May 2023 Newsletter

May 9, 2023

May2023 Newsletter

Empowering Sustainable Communities


Plastic Bag Ban in NJ Having Measurable Effect on Beach Litter

If you’re in New Jersey, or been grocery shopping there in the last year, you may have noticed that you have to bring your own bags to carry out your purchases.  While this new law may create some shopping inconvenience, the benefits are already noticeable.  You can read about it in this article from

According to the 2022 Beach Sweeps report by Clean Ocean Action, plastics still make up the majority of litter collected along the Jersey Shore, but the number of plastic bags and straws has decreased following the state’s bag ban. While plastics comprised 82% of the litter collected, the report indicates that the number of plastic bags, straws, and foam takeout containers dropped significantly compared to the previous year. The Single Use Waste Reduction Act, which banned plastic bags and foam food containers, went into full effect in May 2022, while a law requiring plastic straws to be given to customers only upon request took effect at the end of 2021.

Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf credited the new law with the decrease in plastic bags and straws collected during the Beach Sweeps. However, Zipf also noted that the demand for plastic is still high and contributes to climate change. The best way to reduce climate change, according to Zipf, is to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which in turn could reduce the amount of plastics in circulation.

If you are interested in learning more about approaches to reducing plastic in communities or in organizing to that effect, check out


Do you have any #SEEDSGoodNews stories to share with the SEEDS community? Send them to us at or tag us on social media!  They can be local stories from your community, or stories from around the world–anything to celebrate and spread the word about the progress of energy efficiency, renewable energy or sustainable living wherever you hear about it!

by Jack Barnett

Solar-powered, not ‘off the grid’

When discussing solar energy systems, the first question I often get is “Are you off the grid?”  To which I reply, “No. I wouldn’t want to be; our solar array produces more energy than we use, so we’re ‘net-positive’.”

There’s often confusion about how solar energy works. This month, I’ll try to clear up some of that and explain the whys behind my answer.

But let me clarify, this discussion is limited to small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that you would typically find on a house roof, or on a small business. Community solar (popular in New York but not approved in Pennsylvania yet) and utility-scale solar are somewhat different, especially in economic and regulatory aspects.

The photovoltaic effect was first discovered in 1839 by a 19-year-old French physicist, Edmond Becquerel, when sunlight shining on his invention produced an electric current. Becquerel went on to discover other electrical effects and photographic processes, but his solar cell never “saw much light,” as it was impractical outside of a chemistry lab.

In 1905, Albert Einstein finally explained the physics of how and why PV works, for which he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize.

Only since 1954, when Bell Telephone Laboratories publicly revealed the first practical solar cell using a silicon semiconductor, have we had solar electricity without fluids or moving parts.

Solar PV panels are generally a series of silicon solar cells, soldered and laminated under tempered glass, then bound within a frame. The electrical generation capacity (measured in watts) of a solar panel varies with its exposed surface area, light intensity, temperature and quality of the semiconductor material. So modern PV panels benefit hugely from manufacturing advances driven by the electronics industry’s need for greater purity for its silicon chips.

PV panels produce direct current (DC) electricity. But most of the electricity we use, and that a utility supplies to homes and businesses, is alternating current (AC). Therefore all “grid-connected” PV systems will also have one or more inverters to convert DC to AC; but in that process—and in the wiring and other components—some power is lost as waste heat.

This, plus the fact that sunshine intensity hitting a solar cell depends on its orientation and shading, on the weather and by the season, means the solar panel capacity cannot just be added together to determine a PV system’s AC power output (measured in kilowatts), nor determine its electricity production (measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWhs). Fortunately, the National Renewable Energy Labs has a comprehensive web-based modeling tool, PVWatts, that forecasts PV system production using local historical weather data, a system’s location and design parameters.

When a solar PV array is not connected to a building’s electrical system, it’s considered “off-grid,” e.g. walkway solar lights, and phone and battery chargers. But when any type of energy generation is connected to a building’s electrical system while at the same time it’s “inter-connected” to an electric utility, then it’s “grid-connected” and is required to abide by the rules of that utility (usually as approved by state regulators). Construction of a solar array in most municipalities also requires a building permit, so it must comply with building codes (fire safety, electrical, structural etc.), and may also be subject to zoning regulations or other rules, as in a historic district or homeowner association.

Solar energy displaces other (usually dirtier) fuels, reducing local pollution and global climate change. The direct benefit to a solar array owner is the energy it produces from free sunshine, reducing or eliminating energy purchases from other sources. Like all electricity generators, solar PV will power the nearest connected load, whether that is house lighting, fans, a refrigerator or a heating system.
But sunshine is highly variable, so off-grid solar systems must also include expensive batteries to store electricity for use at night, and hopefully also during tomorrow’s storm. And once the batteries are full, any electricity produced goes to waste, and batteries have slow drainage losses.

Additionally, all solar systems have much lower production during winter. So off-grid homeowners must be frugal with their electricity use, or significantly oversize their solar array and batteries to meet critical winter needs.

On the other hand, grid-connected solar arrays can operate without batteries; sending any unused electricity out to the utility grid and drawing from the grid at night or whenever needed.

Most utilities implement a policy (required under Pennsylvania and New York state laws) called “net-metering,” where any electricity exported to the grid effectively rolls the utility meter backward, meaning that the array owner gains a credit equal to that same number of kWhs. In turn, it sells those exported kWhs to others.

On my utility bill, PPL calls these credits a “renewable energy bank” (other utilities may use different labels), but this bank has units of kWhs, not dollars. Our home solar array produces lots of excess electricity from March through November, and PPL “saves” that in our bank until winter, when we use a lot of electricity for heating. Effectively PPL’s grid is a nearly free and loss-less battery!

We don’t need to buy gasoline for our all-electric Bolt, nor any kWhs from PPL. We do pay PPL approximately $15 every month for being connected to their grid.

Each May, PPL zeros our bank balance and sends us a check at their Price-To-Compare for those exported kWhs (rules differ in New York and New Jersey, and for non-investor-owned utilities in PA). In our case, it doesn’t make up for the year of monthly fees, but it comes close.

Our grid-connected solar array also has batteries, sized to get us through a moderate grid outage, not to live off-grid all the time. That would be a big lifestyle change. No, thank you.

Jack Barnett is a retired electrical engineer, and is now a volunteer solar energy and sustainable living advocate on the board of SEEDS of Northeastern PA ( He is also the co-founder of the Clean Energy Cooperative (www.CleanEnergy.Coop), both based in Honesdale, PA.

Have questions about solar energy? Send them to and Jack will attempt to answer your questions in future Sustainability articles.

Do you have an idea for a #SEEDSBlog post? if you have experience, expertise or research in an area relevant to sustainable energy, living, education and or outreach, email us at and share your idea!

In case you missed it…

Larry Reeger Talks Solar on Radio Catskill’s “Farm and Country”

Radio Catskill’s “Farm and Country” re-aired an interview with Larry Reeger, SEEDS member and Director of Sustainability at SUNY Sullivan, about residential solar.  If you missed that live on Saturday, April 29, you can listen to the entire episode by following this link.

Larry offers a thorough and comprehensive explanation of how people should think about going solar in their homes, from the consideration phase all the way through actual installations.  As Larry lives in Northeast PA and works in New York state, he offered information pertaining to residents of both states. With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, it continues to be a good time to consider how solar power could work in your home, so start, or continue, your contemplations with a listen.

SEEDS offers members free energy assessments.  Part of the educational goals of SEEDS, these assessments help residents maximize energy efficiency opportunities already available, as well as inform about more sustainability options.  Go to this page at the SEEDS website ( to learn more, and to sign up for your assessment.

Upcoming Event

Solar Schools Toolkit

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides unprecedented incentives to go solar. Learn how schools can access this funding to save money by permanently reducing electric bills.

Join Philadelphia Solar Energy AssociationPHENND Sustainability, and the Center for School Study Councils for a preview of the Solar Schools Toolkit. The first in a series of three workshops, this timely webinar will provide an overview of the process for going solar, introduce a broad range of tools and technical assistance resources, and lay out a clear path to success.  Solar industry and finance experts will demystify the new IRA incentives, review ownership and financing options, and answer your questions directly.

By going solar, schools can save money every year, enhance student STEM education and career preparedness, and increase climate resilience. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is sponsoring this Toolkit to make it easier than ever for schools to harness the many b benefits of solar.

Please use this link to register.

Speakers include: Dave Althoff, PA Department of Environmental Protection; Liz Robinson, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Solar Energy Association; Roger Clark, Director of Sustainable Development Fund (retired); Ron Celentano, President of PA Storage and Solar Association.

This opportunity is presented In partnership with:  Delaware Valley Regional Planning CommissionPA Solar Center, and Generation 180.

Ongoing Event

Ramps U-Pick Fundraiser for SEEDS

Delaware Valley Ramps in Equinunk, PA continues to host its second annual Ramps U-Pick Event into May, where guests can harvest ramps while being guided by their staff. A portion of the proceeds from tickets purchased using the provided link will benefit the programs at SEEDS.

Ramps, a regional delicacy, are highly valued for culinary purposes due to their unique taste, which can be used in various dishes, cooked, sautéed, grilled, or raw, pickled or tossed in salads. Delaware Valley Ramps has been sustainably harvesting ramps on their property for 16 years, supplying to restaurants and wholesalers in the Upper Delaware River Watershed and New York City.

At the event, participants can learn about the plant, its management, sustainability, and harvesting. They can pick up to 3 lbs of ramps for their personal use and taste dishes such as ramp hummus, pickled ramps, and ramp quiche. Individual and family tickets are available.

For more information, visit or their Facebook page.

Use this link to purchase tickets that benefit SEEDS programing:

Summer Experience Opportunity

For more information visit, call (570) 689-9494,  or email


An Actor, an Economist and The Answer to Everything | NYT Opinion

Here is an entertaining video from The New York Times Opinion to help us understand where we can go to fix the planet if we use our intelligence wisely. Please take about 5 minutes to watch it. Then pass it on.

NYT Opinion Video Description:
Partha Dasgupta is a Cambridge University economist who in 2021 prepared a more than 600-page report for the British government about the financial value of nature.

Not your average bedtime reading.

But believe us when we say his report, the culmination of decades of scholarship, is incredibly important. Or at least believe the United Nations, which awarded him the title Champion of the Earth for his work. Or King Charles III, who this year made Mr. Dasgupta a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire — an extremely rare honor — for his services to economics and the natural environment.

Mr. Dasgupta’s voluminous study is so important, that we decided to publish a short film about it, the Opinion video above. To make his complex review digestible, the film employs old-timey cartoons, some cursing, a clip of Boris Johnson in a hard hat while dangling from a cable, a very apt soccer metaphor, a bit of Strauss and a title that could be viewed as an exaggeration.

We even hired the Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard to help simplify its concepts and convey why the report is, if not required reading for everyone, at least something everyone should know about.

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