Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Is Obama’s Climate Action Plan on Track?

Friday, July 25th, 2014 - posted by Jeff Feng

“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” – President Obama, June 2013

President Obama lays out his administration's Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama lays out his administration’s Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is pretty clear in establishing that if we don’t act now, our kids will be living on a different planet.

But since the release of his administration’s plan in June 2013, has Obama made strides in developing a clean energy economy and protecting the environment by fighting climate change?

Let’s take a look at his five-pronged approach to acting on climate: deploying clean energy; building a 21st-century transportation sector; cutting energy waste in homes, businesses, and factories; reducing other greenhouse gas emissions; and leading at the federal level.

First up is deploying clean energy. A major part of accomplishing this goal is first looking at power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first announced proposed carbon standards for new power plants in September 2013. Future power plants will have to adhere to these national carbon pollution limits. And just last month, the EPA made history by announcing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution for existing power plants.

Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states are given flexibility to meet individual emissions targets with an overall goal of cutting carbon pollution nationally by 30 percent below 2005 levels. Electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar doubled during Obama’s first term, but the Clean Power Plan needs to continue the momentum. With that in mind, Obama hopes to redouble electricity generated through wind and solar by 2020. Utility-scale renewable energy is becoming more of a reality even with the reasonable, perhaps conservative guidelines of the Clean Energy Plan.

Seeing as it is 2014, Obama also wants to build a 21st-century transportation sector. The EPA and DOT are working to update heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards by March 2016. Implementing standards for heavy duty vehicles would build on the benefits of the fuel economy standards set in 2011, cutting emissions by 270 million metric tons and saving 530 million barrels of oil. Commercial trucks, vans, and buses are the second biggest polluters in the transportation sector, presumably behind passenger vehicles. Speaking of passenger vehicles, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles now require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

It seems like carbon dioxide has stolen the show, but what about other greenhouse gas emissions? What’s being done to stop hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from doubling by 2020 and tripling by 2030? Who’s working to make sure methane levels that don’t increase to the equivalent of 620 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030 (despite the fact that, since 1990, U.S. methane emissions have dropped by 11 percent)?

HFCs were used to phase out ozone destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are found in refrigerators and air conditioners. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they have a high global-warming potential and are sometimes referred to as “super greenhouse gases.” Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is working to ban the most detrimental HFCs and develop suitable replacements.

The federal government’s plan to reduce methane emissions also takes a multifaceted approach. Just last month, the EPA announced its plans to strengthen air pollution standards for new municipal solid waste facilities, the third largest source of methane emissions, by requiring them to capture 13 percent more landfill gas than previously dictated. Under the EPA’s plan, landfills would need to capture two-thirds of methane and air toxin emissions by 2023. To cut methane emissions from agricultural operations, the second largest source of the potent greenhouse gase, the USDA, EPA, and DOE released their “Biogas Roadmap” of voluntary suggestions to implement methane digesters. Apparently using a bottom-up approach in going from lower to higher emitters, the EPA has yet to build on voluntary programs in the oil and gas industry, which is the largest source of methane emissions. Methane regulations may be considered later this year, but would not be finalized until the end of 2016.

On to cutting energy waste in homes, businesses and factories. Ideally, we’d all want energy that’s both reliable and affordable. Groups like Appalachian Voices have demonstrated that energy efficiency is both the cleanest and most cost-effective method to reduce pollution, grow our economy by creating thousands of jobs, and save money for families and businesses.

The Climate Action Plan and the Better Buildings Initiative imagine that commercial and industrial buildings will be 20 percent more efficient by 2020. In Obama’s first term, DOE and HUD helped more than two million homes become energy efficient. The DOE is also finalizing conservation standards for appliances and equipment that would help customers save more. Finally, the USDA recently announced it would allocate approximately $250 million to developing energy efficiency and renewable energy for commercial and residential customers in rural areas.

By virtue of all the stakeholders mentioned above, President Obama believes the federal government must lead the charge towards a cleaner future. Last year, he signed a Presidential Memorandum dictating renewable sources make up 20 percent of the federal government’s electricity by 2020. By working with the U.S. military and other federal agencies, he hopes to lead by example and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to spend $13.1 million to develop three-dimensional mapping data to respond to weather disasters. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs is allocating $10 million to teach tribes ways to adapt to climate change.

Even with these initiatives, the road to energy efficiency and clean energy won’t be easy. Considering that Obama’s Climate Action Plan was announced just last year, historic work is starting to move the United States to a sustainable and stable environment. It’s a start, but we certainly have miles to go.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 5)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the final installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia. In this post, we describe the efforts of Appalachian Voices and our allies in helping Appalachia realize its energy efficiency potential, and highlight some of the successes that have already been achieved.

Energy efficiency might not be the cool kid in the room to most people. That would be solar energy, smug ole solar). Energy efficiency is the smart kid sitting in the back of the room, the one that quietly goes about its work, that gets more done with less effort. It even helps solar succeed, because without energy efficiency, a whole lotta solar energy gets wasted, rendering it less economical compared to the fossil fuel bullies in the room.

But the fact that energy efficiency helps solar with its homework isn’t why it is exciting and important. Energy efficiency provides so many benefits beyond just serving as the cheapest way to meeting our energy demands (approximately 80 percent cheaper than solar). Energy efficiency helps alleviate poverty, creates and sustains local jobs, and promotes local economic development. It makes homes more comfortable and healthy, and reduces the environmental impact associated with our energy use. It also may be the most vital solution to Appalachia’s energy and economic future, as we’ve described in this blog series.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Yeah, solar does almost all of these things (and don’t get me wrong, solar energy is still awesome), but energy efficiency costs a lot less to achieve the same benefits, meaning it can have a much greater impact per dollar. In Appalachia, as in other regions of the U.S. where public and private investment in clean energy is relatively scarce, this is an important consideration, and it’s one of the main reasons why Appalachian Voices initiated our Energy Savings for Appalachia program last year.

Through this campaign, we are actively promoting cost-effective solutions that will help Appalachia realize its energy efficiency potential while maximizing the economic and environmental benefits along the way. And the potential is mind-blowing. A 2009 study on Appalachia’s energy efficiency potential found that an investment of $7 billion in residential efficiency improvements would save Appalachian families nearly $14 billion in energy costs by 2030, reducing the average home’s energy use by more than 15 percent and (based on the employment impact multiplier used in this study) creating more than 100,000 jobs in the process. This illustrates how, for a region made up of largely impoverished communities and families, energy efficiency could provide a significant economic boost and help reverse a long-standing struggle to develop and strengthen local economies in the region.

This is why Appalachian Voices and many of our allies have dedicated ourselves to promoting strong investment in cost-effective energy efficiency programs in Appalachia. We are working with rural electric cooperatives to develop home energy efficiency finance programs like those we’ve described in this series. We are inspired and joined in this work by our regional partners and allies, which include the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) (Kentucky), the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (North Carolina and Tennessee), Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowement (Tennessee), Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) (regional), Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) (North Carolina). Recognizing the need and potential for improving energy efficiency in rural areas, each of these organizations are focused in part on working with the rural electric cooperatives that provide electricity to those communities.

As a result of the efforts of many of these organizations, there have been some key successes, and there is now a growing movement in Appalachia toward the development of financing programs for residential and commercial energy efficiency. Leading the way was MACED, which spearheaded the development of the successful and still-growing How$mart Kentucky program. In North Carolina, EDF helped with the development and launch of a pilot on-bill finance program through Roanoke Electric Cooperative. And just recently, SEEA launched the Southeast Energy Efficiency Finance Network, which aims to facilitate the expansion of public and private investment in energy efficiency throughout the Southeast.

Appalachian Voices' Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil and Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League meet with representatives from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the USDA and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to discuss the creation of a statewide on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. Photo credit: David Callis, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil and Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League meet with representatives from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the USDA and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to discuss the creation of a statewide on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. Photo credit: David Callis, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

For our part, Appalachian Voices has achieved a high level of success in the 15 months since we launched our Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign. As a result of our efforts, the statewide Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, in partnership with five member cooperatives, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the National Governor’s Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Appalachian Voices, is in the process of designing a small-scale on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. This is a significant step toward realizing Tennessee’s energy efficiency potential, and we are proud to be partnered with each of these caring and forward-thinking groups that are leading the way.

I could write forever about energy efficiency, Appalachia and the many great things that our partners and allies are doing to advance energy efficiency in the region. But once you get into the realm of naming a series a “pentalogy” (I had to look that up), it’s time to bring it to a close.

So I’ll end this series with one last pitch to you. YOU are the most important piece of this energy efficiency work. While a good number of electric cooperatives and other utilities are doing a lot to help their members and customers lower their energy bills, many are not. So much more could be done, and it likely won’t be unless you get involved. One way to start is by learning more about energy efficiency and programs that your utility could provide by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center. While you’re there, send your utility a letter requesting stronger home energy efficiency programs. But most importantly, get out in your community, talk to your neighbors about how energy efficiency could benefit them, and let your voice be heard! Without you, Appalachia will never achieve it’s energy efficiency potential.

Thanks for reading!

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 4)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the fourth installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 4: Closing Arguments — Why Rural Electric Cooperatives Should Provide Financial Support for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

I love my electric utility. In fact, as I write, I am wearing a hat they gave me.

Mountain Electric is a small electric co-op serving just over 30,000 members in the rural mountains of East Tennessee. They have a small staff, but are always willing to help out if I have a question or problem. They also seem to sincerely care about the people they serve, and work hard to address member concerns. One way they do this is by helping to reduce members’ electricity bills through energy efficiency incentives and limited financing programs.

I also love Mountain Electric because they are part of a team of co-ops exploring the development of a small-scale on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency in Tennessee. Even more, I admire the co-op model and their potential for doing good in the communities they serve, and I have developed a good relationship with my co-op, as all members should. That’s why I wear the hat.

The Rural Electric Cooperative: History and Mission

I didn’t always know much about electric co-ops, and most people who aren’t a member of one — and even many who are — don’t know much about them either.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, as late as the mid-1930s approximately 90 percent of all rural homes in America were without electricity. This was due to the fact that the large power companies did not think it was cost-effective to run thousands of miles of transmission lines to areas with low population density.

With the signing of an Executive Order by President Franklin Roosevelt establishing the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, and the subsequent passage of the Rural Electrification Act the following year, a lending program was put in place that supported the creation of rural electric co-ops, and everything began to change. By 1953, more than 90 percent of farms across the nation had electricity, and today, more than 900 co-ops provide electricity to more than 42 million people.

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

What distinguishes co-ops from investor-owned utilities is that they are non-profit entities owned by the utility’s electricity customers. Every “member” owns a share of the co-op, and, at least in theory, has a direct voice in decisions made by the co-op. In addition, unlike large profit-driven utilities, co-ops operate according to the Seven Cooperative Principles, which include a voluntary and open membership, democratic governance by members, economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

Why Co-ops Should Provide Home Energy Efficiency Loans

The seventh principle, that of concern for community, is described by NRECA as “working for the sustainable development of communities through policies accepted by [the] members.” This principle speaks directly to the mission of Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, which is to work with electric co-ops in Appalachia to alleviate poverty and generate new jobs through the creation of comprehensive home energy efficiency loan programs known as “on-bill finance.” With on-bill finance, the electric utility provides a “loan” to a customer to make a variety of home energy efficiency improvements such as weatherization, insulation and new energy efficient heating and cooling systems. After the improvements have been made, the customer repays the loan through an extra charge on their electric bill. The intent of these finance programs is for the annual savings to exceed the loan payments, thereby resulting in a net reduction in their electric bills.

On-bill financing supports the concept of sustainable development by reducing energy costs for community residents (thereby alleviating poverty), and supporting the development of a local energy services industry, potentially creating hundreds of long-lasting jobs (e.g. energy auditors, home appliance contractors, retailers, etc) while helping to diversify and strengthen local economies. In addition, the widespread adoption of such programs would result in cleaner air and water and therefore healthier communities.

Many co-ops across the Southeast already provide some sort of financial support or incentives, such as rebates and credits on electric bills, for their members to invest in energy efficiency (does yours?). However, most of the cost of the improvements still have to be paid upfront by the member. Currently only five co-ops in Appalachia–all located in Kentucky–provide financing for their members to make multiple efficiency improvements all at once.

 

Barriers to Implementation, and Resources Available to Co-ops

One thing to recognize is that many co-ops face significant barriers to developing and implementing energy efficiency programs of any kind, much less full on-bill finance programs. First of all, like my co-op, a lot of co-ops have limited staff, and it takes a significant amount of staff time to put these programs together and have them be effective.

Secondly, it takes money, something which most co-ops also do not have because their cost of generating or obtaining electricity and distributing it to their members is on the rise. Further, co-ops have to pay for constructing and maintaining the distribution system (transmission lines, transformers, etc). In addition, most co-ops are still paying off debts associated with loans received to cover past expenses.

Finally, in a lot of areas, the lack of an energy services industry (energy auditors, retrofitters, retailers) means that contractors would have to be identified and certified before an on-bill finance program can be implemented. Each of these factors may pose a significant challenge for a co-op interested in developing a financing program. However, there are a growing number of resources available that can help.

For starters, the USDA now has two (and potentially three) funding programs that co-ops can access in order to fund an on-bill finance program. The two existing programs are the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. While the requirements and details associated with these two programs are much different, they both provide a significant amount of funding that co-ops can use to fund the program. Another similar initiative known as the Rural Energy Savings Program may become available by as early as 2015, and would provide zero interest loans to co-ops specifically for the purpose of developing an on-bill financing program.

In addition, there are many different models that exist all across the country that co-ops can reference in designing their own program (we wrote about two of them in our last post), and the USDA and others are in the process of developing toolkits and model program designs to help co-ops put a workable and effective program together. Growing interest is also leading many government and nonprofit entities to offer funding and other support for these programs. One such leader is the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, which offers a variety of financial assistance for energy efficiency programs. Appalachian Voices has also been supporting and partnering with co-ops in our region who are taking steps toward developing an on-bill finance program.

What YOU can do to promote more energy efficiency support through your electric co-op

While there is wealth of resources available to help co-ops navigate the process of designing, developing and implementing an on-bill financing program, the availability of these resources will itself not move a co-op to develop a program. If you are a co-op member, that responsibility lies with you.

Find out whether your co-op offers an on-bill finance program by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center, and if they don’t, then send a letter requesting that they develop one. Also, get out in your community and talk with your neighbors about how stronger energy efficiency investments can help strengthen your local economy and provide financial relief and greater comfort for those who need it.

Finally, get to know the people that manage your co-op. Call them up, stop in their office, invite them to a barbeque. You will find that they are good folks that care about you and your neighbors, and are willing to explore ways that they can do more to help all of their members. That is concern for community, and it’s the foundation of creating healthy, sustainable economies in Appalachia and elsewhere.

Tennessee sprouting up as a leader in home energy efficiency

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by ann

Summer has arrived in Tennessee. Gardens are starting to produce a bounty of flowers and veggies. The longing for home grown tomatoes will soon be satisfied, and energy efficiency prospects are springing up all across the volunteer state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association have recently announced that the Volunteer state was selected as one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association retreat on energy efficiency. According to TECA’s website, the special retreat will help Tennessee focus on policy development and implementation strategies for “reducing energy consumption, stimulating economic demand for local energy-related jobs and services, and lowering emissions associated with the electricity generation”.

Appalachian Voices has been working with TECA and rural electric co-ops in Tennessee to explore the possibilities for the development of an on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency.

Very few co-ops in the region (only five in Appalachia, all located in Kentucky) provide financing for their members to make multiple energy efficiency improvements all at once — improvements that include weatherization, insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. In truth, the majority of co-ops in Appalachia could be doing a lot more to help reduce energy costs for their members and move the communities they serve closer to achieving real sustainable development.

The fact that TDEC and TECA applied for and received this grant shows that they care about the people they serve, and are willing to work hard to help reduce electricity bills by providing energy efficiency incentives and financing programs. The Tennessee workshop will address specific challenges the state faces in advancing energy efficiency programs in rural areas served by co-ops, and will help the state develop tools and strategies for designing and deploying successful financing programs for co-op members.

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The Tennessee Team will consist of representatives from the Office of Governor Haslam, TDEC, TECA, other state agencies, the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Appalachian Voices and Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution.

It’s exciting to see Tennessee sowing the seeds of a sustainable energy efficiency program, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this effort. Visit our Energy Savings Action Center to learn more about your local energy provider.

Your comments needed to chart Virginia’s energy future

Friday, June 13th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Help ensure Virginia's upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

Help ensure Virginia’s upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

This month Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order to create an energy council tasked with assisting in the development of a comprehensive energy strategy for Virginia. In his announcement, the governor stressed the need for an aggressive analysis that puts Virginia in the position of being a leader in “new energy technologies.”

The results of this analysis will be compiled in the Virginia Energy Plan, a document that state law mandates be rewritten every four years and is due October 1. For those of us who would like to see robust investment in efficiency, wind and solar power as part of those new energy technologies, the task before us clear: make sure the Energy Council hears from us at every opportunity.

Gov. McAuliffe ran on a clean energy jobs platform, and now is the time to make sure that those same ideas are reflected in the plan as it will set the tone on energy policy for the rest of his term. Now is a critical moment to seize that opportunity.

The Energy Council is hosting listening sessions across the state to collect input from citizens on the Energy Plan. The format of these sessions will begin with a 15-minute informational presentation by an expert on a particular topic related to the plan. Citizens will then have time to comment, taking up to three minutes each. Arrive early to sign up to reserve your place on the speakers list.

The schedule for the sessions is:

Public involvement will be critical in making sure that the upcoming Energy Plan guides Virginia away from a dependence on fossil fuel and toward a cleaner energy economy.

Can’t make it to any of these session in person? Send in your comment on Virginia’s energy direction here!

Appalachian University Builds Home With Solar Flare

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Nolen Nychay

Appalachian State University, partnered with a French university, will be the sole representative of Appalachia’s green ingenuity in the third European Solar Decathlon. Kicking off June 28 in Versailles, France, the competition will pit 20 energy-independent houses built by collegiate teams against each other in a sustainable development showdown.

In 2011, Appalachian State, based in Boone, N.C., won the People’s Choice Award in the U.S. Solar Decathlon. This year’s team has tried to improve upon the best attributes of the last project for this year’s competition.

Image of the solar home

Appalachian State University’s net-zero energy home, shown above under construction in Boone, N.C., will compete in the 2014 European Solar Decathlon. The university’s Appalachian Energy Center offers green building and energy efficiency workshops for continuing education credit. Photo by Dudley Carter

The Appalachian team has dubbed their latest solar-powered home “Maison Reciprocity,” which is, at press time, being ferried across the Atlantic in six separate modules. These pieces will be reconstructed in the l’Orangerie gardens near the Palace of Versailles. Until then, the team is finalizing drawings, writing a comprehensive project manual and creating an interactive iPad application to complement the building.

The Team

Appalachian has partnered once again with the Université d’Angers in France to form Team Réciprocité, or “Team REC,” as they call themselves stateside. This is the most recent collaborative project between the two institutions, which have maintained an academic relationship for more than thirty years. After nearly two years of intense planning, fundraising and construction, the students of Team REC feel confident about their entry in this year’s competition.

“We are very lucky to have such a well-rounded and comprehensive [Appropriate Technology and Building Sciences] program here at App State,” says Mark Bridges, Appalachian Solar Decathlon communications manager.

“It makes the whole process so much easier when everyone speaks the same lingo and can collaborate creatively to make an airtight design.”

With the exception of a few faculty supervisors and consultants, Team REC is entirely student-run and managed.Twelve student officers oversee everything from construction and architecture to public relations and sponsorships.

The Design

In order to thoroughly calculate their carbon footprint, Team REC researched “cradle to the grave” life-cycle assessments for nearly every building material and technology they used. This meant looking at extraction and refining processes of raw materials, manufacturing emissions and even the mpg-rating of vehicles involved in transportation. The result? An affordable, high-quality and durable home with a tiny carbon footprint.

Student works on building

The Solar Decathlon is entirely student-driven, from design and construction to securing sponsorships. Photo by Dudley Carter

Maison Reciprocity is based on an urban, multi-level row house model. The first floor is reserved for commercial activities, the second and third floors are duplex family homes and the fourth level is a rooftop terrace under a renewable energy canopy. To meet the height regulations set forth by the Solar Decathlon however, the building being presented in Versailles will include only two floors.

In their designs, Team REC utilized the German Passivhaus building concept — a popular trend in energy-efficient European construction. This meant making the entire house exceptionally well-insulated and heated naturally by the sun with intelligently positioned glass panes.

Inspired by Austria’s 2013 Solar Decathlon team, Team REC used continuous insulation throughout the building to create an “Urban Shell.” “By using cross-laminated timbers to support the structural walls, insulation is uninterrupted by thermal bridges such as studs, joists or rafters,” says Chuck Perry, general contractor for Team REC. The use of these cross-laminated timbers in no way hinders the overall strength of the building, which is built to withstand 85 mph hurricane winds.

This, in conjunction with using a two-layer roof insulator of polyiso-foam and mineral wool, greatly reduces any unwanted heat transfer to the inside of the house. Heat transference both in and out of windows is also minimized through the use of Eastman Chemical Company’s Heat Mirror® insulating glass. This relatively new technology uses lightweight chemical films to allow the glass panes to insulate more efficiently. The 99.5 percent filtration of harmful UV rays is an added bonus.

Maison Reciprocity features a renewable energy canopy called the “Living Brise-Soleil,” French for sun-visor, where the home’s photovoltaic and solar-thermal arrays are attached. The canopy provides all of the building’s electricity and heated water with kilowatts to spare. The canopy will also sport a living wall of vegetation beneath the arrays to promote passive cooling of the photovoltaics and the building itself.

At the heart of the design is the “Container for High-performance Operation, Recirculation and Distribution,” or CHORD, module. This central module houses all of the building’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing components for easy access and servicing.

Maison Reciprocity’s urban-focused design allows multiple units to stack side-by-side, creating attractive neighborhood communities within dense, metropolitan areas where real estate is more expensive. The design is wildly space efficient compared to the typical stand-alone home of the American suburbs.

“Our target market for this design is downtown Winston-Salem,” Bridges says. “Elegantly simple and functional, we wanted this build to mimic the community-oriented row houses of the 1960s, but with a much stronger emphasis on energy efficiency.” The design could also provide affordable and sustainable housing in some of Europe’s more overcrowded cities, according to François Thibault, Faculty Director at the Université d’Angers.

The Competition

The biennial Solar Decathlon in Europe is modeled on a competition of the same name started by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2002. Both events offer the opportunity for students and experts to share their knowledge and research on renewable energy and green architecture.

The objective of the two Solar Decathlons is to design and build a solar home that is energy independent and economically prudent. The decision to hold this year’s competition in Versailles — home of the Sun King, Louis XIV — is ironically appropriate.

A panel of international experts will judge each team’s solar home. Teams can earn 100 points in ten individual categories including architecture, engineering, energy balance and affordability.

The competing solar homes will be open for public tours during the decathlon and anyone may submit a vote for the People’s Choice Award. The nine-day competition will culminate on July 6 when the official winners are announced. “When you’ve worked as hard as we have on something like this, you don’t get nervous,” Bridges says. “You get really excited.”

For more information about Team REC and Maison Reciprocity, visit reciprocity2014.com

GREEN BUILDING: Local to Global Perspective

By Nolen Nychay

  • Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University are working on a joint project for the 2015 Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif., that will balance the spacious comforts of Southern living and modern efficiency technology. West Virginia University and Italy’s University of Roma Tor Vergata are also competing and will bring a flare of traditional Roman architecture with a unique arch design and a solar chimney for passive cooling.
  • Habitat for Humanity has partnered with EarthCraft Virginia to build greener homes at affordable prices in the greater Richmond, Va., area. EarthCraft technicians work on-site with builders and volunteers to ensure new homes achieve 30-35 percent more energy efficiency than a standard home.
  • University of Tennessee Knoxville students researching potential uses for undried oak won a $90,000 grant this year from the EPA P3 contest for sustainability. Nicknamed “green oak” for being a carbon-friendly wood product, undried oak is commonly used to make cheap wood pallets. The students’ full-scale building prototype demonstrated the capabilities of green oak as a sound building material.
  • The city of Paris, France, began construction this year on “Tour Triangle,” a highly sustainable skyscraper shaped like a pyramid. The 600-foot tall glass structure will use mostly natural light and solar capture technology to achieve a CO2 footprint a quarter the size of comparable skyscrapers.
  • The Royal Seaport of Stockholm, Sweden, is ramping up to build 10,000 new homes and 30,000 offices using recycled and renewable materials by 2025. By 2030, the entire district is projected to be fossil-fuel free and have a positive impact on the regional climate.

Acting on Climate: EPA unveils carbon rule for existing power plants

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian
The EPA's plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

The EPA’s plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a plan today to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The highly anticipated plan is “part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America,” McCarthy said in a rousing speech that covered the host of risks, and opportunities, that come with a changing climate. Not neglecting the significant role coal and natural gas will continue to play in America’s power sector, McCarthy said the plan “paves a more certain path forward for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.”

The rule provides states flexibility to meet required reductions — a framework the McCarthy says makes the plan “ambitious but also achievable.” It will likely lead to an increased reliance on less carbon-intensive fuels than coal, including natural gas and nuclear energy, which McCarthy mentioned several times during the announcement. But it should also be a precursor to unprecedented investments in clean energy, deployment of renewable energy sources and the adoption of programs to significantly improve energy efficiency nationwide.

Every American city, town and community stands to benefit from cutting carbon pollution, and Appalachia and the Southeast have abundant opportunities to move beyond both a historical over-reliance on coal, and the destructive methods used to extract it.

Act now to support a strong carbon rule that incentivizes renewable energy development and clean energy jobs for Appalachia.

“Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation’s coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and related industrial practices,” said Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most equitable way to meet our energy needs while reducing carbon, and it’s a tremendous unexploited opportunity in the Southeast,” Cormons said. “Strong efficiency programs will also boost economic prosperity, creating thousands of jobs. This is especially important in many parts of Appalachia where good jobs are scarce, and lower household incomes preclude too many from the benefits an energy-efficient home.”

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by  New York Times using Energy Information Administration data.

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by New York Times using Energy Information Administration data

Opposition to the plan will be fierce. You’ve probably noticed that some of coal’s staunchest supporters, the National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, are already attempting to take the EPA to task for what they say will harm the economy and make little more than a dent in carbon emissions on a global scale.

The EPA is sure to be challenged in court. Luckily, the rule’s legality, in a broad sense, is almost as unambiguous as the science that compelled the Obama administration to take action in the first place.

Tell the EPA you support a strong rule to boost clean energy and cut carbon pollution.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to treat greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants, enabling it to use the Clean Air Act to place limits on them. Then, in 2011, the high court issued a ruling in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that essentially requires the EPA to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

Even Congress, albeit a past session, deserves a bit of credit. It was the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that gave the federal government the authority, and the responsibility, to regulate pollutants that it has determined endanger public health and welfare. So

Overall, carbon emissions in the U.S. have declined since peaking in 2007 due to many factors including an economic slump, greater energy efficiency and a growing share of electricity generation coming from natural gas, falling about 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, before climbing 2 percent last year.

But we’re still dumping billions of tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And until a rule for existing plants is implemented, the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired facilities will face no cap on carbon pollution. Today’s announcement sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of the rule. In the meantime, read “Confronting Carbon Pollution” in The Appalachian Voice and visit Appalachian Voices’ carbon & climate pages.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the third installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 3: How Energy Efficiency Can Help Diversify Local Economies in Appalachia

Let’s consider our energy use for a moment, and how it might relate to our local economy.

I think of my refrigerator and other appliances, but most of all, of the energy I use heating my home. The house I live in doesn’t have air conditioning, so in the summer I keep the doors open and the ceiling fans running. However, despite having a well-insulated home with double-pane windows, I rely on old, energy-wasting electric baseboard heat to keep me warm in the winter.

Even though baseboard heat runs up my electric bill in the winter, my house is more energy efficient than the homes that many Appalachian families live in. A large number of those homes also rely on baseboard heaters, but also have drafty windows, lack proper insulation in their floors, walls and ceilings, and have inefficient water heaters and appliances. The people who live in these homes are typically poor and cannot afford to pay their electric bills during extreme winter and summer months, much less pay the upfront cost of improving their home’s energy efficiency.

But what if they could? What if they had access to low-cost loans that would cover the cost of making home energy efficiency improvements? Imagine what that could do for residents struggling to pay their electric bills. Imagine what that could do for the local economy.

A home energy efficiency loan could help a single family save hundreds of dollars each year that they might then spend in their community, or use to pay for other basic needs such as education and healthcare. Imagine what the impact would be if 100 homes received such a loan, or 1,000, especially in rural Appalachia, where many small towns are struggling to stay afloat.

Chart by Opower.

Economic output per millions of dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

In addition, each home retrofit would require many different services such as home energy audits or the installation of new heating and air systems or insulation, for example, that more likely than not would be carried out by local businesses. Because most of the services associated with home energy efficiency can be locally sourced, a strong loan program could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new investment being added to the local economy. For many Appalachian communities, that would be a significant economic boost, and could result in the development of new local or regional industries and businesses, thereby creating jobs and helping to diversify the local economy.

Energy efficiency loan programs are not new. They have been popping up all over the place, in fact. We’ve written about South Carolina’s Help My House pilot program, which financed energy efficiency improvements for 125 homes, saving each an average of nearly $1,200 a year on their energy costs (almost $300 of which they were able to put in their pockets). In Kentucky, a program called How$mart Kentucky was developed that is saving residential participants an average of more than 20 percent on their electric bills. These two programs are good models for how home energy efficiency loan programs can save residents a significant amount of money. And each program was developed by member-owned rural electric cooperatives (co-ops), like my own co-op, Mountain Electric (who is yours?).

Chart by Opower

Jobs created by region per one million dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

The greatest impact of these programs is the amount of local investment and the jobs created as a result of the home energy loans. For South Carolina’s program, the 125 loans generated $940,000 in new investment in the communities where the loans were provided. In Kentucky, the loan program generated more than $500,000 in new investment during the program’s 1-2 year pilot phase, and more electric co-ops are beginning to join the program. These two programs — and there are more than 30 more similar programs being offered throughout the U.S. — have resulted in approximately $1.5 million of investment in the communities where they have been implemented.

According to the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, $1 million invested in energy efficiency in the Southeast generates between $1.5 million and $5 million in new economic output and creates between 5 and 20 new jobs. Energy efficiency investments generate a greater economic impact and create more jobs than the same amount invested in other industries, and those impacts are just the result of direct investment. The benefits increase as a result of the money that is saved. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, for every $1 million in investment, the home energy savings from efficiency programs have been estimated to create another 17 local jobs.

Looking at the potential savings for co-op customers in South Carolina, an economic analysis by Coastal Carolina University estimated that, if co-ops in the state committed to an full-scale energy efficiency loan program for 20 years, it would create more than 7,000 jobs and save co-op members $355.5 million annually.

Strong investments in energy efficiency can have profound economic impacts for local economies in Appalachia. Energy efficiency is merely one strategy that local governments, economic development agencies working with the rural electric co-op or municipal utilities might employ with the goal of diversifying the local economy. But the proven benefits of energy efficiency investments suggest it should be a key focus in any plan for local economic diversification. As we described in the previous post of this series, most communities across the Central and Southern Appalachia are in dire need of a comprehensive strategy for diversifying their local economies.

If my own rural electric co-op, Mountain Electric, were to develop a program that allowed me to save money on my electric bills while also supporting my local economy, I would take advantage of the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 2)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the second installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia. A proven strategy is the creation of residential energy efficiency loan programs by rural electric cooperatives in the region. In this post, we explore the need for greater economic diversity in Appalachia.

Part 2: The Need for More Economic Diversity in Appalachia

Driving through rural Appalachia, you’ll notice that many towns are small and look a lot like each other, at least in terms of the types of businesses and other buildings that you see. This is what I see as I drive through Johnson County, Tenn.

My hometown of Trade is the stuff of legend. This is where Tom Dula — the infamous main character of many versions of the folk song “Tom Dooley”– was caught after killing Laura Foster in neighboring Wilkes County, N.C., in 1866. It is also the easternmost town in Tennessee.

A typical Appalachian town like Trade is made up of a couple of small churches, a post office, local hardware and grocery stores, a school or two and hopefully a library, a pharmacy, a couple of locally-owned restaurants, maybe a handful of chain restaurants, a dollar store and a gas station or two. Many of these are pillars of any community. None, however, are sources of significant employment.

There are those towns that have benefitted from large industrial or manufacturing plants, or extractive industries that employ hundreds to thousands of residents, and there are indeed towns and cities in the region with bustling and diverse economies. However, economic specialization — the concentration of employment in a small number of industries — has caused cycles of economic distress for many communities over the decades.

Sadly, many of the traditional industries have faded or declined substantially, leaving behind weakened local economies. As a result, for most of Appalachia, poverty, high unemployment and the lack of economic diversity are persistent problems that have yet to be addressed in any comprehensive, effective manner.

There is a strong need in the region for economic planners and local governments to make economic diversification the central goal in laying out their short- and long-term development strategies. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), of the 420 counties that make up Appalachia, 201 are “Distressed” or “At Risk,” meaning that they rank among the worst 25 percent of the nation’s counties in terms of economic status. Another 206 are designated as “Transitional,” meaning that they rank somewhere between the worst 25 percent and the best 25 percent of the nation’s counties. Only 13 counties are designated as being economically competitive with other counties in the U.S.

A Picture of Economic Diversity: According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, of the 420 counties that make up Appalachia, 201 are “Distressed” or “At Risk,” meaning that they rank among the worst 25 percent of the nation’s counties in terms of economic status.

A Picture of Economic Diversity: According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, of the 420 counties that make up Appalachia, 201 are “Distressed” or “At Risk,” meaning that they rank among the worst 25 percent of the nation’s counties in terms of economic status.

The poor economic status of most Appalachian counties correlates with higher-than-average poverty rates (the Appalachian portion of 10 of the 13 states in the region have a poverty rate higher than the national average), higher-than-average unemployment (8 of 13 states), and lower median incomes (all states) compared to the national average.

To realize how diversification can help strengthen and sustain Appalachian economies, it is important to understand what economic diversity means. According to a report commissioned by the ARC, “a diverse local or regional economy is viewed as one which has a varied mix of industries and the absence of dominance of any one industry in terms of employment or income.”

The authors of the ARC report cite two of the major benefits of economic diversity as reducing exposure to economic downturns and creating new avenues for economic growth. They caution, however, that “diversity does not guarantee faster growth, higher incomes, or more widely shared prosperity.” While these outcomes would be ideal, for many Appalachian communities simply achieving the goal of economic diversity would be an important step toward strengthening their local economy, and reducing poverty and unemployment.

The question is: how does a small town of merely hundreds or a few thousand residents diversify their local economy? Focusing on a single industry is not enough. What is required is a comprehensive plan and locally-based initiatives that support and promote a wide variety of industries or businesses. As the ARC report asserts, there are several lessons to be incorporated into any strategy for diversifying a local economy.

First, a good diversification strategy is a matter of implementing many successful specialization strategies simultaneously. This means focusing on the strengths and assets that exist within a local community and support the development of each of those at the same time.

Second, a local economic diversification strategy should seek to fully assess and understand the “risk” associated with the existing economic base of the local community. This means assessing the demand for the goods and services that can be produced from the local economy. Anticipating possible boosts and disruptions to the economic base is important.

Third, new economic opportunities — whether through business expansion, entrepreneurship, attraction strategies, or other economic development initiatives — should be nurtured through appropriate public sector actions (policies, incentives, marketing, etc).

Finally, a successful strategy for economic diversity is based on a solid
foundation of analysis and research that helps to maximize the resources and assets available to the local community. It is also run by development professionals that leverage networks and expertise, and that have a process in place for thoughtfully and effectively implementing the economic development strategy.

Each of these are good recommendations for implementing a local economic diversification strategy. But first, the strategy must be developed, and each of us has a role in promoting any such strategy. So, what will you do to play a role in diversifying your local economy?

For my part, I will begin by speaking with my local electric cooperative and trying to work with them to invest more in residential energy efficiency for my neighbors and the community at large. But this is only one of many initiatives that could support new jobs and economic development where I live. What does your local community need? I would bet that energy efficiency is one opportunity for creating new jobs and supporting economic diversity.

Part 3 of this series describes how energy efficiency can serve as a key strategy in developing, strengthening and diversifying local Appalachian economies, and how rural electric cooperatives can play a key role in achieving that goal. We hope you’ll continue reading as we progress through this series.

What’s green, gold, and good for everyone?

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 - posted by cat
Just how much could energy efficiency save the economy, and the climate? Click to enlarge.

Just how much could energy efficiency save the economy, and the climate? Click to enlarge.

There’s an office on 14th Street N.W. in our nation’s capital with some smart folks who spend their days diving deep into energy data, giving us perspective on our energy policies, and making the case that saving energy can, as their website says, “lead to economic prosperity, energy security, and environmental protection for all.”

We say amen to that.

Last week, these folks at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) put out another of their scintillating reports, this one showing how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can apply energy efficiency as a key way to reduce global warming pollution — with no net cost to the U.S. economy.

The EPA is expected to release in early June its long-awaited, first-ever carbon dioxide pollution standard for existing power plants, the largest sources of carbon pollution in the U.S. ACEEE’s report, “Change Is in the Air,” shows that if the agency were to incorporate four common energy efficiency policies into its national policy, the U.S. could reduce carbon pollution by 26 percent below 2012 levels.

Doing so would substantially cut other kinds of air pollution too, like soot and smog, that pose a direct threat to our health. The four policies would reduce electricity demand by 25 percent, and avoid the need for 494 power plants.

That’s the green part. The gold part is this: adopting these four policies would increase national GDP by $17.2 billion, and create some 611,000 jobs across the country in about 15 years.

Every state — especially those in the South — has a vast opportunity to reduce wasted energy. Technologies for energy efficiency have been researched, developed and are raring to go. It’s simply a matter of political will and motivation, which the new carbon standard can provide. Including efficiency in the new carbon-pollution standard would allow states more flexibility in managing their energy portfolios.

The four policies ACEEE discusses are: 1) setting a state energy savings target of 1.5 percent per year; 2) implementing updated national model building codes; 3) constructing economically attractive combined heat and power facilities; and 4) adopting standards for five appliances.

And how is this good for everyone? The impacts of global climate change will undoubtedly be felt by virtually everyone on Earth sooner or later — including future generations to whom we have a moral obligation to leave a safe, healthy planet. A carbon standard that includes energy efficiency options is part of the solution.

By way of example, ACEEE focused on a few individual states including Virginia. Below is an excerpt:

In 2012 Virginia consumed over 107 million megawatt-hours of electricity (EIA 2013). Roughly 20% of its power was generated by coal-fired power plants. Nuclear power was responsible for over 42% of Virginia’s electricity, and about 35% was generated from natural gas. The state has 13 coal-fired electric generators with a total nameplate capacity of 5,770 MW.

Virginia’s electric power sector is responsible for over 35,975,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, over 48,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and more than 95,000 tons of sulfur dioxide. Its power plants emit the 28th highest amount of carbon dioxide in the country.

Virginia has the 10th largest economy in the nation based on gross state product
(usgovernmentrevenue.com 2014). Its unemployment rate was 5.5% in 2013 (BLS 2014b). While Virginia has made some progress, there is room for improvement when it comes to realizing significant economic and environmental benefits from its energy efficiency policies. The state has a voluntary savings target of 10% by 2022. However, because the standard is voluntary, it has become largely symbolic, with Virginia utilities saving only 0.1% in 2011. The state should implement a mandatory energy savings target to cover all electric generation. Virginia would also see significant benefits if it strengthened its model building codes and adopted standards for equipment not regulated by the federal government. While the state has adopted 2009 residential and 2007 commercial building energy codes, it does not have its own standards for equipment.

What would these policy improvements do for Virginia? Together, these policies would avoid 17,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2030, nearly $4,000,000 lost from missed work days and over 5,500 asthma attacks.35 They would also save money. The average cost of electricity in Virginia is currently estimated at around 9 cents per kWh. The policies would cost less per kWh, create new jobs in the state, and save
Virginia $2 billion in 2030.