The Green Scene

MHO leaves other communities green with envy

Mountain Housing Opportunities Executive Director Scott Dedman
And the winner is … : Mountain Housing Opportunities Executive Director Scott Dedman (center) accepts a check from the Home Depot Foundation. photo by Jonathan Welch

On a recent sunny, blustery afternoon, neighborhood residents, city officials, Mountain Housing Opportunities staffers and a host of others gathered at Prospect Terrace in Asheville to celebrate the community’s moment in the national spotlight. The housing development off Clingman Avenue was honored with an award for excellence from the Home Depot Foundation during the Dec. 12 event. Mountain Housing Opportunities received a $25,000 foundation grant for its energy-efficient, affordable-housing project.

Prospect Terrace was chosen from a pool of 71 applicants, noted Kelly Caffarelli, the foundation’s executive director. “The finalists were reviewed for two days by experts in ‘green’ building and energy efficiency,” she explained. “There were heated discussions. … But this project rose to the top, because it had a little bit of everything.”

“Everything,” in this case, includes rooftop solar panels for heating water, a storm-water-management scheme that uses rain barrels and artificial wetlands, and a guarantee that the average monthly heating-and-cooling costs will be less than $29 per unit. The development is also within walking distance of downtown, reducing residents’ transportation costs and air-quality impacts. Eleven of the 17 cottages and condos were sold to people earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income; condo prices ranged from $95,000 to $150,000.

Vice Mayor Holly Jones warmly congratulated everyone involved. “The West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood Association, Mountain Housing Opportunities and Asheville rolled up their sleeves a decade ago and got to thinking — and to dreaming,” she said, reflecting on the days when the area was an undeveloped gully overgrown with kudzu. “Thanks to this project, we know that transformation is possible,” she declared.

Alphie Rodriguez, who’s lived there for about two years, says she uses the neighborhood footpath to walk to work at the YWCA each day. “I don’t drive very much at all,” she reveals. Her utility bills are low, and the solar panels work well. “I’ve never run out of hot water,” she reports.

From solar rays to radio waves

When Black Mountain police-and-fire personnel radio back and forth to one another, they’re using transmitters perched high atop Allen Mountain. But what happens during a power outage, when a backup source is needed to keep the system running?

The town used to rely on a gasoline-powered generator, but it was difficult to access and could run for only about six hours at a stretch. Recognizing the system’s shortcomings, the Board of Aldermen allocated money in this year’s budget to buy a liquid-propane-powered generator. But this fix still presented the challenge of navigating a fuel truck up the steep terrain. So fire Chief Tim Rayburn began investigating the alternatives — and finally settled on going solar.

Installed on Allen Mountain several weeks ago, the solar panels continuously charge batteries, which power the transmitters if the electricity goes out. “From everything we’ve been able to research, we assume that we could operate for approximately six days on our own batteries,” says Rayburn.

It’s the most practical choice, he says, because there’s no need to buy fuel and almost no maintenance cost. There are no hazardous emissions, either, and the system cost a few hundred dollars less than the propane-powered generator, says Rayburn.

Assistant Town Manager Bo Ferguson says the Board of Aldermen had directed staff to explore opportunities for increasing energy efficiency and developing more environmentally sensitive facilities. “From the board’s point of view, this is a symbolic project” toward that end, says Ferguson.

Also on the horizon for Black Mountain is a biodiesel station that would serve the town’s diesel vehicles — including the fire engines.

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