The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina
June 5, 2007
As code orange ozone days return to Western North Carolina and signs of climate change become obvious, it's an appropriate time for community leaders, government officials, media outlets, businesses and citizens to address the issue of how we intend to meet future energy demand in our region. Sustainable planning for our energy needs, environment and economy is needed today.
Asheville and western North Carolina are rich in human resources, knowledge and innovative ability. Nationally respected universities and secondary schools with acclaimed faculty reside here. Within our midst is a large environmentally conscious business community that collectively has tremendous field experience, technical knowledge, marketing skills, and practical, down-to-earth economic realism. Western North Carolina, and Asheville in particular, is a major center in the southeast for healthcare facilities, and we are blessed with nationally recognized medical expertise on the relationship between energy production and health. Finally, Asheville is not only a regional center for prominent national environmental organizations, but, there is an abundance of grassroots citizen-led organizations that advocate for the health of their communities and the preservation of the mountains.
Progress Energy has recently appointed a "Community Energy Advisory Council." While the council membership will include some environmental voices, there was no community input into the makeup of the council and too much local expertise in sustainable energy and energy efficiency has been left on the sidelines. The stakes in terms of public health and our quality of life are too high to allow that to happen. Success in what amounts to a massive overhaul of existing energy attitudes, policy, and behavior will require the broadest possible community input. Whatever Progress Energy's current motives may be, we have to remember that their primary corporate purpose is to maximize stockholder profits. Although Progress has announced a self-imposed two-year moratorium on building coal and nuclear plants, in WNC this does not exclude the construction of other fossil fuel plants or commit the company to anything two years from now. It's a starting point for positive change but one with a large corporate escape hatch.
A better starting point is to determine what opportunities are currently available for sustainable energy development. The Western North Carolina Residential Energy Survey is a current community effort, ongoing since April of this year, to compile required data on many aspects of this specific issue, at www.oursoutherncommunity.org. All citizens are invited to participate, with a goal of 10,000 respondents by July 4th, Energy Independence Day. It's free, anonymous and will provide current information for responsible sustainable energy planning, not just a discussion of possibilities centered on corporate goals.
The groups and individuals co-signing this statement are joining together to form a true community-based energy task force to give direction to sustainable policies designed to meet future energy demand while improving air quality, the health of our people and stimulating economic development. This will be an open process, reaching out to all members of the community for their input, including Progress Energy if it so chooses. The community-based task force will start with the assumption that a new fossil fuel or nuclear energy source in western North Carolina is unnecessary. Through a combination of peak-power shifting, economic incentives for investment in conservation, energy efficiency technologies, 'green' building and the distributed generation of clean, renewable energy resources we can meet future energy demand, create more jobs in the region and improve our health and the environment we all depend upon.
Avram Friedman, Executive Director, the Canary Coalition,