Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy’

Sizing up APCo’s plan, through customers’ eyes

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Customers of Appalachian Power Company gather in Roanoke to learn about the company's resource plan and the benefits of expanding clean energy's role going forward.

Customers of Appalachian Power Company gather in Roanoke to learn about the company’s resource plan and the benefits of expanding clean energy’s role going forward.

Dozens of energy customers gathered in Roanoke on Tuesday evening for one reason: the electricity system in this country is undergoing some exciting changes, yet utilities’ choices can still hold Virginia back from rapid progress toward a diverse energy mix.

Residents are showing they want to learn more and get involved in these critical decisions.

Utilities in Virginia must submit plans, called Integrated Resource Plans, discussing their intended approaches to meeting customer demand. State regulators require these plans at intervals, providing a window for customers to engage with their electricity provider. The State Corporation Commission is currently considering Appalachian Power Company’s latest plan, which is set to be heard in an official proceeding before a regulatory panel on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

This newest plan is notable in many ways. The company acknowledges that market changes have made renewable energy economically advantageous. Meanwhile, federal standards on carbon pollution are in a final form, another factor that can drive change. But here are a few points that illustrate how APCo’s plan stands to impede Virginia from harnessing its full renewable energy potential at the scale that would most benefit for customers and the economy.

The Effect of the Clean Power Plan

The CEO of APCo parent company American Electric Power, Nick Akins, recently stated that “The Clean Power Plan is no doubt a catalyst for the investments … to support not only the movement of the customers but also reducing the environmental footprint.”

Though rather non-specific, this comment is encouraging and reflects a recognition of the beneficial nature of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s actions.

The flexibility, even leniency, that characterizes the Clean Power Power offers protection against legal challenges but is also a potential shortcoming when it comes to achieving long-term pollution reductions while states go about complying with the standard. Sophisticated computer modeling can help utilities determine cost-effective ways of meeting targets. At this point, APCo has only modeled the consequences of a carbon tax. The review process for its current resource plan is an opportunity for regulators to ask the company to show different possible approaches for reducing carbon emissions enough to meet new standards. If they do, it could present ways to meet the standards that will economically benefit customers, like greater reliance on bill-shrinking energy efficiency programs to meet demand.

Capping the Amount of Solar APCo Develops

The headlines over the summer when APCo released its resource plan were striking: “Appalachian turns toward sun and wind for future energy.” It sounded like a major shift was taking place. And there was a perceptible change in tone in the plan itself: “In the recent past, development of [renewable] resources has been driven primarily as the result of renewable portfolio requirements. That is not universally true now as advancements in both solar [photovoltaic] and wind turbine manufacturing have reduced both installed and ongoing costs.”

But how big a shift is APCo really proposing, how fast would it happen? After several weeks of analysis, we can say this much: the shift could be bigger, but APCo is imposing some strict, arbitrary limits on the solar projects and energy efficiency programs it’s pursuing.

Coal is decreasing in APCo’s resource mix, as one plant goes out of service and other is converted to natural gas, which seems as though it would make room for increased use of a popular, proven technologies like solar. But APCo’s preferred plan includes 835 megawatts of new natural gas-fired power, which detracts from renewable energy investments. A new gas-fired power plant would lock us into decades of dependence on a fossil fuel with potentially more volatile price swings and an environmentally degrading life-cycle that includes fracking and transmission by pipeline.

Why does APCo propose to stop at 510 MW of solar between now and 2029, when the fuel source is free and the resource is cost-effective? It appears these limits are without reason or rhyme, so regulators will likely ask APCo to explain where its numbers come from and demonstrate why is preferred plan is the best deal for customers.

An Energy Efficiency Economy under APCo’s Plan?

Energy efficiency programs seek to capture energy that otherwise gets wasted, capitalizing on home auditing technology and expertise, modern appliance and HVAC design, and other strategies to make sure customers enjoy the same amount of comfort and convenience while using less energy. Utilities including Duke Energy and Georgia Power are reducing demand through from efficiency programs, in the neighborhood of 1 percent energy saved every year,, avoiding the need for some costlier new peak or baseline generation additions — like natural gas fired plants. The question is: does APCo approach energy efficiency in a way that values these benefits as lasting and quantifiable?

APCo’s plan only expects a 1 percent improvement in energy efficiency over the next 15 years. As with the company’s solar modeling, it’s our sense that APCo is artificially limiting efficiency as a resource in its plans. The company also cites customer “acceptance and saturation” as a factor that stands to determine program cost and potentially the total impact on energy use. We know from listening to customers that people are eager to better control their energy use, and efficiency programs are a popular, basic service. When several new programs become available Jan. 1, 2016, we look forward to seeing them promoted and Appalachian Voices will do its part to get the word out about how residents can shrink their bills.

APCo does provide much-needed weatherization programs for its low-income customers that are managed by providers in the service area, which can provide work in good, often career-length jobs. But program offerings that are not income-qualified remain limited, and in order to reach Virginia’s voluntary goal of 10 percent energy efficiency by 2020, a non-binding target endorsed by General Assembly and Governor McAuliffe, APCo must design and get approval for much more robust programs.

Meanwhile, more and more APCo customers are opting to go solar each year, investing in their energy future and using less energy from the grid. Yet, that trend is also not encouraged in APCo’s plan — rather, the company tacitly subscribes to the existing system of fees, system size limitations, permit waiting periods, and other restrictions.

Plans Are Not “Set in Stone” — Stay Committed to Change

Clean energy investments proposed in APCo’s plan such as solar farms and wind installations aren’t exactly set in stone; they are contingent on approval by the State Corporation Commission, which may depend on whether current federal tax incentives are extended, reduced, or allowed to expire. According to APCo’s plan,decisions about whether or not to proceed will be made later, based on whether there are “suitable opportunities.”

It is critical that APCo customers remain engaged to support energy freedom and diversifying Virginia’s energy mix with renewables during the review of APCo’s energy plan and beyond. So take a moment to send a comment now.

Want to help spread the word? How about taking a picture of yourself holding a handwritten message or captioned with text about APCo’s plan? Try something like:

  • APCo: Don’t CAP Solar in your plan — Re-evaluate clean energy
  • Stop whittling our energy freedom away — Let people go solar
  • ​I urge APCo to expand efficiency programs for affordable bills

Tag us on social media or email your photo to, and thanks for supporting clean energy!

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Considering Clean Power Compliance

Friday, October 16th, 2015 - posted by brian

States Respond to the Clean Power Plan

By Brian Sewell

States reactions to the Clean Power Plan. Map by Haley Rogers

States reactions to the Clean Power Plan. Click to enlarge. Map by Haley Rogers

Almost everyone agrees: the Clean Power Plan is a game changer. In form and function, the recently finalized regulations take an innovative approach to incentivize states to reduce carbon dioxide pollution and invest in cleaner energy.

Beyond that, arguments about the Clean Power Plan are often deeply colored by politics and disconnected from the plan’s intention or expected outcomes.

Developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the plan is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change and cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to it.

The plan sets custom pollution-reduction targets for states based on their existing energy mixes and emissions. It also encourages states to come up with their own approach to reach those targets. By 2030, the EPA hopes to see nationwide emissions drop 32 percent below what they were in 2005.

From President Obama’s perspective, “It’s not radical.” After all, dozens of states had already either established market-based programs to cut carbon emissions or set renewable energy goals prior to the rule’s release.

“Washington is starting to catch up with the vision of the rest of the country,” President Obama told a White House crowd the day of the Clean Power Plan’s release. “And by setting these standards, we can actually speed up our transition to a cleaner, safer future.”

"How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

But in many central Appalachian states, policymakers remain adamant in their opposition. Claims of skyrocketing energy costs and economic ruin that began long before details of the final plan became clear are still frequent talking points.

“The battle continues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote in a September newsletter. “I’ve fought this administration and its EPA every step of the way in the President’s war on coal, and I don’t intend to stop now.”

It’s no surprise that the technical details of the plan, namely its achievability and the compliance options available to states, have not gotten as much coverage as the political reactions. But between those highly oppositional stances is the spectrum of actions already being taken by states to either challenge the EPA or find ways to realize the Clean Power Plan’s potential.

Where Appalachian States Stand

How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


The final Clean Power Plan came at the height of summer and, in the Bluegrass State, a heated gubernatorial race. Candidates for both parties strongly oppose the plan and have pledged to ignore it if elected. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is also the Democratic nominee for governor, sued the EPA in an attempt to prevent the agency from finalizing the plan and, more recently, joined an effort to prevent the final rules from taking effect. The commonwealth’s current governor, Steve Beshear (D), hardened his opposition after reviewing the final rule, which increased the emissions Kentucky is required to cut. Still, analysts say that even without the Clean Power Plan, Kentucky is on track to meet its emissions target a decade early because of coal plants already scheduled to retire.

"How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

“How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has been outspoken in his opposition to the Clean Power Plan and has vowed to fight it in court. But Donald van der Vaart, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, has led the state’s charge. In an op-ed for the News & Observer, van der Vaart characterized the plan as a “one-size-fits-all” program and criticized state Attorney General Roy Cooper for encouraging lawmakers to develop a compliance plan. The state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, seems somewhat divided on the best path forward. In April, the N.C. House of Representatives approved a bill to establish a stakeholder group and direct DENR to begin preparing a plan to comply. A few months later, a Senate committee voted to bar the state from writing a plan.

How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


Unlike his counterparts in surrounding states, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has said little about the substance of the Clean Power Plan or discussed the state’s approach to compliance, even after 20 state legislators sent a letter to the governor urging him to defy the EPA. This silence may be due to how the final Clean Power Plan treats nuclear power plants currently under construction. Under the final plan, soon-to-be completed nuclear facilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 can play a larger role in compliance. Other factors that have positioned TVA to meet Tennessee’s emissions goal include the utility’s recent long-term planning process and a historic Clean Air Act settlement in 2011 that forced a spate of coal plant retirements that continues today. As a result of that agreement with the EPA, a TVA spokesperson said the Clean Power Plan “won’t have much impact at all,” on the utility’s plans for its coal and gas fleet.

"How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

“How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


UPDATE: Shortly after this story went to press, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch adamantly supporting the Clean Power Plan for creating “a pathway for clean energy initiatives that will grow jobs and help diversify Virginia’s economy.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) welcomed the Clean Power Plan and said he looks forward to “creating the next generation of clean energy jobs” in Virginia. Even Dominion Virginia Power, the state’s biggest power generator, commended the EPA for easing Virginia’s emissions targets and pledged to work with state agencies toward a compliance plan. But some Virginia policymakers remain skeptical. In an August op-ed for The Virginian-Pilot, state delegates Israel O’Quinn and Scott Taylor promoted legislation that would require the General Assembly’s oversight and approval of Virginia’s compliance plan because Gov. McAuliffe is “working to develop a plan without input from hard-working Virginians.” To the contrary, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality began a series of listening sessions across the state in September to gather general input from the public, placing a special emphasis on low-income communities and areas most vulnerable to climate change.

"How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014)," graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR

“How Each State Generates Electric Power (2004-2014),” graphics by Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


Days after the final plan’s release, West Virginia and 15 other states asked a federal court to block the rule until all legal battles are resolved and ensure “no more taxpayer money or resources are wastefully spent in an attempt to comply with this unlawful rule.” But the secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Randy Huffman, is wary about refusing to develop a compliance plan. “You won’t have a seat at the table if you just say no,” Huffman told West Virginia Public Broadcasting in August. A new state law requires the DEP to complete a “comprehensive analysis” of the Clean Power Plan’s impact on West Virginia by early 2016.

Other Regional Players


Officials say that new nuclear facilities and state policies driving solar growth will make reaching Georgia’s emissions targets relatively easy. Despite sharply criticizing the draft rule, Public Service Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton says his state is moving forward to craft a compliance plan and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division will hold a public hearing to review the final rule in October.


Pennsylvania has taken a proactive approach to the Clean Power Plan and the state Department of Environmental Protection is pushing to submit a compliance plan by next September. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature will also have a say. A law signed before Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took office gives lawmakers the ability to review and revise any proposal the state submits to the EPA.


Similar to stakeholders in Tennessee, South Carolina officials were pleased that under-construction nuclear capacity can now count toward compliance. But that concession was not enough for the Attorney General Alan Wilson, who believes the Clean Power Plan is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is convening utilities, regulators and the public to develop a plan.

“How Each State Generates Electric Power” Notes:
• “Renewables” includes biomass, geothermal, solar and wind
• Energy categories where both the 2004 and 2014 values were 1 percent or lower have been omitted for clarity.
• Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
• Credit: Christopher Groskopf, Alyson Hurt and Avie Schneider/NPR


As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeastern carbon-trading market, Maryland is well-positioned to meet its Clean Power Plan goal. The state is also committed under a 2009 law to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent by 2020 — two years before the interim deadline set by the Clean Power Plan.

A Solution Revolution

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

Renewable Energy and the Energy-Efficient Electric Vehicle

By Jeff Deal

This map shows public (green) and high-power (tan) charging stations in the area.  Image from

This map shows public (green) and high-power (tan) charging stations in the area. Image from

While the electricity grid that powers much of the 21st century continues to benefit from the adoption of renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal, vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel have lagged behind. But here’s some good news: the coming partnership of renewable energy — especially solar — and tailpipe-free electric vehicles can change that for the better! Here’s how:


Electric vehicles use between 59 and 62 percent of the fuel they expend “at the wheel,” or to power the movement of the automobile. Today’s gasoline vehicles only use 17 percent to 21 percent of the fuel they consume “at the wheel,” making electric cars 290 percent more efficient than their gasoline-powered cousins.


The U.S. Department of Energy currently states that fueling electric vehicles costs the equivalent of $1.22 per gallon of gasoline versus $2.78 for the average American gasoline-powered car. The equivalent “per gallon of gasoline” price to fuel an electric vehicle can drop to $0.61 for families charging their electric vehicles with solar electricity generated by panels on their home that were purchased with state and federal tax credits. The fuel price can plunge even lower for businesses that additionally depreciate or ”write-off” these panels.


It is difficult, or perhaps impossible, for citizens and businesses to construct and operate their own gasoline or diesel fuel production facility — not to mention acquiring the unrefined petroleum or vegetable oil to produce the fuel. For electric vehicle owners that own or have access to solar panels at their homes or workplace, creating automobile fuel is as easy as plugging in a lamp, hair dryer or smartphone.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that the United States will import 21 percent or more of its oil in 2015 — the country imported 27 percent of its oil in 2014. Not only do U.S. dollars leave local economies to buy this oil, domestically produced fuel demands a price both at the pump and in terms of human health and air, water and environmental degradation as a result of drilling, transport, refinement and waste products. Renewably powered electric vehicles don’t require these additional fuel costs — and national renewable energy sources don’t decrease with usage.

Driving on Sunshine

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

Appalachia’s Solar Electric Vehicle Charging Company

Brightfield charging station in Asheville, N.C.

Brightfield charging station in Asheville, N.C.

Brightfield Transportation Solutions, an Asheville, N.C.-based company, has harnessed the world’s largest and longest transportation fuel pipeline. This nearly 93-million-mile wireless pipeline wasn’t constructed by a large corporation, isn’t causing a political fist fight, never leaks toxic substances and powers every living thing in Appalachia. Now thanks to Brightfield TS — with a lot of help from nature — the sun can power your electric automobile too.

Through its partnerships with automakers, electric vehicle support equipment manufacturers and policy groups, Brightfield TS is deploying solar electric vehicle charging stations across the Southeast, including North Carolina destinations such as Boone, Waynesville and Salisbury. Brightfield TS is now expanding its network of sun-powered fueling stations into Tennessee. To explore the benefits of driving electric vehicles on 200-proof Appalachian sunshine, visit
— By Jeff Deal

Light Speed

Racing on the Sun

The Apperion solar-powered race car, photo courtesy of Appalachian State University.

The Apperion solar-powered race car, photo courtesy of Appalachian State University.

Students and faculty on the Solar Vehicle Team at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., have finished their construction of “Apperion,” a solar-powered racing vehicle.

The team has set their sights on the Formula Sun Grand Prix in July 2016. The race is a qualifying competition for the American Solar Challenge, a 1,200 to 1,800-mile race across North America. In October 2017 the team hopes to go to the World Solar Challenge in Australia to compete in the “cruiser class” race alongside cars designed for speeds up to 90 miles per hour.

The team is led by two faculty advisers working with 18 university undergraduate students from a diverse collection of disciplines. While winning races may be a goal for the solar vehicle team, their ultimate aspiration is to inspire people to live more sustainably and raise awareness of the impacts that individuals can make.
Learn more at
— By W. Spencer King

Electric Batteries in Motion

Reducing one’s carbon footprint is no easy feat, but the collective movement toward less environmentally harmful modes of transportation is growing, and growing with it is interest in creating more efficient electric car batteries.

The Kentucky-Argonne battery manufacturing center in Lexington, Ky., received a $120,000 grant from Ford in February 2014 for research and development on improved electric vehicle battery technology such as shorter production times, increased range and performance quality.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are developing technology to better estimate the amount of battery power a trip will use by analyzing the planned route a driver will take using GPS, and factoring in weather conditions and traffic patterns.

New technologies are also being developed to make recharging a battery more akin to refilling a conventional vehicle’s gas tank. A research team at the Illinois Institute of Technology is designing a battery that can be “refilled” in a matter of minutes, making long trips in electric vehicles more viable.
— By W. Spencer King

Reaching for Virginia’s clean power potential

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Virginia has an tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

Virginia has a tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

In a commentary in Capitol Connections magazine out this week, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia characterizes the job of meeting new climate change pollution reduction goals this way: “In 1962, President Kennedy challenged our nation to go the moon by 1969. If America can get to the moon in 7 years, emitting one-third less air pollution in 15 years is surely within our grasp.”

A major goal of Appalachian Voices’ and our partners’ in recent years has been to set Virginia on the track toward a safe, reliable and affordable energy future, which has meant working hard to shake our state out of the status quo. Virginia has never had a binding state renewable energy standard, and advocates have long stressed the need for both utility-owned and non-utility projects to harness clean power on a large scale.

So where does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan put Virginia? The rule represents the first requirement for fighting climate change by cutting pollution from power plants. If we use it well, the Clean Power Plan can incentivize energy efficiency programs and drive growth in solar — two ways to ensure a more secure grid and shrink bills for electric customers. But there are possible pitfalls too.

One way in which a national plan aiming for a 32 percent reduction of carbon pollution from power plants helps Virginia is by the signal it sends. It’s a further indication as to the direction the market is going. There’s a wrinkle, however, that has some renewable energy advocates worried, and it’s very relevant in Virginia: the role of new natural gas-fired power plants.

One reason for concern about possible increased gas use in Virginia is that our state’s emissions target is fairly easy to achieve. Though one wouldn’t know it from the histrionics of some politicians who oppose the standards. In a troubling development that threatens to derail Virginia’s compliance process, some state legislators are using dire-sounding warnings about electricity reliability and costs — the same red herring arguments that surfaced last year — to attempt to take away the McAuliffe administration’s authority to implement a state plan. Some insist on General Assembly approval of Virginia’s implementation plan.

The adverse effects if Virginia dramatically increases its use of natural gas are clear: higher demand for a fuel with a lifecycle that’s harmful to communities and dangerous to the environment, from the risks to water from fracking, to the impacts of dirty pipelines, to the methane released during production and transportation. More investments in a fossil fuel source are also bound to diminish the incentive for utilities to incorporate renewable energy projects into their plans. Think of how much solar power Virginia could build for the same price as 8,000 megawatts worth of new natural gas plants.

When it comes to the cost of electricity, a report by Public Citizen shows that the Clean Power Plan can cut Virginians’ electricity bills by between 7.7 and 8.4 percent by 2030, and that greater reductions are possible when well-designed energy efficiency programs are launched — programs that will also boost the economy by creating outsource-proof jobs.

Unfortunately, these affordability conclusions are in spite of and not because of Virginia’s enactment of a so-called “rate freeze” law, which is apparent in two major ways: the “freeze” goes into effect now and expires in 2020, and it turns out that the law creates a rate floor rather than a rate ceiling by blocking increases to base rates but not increases to cover infrastructure costs (which are the exact kind of costs that would ostensibly result from the need to comply with a pollution rule.)

That action is an example of why it will be so critical for Virginians to engage during this upcoming 2016 legislative session. We can press our elected officials to take steps that advance a vision of safe, affordable and reliable energy if we all take the time to participate.

Stay connected and watch for updates as we support the McAuliffe administration’s role in setting Virginia’s compliance plan, and if you have not yet provided a comment to officials about our state’s approach to the Clean Power Plan, do so here or via by the Oct. 13 deadline.

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Energy Efficiency Made Affordable

Monday, July 13th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett

Giving Credit to Energy Efficiency

The Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans is a self-sustaining lending platform for home energy financing. WHEEL helps states leverage funds from public and private investors to increase the number of low-interest loans available to homeowners through the ReHome Loan Program for energy efficiency upgrades.

The low interest rates offered by the program create an incentive for homeowners to make the most energy-efficient choices, says Colin Bishopp, who oversees WHEEL, and the customer’s monthly payments more closely resemble amount of money saved on their utility bill. WHEEL is currently operating in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon launch in Virginia, Florida and Indiana. Visit:

Solarize Success in WV

A grassroots effort to make solar panels more affordable for homeowners has taken off in the Southeast. Through the Solarize model, homeowners interested in installing rooftop solar can join together to apply for discounts, free energy audits and solar panel assessments.

Using this model, a solar cooperative in West Virginia installed seven new systems last fall, adding about 36 kilowatts of solar power to Fayetteville, W.Va. Now, two solar cooperatives in Wheeling and Morgantown are accepting applications, while cooperatives in Fayette and Monroe County filled their membership, with 30 and more than 80 members signed up, respectively. Sixteen Solarize programs in North Carolina and eight in Virginia have run or are currently running, while three programs in South Carolina are receiving applications.

Access to Energy Savings

Financing programs are helping homeowners invest in upgrades that make residences more comfortable while lowering electric bills and reducing a home’s carbon footprint. Read more here.

Another Community Solar Farm Sprouts

Leasing solar panels provides rural electric cooperatives with a way to incorporate solar into their energy portfolio, and for homeowners to invest in solar, with lessened costs to both. The cooperative builds a solar farm and offers a lease on a panel or half-panel to members. Those members receive credit on their utility bill for the energy generated by their leased panel.

Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative in southern Tennessee funded a 26-kilowatt solar farm in 2012 and members have already become partial owners of 87 of its 108 panels. Once the rest are sold, the cooperative plans to double the solar farm’s capacity, says Steve Odell of Duck River EMC. In April, the Appalachian Regional Commission granted BARC Electric Cooperative in rural Virginia $500,000 to build a 250 to 350-kilowatt solar farm and a community learning center that will offer leasing options. Electric cooperatives in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina are using this model as well.

Energy Savings Launch in Harlan County, Ky.

The town of Benham launched an on-bill energy efficiency financing program in April. Benham$aves, modeled after Mountain Association for Economic Development’s How$mart program, will pay for energy efficiency upgrades upfront, and members will repay the loan on their utility bill with their energy savings. A resolution passed by the Benham Power Board formally recognizes community partners including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalshop and MACED.

Turning down the heat: A collaborative effort to reduce energy bills

Friday, July 10th, 2015 - posted by rory

This piece was co-authored by Jen Weiss, a senior finance analyst at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

There’s no doubt about it. June was HOT.

While extreme temperatures can make outdoor activities unbearable, they can also send electric utility bills skyrocketing across most of North Carolina and place high demands on the state’s electric utility infrastructure.

As heating and cooling equipment are pushed to the max, the demands are made even more significant due to inefficiently insulated and poorly weatherized houses that lose cool air as quickly as it is generated. But the cost to weatherize a home can make energy efficiency improvements unaffordable — particularly for homeowners who are already burdened with basic housing costs that can outweigh their limited income.

With the aim of providing these homeowners with a solution that will reduce their energy bills and improve home comfort, a collaborative working group was recently been formed by leading energy advisors in the Southeast. Working with multiple stakeholders across the state, the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing within reach for all income levels.

The Challenge: High Energy Costs

High energy costs can be particularly challenging for lower income Americans. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average North Carolinian spends $3,714 annually on energy costs. With a median household income of $46,334, this equates to 8 percent of the average residents’ annual income. This is nearly three times the national average of 2.7 percent in 2012. In rural communities where median household income tends to be much lower, averaging $22,000, energy expenditures as a percentage of household income can be as much as 17 percent or higher.

This situation is only going to get worse as it is predicted that energy costs will continue to rise in coming years. Energy efficiency improvements for North Carolinians can alleviate the impact of current and future energy costs. Unfortunately, many homeowners cannot afford the upfront cost to weatherize their properties or purchase energy-efficient appliances that will reduce their energy bills. North Carolina residents of all income levels need access to streamlined and simple energy efficiency finance programs that can help make energy more affordable.

A Solution: Utility On-Bill Programs for Energy Efficiency Financing

Fortunately, proven models exist that expand access to financing for energy efficiency improvements for everyone, including people who may not qualify for loans under traditional underwriting criteria. Known as “on-bill” programs, these financing models provide a mechanism whereby the upfront cost of energy saving improvements and equipment is funded by the electric utility or a third-party financier, and ratepayers are able to pay down the cost through a monthly payment on their electric bill.

Depending on the structure of these programs and the initial source of capital used to finance the program, on-bill programs offer a number advantages to participants, particularly low-income consumers. Advantages include performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with projected savings achieved, creating a net savings for the consumer. In other words, even with the new charge added to their electric bill, the customer will still pay less on an annual basis than they would have without the improvements. Additionally, on-bill programs can be structured so that they are available to renters and businesses.

Partners in Efficiency: North Carolina’s Rural Electric Member Cooperatives

Together, North Carolina’s 26 electric member cooperatives (co-ops) serve roughly 937,000 members, provide electric service to rural areas in 93 of the state’s 100 counties, and account for 23.7 percent of total electric sales in the state. Many of the state’s electric co-ops and municipal utilities serve communities characterized by ratepayers with lower than average median household incomes and limited access to low-cost financing.

A 2014 study of census data found that these utilities serve the highest concentrations of low-income communities across the Southeast, making co-ops and municipal utilities key stakeholders and powerful allies in addressing this issue. Dedicated to improving the lives and communities of those they serve, many co-ops have developed or are exploring energy efficiency finance programs. It is the goal of the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group to support all of North Carolina’s electric co-ops who are interested in developing an on-bill program for their own members.

Benefits to North Carolina Residents

  • Expanded access to capital for ratepayers at all income levels including homeowners, renters and businesses.
  • Performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with energy savings.
  • Low- to no-cost opportunity to improve energy performance and home comfort.

Benefits to North Carolina Utilities

  • Reduced complaints from customer regarding high bills and problems paying electric bills.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction.
  • Reduced need to build new generation facilities by reducing peak demand.
  • Helps to achieve energy efficiency and/or renewable energy goals

About the North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group

The North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group — a partnership of Appalachian Voices, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance — has been formed to work with North Carolina co-ops and other community stakeholders to provide the education and support resources needed to establish on-bill programs and expand access to energy efficiency programs for residents across the state.

As the Working Group ramps up its efforts, we will be reaching out to electric co-ops, community partners and other stakeholders to identify the needs and challenges faced by co-ops, and to work toward solutions that facilitate the development of new on-bill programs throughout North Carolina. If you are interested in learning more about the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group or supporting our efforts, send an email to

Duke Energy to close aging Asheville coal plant

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 - posted by brian

Duke Energy plans to retire its Asheville coal plant and build a natural gas-fired facility in its place. The announcement should be celebrated as progress, but it also represents another precarious step toward a future reliant on fossil fuels.

A plan to “end an era of coal” in Asheville and enter an era of natural gas.

In a surprise announcement that some predicted and many have long advocated for, Duke Energy shared plans today to “end an era of coal” in Asheville, N.C., by retiring the coal-fired power plant that sits on the banks of nearby Lake Julian.

The aging power plant, which began operating in 1964, has been a constant target for Appalachian Voices and many of our allies in North Carolina working to address coal ash pollution and promote investments in cleaner energy.

The company plans to spend around $750 million over the next four or five years to retire the coal plant and replace it with a 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, nearly doubling the current plant’s capacity. The plans also include building solar generation on the site, but it’s unclear how large — or small — the size of the renewable portion of the project will be.

While the news should be celebrated as progress, it also represents another precarious step along a dangerous road that will prolong our region’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and saddle consumers with long-lived investments in natural gas.

Duke, more than any other southeastern utility, has been at the forefront of the coal-to-gas fuel-switching trend, retiring seven of its 14 North Carolina coal plants in the past five years. The utility is also slated to be the largest customer of the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but, in this case, plans to upgrade an existing natural gas pipeline to supply the new plant.

Even though the company has brought on large-scale solar projects in recent years, Duke’s enthusiasm for clean energy doesn’t come close to its eagerness to expand natural gas generation and infrastructure. That fact is reflected in the mixed responses of environmental groups and clean energy advocates to today’s news.

“The retirement of the Asheville Plant is a step in the right direction, but it is a half measure, undermined by continuing reliance on an economically unpredictable and polluting source of power. Duke can do better, and our community deserves better,” a coalition of groups made up of MountainTrue, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and Waterkeeper Alliance announced in a joint statement. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for clean energy solutions for Western North Carolina.”

According to Duke, electricity demand in the Asheville area has doubled over the past forty years and the Asheville plant is a “must run” facility, meaning it operates around the clock to maintain reliability. But data charted by SNL Energy shows the plant’s capacity factor has been trending down since 2010, likely due to new capacity at the more-economical Cliffside power plant coming online.

Closing the plant will dramatically reduce harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury, and the new natural gas plant will emit about 60 percent less carbon dioxide per-megawatt hour. But its larger generating capacity could mean overall carbon emissions stay about the same.

The cost of retrofitting the plant’s coal ash ponds to comply with the state’s Coal Ash Management Act is sure to have played a role in the decision to retire the plant. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources also cited Duke in February for contaminating groundwater at the facility, which could lead to fines.

The Asheville plant is the only facility out of the four deemed “high priority” by the coal ash law that still burns coal. It is also one of the few still-operating plants involved in the federal lawsuit over coal ash pollution that led Duke to plead guilty to nine misdemeanors under the Clean Water Act.

The case for closing the Asheville coal plant is clear. But Duke must do more to meet its promises to North Carolinians. At a time of tremendous opportunity to expand clean energy, America’s largest electric utility has the obligation and more than enough influence to lead.

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.

Clean Line Wind Project Clears Hurdle

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC received initial approval from Tennessee regulators to construct a 700-mile transmission line that would deliver wind power generated in the plains of western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle to customers in the Tennessee Valley.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides power to approximately 9 million people in seven southeastern states, signed a letter of support for the project last November, and would become the largest buyer of the projected 3,500 megawatts of clean power.

Clean Line hopes the project will begin operation in 2018, but the energy developer still must obtain final federal and state approval.