After Katrina, New Orleans is going
Jan 27, 2009 - Cain Burdeau - The Associated
The city known more for French Quarter trash than
recycling or renewable energy is going green. In
rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina, homes are being
fitted with solar panels, organic farming is catching
on and the city's got a new fleet of hybrid buses.
On the flanks of those buses, a catch phrase -
Cleaner, Smarter - could be the anthem for the movement
by institutions and individuals to slowly turn the
city's environmentally-unfriendly image around.
Maybe the filthy water that flooded 80 percent
of the city after the catastrophe in August 2005
made residents rethink the way to rebuild. Or maybe
it's the tax credits or energy price spikes. Whatever
the reason, the hurricane created a testing ground
for ideas and initiatives.
Before Katrina, government officials rarely talked
about renewable energy or "green building." Solar
technology powered little more than parking meters.
Environmentalists were shut out of Louisiana politics
Now, they see a watershed era taking shape.
For example, in the Lower 9th Ward, hit particularly
hard by Katrina, some 20 energy-saving homes are
using solar panels.
"I never knew nothing about solar panels until
after the storm," said Mable Howard, an 80-year-old
doll maker whose five-room home was flooded. The
solar panels were donated and installed for free,
and her electric bill has been cut at least in half
during some months.
There is also renewed focus on restoring habitats
that protected New Orleans from storm surge before
the destruction of wetlands by the oil industry,
timber companies and levee construction. Near the
Lower 9th, for example, there are plans to plant
hundreds of bald cypress in a bayou to help restore
Urban organic farming also has gained momentum,
new bicycle lanes are being planned and even the
French Quarter is spiffier, thanks to an aggressive
The greening could gain greater footing under President
Barack Obama, who recently named Lower 9th Ward
native Linda Jackson to head the Environmental Protection
Still, a distaste for environmentalism is reflected
in the Louisiana congressional delegation. Even
most Democrats are perennial bottom-feeders on a
measure of pro-environment voting in Congress by
the League of Conservation Voters.
"It takes a very brave person to get your head
above the wall here," said Oliver Houck, a Tulane
University law professor and environmental advocate.
For decades, Louisiana's state budget has been
dependent on oil revenue. But some policymakers
and investors say a more open attitude could have
a big payoff. The state, they say, is rich in water,
wind and sunshine - just the stuff for emerging
cap-and-trade energy markets, which are aimed at
reducing carbon emissions.
Under a cap-and-trade program, utilities that exceed
the cap for emissions must either make pollution
reductions or buy additional allowances. Those who
cut emissions below the cap would be able to sell
"Louisiana could be a very large source for carbon
credits," said Jon Guidroz, director of project
development for Free Flow Power Corp. The Massachusetts
company is in talks with the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission about harnessing power from the Ohio
and Mississippi rivers with turbines.
Last year, the New Orleans City Council approved
an energy-efficiency program to improve 2,800 properties
a year by installing insulation, weather stripping
and compact fluorescent light bulbs. The new 39
hybrid buses - operating on a blend of biodiesel,
gasoline and electric power - were obtained with
a $15 million federal grant.
In 2007, New Orleans became one of about two dozen
cities nationwide to be named a "Solar American
City" by the U.S. Energy Department, which gave
the city a $450,000 grant to establish solar programs.
And there's an opportunity to train builders, too.
A 2,-000-square-foot BuildSmart Learning Center
that includes a replica of an energy-efficient home,
offers free workshops to teach "green building."
The center also has a showroom of gadgets like dual-flush
toilets and low-flow shower-heads.
New state and federal tax credits are driving a
niche solar technology market.
"We're up to 15 employees now," said C. Tucker
Crawford, a salesman at South Coast Solar, a company
that had three employees a year ago.
The business installs solar thermal, solar pool
heating and solar panels in New Orleans. Crawford
credits the boom in business to tax breaks, which
allow a homeowner to spend as little as $5,000 for
about $25,000 worth of solar technology.
"We're a little behind the curve," said city energy
manager John McGowin, whose office was set up after
Katrina with a Clinton Foundation grant to promote
solar and hydropower use. "But we're catching up."