News Section: Opinion
AMI's Green Village is a Model Worth Emulating
If you want to be a serious student of conservation, you'd better have a strong stomach. Every subject you take on is likely to keep you up at night – declining fossil fuels, precious metals and water reserves, climate change, food insecurity, etc. That's why it's so incredibly refreshing to visit the Historic Green Village on Anna Maria Island, where one ambitious couple have created a living, breathing model of the infrastructure required to operate our society in a way that will be sustainable for generations to come, while demonstrating to skeptics the immense potential of existing technology.
Lizzie and Mike Thrasher are entrepreneurs from Great Britain who made their fortune in a highly-successful organic baby food company across the pond. When they sold their operation and began looking for a place to invest their money and time, the City of Anna Maria proved a perfect fit. But rather than spend their days lazing in the sun and surf, the visionary couple set their sites on something a bit more noble: saving the world – or at least helping to develop a model in which it can remain inhabitable for future generations.
|Lizzie and Mike Thrasher|
The Thrashers purchased four adjacent lots on historic Pine Ave. and in 2005 set about building what Lizzie called a showcase for the way historic buildings could be reused, rather than torn down to make way for new construction. Undaunted by the considerable bureaucratic challenges of saving old buildings in a foreign culture that instead incentivized their destruction, the Thrashers rehabilitated two dilapidated buildings on the property, both of which were nearly 100 years old and on their last legs.
They relocated two more historic island buildings to the property, including the famous Angler's Lodge, once known as Thelma by the Sea. The unique act of preservation was ambitious enough, but the Thrashers went one step further, deciding to not only retrofit the buildings in an eco-friendly manner, but to do so by LEED Platinum standards and achieve a net zero energy footprint, meaning they would produce as much energy on the site as they consumed.
That would be an enormous challenge, were the four properties to remain residential, but with commercial applications, including an energy-hungry cafe, there would seem little practicality in such ambitions. However, it seemed to be the very scope of their goals that helped to bring them to fruition.
It's easy to say you want to reduce your footprint, to use popular ecological parlance, perhaps by making sure that all of your plastic water bottles end up in the recycle bin on trash day. But when you look closer and see that even a hundred bottles in the bin doesn't off-set the true impact of bottling, transporting and consuming even one bottle in the first place, it becomes clear that the real answer is in replacing commercial bottled water with a reusable bottle and your filtered tap.
|The Angler's Lodge today|
The Thrashers have taken this sort of approach with every aspect of their endeavor, because it was the only way to be green, rather than just pay token homage to the concept, or greenwashing as it is often called by environmentalists. By setting tough standards and selecting equally-committed tenants, they've demonstrated how much can be accomplished when one doesn't give themselves a margin for failure.
The village has some 400 solar panels generating about 100 kw, or $14,000 in electricity, every year. The properties showcase some of the newest and most cutting edge environmental technologies from soy-based insulation that completely seals and insulates attics, keeping them at the same temperatures as the rooms, to the geothermal magic of a 450-foot well that can pull water at 80 degrees, to cool AC units whose heat pumps have to do much less work than if they were operating at a 94-degree outside temp – increasing efficiency of cooling by 30-50 percent.
The 50-plus inches of annual rainwater are also put to work. Rain that would otherwise drip from the roof and contribute to runoff is instead trapped in a collection system and used to flush the high-efficiency toilets, reducing interior water use by 90 percent. Meanwhile, rain that falls onto the property's lots is collected in underground pipes and recycled onto the native vegetation that adorns the grounds. There is even an EV charging station where their electic car can sometimes be seen juicing up.
The buildings all make splendid use of natural light, while high-efficiency LED light fixtures do the rest of the work, resulting in an energy footprint for lighting the structures that is nearly non-existent. 24 monitors on 200 circuits have helped identify all sorts of other areas where efficiency can be improved, and the struggle to achieve added thriftiness is indeed endless. As interest in the village continues to grow, the Thrashers have added a 5th building and are in the process of upping the solar energy output to regain net zero energy use. They've got a plan to add 20 more kw, but have run into a difficult time with permitting, which isn't as friendly to moving toward sustainable practices as one might imagine.
Fellow island resident and sustainability expert Tom Stockebrand has been a big help in identifying and implementing strategies to assist the Thrashers in their ambitious goals. Stockebrand, 82, is nothing less than a pioneer in sustainable energy practices. A 1953 graduate of Caltech's mechanical engineering program, Stockebrand spent much of his life with Digital Equipment Corporation (which later became part of Compaq and then Hewlett-Packard), but was always tinkering with solar energy and ways to passively heat and cool interiors.
Stockebrand explains that the name of the game is to collect free, clean energy when it is available and then store it for when it can be used. The better you get at it, the cheaper it gets and more people will use it. Stockebrand is delighted to have seen solar energy fall from about $25 per watt to a net cost of about $2 per watt in his lifetime, especially since he recognizes that there is so much more potential left to exploit, especially as the cost of traditional electricity continues to climb at about 3 percent per year, while solar continues to fall.
When you consider that solar electricity utilizes 100 percent of the energy collected, while fossil-fuel plants lose around 2/3 of their energy to escaped heat and pollutants, you start to see the expansion of solar as a "no-brainer," says Stockebrand, who explains that we need to think of it not in terms of of replacement, but rather preserving remaining fossil fuels for the things that they are most needed for, like heavy transportation, air travel, etc.
Continuing to advance the technologies requires the sort of showcases that the Historic Green Village provide and for that, we all owe people like the Thrashers a debt of gratitude. Recently, WEDU, a Tampa PBS affiliate, produced a captivating documentary detailing the couple's incredible story so that more people can get wind of what they're doing. It debuts April 24 at 9 p.m. If you want to see for yourself, get out to the island, stop in Relish Cafe for a tasty meal, or even an espresso that utilizes hot water fueled by the Florida sun. You can get a good look at how – with any luck – our future world might look.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.
Anna Maria Island Historic Green Village Welcomes New Addition
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