic farming and its advantages over conventional farming, and that inquiry led her to the environmental movement. With a business degree from the University of Central Florida and an advanced case of environmental zeal, Norris opened the Dandelion Communitea Café in 2006, serving vegetarian meals under a nearly carbon-neutral, waste-free roof. The success of the literally green (chartreuse, more specifically) restaurant on Thornton Avenue helped sprout an entire row of eco-friendly businesses, including a garden co-op, green day spa and yoga center. Norris is a den mother to budding environmentalists, and her café serves as a watering hole for grassroots organizations dedicated to making Orlando greener.

Norris’ thinking has evolved over the years. These days, she and her peers are trying to persuade Orlandoans to learn to live sustainably by, among other things, consuming locally grown produce. She likes to remind us that there were times when we were less wasteful. It was patriotic to not let anything go to waste during the Great Depression, and people grew Victory Gardens during World War II.

The best place to save the world,” she says, “is in your own backyard.” —Shelley Preston

 

 Alexandre Bunker
At 19, Alex Bunker is a seasoned conservationist

 

Youth Movement

Alexandra Bunker began eco-activism at age 12.

When she was in fifth grade, Alexandra Bunker became entranced with Florida’s natural environment. A recent arrival to the state, she frequently visited Wekiva Springs State Park, which wasn’t far from her family’s Altamonte Springs home. So when Bunker learned that the Wekiva Basin was potentially threatened by future development of the Wekiva Parkway, she decided to speak out.

That was in 2001, when she was 12 years old.

She spoke at several meetings of the Wekiva Basin Area Task Force, which then-Governor Jeb Bush charged with identifying the best route for the parkway. She was among the environmentalists who supported protecting the sensitive lands surrounding the parkway.

The task force’s eventual recommendations were celebrated as a conservation victory. When Bush signed the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act into law, in 2004, he invited Bunker, who by then was 15, to speak.

Bunker continued her environmental activism through high school as president of Lake Brantley’s Environmental Club. She’s been a frequent participant in waterway cleanups, many organized by the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District, for which her mother served as executive director until 2006.  When an elected Conservation District board member resigned, in 2007, the board appointed Bunker to the open seat.

Bunker was a force in the board’s opposition to using the St. John’s River to supply drinking and irrigation water for Central Florida. She ran for her board seat unopposed in the November 2008 elections.

A 19-year-old Seminole Community College student, Bunker intends to pursue an environmental law degree.  She vows to continue working to protect the environment through her elected office and her other commitments, including the Keep Seminole Beautiful board and the Florida League of Women Voters’ Climate Change Committee.

Bunker hopes her example will inspire other young people to work for conservation.

“One of the reasons I’m involved is so that my generation—and myself—have a say.” —Lisa Levine

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