CITY-GREEN Meeting Minutes – July 2015

CITY-GREEN Meeting minutes, Tuesday July 21, 2015 at New Leaf.

Present: Wesley Glebe (Chair); Laura Dininni (Vice-Chair); Mike Rybacki (Secretary); David Stone (Steering Committee)

1) Approval of last meeting minutes: unofficial, no approval.

2) Select a local official to invite to dinner: Wes nominated Ron Lichman (Water Authority). Mike nominated Walter Schneider (Agency head, COG Code Enforcement). Laura nominated:

Laura brought up the idea to start off inviting local officials to New Leaf’s Friday Salad Hours – more people to browse with, less formal. Then possible dinner dates after that. Decided to table discussion until August meeting and be ready to begin inviting to salad hour one to two weeks after August meeting (end of August).

3) Review status of request to COG’s Walt Schneider for # geothermal installs in region. Mike will follow up at COG office in person by next meeting.

4) Discuss/vote to offer CITY-GREEN endorsements for renewable energy-equipped homes. All of us interested in some form of third party CITY-GREEN verification for buildings that have renewable energy, but concern was raised about C-G’s responsibility. Idea proposed to have 1) verification that system is working and 2) show curated literature referencing average increases in building equity ~$15,000 per $1,000 per year saved.

Main goal is to simply make available comparable information for RE-equipped home sales to increase buyers/sellers/realtors/lenders/appraisers awareness of added value.

(see attached updated sample verification statement).

5) Status of CITY-GREEN’s involvement in the Penn State-hosted American Solar Energy Society conference. Laura stated OPP’s Rob Cooper will buy CNET’s videos then deed PSU’s rights back to CNET for free dissemination, not costing CITY-GREEN or anyone else to peruse/use.

Mike – still waiting for press pass to cover the event on behalf of CITY-GREEN Newsletter.

6) Public Comments – other related topics.

– Dave Stone had met with OPP concerning air quality issues. Says OPP claims they will not use extra capacity in the oversized NG boilers West Campus, especially in light of impending multi-megawatt solar array PSU is planning to build. Says OPP claims they cannot use extra capacity anyway for lack of extra steam dump in summer months.

– Harvard study update. Wes, Dave – meeting with Tom Fontaine, Steve Maruszewski. – The Borough still working on the idea of a Task Force recommended by the Harvard Study, which would be created to smoothe over future energy infrastructure plans. Not sure current status. May contact Alex Wiker who penned a CITY-GREEN response earlier this year.

– General discussion of growth issues and the definition and meaning of growth. Certain Borough Council members define growth as more density – people, buildings/high rises, infrastructure. Others feel there is distinction between sustainable growth and unsustainable growth. Question was raised: on the political level, is there a truly comprehensive, strategic sustainable planning for future development/lifestyle for this region that is sustainable?

– Laura – Meeting with Sarah Potter, Chair Friends & Farmers. Discussed need to for a non-profit for local foods – education and outreach of high impact of local food supply. Will have a slogan and kickoff “Leaping into Local” (Logistics, Education, Access, Promotion (LEAP) at the pie table at the PA Farm Fest August 8-9 in Centre Hall.

– Group decision to ask COG PS&E if we can postpone our bi-annual meeting with them tentatively scheduled for August. Mike will email Pam Adams to see about postponing until PS&E meeting first week in September.

– Laura – Concerning the issue of volumetric (as opposed to categorical) billing for utilities, such as water, Laura mentioned a local contractor, Tom Songer, who is been developing this issue politically in Ferguson Township.

7) Adjourn.


Farewell Address

After serving for one year as interim Chair of CITY-GREEN, there are a few observations I have gleaned from my tenure in office. Although not a government in itself, CITY-GREEN members are similarly representative of the group as a whole, voted into office by the individual members. CITY-GREEN, by design, has fostered the idea of using their influence as representatives, to bring about change in the area of energy use, without the use of money – no bank account, no flow of funds. Adhering to standards of transparency, openness, and professionalism, CITY-GREEN has endeavored to build its influence on sound policy in the promotion of renewable, sustainable energy.

We are the first and only group in the State to successfully petition a local municipality to enter into the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition, the first one to be recognized as an advisory group on sustainable energy policy by the Council of Governments, and, together with Transition Town representatives, selected to attend the Pennsylvania Energy Policy Conference to be held at Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center on May 8th. All without the need of organizational money.

Rather than focusing on procuring revenue and spending group funds, individuals, as CITY-GREEN members, have striven to become informed while promoting sustainable energy and energy conservation ideas instead – leaving it up to the community to decide how to manage their own cash flow. Encouraging the school system to increase their use of renewable energy, participating in the development of Penn State’s Solar on State initiatives, offering suggestions for our Council of Governments towards revealing to the general public, thorough the permitting process, the hidden costs for projects that rely on non-renewable energy, a field trip to a local manufacturer of renewable energy equipment, a letter to a major automobile manufacturer and to an international marketer of sustainable energy equipment, participation in a SEDA-COG sponsored workshop on Act 129 (which outlines utility-mandated energy conservation spending) initiatives, and attendance at municipality-sponsored meetings, are all initiatives taken on, and otherwise expensed, by individual members who enjoy the support of fellow CITY-GREEN members.

Grid vs. Off-Grid. In my role as Chair over the past year, I have observed how community members try to deal with the oft contentious issue of regional supplied power verses sustainable energy implemented on the individual level. Hopefully, the wealth of information which supports the idea that it always costs more to build and maintain utility-scale energy infrastructure will outshine its detractors. How many examples do we need of “heroes,” in their present time, who “solve” society’s problems with big, regional projects who are largely forgotten on that future day when large sums of money “need” to be borrowed in order to fix those large systems when their life-cycles run their courses?

I strongly adhere to the idea that utility grid-supplied power has always been best suited for limited amounts of large scale industrial applications that literally require small power plants in order to float their operations.

But tapping into this grid makes less sense for the rest of us. Even so-called micro-grids would be vulnerable to the same problem of future lump sum maintenance bills that, more than likely, would “need” debt instruments to satisfy, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Small consolation.

Basic Needs: Share Food While Fostering Independence in Shelter. In questioning the perceived need to share certain necessities, I would ask: is it really advantageous to the community to play down individuals’ efforts to secure their own shelter (which embodies energy usage) in lieu of delegating these endeavors to the greater community? Does combining efforts in this area really embrace best-practice methods for managing the earth’s resources? Heating and cooling from the earth (geothermal) and light from the sun cannot be exhausted. They independently exist whether we channel them or not. Greater localization equals less waste. We ignore these truths at our own peril.

The one basic need that does bind us together is food. Sharing food, whether through its production or consumption, is communion – which has the same root as the word for community. The preservation of the health-maintaining resources we have in common – air, water, plants, the earth that supports them – is the area where most of our community-sharing efforts should be focused. And a nod goes to those in the local community who have been making headway in that area: local farmers markets initiatives, efforts by The Friends & Farmers Food Cooperative, Transition Town’s Garden Starters educational programs, permaculture techniques spearheaded by Jackie Bonomi, and the support of Penn State and its Sustainability Institute.

So, when we think about our journey, here, on earth, and how to maximize the joy of that experience without thinking we have to live a life of deprivation, it might be wise to concentrate over the next several generations, our community efforts in strengthening the local field-to-plate equation for food and the nutrition we get from a pure environment. For it may be this very thing that fosters community strength beyond anything else.

And that within that basic premise, it may bode well to realize that with wise implementation there is more than enough renewable energy than we could ever possibly need to support our shelter requirements.

Sustainable Solvency. A community’s efforts in securing for themselves its basic food, clothing, and shelter needs can all be accomplished within its means, without the use of debt. Let us make our dependence on food obtained beyond a days’ round-trip travel; energy from diminishing sources that are constantly being depleted; and lifestyle choices that depend on subsidies and borrowing a thing of the past.

Beyond this, towards maintaining a fulfilled and enriched life experience and to the point of abundance, sustainable food supply, sustainable energy, and sustainable finances – the three pillars of a sustainable lifestyle – are all within our grasp.

Above all, efforts can be made to, once and for all, dispel the vain philosophy that theorizes that these topics of sustainability are disparate issues that can be dealt with separately. Rather, we can look at them all as symbiotic essentials.

In the areas of food, energy, and finances, when each of us can exemplify the interconnectedness between our daily living habits (much as the Stilsons and Zieglers have begun to do with their solar thermal, loan-free photovoltaic, native plant gardening, permaculture, and conservation efforts) and the larger portion of society, then I believe that the hope of achieving a truly sustainable life will continue to live and grow.

-Mike Rybacki

April 2015

Ergenics NJ: Trip Report

CITY-GREEN Members Visit Ergenics, Developers of the Hydride Heat Engine

 By Mike Rybacki

Recently, CITY-GREEN member Wes Gold and I visited Ergenics, an energy research and development company located in Ringwood, New Jersey.

Ergenics’ nickel hydride batteries supplied the Hubble Telescope with power starting in 1990; the batteries lasted five times longer than expected. The Jupiter and Saturn-bound Cassini class spacecraft, launched in the 1990s, use imaging systems powered by small hydrogen canisters, welded together by their laser-guided orbital welding machine.

In 1984, Ergenics engineers designed a hydride-powered air conditioning system. The first 9,000-BTU model weighed 75 pounds. By 2004, they had developed a 13-pound 8,000 BTU-model. Hydride air conditioners and refrigeration technology operate without refrigerants or the need for compressors, and run more efficiently the hotter the outside air temperature gets.

Ergenics Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of ERRA (based in San Antonio, Texas), produces on-demand hydrogen resupply devices for sun-powered, steam-driven sterling engines; lifetime hydrogen delivery devices for atomic clocks; and titanium-based hydride systems for the nuclear industry as its main products.

Wes and I visited Ergenics to gather information about their new hydride heat engine. We saw the system in action with a handheld dual-canister version. The sealed system silently powered a small piston engine when the canisters were immersed into two pails of water (lukewarm and cold).

A hydride heat engine is an airtight, sealed system in which small amounts of hydrogen are used as a working fluid instead of being consumed. Rapidly alternating the flow of cool (60ºF) tap water and hot (140ºF) water (from the chiller system) through the internal heat exchangers’ pushes the hydrogen in and out of its hydride solid-state. The flow of hydrogen drives a piston-powered generator, producing electricity. The hydride system mediates between waste heat generation and a heat sink, reducing the temperature of dumped heat by about 50ºF and transforming the temperature drop into electricity.

A working prototype was installed at Texas A&M University in Summer 2014. The 1-kW lanthanum/nickel/ aluminum hydride system uses the waste heat stream at the end of a 340 gallon per minute/43º F water chiller (not the private, off-campus hot geothermal well as reported in CITY-GREEN’s October newsletter.)

A patented ring manifold design is key to the system: 1/8” thick hydride-impregnated copper tubing is welded together in a cold-crucible vacuum furnace, and these six-inch diameter rings are then stacked to increase hydrogen absorption density.

The Texas A&M San Antonio system is currently producing electricity, and Ergenics has been improving efficiency. For example, “sensible heat recovery” boosted power production by 20%. As the hot/cold cycle turns once per minute, the heat exchanger end-valves open and close. Rather than abruptly shutting off, leaving valuable opposite-temperature fluid inside the heat exchanger whose temperature gradient must then be overcome, sensors detect the new cold-hot gradient as it moves through the heat exchanger. The sensors trigger the valves only when the undesired temperature is pushed out during the beginning of each new cycle. Another upcoming efficiency improvement is replacement of a magnetic seal-equipped scroll compressor with a turbine expander.

Ergenics projects that the hydride heat engine can produce electricity with an 80ºF fluid temperature differential for about $0.05/kWh. With a 40º F temperature difference, the cost would be in the $0.10/kWh range which raises the possibility of reducing the ejected heat temperature through a coupled secondary heat recovery system.

These hydride heat engines last hundreds of thousands of discharge cycles before needing replacement, and can be built to megawatt capacities, potentially providing a durable alternative to fossil fuel power production. In the meantime, hydride heat engines can be added to existing power plants to reduce the waste-heat cooling load, producing additional electricity as a by-product. Solar thermal can be also be used as the source for the heated fluid supply, demonstrated during the testing phase at the Ergenics facility.

Beyond honing efficiencies and increasing capacity during the next round of design testing, Ergenics is looking for investors willing to bring this technology into large-scale production. Questions and inquiries may be directed to President David DaCosta at

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be either a solicitation or recommendation to invest in Ergenics Corporation.

Letter of Commendation to Solar on State

From:  Michael Rybacki, CITY-GREEN                                                     October 9, 2014

To:  Dr. Jeffrey Brownson, Ph.D., PSU-Energy & Mineral Eng.

Re:  Penn State Solar PEDA Grant Application

Dear Dr. Brownson,

I commend your efforts in seeking approval for the Solar PEDA grant.

Whether the grant is won or not, I believe this is a highly impacting, positive action and demonstrates a great stride forward in Penn State’s efforts towards promoting sustainable, renewable energy in the community.

In August 2007, while a solar construction crew member at Mesa Environmental, our company’s largest PV system to date was built at the campus maintenance building at PSU’s Dickinson School of Law, Carlisle, Pa.  At 60 kW, it still may be PSU’s largest single building array.

Later, in 2007, we built a 5.25 kW double groundmount system at Penn State’s Agricultural Extension Center in Gettysburg.  And in May 2008, we built an 11.2 kW system at PSU’s Dickinson Farm location in Boiling Springs, Pa.

I would like to think that Penn State’s choice to build these Carlisle-regional projects may have influenced one of Pennsylvania’s largest PV arrays (1.2 MW – nearly 10 times the total capacity of PSU’s previous systems) installed at a public school – Wilson Middle School – in 2010.

Dr. Brownson, building PV arrays, no matter the size, on PSU’s main campus can, in a short time, have an exponential effect upon this community’s involvement in becoming more energy resilient.

Thanks you for taking on this effort of increasing Penn State’s exposure to photovoltaics in the region – I pray for your success.

Mike Rybacki,


Cc: Rob Cooper, P.E., PSU-Director OPP
Susan Stewart, Ph.D., PSU-Dept. Aerospace Eng.

Newsletter- August 2014

From the Chair:

Some exciting things are happening on the energy front. Nari Soundarrajan, who attended the Centre Region Council of Government’s Public Services & Environmental Committee meeting Wednesday August 13, reports that their mood is positive in regard to obtaining input from CITY-GREEN on their proposed regional-wide Energy Resources Coordinator position. The PS&E Committee reiterated their recognition of CITY-GREEN as an energy advisory committee. CITY-GREEN will continue to strive to be a respected, professional voice on energy matters in the community.

On the Penn State front, there is a Community Solar on State workshop planned for August 23rd at the Park Forest Elementary School. The all-day-Saturday conference is headed up by PSU professor Dr. Jeffrey Brownson, and is open to the public (beyond the initial invitation-only participants) up to a predetermined amount. Continue reading

Grid-Tied v. Grid-Free Solar Deployment

Grid-Tied v. Grid-Free Solar Deployment

By Mike Rybacki

August 2014

* All opinions contained in this article are those of the author alone and should not be attributed to other members of CITY-GREEN or the organization as a whole.

Non-transparent planning process. On July 25, I received an email invitation from Jeffrey Brownson, a lead organizer for the Community Solar on State workshop and luncheon on August 23. CITY-GREEN’s secretary, Nari Soundarrajan, also received an invite. Alex Wiker, CITY-GREEN’s Assistant Secretary, who is on the Solar On State Planning Committee, will be there as well. Out of the roughly 100 people who can be accommodated at the Conference, after approximately 60 had responded to the direct invitations, the remaining capacity was opened to the general public on August 19.

By contrast, CITY-GREEN meetings are open to the public, and Dr. Brownson attended the May meeting to offer a preview of the CSOS (Community Solar on State) project. However, CITY-GREEN members were not invited to participate in planning the agenda for the CSOS meeting August 23. Although the event is being branded as transparent in promotional materials, privately planned, invitation-only events are – by definition – non-public and therefore non-transparent.

The structure of the planning meetings matters, because community solar projects are at risk, especially in the areas of public policy and finance/debt issues, for becoming large centralized corporation-controlled facilities, and that risk increases in proportion to corporate control of the planning process. Continue reading