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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Rhode Island: Refuges Go Green for a Brighter Future

Shot of the visitor center
The Kettle Pond Visitor Center utilizes alternative energy sources, natural lighting and recycled materials. Photo: USFWS. Download.

In a state whose motto is “Hope,” Rhode Island national wildlife refuges are working toward a brighter future by conserving energy and reducing their carbon footprint through use of alternative energy sources, natural lighting and recycled materials.

The 14,000 square foot Kettle Pond Visitor Center building at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex recently installed a photovoltaic system on the roof to harness clean energy from the sun. This solar power system is projected to produce about 37,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year—about 25 percent of the center’s annual power use.

“Using energy from the sun is one of the many steps being taken on the national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island to conserve and reduce our use of energy from traditional sources of fossil fuel,” said Janis Nepshinsky, visitor services manager for the Refuge Complex.

The center also gets energy from the earth through a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the earth’s constant underground temperature to heat and cool the building. These systems are among the most efficient heating and cooling technologies available, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The visitor center
A solar array at the Sachuest Point Visitor Center not only provides 50 percent of the center’s power needs, but saves enough money in energy costs to allow the building to remain open year round. Photo: USFWS. Download.

The Kettle Pond facility is not alone in its quest for energy efficiency. As part of its climate change strategy, the Service has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, reflecting the broad understanding that the use of fossil fuels --- including in the production of electricity --- is a major contributor to climate change. The Service defines carbon neutral as “achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount that is sequestered or offset.”

The Service is reducing its carbon footprint by cutting usage during peak hours, where possible; switching to alternative fuels; and installing ENERGY STAR® appliances, among other moves. Service employees are driving more alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and using more biodiesel fuels. At least 2.5 percent of the Service’s electricity use comes from renewable energy sources; that number is expected to climb dramatically over the next several months, as projects funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 are completed.

Other Rhode Island refuges have followed suit. The Sachuest Point NWR Visitor Center in Middletown, Rhode Island, uses a solar array that not only provides 50 percent of the center’s power needs, but saves enough money in energy costs to allow the building to remain open year round. Shingles on the roof made from recycled rubber, along with motion sensors and efficient lighting, also help curb energy consumption and costs.

The lodge at the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge has been “off the grid” for years, having been powered by a solar array since 1990. 

The visitor center sign
The Kettle Pond Visitor Center serves as the headquarters for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Rhode Island. Photo: USFWS.

The Rhode Island refuges have added solar-powered hot water heaters, solar-powered air heaters, and building insulation, and have reduced their vehicle fleet in an effort to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. They also recycle, turn off unneeded lights and computers, and purchase “green” products.

“By simply changing our 120-watt visitor center floodlights to compact fluorescent bulbs, which only use 23 watts, we project being able to reduce our energy use for lighting in the visitor center by 80 percent,” Nepshinsky says.

Refuge employees showcase these efforts to visitors, she says, in an attempt to get them to adopt a similar mindset.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to show visitors, especially students, how the refuges are conserving energy and using green energy,” says Nepshinsky. “Students learn about climate change and reducing use of fossil fuels and then see the solar panels on the roof or in an array when they walk the refuge trails. It really makes an impact in promoting the importance of using alternative energy sources.” 

Teaching others about climate change is just one of many ways in which individuals can contribute to their own environments. Small actions can make a big difference when it comes to reducing energy consumption. Tasks such as planting native trees and shrubs, recycling paper, plastics, and glass, using energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, walking or biking instead of driving, and programming thermostats can also help mitigate the effects of climate change.


Climate Change Focus: Mitigation

Author: Frank Wolff

Contacts: Janis Nepshinsky, USFWS, 401-364-9124, Janis_Nepshinsky@fws.gov

Related Websites:

Great article Frank, thank you. I love that these refuges in RI are using both the combination of geothermal and solar. This should be the standard for all of our national and state parks and gaming facilities. I talk about topics like this at www.facebook.com/geothermalguy and will be reposting this article there. I can speak from experience of homeowners using this same method of geothermal and solar and only seeing utility bills that amount to their utility transmission fees. If we as a community can reduce the costs of running and maintaining our public lands that will leave more money for employees and upkeep. Cudos RI! Keep up the good work!
# Posted By John | 10/1/11 10:57 AM

Solar panel technology is the only way for this country to use clean power and electricity.
# Posted By Solar energy | 5/4/13 11:21 PM

According to review, the average American household generates 7.4 tons of carbon dioxide per year through electrical use. Solar power helps to slow down and even stop global warming by reducing carbon dioxide consumption.
I will support our environment in a simple way like using solar electric, recycling stuff and planting trees in our yard.
# Posted By Cara cruz | 10/21/16 9:55 PM
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