Westchase Embraces Transformational Self-Sufficiency Energy Program
With the park renovations complete, the newest Westchase community project is being touted as an effort to transform Westchase into a Lean Green Machine.
The joint effort by the Westchase Community Association (WCA) and Westchase Community Development District (CDD), announced in March, promises to take Westchase off the electrical grid – and challenge the community’s couch potatoes to get up and get moving.
“There’s no doubt,” said Westchase Community Association (WCA) President Ruben Collazo. “This is a game changer and is already causing a lot of different HOAs throughout the state to adopt our transformational model.”
The effort has been dubbed the Lean Green Machine Project by its brainchild, WCA Director Brian Ross. Ross sits on both the WCA Board and the Westchase Community Development District (CDD). Ross, a self-described “wannabe fitness buff,” said the idea came to him from his daughter’s recent STEM Fair Project, which explored whether the compulsive running of a group of gerbils on their gerbil wheel could actually produce enough energy to power the room in which they were being kept.
“We’ve long thought of people as solely being energy consumers,” said Ross. “Westchase’s Lean Green Machine Project changes that model. It recognizes that our residents are already doing an awful lot that can be transformed into electricity. With some smart additions, we can harness our own residents’ daily activities to power our air conditioners and enormous flat screen televisions.”
Introduced during a March presentation, the WCA’s Lean Green Machine (LGM) Project consists of a three-pronged approach to capture the energy inherent in existing residents’ activities.
The first step, said Ross, is the creation of two new WCA-owned fitness centers for the exclusive use of Westchase residents. To that end WCA Director Rick Goldstein stated the association has negotiated a long-term lease for land at the bottom of Montague Street. “We’re going to build a large fitness facility there and family memberships to the facilities will be built into each homeowner’s annual assessment,” he stated.
That fitness center, along with a possible second center proposed for the building currently holding the Westchase McDonald’s, would hold over 200 hundred treadmills in each location. “Each has remarkable energy-producing capacity provided we can keep them occupied and going nearly around the clock,” said Goldstein. “And I think we can agree, with Westchasers’ ambition and drive, that is a realistic goal.”
Goldstein added, however, that the second location relied on the building’s current owner to agree to a lease. “That would require Westchasers to give up their quarter pounders and chicken nuggets. That,” he added, “might be a reach. We will, however, keep trying. If that fails, there are a couple of adjacent foreclosed homes the WCA owns in Bennington. Combined, they could hold the western fitness center.”
The second step, said Ross, is to add small energy converters to all swings and the new merry-go-round feature at Glencliff Park and expanding the number of energy-production swings in all Westchase parks.
“I was impressed to read that 15 minutes of strenuous swinging can produce enough energy to power an air conditioner for an hour,” said WCA Director Joaquin Arrillaga. “I had no idea.”
“What’s equally amazing is that if we can get 15 kids on Glencliff’s carousel feature and they can get it going at least 10 miles per hour, they can power all of Berkeley Square for an entire day with just eight straight hours of spinning.” Ross quickly added, “Assuming none of them gets flung off.”
“We may need to replace some of the dog poop stations with Dramamine dispensers,” joked WCA Director Chuck Hoppe to laughter.
“Under the LGM Project, we’re also going to put swings everywhere,” said Ross. “If there is an empty spot, it will hold an energy-production swing.”
Ross then introduced CDD Supervisor Jim Mills, who went over the additions to CDD-owned parks that are part of the project. “We plan on putting at least 10 new swing sets in each of our parks,” said Mills. Citing the multiple pocket parks throughout West Park Village, Mills stated that each location would see the addition of five new swing sets with five swings each, including at least three new swings that are large enough to hold multiple adults. Mills stated the equipment would be designed for use for all ages and would result in the installation of nearly 275 swings in West Park Village alone. “When we get done, West Park Village is going to be absolutely famous statewide for swinging,” he observed.
Depending on bids, the third and likely most expensive part of the program will be the conversion of the northern sidewalk along Linebaugh Avenue and the western sidewalk along Countryway Boulevard with new sidewalk coated in Gullibrium™, an energy conversion material that produces electrical current when any pressure is applied to it. Walking or running across its surface activates the material. Through a series of buried wires, the generated current will then be carried to the Westchase distribution grid at the base of West Park Village. “This new stuff is so sensitive, even jogging strollers pushed the length of Linebaugh can produce enough electricity to drive a Tesla to downtown Tampa and back,” said Goldstein.
Key to the success of getting Westchase entire off the paid electrical grid, Ross acknowledged, is getting every resident up off the couch and active. “We’ve calculated that if each Westchase resident spends 45 minutes daily in power-producing activity – whether swinging, running on a treadmill in one of our air conditioned fitness centers or running or walking down Linebaugh, Westchase would become a self-sufficient energy producer.”
“What’s needed is equity, however,” pointed out WCA Director Keith Heinemann. “What can we do to eliminate free riders – you know, the residents who just use up electricity without helping to produce any?”
“That’s where the LGM Program leans on incentives,” explained Ross.
Ross stated to ensure equitability each home will be given an activity-monitoring bracelet. “It’s like a Fitbit but it also has a GPS, which pinpoints the resident’s location at one of the three energy producing hubs. It will calculate the resident’s power production. What’s revolutionary about this is that the bracelet’s interface software is proprietary to the WCA and CDD. We had a Westchase Robinson IB student actually code it for his community service project.”
“So what happens to homes that don’t produce enough of the electricity they use?” asked WCA Director Forrest Baumhover.
“We don’t want to force Westchase residents who want to remain inactive to change their overly relaxed lifestyles,” said Ross. “Each homeowner, if they wish, can opt out of the LGM program by installing a 30-foot tall wind turbine in their backyard.”
The WCA, Ross added, is currently working to develop an exterior color palette for the wind turbines. Each turbine, he added, will also have to be outfitted with small sound devices which emit a whistling sound when the turbine is spinning.
“We’re not too excited about this feature,” acknowledged Ross, but the Environmental Protection Commission insists it’s essential to ensuring that birds aren’t knocked out of the sky by the turbines.”
“We expect that residents will just become accustomed to the high frequency whistles. They’ll eventually become unnoticed background noise like the train whistles in West Park Village,” added Collazo.
Baumhover, however, expressed concern about the turbine cost.
Ross countered, “While it seems steep, I think the turbine price of $12,000, which will be payable in installments over a year, will ultimately be small potatoes for the couch potatoes out there.”
“Why not just use solar?” said Baumhover.
“Because Florida has a lot of clouds,” said Ross.
“Tons of clouds,” agreed Collazo. “Every summer afternoon, it’s like cloud central around here. While everyone calls Florida the Sunshine State, in reality, we really should call ourselves the Partly Sunny State. Every summer afternoon, we get hit with thunderstorms. But what is there every time those clouds roll in?” Collazo asked.
“Wind,” said Baumhover, nodding.
“Tons of wind,” said Collazo. “It’s like wind central around here. If Chicago is the Windy City, we’re the Windy Community.”
“And this is just the first step,” added Collazo.
Describing the new community fitness center, the additional play structures and the reconfiguration of Westchase sidewalks as “low hanging fruit,” he said. “Think about how many of our kids use laptops and pens and pencils each day to do homework. These energy conversion materials like Gullibrium™ are in their infancy. Today what we’re putting into a sidewalk will be able to be built into pencils and laptop keyboards. In a few years, I could see a kid waking up, scribbling out the math homework and the energy of his math scribbles will power the toaster that toasts his bagel for breakfast. This is revolutionary.”
WCA Director Chuck Hoppe observed, “I was initially a skeptic. What brought me around was the article that Brian circulated.”
Hoppe held up a recent edition of Scientific American, which detailed the next generation of smartphones specifically designed for teens. “Their energy conversion touch screens actually power themselves through teenagers’ relentless texting. With these new screens, they won’t have to charge their phones anymore.”
WCA Director Rick Goldstein added that the phones’ capability to wirelessly transfer generated electricity should be factored into the WCA and CDD’s LGM plans. “I think before we demand that our less active residents install wind turbines, the first step should be for them to hook up a wireless electrical transfer router. “They’re like a third of the cost of a turbine,” observed Goldstein. “The article Chuck just referenced shows that homes with two teens can generate half their annual electricity just from their texting on next generation Gullibrium screens.”
The gathered group voted unanimously to form a committee to study Goldstein’s proposal further.
Because the board wants some teeth behind resident participation, they also voted unanimously to begin the process of briefing voting members to write rules about the new program into Westchase’s deed restrictions. Between construction and roll-out of the finished monitoring devices to each home, the board estimates the program won’t be fully implemented until late 2019. “But the first step,” said Ross, “is getting the rules into Westchase documents.”
“I think the most important thing,” said Collazo, “is to remember this is a fiscally conservative program. If residents participate, their costs will be quite low. In fact, their main cost will be greater fitness and health. You can’t beat that. It’s only the lazy free riders that will get hit in the wallet.”
The board expects to make its first formal presentation to Westchase Voting Members at their April 11 meeting. WCA Board members, however, also welcome direct resident feedback on the proposal. Their contact information is on page 107.
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By Uben Phoolt; Cover by James Broome Photography