Area man helps to shrink his own carbon footprint

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Kayla Bunge
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
— Dan Osborn is in the business of giving back.

He’s not a philanthropist. He’s not a volunteer. He’s a homeowner and business owner who believes sustainability is the smartest way to live.

“It’s not a passion or anything,” he said. “It’s just what I do.”

Osborn for many years has worked to reduce his carbon footprint at his home on almost 300 acres north of Delavan.

The sprawling property—lush with thick, green grass, mature trees and a feeling of freedom from the open sky above—pays homage to green energy. The house is heated by a wood-burning stove; the barn is outfitted with solar panels; and the trucks, tractors and other equipment are powered with biodiesel.

The house

The 3,500-square-foot “envelope” house has inner and outer walls, a crawlspace or sub-basement and an attic that create space where heated air circulates and warms the house.

The house uses very little electricity and no gas and is heated with wood, which Osborn gets from trees on the property. The design of the house makes it efficient.

“If you heated with wood in a normal house, you’d use three times the wood,” he said. “We use very little wood, and we have all the wood we could ever need right on our property.”

The barn

The 3,200-square-foot storage barn has more than 100 solar panels on the south-facing slope of the roof.

The panels can produce about 3,500 kilowatts of electricity a month, and Osborn is able to sell the electricity he produces back to the utility company for about 22.5 cents per kilowatt, or about double what the average customer pays for electricity.

The project was expensive, but Osborn was able to get more than half of the cost covered through incentive programs.

“The government paid for one-third of it, and Focus on Energy paid for about one-fourth of it,” he said. “This clearly is what we should be doing. The incentives are designed to take the horrible cost burden away.”

Osborn has contributed about 40,000 kilowatt hours back to the utility since he installed the solar panels two years ago.

The vehicles

The trucks, tractors and mowers used to maintain the property are powered by biodiesel.

Osborn makes the biodiesel from waste vegetable oil he gets from local bars and restaurants. He filters it, treats it and processes the used oil into useable fuel. He can make 50 gallons of biodiesel every 48 hours.

The biodiesel is cleaner burning and cheaper than petroleum-based diesel, Osborn said.

“If I can get free waste oil, I can produce a gallon for between 80 cents and a dollar, which is far less than the cost of diesel fuel,” he said.

Osborn has lent 14 acres of his property to Convergence Energy, a Lake Geneva-based solar energy design and installation company, for a solar farm geared toward consumers who can’t afford a solar energy system but want to invest in renewable energy and make money off the power sold to the electric company.

Six large pole-mounted solar panels that rotate and tilt with the sun already have been installed. More “trackers” are being installed every week.

Osborn said he has taken steps to reduce his energy consumption and his carbon footprint because it makes sense.

“I look at it all and it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

“Only 2 to 3 percent of the electricity produced is from renewable sources. The rest is from coal. That’s a heck of a lot of (carbon dioxide) floating around.

“But I know where (my electricity) comes from. It comes from the sun.”

Last updated: 2:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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