Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Appalachian Power’s solar customers rise and shine for clean energy

Friday, October 24th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Customers of Appalachian Power gather in Lynchburg to learn about their utility's resistance to expanding energy efficiency and investing in solar.

Customers of Appalachian Power gather in Lynchburg to learn about their utility’s resistance to expanding energy efficiency and investing in solar.

Appalachian Power Company must bring large-scale clean energy to our area; that’s the message this week from hundreds of APCo’s Virginia customers.

The company goes before state utility regulators next Tuesday with its long-term plan to meet electricity demand, which includes only the most modest investments in renewable energy sources despite a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intended to spur clean energy development and cut carbon emissions.

No one is more vocal about the need for APCo to invest in solar than those who already have: customers with their own solar arrays. Residents concerned by the utility’s recent proposal to levy a new fee on customers with solar are just part of a larger group of APCo customers demanding their utility stop limiting its proposals for energy efficiency programs and take advantage of the same opportunities to expand residential solar that utilities such as Georgia Power have taken advantage of lately.

At a program co-led by Appalachian Voices in Lynchburg on Thursday, APCo customers examined the utility’s proposed efficiency and clean energy investments and saw just how minimal they are. The risks of dirty energy are clear to Lynchburg residents who saw a train carrying crude oil derail and explode in the heart of the downtown district this past summer, polluting the James River and threatening historic properties.

The large, diverse area of Virginia served by Appalachian Power also is home to several thriving solar companies, and many successful community Solarize initiatives have encouraged more homeowners to go solar. So, increasingly, area residents see purchasing solar as a way get reliable, affordable and pollution-free energy. In other words, it’s money well spent.

Thirty-two solar homeowners sent a collective comment to the State Corporation Commission this week calling for Appalachian Power to build clean energy at the same scale they have built fossil fuel power plants. Those homeowners and other citizens who are following the EPA’s proposed carbon rule believe that their utility is acting unreasonably by not addressing the new limits in its long-term planning.

Following the hottest September on record worldwide and an historic demonstration in New York City, the need for Virginia utilities to shift to energy efficiency and carbon-free sources is now clear, and APCo customers are telling their utility it can make a start, while lowering bills and creating jobs at the same time.

Ecotourism Rises Along with Hope for a Region’s Future

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - posted by Barbara Musumarra

By Dan Radmacher

After enduring generations of the booms and busts of an economy almost entirely dependent on the coal industry, the residents of far southwest Virginia are beginning to take their economic future into their own hands by capitalizing on the mountainous region’s incredible natural beauty to promote ecotourism.

The movement may have begun, oddly enough, with an act of arson.

Built in the 1930s, the High Knob Tower provided spectacular, 360-degree views of five states from the top of a 4,000-foot ridge in Wise County. The High Knob Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest not only includes the tower, but also a four-acre lake, a 50-acre campground and plenty of hiking and biking trails.

Shayne Fields pauses at an overlook above Norton, Va.

During a ride along a new mountain bike trail, Shayne Fields pauses at an overlook above Norton, Va. An avid mountain biker, he sees the creation of new trails as an investment in the city’s future. Photo by Erin Savage.

The tower, rebuilt in the 1970s, was ingrained in the hearts and history of the region’s residents, according to Steve Brooks, former executive director of the Clinch Coalition and a volunteer distributor for The Appalachian Voice.

“Men share stories about proposing to their wives there,” Brooks says. “Families went there for Sunday picnics. It’s just been a place people go.”

After the tower was burned down seven years ago by arsonists, a coalition came together to rebuild the iconic structure. U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher — who would go on to lose his 2010 re-election bid — helped organize the group, which included environmentalists and conservationists as well as coal and utility industry representatives.

Much of that coalition came together to form the High Knob Enhancement Corporation, which worked to raise the money to rebuild the tower and to promote the enhancement and use of High Knob and surrounding areas.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen such a diverse group of people that worked so closely and so well together,” says Rita McReynolds, a former town council member from St. Paul, Va. “What an effort. Everyone pitched in. School kids donated quarters.”

A ribbon-cutting for the $600,000 project was held on Aug. 22. McReynolds says the energy at the event was exhilarating.

“I was amazed at all the people who were asking, ‘What’s next?’ And that’s the question,” McReynolds says. “What can we do to tie in the tower to other things near it and around it? It’s going to be a catalyst for things to come.”

And other things are coming. Norton is developing a series of trails in and around the city, including nearly 20 miles of mountain bike trails at the Flag Rock Recreational Area, a 1,000-acre parcel of land owned by the city.

A rider bikes along the Sugar Maple Trail

A rider balances her bike on a log feature during her first visit to the new Sugar Maple Trail. Photo by Shayne Fields.

“We’re working with the U.S. Forest Service to build a trail from the Norton reservoir and Flag Rock area to the High Knob Tower,” Mark Caruso, a Norton city council member, said in an email.

“From there, hikers, bikers and equestrians can travel from Dungannon to High Knob to Norton or Big Cherry Reservoir and the Devil’s Bathtub Area,” he says. “The Lost Creek Trail will link the city to the Jefferson National Forest.”

Shayne Fields, a member of the Lonesome Pines Bike Club, has been working for the city to design the mountain bike trail system for the Flag Rock Recreation Area.

“I see this as an economic engine for my city,” Fields says. “We’re in the middle of coal country, and we’ve struggled over the years looking for alternatives. We haven’t had much luck with new industries.”

Work on the trails has been boosted in the last year or so by volunteers from local nonprofit organizations Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Mountain Justice, as well as Job Corps volunteers and even people working off community service sentences. The first trail segment, a 1.82-mile-long novice trail, was dedicated earlier this summer.

The Sugar Maple Trail is three-feet wide and not too steep for beginners. More experienced mountain bikers won’t be left out, though. The system will include both intermediate and expert loops when it is completed.

Fields, a longtime mountain biker, also views the project with an artist’s eye. “Designing a trail that will last is all about water management — getting the water down the hill in ways that won’t erode the trail. This results in very organic shapes,” he says.

“This is a giant step forward for this area,” Fields says. “We’re not known for activism or ecotourism. This is one of our first efforts to use the land for something that’s sustainable.”

Norton council member Mark Caruso agrees about the importance of ecotourism.

“Energy resources will no longer be the go-to industry to bail out communities in economic distress,” he commented. “City council understands that with the proper public resources applied to our natural assets, we can become a destination that will provide tourists with a wide range of activities they will be willing to spend money on.”

The region is spectacular. High Knob is home not just to astonishing views but an incredible array of plants and animals, including the exceptionally rare green salamander and Kirtland’s warbler. The Nature Conservancy calls the region the most biodiverse in the continental United States.

Visitors gather at High Knob Tower

Visitors gather on opening day at the newly rebuilt High Knob Tower. Restoring the southwest Virginia landmark was a collaborative community effort. Photo by Bill Harris,

Caruso and his wife Carol have so much faith in what the development of High Knob and other tourist resources can do for the local economy, they opened up Pathfinders Outfitters. The shop caters to people coming to enjoy High Knob, seven nearby mountain lakes, two rivers and the many other outdoor attractions.

Caruso said he and his wife want to promote the area’s assets while working to preserve them for future generations.

“I’m looking forward to the day when we have developed an economic balance in our mountains that is diverse, sustainable, smartly maintained, culturally compatible, and provides job opportunities for all who are willing to work,” Caruso says.

The couple has been encouraged by the level of business so far. They are planning to buy more rental boats, expand their shooting sports programs, and introduce wilderness survival and orientation courses.

According to Rita McReynolds, even smaller St. Paul is witnessing an influx of visitors.

“We’re seeing a lot of buzz with people coming into the area from Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama,” she says. “A small lodge, Mountain View Lodge, opened up right here in town, which is something I never thought I’d see.”

McReynolds thinks news reports about the reopening of the High Knob Tower will help even more.

“We’re going to see an explosion of more people coming in,” she says. “That news of the tower was huge. We have wonderful mountains, and we’re becoming a destination.”

Steve Brooks, when director of the Clinch Coalition, helped launch the annual High Knob Naturalist Rally, a daylong event with guided hikes and other activities, now in its eighth year. According to Brooks, there is growing recognition from local politicians and the U.S. Forest Service that tourism has more potential than mining or timbering to improve the local economy.

“Politicians want to bring jobs,” he says. “Tourism seems to be the way to do that now. There’s a lot of public support for a more sustainable approach.”

For a region that has seen more than its share of economic turbulence, hope for a better future seems to have risen from the ashes of High Knob Tower.

“Managed responsibly, we can literally have it all here in our mountains,” Caruso added. “We need to be positive about that possibility.”

Petition Focuses on Va. Regulatory Failures

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - posted by Barbara Musumarra

Appalachian Voices recently joined the Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Mountain Advocates to file a formal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging that a Virginia agency had failed to comply with requirements of the Clean Water Act since 2011. The petition focused on the failure of the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to properly regulate mountaintop removal coal mining under the law.

Citizens groups in West Virginia and Kentucky filed similar petitions with the EPA regarding lack of enforcement by their state agencies.

“Coal companies have been polluting the communities where they operate for decades,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Mining laws meant to protect citizens don’t work unless they are enforced by the states. We need EPA to step in to ensure environmental laws are being enforced in southwest Virginia.”

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Proposal Advances

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - posted by Barbara Musumarra

By Brian Sewell

Duke Energy, Dominion Resources and other partners are teaming up to build a 550-mile pipeline to better access natural gas produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, where fracking has proliferated in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which the companies hope will be in service by 2019, would begin in north-central West Virginia, snake through 10 Virginia Piedmont counties and bisect North Carolina before terminating near the South Carolina border. A lateral extension near the Virginia-North Carolina border would stretch to the coast.

Image Courtesy of Dominion Resources

Image Courtesy of Dominion Resources

If the pipeline is built, Duke’s gas-burning power plants would be the primary customers and capture nearly half of the projected 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas pumped through the pipeline each day.

Dominion Resources shares the majority ownership stake in the pipeline with Duke and will also serve as the lead builder. Dominion began preliminary survey work in May, which created a stir along the proposed route and spawned a movement of concerned landowners and communities months before the plan was officially announced.

In September, a coalition of 22 groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, emerged as the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance with the sole purpose of raising the alarm about the proposed pipeline. The groups say the planned route puts some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the eastern U.S. at risk, such as portions of the George Washington and Monongahela national forests.

The companies claim building the pipeline will create construction jobs and spur industrial development. Governors Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, and Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia have all heralded the pipeline’s economic potential.

McAuliffe, who has been outspoken in his support for the pipeline while opposing fracking in Virginia, found himself in an awkward spot at the first meeting of the state’s climate change commission on Sept. 10. Claiming the pipeline has “nothing to do with fracking,” McAuliffe later added, “I do not support fracking as governor of the Commonwealth.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline must gain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state utility commissions, and there are several opportunities for public input during the process.

Virginia Restoration Reroutes Troubled Water

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - posted by Barbara Musumarra

By Kimber Ray

In Rockbridge County, Va., construction vehicles this August began carving out nearly half a mile of new streambed for the Maury River. Tree plantings to stabilize the soil are scheduled to begin this fall. This will be the largest stream restoration project completed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which received funding from a federal grant program and a local family farm.

For more than three decades, the Maury River has shifted from its once and future location in reaction to a 1973 dam project. Along the way, the river has claimed more than 15 acres of Echols Farm, depositing massive amounts of sediment into the water and smothering riverbed life. The restored river is expected to improve fish habitat and reduce flooding for miles downstream.

Serving Virginia Parks

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - posted by Barbara Musumarra

By Kimber Ray

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is launching the inaugural year of its Virginia Service and Conservation Corps program. Participants will maintain trails and improve natural habitats at Pocahontas, Leesylvania or Hungry Mother State Park.

Grant funding was provided by AmeriCorps, a national service program with more than 80,000 paid positions. Applications for Virginia’s newest state program will be accepted until Nov. 17 from high school graduates over 17 years old.

To apply to this position or search additional AmeriCorps positions visit

Updates: Stopping the “Tax on the Sun” in Virginia

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 - posted by hannah

solar on house

As the comment period concludes on Appalachian Power Company’s proposed solar “stand-by” charge and next week’s formal regulatory hearing nears, we’re at full swing in a major push for solar freedom in Virginia.

Concerned ratepayers from Abingdon to Amherst, Botetourt to Blacksburg, Lynchburg and Floyd and all across the state have called for their power company to work with customer-generators and not to interfere with the free market for residential clean energy. Solar installation professionals, local elected officials, and solar homeowners have lent their voices in hope of denying an unfair and punitive new policy.

In local news sources — print and public radio – and in the blogosphere, the word is out: Virginia’s second-largest utility seeks to impose an unfair new fee on customers with solar arrays on their property over 10 kilowatts. Hundreds of Appalachian Power customers have already told the SCC that this fee punishes those who benefit their communities in so many ways by choosing to invest in clean energy for their homes, and it’s clear how this move by the company threatens to turn good candidates for new installations away from going solar.

To protect affordable clean energy options for customers, there is still time to take action and take this effort through the last mile. Come out and be in the room at the public hearing in Richmond at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 16 at the State Corporation Commission when citizen comments are heard on the utility’s proposal.

Contact me, your local campaigner Hannah Wiegard, at hannah[at] if you’re an ApCo customer and have questions, need a hand crafting testimony, or would like help arranging transportation to the hearing in downtown Richmond on Tuesday, September 16. See you there!

Five Schools Switch to Landfill Gas Power

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

By Carvan Craft

Five colleges are putting the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” into practice with their initiative to use landfill gas for light and power. Hollins University, Emory & Henry College, Lynchburg College, Randolph College and Sweet Briar College are the first institutions in Virginia on track to meet all of their electricity needs with renewable energy.

Given our annual production of garbage, landfill gas is considered a renewable resource. The gas is approximately half methane and half carbon dioxide, which is harmful when it leaks into the air from a landfill. Methane has a global warming potential that is 23 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Burning landfill gas to generate electricity prevents much of this harmful methane from entering the atmosphere, but whether the gas is a truly clean energy source is disputed because it also produces air pollution.

Robert B. Lambeth Jr., president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, says that one of the college sustainability coordinators approached him with the idea of switching from conventional power to electricity generated by landfill gas. The Council embraced this idea and began working with the five participating colleges on the project in March 2013.

The schools collectively established an agreement with the green energy firm Collegiate Clean Energy — an affiliate of the landfill gas company IGENCO — to purchase their electricity directly from the firm. As part of the agreement, the schools signed a 12-year contract that they expect will save them between $3.2 million and $6.4 million during that period.

The electricity generated from the landfill gas is distributed on the local grid operated by Appalachian Power, and the schools receive Renewable Energy Certificates that represent their direct contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions from conventional electricity. These green energy credits can be put on the market to be bought and traded by other groups seeking to support renewable energy.

Lambeth believes this is an excellent educational opportunity for students to learn more about renewable power companies through potential internships and tours of the landfill gas facility.

Several schools are developing other green initiatives in addition to the methane project. Four of the colleges have solar panels, three use geothermal heat pump systems and Lynchburg College heats water with solar tubes on the roof.

“The colleges obviously have a strong commitment to sustainability, climate control and using renewable energy where possible,” Lambeth says. “So this opportunity fits nicely with the goals of the colleges.”

Southwest Virginia is for (Outdoor) Lovers

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

By Amber Ellis

On Sept. 13-14 in Abingdon, Va., the Appalachian Spring Initiative will host a regional expo to highlight southwest Virginia’s outdoor recreational opportunities.

The initiative, which focuses on community development, has identified eight attractions as pillars of ecotourism in southwestern Virginia, including the New River, High Knob Recreation Area and the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail.

The two-day expo in September centers on these “anchors,” with the first day aiming to connect people with outdoor activities through area businesses and the second day devoted to off-site exploring and guided activities. The expo also offers interactive demos, educational information, live music and local beer. Cost varies based on activity. Visit:

New Law Helps Cyclists in Virginia

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

Bicyclists in Virginia can breathe easier now that the minimum distance for passing motorists has increased from two to three feet. At the time of the law’s passage, Virginia was number 18 on the annual ranking of bicycle friendly states by the League of American Bicyclists.