Energize local

Kudos to Xpress for the terrific April 17 issue on sustainability! I've been delighted with the recent focus on the local economy. I especially loved reading about living roofs [in The Local Economy section], which solve so many problems at once (providing natural cooling, bird habitat and buffering streams from storm runoff); and "Plotting the Future" with Howard Nemon on co-creating the new economy. Localizing and self-reliance are key, and economic democracy includes local cooperatives.

Having read Yes! Magazine's issue on the power of co-ops, and given Duke-Progress' huge energy monopoly, I 'm getting inspired about the prospects for energy cooperatives. Duke-Progress may not be interested in solar power or energy efficiency, but lots of people in Asheville are.

At the recent Chamber's "Green Monday," I heard about a new residential solar energy program at the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute, called Solarize Asheville. Katherine Bray, the director, described how a Portland, Ore., group-purchase of 1.7 megawatts of solar photovoltaics lowered the price by 30 percent for participants, while creating 50 local jobs.

A typical 4 kW home PV system would currently cost $6,300; with Solarize Asheville, the cost would be just $5,600. Just as important as lowering costs, bulk purchases allow for a much simpler process, expediting permits and, best of all, the building of community. She has been working with community leaders to launch a neighborhood group-purchasing campaign of solar PVs through bulk purchasing, outreach and streamlined installation and decision process.

To succeed, this initiative needs community leaders who will drive outreach efforts in their neighborhoods. The Legislature may vote not to renew the tax credits for solar, so now is the time! Which neighborhood will be first? And, what other cooperatives can Asheville start in order to maximize energy-efficiency?

— Cathy Holt

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