Appalachian Voices advocates for energy efficiency

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The Appalachian Online

Chamian Cruz

Appalachian Voices, a non-profit organization committed to protecting the southern Appalachian region’s environment, has taken the community’s energy efficiency issue into their own hands by providing the High Country Energy Makeover Contest.

The contest is aimed to create awareness on the need for energy efficiency and to provide three customers of Blue Ridge Electric Corporation with energy efficiency makeovers to improve their commodity, reduce energy bills, improve the value of their homes, reduce the community’s impact on the environment and improve the local economic status.

“It really came apparent to us when we dove into this community-based outreach that there really is a high need for an energy efficiency program,” said Eliza Laubach, AmeriCorps education outreach associate at Appalachian Voices.

The contest received more than 50 applications from BRE customers, Laubach said. The contest was financed from donations and sponsors and local contractors provided their service to start fixing the homes of the winners.

To participate in the contest, people had to fill out an application and send in photos of their home, copies of their monthly electricity and, if applicable, gas bills for the last 12 months. Winners were chosen based on need.

Appalachian Voices gave a grand total of $4,850 for the contest – one grand prizewinner was awarded $3,350 and two runner-up winners were awarded $800 for home energy efficiency improvements, according to a press release from Appalachian Voices.

“The reason why we had to narrow it down to three people is because we wanted to make a big impact, and in order to make a big impact, it costs money,” Laubach said. “Our campaign is all about creating financial means for people to upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient.”

BRE, New River Light and Power and Mountain Electric serve residents of the High Country, but none of theses companies offer their members comprehensive financial support for home efficiency improvements, according to www.appvoices.org.

Appalachian Voices concentrated on BRE customers specifically, because they are one of the largest electric cooperatives in the area, serving approximately 73,700 people in counties such as Watauga, Ashe, Caldwell, Alleghany and others, according to www.blueridgeemc.com

Appalachian Voices said some BRE members come from low-income households with high-energy bills due to the energy that is wasted every day from their homes, because they serve an area with an average poverty rate of 23 percent.

To improve the situation further, Appalachian Voices is asking BRE to offer on-bill financing, a loan program for residential electricity customers that can be received from their electric utility to pay for comprehensive energy efficient improvements and upgrades, which is then repaid over time through their monthly electric bill.

“On-bill financing would allow people that don’t otherwise have the extra income to make these energy efficiency upgrades for their home, because they are really expensive to labor and [pay for] the material,” Laubach said.

Due to the low-income or unemployment of many residents in Watauga County, residents lack funds to improve their homes.

“Most homes around here don’t have sufficient insulation [and] they have a lot of air leaks, so the people are paying their utilities for energy that they don’t get to see the benefit from,” Laubach said.

In 2013, an estimated value of $80 billion was wasted due to not implementing the best available technologies and solutions in network-enabled devices, such as set-up boxes, modems, printers and game consoles, according to the International Energy Agency.

Laubach also encourages people in the community to sign the petition for BRE to offer an energy efficiency program and to get involved in March by canvassing from door-to-door to educate homeowners about energy efficiency. The petition can be found at www.appvoices.org/eepetition.

“Here at Appalachian Voices, we are very thankful to our sponsors who helped make this contest possible,” Laubach said. “We hope [BRE] will see through this contest the great need that there is for energy efficiency programs in the High Country and will offer on-bill finance in the near future.”

Story: Chamian Cruz, Intern News Reporter