The Town of Boone’s buildings and vehicles will be powered by 100% renewable energy by February, eight years ahead of its 2030 goal.
The Boone Town Council voted during the Jan. 12 town council meeting to allot $60,290 for the municipal operation project. The funding would make Boone the first municipality in North Carolina to achieve 100% renewable energy, according to a Jan. 14 Town of Boone press release.
“Congratulations to the Town of Boone on this outstanding milestone. This is a great example of North Carolinians working toward a clean energy future,” Governor Roy Cooper tweeted, Jan. 20.
BTC achieves its February goal by purchasing solar energy from Blue Ridge Energy and hydroelectric energy from New River Light and Power, according to the release.
According to sustainability and special projects manager, George Santucci, BRE’s solar-generated energy will make up approximately 75% of Boone’s municipal electricity with up to 4,800 megawatt-hours from their new 11 MWh solar array.
Blue Ridge Energy’s new solar array is projected to produce more than 19 million kilowatts of clean energy per year. It is BRE’s largest renewable energy project yet, according to Renee Whitener, BRE’s director of public relations.
“Carbon neutrality isn’t necessarily as beneficial or progressive as advertised… If we actually want to address climate change, we need to be thinking on a national scale,” said Hannah Cullen, App State alumna and ClimACT member.
The Green Power Program, a partnership between the university and NRLP, will provide approximately 1,600 megawatt-hours of hydroelectric power, making up about 25% of Boone’s municipal electric consumption, said Santucci.
“Boone cannot meet its goal of municipal climate neutrality by 2030 and to transition the entire town to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050 without New River Light and Power and Blue Ridge Energy stepping up and sourcing renewable energy for Boone. We are grateful for their successful efforts,” Santucci wrote in a press release, Jan. 14.
In January 2021, the Boone Town Council created a five-step approach to eliminate carbon emissions and for municipal operations to be net neutral by 2030.
In 2019, the Town of Boone established a three-part timeline to increase sustainability. The first, being to reach climate neutrality with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in municipal operations by 2030. The second, to transition municipal operations to 100% clean renewable energy by 2040. The third goal is for all of Boone, including App State, to be using 100% clean renewable energy by 2050.
“Initially, I was excited to hear about the move to carbon neutrality for Boone’s municipal energy consumption,” Cullen said. “I’m grateful that this is a conversation that is being had in our town. It sends the message that renewables are desirable and that public utilities like NRLP are willing to purchase it.”
Purchasing renewable energy from NRLP and Blue Ridge Energy furthers Boone’s process toward its 2030 goal of climate neutrality for municipal operations, Santucci said.
“This means that all the electricity that Boone uses for municipal operation will come from renewable energy sources,” he said. “With this achieved, we’re moving on to electrifying our fleet of vehicles. We also need to work on converting other operations from fossil fuels like building heat systems to achieve the 2030 goal.”
The Green Power Program allows NRLP customers to purchase blocks of hydroelectric power in $5 increments, representing 250 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy per block. The blocks offset the monthly carbon-based electric use from customers, according to the Green Power Program website.
“If our purchasing of renewable energy limits the availability for others to do so, then it isn’t doing much in terms of the climate. And while NRLP offers its Green Power Program to its customers, the cost falls on the consumer—and in a county with a relatively high poverty rate, the program won’t be very enticing,” Cullen said.
The typical residential customer uses 750 KWh for electricity per month. Therefore, customers can offset 100% of their electric usage with renewable energy for $15 extra per month, according to NRLP.
NRLP entered a contract with the 375 MWh Smoky Mountain portfolio to purchase renewable energy. The Smoky Mountain portfolio consists of four hydropower facilities located along the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Santucci said the Town of Boone is essentially paying 2 cents per KWh more for renewable energy than natural gas-generated energy. Santucci also said the price is projected to drop in the future as natural gas prices rise and demand for renewable energy increases.
“Community-owned renewable energy would be a leap in the right direction. It would keep the profits of renewables in our community while still enabling other communities to do the same. There is some real potential and energy here, it would be great to see it taken even further,” Cullen said.