Energy Independence Initiative moves forward

Legislation approved by the North Carolina General Assembly last year lays out several ways local governments can promote energy efficiency, including bonds that property owners would pay off through a special tax assessment.

In Asheville, the public push began April 19, when about 100 members of the public and elected officials from both the city and Buncombe County (which is considering a similar program) turned out for a town-hall meeting at the city's Public Works Building to review the options and possible advantages.

Vice Mayor Brownie Newman is leading the charge. "Asheville's a city that's very supportive of these type of environmental initiatives," he notes. "There's a lot of potential here to build these energy-efficiency improvements and a lot of interest. This provides an excellent tool to do that." Newman's company, FLS Energy, designs and installs photovoltaic and solar hot-water systems.

City Council is slated to discuss a pilot program at its May 25 meeting. Although details are still being worked out, Newman says a combination of loans and stimulus money will likely provide about $1 million — enough to upgrade 70 to 100 homes. The first phase of the program will focus on homeowners, though Newman doesn't rule out opening the program to businesses in the future.

"This pays for itself," he explains: Through the tax assessment, participants will pay back the city, with interest, over the course of several years.

"This has the potential to vastly improve the availability of energy-efficiency improvements at the community level and move us toward a clean-energy economy," says Newman.

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