Appalachian Community on the Road to Energy Independence

First posted on NorthcentralPA.com:

Barriers exist throughout the Appalachian region which prevent the ability of small communities, including the community of New Berlin, to undertake energy conservation measures which can result in significant energy and cost savings: a lack of understanding of how and how much energy is currently being used; lack of awareness of opportunities and cost benefits offered through various energy conservation measures; a lack of knowledge about and connection with the technical expertise available to assist in the implementation of energy conservation measures; and a lack of financial resources to invest in these energy conservation measures.

New Berlin seeks to address these barriers through a groundbreaking, community-wide initiative known as the New Berlin Energy Independence (NBEI) Project. In additional to SEDA-COG, the Appalachian Regional Commission and PPL Electric Utilities are financial partners to the project.

The community of New Berlin, located in Union County, is working with SEDA-COG’s Energy Resource Center to implement, document and widely share a community-wide energy reduction model replicable for other communities within the Appalachian region for their use in achieving community-wide energy independence results. This community-scale project is being implemented in a manner that will provide a replicable blueprint for other Appalachian communities to reduce their dependence on costly fossil fuels, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, attain greater energy security, retain wealth within the region and create new businesses and living wage jobs to provide products and services focused on energy independence.

New Berlin is home to 848 residents and is representative of many small, rural communities throughout Appalachia. The community-wide energy audit, completed in Phase I of the NBEI project, revealed that the small community of New Berlin spends approximately $2 million on residential energy consumption annually and $3 million on its total annual energy consumption. Additionally, the audit revealed that New Berlin residents spend 15% of their net household income on energy. Information gleaned from the audit will inform the community-wide action plan and enables the community to set thresholds to reduce its energy use and provides the necessary information to enable the development of a community-wide action plan toward greater energy independence. With the information provided by the audit, we can identify discreet opportunities where technology, materials and/or behavioral changes can reduce the community’s energy consumption and associated costs.

Phase I of the NBEI Project was focused on engaging all sectors of the community in the project, eliciting the involvement of outside partners and creating project communication and management tools to leverage resources and implement energy reductions in Phases II and III consistent with a community-wide action plan which is currently being circulated throughout the community to solicit community members’ input, feedback and buy-in.

Phase II of the project will primarily focus on assisting each sector of New Berlin to achieve greater energy independence through the implementation of the discreet activities contained in the community-wide action plan. The strategic plan will focus on energy conservation and opportunities for local ownership and local use of alternative energy from feedstocks within and surrounding the Borough of New Berlin. The project will provide significant short and long term benefits for the residents, businesses, schools and other members of the New Berlin community.

The New Berlin Energy Independence (NBEI) Committee recently announced that through the NBEI Project and to assist the community of New Berlin in moving toward energy independence, residential Walk Through Energy Surveys are being offered to New Berlin residents at no cost, thanks to funding provided by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to waive the $50 fee to all residents who schedule a Walk Through Energy Survey prior to October 1, 2010. SEDA-COG’s Weatherization program will conduct the Walk Through Energy Surveys in New Berlin. As a partner to the NBEI project, PPL Electric Utilities (PPL EU) is committed to helping the public understand how to use energy wisely. The Walk Through Energy Survey is one of two residential energy assessment programs being offered by PPL EU. SEDA-COG continues to provide technical assistance to all sectors in the community of New Berlin.

For more information about the project, contact project manager Megan Epler, at (570) 524.4491 or mepler@seda-cog.org. Additionally, please visit the NBEI project website which provides information about the purpose and progress of this project concurrent with project implementation.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.