erika

Sundance’s Green Yogini Reflects on Solar Solutions

This past weekend I was invited to speak about solar at the Yogis Beyond Coal event in downtown Asheville.  As I thought about what I wanted to say, I thought about how important it is to remind ourselves of all that is going right. Dave and I started Sundance Power because, after years of Greenpeace and focusing on the many problems, we wanted to focus on the solutions. We wanted to LIVE the solution. And solar is a solution! Dave and I started Sundance back in 1995 and we’ve been living in a solar home for that long as well. I really love living on solar- it works better than the grid (we never lose power), it feels good and it makes me happy.

So- let’s take a few moments and just enjoy all that is good and joyful. For example- the price of residential PV systems continues to come down. Right now, solar is costing in the neighborhood of $3.50 per watt and it is predicted that soon, about 2018 – even if coal were free to burn, power stations won’t be able to compete with solar. (say what? – yea- check it here: solar win.) With solar there is no mining, no burning, no coal ash ponds, no toxic burden, no compromise- solar makes use of the sun, which is shining and sending us energy, whether we use it or not.

Yogis beyond Coal is about shutting down the coal fired power plants- as you must know by now, coal fired power plants represent the biggest contribution to global warming, not to mention all of the local health hazards posed for the neighbors of coal fired plants. The thing is – we no longer need to be held hostage by the utilities. It has never been easier to go solar and NC is one of the best places in the United States to go solar! NC is actually #2 in the nation for installed PV in 2013 (woo hoo) AND- more people are now employed in the solar industry than in the mining industry AND Germany produced a record 50% of its electricity needs through solar in the first part of June- a huge milestone on the march to renewable energy!

 The reality is that each solar system installed is a victory. Each system is a step towards the world we want to live in. Through the Solarize Asheville program, Sundance has been able to install 50 new solar systems in the area- these systems will displace 226,000 lbs of coal, each year. These systems will also result in 210 metric tons of carbon dioxide NOT going into the atmosphere.

And- here is more about the Yogis Beyond Coal gathering this past weekend. In addition to learning how to defeat Coal and move forward with renewables, YBC also raised $270 for Homeward Bound- our featured community connection this month. There is a whole lot of good going on right now – and you can be a part of it! Truly, there has never been a better time to go solar- give us a call :)   – Sierra Hollister

erika

The Green Building Boom in WNC

A recent article entitled “Green building booms in Asheville” caught my attention, and I thought I’d share some of the encouraging trends that we are seeing in green building in this region, in place of focusing on a single home this month.  According to Dale Neal, with the Asheville Citizen Times, “Green building accounts for about half of the new home construction underway inside the city limits — 25 certified green homes out of 59 new single family projects. West Asheville is even hotter for green building — eight of the last 13 home projects that sold and closed in the past six months were certified green.”  This is certainly noteworthy! (Green homes are certified in North Carolina through the WNC Green Building Council’s NC Green Built Program.)

“A focus on green building has given an edge to builders and real estate professionals as consumers started looking at smaller, quality-built homes that will save them money on power bills,” it states in the article. Jody Guokas of JAG & Associates Construction, a pioneering Green Builder on the Asheville front, affirmed the pick-up in his business, saying he’s got fourteen projects in progress, a doubling since last Spring.  For Jody, being a leader in green building means staying on the cutting edge. “The baseline is moving in the direction of efficiency and is getting better and better. It makes jobs interesting, and challenging,” he said.  Jody was one of the first builders in the region to incorporate solar hot water in his homes as a standard over five years ago, and with the Davenport Park project, pictured above, has helped solar become more mainstream. This West Asheville green-infill neighborhood (featured back in our April 2009 Newsletter ) was completed last summer with fifteen homes. Five of the homes now sport solar electric systems, as the homeowners choose add pv.

When JAG’s customers choose to include solar, Jody has them pursue this directly, so that the tax incentives can be claimed by the homeowner.  Jarvis Hudson, who is building with JAG in Woodfin, is excited to be finally building a green home. Because it will be so efficient, he is able to include a solar electric, an opportunity he has been waiting a while.

While WNC has emerged as a hub of green building in the region, the trend is national, as “More Builders Going Green” confirms. According to that article, a variety of factors are aiding the move to green; builders and developers said that the three most important factors in their adoption of green building strategies were increasing energy costs, changes in codes and regulations, and wider availability and lower prices for green building products.

According to survey results, they report that the percentage of builders who said that less than 16% of their projects were green shrank from 63% in 2011 to 38% in the most recent study. That number is expected to fall to 16% by 2018.”These findings demonstrate that among home builders, and increasingly among single-family remodelers, green is becoming the standard way to build,” the report said. “This wider adoption of green may help push the single-family home market to become even greener in the future, with homes increasingly needing to be green to be competitive.”

As far as renewables go, the report  indicates that the number of builders incorporating clean energy systems into their projects also is growing steadily. In 2013, 8% of builders surveyed said they included renewables on all of the projects, which was expected to grow to 20% by 2016. The proportion of builders offering renewables as an option was 34% in 2013 but expected to increase to 40% by 2016.

The article did reference that one limitation on green features is that they haven’t always been recognized real estate appraisers in the past. However, this is changing rapidly, and the Appraisal Institute just published   “Residential Green Valuation Tools,” providing a comprehensive overview of the valuation of high-performance homes. Specifically for valuing solar energy systems, a PV Valuation Tool, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, determines the value of a new or existing photovoltaic (PV) system installed on residential and commercial properties. This is a significant step in ensuring that a solar investment is a solid one, with a quantifiable value-add realized immediately.

These are promising figures for moving our buildings towards increased efficiency, and healthier and more sustainable systems. It’s exciting to be in a community that has been leading the way.

erika

Net- Metering and Solar in NC

Here in North Carolina, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) requires the state’s two investor-owned utilities—Duke Energy and Dominion North Carolina Power—to make net metering available to customers that own and operate systems that generate electricity using solar, wind, hydro, ocean, or biomass systems. There are actually more options for entering net metering arrangements based on power generation, and you can check them out here:dsire usa.  It has been the standard that customers may net meter under any available rate schedule, however, customers that choose to take service under any tariff other than a time-of-use (TOU) demand tariff must surrender to the utility all renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the customer’s generation- with no compensation for the customer.

 For the sake of ease, from here on out- we will simply address net metering as an arrangement between utilities and solar power producers (see many options beyond solar at above link). Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. It is ultimately a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on their rooftop- it may generate more electricity than the home uses during the daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use. On average, only 20-40% of a solar energy system’s output ever goes into the grid.

 Net metering allows utility customers to generate their own electricity cleanly and efficiently. As well, net metering provides substantial statewide economic benefits in terms of jobs, income and investment. Net metering increases demand for solar energy systems- which in turn create jobs for the installers, electricians and manufactures who work in the solar supply chain. Currently, the solar industry employs nearly 143,000 American workers in large part due to strong state net metering policies which have allowed the solar industry to thrive. As well, in a world that is increasingly faced with cheap, dirty power- supporting any and all renewable energy efforts make sense.

 It all sounds pretty great- right? The challenge comes as some utilities perceive net metering policies as lost revenue opportunities. The reality is that net metering policies create a smoother demand curve for electricity and allow utilities to better manage their peak electricity loads. By encouraging generation near the point of consumption, net metering also reduces the strain on distribution systems and prevents losses in long-distance electricity transmission and distribution.

 Earlier this year, Duke’s North Carolina President, Paul Newton, made remarks to a legislative committee about reviewing and changing the net metering rules. While Duke Energy and other utilities have yet to file proposed changes to net-metering at the North Carolina Utilities Commission, North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association’s (NCSEA) motion to address the market disruption caused by Duke’s statements earlier this year is still pending before the Utilities Commission. NCSEA asked current net-metering customers to file statements at the NC Utilities Commission to preserve the current rules. Other organizations have also asked the public to file statements in support of the current rules for net-metering. For more information on the landscape of net metering and renewable energy issues, visit the NCSEA at http://energync.org/

 Action You Can Take

 North Carolina is currently a national leader in the production of solar energy, boasting more than 2,400 solar energy jobs. As more people choose to use self-generated rooftop solar, the lower the amount of power we collectively purchase from the utilities, and the fewer the new, costly power plants the utilities would need to build.

 As of March 17, 2014, over 150 statements were filed at the NC Utilities Commission opposing changes to net metering. If you are a solar adopter, a net-metering customer, or have a job in the solar industry and want to preserve the option to self-generate, then write an email to the “Chief Clerk of the Commission” subject line “Docket E-100, Sub 83:Net Metering” to stake your position in the discussion.

Let them know that you DO NOT support changes to net metering.  Please send these emails to statements@ncuc.net. Thank you for taking action on this important issue.

erika

Years of Living Dangerously- WNC Connection

Recently, a number of us Sundancers attended the “Green Carpet” premiere of Years of Living Dangerously that was hosted by the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign and held at the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville.

Yes, we had a lot of fun. But more importantly- I think that this new documentary series on the impacts of climate disruption by Showtime is going to really help shift perception. The series is all about exploring  the human impact of climate change. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the upheaval caused by drought in the Middle East,Years of Living Dangerously is combining the storytelling styles of top Hollywood movie makers with the reporting expertise of respected journalists.

The Sunday night premiere shared a trailer with our local hero, Anna Jane Joyner, of Western North Carolina Alliance as well as full episode called “The Crossroads of Climate and Faith”. This episode was narrated and reported by Don Cheadle. He traveled to Texas to try and understand the long term effects of drought and as well, to see if there was a connection to climate change. Along his travels, he met and interviewed an Evangelical climate scientist (who was awesome). Part of the episode was about how this climate scientist reconciles her faith and science and how she speaks about climate change with people of faith. I found this episode fascinating, refreshing and very well- done.

Truthout carried a recent article about the new series, authored by Denise Robbins, that points out that “even as top reports are showing that the issue [of climate change] is becoming a dire threat that calls for immediate action, a Pew Research poll indicates that Americans continue to rank addressing climate change as a low priority. Social science research indicates that how people rank the importance of various issues is a direct result of media coverage of the issue.” Airing a documentary, weekly, on climate change, made with some of the top talent in the country can only be a step forward for us all.

You can learn more about Years of Living Dangerously as well as view some of the episodes and trailers here: http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/

If you don’t have access to a screen or showtime, Asheville Beyond Coal is hosting a viewing party at 7pm on May 8th at the New Mountain Music Park at 38 N. French Broad Street. You can email Anna Jane Joyner atannajane@wnca.org for specifics.

Check it out and then get others to watch as well. This could be the start of a national dialogue that has been sorely absent-  and not a moment too soon.

erika

Solarize Asheville Closes with a Strong Finish

Friday, February 28th, the deadline for contract signing for the pilot Solarize Asheville program, was a big day for our team. Six months after this community campaign was announced to the public and the first Solar 101 info session was held, the final numbers were in: Fifty Asheville homeowners signed on to have a solar electric system installed at their homes. From young families with children to retirees, the group is diverse, but all were excited to be embracing clean energy through this initiative.

The average system size was 4.2 kW, with systems ranging in size from 2.0 kW to 8.7 kW. The collective impact of these fifty systems, which total 236.257 kilowatts DC, is that 225,936 pounds of coal will be displaced by clean solar energy each year, offsetting 210 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. This is the equivalent amount of Carbon sequestered by 5,394 tree seedlings grown for 10 years!

(These estimates were calculated using PV Watts, a Performance Calculator for Grid-Connected PV Systems, and the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.)

Congratulations to everyone who Solarized! Indeed, every system that is installed is part of the solution! And for those who weren’t able to participate in the pilot program, be assured that we will continue to offer the best value, and the best service, to you. Just give us a call!

erika

When Solar spills its just called a nice day

Is it just me? Or, does there seem to be an unprecedented number of energy related spills going on right now?

In November, in rural Alabama, a train derailed and exploded, releasing 2.7 million gallons of crude oil. In January, a massive chemical spill (a toxic chemical used to clean coal) into the Elk River in West Virginia has left residents still unable to use their water. February has seen spills left and right: a coal slurry spill on the Kanawha River in WV- basically the same area that is still suffering from the earlier chemical spill; a massive release of coal ash into the Dan River in Virginia; another train derailing up in Minnesota that has 12,000 gallons of spilled crude oil; a train derailed and spilling Canadian crude oil in Pennsylvania and just this week- so close to home- 5,000 gallons of fuel oil were spilled in Hominy Creek and have since made it into the French Broad River.

What is going on? At what point do we stop the madness? When we no longer have clean water to drink- it’s game over. Between the spills, the accidents, the fracking, the coal ash, the heavy metals- things are looking ominous.

What happens when solar spills? Oh- right, it’s called a nice day.

There are a number of ways in which we really need to step up and take action. First- we need to pay attention and hold the corporations behind these spills accountable. Next, we need to let our elected officials know that we are paying attention and we demand accountability. And- we need to take steps to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels- through efficiency, reducing our carbon footprint and making the switch to clean, sustainable and renewable solar, wind and water power.

Some ways we can begin to address the spills include the following:

*Greenpeace has a petition, started by campaigner Ben Kroetz, to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, which says: I am writing to demand that Duke Energy clean up the coal ash in the Dan River and prevent future disasters from occurring at its other unlined coal ash dumps. This toxic waste must be removed and stored in dry, lined landfills to protect the safety of our drinking water, rivers, and lakes. You can sign this petition here: Sign Ben’s petition

*To support the citizens of WV there are a number of groups on the ground working on the spill issues. Check out West Virginia Citizen Action Group at http://www.wvcag.org/action_alerts/ as well as Climate Ground Zero at http://climategroundzero.net/. There are also numerous campaigns at Earth Justice http://earthjustice.org/action that address all of these issues.

*2013 was the worst year yet for rail car spills – this one is harder to address as effective work is almost always needed state by state. However- one big step with far reaching consequences is to take action against the Keystone XL pipeline. You can find more information on this in our “Take Action” section. Don’t postpone this action as the deadline for comments is March 7th. Fast approaching.

(photo credit to AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

erika

Accessing The Sun

The Solarize Asheville campaign, as you’ve likely heard, received tremendous response, with well over 360 homeowners enrolling to see if this could be their opportunity to go solar. As we’ve been working with these solar enthusiasts, the big question I’ve been asked is “how many will end up going solar?”  Given that the program offers solid components, quality system design and exceptional service (if I may say so myself!) at a reduced cost, one would expect a high percentage of enrollees to move forward with an installation. It is difficult to determine at this point in time, but I’m being conservatively realistic, with projections of 30- 40%; 50 % would be incredible! So, what might keep folks that are eager to bring solar energy systems to their homes from Solarizing?

Limited access to the Sun itself has been one common barrier that our consultants are seeing, which was expected, considering that many of these homes are in shaded neighborhoods.  Some homeowners have been willing to engage an arborist for tree trimming, or even removal in some cases.  But when the shade comes from a neighbor’s tree, and is significantly impacting the insolation on one’s site, that could be a damper on a solar dream.

While shading or other physical barriers may be inflexible, the other limitations to solar access that can arise take form as restrictions imposed on the homeowner by outside parties.  Fortunately, these limitations are not as rigid as some perceive, and have been changing as solar is becoming mainstream and more widely adopted. Fortunately, we don’t hear people say things like “my HOA won’t allow solar” as much as we did five years ago.

What we are seeing with Solarize Asheville, however, is that several of the more active neighborhoods, such as Montford, are registered as Local and National Historic Districts, where keeping the homes in historic character is important. Recognizing that this can be sensitive territory, the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, through which Solarize has been templated, has prepared a series of briefing papers designed to help planners and public officials understand some key issues in planning for solar energy use. In one, entitled “Balancing Solar Energy Use with Potential Competing Interests” it is acknowledged that historic preservation and solar power generation are often both part of a community’s plan to become more sustainable. However, while solar is part of an energy solution for the future, historic preservation is the key to protecting the community’s past. Tension has developed between these two interests as communities struggle with how to both preserve their past and ensure a sustainable future.

While the above paints a possible scenario of struggle, we have seen that the Historic Resources Commission here in Asheville has been pro-solar. In examining Montford’s Historic District Guidelines, the verbage addressing solar  is positive:

 As alternative energy producing technology continues to improve and become more available and affordable, homeowners may be interested in retrofitting their historic homes with these new devices. In the spirit of sustainability and conservation of energy and the environment, the Historic Resources Commission welcomes the introduction of renewable energy systems while preserving the architectural integrity of the district. It is strongly recommended that solar collectors be sited, oriented, and installed by a licensed solar installer to prevent any damage to the structure.

However, it does continue to lay out specific guidelines, some of which may be directly limiting:

1. Solar energy collectors shall be located as inconspicuously as possible while still allowing for reasonable use. Every effort should be made to limit impact to historic character defining features.

2. Installation of solar devices on roof surfaces facing the primary public right-of-way shall be considered only when no other option is possible and there is no detrimental impact to the integrity of the historic structure and neighborhood. All work must be easily reversible.

3. Solar energy collectors shall not be located in the front yard.

4. Every effort shall be made to screen solar energy collectors from the public view, provided this restriction does not have the effect of preventing the reasonable use of a solar-energy collector

5. Solar collectors must be mounted as flush as possible with the roof and not extend beyond any roof ridge.

6. Trees or existing historic structures should not be removed to provide adequate solar exposure but should be taken into account when siting collector location and orientation to allow for reasonable efficiency.

The above is an attempt to clarify the circumstances in which a solar installation may not be appropriate in a historic neighborhood, and variations of restrictions can be found in HOA covenants all over, for various reasons. However, recognizing that statewide guidelines could help ensure that solar access wasn’t unduly restricted, NC adopted Senate Bill 670 in 2007, known as the NC Solar Access Law:

AN ACT TO PROVIDE THAT CITY ORDINANCES, COUNTY ORDINANCES, AND DEED RESTRICTIONS, COVENANTS, AND OTHER SIMILAR AGREEMENTS CANNOT PROHIBIT OR HAVE THE EFFECT OF PROHIBITING THE INSTALLATION OF SOLAR COLLECTORS NOT FACING PUBLIC ACCESS OR COMMON AREAS ON DETACHED SINGLE-FAMILY RESIDENCES.

Interestingly enough, this bill was initiated by a Montford homeowner, Nathan Boniske, a long time solar enthusiast. After learning of a similar bill being adopted in California, he spoke with Representative Susan C. Fisher who introduced it to legislature and saw it into law.  Mr. Boniske is enrolled in Solarize Ashevlle and is in the process of evaluating his site for solar. He does not anticipate that he’ll have problems getting it approved as it will likely be sited in his back yard.

So, the question of when solar can be denied, and by whom, may be narrower than many think, and there is always room for interpretation. We appreciate that there are circumstances in which a solar installation may not be appropriate, or feasible, and that is unfortunate, but we expect that this will be the exception, rather than the norm. So, what is your bet? We’ll have to wait until the contract signing deadline of February 28 closes to know for sure. Hopefully it will be on the high side… this is Asheville!

erika

Solarize Asheville Update!

Friday, October 11th was the deadline to enroll in Solarize Asheville, and when we came in on the following Monday morning we were eager to see what the final count was. Wish we would have held a company-wide guessing contest, but we didn’t. However, I’ll venture that not many of us would have guessed a whopping 367!
Yes, Solarize Asheville has been received with much enthusiasm, but that shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise. This is a great community, we know that, and the program offers an incredible opportunity for homeowners to go solar with its community pricing, streamlined process, and vetted installers (us!)
As you might imagine, this response has kept us busy, and our Customer Service (Extraordinaire, I might ad) person, Sera Turner, has been working hard to respond to everyone in a timely manner. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to serve your interests. There are still many that we are working to connect with, and site visits are currently being scheduled into November, and are expected to go well into December.  As of this time, 11 Solarize projects have been contracted, putting us into the Tier 2 pricing, and we anticipate reaching Tier 5 (the largest group purchasing discount available) by the end of the program.
As to “what’s next?” beyond this pilot program, we’ll be meeting with Katie Bray, Solarize Program Director, later this week to discuss that. There will be a community Solarize celebration to be sure, and we’ll announce details as they are confirmed. Meanwhile, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to call. Keep on the Solarize side Asheville!
erika

Solarize Asheville- preyed upon by Baker Renewables.

Below is a press release from the Solarize  Asheville folks at BRSI.  How very unfortunate that the folks at Baker Renewables have chosen to be so obviously predatory on the Solarize campaign.

__________________________________________________________________________

CONTACT:

Katie Bray, 651-245-3100

Program Director, Solarize Asheville

Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute

kbray@blueridgesustainability.com

Solarize Asheville’s website: www.solarizeasheville.org

 

Dear neighbors,

It has come to our attention that a company out of Raleigh called Baker Renewables has put up a website using the name “Solarize-NC.” They have canvassed at least one of the Solarize Asheville pilot neighborhoods with flyers soliciting business through a tiered pricing structure which closely resembles ours and this may be confusing to neighbors.  Their for-profit venture is not associated with our local non-profit project.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Baker Renewables is not associated with the non-profit Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute’s project, Solarize Asheville. While they did submit a proposal to the Solarize Asheville team during our competitive bidding process, they were not chosen as our contractor.

Please alert all your neighborhood contacts, newsgroups, Facebook friends, etc., that Solarize Asheville is the only authentic, local, non-profit solar cooperative project endorsed by the City of Asheville and the Department of Energy.  Our contractor is Sundance Power Systems, a local company with a sterling reputation and unsurpassed level of ethics.

Sincerely,

 

Katie Bray

Kevin

Solar Energy Projects Continue to Make an Impact in North Carolina

Recent construction has begun on a 5-megawatt solar power project in Beaufort County, North Carolina. The 27,450-panel photovoltaic project will allegedly be able to provide electricity and energy for almost one thousand homes in the region. “The Washington White Post II Solar Power Project brings together the same top-tier team that worked on the original solar facility,” said Duke Energy Renewables President Greg Wolf. “We appreciate working with a community committed to bringing economic development and renewable, emissions-free energy to eastern North Carolina.”

More and more businesses and homeowners are starting to realize the benefits they receive from solar energy in the state of North Carolina. With mostly sunny weather year-round and a growing population, there is a strong desire for this green technology. At Sundance Power, we have installed some fantastic projects as well, including the installation of solar panels at Appalachian State University, AIR Green restaurants, Deltec Homes, All-States Medical and countless others. The country is poised to embrace the benefits of clean technology on a much wider scale, and solar energy is on the front lines.

If you own a business or your own home, and would like to rely less on fossil fuels and the high rates of electric companies, consider investing in solar power in North Carolina. Depending on your energy objectives, Sundance can provide a solar electric system that connects to your electric utility (‘grid-tied’) to reduce or offset your energy bills, or we can provide a system that offers you complete independence from your utility (‘off-grid’). Either way, feel free to contact us at (828)645-2080 for an estimate!