Source AP ©

Al Gore makes his mansion America's most environmentally friendly

Often criticized for high electric bills, former Vice President Al Gore completed a host of improvements to make his Tennessee mansion more energy efficient, and a building-industry group has praised the house as one of the America's most environmentally friendly.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner for his environmental advocacy has installed solar panels, a rainwater-collection system and geothermal heating. He also replaced all incandescent lights with compact fluorescent or light-emitting diode bulbs.

"Short of tearing it down and staring anew, I don't know how it could have been rated any higher," said Kim Shinn of the U.S. Green Building Council, which gave the house its second-highest rating for sustainable design.

Gore's improvements cut the home's summer electrical consumption by 11 percent compared with a year ago, according to utility records reviewed by The Associated Press. Most Nashville homes used 20 percent to 30 percent more electricity during the same period because of a record heat wave.

Shinn said Gore's renovations are impressive because his home, which is more than 80 years old, had to meet the same rigorous standards as new construction.

"One of the things that is tremendously powerful about what the Gores have done is demonstrate that you can take a home that was a dog, and absolute energy pig, and do things to correct that that," Shinn said.

Gore bought the mansion in the Nashville suburb of Belle Meade in 2002 for $2.3 million. It houses his offices and those of his wife, Tipper, as well as a commercial kitchen for formal events.

Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider declined to say how much the couple spent on the improvements.

"The Gores decided to take a series of steps over time that might be logistically or financially out of reach for many Americans," she said. "But they were fortunate enough to have the ability to do so.

"But everyone can get started, whether it's changing light bulbs or purchasing green power."

In February, a conservative think tank criticized Gore for using an average of 16,000 kilowatt hours a month for an average monthly bill of $1,206 in 2006. The typical Nashville home uses about 1,300 kilowatt hours a month.

Gore has said the criticism was unfair because the mansion was undergoing extensive remodeling. He said this week that "global warming denier" groups were trying to discredit him because they do not like the attention he has given to climate change.

"You're going to have people try to attack the messenger in order to get at the message. They have not been able to succeed," Gore told CNN from Norway, where he picked up the Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work.

Electricity usage at the home remains well above regional averages, but Gore's power consumption decreased by 6,890 kilowatt hours, or 11 percent, between June and August, despite the heat wave.

Gore has also said he invests in renewable energy such as solar and wind power to balance 100 percent of his electricity usage.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the size of Gore's house limits how much he can cut his energy consumption.

"We all need to evaluate what we legitimately need in square footage," he said.

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