Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

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

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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.

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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.

Virginia utilities expand their menus with new energy-saving offerings

Monday, December 1st, 2014 - posted by hannah

Advocates for energy efficiency often, and rightly, call it “the first fuel,” and Virginia is now creeping ahead toward gains in this lowest-cost power source.

New programs could help Virginians harness the "first fuel" -- energy efficiency.

New programs could help Virginians harness the “first fuel” — energy efficiency.

As some of Virginia’s foremost energy efficiency leaders will tell you, Virginians are coming to a consensus that we need concerted energy efficiency improvements, and judging by our recent rank of 35 in a state efficiency scorecard, this sense of urgency comes not a moment too soon!

Utilities are responding with new programs that they will run over the next few years. For climate activists, affordable energy supporters and regular customers alike, these programs represent steps in the right direction.

Virginia’s largest utility, Dominion Power, serves dense population centers in the northern, eastern and central regions of the Commonwealth and already administers a handful of opt-in energy-saving programs. The intent behind these demand side programs is to invest in energy-saving home improvements in much the same way utilities invest in a generating facility, with a bonus rebate to help offset the initial cost for the energy user.

Dominion is now looking to add two new demand-reduction programs to its portfolio, with a regulatory hearing scheduled for March. One program is intended to be restricted to those who would need it most, open only to those living in poverty, the other would target some of the most woefully old, power-guzzling appliances that customers may still be plugging in (see chart). Dominion is also proposing a Qualifying Small Business Improvement Program, and the utility’s many other commercial programs are listed online.

Dominion Power's current and proposed energy efficiency programs in Virginia.

Dominion Power’s current and proposed energy efficiency programs in Virginia. Click to enlarge.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s other investor-owned utility, Appalachian Power, has announced a suite of programs it estimates will save energy equivalent to the annual usage of 3,000 homes. The company, which serves much of Virginia’s mountain, valley and piedmont residents, has just been granted approval for an air-conditioner on/off cycling option (which saves on system congestion and expensive summer-peak energy during high-use times) and a low-income weatherization program to kick-off its energy saving portfolio. The company is also seeking approval for programs that will provide for customers to save money on wealth-building measures like a home check-up and vastly cost-effective LED bulbs (again, see chart).

Descriptions of energy efficiency programs proposed by Appalachian Power Company in Virginia.

Descriptions of energy efficiency programs proposed by Appalachian Power Company in Virginia. Click to enlarge.

It’s worth pointing out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to reduce the carbon intensity of our power sector allows states to count efficiency improvements toward reductions in overall emissions, meaning we can pursue the plan’s goals while creating jobs in the home assessment and efficiency retrofitting fields. It is the first time that the EPA has created a standard that allows for offsets in emissions from outside the walls of a power plant. We can take advantage of the EPA’s action to drive expansion of more ambitious efficiency programs.

The more we ask of our utilities in this regard the more we can expect Virginia’s rank on those national charts to climb, and the more we’ll see our neighbors finding work as home energy contractors doctoring our houses and looking after our leaky, energy-inefficient buildings.

Dominion customers can apply to and enroll in existing programs through dom.com. Stay tuned for news on APCo’s new programs which will soon be available for applications and enrollment.

We won’t stop until we’ve won in Virginia

Friday, November 21st, 2014 - posted by hannah
Virginia Sierra Club

Virginia Sierra Club

As he called the Joint Commerce and Labor Committee to order Wednesday in Richmond, state Sen. John Watkins told the the audience of more than 200 citizens that the purpose of the meeting was to allow legislators to better grasp the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and its likely effects on Virginia’s economy and energy prices.

That is all well and good, but for the fact that the the slate of presenters was stacked by the likes of the industry-biased Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research and coal-heavy electric provider Appalachian Power. Aside from a lone environmental advocate, representatives from the electric utilities and entities friendly to polluters dominated the three-hour hearing, repeating the myths and misinformation that the EPA plan would increase costs for ratepayers and trigger job losses.

But the General Assembly members could not fail to notice just how many Virginians took the time to be there to watch and listen, and how passionately they care about shifting to clean energy. A large group activists and clean energy supporters rallied outside the Capitol to make our voices heard: there is no time to lose for Virginia to harness renewable energy and energy efficiency. They cheered the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution limits as a historic opportunity to adopt the policies that will turn the commonwealth to a cleaner energy future.

Virginia Sierra Club

Virginia Sierra Club

Amid the spirited and diverse groups at the rally were moms and kids having a play-in for the earth, Green Grannies leading the crowd in song, and students who waved model wind turbines aloft in the wintry breeze. The point was clear. Rejecting the biased and flawed assessments that industry presenters made in the committee room, speakers at the rally heralded the benefits to public health and the obligation that Virginia has to be part of climate solutions. These sentiments are reflected in the more than 200,000 petition signatures from Virginians support of strong EPA climate action.

The speakers highlighted how the option to offset power plant emissions with clean sources and efficiency will drive job creation and eliminate the need for new natural gas plants, and stressed that costly nuclear power investments are not needed if Virginia can take advantage of offshore wind and ramp up programs to make homes and businesses energy-efficient. Virginia has enough wind and solar energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes in the next decade — IF the legislature and McAuliffe administration act now and incorporate EPA’s Clean Power Plan as part of a statewide strategy.

Virginia Sierra Club

Virginia Sierra Club

Wednesday’s events brought Virginia activists together around a shared vision of Virginia 15 years in the future that is less reliant on fossil fuels, a vision that the EPA plan can help bring to life. Others voiced concern at the rally that the two large natural gas pipelines proposed for Virginia are not the way to go, given the dangers to clean air and water and the impacts of carbon dioxide and methane on the climate.

Our movement spanning Virginia is strong in its diversity and united by a desire for a clean energy future. Until the EPA’s rule is made final in June of 2015 and far beyond it, we’re fighting for clean power. As we chanted Wednesday at the Capitol, “There’s no stopping us until we’ve won.”

Upgrade to Save? Sounds like a good idea to us!

Friday, October 24th, 2014 - posted by rory

Roanoke Electric Cooperative receives first federal loan for energy efficiency financing

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“Now we can open access to low cost capital for all cost-effective energy efficiency improvements sought by members with sound bill payment history, regardless of income, credit score, or status as renters or home owners.”

With that simple statement, Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in eastern North Carolina, perfectly summarized the benefit and accessibility that well-structured on-bill energy efficiency financing programs can offer. Wynn’s statement was part of yesterday’s announcement that REC had been approved for one of the first loans provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program.

The $6 million loan from USDA will fund REC’s new Upgrade to $ave on-bill finance program, which was modeled on the Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) program developed in 1999 by the Energy Efficiency Institute of Vermont. We have written before about other on-bill finance programs that have also used the PAYS model, most notably the How$martKY program developed by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development. This is also the model that Appalachian Voices is promoting to rural electric cooperatives in the region through our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.

The most important part of Curtis Wynn’s statement is the reference to the fact that the Upgrade to $ave program is available to all of REC’s members who have a demonstrated history of paying their electric bills. It doesn’t matter if the member owns or rents their home, what their credit score is, or what income bracket they fall under. This is a key aspect of on-bill finance programs because it means that financial support is available for the people who need it the most, but cannot pay for the upgrades themselves and may not be qualified to receive a loan from a traditional bank or credit union. And given that REC serves an area with an average poverty rate of more than 28 percent, there is undoubtedly a substantial number of residents that need such support.

One of the greatest things about on-bill finance programs modeled after the PAYS program is that they offer “debt-free financing” for households to pay for improving the efficiency of their home, which results in significant reductions in their energy bills. If the homeowner or renter moves away, they don’t have to pay off any remaining debt, and it doesn’t follow them around. Instead, the “debt” remains with the electric meter, and the next owner or tenant continues the payments through the monthly fee.

Average annual costs and estimated savings for participants in Roanoke Electric Cooperative's new Upgrade to $ave program.

Average annual costs and estimated savings for participants in Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s new Upgrade to $ave program.

Perhaps the most important aspect of these programs, however, is that the monthly payments made by the member/customer end up being less than the savings achieved as a result of the upgrades! In other words, even though the resident is paying a new fee on their monthly utility bill, their energy costs still go DOWN! That’s the brilliance of REC’s simple title for their program: Upgrade to $ave. And for REC’s part, the way they’ve structured the program allows the cooperative to fully recover their own costs for offering the energy efficiency service, meaning that other customers don’t have to share any of the costs associated with the program. This is a true and elegant example of an “everybody wins” situation.

Based on information provided in REC’s press statement, the cooperative will be able to provide approximately 800 energy efficiency “loans” using the $6 million being guaranteed by USDA. That represents around 6 percent of the cooperative’s total membership, which is pretty outstanding, and this is likely just the first USDA loan that REC will apply for. Further, the savings potential of the Upgrade to $ave program is substantial. With an average savings of 25 percent per home, as much as 4 million kilowatt-hours or more will be saved each year as a result of the program. For an individual households that could amount to around $650 saved each year (of which 75-90 percent would be used to pay the monthly fee).

On-bill finance programs like Upgrade to $ave are a commonsense approach to achieving significant reductions in the amount of energy and natural resources we use; alleviating the impacts of poverty and high energy costs; and, promoting the development of local jobs in communities that need them. The term “commonsense” doesn’t even capture just how much of a no-brainer developing these programs should be for all electric utilities, especially rural electric cooperatives because they serve some of the most disadvantaged and impoverished communities across the United States.

As REC’s press statement notes, “As an electric cooperative, Roanoke EMC is committed to cooperative principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, and concern for community.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association describes “concern for community” as “working for the sustainable development of [the cooperatives’] communities through policies accepted by their members.” On-bill finance programs can go a long way toward contributing to the sustainable development of communities served by electric cooperatives such as REC.

It is notable that, partially as a result of our own efforts, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, in partnership with many of its member cooperatives and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, is currently in the process of designing its own on-bill finance program and is expected to submit a loan application to USDA in the near future. Appalachian Voices is also promoting on-bill energy efficiency finance programs to electric cooperatives in western North Carolina, and we hope that REC’s example moves some of them toward developing their own program.

Appalachian Voices wholeheartedly applauds Roanoke Electric Cooperative for taking this important step, showing in practice what “concern for community” really means, and for being the first cooperative in the U.S. to receive an EECLP loan for the funding of an on-bill finance program!

Community members gather for Blue Ridge energy efficiency kick-off

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 - posted by Eliza Laubach
Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil speaks about the Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign.

Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil speaks about the Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign.

Did you miss the party? Last Thursday, Energy Savings for Appalachia hosted a launch party for our new campaign focusing on Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp.

Energy efficiency advocates and residents facing high energy costs gathered in our downtown Boone office to hear about the campaign and how they can get involved in our outreach efforts. Local business owners, students, farmers and families spilled out of the conference room as we brainstormed different ways to educate the community about our exciting High Country Home Energy Makeover contest and to gather signatures for our petition calling on Blue Ridge Electric to provide more energy efficiency programs.

What are we asking for? Blue Ridge Electric provides electricity to Ashe, Alleghany, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and some of Wilkes and Avery counties, excluding the town of Boone. Last winter, thousands of people served by Blue Ridge Electric could not afford to pay their bills and their electricity service was shut off. This is of particular concern given that 23 percent of Blue Ridge Electric members live at or below the poverty line, and we want to help families find solutions to their high electric bills.

Group brainstorming yields many great ideas!

Group brainstorming yields many great ideas!

That is where on-bill energy efficiency financing comes in. As Sam Zimmerman, owner of Sunny Day Homes, said at the party, most people do not have the disposable income to make large-scale home energy upgrades but would greatly benefit from them. With on-bill financing, the cooperative utility provides a loan for members to pay for home energy retrofits, and the loan is repaid on the member’s electric bill. Because so much energy is saved through the efficiency upgrades, the member’s electric bill is always lower than it was, even while they pay back the loan! By providing on-bill financing, utilities can help a wider range of homeowners and even renters make improvements to their home that would lower their energy use and electric bill.

So far, Blue Ridge Electric has rejected the idea of offering an on-bill financing program, citing lack of substantial member support as one of their primary reasons. This came as a surprise to Blue Ridge Electric members at the launch party. We are working to demonstrate that there actually is significant member support by circulating a petition, presenting to community groups and going door-to-door in local neighborhoods. Additionally, the Home Energy Makeover contest will not only help a few families whose homes could use efficiency upgrades now, it will also highlight a need for an on-bill finance program.

Kent Walker (left), a home energy contractor, and John Kidda, a builder, discuss all things energy efficiency over pizza and beer.

Kent Walker (left), a home energy contractor, and John Kidda, a builder, discuss all things energy efficiency over pizza and beer.

Chatter filled the room as large sheets of paper were filled with names of local businesses, community organizations, churches and other places where we can reach community members. Volunteers came up with innovative methods of outreach, such as utilizing technology or using church signboards, and signed up to help us with our ongoing canvassing project.

It was exciting to see folks be so enthused about our campaign, to hear a homeowner’s personal story detailing how much energy efficiency programs could help, and to strive for inclusion in the process of organizing a community around an issue.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings team has followed viable pathways of outreach, but the power of people coming together to focus their hands and hearts on helping us, which in turn helps them, enhances the benefit of our outreach, as involvement sparks meaning within concerned community members.

October is National Energy Action Month and National Cooperative Month, and there is no better time than now to focus on our local electric cooperative to provide services that will help members lower their energy use. Sign our Blue Ridge Electric petition or send a letter to your utility. Send us an email at energysavings@appvoices.org for volunteer opportunities, and, if you are a member of Blue Ridge Electric and are in need of support for reducing your energy costs, apply for the contest!