Growing Appalachia: DIY Transition Stories

This Saturday, 100 people gathered at Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County to share ideas and skills for small-scale farming, forestry and saving energy.  The event, dubbed Growing Appalachia and organized by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, was a follow up to a similarly successful gathering last year.

The workshop featured local experts sharing their experiences with reducing costs and earning income by carrying out ‘do it yourself’ solutions – some called these practices a core part of living sustainably, others acknowledged these ideas build upon the ways our predecessors used to do things, drawing on generations of common sense.

Among the attendees on Saturday was a couple, Elijah and Guylaine Collett, recently profiled in a story in the Herald Leader.  The Colletts have grabbed hold of transition ideas in a very real way.  Over the last ten years, the Collets have installed an array of 51 panels on the hill above their Leslie County mobile home.  When asked who the installer was on this long project, Guylaine proudly proclaimed that she did it herself—with the help of her electrical contractor husband.

The Colletts have reduced their monthly power bills to a number that mirrors their solar panel array — $51 this past month.  This low bill stands in stark contrast to the stories of sky high bills for neighbors over this past, unusually cold winter.  According to the Collets, neighbors are paying between $300-$600 a month for their power.  Living on a tight, fixed income – primarily from Elijah’s disability checks supplemented by Guylaine’s housecleaning and foraging efforts.  Strawberries used to provide an additional source of income for the Collets, but the decline of honeybees in the area has hindered the harvesting of enough strawberries to make a significant contribution to the couple’s cash flow.

On the subject of reducing electric bills, one of the workshops showcased details about the new How$martKY program currently offered as a pilot program by Big Sandy RECC, Fleming-Mason Energy, Grayson RECC and Jackson Energy to customers looking for comprehensive energy services in their service areas.  The pilot will address the primary barrier to investment in energy efficiency by households and small businesses: the necessity for upfront cash to pay for improvements such as insulation, air-sealing and HVAC upgrades.  In this demonstration program, the customer will make monthly installment payments on their utility bill for the efficiency upgrade using part of the energy savings generated by the retrofit. Not only does the program eliminate the need for customers to supply upfront capital, it also immediately saves them money on their average utility bills.  As the pilot program rolls out, we are hopeful participating customers will see real

Saturday’s event was a great chance to hear about the efforts Kentuckians are making to bring about their own transition, increasing self-reliance and building strong skill-bases within their own communities.  Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing more stories from the Growing Appalachia convening – but as always, welcome your thoughts, tips and experiences as well!

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.