‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

On Wednesday, October 13, Governor Roy Cooper signed a bill called “Energy Solution for North Carolina” or HB 951. Standing behind a podium bearing the words Securing Our Clean Energy Future, Cooper confidently asserted “ … today I will sign a historic bill that gives us an extraordinary new tool in our fight against climate change. Today, North Carolina moves strongly into a reliable and affordable clean energy future.”

Clearly, this wasn’t the same HB 951 that had been negotiated behind closed doors by House Republicans, Duke Energy, and other industry groups and passed by the House on a 57-49 vote in July. That bill had been met with outrage from environmental groups, clean energy advocates, and ratepayers, and opposition from Senators in both parties. No, this new version had been reformed and revised through direct negotiations between the Governor and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. The result: a bipartisan compromise that puts North Carolina on a path toward meeting the Governor’s aggressive climate goals. Just as surprising, the bill sailed through the General Assembly, receiving widespread bipartisan support in both the Senate (42 – 7) and the House (90-20).

Not everyone was thrilled with the new HB 951. Environmental and clean energy groups were split, with MountainTrue, NRDC, the Audubon Society, and the NC Sustainable Energy Association lending varying degrees of qualified support, while others asserted that the bill did not go far enough, lacked adequate protections for moderate and low-income customers, or would do little more than enrich Duke Energy’s shareholders.

While we agree with many of the concerns of the bill’s detractors, it is the position of MountainTrue that, on balance, HB 951 does far more good than bad. We commend Governor Cooper and Senator Berger for coming up with a laudable bipartisan compromise that sets aggressive clean energy goals and maintains the authority of the Utilities Commission to regulate the energy industry.

So which is it? Is the “Energy Solutions” bill a transformative climate bill or a sop to Duke Energy? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what’s in the bill, what’s not, and how it fits into the larger regulatory and legislative context.

What the Revised HB 951 Does

First, the bill supports the climate goals laid out in the Governor’s 2018 clean energy plan, Executive Order 80, by tasking state regulators with developing a plan to cut carbon emissions from energy plants by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Furthermore, because it only allows 5% of these reductions to be attained through carbon offsets, it ensures the decommissioning of the state’s remaining carbon-emitting infrastructure. But to do so, the bill contains some important caveats.

One is that the Utilities Commission is required to consider the cheapest and most reliable way to reach its carbon reduction goals. Proponents say that this could help keep costs down for customers, including low-to-moderate-income households who receive few other explicit protections within the bill. Critics worry that such a requirement could lead to the Commission approving the conversion of Duke’s existing coal-powered plants to “natural gas” or methane — a powerful greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.

Those who have fought for cleaner energy and fairer rates before the Utilities Commission know that the regulatory agency is already mandated by its charter to seek “adequate, reliable and economical utility service” through “least-cost energy planning”. In the past, this focus on cost-savings has pitted the Commission against community solar projects in the mountains in favor of larger, more economical alternatives further east.

While HB 951 doesn’t revoke the Commission’s affordability mandate, it does put it on level footing with the bill’s climate goals. This may be all that is necessary to force Duke Energy to replace its coal-powered plants with a mix of solar and wind paired with battery storage. The cost of solar panel energy generation has plummeted by 90% over the last 10 years, and the cost of energy from wind farms has dropped by 71%. Energy from wind and solar panels is now cheaper than nuclear, coal, petrol, and since 2015, yes even cheap, cheap methane (natural gas). Paired with the reliability of large-scale battery storage, the cost of renewable energy is increasingly hard to beat.

Graph source: https://www.popsci.com/story/environment/cheap-renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels/

A second important stipulation for the Commission is that it must develop its new clean energy plan through a stakeholder process. While the bill does not define who those stakeholders will be or how they will be selected, we expect environmental groups, representatives of the renewables industry, consumer advocates, and technical experts to be invited to the table. This stakeholder process should provide an important platform for climate justice advocates to secure the cleanest, fairest plan possible. And because the plan has to be reviewed every two years, there should be plenty of opportunities to right the ship should it veer off course.

The bill also decouples utilities’ profit motive from the quantity of energy they sell to residential customers and establishes performance-based ratemaking. According to the NC Sustainable Energy Association, this will allow the commission to create incentives and reward Duke Energy for creating programs or reaching goals that further equity or are socially beneficial in another manner. These could include enrolling more customers into their energy efficiency and demand-reduction programs or doing a better job contracting with minority-owned businesses.

HB 951 also contains an “on-bill tariff” program to help homeowners finance energy efficiency upgrades and pay back the up-front costs for equipment, materials, and installation through interest-free payments on their energy bills. This innovative program could enable more people, including lower and moderate-income households, to upgrade their boilers, heating and cooling systems, and other appliances in order to reduce their energy consumption and increase the values of their homes.

What the Bill Doesn’t Do

Just as important as what the bill does, is how this version differs from the one that emerged from the murky back rooms of Raleigh in July. That House version limited the Utility Commission’s authority to regulate Duke Energy and locked us into a fossil fuel future. It mandated that five of Duke Energy’s coal-fired units be retired but replaced not with solar or wind but with gas-fired plants, battery storage, or a mixture of the two. And it set criteria for the replacement of the remaining coal plant that could only be met by natural gas.

Under Governor Cooper and Senator Berger’s compromise bill, those decisions continue to rest in the hands of the Utility Commission, but the law incorporates a stakeholder process and removes the natural gas replacement mandate. The compromise bill also nixes a $50 billion subsidy for modular nuclear reactors and removes a cap on securitization. HB 951 now allows half of future coal retirement costs to be pooled together with other assets and repackaged into interest-bearing securities — a process that would save ratepayers money by passing the costs off to investors.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the original bill was a ban on the Executive Branch from considering other greenhouse gas rules. This meddling on the part of the House would have prevented the Environmental Management Commission from establishing limits on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. It would have also kept North Carolina out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a cooperative effort by 11 states from Maine to Virginia seeking to cap and reduce emissions from the power sector.

However, for all the good things accomplished in this bill and its improvements over the House version, it still comes up short for many in the environmental and climate advocacy community.

The early retirement of coal plants and the transition to clean energy will be costly. The question of who — Duke Energy’s executives and shareholders or Duke’s customers — should pay for what has been the subplot of every Utility Commission rate hike hearing for the past decade. HB 951 not only punts on that question but also fails to include protections that would ensure that low-to-moderate income customers don’t end up paying more than their fair share. The most vulnerable in our societies are most severely impacted by climate change. This bill does little to ensure that the costs associated with the transition to clean energy won’t disproportionately affect the poorest among us.

Finally, this bill will do little to challenge Duke Energy’s monopoly or curtail the energy giant from making handsome profits in North Carolina. Duke has long sought the ability to seek multi-year rate plans instead of having to go before the Utilities Commission each year. HB 951 gives them the ability to seek rate plans for up to three years, though it does cap potential rate increases to 4% for the second or third year. (For context: in May 2021, Duke Energy got permission to increase its rates for residential customers by 5.3%) And while the law opens the door to more solar and solar-plus-storage projects moving forward, it puts Duke firmly in the driver’s seat by ensuring that they maintain 55% ownership.

In Conclusion …

On balance, MountainTrue supported the compromise bill and asked our members and activists to call on the General Assembly to vote yay. It is our position that while every piece of legislation is an opportunity for action, no bill exists in a vacuum. HB 951 has its shortcomings: it’s a good climate bill but seriously lacking as a piece of climate justice legislation. Therefore, after passing HB 951, we must redouble our efforts to provide significant support for low-income energy customers — such as pressuring our legislators to pass a 2021 fiscal budget that includes the $400 million already earmarked for energy efficiency programs.

Similarly, one must consider the political context. HB 951 makes North Carolina only the second state in the Southeast to adopt enforceable climate goals. That this came forth from negotiations between a deeply divided and often Republican-controlled General Assembly and a Democratic Governor is nothing short of a miracle. Cynics might claim that corruption and collusion are behind this unlikely development. As longtime advocates on climate issues interested in movement-building, we’re hopeful that this kind of bipartisan compromise on climate is a sign of more positive things to come.

With that, we’ll leave you with some of our favorite quotes on this legislation from observers, advocates, and legislators:

Ward Lenz, Executive Director of the NC Sustainable Energy Association: “While the Senate proposed committee substitute for HB951 is not perfect, and will impact different clean energy technologies and customers in different ways, it ultimately marks an important milestone as we continue to work towards more transformational energy policies that ensure affordability and reliability for customers and deliver greater market competition.”

Andrew Hutson, Executive Director of the Audubon Society of North Carolina: “ “This bill was made better by thousands of North Carolinians who spoke up for a clean energy future. Still, the bill is by no means perfect and will require important follow-through by the Utilities Commission to deliver on its promise. There is still much work to do to address our changing climate in a way that is just and equitable. Audubon is committed to working in the coming years to make that a reality.”

NRDC in a blog post analyzing the bill: “The high-level takeaway of this legislation is that when signed into law, this legislation will make binding Governor Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan established targets of 70% reductions in power-sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. It may also signal that bipartisan progress on climate policy is possible even in conservative states.”

Governor Roy Cooper: “This bipartisan agreement sets a clean energy course for North Carolina’s future that is better for the economy, better for the environment, and better for the pocketbooks of everyday North Carolinians. I am encouraged that we have been able to reach across the aisle to find a way forward that will update our energy systems while saving people money and doing our part to slow climate change.”

Senate Leader Phil Berger: “North Carolina is a growing state, attracting businesses and families from all over. That growth depends on a stable supply of reliable and affordable energy. After months of policy negotiations, we reached an agreement that will signal to businesses and families here now or considering a move here that North Carolina’s leaders are committed to pro-growth energy policies.”

House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland: “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources while also maintaining low costs for citizens and businesses, and this bill achieves each of those goals. It is absolutely crucial for our state and for our national security that we prioritize energy independence now.”

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue: “I am proud of the work put forth in this energy bill. This legislation will put our clean energy aspirations into action. We need to continue working to protect our environment, and all ratepayers, as we move North Carolina to a clean energy future.”

House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives: “I support this compromise that helps build a resilient North Carolina that combats climate change, creates green jobs, and helps consumers and businesses have predictable, fair prices.”

Editorial Board of the Charlotte Observer: “All that said, North Carolinians should settle for this version of House Bill 951. The latest measure, trimmed from 49 to 10 pages, is better than the original. If the governor and Democrats were to reject it, the alliance of Republicans and Duke Energy might peel off enough Democrats to pass a veto-proof bill that’s worse. So we’ll take this half-loaf, which Cooper is expected to soon sign into law. Given the reactionary nature of the General Assembly’s leadership regarding the poor and the environment and Duke Energy’s love affair with fossil fuels, it’s unlikely that further negotiation will bring further improvement.”

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said on the House floor that the push to reduce carbon emissions was “all I need to know to oppose” the bill. “Simply a useless endeavor to solve an imaginary problem contrived by would-be socialist totalitarians.”

 

Stand Up for these Principles at a Comprehensive Planning Meeting

Stand Up for these Principles at a Comprehensive Planning Meeting

Stand Up for these Principles at a Comprehensive Planning Meeting

MountainTrue is encouraging our members and supporters to take an active role in several comprehensive planning efforts throughout our region — specifically in Henderson County, Buncombe County and Bryson City. These comprehensive plans are an important opportunity for you to have a voice in how our local governments grow and develop to meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population and increased pressures on our built environment.

The comprehensive planning process in Henderson County is already underway. The county’s planning consultant has fielded a community survey to gauge local priorities. If you are a resident of Henderson County, we urge you to check out our guide and complete the survey.

Henderson County has also scheduled a series of public input meetings throughout the county from September through December. For a list of upcoming meeting dates, times and locations, visit this link

Please attend one or more of these public input meetings. All meetings are open to anyone who lives in or does business in Henderson County. For your convenience, here are MountainTrue’s list of planning principles — the issues that all comprehensive plans should address:

Public Participation
Overall, we believe that communities should play a central role in planning for their future growth and development. We advocate for a design process that invites diverse voices, including those that have traditionally been excluded or ignored. The process should be equitable and inclusive of all communities and people regardless of class or clout.

Smart Growth
MountainTrue supports economic vitality and growth in Western North Carolina without compromising our mountain habitat. We champion our cities and small towns, which function as our communities’ economic, cultural, and residential centers. We encourage public and private development in these places where we’ve already made investments in infrastructure. At the same time, we discourage any expansion of infrastructure that induces sprawl into natural areas or the rural landscape. We advocate for a wide variety of housing choices and multiple modes of transportation.

Land Preservation
We support planning for development in a way that protects valued natural resources. We encourage communities to create a local source of dedicated funds to preserve open space and agricultural and forested lands. Planning can identify environmental features like wetlands, agricultural lands, forests and steep slopes and suggest strategies for preserving those resources from destruction or degradation by development.

Public Lands
MountainTrue advocates for the protection of our national and state forests in addition to our national, state, county and city parks and trails. We believe the management of public lands should maintain and restore their ecological integrity and promote recreational opportunities.

Clean Water
We work to preserve and restore waterways as healthy ecosystems as well as recreational and aesthetic resources. MountainTrue supports the development and enforcement of standards and regulations to protect surface and groundwater from pollution, litter, and development.

Clean Energy
MountainTrue supports the development of clean, sustainable, locally-produced energy. We are dedicated to helping communities transition to renewable energy. We work with local community members, policymakers and utilities to bring our region sustainable solutions for our energy demands and to promote energy efficiency.

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

Jackson County Wins the 2021 Bioblitz

After two weeks of hard-nosed competition, Jackson County won the 2021 Bioblitz, beating Watauga and Transylvania Counties. Overall, 46 people contributed 2,947 observations, and 317 people helped with the identification of 1,228 species. While Jackson County had 1,403 observations to Watauga County’s 1,068, the competition for the most species was much tighter – Jackson county prevailed 738 to 681. Transylvania County came in a distant third with 472 observations and 279 species. Check out our blog post to read more about our Bioblitz results and see photos of the winning observations.

Sarah Ogletree Joins MountainTrue as the Director of the Creation Care Alliance

The Creation Care Alliance is pleased to announce that Sarah Ogletree will be our next director. Sarah comes to us from our close partner, NC Interfaith Power and Light, where she has been for the last three years. Her dedication to seeking justice for both people and planet shines through in all aspects of her life, and she has consistently been recognized with awards for her leadership, dedication and excellence. Join us in welcoming Sarah! Read more.

We’re Hiring! MountainTrue Seeks a Great Environmental Communicator

MountainTrue seeks a bright, organized, and outgoing individual with strong communications skills, experience in online advocacy, and development writing. The Communications Associate will report to the Director of Communications and work closely with our Community Engagement Director, program directors and regional directors to (1) promote our programs through member outreach and correspondence, public relations, social media, and marketing; (2) support our advocacy goals through online organizing/advocacy; (3) provide writing and communications support for our fundraising activities. The deadline to apply is Sunday, August 15, 2021. Read more and apply.

August 29: Michael Franti and Spearhead Concert to Cleanup and Protect the French Broad River

MountainTrue, French Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River are proud to present Michael Franti and Spearhead for a benefit concert to support MountainTrue’s work to clean up and protect the French Broad River.

Sunday, August 29, 2021
Doors: 5:00 p.m., Starts: 7:00 p.m.
All Ages are Welcome
Tickets: $35 in advance; $39 general admission

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson says, “Michael Franti is the perfect artist to bring us back down to the banks of the French Broad to celebrate our beautiful river. Come to enjoy a night of inspiring music and support our ongoing work to make our river cleaner and healthier.” Read more and buy tickets.

High Country Regional News

For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties

Sparking a Love for Clean Water and Healthy Ecosystems at High Country Forest Wild

Our Water Quality Administrator, Hannah Woodburn, visited High Country Forest Wild, an outdoor experiential learning school. She gave an instream lesson on aquatic insects and water quality to about 45 students. It was an excellent way to get young minds thinking about freshwater ecosystems and water quality.

MountainTrue Reports Water Quality Violation for Development Along Watauga Lake

While conducting routine sampling of Watauga Lake for our Harmful Algal Bloom Study, we spotted a new development lacking erosion control. We promptly contacted the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, which issued a notice of violation. We hope to see improvements on the construction site and continue monitoring this development to help keep our waterways free of sediment pollution.

Bottomley Farms Clearcut Causes Severe Erosion, Ecosystem Collapse

Our Watauga Riverkeeper teamed up with Southwings to get a bird’s eye view of a massive clear-cut timber operation in Alleghany County being conducted by Bottomley Farms — a Sparta-based agribusiness company. The developers are removing all the trees, shrubs and vegetation, and grubbed it down to hundreds of acres of bare earth. The result has been severe erosion, sediment pollution of area waterways, and a total collapse of the ecosystem in Ramey Creek — once a thriving spawning ground for native brook trout. North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission staff could only save 13 individual trout out of the hundreds previously documented in that stream. Commission staff relocated the survivors to an adjacent watershed. Tragically, a species that thrived in that watershed since the glaciers retreated tens of thousands of years ago was erased by one egregiously bad timber project. Our report resulted in the NC Department of Environmental Quality issuing a notice of violation. We will continue to monitor this project and push for a lasting riparian buffer and a complete restoration of the stream.

Trash Trout Update: There’s Too Much Plastic in Our Waterways

Our Trash Trout on Winklers Creek continues to collect so much litter. We have removed and cataloged thousands of pieces of trash in the few weeks that the trash-collection device has been in place. The majority of the garbage found has been single-use plastics and styrofoam, underscoring the need to address the prevalence of plastics and microplastics in our environment.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Volunteer for Rhythm & Brews! Hear Good Music and Get Cool Stuff!

Join MountainTrue’s Recycling Team on Main St. during the Rhythm & Brews Concert Series in downtown Hendersonville this summer and fall to reduce waste and encourage recycling. Volunteers will be rewarded with an R&B volunteer t-shirt, a voucher for a free beverage, a koozie and a water bottle! Help educate attendees and monitor the waste stations.

Upcoming Concerts:
July 15: Abby Bryant & The Echoes with opener Andrew Thelston Band
August 19: Jamie McLean Band with opener Hustle Souls.
September 16: Mike and the Moonpies with opener Kenny George Band.
October 21: The Broadcast with opener TBD.

2 Shifts: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. & 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 4 per shift, 8 total
To sign up: https://signup.com/go/eRCebTq

Working to be Plastic Free Program Endorsed by Hendersonville City Council

L to R: Beth Stang, chair of Hendersonville’s ESB. Lyndsey Simpson, H’ville City Councilwoman, and Christine Wittmeier, chair of MountainTrue’s Recycling Team, hold a July 1st proclamation endorsing the Working to Be Plastic Free program.

On July 1, Hendersonville City Council approved a proclamation supporting Working to be Plastic Free — a plastic reduction program created by MountainTrue and the Hendersonville Environmental Sustainability Board. Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk signed the pledge and has encouraged staff to reduce the city’s use of plastic.

Many of the local merchants and restaurants participated in a plastics-use survey earlier in the year. Now, we’re encouraging them to sign the pledge and begin working to eliminate single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, and take-out containers. Most of these plastics are not recyclable and end up in landfills or littering our rivers and streams.

MountainTrue is ready to help businesses find sustainable packaging alternatives, and participants will be recognized in press releases, newsletters, social media, and a webpage promoting the program. To get more information and sign the pledge, visit our webpage or contact MountainTrue’s Interim Southern Regional Director, Katie Breckheimer, at srogray@mountaintrue.org.

Congratulations to Our Broad River Race Winners: Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe

Broad River Race winners Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe accept the trophy from David Caldwell, the Broad Riverkeeper.

Our Third Annual Broad River Race was postponed when a thunderstorm moved across the area last Saturday, July 12. A day later, the race flag dropped, and the paddlers sped down the river. Four and a half miles and an hour later, Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe were the first to cross the finish line in a tandem canoe to take home our race trophy, Betsy the Turtle. Annie Keith and her son David Caldwell, our Broad Riverkeeper, were hot on their trail. It was great to see so many people enjoying the cool waters of the Broad River, and we look forward to seeing who wins next year.

App State Eco-Tox Team Collects Fish Tissue Samples From the Broad River

The Appalachian State Eco-toxicology Team returned to the Broad River to collect more water, sediment and fish tissue samples for an ongoing study of the bio-accumulation of heavy metals in fish. The team sampled upstream and downstream of two industrial sites with permits to discharge pollutants into the river. MountainTrue will use the results to determine if we need fish consumption advisories for the affected sections of the waterway. Special thanks to our High Country Water Quality Administrator, Hannah Woodburn, and Appalachian State’s Dr. Shea Tuberty for leading this fantastic project.

ICYMI: Broad River Spring Sweep Collects Over 100 lbs of Litter

We had a small crew for this year’s Annual Broad River Spring Sweep on May 29, but we made a big impact by collecting over 100 lbs of litter (including a football) from the Broad River. It was also inspiring to see so many folks cooling off in the water and enjoying the river at the Greenway canoe access.

Western Regional News

For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA

Crossover Timber Project Update: Your Advocacy Is Making a Difference

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly documents the age of a 200-year-old tree in the Nantahala National Forest.

We asked, and you responded! MountainTrue’s members submitted 334 public comments (36% of which were customized) and 24 letters to the editors of relevant local newspapers during the comment period for the US Forest Service’s Crossover Project. As currently proposed, the project would log more than 300 acres of old-growth forest, rare species habitat, and remote backcountry in the Snowbird Mountains of Nantahala National Forest.

The Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership — a broad coalition of forest users representing recreation, conservation and timber interests of which MountainTrue is a member— has joined the fight and requested that the Forest Service remove these acres from the project. For its part, the Forest Service has indicated a willingness to collaborate with the partnership to develop a better alternative during the Environmental Assessment phase of the project. Thank you for speaking up for our forests!

We’re Hiring a Nonnative Invasive Plant Control Intern

MountainTrue seeks a dedicated individual to fill a part-time, 12-week paid internship for its western region in Fall 2021. The position includes a combination of on-the-ground stewardship of public and conserved lands, volunteer recruitment and coordination, and public outreach. It will require travel to various locations within a 60-mile radius of Murphy (including north Georgia) and substantial work outdoors. The application deadline is August 4, and the start date is August 30. Visit our website to learn more.

Managing Nonnative Invasive Plants Webinar Coming in August

Due to popular demand, MountainTrue Western Region Program Coordinator Tony Ward and Public Lands Director Bob Gale will host a webinar on how to eradicate non-native invasive plants (NNIP) on Tuesday, August 24 at noon. Tony and Bob will discuss the best tools to control common NNIP species and the best seasons for treatment. The webinar will include an in-depth discussion about herbicides, the active ingredients of commonly used products, and how to apply them correctly and with minimal impact on the environment. Register for the free webinar today!

Become A Georgia Green Landscape Steward

The Georgia Green Landscape Stewards certification program provides educational resources that teach landowners about increasing plant and animal biodiversity, conserving soil and water, providing wildlife and pollinator habitat, and improving public and environmental health. Participants can measure their activities with the program’s metric scorecard and earn certification status for their landscape. Along with the satisfaction of contributing to natural resource protection, Georgia Green Landscape certification includes an option for Georgians to purchase an attractive yard sign to designate their property as a sustainably managed landscape.

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

July 18, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Headwaters Fun Float on the First Broad River
Join MountainTrue as we head up to the South Mountains for a fun paddle on the cool shady waters of the First Broad River! Read more.

August 24, 12-1 p.m.: MountainTrue University: Managing Nonnative Invasive Plants
Join us for an educational program about managing common nonnative invasive plants, including techniques for control, best seasons for treatment, and more. Read more.

August 29, 7 p.m.: Michael Franti and Spearhead Concert to Cleanup and Protect the French Broad River
MountainTrue, French Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River are proud to present Michael Franti and Spearhead for a benefit concert to support MountainTrue’s work to clean up and protect the French Broad River. Read more.

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe has truly taken off like no Solarize campaign before it, reaching the final pricing tier – tier 8 – in record time. This means we have made solar energy more affordable for hundreds of residents in Buncombe County!

To extend accessibility further, Solarize Asheville-Buncombe also signed our first three income-based solar grants last week. These grants will cover a large part of the cost of a solar installation for a low-income family in Buncombe County – significantly reducing energy costs for many decades, and providing greater financial security while utility costs fluctuate.

At the same time, the workforce development component of Solarize is moving forward, as Green Opportunities has completed multiple weeks of solar installation training for community members with traditional barriers to employment.

We are so grateful to all of our supporters who have signed up or donated to make Solarize such a success. If you haven’t yet, here are some ways you can participate in the campaign:

  1. You can still sign up! Register for your free home solar evaluation here to see if solar energy will be a good fit for your property.
  2. Help make solar energy attainable for even more families by donating to our Neighbor-To-Neighbor solar crowdfunding campaign. 100% of funds will help more community members in Buncombe County afford solar energy.
  3. Want to learn more about the various ways to finance solar energy? Mark your calendar for Solarize Asheville-Buncombe’s financing workshop on May 26 from 6-7 pm, and register here.

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch  Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

For Immediate Release:

March 25, 2021

Local Solarize Campaign Centers Workforce Development, Affordability

Asheville, N.C. — A coalition of local organizations is launching Solarize Asheville-Buncombe, a community-based group-purchasing solar campaign that makes solar energy and battery storage more affordable to participants. A virtual launch event on Wednesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. will feature Vice-Mayor Sheneika Smith, Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman, and Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Steering Committee members. 

Both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County have adopted a community-wide goal to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2042. The Solarize coalition – consisting of partners such as Green Built Alliance, MountainTrue, Green Opportunities, and Hood Huggers International – will help residents and businesses along that path by reducing barriers and costs to solar energy and lowering the carbon footprint of our community. 

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is open to all property owners in Buncombe County, and follows a campaign model that has been successful in more than 300 other communities in the U.S. Based on a tiered “bulk” purchasing platform, the more local residents and business owners that contract for their solar installations through the campaign, the greater the savings are for all. However, Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is nationally-unique in its focus on equitable workforce development in the green energy industry and affordability initiatives. 

Media are invited to speak with the Solarize Asheville-Buncombe team and Vice-Mayor Sheneika Smith on Monday, April 5 between 3:00-4:30 p.m. outside 21 Mardell Circle in the Burton Street Community in West Asheville.

Workforce Development

The Solarize committee included a goal of fostering local workforce development in the campaign’s contract for interested solar installers. In the process, Solarize-Asheville Buncombe has established a partnership with Green Opportunities (GO), an Asheville-based nonprofit committed to empowering marginalized communities toward sustainable employment. This collaboration aims to create long-lasting pathways to clean energy jobs in Buncombe County.

“GO is honored and excited to be a part of this initiative,” said Ben Williamson, executive director (interim) of Green Opportunities. “Green sector jobs are on the rise, and many positions in this sector are accessible to those with traditional obstacles to employment. We have already begun researching training programs for these jobs and look forward to launching soon. We also know climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color and that increasing access to clean, renewable energy is a step in the right direction in that fight.”

Affordability

Going solar can decrease energy and economic burdens for all participants and, in particular, for low- and moderate-income community members, of which communities of color make up a disproportionate share.  Another priority for the Solarize committee is to create deeper cost reductions for solar energy for low and moderate income community members via fundraising and financing. The campaign is fundraising and securing grant and foundation funding to increase accessibility and affordability of solar, and also utilizing census tract data and the City of Asheville’s energy burden map to prioritize outreach.

Already, more than 70 individuals have signed up for a free solar evaluation at their properties since the campaign began accepting advance registrations. Interested residents and businesses may go to www.solarizeabc.com now to learn more, receive advance information on campaign details, register for the April 7 virtual launch event, and sign up for a free evaluation. Descriptions of tiered pricing and equipment options will be forthcoming as well as details about valuable energy tax credits that can be applied in 2021.

*****

About Solarize Asheville-Buncombe: Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is a campaign forged and supported by a local public-private coalition involving Blue Horizons Project, City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Green Built Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club – WENOCA, Hood Huggers International, Umoja Collective, MountainTrue, Green Opportunities, Asheville Homestay Network and The Collider, and administered by Solar Crowdsource. Solarize Asheville-Buncombe aims to lower the cost of solar energy and battery storage installations through the power of bulk purchasing, reducing contractor acquisition costs, and transferring those savings to the residential and commercial residents.

Contact: Ken Haldin | ken@solarcrowdsource.com | (404) 405-2924 

Sophie Mullinax | sophie@bluehorizonsproject.com | (828) 484-6585

Take Action: Call On the NC Utilities Commission to Approve the Woodfin Solar Landfill Project!

Take Action: Call On the NC Utilities Commission to Approve the Woodfin Solar Landfill Project!

Take Action: Call On the NC Utilities Commission to Approve the Woodfin Solar Landfill Project!

Action Expired

 

A crucial renewable energy project to build a large-scale solar farm on top of a retired landfill in Woodfin is in jeopardy. We need you to call on the Utilities Commission to approve this important clean energy project before the Utilities Commission hearing. (Note: The hearing date has been moved from November 18 to December 3.)

 

Background
Back in 2015, as part of closing its Asheville coal plant, Duke Energy made a commitment to build 15 megawatts of new solar energy in our community. This was an integral part of the overall deal to retire coal and begin transitioning to clean energy. The Utilities Commission supported that commitment and approved Duke’s Western Carolinas Modernization Project. The Woodfin landfill solar farm accounts for one third of Duke Energy’s solar commitment to our region and is the first step in making good on that commitment, but now the project is at risk.

The Public Staff for the NC Utilities Commission are recommending the Commission reject this proposed 5 MW solar installation for being too costly, despite this being the cheapest land available in Western North Carolina for such a project. The public staff have said that solar should be built in the eastern part of the state instead, where larger projects are easier to construct.

North Carolina should support solar energy and the jobs that come with it all over the state – not just in the east. We need all the solar power we can build, and these 15 MW of solar are a needed step to tackle climate change in our region. But if this 5 MW solar project is denied, the other 10 MW of Duke’s commitment are likely to be denied too.

Why We Support This Project

  • To allow Duke to make good on their 2015 commitment to our community – a commitment supported by the Utilities Commission – Duke should be given approval to build the Woodfin landfill solar farm quickly and efficiently.
  • Our region needs new solar energy projects right here in Buncombe County, not just on the other side of the state. This will bring the benefits of new solar energy directly to our community: new solar jobs, reducing local carbon emissions, and making real progress on our county’s goal to reach 100% renewable energy by 2042.
  • Building solar energy on low-value land like this landfill preserves other land for new affordable housing, tree canopy, public spaces, and other highly sought after needs in our region.
  • Due to high land costs and steep terrain in most parts of the region, relocating this 5 MW to a different site would cost far more than installing the system at the relatively flat, more affordable retired landfill site.

Make your public comment below and call on the NC Utilities Commission to make good on Duke Energy’s solar commitment to Western North Carolina. Now is the time to move renewable energy forward in our region. Thank you for your support!