Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Lighting up the night with the Daylight Savings Challenge

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Katie Kienbaum
Watauga County resident Lydia Head with volunteers Sarah Merlotte and Hannah Emery (not pictured: Taylor Petty) Photo: Katie Kienbaum

Watauga County resident Lydia Head with volunteers Sarah Merlotte and Hannah Emery (not pictured: Taylor Petty)
Photo: Katie Kienbaum

To get through the dark evenings since Daylight Saving Time ended on November 6, people are turning on more lights for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, this means that their energy use and electricity bills go up.

Winter heating costs already place a great burden on many Appalachian families, with energy bills sometimes amounting to more than 20% of total family income. High bills are often the result of leaky, inefficient homes, but, making energy efficiency improvements are prohibitively expensive for those struggling the most with their electricity bills.

To make this winter a little easier for folks facing high energy bills, Appalachian Voices devised the Daylight Savings Challenge. We challenged students at Appalachian State University to help us replace as many lights as we could with energy-efficient LED light bulbs by the Daylight Saving time change on November 6.

Volunteer Kaytlin Hester-Newnam installs an energy efficient LED light bulb. Photo: Ridge Graham

Volunteer Kaytlin Hester-Newnam installs an energy efficient LED light bulb.
Photo: Ridge Graham

The new LED bulbs, donated to Appalachian Voices by Hospitality House, use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Replacing a single, frequently used incandescent bulb with an LED could save up to $15 a year. LEDs also last longer (sometimes up to 25,000 hours or 25 years) and do not contain potentially hazardous material, such as the mercury found in compact fluorescent light bulbs. With lower prices and more bulb and color options than ever before, now is the time to switch to LED lighting.

For the Daylight Savings Challenge, five student volunteers helped us distribute almost 100 energy efficient LED light bulbs to seniors across Watauga County, N.C. By the extended end date of November 15, we replaced nearly all of the light bulbs in six homes at no cost to the residents. To locate participants, we partnered with Watauga County Project on Aging, which provides services to senior citizens, many of whom live on fixed incomes which makes it hard to afford energy efficiency upgrades.

Some seniors also have limited mobility and face difficulties replacing burned out bulbs. Installing the longer-lasting LED light bulbs extends the amount of time before the bulb will have to be replaced again. “I couldn’t even go down [to the basement] to see how many were burned out,” said Lydia Head of Boone, N.C. “We are very thankful.”

All together, the replaced bulbs should save the participants at least $280 (about 3,390 kWh) a year. That translates to about 1.75 tons of coal that won’t get burned and more than four tons of carbon dioxide pollution that won’t contribute to climate change. And since these LED bulbs last approximately five years, the participants will save energy year after year.

It’s not too late to switch! Replace the light bulbs in your home with energy efficient LEDs to save your pocketbook and the planet.

Daylight Savings Challenge

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

volunteer installing lightbulb

ASU student Kaytlin Hester-Newmann installs an LED light bulb.


To get through the dark evenings since Daylight Savings Time ended on November 6, people are turning on more lights for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, this means that their energy use and electricity bills go up. Winter heating costs combined with increased lighting use can make it even harder for some families to afford their electricity bills.

To make this winter a little easier, Appalachian Voices devised the Daylight Savings Challenge. Our Energy Savings team partnered with student volunteers from Appalachian State University to distribute almost 100 energy efficient LED light bulbs to six seniors across Watauga County, N.C. The new LED bulbs, donated by Hospitality House, last longer than traditional incandescents and use 75 percent less energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. All together, the participants should save at least $280 a year on their energy bills, which is equivalent to about 1.75 tons of coal. Over five years, that amounts to a savings of approximately $1,400 and almost nine tons of coal!

French Broad Energy Forum is a Success

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne
forum attendees

Attendees at the French Broad Energy Forum listen to a presentation on energy efficiency.

On Nov. 16, nearly 60 citizens attended an energy efficiency information session for members of the French Broad Electric Membership Corp., an electric cooperative that serves six rural counties in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee.

They came out to learn about and discuss how on-bill financing — a method that makes paying for home energy efficiency improvements more affordable — could improve their lives and local economies.

The forum brought together members of the co-op, local government and economic development representatives, community service agencies, numerous businesses and a regional development council. It was sponsored by the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group, with Appalachian Voices, Community Housing Coalition of Madison County, and Southern Reconciliation House (Yancey County) serving as co-sponsors.

Speakers included: Eliza Laubach, who was serving her last day as our Energy Savings Outreach Associate; Rory McIlmoil, our Energy Policy Director; representatives from Neighbors in Need, Community Housing Coalition and Southern Reconciliation House; Wesley Holmes of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance; John Kidda, President of reNew Home Inc.; and Sam Hutchins, French Broad’s Member Services Manager.

The forum showed how hard these communities work to assist residents and businesses who struggle to pay their energy bills, need help with basic home repairs, or are looking to gain a foothold as a new local business.

Most of all, it showed just how strong the public support is across the French Broad co-op area for comprehensive on-bill energy efficiency financing, which could save residents as much as 10 percent on their energy costs while benefiting their electric co-op as well.

French Broad communities broadly support on-bill financing

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016 - posted by rory
Community members in the French Broad electric co-op service area in western NC attend a forum on energy efficiency.

Community members in the French Broad electric co-op service area in western NC attend a forum on energy efficiency.

The region served by the French Broad Electric Membership Corp. is an old rural area, with towns hanging on the precipice of a post-industrial existence, struggling to reinvent themselves. But the main towns of Marshall, Mars Hill, Burnsville, Bakersville, Spruce Pine and others are in the budding stage of a reinvention, with new locally owned cafes, breweries and other businesses popping up, and local governments exploring new economic development strategies. One of the greatest hurdles for these communities, however, is figuring out how to address the aging housing stock (more than 17,000 homes are more than 25 years old), the high poverty rate and the associated burden of energy costs for families and businesses.

That discussion is now happening, thanks to the efforts of Appalachian Voices and numerous community representatives dedicated to helping improve the lives of residents and supporting local economic development. As an expression of this commitment, last week nearly 60 community members came out to learn about and discuss how “on-bill energy efficiency financing” could improve their lives and their local economies.

The “French Broad Community Energy Forum” brought together residents who are members of the electric co-op, local government and economic development representatives, community service agencies, numerous businesses, and a regional development council. The forum even drew Nelle Hotchkiss, Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations for the North Carolina Electric Membership Corp. — the statewide co-op owned by the state’s 26 rural electric cooperatives. The forum was sponsored by the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group, with Appalachian Voices, Community Housing Coalition of Madison County, and Southern Reconciliation House (Yancey County) serving as co-sponsors.

The purpose of the event was to serve as both an informational session and a discussion forum. It was kicked off with a warm welcome by Eliza Laubach, who was serving her last day as Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings Outreach Associate. Eliza spent two years with us as an AmeriCorps and a part-time employee, and helping to organize the forum was her last major contribution to our organization.

Following Eliza, I gave a short presentation to illustrate the extent to which on-bill financing (OBF) investments are needed in the French Broad co-op service area.The high poverty level and the fact that more than 17,200 homes are more than 25 years old suggest a significant potential for reducing energy costs through OBF.

Next to speak were representatives from three community service agencies — Neighbors in Need, Community Housing Coalition and Southern Reconciliation House. Each of the speakers shared their experience with residents facing high energy costs and living in poor housing conditions, and how their respective service agencies assist with housing support and assistance with paying energy bills. Perhaps the key moment in the day came when John Miller of Southern Reconciliation House mentioned that they are only able to help 20 percent of all the families that seek their support with paying their heating and electric bills each winter. All three speakers ended their presentations with strong statements of support for comprehensive financing for home energy improvements available to all French Broad co-op customers.

Sam Hutchins, French Broad’s Member Services Manager, finished out the morning presentations by discussing the structure and operation of electric cooperatives. Notably, Sam shared how the co-op pays Duke Energy $17 per kilowatt of demand, with that price rising to $20 next year. Because of that, Sam said that even installing load management devices on residents’ water heaters could save the co-op, and therefore its members, a substantial amount of money each year. Unfortunately, Sam didn’t say that a comprehensive OBF program that covers all heating systems, appliances, weatherization and other improvements could achieve even greater savings. In fact, perhaps the only “failure” for the event was that, by the end of the day, Sam hadn’t been moved by all of the facts and stories and expressions of support to commit French Broad co-op to even taking steps to explore offering such a program.

Following a delicious lunch by Sweet Monkey Cafe, a local cafe in Marshall, Wesley Holmes of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (and coordinator of the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group), provided a detailed overview of OBF programs. Then, John Kidda, President of reNew Home Inc. — an energy services provider based out of Boone, discussed how he struggles to grow his business and maintain a dedicated working crew because there isn’t enough financial support available for families to afford his services, especially the families that most need it.

For more than 90 minutes at the end of the forum, community members had the chance to engage each of the speakers to ask questions about other clean energy programs French Broad is exploring or planning to offer, how different service agencies are funded and to what extent they lack sufficient funding for meeting community needs, and how the community can move forward to share and bring more resources to those in need.

Overall, the French Broad Community Energy Forum was a huge success. It showed how strongly knit these communities are, and how hard they work to help residents and even businesses who struggle to pay their energy bills, need help with basic home repairs, or are looking to gain a foothold as a new local business. Most of all, it showed just how strong the public support is across the French Broad co-op area for comprehensive on-bill energy efficiency financing, which could save residents as much as 10 percent on their energy costs while benefiting their electric co-op as well.

Additionally, a strong OBF program would generate new jobs and investment for French Broad communities while improving the local housing stock, raising property values and potentially attracting more people to the region. And while the French Broad co-op has yet to commit to developing such a program, it’s important to keep in mind that the co-op is owned by and accountable to its members and the communities it serves.

The voice of the communities served by French Broad EMC is growing louder, and moving forward, Appalachian Voices is committed to helping that growing collective voice be heard.

If you’d like to join our effort to expand inclusive energy efficiency financing to the French Broad region or to other areas in western North Carolina or East Tennessee, visit our website or contact Rory McIlmoil at (828) 262-1500.

Boone community comes together to tackle energy waste

Thursday, October 20th, 2016 - posted by Katie Kienbaum
Appalachian Voices' Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil addresses attendees of the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil addresses attendees of the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting.

Last week, the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting brought together stakeholders from across Boone, N.C., to discuss the problem of energy waste in the town and explore possible solutions.

Attendees included Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz, Karla Rusch from Appalachian State University, Phil Trew from the High Country Council of Governments, Jeremy Barnes from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Tommy Brown from F.A.R.M. Cafe and Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Energy Savings team.

One of the biggest challenges identified by the stakeholders was the quality of Boone’s existing housing stock. Properties that were built quickly to house Boone’s growing population and Appalachian State University’s students often prioritized expedience and profit over energy efficiency. The design of some properties even encourages energy waste.

Several stakeholders shared stories of students and ASU staff having to open their apartment or office windows during winter to control the room temperature because there was only one thermostat for the entire building. Boone resident Barbara Talman also pointed out that many homes in the area were originally built for summer use only and were therefore not properly insulated. Now, those homes are being lived in all year round, and the residents are stuck with high energy bills in the winter.

Weatherizing and retrofitting these inefficient buildings is a challenge. The high upfront costs of upgrades are a barrier to improving home energy efficiency, not only in Boone but across the nation. Boone also has a high proportion of renters. Owner-occupied housing accounts for just 20.2 percent of housing units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Landlords for rental properties are less likely than homeowners to invest in energy efficiency because they don’t pay the electricity bills, or otherwise lack incentive to invest thousands of dollars to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. The programs that do exist to help finance home energy upgrades are often not available to renters. This includes Blue Ridge Electric’s new Energy SAVER Loan Program and the housing rehabilitation programs administered by the High Country Council of Governments.

Even if financing is available for retrofits, finding qualified workers to complete the upgrades can be a headache. Tommy Brown, the volunteer coordinator at F.A.R.M. Cafe and a participant in the Energy SAVER Loan Program, pointed out the lack of local contractors, especially in the heating and cooling sector. Brown received the loan in June, but he is still waiting for work on his home to begin because no contractors are available.

Meeting participants came up with several ways to expand the number of qualified contractors, including improving communication of workforce needs and increasing funding for workforce training. In addition, developing affordable housing in the town of Boone would ensure that the newly trained workforce stays in the region and can help make the town more energy efficient.

The issue of energy efficiency is just one piece of a larger affordable housing puzzle here in Boone. According to Mayor Rennie Brantz, only two town employees live within town limits because the high demand for housing makes finding an affordable place to live nearly impossible. For the same reason, many of the employees at ASU commute to work from outside of Boone. The creation of affordable, non-student housing in town would cut down on energy waste from long commutes and contribute to the development of a sustainable economy.

Another solution proposed at the stakeholder meeting would be for the town government to actively promote energy efficiency. Officials could create something similar to the town’s successful water conservation program that would target energy waste in Boone. Housing ordinances could also be used to mandate certain efficiency measures.

Several participants noted ASU’s longstanding commitment to sustainability and pointed out that there’s an opportunity for the university to collaborate with the Town of Boone to develop efficiency solutions. The students at ASU are also a useful resource. Many students care about environmental issues and could be leveraged to demand energy efficiency upgrades from rental companies. The student rental market is very competitive due to an excess in supply of at least 2,000, so the rental companies would likely respond to student pressure. ASU could even develop a system to rank student rental properties based on how efficient they are to encourage companies to invest in energy upgrades.

Overall, while some key local stakeholders were unable to attend the meeting, Appalachian Voices and the stakeholders who attended agreed that it was a good first step toward identifying comprehensive solutions that could help tackle the problem of energy waste for the Town of Boone. To continue the conversation, Appalachian Voices will be organizing a second meeting in early December to further discuss these solutions.

Do you know someone that should be at these meetings, or are you interested in attending yourself? Contact Rory McIlmoil at 828-262-1500 or rory@appvoices.org to let us know.

Home Projects to Save Energy and Money

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

Story and photos by Adam Sheffield

Harper Robinson of Conservation Pros connects a water heater blanket by applying insulation tape.

Harper Robinson of Conservation Pros connects a water heater blanket by applying insulation tape.


The inevitable colder temperatures of winter can lead to rising energy costs — is your home ready? To help you prepare, Appalachian Voices recently produced several short videos where energy efficiency experts demonstrate ways to lower your home’s energy use. These straightforward upgrades can lower your energy bill as well as help you protect the environment by consuming less energy.

Below are several tips and energy-saving projects from the “Heating and Cooling” and “Water Heating” videos that you can do yourself.

To watch instructional videos about these and other home energy efficiency projects, visit appvoices.org/energy-diy

Heating & Cooling

Turning down your thermostat in the winter uses less energy and saves money.

Turning down your thermostat in the winter uses less energy and saves money.


John Kidda of reNew Homes, Inc., in Boone, N.C., discusses the energy saving benefits of using programmable thermostats as a way to save on heating and cooling bills.

Programmable thermostats allow residents to set the temperature in their home based on their schedule, removing the need to leave the air conditioner or heat running on high while away at work or asleep. During winter, set the thermostat to a lower temperature while you’re away from home or in bed, and program your thermostat to increase the heat right before you normally come home or wake up. Some thermostats can even be adjusted from a mobile device.

Kidda points out that when a home is properly insulated and air leakage is minimized, the thermostat can be set to lower temperatures because heat is not being lost. “One interesting thing is that once you better insulate a house and make it less drafty, you actually will feel more comfortable at a lower temperature,” Kidda says.

Insulation & Air Leakage

Caulking cracks and crevices reduces air leakage to unfinished areas of your home.

Caulking cracks and crevices reduces air leakage to unfinished areas of your home.


Harper Robinson, project manager with Conservation Pros in Asheville, N.C., demonstrates proper installation of crawl space insulation and sealing of attic drafts in this video. According to Robinson, insulation should be positioned with the paper side facing the direction you want to keep warm. Insulation can be held in place by using short metal rods between joists in the crawl space. Robinson also applies a spray foam sealant to an attic’s gaps and crevices, inhibiting air from escaping the finished areas of the home.

Water Heaters

Slight turns of the dial adjust the tank’s temperature.

Slight turns of the dial adjust the tank’s temperature.


Keeping a home’s water heater at an appropriate temperature is a simple way to save energy. Remove the tank’s small access panel and locate the temperature dial. Adjust the dial up or down with a small coin or screwdriver. Optimal temperature settings release shower and tap water that is hot to the touch without having to be diluted with cold water. When temperatures are too high, the tank uses more energy to maintain consistently hot water and risks scalding skin. But water heaters should be set to at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid bacterial growth inside the tank.

Robinson explains that wrapping your tank with an insulation blanket can maintain heat within. Another way to retain warm water is to wrap the first few feet of pipe coming out of the tank with pipe-specific insulating material, such as foam tubing or insulation strips.

Gathering Communities in East Tennessee

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

In East Tennessee, residents view the Tennessee Valley Authority’s original purpose of providing electricity while also serving the “common good” as a relic of the past. Bill McCabe, a resident of Hancock County, which has the second-highest poverty rate in the state, expressed this sentiment at a meeting in August organized by Appalachian Voices. Other community members and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy were also present to offer suggestions for energy efficiency programs with TVA representatives.

Also in August was the annual TVA board meeting, where the Tennessee team worked on generating public comments and organizing local voices to speak to the need for stronger investments in energy efficiency improvements for low-income residents.

Meanwhile, our VISTA Tennessee Outreach Associate Lou Murrey continues to document families who struggle with high energy bills. In her recent blog, “Energy Bill Acrobatics,” Lou profiled the Schmidt family of Tazewell, who find themselves in a budgeting balancing act with needed home repair and a son with disabilities. Lou has been sharing energy efficiency information with community members who have few resources, by setting up an educational table at food banks.

What do electric co-ops have to do with economic justice?

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Josie Lee Varela

WeOwnIt is a pro-member, pro-democracy organization that aims to build the foundation for a fair and just economic system.

WeOwnIt is a pro-member, pro-democracy organization that aims to build the foundation for a fair and just economic system.

As a graduate student living in Boone, N.C., working two jobs while keeping up with school work is not out of the norm for me. And I know I am not alone. Working one or more jobs is not out of the norm for most people I know.

Why is it that so many of our friends and family members work multiple jobs to provide for themselves and their families? Could it be due to an economic system that has failed to generate equitable benefits for all citizens? Possibly. Drew DeSilver, a senior writer for the Pew Research Center, published an informative article of the data behind wage and income inequality in the United States. The numbers are eye opening to say the least.

As DeSilver’s article notes, income inequality in the United States is at its highest since 1928, according to researcher and professor Emmanual Saez at The University of California-Berkeley. Additionally, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found in a 2011 study that after accounting for taxes and transfers on national market incomes, the United States ranked second for income inequality in the 31 nations of the OECD, with Chile in first. According to DeSilver’s research, “median black household income was 59 percent of median white income in 2011” while in the 1960s, black household income was 55 percent of median white household income. In other words, the disparity has remained virtually the same for the past five decades.

Income inequality exists across income classes as well. The Appalachian region, for instance, has been characterized by pervasive economic distress for those who fall in the “lower-income” category. High energy costs and a lack of economic opportunity for folks in Appalachia are linked to income and wealth gaps seen across the country. What can be done to turn the problem of economic disparity around?

Our current economic system, though it may seem like it, is not set in stone. More cooperative economies are our chance to adapt and overcome the current failures of our system. The International Co-operative Alliance describes a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” Electric, consumer and worker co-ops, employee-owned companies and credit unions have been examples of new building blocks for an economic system that works for a majority of the people. While many cooperatives and advocates for cooperative economies exist in communities throughout the country, one new organization is taking that effort national.

The nonprofit WeOwnIt initiative was created in 2015. The initiative is meant to create a national network for cooperative members of all sectors to have the rights, education and tools to implement organizing practices. WeOwnIt is aiming for economic reform through the support and membership of organizations and individuals in order to reach communities’ common economic, social, and cultural needs.

Through strategies that combine planning expertise, organizational networking, targeted outreach and online organizing tools, WeOwnIt is a pro-member, pro-democracy organization that aims to build a new foundation for a fair economic system. This year, WeOwnIt is concentrating its efforts towards electric co-ops. Credit unions and the food co-op sector will also be a focus. To address social, economic, and environmental disparities, the WeOwnIt initiative has begun taking the first crucial steps toward a just and sustainable world, where members’ voices are heard loud and clear.

Learn more about the WeOwnIt initiative on their website.

O’ TVA where art thou?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 - posted by Amy Kelly

This is a joint blog between Appalachian Voices and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. It is also the first in a series SACE will publish on recent energy efficiency meetings between TVA and community members all across the Tennessee Valley.

Rural community members ask TVA for energy efficiency programs

Photo by Lou Murrey, with Appalachian Voices

Photo by Lou Murrey, with Appalachian Voices

In the rural reaches of the Tennessee Valley, where farmland bends and dips between hills and rivers, the Tennessee Valley Authority promised in the 1930s to bring a modern era of electricity and jobs. Indeed, the New Deal federal program improved Appalachian and rural life in many ways, making good on those promises.

But it also came with some lasting side effects. With hydro-electricity and dam creation, more than 15,000 families had to move, farms were lost and geographic divisions between families and communities were created. Coal towns boomed and busted, leaving behind strip-mined mountains and stagnant local economies. Here in the rural places that time seems to have forgotten, the local residents have a keen memory for their past.

“History says TVA was there for the public good. If you ask folks now, they would say ‘used to be,’” said Bill McCabe, a resident of Hancock County, Tennessee — which has the second-highest poverty rate in the state.

These days, unaffordable electric bills are having a major impact on countless lives across the Valley. With the arrival of reliable electric service came financial uncertainty for many struggling families, as paying to keep older homes warm or cool that were never designed with energy efficiency in mind has resulted in sky-high and unpredictable power bills in summer and winter months.

Recently, McCabe and a group of other residents joined together around a table with TVA representatives to share their stories and offer suggestions for energy efficiency programs. Thankfully, TVA is currently engaged in discussions through its Energy Efficiency Information Exchange stakeholder planning group about developing new energy efficiency solutions for low-income families. To make sure local communities have a voice in the planning efforts, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy worked with TVA and local partners to help convene five local stakeholder groups across the Valley this month. Appalachian Voices led in organizing the first of these meetings in Claiborne County, Tennessee, on August 12.

The meeting was particularly important because it was the only local stakeholder meeting held in a rural area, and community members who came shared their stories with TVA from a distinctly rural perspective. Their experiences shed light on the unique challenges faced by rural residents and help inform potential new programs that could help reduce energy burdens. As with so many other things in rural Appalachia, there was a general feeling of the community being left behind when it comes to energy efficiency.

Unfortunately, those most in need of help are typically unable to access the home energy efficiency rebate program that TVA now offers, a shortcoming that TVA staff have acknowledged. Currently, customers who want to participate in TVA’s eScore program must first pay for an energy audit and the upfront cost of upgrades, often thousands of dollars. While there are some financing options available, they generally require high credit scores and home ownership.

One solution discussed at the meeting is tariff-based on-bill financing, which doesn’t require credit checks and allows for immediate bill reductions even with a monthly repayment charge added on a bill. Several electric cooperatives in Tennessee are currently considering developing on-bill financing programs, and similar programs have been highly successful in neighboring states such as How$mart Kentucky and Help My House in South Carolina.

Like some at the meeting with TVA, many rural families across the Valley live in older manufactured homes. Often, these homes have little or no insulation, leaky doors and windows, and inefficient space heaters and window air conditioners. And while many have gone to extreme cost-saving measures – a commonly cited practice is to huddle the whole family in one room for heat – families still end up with utility bills costing hundreds of dollars in winter and summer months. That’s a lot of money for most people in Claiborne County, which has a poverty rate of nearly 25%.

Not only are inefficient homes an unnecessary drain on precious financial resources, they are also a serious public health and safety issue. For some meeting participants, respiratory and other illnesses mean that poor indoor air quality and extreme temperatures become a major health risk. For one resident, a broken HVAC unit, which she couldn’t afford to replace, left her husband hospitalized for four days with heat exhaustion. Another resident has to leave her manufactured home during the middle of the day in the summer so her young children won’t get overheated – yet her electric bills are so high she struggles to buy diapers. Some also reported resorting to potentially unsafe methods to heat their homes in the winter, such as using stoves and clothes dryers.

This is an urgent problem that TVA can and should take the lead to solve. In addition to alleviating families’ unaffordable energy bills and potentially unsafe living conditions, new home weatherization programs would bring numerous good-paying jobs to places where they are desperately needed, helping to fulfill TVA’s mission to promote economic development.

As TVA continues working with stakeholders toward new low-income energy efficiency initiatives, it should take care to incorporate the invaluable input from the local communities that are most affected by its decisions. We thank TVA for meeting with these local community members, and we hope that the discussion will help to inform the development of meaningful energy efficiency solutions to serve the entire Tennessee Valley.

At the end of the August 12 meeting, participants were invited to write down their top recommendations for TVA on Post It notes. Here are some of the policy recommendations provided by the meeting participants for TVA to consider:

“Incentives for electric companies to do weatherization programs, pay true value of energy efficiency.”

“Support extreme makeovers for rural homes, send message to distributors to invest in energy efficiency programs, provide funding for LED bulb give away.”

“Implement a community-based committee to set up a program to begin inspection on housing to first find the need within the community. Examine the cost of what it will take to implement this program and then base the cost on the most need.”

“Make the bill the same each month. Make more jobs for the people here in my area. See a need for the people and spend money here on this area. Help companies to move here with jobs.”

“I like the pay-as-you-save project that has been piloted in other states (like Arkansas) where these old houses have been behind the curve, power companies could see long-term benefits in investment. Not just in energy savings but local economies expanding (and new houses, new customers).”

“I think everyone coming together to help as a community and the weatherization program would bring in so much help to a lot of us need, especially low-income families and people living in older homes with large families. God Bless.”

Do-It-Yourself tips for energy efficiency: Heating & Cooling

Friday, August 26th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Adam Sheffield, Appalachian Voices Video and Outreach Assistant

Our new video series offers a variety of easy energy efficiency tips to lower electric bills while reducing energy waste.

energysavings

When it comes to the weather in Appalachia, we’ve got it all. We have bitter cold winters, soaking wet springs, hot humid summers and chilly autumns. Each of the four seasons comes with gifts as well as a set of energy challenges.

Further south, folks face the challenge of cooling the air in their homes, battling humidity and hot temperatures. For people to the north, heating their homes in the winter is the main goal. But here in Appalachia, our mountain climate has characteristics that require our homes to deal with both heat and cold.

Many mountain homes don’t have air conditioning units due to Appalachia’s milder summers, although some newer homes are being built with AC while others install window units. In the winter, it’s difficult to survive the season here without a good heating source. Heating methods vary from home to home, from wood-burning stoves, to propane furnaces, kerosene monitors, or electric baseboard heaters, to central HVAC units.

Regardless of the type of heating system, winter heating costs are a financial burden for many families. Some systems are more expensive than others, and older systems are more costly to use than newer, more energy-efficient models. The point is that we all want to be comfortable during the cold winter months, but we also want to save on our energy costs.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia promotes programs that help Appalachian residents lower their energy costs. Our goal is to create a widespread network of support for energy efficiency financing programs through the rural electric cooperatives. We’re working in western North Carolina and East Tennessee, but we are part of a larger regional and national movement to expand access to affordable home energy efficiency financing for residents of all income levels. Education is a key part of our work to help residents lower their energy costs, so we’ve created a set of short Do-It-Yourself videos.

This short video features John Kidda, founder and president of reNew Homes, Inc., in Boone, N.C. In the video, John discusses using programmable thermostats as a way to save on heating and cooling, and the benefits of using one in an Appalachian home. John points out that lower temperature settings — and lower energy use — during the colder winter season are easier to achieve when the home is properly insulated and air leakage is minimized.

Programmable thermostats allow residents to set the temperature in their home to operate around a schedule. There’s no need to leave the air conditioner or heat running while you’re away at work or school all day. The same goes for winter settings and for the nighttime when you’re asleep. Why run the heat on high when you don’t need to? Program your thermostat to turn the heat on right before your normal wakeup time. Then, set the thermostat to a lower temperature while you’re away from home or headed to bed. Some thermostats can even be adjusted from a mobile device.

Prices range from as low as $50 to over $300. Many programmable thermostats now include instant rebates. By switching to a programmable thermostat, you can lower your energy cost by 10 percent in the first year.

Watch our heating and cooling video and let us know what you think! We will be releasing additional videos in the coming months. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at (828) 262-1500, or by email at adam.sheffield@appvoices.org.