Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

The economic impact of energy efficiency

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly

Making the case for utility on-bill financing in the High Country

Several High Country businesses would see their customer base grow dramatically if an on-bill energy efficiency financing program was adopted by Blue Ridge Electric.

Several High Country businesses would see their customer bases grow dramatically if an on-bill energy efficiency financing program was adopted by Blue Ridge Electric.

While not as exciting as solar panels glimmering in the sunlight, energy efficiency retrofits can be just as important in reducing energy consumption, lowering utility bills, and making an economic impact. One such program that makes energy efficiency retrofits accessible on a large scale is utility on-bill financing.

On-bill financing programs are a way for utilities to offer energy efficiency upgrades with no up-front cost to customers. After receiving the upgrades, customers see immediate savings. A portion of the savings goes back to the utility to pay for the upgrades through residents’ monthly bills (hence the name on-bill). When the improvements are paid for, residents pocket all their utility savings, which could be up to a 40 percent reduction in their bill. In turn, residents are able to use what they would otherwise be spending on electric bills to further stimulate the local economy.

Energy efficiency upgrades covered by most on-bill financing programs include air sealing, insulation, duct sealing, and heat pump repair or replacement, depending on what needed improvements are identified through energy audits. General contractors have specialized in energy efficiency certifications in order to do this work. Because this work is more labor intensive, every dollar that is redirected from the energy sector and spent in the home improvement industry has a more prominent impact on the local economy and jobs.

According to The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, a dollar spent in the local economy has more than double the positive effect on domestic employment and wages of spending a dollar on utility bills. John Kidda is the founder of reNew Home, Inc., a Boone-based home energy improvement company. “An additional $300,000 annual revenue stream would be a game changer for my business,” he says. “It would mean at least two new employees.”

The ideal on-bill financing program is accessible to everyone because it is tied to the meter, meaning once the renter or homeowner moves, the on-bill financing charge will not follow them but will instead be paid by the next occupant or owner who will also see savings. The program that works best also operates without a credit check, with eligibility instead being based on utility payment history, thereby removing traditional barriers of getting a loan.

Appalachian Voices is working in the High Country to promote and help develop programs that will benefit residents who are suffering from poorly constructed or aging homes. Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation (BRE) provides electricity to most of the High Country. The rural electric cooperative serves approximately 66,500 residential customers.

A report produced by Appalachian Voices in early 2014 found that a larger portion of BRE members’ income goes to utility bills than the national average. If Blue Ridge Electric offered on-bill financing, and, if just 1 percent of its residential customers took a $7,500 loan:

• $5 million could be spent on energy efficiency projects in a 5-year period
• 70 total jobs could be created from that investment
• $600 a year could be the amount the average household saves (the customer would pocket $120 a year until the improvements are paid in full.)
• Another 80 jobs could be created from the reinvestment of this saved money in local goods and services

Several businesses already focus on weatherization and energy efficiency improvements in the High Country, and could see their businesses grow if an on-bill finance program were in place. “If there were financing available, I would be hiring local contractors to improve the homes in our local area,” says Sam Zimmerman, President of Sunny Day Homes. “It means local jobs and reduced reliance on fossil fuels while improving home value and comfort.”

With an average 23 percent poverty rate in Blue Ridge Electric’s service area, this program would help raise the market accessibility for companies such as Sunny Day Homes and reduce the cost of living for families some of whom are barely making it. “The economic benefits are dramatic for the people who get the jobs and the people who get the work done,” Zimmerman says.

Energy efficiency and on-bill financing programs would have a significant and positive impact on all of the area’s weatherization businesses says Will Hadaway, founder of HomEfficient. “My usual crew consists of myself and two others,” Hadaway remarks. “This would equate to 2/3 to 3/4 of a years worth of work for us, and that is very significant to say the least.”

Kent Walker of Blue Ridge Energy Works agrees that the program could have a significant impact and provide a steady stream of work for his business. “BRE could really stimulate the economy with this program!” says Walker.

You can help bring energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing to the High Country. If you’re a member of BRE, sign a letter to support on-bill financing today! If BRE is not your electric provider, visit Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings Action Center to ask your utility to support energy efficiency initiatives.

The job estimates were calculated using state and region-wide values reported from a 2013 Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance report. Loan investment and average annual household savings were calculated by Appalachian Voices.

South Fork Sharestead

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

An Idea About What Is Possible

By Eliza Laubach

A brick house off Hwy. 58 just west of Damascus, Va., stands out in a curious way. Flowerbeds have replaced the blacktop driveway and small fruit trees dot the front yard. To the side, on top of a large shed, sit four blue barrels spray-painted with the letters L-O-V-E — a message easily seen from the busy road.

"Our goal this year is less grass," says Jonathan Towers. He already grows enough food to donate surplus to neighbors or a family in need.

“Our goal this year is less grass,” says Jonathan Towers. He already grows enough food to donate surplus to neighbors or a family in need.

Rarely does Jonathan Towers advertise his home as the South Fork Sharestead, although the name accurately describes his one and a half acres. “It was basically created to share with both the people who are here and the community,” says Towers. He and his wife Carol, both in their 60s, converted his two-car garage into a living space for themselves. The sharesteaders — up to four at a time — live in the house. Most of them are from the surrounding area and are at least a generation younger than the couple.

Courtney Rowle, 26, moved in 18 months ago after meeting the Towers at a restaurant where she worked in Damascus. The sharestead is the longest she has lived anywhere since leaving the Marine Corps. “I call this the refuge,” says Rowle. While exemplifying intergenerational living, those at the sharestead strive for resource conservation and a low-impact lifestyle.

He says his endeavors are a fearless preparation for an uncertain future affected by climate change. He hopes when people drive by and see the LOVE barrels, in the background at right, they will be reminded of the primary driver of his actions. Photos by Elize Laubach.

He says his endeavors are a fearless preparation for an uncertain future affected by climate change. He hopes when people drive by and see the LOVE barrels, in the background at right, they will be reminded of the primary driver of his actions. Photos by Eliza Laubach.

In the six years since he moved from Boone, N.C., Towers has transformed his average American home into an energy-efficient, food-abundant powerhouse. By retrofitting the house to be energy efficient and maintaining a strong commitment to energy conservation, their utility bill has dropped 75 percent. The Towers started with little things, such as line-drying clothes. Soon their next-door neighbors had a line out, too. “We realized it could be a demonstration house,” says Jonathan.

The couple models sustainable living on a budget. A wood stove, along with extra insulation in the attic and curtains made out of sleeping bags, replaced the central heating and air conditioning system. A water tank on the back of the woodstove and a solar shower have greatly reduced the use of their hot water heater, which, like the windows, is covered in a down Army-surplus sleeping bag.

Towers allows function to determine placement. He found that a chest freezer operating on a warmer setting uses a lot less energy than a refrigerator. To move hot air without a central heating system, he installed fans into the walls above many doors in the house.

Garden beds in his front yard follow pathway borders, and in the backyard are two round gardens that host intensive, small-scale vegetable cultivation. Towers devised these gardens as a system the average person, of any age, could easily tend. Their accessible shape allows a gardener to easily grow an abundance of food in a compact space, he says. Fencing encircles each plot and a drainage pipe snakes underground, emerging outside the fence, to be supplied with rainwater reserved from his roof. He remembers harvesting more than 500 pounds of tomatoes from the two 220-square-foot spaces one year.

A barn housing two horses and 11 chickens features a greenhouse on the south side. A passive solar design lights and ventilates the barn, a system that Towers also applied to his basement to make it comfortable without a dehumidifier.

“If there is something here that somebody is interested in doing, we do it,” says Towers. “We’ve let everything evolve here rather than coming in thinking we know everything.” He doesn’t invite people to live at the sharestead to learn from him and Carol, but to learn with them.

The Towers have espoused this belief since they first moved to Damascus with their friends, Steve and Ashley Ahn. Steve describes his family as quite typical before they met the Towers, but they wanted to do something different. The Ahns and their three young children moved into the brick house with the Towers in an exploration of extended-family living.

Eventually, the Ahns bought their own house nearby and cultivate a homestead there, and the two families have grown even closer. The Towers help the Ahns build on land in the backcountry of Grayson County, a purchase the Towers also helped finance. “They are like our adopted parents,” says Steve.

Jonathan’s mantra, “that we each need to take personal responsibility for our wellbeing,” empowers the sharesteaders’ reasoning. He thinks in terms of perpetual inner growth, a philosophy he and Carol promote among other residents in the home.

Rowle takes this seriously, as her educational experience at the sharestead is enriched by an apprenticeship with a local Native American medicine woman. She credits the grounding support she finds with Jonathan and Carol as an incubator for her projects. “When you have to share with other people you start to grow,” she says. “You start thinking about the other person, kind of like a family.”

Two historic homes get some TLC energy

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by eliza

Sean Dunlap and his wife Lynnea McElreath live in a wood-slat farmhouse in Boone, N.C. built in 1938 by Lynnea’s great-grandfather. They bought the house and moved in eight years ago and have been slowly refurbishing the house ever since. Sean describes living in their drafty house in the wintertime as “frustrating and expensive.”

In January, the DIY couple won $800 worth of energy upgrades in Appalachian Voices’ “High Country Home Energy Contest.” John Kidda, a Boone-area home energy contractor, donated an extensive energy audit so they will have a detailed report to use for future projects. He was astounded to find that Sean and Lynnea’s house leaks air 10 times more than an average home.

“Your house is so drafty,” John said to Lynnea during the energy audit, “that it is overpowering the exhaust fans. I’ve never seen that before.”

Starting a family has halted the couple’s progress on most projects due to a diminished budget and time. “Having an infant in a house that gets really, really cold in the wintertime is an additional stress,” says Sean. They have used extra blankets and space heaters to stay comfortable, but, in part due to education they they received from Appalachian Voices, are aware that energy efficiency is the solution.

When she’s not taking care of her children, Lynnea enjoys researching how to modernize their home, which led her to discover Appalachian Voices’ contest last fall. Sean knew their house was drafty, but was at a loss to stop it. “I don’t think we really understood the causes,” he says.

After working with our Energy Savings for Appalachia team, Sean and Lynnea are finding out what they can do to alleviate the exacerbated “chimney effect” of a leaky house.

They had recently installed a wood-burning furnace in their basement, which decreases their heating costs substantially. Before, their utility bills averaged around $330 a month. The insulation and air-sealing they were awarded will ensure that the heated air stays in their house and the cold air stays out. This results in the Dunlaps using a lot less energy to keep their home warm and comfortable in the winter. The energy audit they received as part of the contest gives them a roadmap for future improvements.

Another couple benefits from energy efficiency

Vance and Thelma Woodie also live in an old home. Their historic home near downtown West Jefferson, N.C. was once heated by a coal-stoker furnace. Coal still litters the basement floor. Vance, a Korean War veteran, bought the home with the help of the G.I. bill. It had a major roof leak and they spent all they had to get it fixed. “Back then we didn’t have nothing; we still don’t have nothing,” says Vance.

They have replaced that furnace with a modern one, but the 80-year-old duct system needs updating. There is even still asbestos tape on the duct that heats their kitchen. They had improved the house little by little each year, but when Vance retired, they could no longer afford upgrades on a fixed income.

Even though they close off part of their second floor during the winter, they still spent an average of 15 percent of their income on utility bills before the awarded retrofit. Chuck Perry, program director for North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance, completed a walk-through energy assessment of their house as part of their prize. He identified the duct system as the place where the highest energy impact will be seen. The air loses heat as it travels through the ducts, and even warms the basement, because the duct system is not insulated or sealed. This means that the heater has to work even harder to heat the house to the temperature the Woodies want, resulting in a substantial amount of wasted energy.

He also explained to the Woodies a major air quality problem. One of the air intake vents is in the hand-dug basement, which means their heating system is taking up air, and dust along with it, from the basement to heat and distribute throughout the house. “Oh I notice it,” says Thelma. “When it first comes through I usually put my hand over my nose.”

As runners-up in our “High Country Home Energy Contest,” the Woodies have had their duct system sealed and insulated.

“I know it’ll help a whole lot,” says Vance of the energy upgrades he won. Living in the High Country his whole life, he knows that there will be another cold snap before trout season starts, the first weekend of April. The Energy Savings team will be keeping track of his energy use through a partnership with ResiSpeak, a program that takes weather into account when comparing monthly and annual energy usage.

The Energy Savings team is working with a local electric membership cooperative, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., to explore the development of a utility-implemented program that provides a loan for home energy retrofits. Blue RIdge Electric wants to be sure that any new programs do not cost its members. On-bill financing would increase access to energy efficiency to a service territory with a 23 percent poverty rate.

The contest culled members of Blue Ridge Electric that spend a disproportionate amount of money on their energy bills compared to the whole service territory. The average applicant pays more than double on their energy bills than the average Blue Ridge Electric member, and three times the national energy bill average.

Vance says he would take advantage of an on-bill financing program. “People like me can’t come up with the money when they need it,” Vance says, “It would help a lot of people.”

Check out our High Country Campaign where you can sign on to our petition to Blue Ridge Electric or send a letter of support for energy efficiency and ask Blue Ridge Electric to do more for its members.

TVA 20-year Plan Heavy on Natural Gas, Nuclear

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

The Tennessee Valley Authority announced in March that it will not need to build a new power plant for at least 20 years. The utility, which covers all of Tennessee and parts of neighboring states, plans to address future power demand by increasing nuclear power output, retrofitting coal-fired power plants to burn natural gas, and utilizing energy efficiency programs.

While TVA recently funded a nuclear reactor to go online in Tennessee by this December, making it the first public utility to do so in the 21st century, it is abandoning construction on a $6 billion nuclear power plant project in Alabama. The utility is also holding off on plans to build a high-voltage power line that would carry wind power from Texas and Oklahoma.

Campaign to Bring Energy Savings to the High Country Gaining Momentum

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

The High Country Home Energy Contest has come to a close, but the winners are already seeing tangible results from the upgrades they won. We received a playful painting made by the young children of contest runners-up Sean Dunlap and Lynnea McElreath, and will soon be releasing a video detailing the impact of the contest. Visit to explore the winners’ stories and pictures of the retrofitting process!

Our team is also gathering signatures of support for a strong energy efficiency loan program from Blue Ridge Electric. We are in discussions with the North Carolina electric membership cooperative about how to make energy efficiency more accessible to its members, including low-income residents, and want the cooperative leadership to know that its members support a financing model that works for all. Visit to learn more and sign on.

PJM Analysis Makes Economic Case for Clean Power Plan

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Eliza Laubach

A region-wide electric grid operating company, PJM, released a report in March analyzing how states could comply with a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring that power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions.

The company, which extends into 14 states across the Northeast and Midwest, described lessened costs if states work together to mitigate climate change through increased renewable energy exchanges. These allow states to trade credits for renewable energy produced, which advances solar or wind power where it is already well-established and helps states that cannot easily meet the new carbon regulations.

In doing so, the region may see lower wholesale energy prices, the PJM report said, due to the investment in renewables, whose prices are steadily dropping. Natural gas will factor into overall energy prices as power plants switch to burning the more abundant, less costly fossil fuel. The report encouraged states to address energy efficiency potential, the cheapest source of energy, in both grid transmission and in homes and businesses where electricity is used.

Yes, Virginia, there was a silver lining to the General Assembly

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - posted by hannah

1506880_545692232232755_7519825862257630233_nLegislator attitudes toward the level of carbon in our atmosphere and the rate at which corporate polluters are allowed to contribute to it range widely across the Appalachian region and the country. We’ve seen members of Congress deploy all manner of stunts to display their grasp of the issue (and lack thereof), most recently Sen. James Inhofe’s show-and-tell with a snowball.

In fact politicians across the country have sought to help polluting industries keep profiting off of dumping unlimited carbon into the atmosphere by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Many Attorneys General—with the exception of Virginia’s Mark Herring—are planning to sue, state assemblies are considering bills to assert authority over state compliance plans or to set less stringent carbon pollution limits.

But there’s reason for hope here in Virginia.

More and more of our state legislators are beginning to accept that diversifying our energy system by investing more in clean sources is beneficial—even if the underlying motivation is to reduce carbon pollution and the standard is set at the federal level. In the General Assembly that ended earlier this month, we largely saw members opting not to support legislation that would have thwarted the EPA’s plan to cut carbon pollution. The bill, which was really just a politically divisive grandstanding bill by ultra-conservatives, failed.

That says a lot about the power of citizen engagement. An element of that legislative success was due to grassroots contact with legislators and their offices, in person, by email, and over the phone, and with a boots-on-the-ground approach by packing committee hearings and being visible and active on Capitol Grounds, repeating the facts and science for lawmakers to hear. And for that effort, we achieved a few more important victories.

Modest gains came our way as we went about tackling solar energy policies. Businesses and nonprofits with solar panels who want to sell some power back to their utility can have up to 1 megawatt versus half that before. The General Assembly established a new Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority to help the industry. The legislature also authorized the state’s largest utility, Dominion Power, to build the state’s first solar farm, up to 400 MW, and to recover costs for the facility from its customers. (However, the bill doesn’t provide for other companies to bid competitively to build a solar farm for Dominion, meaning Dominion’s cost to the customer will likely be higher than it should be.)

In addition, Virginia utilities are also now required to develop more programs to assist customers with saving energy. Ramping up clean energy sources like solar and efficiency is key for Virginia to reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy.

Virginia legislators heard testimony on EPA’s Clean Power Plan in the course of several committee hearings, starting back in November and continuing up to the midpoint of the session. The most comprehensive bill to address greenhouse gas pollution the Coastal Protection Act, was introduced this session, but didn’t make it across the finish line. Still, legislators were responsive to citizens, rejecting legislation that would have wrested power from Gov. McAuliffe’s administration to develop a state plan to comply with the EPA.

Yet, Virginia delegates and senators passed on some measures because they perceived the bills were controversial or did not understand them well enough. Making community solar possible, making third-party power sales for clean energy legal throughout the state, providing better financing for home energy-efficiency improvements, and joining a regional greenhouse gas initiative – these are all measures the General Assembly should approve in 2016

But they need to hear from you. Citizens can start educating legislators about the economic benefits of clean energy policies now.

In praise of the High Country Energy Contest’s community and business partners

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - posted by jmcgirt

Community Partners

Lisa Ward of Watauga County Project on Aging
Graham Doege of WeCAN (Crisis Assistance Network)

Business Partners

John Kidda of reNew Home, inc.
Kent Hively of High Country Energy Solutions, Inc.
Kent Walker of Blue Ridge Energy Works
Sam Zimmerman and Sarah Grady of Sunny Day Homes, Inc.
Will Haddaway of HomEfficient

The Energy Savings for Appalachia team would like to thank our community and business partners for making the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest possible.

Without their dedication and service, we would not have been able to offer three households the extensive energy efficiency home improvements that we have in the past month.

Business partnerships have played a pivotal role throughout the contest process. As energy efficiency contractors, these individuals and their businesses were a natural fit for the home retrofits we hoped to offer contest winners. Their services range from spray foam insulation to energy audits to HVAC system repair. Of course, such services can come with a mighty price tag.

While energy efficiency is a worthwhile investment, such services are not affordable for so many homeowners and requiring financing to become a reality. Such financing from Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. — the electric cooperative that serves North Carolina’s High Country — is not available. So we launched our Energy Savings for the High Country campaign as a step toward making energy efficiency more accessible to residents of the High Country.

Each of the business partners donated $250 toward the contest and provided their services to three households at no charge. Nearly $5,000 of materials were purchased as a result of their donations and the donations of other contest sponsors. With the combination of donated time and materials, we facilitated walk-through home energy assessments of 11 runner-up households as well as energy audits and retrofits for our three contest winners.

John Kidda of reNew Home, inc., and the other businesses were active in the walk-through assessments, determining which households should win the contest and receive retrofits. Thanks to Kent Hively and Sam Zimmerman, grand prize winner Zach Dixon of Boone received $3,200 worth of full house insulation and air sealing. Vance Woodie of West Jefferson, a runner-up, received $800 worth of duct replacement and duct sealing work by Will Hadaway. Sean Dunlap of Sugar Grove, a second runner up, had $800 worth of spray foam insulation and moisture barrier work in his attic crawl space, provided by Kent Hively.

Will Hadaway, owner of HomEfficient, seals Vance Woodie's basement ducts with mastic.

Will Hadaway, owner of HomEfficient, seals Vance Woodie’s basement ducts with mastic.

“If is wasn’t for John Kidda and Kent Hively’s work, living in an old 1930s farmhouse wouldn’t be worth it,” says Dunlap. Hively also provided CFL bulbs for all three homeowners.

The community partnerships with Project on Aging and WeCAN (Crisis Assistance Network) enabled our team to effectively reach a wider audience than we originally anticipated. How? Both of the women involved, Lisa Ward and Graham Doege, were impassioned to help their regular clientele with home energy improvements by distributing our contest application and providing support throughout the application process.

Ward is a caseworker with the Watauga County Project on Aging who works with home-bound senior citizens. She eagerly took a petition which asks Blue Ridge Electric to offer its members affordable energy efficiency programs and our contest application to her in-home visits across the county. We received two applications referred by Ward.

Graham Doege coordinates the WeCAN program, which financially assists residents when they struggle to pay utility or housing costs. Very aware the conditions of poverty in Watauga County — the third poorest county in the state — Doege attempts to educate her clientele on ways to save energy, and therefore money spent on energy, to prevent future payment crises.

Throughout our contest, Graham provided her clients with the contest application as well as Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings Checklist as an energy savings resource. Doege commented, “I see six clients a day, five days a week. $400 of fuel assistance is all I can offer a household in a year. ” Before offering any crisis assistance funds, Doege tells them, “If you are using your clothes drier, stop and use a clothesline. Then we’ll talk.” Thanks to her efforts, we received two applications referred by Doege.

Besides receiving referrals, partnerships with Project on Aging and WeCAN have informed us of the many constraints residents in rural Watauga County face. We are working to ensure that residents, whether renters or owners, have equal access to the many ways to save money on their utility bills through home energy efficiency. As a result, High Country residents will have the savings necessary for more pressing household needs and an atmosphere in which they can thrive.

Other organizations that posted our contest application materials include: High Country DSS offices and Boards of Education; Watauga Co. Veterans Affairs; Alleghany Cares; Boone Area Missions; Caldwell Co Ag Extension; and Happy Valley Medical Center.

Sign our petition asking Blue Ridge Electric to support energy efficiency. Learn more about the Energy Savings for Appalachia program.

Many roads lead to clean energy

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 - posted by cat
Photo by BigStock

Photo by BigStock

At first glance, two recent news stories appear unrelated, but a closer look reveals they point in the same direction — the convergence of the tremendous economic opportunities of building a strong clean-energy sector in the U.S., and the needs of low-income, largely disenfranchised populations.

On February 20, when temperatures across the East and South sank well below freezing, customers served by two of the nation’s largest electric utilities — Duke Energy Carolinas and Dominion Virginia Power — set all-time highs for energy use. So did customers of a much smaller utility, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. in western North Carolina. Other utilities may have set records as well.

It also happened to be the same day that the NAACP passed a resolution entitled, “Promoting Equitable Access to Clean Energy Alternatives” calling for programs and policies that ensure affordable access to clean energy options for all, and job training and opportunities for lower-income African-Americans.

Connect the dots: increasing energy efficiency and other clean energy choices like rooftop solar can reduce overall demand on the grid, save money for families and companies, and create economic opportunity for communities that need it most.

High consumption = high cost

The utilities, in announcing the record-high energy use, neglected to note that their customers just might be getting record-high electric bills next month to pay for all those kilowatt hours. High bills can be especially burdensome on low-income families, which sometimes spend as much as 20 or 30 percent of household income on electricity.

Rather than building ever more fossil fuel generators to cover spikes in energy use (which arguably we’ll be seeing more of in winter and summer as climate change continues to wreak havoc on weather patterns), utilities ought to be investing a lot more in helping their customers weatherize and insulate their houses and apartments. Those who would benefit most are lower-income families, rural and urban, who can least afford the upfront costs to make energy-efficiency improvements, yet whose homes are in worse shape than most.

Moreover, studies show that implementing energy efficiency and other clean sources of energy, like solar and wind, creates jobs and business opportunities, and strengthens local economies.

Cleaner energy = more equitable energy

The flip side here, as the NAACP’s resolution notes, is that the cost of not transitioning to clean energy is disproportionately borne by communities of color and low-income communities in terms of the health impacts of mining, burning fossil fuels, dumping the toxic waste, and the impacts of climate change.

“The NAACP has a vested interest in improving the quality of lives of those most adversely impacted by high rates of energy consumption, while promoting safer, affordable, and equitable energy alternatives and supplier options. Our adopted policy is reflective of our historical civil rights legacy,” says Kathy Egland, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors Environmental and Climate Justice Subcommittee.

Hitting record-high energy use is nothing to crow about. Although Duke and Dominion said that emergency conservation measures by their customers helped them get through the February 20 spike, they aren’t fully connecting the dots: deploying robust energy efficiency and clean energy programs will provide a more secure, affordable, and equitable energy system for its customers long into the future.

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.