On Jan. 28, the city of Asheville became the first municipality in the state to formally recognize climate change as an emergency. A resolution passed by a 6-0 vote of Asheville City Council — member Sheneika Smith was absent — commits to “an equitable and just citywide mobilization effort to reverse global warming” and sets 2030 as a target date for eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions within city limits.
“The loss of life and damage caused by current global warming demonstrates that the Earth is already too hot for safety,” the document states. “Restoring a safe and stable climate requires an emergency climate mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II.”
Although the resolution allocates no new money toward achieving these goals, it does mandate multiple new city planning initiatives. Council members promise to discuss funding for climate action at their annual retreat on Friday, Feb. 14. An initial public input session will be held in May, all new capital projects must provide a sustainability impact statement starting in July, and a new Climate Justice Plan will be developed by December.
The wording of the resolution had been a point of contention for months between the city and activist groups such as the Sunrise Movement, which had argued that previous proposals lacked adequate accountability and timeline measures. In a Jan. 26 email to Xpress, Sunrise representatives said they felt “pride and hope” regarding the final version.
“This is certainly a time for celebration, after many months of hard work, but the hardest work is yet to come,” Sunrise representatives wrote on Facebook following the vote. “We look forward to next steps and bringing many voices to the table to inform this process, as that’s the only way to ensure an equitable transition.”
Duke switches Arden plant from coal to gas
As of 4 p.m. Jan. 29, Western North Carolina is cooking with gas. According to a press release from Duke Energy, the company has officially shut down its coal-fired power plant in Arden and brought online two new natural-gas-powered units on the same site.
At its full capacity, the new facility will produce 560 megawatts of power, a more than 60% increase from the previous 344 MW coal plant, which became operational in 1964. As Xpress reported in November 2018, Duke officials also project the new units will generate 60% less carbon emissions per megawatt-hour compared to the coal plant.
Alongside its $893 million investment in the gas facility, Duke has allocated $120 million for renewable energy in WNC, which spokesperson Randy Wheeless says will likely be spent within the next five years. Projects include a solar plant of up to 10 MW at the Arden facility, which could be completed by 2023, and a 4 MW solar microgrid in Hot Springs.
The new gas plant is scheduled to operate for roughly 35 years, which would place its retirement in 2055. Asked about Duke’s continued reliance on natural gas in light of a 2018 United Nations report that concluded global carbon emissions must reach net zero by 2050 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, spokesperson Heather Danenhower said the company’s carbon reduction goals were in line with that target.
“As we continue toward 2050, we’ll be advocating for innovation and new technologies. By 2050, that could mean new nuclear technologies, longer-lasting storage or carbon capture for gas plants,” Danenhower added. Some scenarios in the U.N. report, she pointed out, include natural gas as part of a 2050 energy portfolio, “assuming carbon capture and storage, or some new technology, is capturing CO2 emissions from gas.”
2020 solar rebates snapped up in record time
Indicating continued high demand for clean power, the entirety of Duke Energy’s over $11 million residential and commercial solar rebate program for 2020 was claimed within 20 minutes of becoming available on Jan. 2. According to Charlotte-based radio station WFAE, rebate capacity took a couple of weeks to allocate in 2018 but just two days in 2019. The program reimburses homeowners up to $6,000 toward the cost of solar installation.
Wheeless says roughly 1,600 rebates will be awarded this year, with approximately 1,400 customers on the waiting list. The company has also guaranteed rebates for up to 200 customers whose applications were lost due to technical glitches on the morning of the program’s rollout. Those who experienced difficulties submitting their applications are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- By the end of February, Warren Wilson College plans to complete work on re-meandering nearly 11,500 linear feet of the school’s streams. The project, which also includes planting roughly 25,000 trees, aims to reduce sediment load in the Swannanoa River and improve wildlife habitat.
- Gov. Roy Cooper joined Asheville GreenWorks on Jan. 20 for the nonprofit’s MLK Service Day. The governor and nearly 140 other volunteers cleaned up roadsides in Asheville’s East End/Valley Street neighborhood.
- Nica Rabinowitz, a fiber artist formerly based in New York City, relocated her Fiberhouse Collective to Oakley in January. The project promotes ethical and sustainable fashion through public workshops and private classes, with a focus on farm-to-fabric sourcing.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation was named a 2020 Stand Up Partner by Asheville-based marketing firms Darby Communications and Status Forward. Together, the two companies will donate 100 hours of pro bono services to support the BRPF’s Trails & Views Forever Fund.
Save the date
- At 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, the Sierra Club of Western North Carolina will present “Preserving a Picturesque America” at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. Guest speaker Scott Varn will share how modern artists and writers are reinterpreting nature-focused art from the late 1800s.
- The Brew Horizons Beer Fest, a benefit for the Asheville-based Blue Horizons Project community clean energy campaign, returns to Harrah’s Cherokee Center — Asheville on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2-6 p.m. Attendees can enjoy unlimited beverage samples from regional breweries and cideries alongside live music and sustainability education. More information at brewhorizonsbeerfest.com.
- The Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC host the sixth annual Get in Gear Fest at Asheville’s Salvage Station on Saturday, March 21, 12-5 p.m. The free event features outdoor demos, equipment sales, live music and a raffle benefiting The Pisgah Conservancy.