The term “off-the-grid” means living in a self-sufficient manner without the services of a public utility. Wikipedia estimates that in 2007 there were around 250,000 off-the-grid households in the U.S. that supplied their own water, electrical and sewer systems.
Living off-the-grid has been characterized by the sustainable living movement as the ultimate step towards reducing energy consumption. It’s more affordable these days than in the past, because of dramatic improvements in wind, water, and solar power mechanics.
In the U.S. “going green” has become increasingly scientific and less and less ideological, but the roots of the environmental movement can be found in the back-to-the-land movement that ran through the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The American back-to-the-land movement was a migration from urban to rural environments that created a blip on the country’s demographic trends in the latter half of the 1960s and the early part of the 1970s. The values of the movement are exemplified in Helen and Scott Nearing’s book Living the Good Life, which chronicles the couple’s self-sufficient lifestyle in a Vermont farmhouse. Published in 1954, the book cites the economic pressures of the Great Depression and the influence of the writings of Henry David Thoreau as driving inspirations.
The back-to-the-land movement drew on both the pragmatic self-sufficiencies celebrated in rural America during the Depression and on the literary and philosophical celebration of the American continent. Also, a growing discontent with government policies and rampant consumerism drove members of the counter culture to search for a divergent set of values, which they found in rural communities that had been resistant to change and maintained closer contact with nature.
The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Green Initiative is one of those projects that is good on many different levels, not the least of which is the admirable goal of reducing the impact the business community has on the environment.
The Green Initiative, which is being headed by Haywood Community College President Dr. Rose Johnson, is aimed at establishing a methodology by which businesses can earn a “green designation” from the chamber of commerce. A chamber committee has been working for months to set up the criteria, and the categories include recycling, water and energy.
Those businesses that earn this designation will benefit in many ways. Aside from doing what is right, it is likely that many potential customers will appreciate their efforts and choose to do business with them. As this program is formalized, more businesses will likely follow suit and try to earn the designation. That’s a direct benefit that makes the investment to attain the green designation worthwhile from a business perspective.
The fact that the chamber of commerce has put in the time and effort to set up the Green Initiative speaks well of the organization. In too many cases those in the business community pit profit and sustainability efforts against one another. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the opposite is true. Companies that save energy and cut waste make more money, and though it’s impossible to have zero impact, it is a worthwhile effort.
This initiative is one component of a critical mass of sustainability efforts currently being implemented in Haywood County. These include:
• The county Economic Development Commission is formalizing a list of tax incentives for green energy companies to entice them to open shop in the county. The catalyst for that effort was the request for a tax break by a huge solar farm being built near Canton, a project that will be among the largest of its kind in the Southeast once completed.
• Haywood Community College and Dr. Rose Johnson are taking steps to make that institution a center for environmental learning. Staff members are working to implement course offerings that infuse the college’s forestry, wildlife, construction, nursery and other programs with cutting edge sustainability courses and practices. In addition, the college is working to make itself a leader in all these resource-saving areas.
• And Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director, has been a part of the Green Initiative and is a champion of recycling efforts. He has brought great ideas that have helped the county recycling program and is also working to tap the methane at the county’s landfill and harness it for energy use.
There will be intangible benefits for Haywood County for being at the forefront of the green movement. Some areas in the Northeast and out West may be further along, but Haywood County and others in this region are staking a claim as a leader in the Southeast. That is good for quality of life and for businesses.
The chamber’s Green Initiative taps into a truth that’s very important for those of us living in this region. The forests, streams and air are what make this place special, what give the mountains their special, almost spiritual appeal.
“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community and Economic Development at HCC and a participant in the Green Initiative. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”
When most business owners cast their eyes about the office — noting the reams of white paper spilling off the printer, the blinking lights on computers not shut down at the end of the day, the drafty crack under the front door — they know intuitively their workplace falls short in the green arena.
But figuring out what to tackle first and biting off manageable goals is usually so daunting, they do nothing. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that with the launch of its Green Initiative. The program will help businesses “go green” with an easy-to-follow plan.
“We know that green-collar jobs and green businesses are the way of the future,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community & Economic Development at HCC. “We don’t want to be behind the eight ball. We want to be in the forefront. We want people who move here and set up businesses here to realize we support a green lifestyle.”
The momentum of a green community will hopefully feed on itself.
“As Haywood County becomes more recognized for its sustainability efforts, it will be able to recruit other business with similar goals of practicing sustainability,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of Haywood Community College and champion of sustainability efforts in the county.
The chamber’s Green Initiative is part of a growing critical mass of sustainability efforts taking off in Haywood County. From Haywood Community College to Haywood County government, sustainability practices are being implemented on several fronts.
Thanks to the efforts, Haywood County is positioning itself at the forefront of the green movement.
“If we are marketing our community as a green friendly community, people are going to go, ‘Wow what a place to live. They are already ahead of the curve when it comes to initiating green,’” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber.
While eco-havens like Oregon and Vermont are far ahead of Haywood County, the efforts underway here already make it a leader as far as the South goes, and on track to be a national leader in the future.
“I believe we are laying the appropriate groundwork and are getting important players involved. All of those things combined over a period of a few years are going to make a very dramatic impact,” Johnson said.
Leatherwood said Haywood County is a natural place for sustainability to make a stand and to be on the leading edge of the movement.
“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” Leatherwood said. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”
The program has been more than a year in the making.
“It seemed all of a sudden that word green was everywhere,” Hipps said. “It was something coming on the forefront fairly strong and a fairly quick pace. We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green and how you can save money.”
The chamber formed a committee to figure out how businesses could jump on board the green movement. That committee in turn formed subcommittees to draft various parts of the plan: water, energy and recycling. A fourth subcommittee is in charge of education, which will provide support and outreach for businesses implementing the plan.
“We designed the green initiative so it is flexible enough to pertain to the smallest organization to the largest,” Johnson said.
Businesses can tailor or personalize the plan to better fit their particular organization, Johnson said.
“There are some simple things that even one-man or two-man businesses can do,” Leatherwood said. “We want every business to be able to participate. If everybody does one small thing can you imagine the collective impact we would have?”
Beyond doing the morally right thing, businesses that decide to go green stand to gain. For starters, they can market themselves as such. Those that complete the program will get “green business” designation by the Haywood County chamber. With an increasingly green-savvy public willing to go the extra mile to support — or extra dollars — to support businesses with an eco-bent, the self promotion as a green-designated business is a big benefit.
From an overhead standpoint, business will save on energy costs and office supplies if employees use less paper, for example.
“We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green — and how you can save money,” Hipps said.
The plan encourages businesses to conduct an energy audit, essentially an assessment of how much energy they use and where they could save it. With an upfront investment, an energy audit can help a business save money on energy costs over the long run, said Buddy Tignor, the director of Haywood Community College’s natural resource department.
And, “The more we all reduce carbon emissions the more likely we are going to be able to at least slow down or mediate the global warming that is taking place,” Tignor said.
Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director and a champion for recycling, helped create the Green Initiative component that targets a business’s trash, resource consumption and recycling.
King said it is hard to break out of old habits, but very simple steps can often make change easier. For example, when King looked for ways to improve recycling participation in the county tax office, he targeted the placement of trashcans. Before, trashcans were placed in a central location, but a lone recycling bin was at the very back of the office tucked in an out of the way place.
“Nobody had to make an effort for trash but for recycling, you had to make an effort. You just have to flip that,” King said.
King moved the recycling can up front, and all the trashcans down the hall and around the corner and low-and-behold, recycling increased.
King, who has been a ringleader in the sustainability movement in county offices, is thrilled to see the business community jumping on board.
“It shows community camaraderie around what they believe in and trying to make it work,” said King. “More people understand what’s going on now than in the past.”
Other chambers of commerce are already looking to follow suit, Hipps said, and no doubt more will be clamoring to copy Haywood as word gets out.
“I imagine there will be a lot of others who will follow in our footsteps,” Leatherwood said.
At some point, the Haywood Chamber would be willing to share its Green Initiative templates with other communities, but until it has taken root and garnered attention for Haywood, they will protect the program, Hipps said.
Economic development officials have adopted a policy that will give business incentives to clean, renewable energy projects that locate in Haywood County.
County officials hope the policy will convince green businesses to locate in the region, as well as provide a justification for giving incentives to businesses that don’t create many jobs.
Incentives will be given to solar, wind and hydropower energy projects that generate more than 50 kilowatts of energy. Projects that make use of landfills, brown-field sites, rooftops and other locations with minimal economic value will qualify for an 80 percent break on property taxes over a five-year period. Projects not located on those sites can receive a maximum of 60 percent in incentives.
Officials hope the incentives will make the county more attractive to prospective green businesses.
“Everyone wants to go where they feel welcome,” pointed out County Commissioner and Economic Development Commission board member Mark Swanger.
“If we can put this up on our Web site, we may attract other businesses of that same ilk or nature,” agreed Waynesville Mayor and EDC Board Member Gavin Brown.
The policy comes weeks after scrutiny over the decision by county commissioners to grant business incentives to FLS Solar Energy, a company that plans to build a solar energy farm on an old paper mill landfill in Canton.
The county granted FLS a five-year, 80 percent break on its business property taxes, saving the company $32,000. However, the entire project would only create about 12 jobs, and those would come during construction.
“(The current policy) leaves it open for anyone coming in and saying, you did it for XYZ, will you do it for me?” said Swanger.
The new policy addresses that issue.
“(The policy) is being developed in recognition that while developments of clean, renewable energy sources ... (may) not provide as many permanent jobs as traditional economic development projects ... development of clean, renewable energy projects also provide many intrinsic benefits to the community that traditional economic development projects do not and require little public infrastructure or services,” it states.
For the few jobs that are created by these projects, the policy requires companies advertise and recruit in Haywood County.
County commissioners must approve the policy before it can be formally adopted.
Before Haywood County commissioners approve a request to cut property taxes on a business that plans to build an $8 million solar farm near Canton, they need to get serious about developing a long-term green collar industry incentive package. One break for one company seems more like a handout, which in this day every other company could find fault with.
On the surface the request seems almost inconsequential given the relatively small amount of money involved, about $32,000 over five years. In this economy, however, many will be watching the commissioners very closely. A whole lot of local, long-time businesses are struggling to keep people employed while paying their taxes in full.
FLS Solar Energy is planning what is billed as the largest solar farm in the Southeast on an old landfill in Canton. It will install 3,200 solar panels on seven acres that will produce enough electricity to power 1,200 homes. The company has signed a 20-year agreement to sell the electricity to Progress Energy. The utility giant must, under state law, start producing an increasing percentage of its power from green sources.
The announcement late last year that Haywood would be chosen for the solar farm was met with near universal excitement. Although the project won’t produce any long-term jobs, it is being hailed as a coup for Haywood County and Western North Carolina. Row upon row of solar panels will track the sun from an old landfill, proving that this region cares about energy production and global warming, perhaps providing some intangible benefits when it comes to business recruitment. It’s difficult to gauge the economic development benefit of having the largest solar farm in the Southeast (though it’s likely a larger facility somewhere won’t be far behind), but most believe that benefit is more symbolic than tangible.
FLS, for its part, is asking for help to make it through its first five years in opration. The $32,000 it wants Haywood County to forgive amounts to 80 percent of its business property taxes for the first five years it is in operation.
But here’s the rub: even though the request has the endorsement of the county Economic Development Commission, it doesn’t meet existing criteria for the tax break. Specifically, to get the 80 percent tax break the county’s guidelines say the project needs to create 100 jobs and have an investment of at least $10 million. This project is expected to employ 12 as it’s built and no one after it is up and running, and it already qualifies for the federal government’s 30 percent solar energy tax break.
Projects like this are appealing for many reasons, one of which is the “coolness” factor. That line of thinking says if you support green projects, you are cool and everyone will want to join in. But that’s a weak foundation for county policy.
If Haywood wants to become an epicenter of green energy and environmentalism, giving a one-time handout to a solar farm won’t get it there. Instead, county leaders need to develop an array of tax breaks, grants and incentives for new businesses engaged in green technology and for existing businesses that become energy efficient and recycle. In this case the fact that old landfill property is being used is probably more significant than the solar energy aspect of the project.
The green initiative being led by Haywood Community College President Rose Johnson and flourishing under the auspices of HCC and the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce should be encouraged and embraced. The county’s effort to get methane energy from the old landfill is also worth touting. The role of the Commission for a Clean County should be expanded and officially endorsed by the county.
Yes, Haywood County could benefit immensely by becoming a leader in all things green, and businesses and people in the mountains have been embracing this philosophy for decades. But there is a competition out there. Local governments across the nation are also trying to grab this mantle. Haywood needs a long-term plan and a real investment to get there. Helping this company might be symbolic of where the county wants to go, but approving this tax break isn’t really all that progressive. In fact it is simply applying an old-style economic development model to a new industry.
We wish FLS great success, and solar energy is a crucial component for meeting future energy needs. From Haywood County’s perspective, however, approving this tax break at this time is like putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
Two electric vehicles will soon be tooling around the town of Dillsboro thanks to a state grant aimed at reducing air pollution from vehicles.
Dillsboro hopes the move will raise its profile as a “green” town. The vehicles will be plugged in and recharged rather than running on gas. They have zero tailpipe emissions.
“The electric vehicles will act as a constant advertisement for environmentally sound strategies at every level of town living, and will be the first taste many of our visitors have of the town’s unique character, at once both historic and modern,” according to Kelly McKee, Dillsboro town clerk.
The $30,000 grant will purchase an electric shuttle to move tourists from off-site parking into downtown during festivals. The second one will be an electric maintenance truck to replace the town’s only current vehicle, a 1975 Dodge pickup.
It is estimated that over seven-year cycle, including fuel and maintenance, the two electric vehicles will save a total of $2,000 versus similar conventional vehicles. The town hopes to have them in place by August.
The Mobile Source Emissions Reduction Grant was applied for through the Sustainable Mountain Initiative, a coalition of Dillsboro and the Jackson County Green Energy Park.
Standing next to a display that showed pictures of West Virginia mountains scarred by mountaintop removal coal mining, Austin Hall with Appalachian Voices of Boone bemoaned, “That is wrong on such a gut level.”
But with the new Barack Obama administration in place, things may be looking up for environmentalists, said Hall, who was manning a booth at an environmental fair at Western Carolina University last week. The fair featured an array of advocates promoting their causes whether it was green-built homes, doing away with coal-fired power plants or recycling.
During George Bush’s presidency mountaintop removal “exponentially grew” while Obama is “ardent” about ending the process that has leveled one million acres of mountains in Central Appalachia, said Hall.
Other environmentalists at the fair also hope their causes continue to gain momentum.
Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition of Sylva, used the fair as an opportunity to speak out against coal-fired power plants. There are already 14 coal-fired power plants in the state, and a new one proposed by Duke in Rutherford County should be stopped, he said.
His grassroots organization promotes clean air and is attempting to get the N.C. Division of Air Quality to rescind a permit to build the plant. Duke claims the plant is needed because of the growing energy demand, he said.
“They are using $2.5 billion in ratepayer money to commit us to burning coal for the next 50 years,” Friedman said. By ratepayers, Friedman means that every Duke customer in the state is shouldering the cost of building the new polluting plant.
The legislature should impose measures to reduce energy consumption such as creating a sliding scale for power bills that charges more as more energy is used, Friedman said.
“This will give households and businesses an incentive to invest in energy consumption, so we don’t have to build polluting power plants,” he said.
Nitrous oxide from coal plants causes childhood asthma, sulfur dioxide creates a haze over the mountains and mercury can cause neurological damage in children like autism, Friedman said.
He also said the state’s power grid needs to be “decentralized,”adding that 60 percent of the power from the grid is lost. He advocates putting solar panels on people’s roofs.
The Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River also had a booth at the fair to broadcast its message against water pollution. The organization believes that some developers are violating the county’s sediment control ordinance that seeks to protect streams from muddy runoff.
When developers cut down trees and bulldoze sites for homes, silt and dirt can run into steams and ultimately into the Tuckasegee River.
“We just want people to follow the rules and not cause more damage,” said Myrtle Schrader, a member of WATR. “One person’s footprint can be huge and affect the quality of life for everyone.”
One person particularly interested in his ecological footprint is Lenni Humphries with the WCU Environmental Science Program, who was filling out a online questionnaire during the fair at myfootprint.org while manning a booth. His booth featured a display on how idling a vehicle uses more energy than cutting the engine and then restarting it.
His display also showed how things should be reused before they are recycled because recycling takes energy, too. He showed how eggshells, lint and tea bags can be used for compost and how used tea bags can act like baking soda to make the refrigerator smell fresher.
Cell phones can be given to battered women’s shelters for 911 use and to troops overseas, he said.
Another way things can be recycled is by wearing them, said Emily Lauro, a WCU senior and fashion minor who was at the fair signing people up for her recycle fashion and art show.
Necklaces made out of bottle caps, a wrapping paper kimono and a mask were some the recycled fashion items on display.
The contest features two categories — 2D and 3D art and recycled and restyled fashion. Recycled fashion can mean buying a couple of items at the thrift stores and using portions of them to make a new garment.
Other than making your clothes environmentally conscious you can also make your home that way, according to Candice Black, outreach coordinator for the WNC Green Building Council, which seeks to educate on environmentally friendly building practices.
The National Forest Service is trying to hash out a new policy for building wind towers on public lands. The move is prompted by “increasing industry interest in development of wind energy facilities on National Forest Service lands,” according to the forest service.
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
Living “green” is a way of life for Mark and Darcia Bondurant. The Haywood County family of four works diligently everyday to reduce their carbon footprint by doing everything from buying locally produced food to heating their two-story mountain home with a passive solar design, a technique that utilizes the sun’s rays for warmth.
Over the next few weeks in The Naturalist’s Corner, I’m going to be exploring different aspects of the alternative and green energy movement.