Press Release

Appalachian Voices Awarded $400,000 Department of Energy Buildings Upgrade Prize

October 12, 2023

Dan Radmacher, Media Specialist, (540) 798-6683,

The Department of Energy awarded $400,000 to regional nonprofit organization Appalachian Voices on Wednesday for a project that will help address energy-related challenges at community anchor institutions like schools, health care facilities and businesses in the historic coal region of Southwest Virginia. The Phase 1 award from the Buildings Upgrade Prize (Buildings UP) will enable Appalachian Voices to work with community partners to upgrade and electrify buildings that can serve as community hubs in the event of flooding or other disasters.

The project addresses a challenge faced by many communities in Virginia’s Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties and the City of Norton: Buildings that are especially vital during a disaster often lack energy efficiency and electric heat pumps and have poor roofs, making it challenging and costly to electrify these buildings and connect them to locally generated renewable energy so they can meet the needs of local residents during extreme weather.

Nationwide, the Department of Energy Building Technologies Office’s (BTO) Buildings UP Prize awarded more than $22 million in cash prizes and technical assistance to teams developing scalable and replicable initiatives for widespread energy efficiency and efficient electrification building upgrades. These innovative models aim to accelerate greenhouse gas reduction, equity, economic development and health goals.

“This award will allow us to help local community leaders address energy-related challenges for key buildings — buildings that, once weatherized and upgraded, will be able to serve as resiliency hubs that can provide invaluable resources and shelter during weather-related emergencies,” said Robert Kell, New Economy Program Manager. “The buildings can also demonstrate just how feasible renewable energy is, and how important it can be for communities that need to provide vital services during emergencies.”

Appalachian Voices’ New Economy Program, established in 2015, has been building partnerships with local leaders, state representatives, business partners, state and federal agencies, and others to help Southwest Virginia transition its economy as the once-dominant coal industry has faded. Our efforts have brought millions of dollars into the region, helped promote development of solar energy and creation of a trained solar workforce, and provided technical assistance to countless groups and communities.

“The efforts funded by this prize will build on our partnerships and previous work with the Southwest Virginia Solar Workgroup and the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund and allow us to ramp up those efforts to the next level and help equip communities with truly transformative spaces,” said Adam Wells, Regional Director of Community and Economic Development.

Thirty-nine teams in the Equity-Centered Innovation Pathway were selected to move onto Phase 2 of the prize for their concepts to deliver scalable and replicable upgrades to buildings in disadvantaged communities, low- and moderate-income households, and underserved commercial, nonprofit and public buildings. In the coming weeks, Appalachian Voices will build a project team, start community outreach and education, and develop a subrecipient and contractor toolkit.

About the Buildings Upgrade Prize

The Buildings Upgrade Prize (Buildings UP) provides more than $22 million in cash prizes and technical assistance to support the transformation of existing U.S. buildings into more energy-efficient and clean energy-ready homes, commercial spaces, and communities. Buildings UP is an American-Made Challenge funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Office and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


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