A Smarter Energy Future: Energy Innovation Task Force

In the Asheville area, burning coal is the largest single source of carbon emissions, releasing the equivalent of 500,000 cars annually. Daily, we are breathing that dirty air and contributing to climate change. The shift to more sustainable energy sources in order for us to live in a healthier environment is a priority in our mountains.

Leaders in our local government, business and nonprofit community are banding together to provide local opportunities that carry global impacts by forming the Energy Innovation Task Force. The Task Force works to curb our demand for fossil fuels and offer clean energy programs and incentives.

This partnership is inspired by concerned community members including the City of Asheville, the Asheville Beyond Coal initiative and Duke Energy’s Western Carolinas Modernization Plan. Asheville Beyond Coal campaign was a key player in successfully advocating Duke to close its Lake Julian coal plant. In 2015, Duke announced in its modernization plan that it will replace the coal plant with two new 270-MW natural gas units and a potential 190-MW third “Peaker” unit to be built in the early 2020s. The “Peaker” plant is slated for use during periods of high demand.

Natural gas is a far cry from clean, renewable energy and hopes are high that the Task Force can delay or avoid the construction of the third “Peaker” unit. Duke’s Moderation Plan includes the formation of the Task Force for this exact purpose. Avoiding or delaying the need for the third unit is a primary goal in an effort to transition Western North Carolina to a cleaner, affordable and smarter energy future.

The Task Force includes Sierra Club, Duke Energy, City of Asheville, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Green Opportunities, Mission Hospital, Biltmore Farms, New Belgium, Buncombe County Tourism Development Association, UNC Asheville, Self-Help Credit Union, Asheville Chamber, Sustainable Advisory Committee on Energy and Environment, Sundance Power and WNC Green Building Council.

The Green Building Council is thrilled to be part of the solution. With 15 years of experience executing programs like Green Built NC, LEED for Homes, Green Gauge and Appalachian Offsets, our nonprofit is making significant strides in creating a greener, healthier community.

The Green Building Council’s program’s lower energy use in new and existing homes and bridge the gap between utility programs and what the City offers. WNCGBC Executive Director Sam Ruark-Eastes chairs the Programs Committee, helping to see innovative and accessible energy efficiency programs come to fruition.

The task force anticipates developing a two-year work plan by the end of 2016 to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy and inform and engage the public. The plan will leverage utility expertise, programs and investments, city and county resources, actions by Task Force members and the community.

Our region’s natural beauty, clean air and fresh water are why we call this place home and why so many people visit. Protecting our lands, waters and air is not only an environmental issue but also an economic one.

Help our neighbors understand the role they play, from purchasing foods and products made thousands of miles away to driving gas guzzling vehicles to using inefficient incandescent lightbulbs in homes and businesses. This collaborative partnership is an opportunity to launch clean-energy projects and programs, and to educate our community members on the impact of their actions and how they can make a difference.

Make your voice heard. Visit www.ashevillenc.gov/departments/c ommunityrelations/energyinnovationtaskforce.aspx, for more information on meeting dates and locations.

Katie Onheiber is the Communications and Marketing Manager at Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (www.carolinamountain.org). She is the former Education, Events and Membership Coordinator for WNCGBC. She has a background in events management, fundraising and marketing.

You can also view this article as it was originally published on pages 40-41 of the 2016-2017 edition of the directory or as a pdf.