Green in brief: Solarize reaches lowest pricing for community solar

Solar at Burton Street Peace Garden
RENEWABLE EFFORTS: Local youths work with contractors from MB Haynes Corp. and Aire Serv to install solar panels at the Burton Street Peace Garden last summer. The Solarize Asheville-Buncombe campaign seeks to make similar projects more affordable for low- and moderate-income residents and create pathways to jobs in clean energy. Photo by DeWayne Barton

Due to high community demand, the Solarize Asheville-Buncombe campaign is now able to offer its lowest possible price for solar energy systems. The Solarize rate of $2.45 per watt of electricity generation is roughly 9% cheaper than the statewide average of $2.67 per watt listed by EnergySage, an industry website.

As previously reported by Xpress (see “Sunshine Coalition,” Feb. 17), the program, spearheaded by the nonprofit Blue Horizons Project, offers bulk purchasing of solar equipment for local residents and businesses as a way to reduce the cost of renewable energy. Since the Solarize launch in April, 75 homeowners have completed contracts that together total over 600 kilowatts of generation capacity.

Enrollment in the campaign will continue through Tuesday, Aug. 31. Limited financial assistance is available for low- and medium-income households through the Neighbor to Neighbor Solar program. More information and applications are available at

Energy Savers Network to weatherize 1,000 Asheville apartments

From 2017-20, about 500 families were helped by the Energy Savers Network, a program of the Asheville-based nonprofit Green Built Alliance dedicated to lowering energy costs for low-income residents. Over the next year, the initiative hopes to serve double that number through a contract with the city of Asheville.

In a press release, ESN announced that it would provide energy-efficiency upgrades to 1,000 apartments managed by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. Simple retrofits such as switching light fixtures to LEDs, caulking air leaks and insulating waterlines aim to cut expenses for those residents while reducing the community’s energy demand, a key part of combating climate change.

ESN is seeking volunteers at least 18 years old to assist in the project. More information is available online at or by contacting Steffi Rausch at or 828-585-4492, ext. 2.

Buncombe to join Visit NC Farms app

Agritourism in Buncombe County could soon get a smart boost through the Visit NC Farms phone app. The Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District is now accepting applications for local farms, farmers markets and restaurants to be listed on the app, which will launch locally in September.

First developed in 2018 by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the app currently features 52 counties, with Western North Carolina entries including McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties. In April, Buncombe received $8,300 from the NCDACS, Buncombe Farm Bureau Insurance and the Buncombe Farm Bureau nonprofit board for initial app startup costs.

Those interested in joining should contact Avni Naik at More information on the app is available at

Lenoir-Rhyne seeks input on Central Asheville Watershed survey

Researchers with Lenoir-Rhyne University in Asheville want to know how community members understand stormwater management and green infrastructure in their own backyards. A new survey, available at, asks about water quality and flooding concerns in the Central Asheville Watershed.

Conducted in conjunction with Asheville-based nonprofit RiverLink and Blue Earth Planning, the questionnaire covers an area with three urban streams — Town Branch (aka Nasty Branch), Bacoate Branch and Haith Branch — that drain into the French Broad River as it flows through the city. RiverLink completed a restoration plan for the watershed in August 2020, and the survey will help guide decisions regarding its implementation.

A Spanish version of the survey is also available at

Save the date

  • Thomas Mangelsen bear photo
    CAUGHT IN THE ACT: The nature photography of Thomas D. Mangelsen is on display at The N.C. Arboretum through Sunday, Sept. 5. Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen, courtesy of The N.C. Arboretum

    Fletcher-based outdoor manufacturer Diamond Brand Gear hosts an interactive job fair noon-4 p.m. Saturday, June 19. The event features hands-on demonstrations of the firm’s industrial sewing machines, factory tours and free food from 12 Bones Smokehouse, with company representatives available for on-site job interviews. More information and registration:

  • Also on June 19, Hendersonville-based nonprofit Conserving Carolina puts on the sixth annual Upper French Broad Riverfest, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., at Champion Park in Rosman. Activities include free tubing rides from Headwaters Outfitters, a bird walk with the Blue Ridge Audubon Society and a meet-and-greet with Rocky, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s hellbender salamander. More information:
  • The WNC Nature Center announced the return of its after-hours Brews and Bears events on Friday, July 9, and Friday, Aug. 13. Guests can watch resident black bears Uno and Ursa while sipping on Highland Brewing Co. beer and enjoying local food trucks. More information and tickets:
  • The N.C. Arboretum showcases A Life in the Wild, an exhibit of large-format nature photography by Thomas D. Mangelsen, through Sunday, Sept. 5. Admission to the show is included with regular arboretum parking. More information:
  • The Outdoor Economy Conference returns for an in-person event in Cherokee Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 12-15. The conference features four tracks of speakers and workshops: sustainable outdoor recreation tourism, outdoor-driven economic development, responsible outdoor product innovation and balancing conservation with the outdoor economy. Early-bird registration and more information are available through Wednesday, June 30, at

Community kudos

  • Riverfest
    ROLLING ON THE RIVER: The Upper French Broad Riverfest, which features free tubing rides sponsored by Headwaters Outfitters, returns to Champion Park in Rosman on Saturday, June 19. Photo courtesy of Conserving Carolina

    UNC Asheville placed second among over 100 colleges and universities in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2021 Campus Race to Zero Waste for the food organics category. According to a UNCA press release, the school collected over 30,000 pounds of compost during the eight-week competition and diverted about 170 pounds of leftover food per week to local underserved populations through its partnership with Asheville-based nonprofit Food Connection.

  • Community members in Mars Hill, with support from the Winston-Salem nonprofit Resource Institute, restored substantial portions of the California, Paint Fork and Little Ivy creeks that had been damaged by construction on Interstate 26 and U.S. Route 19. The work realigned the streams to better handle storm runoff and added native plants along the banks to help prevent erosion.
  • Pine Gate Renewables, an Asheville-based solar energy company, was named one of Inc. magazine’s Best Workplaces for 2021. The business was the only firm in the energy industry to receive the honor.
  • Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, received an Agency Leadership Award from the nonprofit Public Lands Alliance. Cash, the park’s first Black superintendent, was recognized for his Smokies Hikes for Healing initiative, which used the park as a space for racial justice conversations.
  • Area environmental groups received over $236,000 from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s Pigeon River Fund to improve water quality and support wildlife habitat. Awards include $30,000 to RiverLink for engineering work on the Southside Community Stormwater Project, $30,000 to the Haywood Waterways Association for stream improvements on Hominy Creek and nearly $26,000 to MountainTrue to establish a real-time E. coli testing location on the French Broad River.

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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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