Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Rural Electric Co-ops Can Renew Community Spirit

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

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

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

Brian Depew

Brian Depew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Power Shifters intend to organize and win on climate

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by hannah

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

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


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

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

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

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

McAuliffe can pave the way for a cleaner future for Virginia

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by cat

{ Editor’s Note }This post ran as an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday, April 8 — the first day of the annual Environment Virginia Symposium, an environmental conference that brings together regulators, business people and entrepreneurs, elected officials, and citizen groups like Appalachian Voices.

In his keynote speech at the symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector, which would not only create jobs but also address climate change: “I believe humans contribute to climate change. I think it’s pretty much settled. I think the impacts are felt today.”

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In almost every campaign speech, Terry McAuliffe told the story of how he started a driveway-paving business in his neighborhood when he was 14 to earn money to help pay for his college education. Now Virginia’s 47th governor, McAuliffe is clearly proud of the moral: Work hard, invest in your future and you’ll go far.

As Gov. McAuliffe begins to apply these values to his gubernatorial agenda, there’s no better place to start than by paving the way for a stronger, more equitable economy for all Virginians by investing in a 21st-century clean-energy sector for the commonwealth.

Wind and solar power and energy efficiency have not only proven to be cost-effective, they can provide long-term jobs throughout the state, stabilize energy costs for families and businesses and strengthen Virginia’s economy. As a first step, McAuliffe should require that all state-owned buildings in Virginia derive at least 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources, and direct his agencies to become 20 percent more energy efficient.

McAuliffe has numerous other options at his disposal to put forth a clear vision for clean energy and take concrete steps to fortify the clean-energy business sector here in Virginia.

Energy efficiency:

Increasing investments in energy efficiency programs could create nearly 10,000 jobs and save Virginians over $2.2 billion annually on their electric bills by 2025.* But Virginia is far from realizing this opportunity; in fact, we rank 36th nationally for energy efficiency.

Seven years ago, the General Assembly set a voluntary goal to cut energy use by a modest 10 percent by 2022 (from 2006 levels). The state’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power, are on track to meet just one-half and one-quarter of that goal, respectively. McAuliffe should press the utilities to invest in more ambitious energy-efficiency programs to benefit the economy, the public and the environment. He should also adopt improved statewide building code standards that could increase efficiency of new home construction by as much as 27 percent.

Solar power:

The solar industry is booming across the country — except in Virginia. Last year, the industry added 14,000 new jobs, while fossil fuel companies cut nearly 4,000 workers. North Carolina has installed enough solar to power more than 25,000 homes and is ranked third for solar installed in 2013 — much of which powers data centers. Virginia trails far behind, with not even enough solar to power 1,000 homes.

Virginia could catch up, or even surpass our neighbors. McAuliffe can jumpstart solar projects by discouraging penalties imposed by utilities on homeowners and businesses who install solar panels, and by supporting policies that allow all Virginians to easily finance solar installations on their homes and businesses.

Wind power:

Virginia has some of the strongest potential for offshore wind energy in the country and holds the first federal license in the mid-Atlantic region, with the potential to produce enough electricity to power 700,000 homes. Dominion holds the lease, but is currently planning to develop just a fraction of that potential, enough to power roughly 4,200 homes, by 2028. McAuliffe should urge Dominion to fully develop this resource, which could create 10,000 additional new jobs over the next 20 years.

Diversifying Southwest Virginia’s economy:

McAuliffe should take immediate and significant action to expand and diversify economic opportunities in Southwest Virginia, especially in communities where coal is mined. Investments in clean energy, tourism, education and manufacturing will help secure a stronger economic future for families that have unfairly suffered poisoned drinking water and streams, soot and dust in the air, severe health problems and other impacts of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

McAuliffe can lead Virginia toward a stronger, healthier, economically just future by championing positive clean-energy policies like these. Our organizations stand ready to work with the governor, his staff and administration to help make that happen.
As a boy, Terry McAuliffe aimed high when he started his first business to invest in his future. He should do the same now for Virginia.

Cat McCue, communications director with Appalachian Voices, on behalf of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of Virginia, Southern Environmental Law Center and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Contact her at

* Information for this article was drawn largely from an August 2013 report, “Changing Course: A Clean Energy Investment Plan for Dominion Virginia Power, by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Optimal Energy.

A Small (but important) Step: Appalachian Power’s New Energy Efficiency Proposal

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Appalachian Power Company recently announced two energy efficiency initiatives that will benefit ratepayers and the environment.

Appalachian Power Company recently announced two energy efficiency initiatives that will benefit ratepayers and the environment.

April began with a bright item of news in Virginia: Appalachian Power plans to begin providing energy efficiency programs for customers!

The proposal for which Appalachian Power is seeking approval from state regulators has a couple of parts, and the first is much-needed weatherization for low-income households.

According to the company’s news release, the program will serve rural inhabitants “who often have few resources or opportunity to invest in efficient homes or technology.” The intent is for local energy service companies weatherize homes and the program also includes distribution of compact fluorescent lightbulbs at area food banks.

This move befits a utility that wants to be a good neighbor; home weatherization assistance can help a family’s budget go farther, and it’s the kind of program that every utility should be expected to offer, especially in rural areas where it’s essential to relieve the burden of higher energy costs on residents.

Appalachian Power is also seeking approval for an A/C cycling program which would allow customers to opt in to a program to relieve demand on the grid during peak usage. These program typically work by installing a smart control on a home’s A/C unit that the utility can then control to turn off and on your unit during the hottest part of the day to reduce the amount of electricity that needs to be provided. The customer benefits by saving money on their electricity bill.

While utilities often try to market these types of programs as efficiency measures, it’s arguable whether that is accurate. Efficiency programs reduce overall energy consumption and therefore impact generation needs, whereas an A/C cycling program offers “peak shaving” which better distributes existing demand to eliminate the need to fire-up expensive coal plants during particularly hot parts of the day. The nuances of that can wait, but the bottom line is that both of the programs proposed by Appalachian Power Company are a step in the right direction and will benefit ratepayers.

Finally, if Appalachian Power sees the potential for cost-effectively balancing energy generation and demand through efficiency, it shouldn’t stop with these initial steps. Hopefully the company will soon be ready to take a bigger leap and offer a wider range of energy efficiency programs. With support from customers, Appalachian Power can be influenced to reduce wasted energy in a way that benefits families and the environment.

Be part of the effort to push for more robust energy efficiency programs from Appalachian Power.

Virginia Legislature Ends with Modest Progress on Solar

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Ivy Main is a writer, lawyer, and environmental advocate based in Virginia. In addition to lobbying in the Virginia General Assembly for stronger clean energy policies, she writes the energy policy blog Power for the People VA, where this post was originally published.

According to guest contributor Ivy Main, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a shifting mindset among legislators.

According to guest contributor Ivy Main, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a shifting mindset among legislators.

Advocates of enlightened energy policy march into session every January bright-eyed and optimistic, only to become mired in the slough of despond. We watch the best bills die, while bills we thought too backward to survive the light of day flourish like an invasive species. Yet even in Virginia, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a slowly shifting mindset among legislators.

There is, for example, a growing movement in favor of solar energy that is as strong on the Republican right as it is on the Democratic left. They haven’t quite formed a Solar Caucus yet, but you might say we are beginning to see a Solar Consensus.

Last year, after a long battle, this consensus produced a law specifically allowing some third-party-owned solar and wind projects, a critical step for nonprofits to install solar economically. This year, the legislature removed the second major hurdle to these projects, local “machinery and tools” taxes on solar equipment that would have made third-party-owned projects impossible in most Virginia jurisdictions. Assuming the governor signs, SB 418 and HB 1239 take effect January 1, 2015.

In a near rerun of two years ago, Senator Chap Petersen’s SB 222, nullifying homeowner bans on solar, passed the House and Senate. Back then Governor McDonnell surprised us all by vetoing similar legislation, an action not expected from Governor McAuliffe.

This year, too, the legislature voted to establish a grant program to help fund renewable energy projects. Originally conceived as an ambitious, $100 million tax credit, the legislation was quickly scaled back to $10 million and turned into a grant, causing it to run into trouble when money couldn’t be found in the budget to fund it. (Sorry, we spent it all on coal.) So SB 653 won’t take effect until fiscal year 2015-2016, and even for that to happen the bill must be reenacted in 2015. Too many contingencies, you say? Well, yes. But passing the bill at all is a remarkable milestone for this legislature. Let’s appreciate this moment.

Solar advocates also tried for a second year to pass a bill that would require the State Corporation Commission to set up a registration system for Virginia renewable energy certificates. While the bill did not pass, the SCC has agreed to examine whether it can do the job administratively, and if legislation is required, to suggest the necessary language for the 2015 session. Again, it’s a small victory, but it reflects an increasing acceptance of solar energy as an inevitable part of our energy mix.

Okay, sure, the defeats were far more numerous. Reforms to our farcical Renewable Portfolio Standard were whittled down to why-bother status before passage (SB 498 and HB 822). Efforts to ensure that both utilities and regulators take account of the long-term costs of fossil fuels (HB 808) and their climate change impacts (HB 363) never made it out of the House subcommittee. Every effort to expand residents’ access to solar energy by opening up net-metering failed (SB 350, HB 879, HB 906 and SB 350).

One of the net-metering champions, Senator John Edwards, put in a resolution in the final days of the session to organize a study of the value that distributed solar generation provides to utilities and the grid. The bill was introduced on March 3 and scuttled three days later (surely some kind of record), but advocates expect the study to go forward administratively. The study will make use of the Small Solar Working Group that formed last year, facilitated by the Department of Environmental Quality and consisting of solar advocates, utilities, local governments and others.

This value-of-solar issue is at the heart of the national battle over the expansion of distributed solar and the effort by utilities to nip it in the bud to preserve their monopolies. We expect Virginia utilities to continue their push for a very low valuation, one that would justify the barriers currently in place and add new ones like standby charges.

There were other disappointments, too, like the failure of HB 766, a bill that would have allowed localities to form service districts for energy projects, just as they do for things like trash collection, and HB 1001, which would have required electric utilities to offer on-bill financing of energy efficiency improvements.

But as I wrote in my last post, the worst news for consumers this year was the passage of SB 459, a bill allowing Dominion to write off hundreds of millions of dollars it has spent developing plans for a third nuclear reactor at Lake Anna. Last week we spoke with lawyers at the Attorney General’s office about this boondoggle, which they also oppose, and received confirmation that our reading of the bill is correct. In spite of the propaganda coming from Dominion about “no ratepayer impact,” customers of the utility will indeed pay these costs.

Worse, while we know Dominion has spent $570 million so far, the company has not disclosed how much more it intends to spend — and charge us — in the future. The AG’s office told us Dominion has this estimate but won’t disclose it publicly, insisting the figure is confidential. Apparently it is not for the likes of us customers to know such things.

Legislators not only signed us up for this open-ended boondoggle, they specifically rejected an amendment offered by Delegate Ware that would have ensured we got our money back if Dominion doesn’t build the nuclear plant.

Given the lopsided vote tally, the governor is not likely to veto the bill. Knowing this, the AG’s office is recommending amendments that would allow the State Corporation Commission to review the money spent (the bill as written jettisons even that minor consumer protection), but isn’t suggesting a wholesale rewrite.

Looking for a silver lining? There are two. First, Dominion may have pursued this legislation not because it wants to build North Anna 3, but because it intends to abandon the project and figures it might as well get ratepayers to cover the sunk costs while it’s still possible to pretend everything is full speed ahead. That would actually come as a relief; not building a financially uncompetitive nuclear plant on an earthquake fault line is way better than building it.

Second, the bitter pill of this legislation comes with a little chaser of sugar in the form of a second bill, SB 643, that provides the same treatment for the costs of developing an offshore wind farm. So far these costs have been tiny in comparison to what’s been spent on North Anna 3, but putting them into the rate base will lower the cost of building turbines offshore.

Some people have suggested it’s inconsistent to like the wind bill while hating the nuclear bill, but surely it’s only reasonable to fish a pearl out of a dung heap. There are good reasons to distinguish the bills, beyond the dangers of nuclear and the planet-friendly qualities of wind power. Most obvious is that there is real doubt whether the federal government will approve a nuclear plant with the serious siting issues confronting Lake Anna, while it has already approved the site of the offshore wind farm and given Dominion a lease.

Since my last update, a few other bills have seen action. Senator Stuart’s bill to control fracking in the Tidewater area, SB 48, died in the killing fields of House Commerce and Labor. SJ3 and HJ16, Virginia’s first bills to deal with the effects of climate change, had to go to conference on the question of who would be part of the subcommittee studying “recurrent flooding” and how much power they would have. The compromise calls for three senators and five delegates to be part of the 11-member subcommittee. Absurdly, it gives the majority of either the senators or the delegates veto power over any recommendation. Senators Locke, McWaters and Watkins, and Delegates Stolle, Knight and Hester have already been appointed.

Powering Our Communities as an Olympic Event and Utilities as the Competitors

Friday, February 21st, 2014 - posted by hannah


Our plans and achievements can always be measured against our past performance and our potential. Take Olympic figure skating: the judges might remark, “That’s the best she’s ever skated!” or “He would have to beat his personal best by twelve points to medal.”

But what about assessing how an electrical utility performs? If utilities were athletes, we might see ourselves as their fans, their sponsors paying our monthly bills, and even as their coaches, pushing for specific areas of improvement like investing in efficiency and renewable sources.

Appalachian Power Company, for example, currently generates more than 80 percent of its power from coal. The company has built no large scale renewable energy to date, and does not offer any efficiency program for customers to reduce their energy consumption. To earn a spot on the medal podium for clean energy, the company needs to make serious changes to its long-term plans. Like an old athlete learning new tricks, the Old Dominion has an opportunity to score big points with our abundant renewable energy sources.

The challenge for utilities in Virginia is not simply to plan to power their territory for the next fifteen or more years by whatever means is cheapest on paper today. But, like a skier on her way down a mountain, utilities need to prepare for the sharp turns and rough terrain ahead.

In our energy system this translates to federal regulations that will impact the cost of operating fossil-fuel-burning power plants and will make investing in renewables and energy efficiency even smarter choices for meeting future demand. And regardless of federal-level action, spikes in coal and natural gas prices mean that utilities should hedge against those energy sources by branching out into renewables and efficiency programs in order to protect customers from increases on their bills.

Utility customers can stand up and say we won’t applaud a business-as-usual, go-through-the-motions approach. We can cheer Appalachian Power on to live up to our hopes for energy that’s healthier for our communities and reliable and affordable for customers.

Urge Appalachian Power Company to invest in renewables and efficiency. Send your message now in less than the time is takes a two-man bobsled team to win the race for gold (56.25 seconds).

Bringing New Power to the Old Dominion in 2014

Friday, February 14th, 2014 - posted by hannah

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.

New Power for the Old Dominion has kicked off 2014 in a strong way, hitting the road to illuminate the path toward clean energy development and engage Virginians from across the state in the movement to turn the commonwealth to cleaner energy.

In recent weeks, our New Power tour visited Front Royal, Staunton, and Christiansburg, and found overwhelming community support for safe, reliable, affordable electricity. To those who attended recent presentations, thank you for engaging in our discussion with your honest reactions and probing questions! If you belong to an organization you think would like to hear about the New Power campaign, however large or small your group is, get in touch with Hannah at and set up a date!

For someone like me who follows Virginia’s energy sources day in and day out, it’s exciting to unwrap and reveal the surprising truth of where Virginia gets its energy. Around Virginia, folks seem to share a belief in making electricity safer, more reliable, and more price-stable, and they want to hear more about renewable energy sources. Most people we talk with are already aware of our utilities’ current reliance on coal, but they’re often dismayed to learn that Dominion Virginia Power would keep solar and wind development at a marginal scale in Virginia for another 15 years. What I enjoy the most is painting a picture of the abundant clean energy resource potential we have in wind, solar, and energy efficiency and how local residents, businesses, universities, and counties are already proving that clean energy works here in Virginia.

Our presentations have taken place against the backdrop of recent disasters related to the fossil fuel industry — a chemical spill in West Virginia followed by a coal slurry spill and the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history in North Carolina. These calamitous events bring home the risks associated with our reliance on burning coal for electricity — from mining, to processing, transporting, burning and lastly the disposal of coal ash. Imagine if we relied as much on wind and solar as we do on coal what the worst-case scenarios might be: whoever heard of a city’s water supply polluted by a sunshine spill?

Looking ahead for the New Power for the Old Dominion campaign, we have stops in Roanoke, Winchester, Price’s Fork, and back to Front Royal, and we’re constantly adding more visits to civic groups, as well as presentations at area campuses, and discussions with church groups.

Request a presentation by emailing and we’ll keep the New Power tour rolling your way!

Smart Savings: Increasing Energy Efficiency in the Southeast

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Rory McIlmoil

Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil coordinates our energy savings campaign

Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil coordinates our energy savings campaign

As we reach the end of one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced, I have been thinking a lot about how the periods of deep freeze have impacted residents across the region. Two managers of rural electric cooperatives recently told me that they have seen record-high energy costs for many of their residential customers.

These costs are an ongoing burden for many in Appalachia, where rural and low-income residents often live in homes that waste significant amounts of energy. The high electric bills that result can inhibit a family’s ability to meet even basic needs. In fact, energy costs can consume 80 percent of a family’s income during some months.

This problem is rooted in the inability of residents to afford the upfront cost of making needed energy efficiency improvements in their homes, such as adding insulation, repairing air ducts and conducting basic weatherization. This is the problem that our Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign aims to address.

Through this innovative campaign, we are promoting “on-bill financing” home energy loan programs that rural electric cooperatives should be offering to help residents finance the cost of home energy improvements. Such programs are proving to be highly successful in South Carolina, where residential participants reduced their electric bills by an average of 34 percent, and Kentucky, where participating homeowners have achieved an average energy savings of more than 20 percent.

Cutting energy costs not only helps alleviate poverty by increasing the amount of income families have for meeting their basic needs, but also can boost rural economies. The new savings can be spent in the community, and the increased demand for local energy services — such installing energy-efficient heating systems — supports new businesses and job creation.

Employing energy efficiency can also have significant environmental benefits. By cutting energy waste, we can reduce demand for coal that is extracted through mountaintop removal coal mining and for natural gas that comes from fracking wells. The simple act of insulating a home is one more step toward building resilient and sustainable communities.

We need you to get involved if we are going to achieve our goal of seeing strong home energy loan programs offered by every electric cooperative in the region. One way you can do that is by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center and sending a letter to your electric utility requesting that they develop an on-bill financing loan program. After taking action, help build the movement by spreading the word about the Action Center and our campaign for saving money and energy (and the environment!) in Appalachia.


With Important Energy Efficiency Programs Intact, Farm Bill Awaits Obama’s Signature

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 - posted by brian
It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed the version of the Farm Bill sent to it by the House a week ago. The rare compromise by Congress ends a 17-month impasse and will support “the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The bill designates funding over the next 10 years for farm subsidies, crop insurance, and nutrition and conservation programs. But it also contains lesser-known, and exceedingly important, programs to support energy efficiency in rural communities across the country.

Funding under the bill’s Energy Title — largely for biofuels, but also to support renewable energy and energy efficiency — only represents around $1 billion of the nearly $1 trillion bill. Still, energy efficiency advocates and groups such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are celebrating the Farm Bill’s passage alongside farmers and the agricultural communities they serve.

“Cooperatives serve 93 percent of the nation’s ‘persistent poverty counties’ and see firsthand the need for the rural economic development programs contained in this bill,” NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said in a statement on the association’s website.

For one, the bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy Savings Program to distribute up to $75 million in zero-interest loans for energy efficiency for each of the next five years.

The program is specifically intended to help rural co-ops create “on-bill financing” loan programs. Last year, we launched our Energy Savings for Appalachia program to shepherd the development and implementation of these programs in our region.

Through the Rural Energy Savings Program, co-ops can obtain federal dollars, which they can then pass on to their customers to invest in efficiency retrofits and updates. Borrowers will gradually pay loans back through charges on their electric bill that are less than their overall savings.

On-bill financing programs have proven successful in Kentucky, South Carolina, Kansas and other states, and co-ops have been advocating for a federal loan program for several years. In December 2013, the USDA announced its Energy Efficiency Conservation and Program, which did not require Congress’s approval.

Expectedly, not everyone is happy with the Farm Bill. Hunger groups are condemning cuts to foods stamps and changes in the eligibility requirements for food assistance programs. The notoriously picky meat industry is opposed to mandatory “country of origin labeling” rules, and too many to count are criticizing the way the bill overhauls farm subsidies.

“The farm bill isn’t perfect,” Obama said in a statement, “but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

We know that energy efficiency can grow rural communities. So even though the Farm Bill may not be perfect, “a positive difference” and stable funding for efficiency programs mean a lot.

Click here to learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, and find out what energy efficiency programs your electric provider offers using our Energy Savings Action Center.

Common Sense, Nonsense, and a Climate Fight in the Making in Richmond

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry's “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern this year is SB 615, which seeks to undermine the EPA's authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

Days into the legislative session, a slew of pro-coal bills have been introduced to the Virginia General Assembly, including SB 615, a bill to undermine the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

The 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly is underway, and state lawmakers are wasting no time! We are tracking their activities and want to make sure you have all the information you need on several important bills coming up this session. Check back for regular updates and watch your inbox, we will be sending rapid response email alerts when important votes are coming up.

Legislation this session falls into two categories: the bright ideas that bring Virginia closer to a future of safe and reliable clean energy, and the downright crazy bills that do the opposite and must be stopped. Here is the breakdown, with a debt to the blog Power for the People for many of the details.

In Virginia, we have a voluntary goal for increasing our state’s investments in renewable energy. Increasing the state’s investment in carbon-free fuels depends on clarifying and reforming this renewable energy goal, but unfortunately that isn’t going to happen overnight. One big focus this year is the concept of “banking renewable energy certificates (RECs).” Virginia utilities purchase these certificates and apply them toward their contribution to the renewable energy goal.

Currently, the rules around this matter are lax, allowing utilities to save up their RECs indefinitely and purchase them only rarely, which defeats the program’s purpose of spurring new renewable energy development. HB 822 and SB 498 would address this problem by essentially stamping a “use by” date on RECs so that utilities have to use RECs within five years. This change would result in utilities purchasing RECs in the market more regularly, incentivizing emissions-free sources.

Energy efficiency is the cheapest way Virginia can reduce its dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. Yet electricity providers in the commonwealth offer little to no opportunity for their customers to invest in energy efficiency measures for their homes. Instead, customers are left having to do it on their own. HB 1001 would require power companies and cooperatives to adopt such programs — particularly benefiting folks with low or fixed incomes.

In addition, several proposals are being considered this session that would break down longstanding obstacles to clean energy installation. Some homeowners associations still have neighborhood rules against residents putting up solar panels, and as long as individual rules was in place before 2008, they are valid and legal. SB 222 would remove such a ban, although restrictions on size and placement would still be allowed.

Two innovative approaches to clean energy project funding are also in the works. HB 880 and SB 351 make it easier for a larger number of Virginians to put up money to crowdfund any community endeavor, including a community-owned solar project. Excitingly, HB 1158 would facilitate a grassroots approach to sharing the cost and benefits of a solar installation by allowing “virtual net metering” so the clean energy generated can be divided among participating residents, similar to a server splitting a check evenly between members of a large party.

Then there are the bad bills. Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry’s “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern is SB 615 which would cripple the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia. We are starting to see similar bills pop up around the country as part of a national effort to thwart the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon pollution. To voice our concerns about the bill, Virginians gathered in Richmond on Monday and marched for action on climate change. The march was coordinated with Virginia Conservation Network’s Annual Lobby Day, which brings citizens together to meet with their representatives on a whole host of legislation that impacts conservation, transportation and environmental issues in the commonwealth. SB 615 could come up in committee as early as this week.

Yesterday, citizen champions for clean energy and environmental protection assembled to hold briefings on the issues, visit legislator’s offices, and finally marching on Capital Square for climate solutions. Our fight isn’t confined to one day, but continues through the end of this legislative session and beyond, so keep an eye on this blog (and on your email inbox) and stay involved!