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Wednesday, 12 July 2006 00:00

NC GreenPower is inexpensive way to take a small step

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When Louis and Talitha Mes put up a 100-foot windmill two weeks ago in the Crabtree community of Haywood County to generate electricity, which will go along with the solar panels that heat their home and water, their plan was simple: to reduce their impact on the environment. In the world as it should be, that’s a goal we all would abide by.

But the Crabtree project points out the most formidable obstacle preventing the masses from going off the grid — cost.

The wind generator cost about $45,000, while the solar system was about $15,000. In a state where the average value of owner-occupied homes is $137,000 and the median value was $109,000, it’s obvious that not many people can afford upgrades that cost half as much as their home. Hybrid cars are also substantially more expensive than those using regular gasoline engine technology. Such realities, harsh as they are, make it difficult to imagine any near future where large numbers of people will be able to power their homes with something other than utility-supplied electricity or to substantially reduce their gasoline costs and auto emissions.

Another option, however, lets North Carolinians support the development of clean energy sources without spending tens of thousands of dollars. The NC GreenPower program lets utility customers purchase “blocks” of green power by agreeing to pay extra on their monthly power bills. The energy purchased with that extra money would come from micro-hydro plants, wind, solar and biomass (decomposing organic matter). Most of the providers are small producers like the Meses, people who hope to sell a small amount of energy back to their utility to use in the state’s GreenPower initiative.

And the money ($4 a month, or more if you so choose) does not go the utility. It is given to NC GreenPower, and is used to buy energy from the clean producers who have it to sell. As more people — and companies — sign up, the program will have more funds with which to encourage more production. NC GreenPower claims to be the only statewide, nonprofit green power consortium in the country.

Unfortunately, due to lack of publicity and the cost, few people have signed up for the program. According to NC GreenPower, statewide subscribers now stand at 7,650. In our region, Duke Power says it has a total of 201 customers in its Western North Carolina service area.

There are lots of people who try to make political hay of any effort that benefits the environment. But cutting our addiction to traditional energy sources like coal and oil just makes sense. Actions that reduces pollution without any major ramifications is just smart. Taking baby steps toward an energy independent future is economically and politically sound.

In February of this year, the U.S. Census Bureau says the Earth’s population hit 6.5 billion souls. By 2012, we will reach 7 billion. Push all the ideology and philosophizing aside, and the simple truth is that more people means more consumption, which leads to less of everything.

Barely any of those 7 billion folks will be able to afford wind generators or solar panels, but a whole bunch of us can afford a few extra dollars a month. This one’s easy.

To sign up for the program or to learn more, go to www.ncgreenpower.org or call 919.716.6398.

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