We envision a future when our Western North Carolina community has come together to bring efficient, healthy and affordable housing for all and our children can look forward to a bright future living in a just and sustainable world.
We will mobilize our community to work one house at a time to lower the energy costs for our modest income neighbors. Our volunteers provide energy saving upgrades and education at no cost, plus identify options for greater savings. We offer this as one among many solutions to the twin crises of climate change and inequality.
Our History / Future Plans
Now a program of the Green Built Alliance(GBA), Energy Savers Network (ESN) is part of an ambitious effort of the City of Asheville and Buncombe County 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 and changes in federal and state law, policy, and funding.
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 began to expand their network of homes outside of CAO, completing their first “solo” home in December 2016. Recognizing the importance of programs that foster climate justice and community-engagement, MountainTrue and later Green Built Alliance became fiscal sponsors, leading to the birth of Energy Savers Network in 2017.
The years 2017-2019 have been years of tremendous growth and evolution of ESN. ESN volunteers continue to make it happen! Starting with Brad and Alice and including many others as time has gone along, our volunteers have committed over 6000 hours of work completing over 450 homes as of February 2020. Countless additional hours have been spent by our board members and administrative staff as well.
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 the Sustainability Office of Buncombe County, who understand that the tremendous opportunity to save energy among the clients that we serve is only possible through a community effort. Buncombe funded hiring Yulia Shaffer, our Operations Coordinator, who has been instrumental in growing the program.
And grow the program we have! From one client in 2016, we helped 83 families in 2017, 153 in 2018 and 201 in 2020. We are hoping for continued support to allow us to build and do more. 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 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. We believe that this combination will provide us the organizational capability and streamlined decision making that can make this future a reality!
The Problem we are trying to solve
Modest income communities in BuncombeCounty are among the most energy inefficient due to (1) live in mobile homes and older site built homes that were less energy efficiency in mind when built and have further deteriorated, (2) have limited financial ability to perform maintenance or upgrades, (3) are less “long term” oriented due to short term financial stress, (4) are often renters versus owners, and (5) often lack knowledge of how to upgrade or efficiently use their energy using devices.
As evidence of this, over 3,000 low-income families in Buncombe County receive LIHEAP (home heating assistance) totaling over $500,000 each year. Many have over $400/month winter energy bills due to heating leaky and inefficient 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 at https://www.aceee.org/press/2018/07/rural-households-spend-much-more
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
Our team leaders and staff can all attest to the degree of this problem (and opportunity for improvement) in Buncombe County. We welcome you to our movement and to become a member of our team as we continue to expand and make a difference!