Green in brief: Green Built Alliance launches new certifications, Duke reaches coal ash agreement

Platinum Net Zero Energy home
ZERO HERO: This home, built by Familia Enterprises, received a Platinum Net Zero Energy certification through Green Built Homes. Its design features native and edible landscaping, a location in a walkable neighborhood and a variety of green finishes. Photo by Familia Enterprises, courtesy of Green Built Alliance

Green Built Alliance launches new certifications

Homebuilders seeking a stamp of approval from Green Built Alliance will have to step up their game in 2021. At the start of the year, the Asheville-based nonprofit released updated guidelines for its Green Built Homes program, which certifies new construction as environmentally friendly.

“Many items that are now standard construction practices have been removed from our checklist, while we have added opportunities to gain points for new technologies,” explained Maggie Leslie, the nonprofit’s program director, in a blog post describing the changes. Additions include more stringent efficiency requirements for lighting, more credit for using nontoxic building materials and greater emphasis on design strategies to connect humans with nature.

Two new add-on certifications are also available for builders who want to go beyond the basics: Net Zero Water Ready Certification and Regenerative Certification. And builders themselves can participate in a Regenerative Professional Accreditation program to certify their continuing education in green building practices.

“Many local builders and architects are ready for the challenge, inspiration and recognition of an advanced, regenerative home certification and professional accreditation,” said Leslie. “We hope that this will educate and inspire builders of all levels with new ideas.”

Duke reaches agreement on coal ash cleanup costs

Although customers of Duke Energy will still be responsible for nearly $3 billion in cleanup costs for the company’s coal ash through 2030, that burden has been reduced by about $1.1 billion due to a Jan. 25 settlement involving the utility, the Sierra Club and North Carolina state officials. In a statement celebrating the move, Duke said the decision “resolves the last remaining major issues on coal ash management in North Carolina.”

However, the settlement does not address roughly $5.5 billion in additional cleanup costs the utility expects to incur through 2037. As reported by NC Health News, state Attorney General Josh Stein said ratepayers’ share of those costs has yet to be determined.

“This settlement is a testament to the power of the grassroots activists and their legal allies, who spoke at public meetings and fought for years to force Duke to take responsibility for its coal ash cleanup,” wrote the Sierra Club in a Jan. 28 statement. “While we’re glad to see Duke take steps toward cleaning up the mess and pollution left by its dirty, dangerous coal plants, we know that so long as it continues to burn coal, North Carolina communities are still breathing in particulate matter and drinking in the toxic chemicals coal plants leave behind.”

Approximately 1.1 million cubic yards of coal ash and other wastes are slated for disposal in a landfill at Duke’s Arden power plant, which switched fuels from coal to natural gas in January 2020. That site is expected to reach its capacity in 2024.

OGS Spring Conference moves online March 13-21

For the first time in 28 years, the Organic Growers School Spring Conference won’t be rooted on the ground. The annual event, a tradition for many Western North Carolina gardeners and sustainable lifestyle advocates, will instead return in an all-virtual format from Saturday, March 13, through Sunday, March 21.

“The virtual platform will allow us to reach a broader audience than ever, and we’re excited to showcase our event as an affordable, accessible option for practical education for growers around the nation,” said Sera Deva, the nonprofit’s director of programs and systems design, in a press release announcing the move. “We love when our passion, knowledge, inspiration and sharing can come together in one place.”

The new conference format will combine live keynote addresses from speakers Samantha Foxx, Eric Holt-Giménez and K. Rashid Nuri with prerecorded workshops in 11 themed tracks, including Cherokee food, mushrooms and permaculture. A virtual exhibit hall will also feature live demos, promotions and Q&A sessions from vendors of organic products and services. More information and registration available at

Save the date

  • The N.C. Arboretum is encouraging local participation in the global Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday-Monday, Feb. 12-15. Birders can sign up for an online introduction to the count held Thursday, Feb. 11, as well as small-group bird walks at the arboretum on Saturday, Feb. 13. More information and registration available at
  • N.C. Cooperative Extension’s McDowell County Center hosts several webinars throughout February for sustainability-minded WNC residents. Topics include roadside and waterway cleanup safety on Wednesday, Feb. 17; basic fruit and berry growing on Thursday, Feb. 18; and vegetable gardening on Thursday, Feb. 25. Full calendar and registration available at
  • High school and college students in Buncombe County with an interest in conservation or agriculture are now eligible for a $1,000 scholarship from the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. Applications are available at and must be submitted by Monday, March 15.
  • Buncombe Soil and Water is also holding its annual seedling sale through Sunday, Feb. 28. Ordering of plants such as blackberries, red mulberries and persimmons is available online at, with pickup Thursday-Friday, March 4-5, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Resources will accept written public comment on proposed changes to the state’s groundwater quality standards through Tuesday, March 16. Comments may be sent by email to or by mail to Bridget Shelton, NC DEQ-DWR Planning Section, 1611 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. More information on the proposed changes is available at

Community kudos

  • The WNC Sierra Club presented its annual Environmental Recognition Awards on Jan. 7. Winners included former Rep. Chuck McGrady for green legislator of the year, Painters Greenhouse of Old Fort for green business and David Reid and JD Diefenbach for protectors of the national forest.
  • Waynesville resident Kaleb Rathbone was promoted by N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler to assistant commissioner for Western North Carolina agricultural programs and small farms. Rathbone previously directed the state’s 18 agricultural research stations.
Isabella Conway and Michael Huffman with water conservation mural
WATER WORKS: Girl Scout Isabella Conway, right, painted a message of environmental conservation on rain cisterns overseen by Hendersonville stormwater administrator Michael Huffman. Photo courtesy of the city of Hendersonville
  • Friends of DuPont Forest was selected to receive 100 hours of pro bono marketing services from Darby Communications and Status Forward as part of the local firms’ Stand Up Initiative. That work will support the nonprofit’s Share the Trails campaign, which educates visitors on proper outdoor etiquette.
  • UNC Asheville received LEED Gold certification for The Woods, the college’s newest residence halls. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, recognizes buildings for meeting criteria such as efficient resource use and sustainable site location.
  • Pine Gate Renewables donated $5,000 to Asheville GreenWorks in support of a pollinator garden planned for the River Arts District. The 0.35-acre meadow will include oxeye sunflowers, wild bergamot and other plants attractive to pollinator species.
  • Girl Scout Isabella Conway completed a series of environmental murals to decorate rainwater cisterns at Hendersonville’s Patton Park. The art emphasizes the connection between local water quality and wildlife health.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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