Virginia-Based TV Production Lays Claim to Being World's First Powered Solely By Renewables

Blacksburg, Virginia, a community of about 42,600 in the rural, western part of the state is perhaps best known right now as the home of Virginia Tech University. But a local videographer might be about to change that. The small town approximately equal distance from Charlottesville, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, will soon have another claim to fame as the site of the first television production powered almost entirely by renewable energy.
Virginia-Based TV Production Lays Claim to Being World

The show itself, called "Penny P's Backyard," is the brainchild of Chris Valluzzo, who works at the university by day and produces documentaries in his spare time. He has been at it for more than a decade.

Valluzzo, who founded Bliss Bus Media to develop the projects, says he wants the show to open up America's Appalachian culture to a national audience the way “Sesame Street” opened up urban culture when it debuted in the 1960s.

In the episodes, Penny and her three friends explore nature, music and American folk art, all while making their own videos and animations in her backyard in the tiny town of Yellow Sulphur Springs, Virginia.

But the production's innovations don't stop with what's seen on the screen. Thanks to a partnership with Solar Connexion, a local solar contractor, the show is believed to be the first television program in history produced using nearly 100 percent renewable energy.

According to the Producer's Guild of America Green Filmmaking template, "if a set uses some minority percentage of their lights as LED  vs. traditional energy-sucking Tungten lights, they are achieving a high level of sustainability,” Valluzzo told Renewable Energy Magazine via email.

"In concert with Solar Connexion, we believe we've developed the production plan to attain near 100 percent of our energy use on set coming from solar energy. A massive leapfrog of the industry standard ," he continued. 

"We achieve this by using small, yet high-quality, cameras and sound equipment that are rechargeable and utilize 100 percent LED lighting and augmentation of natural available light.  We literally have to change the way we shoot to meet this goal," he added.

Solar Connexion’s Cortney Martin told the Roanoke Times newspaper that he was initially skeptical of Valluzzo's proposal to produce a television show entirely with renewables.

"We get quite a few unsolicited, crazy idea emails," Martin told the newspaper. But after meeting with Valluzzo, she said, "We really got excited."

“Sustainability is really a big part of the Appalachian culture. Everything ties back to the sun,” she said. “To be able to use that to provide energy for production just really fits."

In an email to Renewable Energy Magazine, Bryan Walsh, the owner of Solar Connexion said in most instances the "go-to" source for portable power "is almost always the noisy and polluting diesel generator."
"We were intrigued that Chris thought beyond the expected, both for his show and for the energy source for its production," Walsh continued. "For many years, Solar Connexion has had a portable solar trailer that we have offered to festivals and fairs and it was easy to envision an adaptation of that for 'Penny P's Backyard'." 
"We met with Chris to determine the energy needs for his show, which is primarily recharging batteries used for cameras, lights, and audio equipment. Solar energy aligns with the focus and values of the show. It's scalable and ideal for clean portable energy for larger productions as well," he said.
Valluzzo's penchant for sustainability doesn’t end with the use of renewable energy.

He's committed to building sets for the show in such a way that the materials can be donated to Habitat for Humanity and reused to build homes for the homeless.

"Costumes will be sourced from the Goodwill and YMCA and donated back to them for another resale when we're done," Valluzzo said. "Our catering (which will be locally sourced), including plates, forks, and cups will be compostable.  Each day our catering refuse will be put into a compost pile and that compost will go to fertilize a community garden that feeds those in need."

"Simply put we are building the effort into the show before the pilot episode is aired," Valluzzo said. 

Like all "out of the box big" things, Valluzzo  said it took a grassroots efforts to make his dream of an entirely sustainable production a reality.

"Hollywood could be doing this right now if they could just shave a little off their massive profits," he said." We want to force their hand, with a unique and original show, in a unique place, with a community of folks who believe in sustainability, in art, in Science and Technology and Nature.  We're actively building those communities now."

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