By Jeff Deal
While Appalachia has not yet realized the progress made in solar electricity generation in the United States’ West Coast or Northeast regions, solar energy development within our region is slowly moving forward.
The town of Newland, N.C., will host a 900kW solar electric facility that will generate enough electricity to power up to 240 homes.
Not only are electric utilities and large energy developers generating solar electricity in Appalachia—neighborhoods and communities are now joining this burgeoning green energy movement. The First Congregational Church in Asheville, N.C., just installed a 10 kW solar electric system that was financed and developed by community and church members.
This same type of grassroots solar energy development was also utilized in Williamson, W.Va., which recently developed an 11 kW solar electric system on a downtown office building. More good news on the manufacturing front of the Appalachian solar movement: an international manufacturer of solar electric panels, Jetion Solar Corp., will locate its headquarters, and 36 jobs, in Charlotte, N.C.
By Paige Campbell
A study by the Army Corp of Engineers released in July estimated a $6.5-$7.5 billion price tag on the proposed expansion of a nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Meanwhile, peace activists and Oak Ridge community members continue their nearly six-year-long protest against the project.
The expansion, which would add a uranium processing facility to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 weapons complex, has seen a tenfold increase in estimated costs since the project was first announced in 2005.
Over the years, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) has protested the ballooning costs and raised alarms about the environmental impact of the structure. Most critically, according to OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison, the group objects to a nuclear-based defense policy that it says actually makes the world less secure. Y-12 officials, on the other hand, call the facility a “key to global security.”
The Department of Energy was expected to announce its official approval of the project, called a record of decision, within a month of its release of an environmental impact study in March. For unclear reasons, that announcement was delayed. At press time, the department planned to release the record of decision by the end of July. Once released, the record will be available at nepa.energy.gov/records_of_decisions.htm.
Speaking to the Appalachian Peace Education Center in May, Hutchison said that the expansion would allow the Oak Ridge facility to produce 80 warheads every year. Hutchison detailed OREPA’s efforts to draw attention to the project and fight nuclear proliferation.
Regardless of the record of decision’s contents, Hutchison said, OREPA’s opposition efforts will continue, beginning with an August 6 ceremony commemorating the day a Y-12-manufactured atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
By Jillian Randel
In May, Senator Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee introduced a bill to increase protected lands in the Cherokee National Forest. The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 would protect nearly 20,000 acres along Tennessee’s eastern border in the Appalachian Mountains.
A recent public opinion survey by Tennessee Wild—a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest—showed that “90 percent of East Tennesseans, whether Republican, Democrat or independent, rated the preservation of the proposed new wilderness additions in the Cherokee as ‘extremely important.’”
Tennessee Wild, along with a coalition of other land protection organizations, are working hard to protect the Cherokee National Forest from detrimental logging and mining practices and ensure that the lands will be protected for hiking, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreational activities.
For more information, visit tnwild.org.
The EPA selected seven sites around the country for a national study on hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) that will assess the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Two sites in Pennsylvania where hydrofracking has already occurred will be examined for impacts on drinking water. The EPA will monitor two other sites in Pennsylvania throughout the hydrofracking process. The other sites are in Texas, Colorado and North Dakota. According to a press release issued by the EPA, the study will include literature review, laboratory work, computer modeling and collection of data and information from states, industry and communities.
South Carolina electric cooperatives are forming a partnership with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute to develop a program that will help residents save money and energy, according to an article by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The program will provide micro-loans to consumers for home energy efficiency improvements. Consumers would then use a portion of the money they save on electricity to pay off the loans. The program is a response to the state’s growing energy needs, stimulated by population growth, inefficient home systems and high energy usage in winter and summer.
The EPA states that Kansas-based Swamp Angel Energy has illegally pumped oil brine into wells in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. Unauthorized pumping is an infraction of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as well as EPA regulations on underground injections of fluids. According to a press release from the EPA, unauthorized pumping could pose a threat to underground drinking water sources. The proposed penalty to Swamp Angel Energy is a $157,000 fine.
The open-cell spray foam insulation is in, the plumbing and electrical are installed, and the finishing touches are just weeks away on Appalachian State University’s cutting-edge Solar Homestead. Started in 2009, the student-run project conceptualized, designed and constructed a model solar home for the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon—the world’s largest green building competition. The 1,000-square-foot, 2-bedroom interior (right) will include an additional 900-square-foot outdoor living porch featuring bifacial photovoltaic panels and a living roof (above). ASU is one of only twenty universities from around the globe selected to participate in the Solar Decathlon. The Solar Homestead will be on display on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from September 23 to October 1 as part of the competition. Prior to that, ASU will host two viewing days for the public: August 17 and 27. For more information, vist thesolarhomestead.com.