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Motel 6 May Leave the Light on… but Tom Bodett thinks twice about it!

You just never know what you’ll find in these hills of Vermont! If you live in the southeastern corner of our state, you might find yourself in a town meeting, listening to Tom Bodett, who might be talking about his own Solar-powered life, or encouraging you to do likewise. We interviewed Tom, who is more than happy to share his sustainable lifestyle with all of you. Here are some questions we posed to him:

Motel 6 May Leave the Light on_GET Aug2011How long have you been solar powered? PV & Hot Water, too?

We went online with our 20.84kw array in mid-December. Even in that darkest of months it began producing more than we were using. We are planning to add solar hot water along with a pellet boiler system as the second phase of our energy project. It was too much to do all at once.

What made you decide to choose to go solar?

We’ve had our eye on it for some time, but not until the Federal and State tax rebates came into play did it make it feasible. With almost 40% of the actual system covered by these subsidies, the rate of return on our investment approaches 10%. That’s about as good as it gets. The Fed and State tax subsidies were a very smart thing for our government to do. It enabled people like us, who could afford the price of entry, to make the leap — and many more people are. The more of us who do, the cheaper it all gets, and the more of us can do it. Call it enlightened self-interest, I suppose.

Are you 100% solar powered? On or off grid? Do you meet all of your energy needs?

We are grid-tied and designed to produce about 25% more power than we use. We have a healthy credit with Green Mountain Power already. We have also taken other conservation measures around the house, primarily by installing CFLs and master kill switches on all of our electronics that will boost that equation somewhat. The cooler summer we’re having hasn’t hurt either as we’ve not been tempted to use our window-unit air conditioners in the bedrooms.

Motel 6 May Leave the Light on_GET Aug2011SO, you have a healthy credit with Green Mountain Power already. I’m impressed! Are you familiar with Group Net Metering?

Your excess credits can be shared with a friend, neighbor, relative – someone else…. Ben & Jerry did that, with solar in only one location.. You can read about it in our May 15, 2011 Issue of Green Energy Times, p.7.

Yes, I’m very aware of it. I am on the Dummerston Select board and Alex Wilson, who I’m sure you know, is on our Energy Committee. We share a vision of having some sort of community solar farm where people might buy-in. I’m also interested in the economics of it and finding ways to encourage investors to consider it as a safe and modestly profitable green energy investment.

Do you take any other sustainable measures in your life? ie: gardening, composting, fuel efficient vehicle – just your philosophy…

We have a great big energy sucking house on top of a hill with a professional recording studio, wood shop, tractor shed, and all the accoutrements of an all-American lifestyle. In other Motel 6 May Leave the Light on_GET Aug2011words, we’re pigs. So what do you do when your lifestyle flies in the face of your values? Throw money at it. It’s the American way. I’m almost serious when I say that. Although we have certainly taken additional conservation measures in terms of our energy usage, it is a small sliver of the resources we actually consume. Phase Two of our energy conservation will be to tear out the oil-fired boiler which heats our house and domestic water and replace it with an automated pellet boiler system. The pellets for these furnaces are made within thirty miles of here, so in terms of fossil fuel consumption, we should take our footprint from a size 13, to a 3. Car wise, we are a minivan and a Volvo – the official transportation of Vermont families. We owned a hybrid Highlander for two years and enjoyed it very much, although the actual fuel savings were somewhat nominal.

As far as philosophy goes, while conservation is a no-brainer and needs to be in any energy plan we have as a nation, the early adopters of alternative energy generation are going to be people like us who like their lifestyles, but want to maintain them more responsibly. Once people realize they can be responsible environmental citizens without giving up all their toys, this stuff will take permanent hold. The more of us who buy in, the more of us can buy in.

How about Motel 6: When they leave that light on for us – are they CFL’s or LED’s?

Motel 6 uses CFLs in all guest rooms and public spaces; LEDs are used for much of our signage.

What is Motel 6’s policy for sustainability? Are there any plans for solar or any renewable energy in the future or already existing?

Motel 6 strives to minimize our impact on the environment in all aspects of our operations. Here are a few examples:

  • Motel 6 recycles all its CFLs and batteries.
  • We have installed low-flow aerators on our faucets and shower heads to conserve water.
  • We use environmentally sensitive cleaning products for our daily cleaning and laundry.
  • At select locations, we use an energy monitoring system that senses when the room is unoccupied and sets the HVAC back to a pre-set energy-saving temperature setting.
  • We use energy-efficient heating and cooling units.
  • Motel 6 was the first economy hotel in the US to achieve LEED certification in 2010. The property features solar thermal panels, a salt-water pool and a heat recovery system for common areas.
  • Motel 6 is committed to sustainability, and we have committed to certify all 1,100 locations via the Green Key program, which ranks facilities based on their level of sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices, by the end of this year.
  • Lastly, we are testing solar at a few select locations (specifically solar panels to heat water) in Washington State and DFW. We are looking into testing more renewable energies later this year.

So there you have it – Not only is Tom Bodett an excellent example with his own journey towards sustainability, but I think Tom has had some influence with Motel 6, who is more than happy to leave their LED or CFL lights on for you!

GET Aug2011 page 1

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