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op dukeBy Avram Friedman • Guest Columnist

By proposing to replace its Lake Julian coal plant in Asheville with a new natural gas/fracking-fired mega power plant in Western North Carolina, Duke Energy is moving in an anachronistic direction that inhibits the transformation to energy efficiency and renewable energy needed to address rising energy costs and climate change.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners once again declined to support a movement aimed at restraining corporate power, causing local activists to raise a joint sigh of frustration.

Move to Amend activists, a local offshoot of the Occupy movement, called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate money and influence in the political process and instead make government beholden to the common man.

At its last May meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 not to champion the resolution. Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions and lobbyists and limited their campaign funding as well.

So, the group of activists returned Monday, June 4, with a slightly reworded resolution.

“This resolution is revised to take into account concerns mentioned having to do with labor unions, limited liabilities and PACs,” said Commissioner Joe Cowan, who had been in support of the resolution the first time around but was outvoted.

Cowan added that he would dispense with “my same old worn-out speech” about the importance of passing the document.

Despite the change, the outcome remained the same. Commissioners voted the resolution down once more 3-2 along party lines — Republicans against it, Democrats for it. Commissioner Jack Debnam, who is unaffiliated, swung the vote by siding with Republicans.

Cody asked the activists why the Move to Amend website has a few iterations of the resolution, including one approved by labor unions at universities. Why would labor unions support a resolution that limits their influence, he queried.

“If labor unions are included in on this proposed amendment, why are they signing on to support it? It seems counter-intuitive,” Cody said.

He also claimed that the Move to Amend’s platform would limit the amount of money candidates can contribute to their own campaign.

“This resolution would inhibit an individual from spending his own money. Is that the American way?” said Cody, adding that he funded much of his own campaign for commissioner.

Cody’s comments elicited groans from the vexed crowd of activists.

Cowan said he could not influence what was on the website, but the board should pass the resolution simply because of its call to place restraints on corporations’ campaign spending.

The goal of local Move to Amend activists, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.

More than 250 cities, towns and counties in the U.S. have passed similar resolutions. Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolutions.

The state General Assembly recently introduced legislation espousing views similar to those reflected in the resolution.

A new FM radio station in Western North Carolina means more than 108,000 people living in the region might not be able to pick up their local National Public Radio station anymore.

That’s because the frequency involved, 95.3 FM, currently serves as a translator for WCQS, serving residents in much of Haywood and Jackson counties. It’s been in service for two decades.

Though there remain a number of other frequencies public-radio fans can tune into west of Buncombe County if they want to listen to WCQS, it will be hit and miss in many mountain valleys — the station comes in on four different frequencies depending on your area — once a new radio station takes over the frequency.

“It is, unfortunately, a challenging situation for us,” said Jody Evans, who has been the executive director of WCQS for about a year. “I think this is a loss for the community, but we are going to do what we can, within the guidelines of the FCC, to get public radio to the people of Western North Carolina.”

Evans was careful to emphasize that The Canary Coalition, who won tentative rights to the frequency, is not at fault; and nor is Western Carolina University, she said, which is fighting the environmental group for rights to 95.3. Rather, WCQS simply isn’t considered “local” under FCC regulations, though the radio station does serve the entire region.

“We can stay on the air until someone builds a station,” Evans said.

In its application with the FCC for rights to the frequency, WCU made the argument that the federal agency should give it 95.3, in part, because the university had plans to help out public radio. Evans deferred any comment on those possible plans to the university.

Granted, public radio will no longer be picked up via 95.3 once another entity takes over the frequency, whether it is WCU or The Canary Coalition, WCU noted in its FCC filings. But “much of this proposed loss area would be avoided, however, by transfer of WCU’s current facilities (WWCU and WWCU-FM1 to WNC Public Radio) … If an applicant other than WCU were to be awarded the Dillsboro allotment, it is virtually guaranteed that the public will lose this source (i.e., the programming of FM Translator W237AR) of noncommercial service upon which it has relied for nearly 20 years.”

Western Carolina University, eager to broadcast Catamount sports and other school-based programming to a larger audience than it can currently reach, is fighting The Canary Coalition for rights to a new FM radio station.

The station could reach up to three states once on the air, depending on which Jackson County mountaintop the transmitter is located, according to regional radio experts.

WCU’s current radio station, WWCU 90.5 FM, on a good day is heard roughly from Sylva to parts of Buncombe County. The signal is spotty at best, however.

WWCU 90.5 FM currently reaches about 43,627 people. Meanwhile, 73,800 people potentially could hear the new FM radio station, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

Asheville-based public radio station WCQS, the Cherokee Boys & Girls Club and a nonprofit Christian foundation based in Georgia also applied for the new frequency.

While the FCC tentatively awarded air rights for the new full-powered FM radio frequency to The Canary Coalition, a small grassroots environmental organization headquartered in Sylva, WCU is not going down without a fight.

WCU has hired the private Raleigh law firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey and Leonard, whose specialties include telecommunications and media law, to persuade the FCC to give it the license instead of The Canary Coalition.

The Canary Coalition has a staff of one, Executive Director Avram Friedman, and is using the legal services of an attorney in California to fend off WCU’s bid for the radio station. The attorney is helping the nonprofit for a reduced rate, Friedman said.

Larry Nestler, chairman of The Canary Coalition’s board, questioned why WCU would choose to pick this fight during such tough budgetary times. The state cut the university’s budget this year by 13.5 percent.

“And here is Western hiring a big-time law firm out of Raleigh using taxpayer money,” Nestler said. “It seems a little much.”

WCU has paid the Raleigh lawyers $21,752.34 so far in legal fees, according to the university.


WCU tightlipped on legal battle

The university issued a terse statement when queried about its bid for the radio station, saying through spokesman Bill Studenc that: “Because the application is still pending with the FCC, the university is unable to comment on the status of the application, or any specifics about the application, until that process has moved forward to completion.”

The Smoky Mountain News then filed several requests for information from WCU under the state’s public records law. WCU complied with most of the requests, but has yet to produce emails, as also requested under the state law, to-and-from various university leaders regarding the radio station.

WCU’s legal battle against The Canary Coalition originated under former Chancellor John Bardo, who retired this summer from the university’s top post. It isn’t clear whether new Chancellor David Belcher will embrace his predecessor’s fight.

Records reveal that WCU is fighting The Canary Coalition on every front that it can, challenging a variety of claims in the environmental group’s FCC application, and even arguing about whether The Canary Coalition is locally based as claimed.

The FCC used a point system to award licenses, with applicants given a set number of points if they met certain criteria. The Canary Coalition received five points (three for being local and two for diversity), WCU just three (localism only).

In its petition to overturn the FCC’s ruling that tentatively favors The Canary Coalition, WCU countered that the nonprofit is not a local entity — rather, that people think of it as an Asheville-based group, though it indeed leases office space in Sylva.

Perhaps most significantly, WCU has called into question the financial solvency of The Canary Coalition. The group, WCU’s high-powered legal team says, doesn’t have the money to back the dream of a radio station with regional reach.

The Canary Coalition indeed might have trouble proving it has the financial ability to get a radio station up and running. Friedman estimates it will cost about $50,000 to get on the air, for equipment, staff and so on. The FCC wants those awarded a frequency to have enough money in the bank to construct and operate a radio station for three months.

In a filing with the FCC, The Canary Coalition pointed to a bank balance on Feb. 5 of $43,945.97 as evidence that it can build and operate a radio station.

That just doesn’t cut it, WCU responded in a follow-up filing. A more complete financial picture of The Canary Coalition, not a one-day snapshot, doesn’t bode well for the group’s ability to pay for a radio station, WCU claimed. The Canary Coalition is attempting “to elevate the significance of that one-day balance determinatively above the significance of three years’ worth of public IRS filings … that show Canary’s downward-trending revenues and dire financial health,” WCU wrote to the FCC.

When Friedman put out a fundraising call to help get the radio station up and running in an email newsletter to Canary Coalition members and supporters last week, WCU jumped on it as more evidence the environmental organization doesn’t have start-up costs required by the FCC. WCU filed a supplemental petition late last week, citing the newsletter, that indicates Friedman is soliciting money now from group members for the project.

“This admission by Canary conclusively demonstrates not only that Canary lacks the funds to construct and operate the proposed station for three months without revenue but also that Canary recognizes that it lacks the funds. This admission is fatal to Canary’s financial certification and qualification,” the university’s lawyers maintained.

WCU’s lawyers also pointed out that The Canary Coalition originally estimated costs for the radio station at just more than $39,000, but now is seeking $50,000. Regardless of which amount is correct, WCU’s Raleigh law firm stated, a radio station “is clearly beyond (The Canary Coalition’s) financial ability to build and operate.”


Why WCU wants it

If WCU is able to overturn The Canary Coalition’s rights to the new FM station, plans call for the university to continue serving the area with its current “unique, locally originated programming,” plus to turn the station into “the flagship station in the WCU Catamount Sports Network, airing live college athletics of substantial importance to the local community.”

“Through the airing of its non-commercial educational program service, (WCU) brings thousands of hours of unique radio broadcast programming — including educational and curriculum-related programming — to its service area every year, and … seeks to further its educational mission by expanding its ability to provide such programming to the residents of Western North Carolina.”


Facts about WCU's current radio station

How old is the radio station at WCU?

In 1948, WCCA 550 AM signed on as a radio station from the lower floor of the Joyner building. In 1949, the call letters were changed to WWOO. In 1972, WWOO changed its call letters to WCAT. In 1977, WCAT 550 AM went off the air and WWCU 90.5 FM went on the air.

What’s the coverage area?

Roughly, from west of Sylva to the west side of Asheville, though the terrain of the mountains makes the coverage sporadic in places. The station transmitter is located on Cutoff Mountain near Balsam Gap.

How is it subsidized, to the tune of what each year?  

The radio station receives two funding allocations each year for operational expenses.  The station receives $15,000 from the provost’s office and $27,500 in education and technology funds.

Does the radio station make any money?

The radio station is licensed as a noncommercial educational station and as such does not sell commercial advertising.

Is it student run?

WWCU operates with a student general manager and student program coordinator under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The student general manager and program coordinator work with a volunteer staff of students, staff, and faculty.

What is the programming?

Classic rock, plus weather, WCU sports programs, and some Native American-geared programming.

Source: WCU

The Canary Coalition, a nonprofit group rooted in Jackson County that fights for air quality, might soon take to the airwaves via its own educational, community radio station.

Avram Friedman, executive director of The Canary Coalition, believes a local radio station would provide the entire environmental community in Western North Carolina with its own forum, plus open educational and networking opportunities for those involved. A range of community-oriented programs by other nonprofits could be included, and local musicians featured, Friedman said. A more complete vision of the future community radio station still must be hammered out, he said.

In a newsletter announcement last week to The Canary Coalition’s members, Friedman noted: “The organization’s leaders view this an opportunity to bring the public educational and advocacy mission of the Canary Coalition to a new level of effectiveness. This will be a radio station that offers programming found nowhere else, delivering in-depth coverage of environmental issues and news.” 

Friedman added that in his view, the environmental and social progress community has little voice in a world of corporate-owned mass media.

“Important events, demonstrations, public hearings, discussions, debates and informational forums are often ignored by the conventional media or relegated to small back page, one-time articles that may even miss the point entirely. Even public radio stations have been less than forthcoming with covering the news and events organized by local nonprofits,” he wrote.

There are, at rough count, at least 34 environmental organizations based in WNC. If The Canary Coalition successfully launches its radio station, it could open the region’s airwaves to issues that are of interest to other nonprofits as well, empowering the grassroots movement in WNC as never before.

That’s because The Canary Coalition’s radio station wouldn’t be a dinky, low-powered station with a broadcast reach of a measly two blocks or so.

The Federal Communications Commission has given The Canary Coalition the OK for a full-powered FM station. Regional radio experts say the station could potentially broadcast to a three-state audience, depending on where the transmitter is placed. The radio station would be based in Dillsboro, frequency 95.3 FM (for two decades where listeners in WNC have found public radio WCQS, see accompanying story).


Tentative plans

“We view this as an opportunity to provide that voice for the environmental community,” Friedman said one day last week in a cell phone interview as he headed to Washington, D.C., to take part in a protest against a pipeline that would connect oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.

In an application filed with the FCC, The Canary Coalition promised to “coordinate with local educational institutions, community health, environmental, social and cultural organizations and the business community on developing programming for the station. In addition, it will broadcast cultural programming including musical content relevant to the population of the service area, as well as local news, public affairs programming and public service announcements.”

Friedman, a Bronx native, is a fixture in the WNC environmental movement. Friedman studied political science at Hunter College, and has been a grassroots activist since the late 1960s. Friedman, a Sylva resident, ran unsuccessfully — twice — against Democrat Rep. Phil Haire for the right to represent Jackson, Macon, Swain and Haywood counties in the state House.

He is unapologetically liberal, even perhaps something of a radical, at least by many mountain residents’ standards. He was arrested twice for protesting Duke Energy’s Cliffside coal plant, once in front of the governor’s mansion and once in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte.

If the FCC issues a construction permit (Western Carolina University wants to wrest the frequency away from the nonprofit, see accompanying article), Friedman and The Canary Coalition would have a three-year window to study what programming to offer, and how to get the radio station actually up and running.

SEE ALSO: University fights environmental group for rights to radio frequency

Larry Nestler, who chairs the nonprofit’s board, said he believes a radio station could serve both as a source of revenue for The Canary Coalition, and “as a way of getting the word out on soliciting help on getting clean air.”

Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville, which operates the low-powered MAIN-FM 103.5, said in his group’s case the Internet Service Provider side of MAIN subsidizes the radio station. The technical staff essentially has done double duty for the ISP and the station, Bowen said.

The Canary Coalition has even shallower pockets than MAIN. This would be noncommercial radio — minus paid advertisements — so listener contributions and grants would most likely have to sustain the operation in Dillsboro, Bowen said.

SEE ALSO: Asheville public radio’s reach threatened by new FM station


What it would take

The Prometheus Radio Project, a national group promoting community-based radio, estimates that a “minimalist” studio can cost only $4,000 (not including furniture), depending on how much equipment is donated. A high-end studio, however, can cost as much as $100,000.

Friedman estimated it would cost about $50,000 to buy the needed equipment, hire some staff and get the radio station started. In a recent newsletter, he urged members to consider supporting the effort with cash donations.

Friedman told the nonprofit’s members that “if and when we overcome this challenge (from WCU) and gain the FCC license, we look forward to a new era when The Canary Coalition can serve the community in a new and spectacular manner, broadcasting news and information about air quality, climate change, new developments in the renewable energy and efficiency economy transformation. News of the Fukishima catastrophe and other nuclear accidents will not be blacked out in our region, on this station. Listeners will learn about the realities of hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking). There will be no corporate tampering with this news. The facts will be presented, discussed and debated.”


Why this frequency?

In 2007, in a relatively rare event, the FCC accepted applications from community groups across the nation seeking full power, noncommercial radio licenses. A second round of applications took place last year.

There were a limited number of these new FCC licenses to go around — only in areas with open bandwidth on the radio dial, and only for nonprofit, community radio stations.

The idea was to open up the airwaves to non-corporate interests and encourage citizen access and community participation, said Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville.

Bowen, a nationally known advocate for local ownership of media infrastructure, was on the lookout for just such an opportunity. Bowen’s group already operates MAIN-FM 103.5, a low-powered FM radio station that bills itself as “The Progressive Voice of the Mountains” and is based in Asheville.

As Bowen followed the FCC’s release of new frequencies, he discovered there indeed would be one in the mountains, but not in Asheville — it was being issued in Dillsboro.

“We didn’t qualify, because we are Asheville-based,” Bowen said. “But I immediately thought of The Canary Coalition. This was a golden opportunity, and there are folks (including MAIN) who have the experience to help them.”

He called Avram Friedman, executive director of The Canary Coalition, and the idea of Canary Coalition radio was born.

Phil Haire is a fortress as a state candidate. The seven-time incumbent is head of the General Assembly’s appropriations committee, and he’s been endorsed by every kind of voters group from realtors to the Sierra Club. On Tuesday night, he beat challenger Avram Friedman in a Democratic primary election characterized by a low voter turnout.

Haire took the vote as confirmation that his track record in Raleigh speaks for itself.

“It just tells me that people know my roots are here and I’m a mountain person and the voters feel like I’m representing them to the best of my ability in Raleigh,” Haire said.

In the election four years ago, Avram Friedman challenged Haire with a green platform that shook up the business-as-usual feel of the race. Friedman won 30 percent of the vote then, a total that gave him hope to challenge Haire this time around, but he fell short by a wider margin than last time.

Friedman said the low voter turnout was a sign of a demoralized electorate.

“I think the one thing that is pretty clear is the voter turnout was extremely low and what it shows is people are fed up with business-as-usual politics,” Friedman said.

Friedman challenged Haire’s reputation as an environmentally friendly candidate and offered voters a progressive platform that included reforming the way the state government does business.

Friedman said the media coverage of the election didn’t allow for a real debate on issues, which hurt his chances.

“I felt the issue behind the election were not well discussed in any of the media,” Friedman said. “For me, the race was worthwhile because it did get the message out to some degree.”

Haire said Friedman’s challenge was too one-dimensional.

“I had a tradition of support for environmental causes before Friedman got into it,” Haire said. “Friedman is basically a single-issue candidate and that’s being against Duke Energy and coal power.”

Friedman said the vote confirmed that the district’s voters weren’t ready for a change.

“Business as usual won. Congratulations to Phil Haire. We’ll keep on fighting,” Friedman said.

Haire will now face Republican candidate Dodie Allen in the fall, and he said that race will be about a broader range of issues.

“I think it’ll be jobs, the economy and education,” Haire said. “Those are the three things we need to be concerned about all the time. I’ve got a challenge, and anytime you have a challenge, you never take it for granted. I’ll get out there and work hard.”

N.C. House of Representatives, 119th district

Democrat – one advances

Phil Haire: 5,213

Avram Friedman: 1,894

*Winner will square off against Republican Dotie Allen in the fall. The seat represents Jackson and Swain counties, and portions of Haywood and Macon.

Avram Friedman is not your average North Carolina political candidate.

Born in the Bronx, Friedman studied political science at Hunter College, and he’s been a grassroots activist since the late 1960s. After spending his life affecting change from outside the system, the 60-year-old Sylva resident is trying to make good on what is perhaps the most radical idea of his career: taking his brand of green thinking to the State House in Raleigh.

“I’ll be a voice in the state legislature that doesn’t exist right now,” Friedman said.

This year, Friedman is running for the second time against long-time incumbent Phil Haire of Sylva in the Democratic primary in hopes of representing Jackson, Swain, Macon and Haywood counties in the state House.

Friedman got 30 percent of the vote the last time he ran against the five-time incumbent Haire, so he can’t be considered a fringe candidate anymore.

Friedman admits to liking his opponent, but he’s intent on changing the system, starting with his home district.

“It’s not just Phil Haire,” Friedman said of his decision to run. “I would probably be challenging any representative anywhere I was living.”

Friedman is running his campaign armed with a broad and well-thought out liberal issue platform, but the driving force behind his bid is to put an end to the business-as-usual attitude of state government.

As the executive director of the Canary Coalition, an environmental nonprofit that aims to improve air quality in the North Carolina, Friedman has seen firsthand how energy companies like Duke Energy and Progress Energy force their agenda in the legislature.

“They are such an intimidating force on the political level that very few legislators are willing to stand up to them or question the veracity of their information or offer proposals that might not increase their profit margins,” Friedman said.

Friedman may sound like a radical, and in one sense he is. He was arrested twice last year for protesting Duke Energy’s new Cliffside coal plant, once in front of the governor’s mansion and once in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte. Haire’s support for Senate Bill 3, which paved the way for Cliffside’s construction, is one of Friedman’s major points of contention.

But in an election year in which the ailing economy and the state’s looming budget crisis are bound to be the primary topics of conversation, Friedman wants to make the case that the environment isn’t a side discussion.

“That’s the impression I have to overcome,” said Friedman. “The fact is the environment poses a challenge, but it also offers incredible promise in the economic sphere. There’s a tremendous opportunity in solving the vast environmental problems we’re confronting. There’s a second industrial revolution occurring right now.”

Friedman spent 25 years running a plumbing business that focused on solar and electric hot water heating systems, so he understands the connection between green technology and the economy.

In some ways, Friedman believes the election climate suits his platform better than Haire’s, whose powerful legislative record includes his position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Right now, our state is experiencing such budget shortfalls. There are no new programs,” Freidman said. “I don’t think pork is as big a factor as people just being fed up.”

For people who are fed up, Friedman’s platform is refreshingly progressive.

He believes that if North Carolina commits itself to phasing out coal power and developing alternative energy like solar and wind power, the state will create thousands of new jobs.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs waiting for us,” Friedman said. “They’re doing it all over the world. We’re banning wind energy in Western North Carolina, and they’re building a new economy in China.”

He also rejects the idea that today’s political climate is decidedly conservative.

“When there’s a conservative wave in the country, Democrats in office try to make themselves look even more conservative,” Friedman said. “I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.”

If he’s elected, Friedman wants to implement a statewide public transportation system that connects the university system by high-speed rail. He wants to raise teacher salaries and improve public education. And he wants to revamp the state government’s system to include full-time state legislators, so ordinary people can afford to serve in elected offices.

For the natives of Western North Carolina, Friedman has an idea that breaks the boundaries of his otherwise environmental platform. He wants to set up a lower property tax structure for full-time residents and low-income people. That’s not going to win him the snowbird vote, but Friedman doesn’t care.

“I’m giving a lot of people a choice they haven’t had in a long time. One they maybe haven’t ever had before,” Friedman said.

To the Editor:

Well, I am at a disadvantage in this discussion on wind energy development in North Carolina. My friend and, in this case, adversary, Don Hendershot has his weekly bully pulpit and he used it to quote me out of context, while the readers did not have the benefit of reading the entire text of my most recent unpublished op-ed in The Smoky Mountain News.

That’s OK. I understand the limits of paper publications. Others deserve the opportunity to voice their views as well, and I can’t expect more than the very fair treatment this newspaper has given me over the years.

In the Aug. 5-11 issue of SMN, Don once again skirted the basic point being made in my last response to him. By using and accepting utility industry projections of future energy consumption, he is able to make the potential of wind energy in the mountains appear to be minimal. In so doing, he is ignoring the reality of climate change and environmental degradation in the mountains.

He is also ignoring the absolute need to reduce energy consumption in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. He is further ignoring the simple arithmetic fact that if we reduce overall energy consumption, the percentage of wind potential in the total mix increases and becomes considerably more significant.

Don and others who are carrying on a religious crusade to totally ban all utility scale wind development in the mountains are intellectually tricking themselves. The fear is that large-scale wind energy development has the potential to destroy the magnificent vistas in the mountains. They are so focused on this fear that their only answer is an absolute ban.

Meanwhile, there is total denial of the actual destruction of the mountains that is taking place as we debate this issue. Acid rain, high ozone levels, excess nitrogen deposition, mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxin contamination and greenhouse gases from the burning of coal to produce electricity is killing plants, birds, animals, fish, trees and human beings.

Often, the Canary Coalition and other environmental organizations are unjustly accused of protesting against certain industrial practices, such as burning coal, without offering a viable alternative. We are told, “It’s easy to complain about everything. But, what’s your solution? If we don’t burn coal, how will we meet future energy demand?”

This is an unjust accusation because, in fact, we are offering a viable alternative. We have a basic plan. That plan includes dramatically reducing residential, commercial and industrial energy consumption through utility rate restructuring that provides a strong economic incentive for investment in efficiency and conservation measures. Our proposed plan also, by necessity, includes exploiting whatever available renewable energy resources we have in North Carolina to replace and phase out coal. Wind energy in the mountains is by far the least expensive and most viable source of renewable energy available to us at this time. By eliminating this option completely, it’s difficult to see how North Carolina can meet future energy demand without burning more coal.

North Carolina Senators Martin Nesbitt (D-Asheville), Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) and John Snow (D-Murphy) address the issue by completely ignoring the reality and consequences of climate change. They have all voted to fund the construction of new coal-burning power plants, while voting to ban the development of wind energy in the mountains. I don’t believe Don Hendershot would agree with this prescription for meeting future energy demand. I believe he understands the negative consequences of burning coal and how it’s destroying mountain life in North Carolina, as it destroys actual mountains in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

But, I’m forced to level the same question at Don as the one unjustly leveled at our organization so often. If you understand how coal is destroying the mountains, and, if you understand that we have to dramatically reduce energy consumption to survive, what is your plan for supplying the energy needs of North Carolinians? It’s easy to “just say no” when confronted with unpleasant choices. But, if you say “no” to wind, the least expensive and most available option, what is your viable alternative? I haven’t seen anything in your anti-wind tirades that answers that question.

P.S. I want to thank the Jackson County Board of Commissioners for voting unanimously last week to pass a resolution opposing a state ban on wind development in the mountains.

It was the right thing to do.

The issue came up because an important but controversial bill has come before the North Carolina General Assembly this year. Senate Bill 1068 was originally introduced as a meaningful set of guidelines that would restrict wind development in areas of historic significance, in areas of particular ecological sensitivity and in areas where it would interrupt popular viewsheds. The original SB 1068 would give local governments discretion in further restricting wind development or designating areas they deem appropriate.

Under the new version of the bill, all local discretion has been removed and all utility-scale wind generation has been effectively banned. A sledge hammer is being applied where a surgical scalpel is needed. The bill has not yet passed in the House, and may not be dealt with in that chamber until the Short Session next year.

I don’t believe there are too many people who want to see windmills built on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in ecologically sensitive areas, or in places of historic significance. I know I don’t. But, there are many of us who think wind turbines in the mountains have a place.

Unfortunately, in 2007, Senators Snow, Nesbitt and Queen voted to provide ratepayer funding for the construction of new coal plants in North Carolina. Now, they intend to ban windmills in the mountains. How is that benefitting the mountains, western North Carolina and its people?

Thank you again Commissioners William Shelton, Mark Jones, Joe Cowan, Tom Massie and Brian McMahan for standing for reason.

Avram Friedman

Executive Director, Canary Coalition


Avram Friedman, leader of the Sylva-based air quality group the Canary Coalition, was arrested during a protest march in Charlotte Monday (April 20) against Duke Energy’s new Cliffside power plant proposed for Rutherford County.

More than 400 marchers, including Friedman, paraded through the streets of downtown Charlotte waving signs and chanting opposition to construction of the $2.4 billion coal-fired power plant, which would be located about 70 miles southeast of Asheville. The protesters ended their march in front of Duke Energy’s headquarters, where they attempted to present a “Call to Conscience,” document to Duke CEO Jim Rogers. Friedman described the document as “a people’s injunction to stop construction at Cliffside.”

A Duke Energy representative came outside to speak with the protesters, and warned them not to cross a line that had been clearly drawn to mark the boundaries of Duke’s property.

“A Duke Energy rep came out and said, ‘This is our property, and if you cross it, you’ll get arrested,’” Friedman recounted. “I said to him, we’re here to prevent a greater crime. I crossed over the line and police came up to me.”

In the end, “44 of us chose to risk arrest, and police complied,” Friedman said.

Friedman spent 8 hours in the Mecklenburg County Jail before being released on his own recognizance. He has a court date in late May for trespassing.

Friedman called the protest an overall success. It attracted people from all over the country, and was covered by various regional media outlets.

“Polls have been showing that a large majority of the people in North Carolina are opposed to the concept of a new coal burning power plant being built, but that they aren’t even aware of Cliffside,” Friedman said. “Now they are. And now that people are aware of it, we hope they become more active in opposing it.”

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

A Sylva-based environmental organization may be sending its message out over the airwaves.

For 60 days the Federal Communications Commission opened a window to allow organizations across the county to submit an application for a full-powered noncommercial radio license. More than 36,000 organizations applied, which has FCC officials expediting the application process, said Mary Diamond, FCC press aide.

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Reading Room

  • Books that help bridge the political divide
    Books that help bridge the political divide Time for spring-cleaning.  The basement apartment in which I live could use a deep cleaning: dusting, washing, vacuuming. It’s tidy enough — chaos and I were never friends — but stacks of papers need sorting, bookcases beg to see their occupants removed and the shelves…
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