Front Porch Blog

Get to know the Energy Savings team and what drives our work

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings campaign works to make energy efficiency accessible to members of rural electric cooperatives in East Tennessee and western North Carolina while educating and empowering those members to engage in their co-op’s decision-making process. Read on to learn more about our campaign and why each member of our team is passionate about this work.

Brianna Knisley
Tennessee Outreach Coordinator
Potential for Rural Communities

I grew up in a very small, rural community in southern Ohio and that has played a substantial role in my passion for this work. My town had extremely limited jobs and people often said that it lacked the sense of community it once had. Like many others, my family lived in an old and inefficient house, so we struggled to pay our electric bill.

Electric co-ops formed from widespread community organizing among rural people who wanted to improve their quality of life. There is a co-op here in Tennessee that had more than 10,000 people attend its annual meeting in 1951 — more than the number of actual members of the co-op. With some effort, I believe today’s electric cooperatives can be unifying, member-led organizations that solve various problems affecting rural areas, including inefficient housing, limited job opportunities, lack of internet access and more.

Becca Bauer
AmeriCorps North Carolina Outreach Associate
Climate Change

I see energy efficiency as the first and most important step to addressing climate change. Energy efficiency is an easy way for our region to cut energy waste and limit carbon emissions. A large percentage of electricity in western North Carolina is generated by coal and natural gas-fired power plants, so reducing how much energy we use decreases the amount of fossil fuels that we need to burn. This results in fewer greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere. Since electric cooperatives are owned by their members, they have an important role in helping communities realize the climate benefits of energy efficiency. Climate change disproportionately affects people living in poverty, women and minorities, and it is up to us to help mitigate the effects and work towards a cleaner economy.

Nina Levison
OSMRE/VISTA Tennessee Outreach Associate
Democratizing Energy

The energy industry has profited off labor and polluted water and air of those most vulnerable, all while two-thirds of that energy is wasted. While we are transitioning our energy generation away from fossil fuels, we should also transition who owns and who benefits from these systems. With collective ownership, we can make decisions about how energy is generated, used and conserved that directly benefit community health and the local economy.

Cooperatives are a useful tool in developing a more democratic energy grid because they are already owned by their members and serve communities where jobs are harder to find and incomes are generally lower. Cooperatives have the unique opportunity to offer affordable energy efficiency financing and other innovative programs to benefit their members. Engaged, collective ownership benefits members of a community far beyond keeping the lights on.

Lauren Essick
North Carolina Outreach Coordinator
Working Together to Find Local Solutions

Having grown up in a North Carolina town facing plenty of economic problems, I became passionate about enacting innovative solutions locally. Nothing is quite as exciting to me as seeing people come together to address an unmet need and find an answer that will work for everyone.
Pay As You Save on-bill financing has great potential as a local solution for our region’s disproportionately high energy burden. In a time when much of our country is polarized on many of our biggest challenges, this program is broadly embraced as a “win-win-win”—for electric co-ops, for the environment and for anyone facing high energy bills (which particularly impact people of color and low-income households). My hope for this coming year is that communities across Appalachia, and across the country, will embrace the potential to create solutions hand-in-hand with their neighbors.

Katie Kienbaum
AmeriCorps North Carolina Outreach Associate
Healthy Homes and Communities

One of the frequently overlooked benefits of energy efficiency is the positive impact it can have on people’s health, especially those living with chronic illnesses and older ailments. Homes that are too hot or too cold can aggravate health conditions like bronchitis and COPD. Properly sealed and vented homes make it easier for people to control asthma. In addition, energy efficiency professionals are often trained to identify safety hazards in homes, such as gas leaks. Even mental health improves when families aren’t constantly worrying about energy bills. What’s more, deploying energy efficiency lessens our reliance on fossil fuels, reducing the related public health impacts, from poor air quality to polluted drinking water. By developing accessible energy efficiency programs, electric co-ops have an opportunity to make both their members’ homes and our region healthier.

Rory McIlmoil
Program Manager
Economic and Community Development

I believe in the potential of rural electric cooperatives — democratically owned and controlled by their members — to serve as engines for innovation, clean energy and local economic development in rural communities across the United States. Unfortunately, while other electric utilities have evolved, changing their business models to offer a wider range of technologies and energy services, electric co-ops have for the most part stagnated. As a result, the economic potential of the communities they serve hasn’t been realized.

Slowly but surely, however, co-ops across the nation are beginning to make the necessary changes, spurred by their member-owners and advocates. They are developing unique energy efficiency financing programs, creating community solar projects, selling emerging technologies, investing in local businesses, supporting educational initiatives and training the local workforce in new industries. This is what an electric co-op should look like in the 21st century, and Appalachian Voices is committed to helping realize that potential for rural Appalachian communities.

Why do you care about energy efficiency and rural development? Email in North Carolina or in Tennessee to share your story.

Rory is an energy policy and finance wonk with six years of experience working on energy policy and planning in Appalachia. He joined Appalachian Voices in spring 2013 as Energy Policy Director to head up our Energy Savings for Appalachia program. His dog, Hobo, is our official Boone office mascot.


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