Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Families Win Energy Savings

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Eliza Laubach and Sarah Kellogg

In his home, Zach Dixon, right, talks with Rory McIlmoil of Appalachian Voices about his high heating bills. Photo by Jaimie McGirt

In his home, Zach Dixon, right, talks with Rory McIlmoil of Appalachian Voices about his high heating bills. Photo by Jaimie McGirt

Amidst children’s toys, juice bottles and furniture, a plastic tube snakes through Sean Dunlap’s home in Boone, N.C. The front door to the 1930s farmhouse is covered in thick, red plastic and a giant fan is depressurizing their house. John Kidda, a local home energy contractor, walks through the house holding a tool that produces a visible vapor. He watches to see if the vapor is sucked through the wall or stays floating in the air.

The procedure Kidda is running, called a blower door test, is part of a complete energy audit, which tracks all the places where energy is lost, especially where heated air is escaping.

According to Kidda, the average home has the equivalent of an open window’s worth of air leaks. For Dunlap, the age of his house combined with the style of wood-slat walls and ceilings equals a leakier home.

Dunlap is among three homeowners in the North Carolina High Country who are benefitting from insulation and air-sealing upgrades in their homes. They won an energy contest held by Appalachian Voices to raise awareness about how homeowners would benefit from energy efficiency upgrades and programs to finance them. Dunlap, along with Zachary Dixon of Boone and Vance Woodie of West Jefferson, won free energy audits and special energy upgrade packages. Local home energy contractors, who donated to the contest, will soon begin work on the winners’ houses to make them more comfortable and healthy while lowering their energy bills.

The true root of energy efficiency lies both under and above a home: the attic and crawlspace. Insulating and air-sealing a house’s unconditioned spaces makes a huge impact on the comfort within the house and cuts costs on the home’s energy bill.

The average person spends about 40 percent of their energy bill on heating and cooling, and about 30 percent of conditioned air is lost through ceilings, floors and walls. Many homes in the Appalachian region are old and not updated to current building codes that require more insulation.

Zach Dixon, who is out of work due to a serious medical ailment, uses space heaters to heat his house and chronically struggles to pay his electric bill. The two bedrooms in his house are over an uninsulated garage, which creates a major heat sink. Zach previously used a wood stove in his garage, and had cut out a hole in the hallway floor so that the heat would rise into his house. He no longer uses the wood stove due to a fire scare, however, and the only barrier between the two spaces now is a rug.

According to Dixon, he hopes his electricity will be more affordable once his house is adequately insulated. Contractors will install insulation on the ceiling of his garage and in his attic to bring his house in alignment with current building code. Weatherstripping will also be installed around his garage door and attic hatch, and the crown moulding will be caulked throughout his house to cover gaps that allow cold air to enter and heated air to escape.

Thirty miles away in Ashe County, Vance Woodie, a retired Korean War veteran, lives with his wife in a turn-of-the-century home that was once heated by a coal stoker furnace. The ducts were never replaced when he upgraded to an oil furnace, and the air intake is in the basement, which is still littered with coal. “I guess that’s why the dust still comes in thick in the house,” Woodie says when told of the air quality issue.

John Kidda, a home energy contractor, prepares a blower door test at Sean Dunlap’s home. Photo by Eliza Laubach

John Kidda, a home energy contractor, prepares a blower door test at Sean Dunlap’s home. Photo by Eliza Laubach

Though most homes do not have coal dust floating around, many houses have ductwork traveling through moldy spaces, a cause for indoor air quality concerns. Woodie and his wife, Thelma, have also noticed that the room farthest away from their furnace is always the coldest, due to their leaky and uninsulated ductwork.

The contractors plan to completely replace, seal and insulate Woodie’s ducts, which is very important for those with central heating, to ensure that all the heat generated by the furnace reaches the conditioned areas of the house.

As for Sean Dunlap, he is looking forward to a tighter house this winter so his children, who are the fifth generation to live there, will have a home to play and grow in without feeling a persistent chill. The comfort of his kids, Dunlap says, is the greatest prize he could have won.

Insulation and Air-sealing Are the Root of Energy Efficiency

  • Apply caulk around doors and windows to greatly reduce the draftiness of your house.
  • Insulation installed in attics should rise above the rafters and be about six to 10 inches thick. Blown cellulose insulation can be displaced by wind, so be sure to have correct dampers in place at the eaves.
  • Crawlspace insulation should be in direct contact with the floor of the house, not hanging down. The moisture barrier should be facing up with the insulation facing down.
  • When sealing ductwork, use mastic paint, not tape, to create a lasting seal.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program and the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest.

Meet Zach Dixon, grand prize winner of the home energy makeover contest

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Eliza Laubach

Stepping inside Zach Dixon’s foyer is akin to stepping back in time 40 years. A chartreuse green glow washes over you and a large mirror reflects hints of art deco. The shag carpet confirms this house’s birth in the early 1970s, and also whispers of its outdated structure.

Since Dixon’s childhood, much of which he spent in the groovy house his grandfather built, three heating systems have broken down, leaving space heaters as his only choice. He remembers the days of the oil boiler and baseboard heaters—the luxury of having a thermostat. “It was awesome when taking a shower,” Dixon says. “Now when I want to do that I have to put the heater in there and let it warm up.” After his grandmother passed away, “it dried up,” says Dixon. “We couldn’t afford the oil.”

He moved back into the house in Boone, N.C. to take care of his grandmother when she was sick, while facing a serious physical ailment himself. Dixon has a degenerative bone disorder. He has had both of his hips replaced and he can no longer work in the field he was trained in, carpentry. After losing his job last April, he has been unable to find work due to his physical limitations. “I’m hanging on by a thread,” says Dixon. “I don’t know how I came this far.”

But even before Dixon lost his job, he was having trouble paying the bills. Last winter, in the dead cold of the polar vortex, he received help from Blue Ridge Electric’s Operation RoundUp program and Watauga County Crisis Assistance Network. Still, his electricity was shut off and he went to stay at a neighbor’s house. This winter, his electricity has already been shut off three times. He is on a pay-as-you-go program with Blue Ridge Electric. “I’ll be in the positives, then the next day I’ll be in the negatives,” says Dixon. He once experienced his electricity being shut off for being 43 cents in the red. That time, he was lucky; it was summer.

For three years, Dixon has been on a waiting list for a W.A.M.Y. retrofit, a local program funded by the federal government for low-income families, but the demand for energy efficiency upgrades exceeds the four-county program’s capacity. Running his space heaters cost him about $15 a day during the winter, compared to his standard usage of $3 during the summer. “I could have $200 on my bill, if I wasn’t losing all the heat,” says Dixon.

Dixon’s house lacks sufficient insulation. The two bedrooms are situated over the garage, which is not insulated. There is no crawl space, so essentially there is no insulation surrounding the bottom part of his house. The attic is insulated to about half the level required by building codes. There are air leaks throughout his house, including around doors and recessed lighting, but the major air leak is a hole cut out from his hallway floor into the garage.

There is a wood stove in the garage, which supplemented heat in the past and was hooked up to the oil boiler system. Dixon cut the hole in the floor to allow the wood heat into his main floor. Tricks like this demonstrate the craftiness homeowners resort to when homes lack central heating systems. After a chimney fire scare last year, though, he no longer uses the stove. The hole is now covered by a thin rug.

As grand prize winner of the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest, Dixon has received insulation in his attic and garage, two quick steps that will greatly improve the house’s energy efficiency and his quality of life. All of the air leaks around Dixon’s home will be sealed with a caulk gun. And compact fluorescent light bulbs will replace incandescent bulbs — the frosting on this energy makeover cake.

“The most important thing I never realized, until I met [the Energy Savings team at Appalachian Voices], is how bad I lose heat,” Dixon says. “I knew heat rises but I didn’t know it was that bad.” Dixon plans to attend school so that he can get a “desk job” like the doctor ordered. He hopes to be an architect and design his own house one day — in a very energy efficient way.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program and the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest.

The will against poverty: ASU students serve in rural Appalachia

Friday, February 6th, 2015 - posted by Jaimie McGirt
Appalachian State University students volunteering during the annual MLK Day Challenge.

Appalachian State University students volunteering during the annual MLK Day Challenge.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for directly addressing the poverty he witnessed. In his last address before he was assassinated, he said “I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia … Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. ”

Jan. 19 marked the twentieth year since President Clinton passed legislation to encourage U.S. residents to volunteer on MLK Day. Rather than spending this holiday as a day off, many people gather in neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country for a “day on.” Universities are no exception.

Appalachian State University has celebrated with the MLK Challenge for sixteen years. Having participated in the challenge as a student, I couldn’t help but want to participate again. But I never knew I would serve by spelunking in a 79-year old woman’s crawlspace.

How does one get herself into a crawlspace in the first place? Dr. King has something to do with it: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” I suppose I can say I had the “resources,” though they are not what you are thinking. As for the will:

Anna Mae Shook of Zionville, N.C., applied to our High Country Home Energy Contest in November. She is spending close to 20 percent of her monthly income on her utility bill, which ranked her as one of our ten contest finalists. She was ecstatic to be considered. Yet, upon a walk-through assessment of her home, Appalachian Voices energy policy director, Rory McIlmoil, and Energy Contest business partners Sam Zimmerman and Sarah Grady of Sunny Day Homes found her home in disqualifying condition. She had a kerosene leak (which saturated her crawlspace), mold contamination and rotten flooring.

Despite not being eligible, the Energy Savings team felt we should help her in some way independent of the home energy makeover contest. I felt we could pull it off, and Sam Zimmerman, having assessed her home before, felt the same. Zimmerman wanted to donate his expertise but he expressed that we needed as many hands as possible. “Where are we going to find ten or so people to do this?”

Then it dawned on me — the ASU MLK Challenge would be equipping groups of ten students to perform service across the county in the coming week. In a matter of days, we made a plan to collect donations and muck-out the crawlspace with a team of students from ASU.

Appalachian State students serve at a local Watauga County resident’s home during the sixteenth annual MLK Day Challenge.

Appalachian State students serve at a local Watauga County resident’s home during the sixteenth annual MLK Day Challenge.

On Monday morning I met the group and saw that we were five short of the help we needed. Some were not dressed for getting dirty, much less for crawling under a house. Jim Street, a sixteen-year MLK Challenge alumni and their faculty service advisor for the day chuckled and said, “You should have seen those girls’ mouths drop when they heard ‘crawlspace’ and ‘spelunking.’” I just thought about the old MLK Challenge mantra, and retorted “It’s all a part of the challenge.”

By noon, we left town for Mrs. Shook’s house with a 12’x12’ piece of carpet from Abby Carpeting, safety equipment from Boone Area Missions, and promises of ply board and 2”x10’ boards from Watauga Building Supply, all of which were donated.

Seeing the crawlspace, the students were apprehensive. Who wouldn’t be when confronted with kerosene-saturated soil and mold in a tight, dark space? Some stayed outside, shuttling the contaminated soil to a dump trailer and others scrambled right in. Zimmerman and two students, Jelani Drew and Anne Carpenter, acted as the “miners,” digging out the kerosene-saturated soil. “Crawling in a crawlspace was not something I thought I was skilled at but it was not as scary as I thought,” said Carpenter.

By 4 p.m., we had removed the saturated soil, sprayed a bleach solution for mold, and spread a plastic liner to act as a moisture barrier, finishing our project in the crawlspace. Meanwhile Rory McIlmoil worked upstairs to repair Mrs. Shook’s floor for the rest of the evening. By the next weekend, he had re-floored the room and installed the donated carpet. Of course, the work would have been in vain had Mike Green, a local oil-monitor repairman, not stopped the kerosene leak for no charge.

Anne Carpenter (left) and Jelani Drew “spelunking” in Anna Mae Shook’s crawlspace. Photo by Jim Street

Anne Carpenter (left) and Jelani Drew “spelunking” in Anna Mae Shook’s crawlspace. Photo by Jim Street

Knowing that some of the students wanted to serve at the nursing home or the humane society, their service advisor Jim Street asked them if they felt their service site was a “winning ticket” after all, and to my surprise, they all felt so. Reflecting on the day of service, Carpenter noted, “We might not have been skilled but we brought a desire to serve an area that we really do impact with our choices — despite being in a campus bubble at times.” She felt our service was a great point of growth for everyone, including herself. “I’d go back under,” she said.

Mrs. Shook was extremely grateful and I was so glad the students had an opportunity to leave their campus bubble to serve in rural Appalachia for a day. I hope that they too now carry the mantra, “It’s all a part of the challenge.”

Update from the Virginia General Assembly

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - posted by hannah

Attacks on the EPA escalate, and rate freezes don’t consider customers.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia's brief legislative session.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia’s brief legislative session.

Virginia’s legislative session may be brief, but many bills with major implications for our future energy mix have already been acted on. Two weeks into this year’s session, here is a look at where our top issues stand.

Rate freeze controversy heats up

It’s been in the news around the state: Dominion Power has enlisted the help of utility-friendly legislators, in particular Senator Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, in an effort to pause regulators’ scrutiny of the utility’s revenue for eight years.

The legislative patron says his bill is necessary to keep customers from seeing rising energy costs due to the mythical high price of compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon pollution standard. Attorney General Mark Herring, who is tasked with looking out for ratepayers, notes that the measure would actually prevent rebates of overcharges to customers.

Anyone familiar with the system in which Virginia’s investor-owned electric providers operate will be struck by the way this would remove State Corporation Commission oversight and, with it, Dominion’s accountability to customers. In another troubling wrinkle, if cost-effective clean energy resources such as energy efficiency are deployed over this time resulting in saved energy and Dominion over-earns on its rate of return then customers are deprived of the those savings. Despite opposition from many sides, the bill has passed out of subcommittee.

Attacks on Virginia potential to achieve large-scale carbon-free power

For reasons ranging from pure political grandstanding to reactions to a perceived federal overreach in state affairs, many legislators are taking part in the rush to apply tactics pioneered by the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity to stymie the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in Virginia. One strategy is to interrupt what would be a smooth process of the Department of Environmental Quality preparing and sending Virginia’s implementation plan to the EPA. Legislation of this type gives the General Assembly a middle-man role able to approve the plan, which effectively obstructs the process and robs the executive branch of its control.

Other ways of slowing or stopping the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy are plentiful: from Senator Wagner’s proposition prohibiting action in response to the standards until 18 criticisms of the standards are rectified, studying whether the plan on the whole benefits Virginia at all before taking action, or giving the General Assembly power to do what the Attorney General has not done: sue the EPA on behalf of Virginia.

Common-sense steps to make solar accessible and affordable for more Virginians

The main piece of legislation we’ve watched that would put an end to indiscriminate carbon pollution and lead to investments in clean energy and climate adaptation is the Virginia Coastal Protection Act. The bill did not manage to get the support it needed this year to make it out of committee.

Still, as we fight the bad bills above, we have a chance to make progress on several clean energy bills that will make a real difference to bring more renewable energy online in Virginia. Several will be heard in the House Energy Subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 3, be there to support solutions like community solar, larger net metering, and more!

Our Energy Savings campaign is heating up in the High Country

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - posted by rory

Home Energy Contest Demonstrates Strong Need for Energy Efficiency Finance Options

homeenergymakeover_main

When Appalachian Voices asked Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. (BRE) to help alleviate poverty and support economic development in the North Carolina High Country by developing an on-bill energy efficiency finance program, BRE said, surprisingly, that they weren’t sure that was something that enough members would sign up for.

They offered this response despite the fact that, at the time, we had presented them with seventy letters from BRE members requesting an on-bill finance option (in addition to more than 100 signatures on a petition requesting the same thing).

We decided we would go one step further in demonstrating that demand, so back in October we launched our High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest. Through the contest we solicited enough in donations and sponsorships to be able to pay for upgrading the homes of three BRE members, and we are now able to provide a voice to and tell the stories of members who need help paying for home efficiency upgrades.

The contest turned out to be a huge success, and we announced the three contest winners last Thursday. The home improvements for the three winners will be tailored to their needs based on comprehensive energy audits that were completed over the last week. The work will primarily include insulation and weatherization — two common problems that lead to high energy bills, especially during the winter months — and will be performed by one or more of the five local businesses that sponsored or supported the contest. Those businesses include Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC, High Country Energy Solutions, Inc., HomEfficient, reNew Home, Inc. and Sunny Day Homes, Inc.

Once the improvements have been performed, in partnership with ResiSpeak, we will monitor and report on the savings generated for each of the winners, thereby demonstrating the impact that even basic efficiency improvements can have in terms of reducing energy bills and improving the quality of life for High Country residents.

Overall, nearly 70 BRE members entered the contest. Key information about household income, energy use and expenses, and basic information about the applicants’ homes was provided. Based on the submitted information, we found that the average applicant spent more than 8 percent of his or her annual income on energy bills over the last year — nearly three times the national average of 2.7 percent. More than a quarter of applicants spent 15 percent or more of their income on energy bills. Such costs are especially burdensome given the average poverty rate of 23 percent in the BRE region.

Now to present the winners! We are so honored to know these folks, and we are even happier to be able to help improve their homes and reduce their energy bills. None of the winners or the other applicants are necessarily impoverished. They are hard-working individuals like Zack Dixon that are having a hard time finding a job. They are parents like Sean Dunlap who lives with his two young children in his dream home, but a home that lacks sufficient insulation or air sealing. And they are a retired couple living on a fixed income, like Vance Woodie and his wife. None of these folks have access to sufficient funds to make the comprehensive energy efficiency improvements needed in their homes. And, beyond the contest, each of our winners could still benefit substantially from an on-bill energy efficiency finance program through BRE, as could thousands of other BRE members that still need help.

Grand Prize Winner: Zack Dixon

Zachary Dixon, left, pictured with Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil.

Zachary Dixon, left, pictured with Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil.

Zack, a resident of Boone, N.C., heats his house with space heaters, and chronically struggles to pay his electricity bills. Over the last year, Zack spent 11 percent of his income on electricity bills. His power has been cut off by BRE twice this winter when he overdrew his pre-paid account, after which BRE assisted Mr. Dixon with a bill payment from its Operation Round Up program.

While such financial assistance helps many residents keep their homes heated in the winter, it fails to resolve the underlying problems of older or poorly built, drafty houses. For Zack, running the space heaters throughout the day is costly, and doesn’t sufficiently warm his house because of poor insulation in the attic and floors.

“I just don’t want to be freezing anymore,” he said. “There’s been times when I don’t want to get out of bed and be in the cold. It’s been a real big pain, but if I could at least quit stressing about the bills, I’d be happy.” He added, “the most important thing, that I never realized, is how much heat I’ve been losing.”

Zack’s prize will cover insulation for the floors and attic, as well as air sealing throughout the house to lock in heat and reduce his electricity use.

Runner-up: Vance Woodie

Thelma and Vance Woodie with Chuck Perry, program director for North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Thelma and Vance Woodie with Chuck Perry, program director for North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Vance and his wife Thelma have worked hard to modernize their turn-of-the-century home in Sugar Grove, N.C. Once heated by a coal stoker furnace, their house is now heated by an oil furnace, but the old ducts have not been replaced and so they draw cold air from the basement, which also causes problems with air quality in their home.

“I guess that’s why the dust still comes thick in the house,” Vance said. The elderly couple shuts off part of their house in the winter to reduce heating costs, but they still spend 16 percent of their income on energy bills. Responding to winning the contest, Vance said: “We needed something, some kind of help, so we took a chance.”

Runner-up: Sean Dunlap

Sean Dunlap of Sugar Grove, N.C.

Sean Dunlap of Sugar Grove, N.C.

Sean lives with his wife and two children in a 1938 farm house built by his wife’s great-grandfather, making their children the fifth generation to live there. Despite making what energy efficiency improvements they could, there is still a lot to do. Their prize money will cover adding insulation and weatherization the lack of which places their plumbing at risk and results in a cold home in the winter. “We are so excited to find out that we won,” said Mr. Dunlap. “Now our work with Appalachian Voices will continue as we upgrade our house. Their professionalism and expertise has already made a huge difference and now we are able to look forward to making our home more efficient, comfortable and livable for our family.”

The contest was sponsored by the local businesses listed above as well as the Blumenthal Foundation and LifeStore Insurance. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance provided home walk-through assessments and energy audits. Appalachian Voices extends our deepest gratitude to each of the businesses and organizations for their support.

If you are a BRE member and would like to show your support for BRE developing an on-bill energy efficiency finance program that could help folks like Zack, Vance and Sean, or are in need of such support yourself, join the Energy Savings for the High Country campaign and sign the petition!

Home Energy Contest Reveals Pressing Need in Western NC

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - posted by cat

Residents spend three times national average on energy bills

Contact:
Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director, 828-262-1500, rory@appvoices.org
Sarah Kellogg, North Carolina Field Organizer, 828-262-1500, sarah@appvoices.org

Boone, N.C. — In announcing the three winners of its “High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest” today, Appalachian Voices said that the need for residential energy efficiency improvements in one of the poorest areas of the state is even greater than originally believed.

Nearly 70 residents of the High Country entered the contest, launched in October by Appalachian Voices, a regional nonprofit conservation organization based in Boone. Key information about household income, energy use and expenses, and basic information about the applicants’ homes was provided. Based on the submitted information, Appalachian Voices found that the average applicant spent more than 8% of his or her monthly income on electricity and gas between November 2013 and October 2014—nearly three times the national average of 2.7% reported by the Federal Energy Information Administration. A preliminary analysis had indicated that people in this area pay an average of 3.9% of their income on their energy bill. In addition, the contest revealed that more than a quarter of applicants spent 15% or more of their income on energy bills.

“While we are extremely glad that we can help these three families lower their energy costs and make their homes more comfortable this winter, there are thousands of homes in this area that are in dire need of fundamental improvements like insulation and weatherization,” said Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director. “Energy costs can be a huge burden for families and are especially burdensome given the average poverty rate of 23% in this region.”

Appalachian Voices targeted the contest to the service territory of Blue Ridge Electric (BRE) Membership Corp.—generally, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. BRE is the sixth largest of the 26 electric membership cooperatives in the state. In addition to providing the winners a combined total of $4,850 worth of home improvements to help lower their energy costs, the contest was aimed at generating public support for BRE to offer loans to its members that pay for home energy efficiency upgrades and are paid back by a portion of the money they save each month on their electric bills, with the remainder of the savings benefiting the participating members. Such “on-bill financing” programs have been extremely successful in other places, including in areas of North Carolina served by electric co-ops.

“If BRE offered this financing, and just 1% of its members took out a $7,500 loan, that would translate into roughly $4.7 million in local investment and 70 jobs created for this area,” McIlmoil said. “But more importantly, it would help improve the quality of life and reduce energy costs for people, alleviating the impacts of the high level of poverty we see in the region.”

THE WINNERS:
NOTE TO EDITORS: Contact Sarah Kellogg to arrange interviews with the winners; see here for more information and pictures of the winners.

The grand prize winner, Zachary Dixon of Boone, heats his house with space heaters and chronically struggles to pay his electricity bill. His power has been cut off by BRE twice this winter due to overdrawing his pre-paid account. “I just don’t want to be freezing anymore,” he said. “There’ve been times when I don’t want to get out of bed and be in the cold. I never realized how much heat I’ve been losing.” Mr. Dixon’s prize will cover more than $3,000 in insulation for the floors and attic, and weatherization throughout the house to seal in heat and reduce his electricity use.

Runner-up Vance Woodie and his wife Thelma heat their turn-of-the-century home in West Jefferson with an oil furnace, but the old ducts have not been replaced and draw cold air from the basement, which also causes problems with air quality in their home. “I guess that’s why the dust still comes thick in the house,” Mr. Woodie said. The elderly couple shuts off part of their house in the winter, but they still spend 16% of their income on energy bills. “We needed something, some kind of help, so we took a chance.” They will receive $800 worth of work to remove and seal off the old air ducts, as well as adding insulation where possible.

The other runner-up, Sean Dunlap, lives with his wife and two children in a 1938 farm house in Sugar Grove built by his wife’s great-grandfather. Their $800 prize money will cover adding insulation and weatherization, the lack of which places their plumbing at risk and results in a cold home in the winter. “We are so excited to find out that we won,” said Mr. Dunlap. “Now our work with Appalachian Voices will continue as we upgrade our house. Their professionalism and expertise have already made a huge difference and now we are able to look forward to making our home more efficient, comfortable and livable for our family.”

“An on-bill energy efficiency financing program would allow households in our area to make tremendous reductions in their energy consumption instead of continuing to burn money by heating inefficient homes year after year,” said John Kidda, President of reNew Home, Inc., a Boone-based home energy improvement company. “Such a program would also stimulate the recovering construction and home improvement industries, putting more money in the hands of local tradespeople and creating jobs in the process.”

The work will be performed by one or more of the five local businesses that have sponsored or supported the contest and volunteered their time throughout the process. They include Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC, High Country Energy Solutions, Inc., HomEfficient, reNew Home, Inc., and Sunny Day Homes, Inc.

The contest was also sponsored by the Blumenthal Foundation, LifeStore Insurance and ResiSpeak. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance provided home walk-through assessments and energy audits. Appalachian Voices extends its deepest gratitude to each of the businesses and organizations for their support.

More information about Blue Ridge Electric and the benefits of energy efficiency programs can be found at http://appvoices.org/press/energycontest/.

John Kidda, reNew Home, Inc., can be reached at (828) 719-5057.

###
Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit organization that brings people together to protect the communities and natural resources of the region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices, including mountaintop removal coal mining, to a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future. With 23 staff in offices in Boone and Raleigh, N.C., and Charlottesville, Va., Appalachian Voices works at the local, state and federal level, focusing on grassroots organizing and policy reform.

Winners of Home Energy Contest in N.C. to be Announced

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - posted by cat

Results show strong need for energy efficiency funding in the High Country

Contact: Sarah Kellogg, N.C. Field Organizer, 828-262-1500, sarah@appvoices.org

Boone, N.C. — Next Thursday, January 22, Appalachian Voices will announce the winners of its “High Country Home Energy Makeover” contest, each of whom will receive a comprehensive energy audit and home improvements from local professionals in the coming weeks to help save energy and money.

A total of $4,850 worth of home energy improvements will be awarded. Two families will each receive roughly $800 in improvements such as weatherization, air sealing, or insulation. The grand prize winner will receive roughly $3,250 in improvements, which could cover the cost of weatherization, upgrades to the heating system, or other work.

Approximately 50 members of the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. (which was not affiliated with the contest) entered to win. Over a 12-month period beginning in winter 2013, the applicants spent on average more than 8% of their gross monthly income on energy bills, including electricity, oil and natural gas — nearly three times the national average. One-fifth of them spent at least 15% of their income on their energy bills. The applicants spent 30% more on just electricity than the average BRE customer. Full results of the contest and stories about the winners and other contestants will be released when the winners are announced.

The contest is timed to coincide with the onset of the coldest part of the winter season, when many families in the High Country see their electric and gas bills skyrocket due to increased energy costs and leaky windows, doors and attics. Appalachian Voices developed the contest in part to raise public awareness about the many benefits to individuals, local communities and the environment of energy efficiency home improvements. The contest demonstrates the strong need in western North Carolina for more utility-based energy efficiency programs, especially ones that cover the upfront cost of home energy improvements that would provide the greatest benefit to families hardest hit by high energy bills.

The contest covered the BRE service area (generally, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties). The contest was sponsored by Appalachian Voices, the Blumenthal Foundation, ResiSpeak, LifeStore Insurance and four local energy efficiency businesses: Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC; High Country Energy Solutions, Inc.; HomEfficient; and, Sunny Day Homes. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance and another local energy efficiency business–ReNew Home, Inc.–are providing direct support to the contest as well.

>> Contest details
>> More information about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for the High Country campaign

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Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the communities and natural resources of the region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices to securing a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future.

Crowdfunding Solar in West Virginia

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

In a state known for coal, solar energy emerges through a grassroots effort

By Eliza Laubach
Dan Conant affectionately calls his first successes cutting solar installation costs “barn raisings.” After years of political organizing in college and shortly after, he wanted to use community organizing strategies for solar power.

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“Community-supported solar builds awareness about where electricity comes from,” says Than Hitt, center, holding his daughter Hazel at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sheperdstown Presbyterian Church’s solar array. Photo by Mary Anne Hitt.

Policies that have helped to nurture the solar industry, such as affordable leasing options, tax credits and requirements for utilities to purchase renewable energy credits aren’t offered in his home state of West Virginia.

“I was trying to move back home, but there weren’t any jobs available at that point,” says Conant. He instead worked in Virginia and Vermont, helping pioneer innovative neighborhood-scale methods for going solar. He found ways to lower prohibitive upfront costs, which he describes as an effort to “crack the code for personal financing.”

As he gained a deeper understanding of solar financing, Conant saw how difficult it is for nonprofits and municipal organizations to buy solar panels, especially in West Virginia. Nonprofits don’t receive a tax credit, government entities are unable to take out loans, and commercial buildings receive less compensation than homeowners do for surplus power generated by their solar panels. After researching how to bring solar to these community groups with a model that could be duplicated in any state, he created Solar Holler.

The solar financing project raises funds to place solar panels on nonprofit or municipal buildings. The process mirrors crowdfunding, which depends on donations from interested parties, usually solicited online. But crowdfunding is less practical among small communities and low-income residents, so Conant brainstormed an alternative revenue stream.

He partnered with Mosaic Power, a company that pays homeowners for their hot water heater to be hooked up to Mosaic’s remote system. Creating a smart grid, Mosaic can then turn the hot water heater on and off in response to electricity demand. The utility pays Mosaic Power for helping them use electricity more efficiently, and the profit is transferred back to the homeowner through a $100 yearly payment. Residents can sign up for Mosaic’s program through Solar Holler, pledging their return to help fund a solar installation on a community building.

An investor will buy the solar panels after enough residents of a community pledge their revenue to a Solar Holler project to guarantee the investor a return. The pledged hot water heater payments will cycle to other Solar Holler projects once the initial project is paid off. “We’re using energy efficiency to fund the solar,” Conant says.

Conant launched the pilot project in his hometown at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. The congregation considered solar in the past but could not afford it. Than Hitt, church member and community organizer, spent three years working with the congregation and Shepherdstown community. He provided the initial investment in the solar panels. “Self-reliance is a big thing in West Virginia and we’re tapping into that,” says Hitt.

Pastor Randy Tremba set up a table by the church’s hot water heater for people to sign up for the Mosaic Power program in April. “A trusted community leader is a crucial ally,” he adds. Within three months, enough people signed up for the program to guarantee the solar installation.

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Mountainview Solar crew members install the solar panels. Photo by Dan Conant.

With 100 people signing on to participate, plus the sale of renewable energy credits to various Pennsylvania utilities, the project quickly moved forward. Mountainview Solar, a local solar contractor, installed a 16.2-kilowatt solar array on the church this past August, providing about 40 percent of the church’s electricity. The Shepherdstown Elementary School principal brought the fourth and fifth grade classes to the ribbon-cutting ceremony and pledged to incorporate solar energy into the educational curriculums. “I think it’s the start of something big,” says Conant.

Solar Holler’s goal is to have a project in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties within the next five years. Two more projects are currently underway: the city hall in Lewisburg and the public library in Harpers Ferry, which achieved its quota for Mosaic Power sign-ups in mid-November.

Conant sees the importance in diversifying the economy of a state that has largely been powered by coal extraction. “We can still be an energy state, we just need to stop thinking of ourselves as a coal state,” he says. Ninety-six percent of West Virginia’s energy comes from coal, and mining has a continued legacy of destructive health, environmental and financial impacts. “Solar in West Virginia is more powerful than anywhere else in the country,” says Conant.

Visit SolarHoller.org to learn more.

Roanoke Electric Receives $6 Million Loan for Energy Efficiency

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

In October, the North Carolina-based Roanoke Electric Cooperative became one of the first recipients of a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. The cooperative will use the $6 million loan to launch “Upgrade to Save,” a voluntary on-bill financing program allowing its members to make investments in energy efficiency upgrades and reduce their energy costs.

A schizoid rate case and a climate directive in Virginia

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Virginia ratepayers made their voices heard before important orders by the State Corporation Commission on residential solar fees and electricity rates.

Virginia ratepayers made their voices heard before important orders by the State Corporation Commission on residential solar fees and electricity rates.

Here’s the bad news: Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) has approved a charge of about $3.50 per kilowatt on Appalachian Power Company customers with solar arrays larger than 10 kilowatts.

But it’s even more disappointing in light of Virginia’s recent explosion in residential solar installations and our state’s opportunity to lead by encouraging efforts that make clean energy affordable.

We’ve covered the “solar standby” charge problem and examined theories about why such “taxes on the sun” are spreading. Regardless of the reasons behind Appalachian Power’s pursuit of the charge, it is now in place and applies to five accounts currently and any customer who installs a new solar system larger than 10 kilowatts in the future. But there’s a more interesting aspect of the SCC’s recent order that’s worth a look.

Elsewhere in the very same ruling, regulators rejected an APCo proposal to raise fixed fees for residential customers that would have had serious consequences for energy use, conservation and renewable energy in the region.

This sort of restructuring spells trouble for advancing technologies like solar, small residential wind and energy efficiency. It’s an issue that’s been popping up recently in rate hearings around the country. In states such as Nevada and Wisconsin, utilities have proposed major changes to the way most customers’ bills are set up in the form of vast increases in fixed monthly fees and cuts to usage-based rates. Imagine being a utility and feeling concerned about how the public views the way you do business. Do you think you might be tempted to announce cuts to rates, while making up the balance from fees that many customers might overlook on their bills? APCo proposed a near doubling of the flat fees their residential basic customers pay from $8.35 to $16.

Public relations aside, it only takes a quick thought exercise to see how these changes would play out for customers in real life: a middle-class family in a mid-size home might not see a difference in their bill at all, with savings on per-unit energy costs negated by higher fixed fees. A family that lives in a large home and uses a lot of electricity each month might see lower bills since the fixed fee makes up a smaller share of their bill. But a small home of a low-income family that uses less energy, perhaps with fewer electronic gadgets and a habit of keeping the thermostat low during colder months, could be stuck with higher bills in spite of lower rates per kilowatt-hour as fixed charges drive up their energy costs.

Appalachian Power spokesperson John Shepelwich speaks to the media about the reasons the  utility pursued a "standby" charge on customers that have gone solar.

Appalachian Power spokesperson John Shepelwich speaks to the media about the reasons the utility pursued a “standby” charge on customers that have gone solar.

Shifting toward higher fees paid by all customers regardless of how much energy they consume and away from usage-based charges has been criticized in other states — not only on grounds of economic injustice but also for the obvious way it undercuts the incentive to conserve energy, and for the less apparent way it can deter investments in clean energy.

Lowering electricity rates fundamentally affects the calculation of whether installing a household solar array makes financial sense, and results in a big reduction in the returns that a solar owner would otherwise expect to receive The SCC found that APCo had not established that the charges were reasonable and rejected the increases, but experts in the region are looking ahead to other methods of rate restructuring utilities might pursue including minimum bills.

The second positive outcome of the APCo case came particularly as a result of representation by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the advocacy of clean energy supporters like you. It is the SCC order on APCo’s long-term resource plan that contains the seeds of future climate progress. In the big picture, it may be the most significant part of all the SCC’s orders from last month: the directive that APCo monitor the development of the EPA standards on carbon from power plants and model different methods to comply.

For regulators to tell a utility with a generation mix that is projected to remain over 80 percent coal-based through 2027 that it must model methods to address carbon pollution is huge. And the way the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is written, options that will truly benefit customers like investing in energy efficiency programs (which are also the lowest-cost options for compliance) should take center stage in the utility’s future plans to reduce its greenhouse gas intensity. It’s due to the engagement of several customers who have gone solar that wrote letters to the SCC, the dozens who commented in favor of a cleaner, more reliable, more affordable energy future for the region, and those who came to Richmond to be heard in person, that our message got through.

Virginians advocate for clean energy outside the state Capitol Building. Photo by Virginia Sierra Club

Virginians advocate for clean energy outside the state Capitol Building. Photo by Virginia Sierra Club

From here, it’s important to do your part to make sure your legislators are aware of these issues. The General Assembly originally approved a bill that authorized solar standby charges because they were portrayed as a tool to right a wrong: utilities used a red herring argument claiming that customers who generate their own solar electricity didn’t pay enough for the services they receive. In other words, in trying to solve a perceived problem presented by the utilities who contend that their freeloading solar customers are being subsidized by the customers who don’t generate clean energy, the legislature and regulators created a weapon to be wielded against a class of customers that by-and-large benefits the system by providing pollution-free energy at some of the year’s peak use times, helping other ratepayers avoid new generation and transmission expenses while cutting pollution.

Meanwhile, last month’s legislative committee hearing on the Clean Power Plan reminds us that most members of the legislature are in the dark about the effects of the fees they approve and the risks that these new charges will change the calculation for constituents in their districts who might otherwise see a much better deal and likely choose a local installer to outfit their home with a solar array. For instance, the infamous hybrid car fee passed in 2013 only to be hurriedly repealed in 2014 — with popular outrage, swift policy reform is impressively easy. And while the SCC has a certain degree of discretion, it’s bound to follow the letter of the law, which we, with help from our legislators, have the power to rewrite.