We envision a future where our Western North Carolina community has come together to foster efficient, healthy and affordable housing for all, and our children can look forward to a bright future living in a just and sustainable world.
Our mission is to mobilize our community to work one house at a time to help lower the energy cost burden for our modest income neighbors. Our volunteers provide a suite of energy saving options and education at no cost to all clients, plus identify options for greater savings. We offer this as one among many solutions to the twin crises of climate change and inequality.
The Problem We Are Trying to Solve
The community we serve is the most vulnerable community affected by the energy burden and the potential consequences of pollution and a changing climate. Our community is the most vulnerable because they:
- live in lower cost homes such as mobile homes and older site built houses that are not energy efficient;
- have limited financial ability to perform maintenance or upgrades;
- tend to think less about “long term” upgrades due to short term financial stress just to meet their bare minimum daily needs;
- are often renters versus owners; and
- do not have the knowledge of how to improve their homes or how to efficiently utilize their home energy.
As evidence of this, over 3,000 low-income families in Buncombe County receive LIHEAP (Limited Income Home Heating Assistance Program) totaling over $500,000 each year. Many have over $400/month winter energy bills due to heating poorly insulated and operating homes. We estimate that at least 18,000 households in Buncombe County live in manufactured homes, many of them older, and these homes are very energy inefficient. Many strategies for mitigating climate change involve increased incentives for renewable energy, but offer little to low-income families. Climate change itself is expected to disproportionately burden people with fewer resources to adapt. We believe that this likely future scenario will demand that communities provide energy efficiency at no cost to these clients.
A recent report from American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency provides much more information on this topic. One of the conclusions of this report is that there are many side benefits to programs that address the energy burden of the rural poor, including:
- Lower cost burden and energy stress
- Reduced utility disconnections
- Reduced pollution and improved health
- Improved property values
- Preservation of affordable housing
- Greater customer satisfaction
Now a program of the Green Built Alliance (GBA), Energy Savers Network (ESN) is part of an overall effort to achieve ambitious City of Asheville and Buncombe County goals to achieve 100% renewable energy for the community by 2042. This effort will require treating the climate crisis as an emergency, which the City of Asheville declared in a recent declaration of Climate Emergency, requiring community mobilization in the near term and working for changes in federal and state law, policy, and funding to make that happen.
Energy Savers Network is part of the community response to this need through the Blue Horizons Project.
Before this ambitious effort launched, ESN started as a grassroots movement to demonstrate that volunteer and community interest was so intense that volunteers could begin this work before community funding was available. Brad Rouse helped start the precursor of ESN as a ministry of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Hayesville, NC called The Green Team. Instead of donating money to help pay utility bills for people in need, the Green Team created the same result by helping reduce their energy use. The Green Team connected with limited income communities, handing out LED bulbs and performing other measures to lower their energy burden. Their efforts won them the national Interfaith Power & Light “Cool Congregations” Award in 2015.
After moving from Hayesville to Asheville, Brad met Alice Wyndham and with a mutual desire to help people and the environment they decided to organize volunteers for a similar effort in Asheville. Brad and Alice first partnered with Community Action Opportunities (CAO) to support their weatherization services. As a small corps of volunteers developed, they completed their first “solo” home in December 2016. Mountain True in 2016 and later Green Built Alliance in 2017 became fiscal sponsors and Energy Savers Network was born.
The years 2017-2019 were years of tremendous growth and evolution of ESN. ESN volunteers continue to make it happen! Our volunteers and staff have committed over 6000 hours of work completing energy upgrades for over 600 to date. ESN has been recognized by community leaders for its innovative approach, receiving the “Environmental Organization of the Year” award in 2018 from the Sierra Club and the “Energy Innovator” award in 2019 from the Energy Innovation Task Force.
Our community partners have been fantastic. Green Built Alliance has been with ESN from those early days and provided valuable fiscal sponsorship, help in fundraising, hosting of our initial staff, and community connection. We rely on referrals from agencies such as Mountain Housing Opportunities, Asheville – Buncombe Community Christian Ministries, Eblen Charities and others to connect us who most need our help. Our funders have included many in the community such as Rotary Club of Asheville, New Belgium Brewing, All Souls Cathedral, Community Foundation of WNC, Duke Energy, City of Asheville, Buncombe County and many individuals. Our most notable financial support has come from founding sponsors the City of Asheville and Buncombe County.
And grow the program we have! From one client in 2016, we helped 83 families in 2017, 153 in 2018, and 201 in 2019. Along with everyone else COVID19 impacted our ability to make aggressive targets but we still were able to do 154 homes in 2020. We have done a total of 600 homes to date.
We are hoping for continued support to allow us to build and do more as the COVID crisis recedes. Our long run plan is to grow to as many as 600 homes per year, an order of magnitude expansion. But an order of magnitude expansion is needed given the short time frame for climate action and the approximately 30,000 households in Buncombe County that would meet our income requirements.
To meet this expansive agenda, we have recently combined and streamlined our efforts in WNC through our partner the Green Built Alliance (GBA). GBA now has overall operating responsibility for ESN efforts in WNC and ESN operates as a program of GBA. This combination will provide us the organizational capability and streamlined decision making that can make this future a reality!
Finally, City and County funding in 2020 allowed ESN to add a full time project workday leader, Kelvin Bonilla, who brings a strong background in building science and weatherization to the team.