Sierra Club Championing Energy Efficiency in West Virginia

Campaign focuses on increasing efficiency, creating jobs and reducing pollution

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In 2012, the Sierra Club commissioned a study by Optimal Energy, Inc. to show how energy efficiency can save money and create jobs in West Virginia. According to Kenzie Allen, the Media Leader for the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, “The report included information on efficiency programs … along with future plans for efficiency and utility studies.”Sierra Club

The following year, the Sierra Club launched an energy efficiency campaign in West Virginia. Allen explained that the report “…demonstrated that strong energy efficiency programs could create thousands of jobs and cut bills statewide by hundreds of millions (of dollars).” She noted that the campaign began with an effort to stop the transfer of the Harrison (County) Power Station from FirstEnergy to its subsidiary, Mon Power. She shared, “Although the campaign didn’t stop the transfer…it was able to win the doubling of FirstEnergy’s efficiency goals and won funding for low-income efficiency programs.”

Building upon those efforts, “In 2014 the campaign trained local leaders, and transitioned into a collection of chapter and efficiency leaders. In September the campaign set goals and strategies and started a petition urging Governor Tomblin to support efficiency programs.”

Indeed, it was that year that Allen joined the effort. “When I first began to volunteer with the campaign it began with a strategy meeting in Morgantown. Several people from the campaign got together and we established goals for the upcoming several months, and strategies to achieve those goals. From petitions to public hearings, the campaign has been very active, and I have been able to engage with a lot of like-minded people with the campaign and outside of it.”

She continued, “The mission of the campaign is to win stronger utility energy efficiency programs, government policies, and the implementation of energy savings in our communities. These goals are critical to creating jobs, lowering bills, and decreasing the amount of pollution across West Virginia.”

Presently, there are about a dozen volunteers involved in the campaign. “These dedicated volunteers are supported by dozens of grassroots volunteers working for efficiency in their communities, and hundreds of supporters,” said Allen. The campaign is also advocating for an Integrated Resource Plan, which says Allen, “…is simply the long term plans of our electric utilities.” She explained, “That focus (is) on the most affordable, clean and reliable power – which is, of course, energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

The Sierra Club campaign is also looking to the benefits of the POWER+Plan, which, said Allen, “…would benefit economically transitioning communities.” She shared, “The POWER+Plan has some really awesome objectives, such as cleaning up abandoned mine lands, shoring up the pension plans of retired miners, creating job training programs, and more.” The group will be meeting this month to develop a strategy for this and other initiatives over the next several months.

Another effort the campaign is involved with is E3 audits. Allen explained, “The E3 audits are a program conducted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in collaboration with the WVU Industries of the Future Program.” E3 stands for Economy, Energy, and the Environment. It is a collaborative effort among manufacturers, utilities and government. She continued, “The audits assess energy use and determine opportunities to reduce energy costs, along with an analysis of carbon footprint, and post-assessment recommendations to move each facility towards greater efficiency and reduced costs. The E3 assessments were organized by members of the campaign, and the audits will show how easy it is to have a more efficient operation.”

Allen acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges facing the campaign is “making people care.” She offered, “Energy efficiency seems to be far in the back of the ‘everyday person’s’ mind, whereas we already recognize the importance of efficiency. It is so huge, and I do wish people would begin to look at it as a solution! Job creation, lower bills, lower pollution; what’s not to love?”

Allen encouraged citizens to visit the campaign’s website to learn more, and to write letters to local newspapers as one way to be involved. “The lack of efficiency programs in the state is disheartening, and letters to the editor are a great way to bring that concern to light.”

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia.

The West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club is partnering with St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. and the Appalachian Preservation Project to hold the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.

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