Archive for the ‘Front Porch Blog’ Category

Surprised? McCrory’s Coal Ash Proposal Falls Short

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 - posted by brian
Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is catching flak for a proposal on coal ash that could derail state legislators’ efforts to reform regulation of the toxic waste during the upcoming legislative session.

According to the News & Observer, McCrory’s proposal calls for “site-specific closures.” Coal ash from some ponds could be moved, other ponds would be drained and capped but likely still threaten groundwater. In other words, basically what Duke Energy has already said it plans to do.

McCrory and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, have been adamant that a one-size-fits-all approach to coal ash isn’t prudent, talking down a vocal public that believes the toxic waste should be moved from storage near waterways to safer, lined landfills.

On its face, the bill seems to signal progress, or at least make a bad situation a little bit better. For example, it would shorten the time in which Duke would have to notify the public of spills, from 48 hours to 24. OK, probably shouldn’t have been 48 hours to begin with, but we’ll take it.

Also, while the plan would not impose deadlines on Duke to clean up its leaky ash ponds, it would require closure plans within 60 days to 90 days of its passage for the four plants with the most urgent coal ash issues – Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville.

Also, while the plan would not impose deadlines on Duke to address its leaky ash ponds, it would give Duke 60 days to 90 days after the plan’s passage to submit clean-up plans for ash ponds at the four plants with the most urgent pollution threats – Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville.

Pat McCrory

Pat McCrory

But Duke already plans to remove ash from the retired Dan River plant, the site of the massive coal ash spill that reminded the public of the toxic legacy left even after coal plants are shuttered. And the company’s plans to repurpose ash from the Riverbend and Asheville plants as fill material at the Charlotte and Asheville airports are both moving forward.

So what’s the rub? After all, McCrory’s office says it still prefers that the ash be moved away from waterways. But that’s part of the problem. Leaving pond closure timelines and what to do with all that coal ash up to Duke hasn’t worked too well up to this point. The public is demanding clean water be protected, not half measures that leave people to throw their hands in the air and say “well, hopefully Duke Energy will do the right thing.”

Citizens and environmental groups sounding off about the ties between Duke, McCrory and DENR have every reason to be skeptical. DENR’s customer-first (read: industry-first) approach had people scratching their heads long before the Dan River spill in February. And early revelations of the federal criminal investigation that followed the spill only increased the lack of trust.

Perhaps to ease those concerns, Skvarla told the News & Observer that neither McCrory’s staff nor the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources consulted Duke about the proposal.

“This is our legislation, not Duke’s legislation,” said Skvarla. That’s reassuring, I suppose. But the fact that it needs to be clarified does not inspire confidence.

The governor’s proposal could also overshadow other legislation that would do more to get this big dirty ball of coal ash that’s settled in North Carolina rolling. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, a member of McCrory’s party who plans to sponsor a bill strengthening coal ash regulation, says McCrory gave legislators no advance notice of the plan.

“The governor doesn’t do legislation. The legislature does legislation,” Apodaca told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “He should have worked with the folks in the legislature to be on the same page getting legislation drafted.”

Apodaca says the plan he intends to introduce would go further.

“We’re going to mandate actual timeframes to close these (ponds), especially those that are near water sources. We’re determined to get rid of the wet ash pond at Asheville.”

Environmental groups including Appalachian Voices want the state to use its authority to move coal ash to landfills licensed to store hazardous waste. The type of waste that contains arsenic, lead, mercury, you know, coal ash. But the N.C. Environmental Management Commission recently sided with Duke Energy and also appealed the ruling that gave the state the authority to do just that.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, pointed out similarities between the legislation and the controversial settlement DENR asked a judge to throw out after months of intense criticism.

“It fails to provide any deadlines, doesn’t require moving of the ash at all locations, and provides no standards for newly generated coal ash,” Adams said. “This proposal protects Duke Energy, not North Carolina’s citizens.”

Click here to tell your legislators to reject the governor’s proposal and pass legislation that will move the toxic ash to safe, lined storage away from waterways.

Counteracting Coal’s Dirty Tricks

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by tom
The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we're working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we’re working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old tricks. But with your help, Appalachian Voices and our allies are working to make sure they backfire.

Just a month after a federal court threw out the Bush administration’s flawed 2008 stream buffer zone rule, the industry’s allies in the U.S. House passed a bill in March to reinstate this egregiously permissive rule that allows coal companies to dump mountaintop removal waste in streams with little regard for water quality impacts.

We acted quickly to undermine what symbolic success that legislation, H.R. 2824, would ultimately have. While we never expected to stop the bill from passing the unabashedly anti-environmental House, our efforts helped to narrow the margin and bridge the partisan divide that pervades Congress.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, a coalition including Appalachian Voices had Capitol Hill covered. We attended dozens of meetings to educate House members and ensure the truth about mountaintop removal was the message of the day. Sure enough, when the bill was debated on the House floor, opponents of mountaintop removal stood and spoke for the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

We’re not going to let the coal industry take us backward by making an end-run around the court’s decision. And if this bill goes to the Senate, we’re confident that—with your help—we can defeat it. The White House even issued a veto threat, rightfully questioning why industry-backed representatives would want to “waste significant taxpayer dollars adopting a rule that has been vacated by a federal court” noting that the Office of Surface Mining is developing an updated Stream Protection Rule that it says will address the threats mining waste poses to water quality, wildlife habitat and communities downstream.

But here’s the kicker: by showing how far it’s willing to go to make mountaintop removal easy, the coal industry did its part in stoking stronger public and congressional support for clean water. Now it’s up to us to build on this support and pressure on the Obama administration to develop a Stream Protection Rule that protects Appalachian streams from mining waste.

Read Thom Kay’s blog post for a snapshot of floor speeches, both the good and bad, on H.R. 2824.

The Voice: Toxic Warnings, Trilliums and More

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by Kimber

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In this issue of The Appalachian Voice, we explore the struggle to balance health and economic concerns, and where our decisions have taken us. Protecting the natural environment — whether it’s a rare flower, a wild natural landscape, or the river that feeds them both — also protects our communities.

The aftermath of the Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia and the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina and Virginia is explored in “Toxic Warnings.” From stories of the people affected by these spills, the dramatic consequences of lax regulation are laid out alongside the community’s resulting determination to take action. And from the broken policies that allowed these failures to occur, we see that the issue of water contamination in our country runs much deeper than any would like to imagine.

Writer Molly Moore investigates the origins and achievements of the War on Poverty through the lens of Appalachia where, even 50 years later, the region remains among the most impoverished in the country. Yet Patsy Dowling, who considers herself a success of the War on Poverty, is quick to point out that continued progress takes commitment. Today, Dowling is the executive director of an anti-poverty nonprofit, and one of many who remains dedicated to the success of Appalachia.

Some achievements flourish best undisturbed, as the Dunaways observe during the blooming months of spring. While walking together through their eastern Tennessee property, they stumble on a delightful surprise. A burst of yellow displayed against the medley of leaves covering the forest floor, an elegant, three-petaled wildflower, turns out to be an undiscovered species of Trillium tennesseense. On the Dunaways’ land, the trillium has evaded the rising threat of sprawling development.

You can also read about some of the creative approaches being used to secure a bright future for our communities, and even get involved yourself! This issue’s regular Hiking the Highlands column follows Matt Kirk’s 350-mile hike along the nearly complete Southern Appalachian Loop Trail, which has been developed to foster a healthy environment and economic growth. You can volunteer to help maintain the route, or check out our special section on volunteer opportunities in Appalachia. The listing includes caring for rescue horses, fixing bikes to donate to low-income residents and residential environmental service programs. We’ve also posted our online exclusive summer camp listing, for all ages ranging from five to 18 years old.

Be sure to check out our election coverage too. Whether it’s through voting, volunteering, or your everyday work, there are many ways to get involved in your community. We only provide a small sampling of how you can help, but we hope to inspire you to stand up for your community and stand for a solution.

Read the online version here, pick up a copy on a newsstand near you, or join Appalachian Voices to receive a one-year subscription in your mailbox. Questions or comments? Email voice@appvoices.org, or submit a letter to the editor!

Spring Happenings for Clean Water in N.C.

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by amy
Children splash in North Carolina's Watauga River

Children splash in North Carolina’s Watauga River. Photo by Jamie Goodman

Spring is here and it’s time to go outside and enjoy the warm weather at the park or on the river! I’m so grateful for afternoons playing with my kids in the creek, teaching them about water bugs and sprouting plants. Times like these remind us of how thankful we are for clean water.

Appalachian Voices will be traveling across the state, joining our partners in hosting community earth day events and large public events. We hope you can join us for fun times outside while we advocate for coal ash clean up in North Carolina and defending clean water!

April 24 - Roanoke River Basin Association community discussion in Henderson. Join neighbors, the RRBA and AV’s Amy Adams to discuss your coal ash concerns and work together to promote a cleanup strategy. 6 – 8 p.m. H. Leslie Perry Library, 205 Breckenridge St. Contact Deborah Ferruccio at deborahferrucio@gmail.com

April 26 – Two Earth Day festivals! The Piedmont Environmental Alliance fair in Winston-Salem Fairgrounds 10- 5 p.m. and Carolina Climate Action Earth Day in Marshall Park, Charlotte — be sure to stop by our table in Charlotte!

April 27 - “The Value of Water” in Boone — a community discussion about protecting our rights to safe water in the wake of the N.C. Dan River coal ash spill and the West Virginia Elk River chemical spill in early 2014. Hosted by AV and Boone Healing Arts Center. Event starts at 3 p.m. at the Boone Healing Arts Center, 838 State Farm Rd.

April 30 - “Light the Path Forward” in Charlotte — candlelight vigil to remember the effects of coal ash. 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. Duke Energy New Headquarters, 550 S. Tryon St.

May 1Mayday at Duke Shareholder Meeting in Charlotte — press conference and street theater outside of the Duke Energy annual shareholder meeting rallying for clean water, clean energy, environmental + racial + social justice, political transparency and a bright future for all. 9 – 11 a.m. Duke Energy Corporate Headquarters, 526 S. Church St. Also, in Winston-Salem catch a film screening and discuss coal ash concerns with Yadkin Riverkeeper, Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Voices. 7 p.m., Temple Emanuel, 201 Oakwood Dr.

May 10 – Belews Paddle and Picnic in Belews Creek — family fun to support protection of Belews Lake, the Dan River, and our drinking water from coal ash pollution produced by the Belews Creek power plant. 11 – 4 p.m. Rock Hill Baptist Church, 4873 Pine Hall Rd.

May 20 - Educational forum focusing on coal ash in Arden/Asheville with Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Alliance and Appalachian Voices.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the first installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia. An effective and proven investment strategy is the development of low-cost home energy efficiency loan programs by the rural electric cooperatives in the region. In this post, we explore the relationship between poverty and electricity costs, and how reducing electricity costs can help alleviate the impacts of poverty across the Appalachian region.

Part 1: How Energy Efficiency Can Help Alleviate Poverty

When you think of poverty, what words do you associate with it? Many of us might think of words like “low-income,” “unemployment” or “homelessness.” Unfortunately, it is not often that we associate poverty with electricity costs, because for many across the United States, especially those living in the South and Appalachia, electricity costs play a significant role in worsening the impacts of poverty.

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, total household energy costs (including electricity and other fuels) accounted for approximately 3 percent of household income for U.S. families in 2012. For low-income households, however, energy costs have been estimated to account for a significantly higher portion of family income — 22 percent — which is more than one-fifth of total household income.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine a family of four living in rural Appalachia, or anywhere for that matter, on a mere $20,000 a year or less. That family is spending approximately $4,000 each year just to maintain a level of comfort that many of us might take for granted. That leaves only $16,000 for covering other basic needs such as food, health insurance, transportation, education, or other utilities such as water, telephone service or internet connection.

Now imagine that up to 40 percent of that family’s energy costs are the result of waste due to poor insulation (or lack thereof), the use of inefficient heating/cooling systems and appliances, or inefficient lighting. That amounts to $1,600 a year, or a staggering eight percent of our imagined family’s income — lost due to energy waste. And because our imaginary family is impoverished, they cannot afford to pay the upfront cost of making the needed efficiency improvements to their home, or of installing new, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, each of which could provide significant savings on household energy costs.

Unfortunately, our imagined family is very real. This family exists all over the South, and all across Appalachia. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the average poverty rate in Appalachia from 2007 to 2011 was 13 percent higher than the average rate for the entire U.S. In some of the most rural parts of Appalachia — West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, for example — poverty rates were even worse: 22 percent and 73 percent above the national average, respectively. Across the region, high rates of poverty corresponded to significantly lower incomes, with Appalachian households earning approximately 25 percent less than the average U.S. household.

While Appalachian and southern states have some of the highest instances of poverty in the nation, these states also spend more each month on electricity bills alone (not including other fuels). Eight of the twelve states that spent the most on monthly household electricity costs are in the South or have counties situated in the Appalachian region. In other words, electricity costs are generally the highest in regions of the U.S. characterized by the highest poverty rates. [The data is somewhat skewed due to the fact that electricity is used for space heating in some states, whereas propane or oil are used in others. Regardless, the high concentration of southeastern and Appalachian states ranking at or near the top for electricity costs is notable.]

Most of these areas are served by rural electric cooperatives (“co-ops”), which were created nearly 75 years ago specifically for the purpose of providing electricity to the most rural of areas throughout the U.S. As Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs pointed out, rural co-ops serve 327 out of 353, about 93 percent, of the counties suffering the deepest and most persistent poverty.

Customers of co-ops in the Southeast pay more for electricity on average than customers of investor-owned utilities in the same states.

Customers of co-ops in the Southeast pay more for electricity on average than customers of investor-owned utilities in the same states.

Specific to Appalachia and the South, as Appalachian Voices reported back in February, more than 80 percent of all southeastern electric utilities (co-ops and other power companies) serve areas that had an average poverty rate above the national average of 16 percent in 2012. This holds true for rural co-ops, as approximately 80 percent of co-op service areas in the Southeast had a higher poverty rate than the U.S. as a whole.

In addition, electric utility bills for co-op members in the Southeast were 8 percent higher in 2012 than for customers of investor-owned utilities. Therefore, annual electric bills serve as a much greater burden on family income for residents served by rural co-ops than for those served by other electric utilities.

While rural electric co-ops are not the cause of poverty in Appalachia and the South, the decisions they make — or do not make — affect families’ ability to make their homes more energy efficient in order to reduce their energy costs. In other words, rural electric co-ops, and other electric utilities, can play a significant role in alleviating poverty in Appalachia and throughout the Southeast by making stronger investments in home energy efficiency.

In part 2 of this series we will explore the lack of economic diversity in Appalachia, and illustrate how investments in energy efficiency can create jobs while strengthening local economies.

North Carolina sides with Duke Energy by appealing coal ash ruling

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

A coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant. Photo by Les Stone / Greenpeace

Why would the state ask a judge to take away its legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

For years, North Carolina has known that Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are illegally contaminating groundwater. Yet the state has not taken any action to force Duke to correct the violations.

In fact, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission, the body that oversees the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and determines what DENR can enforce, determined two years ago that the state did not have the authority to make Duke clean up the source of its illegal pollution — coal ash ponds.

Last month, to the relief of concerned citizens and environmental groups, a superior court judge reversed the EMC’s prior decision, ruling that the state actually does have the legal authority to force Duke Energy to immediately clean up its coal ash ponds.

As expected, Duke Energy appealed the judge’s decision. Last week, however, in a move that surprised many, the EMC also appealed the judge’s decision. Why would the state ask a judge to take away it’s legal authority to stop groundwater pollution?

The answer likely has to do with who makes up the EMC and how they were appointed. A local Raleigh news station, WNCN, did some digging and found that at least eight of the fifteen EMC members have ties to Duke Energy or other major power companies. For example, the chairman, Benne Hutson, works for a law firm that has represented Duke Energy in court.

Given that the EMC is appointed by the Senate president pro tempore, the House speaker, and the governor — who worked for Duke Energy for 28 years — it’s not surprising that the commission has chosen to pander to corporate interests rather than adequately protect North Carolina’s water and its citizens health.

America’s biggest bank moves away from mountaintop removal

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - posted by brian

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A combination of activism and economics is reducing the role big banks play in making mountaintop removal coal mining possible.


Update: Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released their latest Coal Finance Report Card, grading U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. Read the Report Card here.

Pressuring large investment banks to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining has been a strategy of the nationwide movement to end the destructive practice for years.

Judging by the progress made by Rainforest Action Network, and other grassroots groups such as Earth Quaker Action Team and Hands Off Appalachia targeting the infamous “too big to fails,” that strategy is working.

Yesterday, RAN shared the news that JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, updated its position on mountaintop removal in its environmental policy report, indicating a further move away from financing mountaintop removal projects.

The bank’s announcement comes almost four years after a report by RAN, the Sierra Club and BankTrack revealed that JPMorgan, along with PNC and UBS, was a top financier of companies using mountaintop removal.

RAN’s Energy & Finance program director, Amanda Starbuck, wrote that, as the nation’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase’s aversion to financing mountaintop removal projects should be an example to other major banks “that do not want to be singled out” for continuing to support the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams. We’re looking at you, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Yes, you too, PNC and UBS.

According to JPMorgan Chase’s 2014 environmental policy report, the bank has reduced its exposure to companies engaged in mountaintop removal and expects that reduction to “exceed any decline in the
overall market.”

The policy report does not overlook the economic side of this environmental crime either, mentioning that “production from mountaintop mining has declined by close to 50 percent since 2008 due to market conditions, regulations, and concerns over environmental and human health impacts.”

Still, as recently as last year, JPMorgan Chase earned a D+ on RAN’s Coal Finance Report Card, which evaluates the largest U.S. banks based on their financing of mountaintop removal projects and companies that operate coal-fired power plants.

The report card’s authors wrote that JPMorgan Chase’s “enhanced diligence process” for mountaintop removal transactions “includes considerations of a company’s regulatory compliance history, exposure to future regulation, litigation risk, and operational performance related to valley fills and water quality issues.”

Overall, the bank ranked fourth among the 12 largest U.S. banks in involvement in mountaintop removal financing, committing $616.7 million in 2012 to companies including Alpha Natural Resources and TECO Energy, according to the Coal Finance Report Card.

In order to improve its grade, the RAN team wrote, JPMorgan should disclose details and “strengthen reporting on how it has implemented its enhanced diligence process for mountaintop removal transactions.”

Strong stances on mountaintop removal in the finance sector are not unprecedented. BNP Paribas, the fourth largest bank in the world by total assets, includes a mandatory requirement in its responsible investment policy to not invest in companies that use mountaintop removal.

Appalachian Voices congratulates RAN on the success of its campaign against America’s biggest banks and the pivotal role they play in making mountaintop removal possible. Learn more and take action here.

Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia's most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties.

James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia’s most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties. Click to enlarge.

This week, James River Coal Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Like Patriot Coal, which reemerged from bankruptcy in December, the Richmond, Va.-based company’s operations are concentrated in Central Appalachia and are located in some of the counties most economically vulnerable to coal’s downturn.

According to a 2013 report by Downstream Strategies, eastern Kentucky’s Knott, Letcher, Pike, Bell, and Harlan counties are particularly vulnerable to shifting coal demand and changes in electricity markets, and therefore, require the most immediate attention from policymakers seeking to alleviate the economic impacts of the region’s declining coal industry.

James River has historically operated in all of those counties. But in September 2013, poor demand forced the company to lay off 525 employees and idle production at its McCoy-Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties and the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties.

Two months later, the struggling coal operator idled four more mines and furloughed 200 workers.

James River has not posted an annual net profit since 2010 and reported net loss of approximately $16.4 million in 2013. Investors expected the bankruptcy was imminent after the company recently received a notice from Nasdaq that it was not complying with the stock market’s rules after its stock closed below $1 per share for 30 business days.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it has assets valued at about $1.06 billion and liabilities of about $818.7 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The coal markets in the U.S. have changed dramatically during the past several years,” said James River Chairman and CEO Peter T. Socha. “Some of these changes are cyclical due to continued weakness in the real economy. Other of the changes are more permanent like changes in government environmental regulations, improved methods to produce natural gas, and switching between coal basins by domestic power utilities.”

A federal judge approved James River’s request to continue operations during its restructuring process, including paying wages and providing health care and other benefits to its 1,200 employees.

The company also appears committed to carrying out its contracts with electric utilities such as Indianapolis Power & Light, and Kentucky Utilities Co., which it supplies with coal from more productive mines in the Illinois Basin.

Either way, according to SNL Energy, James River’s chances for survival post-bankruptcy could be hindered by expiring contracts with electric utilities and the shrinking demand for Central Appalachian coal.

Rural Electric Co-ops Can Renew Community Spirit

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }We occasionally invite a guest to “pull up a chair” and share their views on issues important to you. Today’s post is from Brian Depew, the executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, a group that works to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship. This post, about how rural electric co-ops can renew community spirit, originally appeared on the Center for Rural Affairs’ clean energy blog.

I tore a page out of my rural electric co-op newsletter last fall. It is pinned it to my wall. I read it every day. It says, “Electric co-ops were constructed with lines, poles, and the foolhardy notion that we all prosper by helping each other.”

Brian Depew

Brian Depew

It’s so true. The cooperative spirit that brought electric service to rural America represents the community-driven values of small towns – values the Center works to uphold today.

More than 900 rural electric coops serve 42 million people in 47 states. Co-ops remain democratically controlled, run by elected customer-members. But the co-ops have drifted from their community-oriented mission.

Increasingly, they rely disproportionately on coal for generation. Seventy percent of the power co-ops deliver comes from burning coal. The number has fallen to 37 percent nationwide. The ironies are three-fold.

Cost: Electric co-ops serve 327, or 93 percent, of the nation’s 353 counties suffering the deepest and most persistent poverty.

These counties would benefit from affordable electric rates and the economic development potential of developing renewable resources. As the cost of coal has risen and the cost of renewables has fallen, co-ops have failed to respond.

As a result, co-op electric rates are now 9 percent higher than neighboring utilities. Nationwide 350 co-ops charge 15 percent more, and 175 co-ops charge 30 percent more.

Opportunity: Rural electric coops are in a tremendous position to create economic opportunity by investing in local energy. Co-ops serve 75 percent of the nation’s land area, including a vast majority of the best wind and solar resources in the country.

Developing these resources would represent a direct investment in their communities. Take one small example. Research shows that every two megawatts of wind energy installed creates one job and increases county-level personal income by $22,000.

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Money spent in the community stays in the community. Creating a resilient energy industry that will last decades into the future is one of the easiest and smartest steps a community can take to tackle long-term economic challenges.

Democratic Control: The democratically elected board members of these co-ops are in an enviable position to jump start economic growth.

As we travel the country, we hear a consistent theme. Many of you want to invest in renewable resources. You want your co-ops to invest in community-based wind, and you want your co-ops to work with you (not against you) to invest in farm and home-based energy systems.

Repeated public polling bears out the anecdotes. Rural people support greater development of renewable energy sources. They are even willing to pay more for the initial investment.

Yet, there is a disconnect between what you want and what your democratically controlled co-op delivers.

Renewing Spirit: This is why it is time to renew the community spirit that built co-ops. I believe in the foolhardy notion that we all prosper by helping each other. I know you do to.

Eighty years ago that meant coming together to sink poles in the ground and string lines between them. Today it means reinvigorating the democratic control of our local co-ops and harnessing the power of local energy development.

It starts in my community and in your community. You can run for your local co-op board. If you are already on your co-op board, get in touch. We are networking like-minded board members from across the country.

If you are a customer-member of a co-op, pick up the phone and tell your elected board you envision a future where co-ops invest closer to home, creating local opportunity.

Together, we’ll put the public back in the driver’s seat of rural electric co-ops. Call us foolhardy, if you wish. But we are not the only ones.

Virginia Power Shifters intend to organize and win on climate

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by hannah

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Building up communities, empowering people to overcome oppression and standing up to polluters with grassroots strength: these were among the central themes of Virginia Power Shift, which took place at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond last weekend. Students worked tirelessly to involve campuses from all over the state, and delegations traveled from every corner of Virginia to join in the hard work (and, yes, also the play) that constitute this amazing young leaders’ summit.

An eye-opening and inspiring convergence of developing leaders and newly-born activists and loads of young reformers in between, the event showcased a movement on the rise, bringing social justice, climate and energy, pro-democracy and equality campaigns into one space to share skills and generate new approaches to problems.

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Words don’t seem to capture the Power Shift ethic and attitude of heightened awareness and an open-minded way of caring for all people struggling for fairness and equity, but the picture above captures some of the substance and spirit of the weekend of learning and action.

Workshops given on the issues of the moment ranged from student debt to mountaintop removal mining, renewable energy to voter suppression, privilege and discrimination to corporate campaigning against greenwashing and unethical practices. Remarks by climate movement and environmental justice leaders like Energy Action Coalition’s Lillian Molina, Virginia New Majority’s Tram Nguyen, and the Hip Hop Caucus’ Reverend Lennox Yearwood capped off the conference on a high note.

The weekend of action and leadership is just the beginning of a redoubled effort to expand participation of students on campuses in the many organizing opportunities highlighted in Richmond, and in many other fights that this generation takes seriously.

Are you a student ready to engage in this powerful movement? Get with the active organizations on your campus, or check out the top-notch student coalition behind Power Shift 2014!