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Local Sustainability Goals in the Asheville Region

Written by: Charlie Chapman

Local governments across North Carolina adopt resolutions committing to measures of sustainability and reducing carbon emissions, but western North Carolina often leads the way. Watch our PBS NC ncIMPACT Town Hall series episode on this topic by clicking the link at the end of the blog.



The Challenge

Local governments across North Carolina adopt resolutions committing to measures of sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. These resolutions are designed to initiate a plan for communities to “develop a vision and implement long-term goals that address challenges” around sustainable practices, most often around the subject of energy use and production. These goals become increasingly important as the changing climate makes traditional energy sources more scarce at the same time energy use is increasing. Communities across North Carolina adopted resolutions, but western North Carolina often  leads the way. In fact, Boone was the first municipality in the nation to commit to using 100% renewable energy by 2050. Organizations across western North Carolina are implementing solutions to reduce their carbon emissions and work towards a cleaner, greener future.

 

The Solution

In 2019, the North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a proposal from Duke Energy to install a microgrid in the Town of Hot Springs in Madison County. This microgrid will provide energy stability to the rural region by serving as a backup power supply for the town. The grid itself consists of a 2-megawatt (AC) solar facility connected to a lithium-based battery storage facility with a 4-megawatt capacity. While the microgrid facility is located in Hot Springs, its benefits can be felt by residents throughout western North Carolina. The additional backup storage allows for overall smoother delivery of electricity, decreased likelihood of blackouts, and increased support during system peaks. In addition to the Madison County microgrid, Duke Energy is planning to build a similar, 9-megawatt lithium-ion battery storage facility in Asheville. This facility will help other systems operate more efficiently and increase reliability for city and county residents. Watch this video discussing the microgrid and why sustainability is needed in the region.

Another aspect of achieving a sustainable environment for the future is improving how houses are constructed and maintained. In western North Carolina, the Green Built Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and supporting the building community in transitioning toward greener methods and materials. The organization administers Green Built Homes, a local green building education and certification program, similar to LEED certification, which recently launched a third version of the process with an added focus on regenerative elements. Protecting existing homes is also an important step in achieving sustainability, particularly for those with less access to emergency funds to cover home repairs. The organization has helped administer Community Development Block Grant funding to weatherize 60 low-income residences.

green built home

Green Built Homes (www.greenbuilt.org)

The Players

Duke Energy has previous experience with microgrids. The energy company currently operates a smaller, 95-kilowatt-hour zinc-air battery with 10-kilowatt solar installation in Haywood County in the Smoky Mountains National Park. It also operates a microgrid research center in Mount Holly, NC. Other energy companies in the region are also experimenting with microgrids to provide electricity stability in rural regions. Tideland Electric Membership Corporation began operating a microgrid on Ocracoke Island in 2017. Similar to the Madison County microgrid, this facility helps provide additional support and stability to the remote island.

Ocracoke Island microgrid

 

Nonprofit organizations are also a key player in helping municipalities meet their sustainability goals, especially in western North Carolina. Bountiful Cities, in Asheville, coordinates a network of 36 community gardens throughout the city. Community gardens help the environment by providing additional greenspace in the city and a habitat for pollinators like honeybees. They also provide residents with a local space to harvest food and teach others how to grow their own food. Another non-profit, Blue Horizons, partners with public and private organizations in the region to increase energy efficiency. The group serves as a coordinating body between the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and Duke Energy and provides resources for energy conservation and implementation of renewable energy.

 

The Promise

The microgrid in Hot Springs is a test run of the technology in North Carolina. The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved this facility as a pilot program. During its operation, Duke Energy will provide the commission with updates to further inform future decision making around other microgrids across the state. More broadly, this facility is part of a $1 billion initiative by Duke Energy to modernize the electric system in western North Carolina. Other projects include a second 15-megawatt solar field with 5-megawatt battery storage and the retirement of an Asheville coal plant to be replaced with a higher capacity, combined-cycle plant. Watch this clip from the town hall event ncIMPACT Initiative hosted on this topic in November 2021.

ncIMPACT PBS NC Local Sustainability Goals Town Hall at UNC Asheville. Pictured L-R: Anita Brown-Graham – Host and ncIMPACT Initiative Director, Professor at UNC School of Government; Julie Mayfield – MountainTrue Co-Director and NC state Senator; Alison Ormsby – UNC Asheville Lecturer in Environmental Studies and Interim Co-Director of Sustainability; Nathan Ramsey – Land of Sky Regional Council Executive Director and Mountain Area Workforce Development Board Director

 

Other organizations in the region are also helping achieve the local sustainability goals. In the area of fuel alternatives for fleet vehicles. Warren Wilson College, began using vehicles that run on propane rather than traditional fuel. This strategy both saves the college money and produces environmental benefits. The institution is a part of the larger Land-of-Sky Regional Council Clean Vehicles Coalition. Hendersonville, another member of the coalition, is using compressed natural gas in fleet vehicles to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions.

 

 The Town Hall

Watch our PBS NC ncIMPACT Town Hall series on this topic and more by clicking this link.

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