But we don’t want another power plant
It’s 6:30, morning, a frosty blue ridge Thursday: You roll over in bed, switch off your chirping alarm. Slippers on, you pad down the hallway.
Start the coffee.
Nudge the heat up.
Hop in the shower.
Scrambled eggs, sourdough toast, the news. You’re ready for an awesome day. Your family shuffles through their own morning rituals. So does the family next door.
Keep zooming out.
So do all 424,858 citizens in Asheville’s metro-area.
And again, that evening, when everyone’s home from work and school: heat up, dinner on, hot showers.
So… why are we blathering on about how we all turn our thermostats up at the same time?
Because this is the biggest energy challenge of modern life: how to supply enough power, all at once, to everyone who needs it, exactly when they need it.
From our morning coffee rituals to, you know, wanting our homes to be warm during winter (our energy-neediest season), we all plug in to the “the grid” in roughly the same modern rhythm.
Until we discover a large-scale way to store energy to use later, power plants have to create electricity right when we need it.
This problem of early winter morning peak demand is why, back in 2016, Duke Energy announced plans to build a new power plant — called a peaker plant — specifically to keep us warm on these chilly February mornings.
Peaker plants are turned on only during peak demand a few times per year, and are incredibly dirty and inefficient. Nooo, right? Well, Asheville being Asheville, some really smart people decided to Do Something About It. Take action.
The Energy Innovation Task Force, a collaborative task force between the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Duke Energy, and local business and nonprofit leaders. The EITF turned to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s E-lab Accelerator to learn about our region’s energy use and find ways to reduce it.
The lightbulb moment:
The EITF learned, definitively, that Buncombe County’s energy demand peaks during winter’s coldest mornings. (This is mostly that collective “wake up and turn the heat on” thing.)
Which is great news. Because from smarter insulation to programmable thermostats, there are actually a ton of ways to save energy (and money) without wearing a parka around the house on winter mornings.
So the EITF posed a hopeful question:
If we reduce our region’s winter energy load, could we avoid needing a new power plant?
And to answer that question, the Blue Horizons Project — a community energy efficiency campaign — was born.
“We help everyone in our community learn about and access energy efficiency and solar resources and programs,” says Sophie Mullinax, project manager for the Blue Horizons. “Renters, homeowners, businesses — no matter who you are, there’s something you can do to lower your energy use and get involved in creating our cleaner energy future.”
A few of their goals:
- Grow participation in energy efficiency programs by Duke Energy
- Increase solar adoption
- Start a low-income weatherization program
(Curious to know more? Here’s a summary of the more than 100 page report from RMI.)
About a year into Blue Horizon’s work on this list, Sophie says they’ve made good, steady progress.
And remember that proposed peaker plant?
It’s now off Duke’s 15-year planning horizon. (!)
Beyond that undeniable victory, participation in Duke energy efficiency programs has risen significantly. Blue Horizons also provided free weatherization to 150 low-income homes in 2018, upping the comfort and durability of these homes while also reducing their energy bills.
We’re super inspired by what Blue Horizons has achieved in just one year.
But, like Sophie, we’re even more inspired by the long-game:
“I have a nine-month-old daughter,” she says. “I do this work for her, as cliche as that is.”
Read more about Blue Horizons initiatives and energy resources here.
And if you’re inspired to learn in depth about your own home’s energy use and what you can do about it, you can read about our energy efficiency program here.