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Our work would not be possible without your commitment to help us move toward a prosperous and sustainable future for Appalachia. Please consider donating to our work to move beyond practices like this that destroy our health, the environment and the climate, and move toward those that will sustain future generations.
Summer is upon us, which means a season of hot sun, blockbusters at the movies, and developments at the state and federal levels that could spell significant progress toward a clean energy system.
With the imminent release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final rule to limit carbon pollution from power plants and vigorous discussion about how to meet state goals, events are in motion that are sure to shape the future of clean energy deployment across Virginia. Here are a few snapshots of the policies and programs we’re watching:
Appalachian Power Company’s renewable generation pilot program
At the moment, there is no option for Appalachian Power Company’s Virginia customers to buy power from a third party that installs and owns a solar installation. Hurdles have existed in the past keeping the utility from offering such programs, while a pilot program remains open for qualified Dominion customers until the end of the year.
Now an analog is in the works in APCo’s service area because of interest on the part of area universities in pursuing similar arrangements. Grant funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SUNSHOT initiative are also a factor in helping to give clean energy a foothold at institutions of higher learning.
These resources can be put to good use if the schools are permitted to enter into agreements to host solar generation and purchase power from systems owned by a third-party, reducing upfront costs relative to buying a system of its own.
APCo is seeking approval from state regulators to commence a program for systems larger systems 250 kilowatts for non-residential customers, including allowing for aggregation of systems on the rooftops of many different buildings that applies to non-profit universities.
This proposal may be subject to some major modifications before becoming available; these changes may pertain to charges imposed on renewable energy buyers, the size of the systems that are eligible, and even the legal ramifications of treating these arrangements so differently from net energy metering.
On July 1, Appalachian Power will release its latest long-term plan outlining how to meet demand over the next 15 years. Because of our community’s efforts and customer engagement in the process, the utility is already modeling ways to comply with the EPA’s new carbon pollution reduction targets including through energy efficiency programs.
But given the cost burden that low- and moderate-income utility customers bear and how far our utilities’ emissions need to come down to reach targeted reductions, we are counting on robust renewable energy commitments and ambitious efficiency goals in its forthcoming plan.
Solarize Montgomery and Solarize Abingdon programs come out and shine
Solar energy is now much more accessible and affordable in Montgomery County, Virginia, thanks to Solarize Montgomery. Launched on Earth Day by a partnership formed by Community Housing Partners, Montgomery County, the Town of Blacksburg, the Town of Christiansburg, the New River Valley Planning District Commission, and VA SUN, the program builds off of last year’s successful Solarize Blacksburg program. Since April, 90 Montgomery county residents have signed up for the long-awaited program.
Abingdon’s Solarize program is kicking off on June 9. Meanwhile, Solarize Harrisonburg is soon to close, but sign up numbers there have exceeded expectations. A huge credit goes to all the program organizers who helped their neighbors achieve savings that could spur solar commitments house by house, while also supporting local renewable energy businesses.
New Clean Power Industry census, and efficiency goals fast-tracked
The Virginia Energy Efficiency Council will soon announce the full results of a recently-completed statewide industry census that takes stock of all the employers and employees in the clean energy sector. After extensive surveying and research, the council found that more than 13,000 jobs in Virginia are currently associated with energy efficiency, and more detailed census information will be posted soon on the organization’s website.
In a presentation given in Virginia, a representative of the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy shared that the Clean Power Plan can be implemented in Virginia in a way that creates at least 54,000 jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has recently taken steps to accelerate our state’s efficiency progress, forming an Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency to harness expertise and strategize for solutions to reduce consumption in the private sector while moving up by two years Virginia’s energy savings goal of 10 percent by 2020. With leadership from the McAuliffe administration and energy providers across the state, that goal is within reach.]]>
I remembering hearing about the SOAR Initiative when it was first announced in 2013.
Like a lot of people working for a better Appalachia, I was excited to hear that the question of “what comes next?” was finally receiving some high-level attention.
Last week’s summit was the first time I had connected directly with the initiative and I had high hopes. Although SOAR focuses specifically on enhancing economic opportunities in eastern Kentucky, I was counting on bringing back ideas and inspiration that could be applied to Appalachian Voices’ economic development work in far southwest Virginia.
The event was well attended — an estimated 1,300 people showed up. But, even with so many who care deeply about transitioning the eastern Kentucky economy gathering in one place, there was disappointingly little time or space created for discussion amongst the people who are doing the lion’s share of the on-the-ground work in Appalachian communities. There was a lot of “talking at” and not nearly enough “talking with.”
MACED’s Ivy Brashear had a similar reaction and shared her thoughts in an eloquent post titled “SOAR still important, but second summit falls short of expectations.”
This is not to say that some of the “talking at” portions of the summit were not inspiring or worth hearing. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez was on the scene, and he gave a very enthusiastic and hopeful speech about the future of the region.
During his plenary address, Secretary Perez officially rolled out $35 million in federal implementation grants available through the POWER Initiative, a coordinated effort led by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to invest in communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector.
These grants were first announced back in March, and were described by the Obama administration as “a down payment” on the POWER+ Plan.
There was plenty of talk in the hallways among my colleagues about POWER+, and I heard a few related questions asked during Q&A section of multiple presentations. But I was surprised that no one on stage that I saw throughout the day mentioned it on their own. My most recent post was all about how POWER+ deserved a warmer welcome, and it seems like that’s still the case.
Even though POWER+ got the cold shoulder, there was a lot of attention given to other worthy issues such as broadband expansion, technology job creation, local foods, youth leadership development and the arts.
Taken as a whole, SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. When so many different players come to the table with varying backgrounds and interests, it’s naturally a delicate process to keep the boat afloat.
It was never a secret that the coal economy was headed for an eventual collapse. Regional production peaked in 1997, but a web of social and political forces have kept clinging to the past. Finally, we’ve reached a place where we see a robust regional discussion and federal programs focused on diversifying the central Appalachian economy.
The role of Appalachian Voices and our allies is, and will continue to be, ensuring that promising initiatives like SOAR include new ideas and ways of thinking are not stuck in that old and tired web that no longer serves the best interests of Appalachian communities.]]>
The disgust with North Carolina Sen. Bob Rucho today is broad and bipartisan.
Yesterday in the state Senate finance committee, which he chairs, Rucho prevented any debate on provisions of House Bill 332 that would undermine a policy central to the success of North Carolina’s solar industry.
Then he broke Senate rules by refusing to allow an individual tally of votes and declared a failed bill passed.
North Carolinians: Send a message to your state senator telling them to oppose anti-solar provisions in H322.
As the News & Observer reports:
Senate finance chairman Sen. Bob Rucho pushed through a bill freezing renewable energy rates on Wednesday, cutting off discussion and refusing to allow a head count instead of a voice vote.
He declared the bill had passed, despite a louder and possibly more numerous chorus of “no” votes. The meeting ended with several senators, including at least two Republicans, openly complaining about the way Rucho had handled it.
“It wasn’t even close,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, a seven-term Republican from Archdale, told Rucho afterward.
Rules adopted by the Senate earlier this year require the presiding officer to hold a “division,” an individual tally rather than just by voice, if it is called for prior to the vote. In this case, the committee’s leading Democrat, Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, called for a division. Rucho refused and moved forward with a voice vote.
After the committee meeting, Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte tweeted:
Just watched raw abuse of power in Finance committee. A bill got more Nays than Ayes but was deemed "passed" and meeting adjourned. #ncga
— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) May 20, 2015
Even former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers called out legislators for their regressive tack on proven clean energy policies. “They are not focused on the future,” Rogers told an audience at Charlotte Business Journal’s Energy Inc. Summit today. “They are focused on the past.”
The benefits of clean energy are abundant, but the game in Raleigh is rigged. Since opponents of sound energy policies that promote job growth and create billions in local economic benefits can’t win adhering to the rules, they break them. Bob Rucho has more than earned his nickname, “Napoleon Rucho.”
If you’re still finding it hard to believe Sen. Rucho could treat the democratic process with such brazen disregard, well, here’s his most recent tweet from back in January 2014.
Left wing extremists cry foul when they get back the same as they give out. Treat people with respect if that is what you expect in return.
— Bob Rucho (@SenatorBobRucho) January 9, 2014
Sen. Rucho, respectfully, treat people with respect if that is what you expect in return.
If HB332′s flawed passage is allowed to stand, the bill could be brought up on the Senate floor for a full vote. If that happens, we hope the bipartisan outrage with the way the bill has been handled thus far, and the fact that it’s bad policy to begin with, remains.
TAKE ACTION NOW: Send a message to your state senator telling them to oppose anti-solar provisions in H322.]]>
In a surprise announcement that some predicted and many have long advocated for, Duke Energy shared plans today to “end an era of coal” in Asheville, N.C., by retiring the coal-fired power plant that sits on the banks of nearby Lake Julian.
The aging power plant, which began operating in 1964, has been a constant target for Appalachian Voices and many of our allies in North Carolina working to address coal ash pollution and promote investments in cleaner energy.
The company plans to spend around $750 million over the next four or five years to retire the coal plant and replace it with a 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, nearly doubling the current plant’s capacity. The plans also include building solar generation on the site, but it’s unclear how large — or small — the size of the renewable portion of the project will be.
While the news should be celebrated as progress, it also represents another precarious step along a dangerous road that will prolong our region’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and saddle consumers with long-lived investments in natural gas.
Duke, more than any other southeastern utility, has been at the forefront of the coal-to-gas fuel-switching trend, retiring seven of its 14 North Carolina coal plants in the past five years. The utility is also slated to be the largest customer of the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but, in this case, plans to upgrade an existing natural gas pipeline to supply the new plant.
Even though the company has brought on large-scale solar projects in recent years, Duke’s enthusiasm for clean energy doesn’t come close to its eagerness to expand natural gas generation and infrastructure. That fact is reflected in the mixed responses of environmental groups and clean energy advocates to today’s news.
“The retirement of the Asheville Plant is a step in the right direction, but it is a half measure, undermined by continuing reliance on an economically unpredictable and polluting source of power. Duke can do better, and our community deserves better,” a coalition of groups made up of MountainTrue, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and Waterkeeper Alliance announced in a joint statement. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for clean energy solutions for Western North Carolina.”
According to Duke, electricity demand in the Asheville area has doubled over the past forty years and the Asheville plant is a “must run” facility, meaning it operates around the clock to maintain reliability. But data charted by SNL Energy shows the plant’s capacity factor has been trending down since 2010, likely due to new capacity at the more-economical Cliffside power plant coming online.
Closing the plant will dramatically reduce harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury, and the new natural gas plant will emit about 60 percent less carbon dioxide per-megawatt hour. But its larger generating capacity could mean overall carbon emissions stay about the same.
The cost of retrofitting the plant’s coal ash ponds to comply with the state’s Coal Ash Management Act is sure to have played a role in the decision to retire the plant. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources also cited Duke in February for contaminating groundwater at the facility, which could lead to fines.
The Asheville plant is the only facility out of the four deemed “high priority” by the coal ash law that still burns coal. It is also one of the few still-operating plants involved in the federal lawsuit over coal ash pollution that led Duke to plead guilty to nine misdemeanors under the Clean Water Act.
The case for closing the Asheville coal plant is clear. But Duke must do more to meet its promises to North Carolinians. At a time of tremendous opportunity to expand clean energy, America’s largest electric utility has the obligation and more than enough influence to lead.]]>
I love living in North Carolina. The diversity of our state, its natural beauty, and its glorious Carolina blue skies and sunshine.
On average, North Carolina skies are sunny more than 200 days a year. Those sunny skies don’t just offer us great days for enjoying the beach or Saturday picnics; they also offer us a priceless opportunity for solar energy.
Over the past year, we have heard Gov. McCrory and members of the state Mining and Energy Commission talk about the “opportunities” that fracking will bring to the state, while categorically denying the real opportunities of the solar industry. So, let’s do a quick comparison (find links from chart at end of the post):
Doesn’t seem that this is a difficult equation to solve. So why are our elected officials pushing forward on fracking and offshore drilling, while working on legislation that casts shadows over North Carolinians right to utilize our sunshine?
Right now, a monster of an anti-environmental bill is in the General Assembly. House Bill 760 has many terrible provisions, you can see the disheartening summary here.
On the laundry list of rollbacks proposed in this bill is a major decrease of our Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The standard currently requires utility providers to obtain a small percentage (12.5 %) of their power from renewable sources by 2021—a modest amount compared to California, where utilities must hit 33% by 2020. The House bill would cut North Carolina’s requirement to just 6%.
A different bill is under attack that would allow residential customers to get “no money down” solar panels on their homes. House Bill 245, also known as the Energy Freedom Act, would allow residents to contract with an independant solar company which would cover the cost of panels and installation upfront, allowing homeowners to enjoy the benefits of solar power while paying off the cost over time. But Duke Energy is doing all it can to block the bill, and our legislators are listening to them—not us, the public, which polls show want solar.
The North Carolina Energy Tax credit is set to expire. Two bills—House Bill 454 and Senate Bill 447—would extend the 35% solar tax credit through 2021. North Carolina has enjoyed explosive growth in solar due to this tax credit, which has paid taxpayers back handsomely. According to research by RTI International and Scott Madden Consultants, $80 million in state tax incentives resulted in $900 million in clean energy and efficiency investments in 2014, as well as nearly 20,000 jobs. Despite the obvious benefits to our economy and the solar industry, our elected officials are showing no sign they intend to extend the credit.
In baseball, it’s one, two, three strikes……you’re OUT! Our elected officials are supposed to be on our team, so why are they set to strike us out on solar. Only this isn’t a game. This is a real opportunity—if we can just get our elected officials to act on behalf of citizens and take steps to make North Carolina #1 in solar.
Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to put Appalachian communities at risk. A growing movement of more than 100,000 people from across the country and Central Appalachia have rallied to end the destruction practice, and while we have seen victories, our work is not yet done.
The Obama administration has taken actions to limit pollution from mountaintop removal coal mining, but they still have more they can do to take strong, lasting steps to protect the health of Appalachian communities and create a brighter future for the region.
Add your voice to the movement demanding the Obama administration takes action to stop mountaintop removal once and for all.
Take action below!]]>