BOONE, N.C. — Hydroelectric and solar power purchases will boost Appalachian State University’s percentage of electricity supplied from renewables from 2% to 18% in early 2022.
The move to increase supplied renewables is possible primarily because of a plan set in action in 2014 to transition the App State-owned New River Light and Power (NRLP) to a new power provider. This month, NRLP — an electric utility serving nearly 9,000 residential and commercial customers in the Boone area, including most of App State’s campus — began purchasing its electricity from Carolina Power Partners (CPP). The new wholesale contract with CPP gives the university and NRLP new options for purchasing carbon-free electricity.
“For many years, the university has been working to renegotiate energy contracts as part of our overall commitment to reduce our use of fossil fuels,” said App State Chancellor Sheri Everts. “This fall, I was pleased to report a significant increase in the university’s renewable energy purchase portfolio. We will continue these efforts as we advance our work toward carbon neutrality.”
NRLP is purchasing emissions-free, renewable hydropower from the 375-megawatt Smoky Mountain portfolio, consisting of four hydropower facilities located along the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina. The portfolio is owned and operated by Brookfield Renewable U.S., one of the nation’s leading owners, operators and developers of renewable power.
The facilities have been certified by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute for their adherence to a set of stringent, science-based environmental protection standards and social and cultural criteria.
The university is buying approximately 7,670 megawatt-hours (MWh) of hydroelectricity from NRLP using $100,000 in savings generated by energy efficiency efforts, as well as $50,000 from the student-led Renewable Energy Initiative (REI), which voted to approve the funding allocation in the fall semester.
In addition to hydropower, App State is finalizing an agreement with Blue Ridge Energy that will convert approximately 1,600 MWh of purchased electricity (based on the three-year annual average usage) for the Levine Hall of Health Sciences — the university’s largest building in Boone — to 100% solar beginning in early 2022. Funding will come from the university’s Facilities Operations budget.
Purchasing carbon-free electricity is part of the university’s implementation of its latest climate action plan, “AppCAP 1.0,” which was adopted in 2021. The plan is a road map to guide App State toward climate neutrality.
Initiated by a student referendum in 2004, REI receives revenue from a student fee each semester to reduce the university’s environmental impact by implementing renewable energy technologies, investing in energy efficiency projects and promoting campus engagement. The initiative has funded such projects as solar thermal and photovoltaic installations, a biodiesel storage tank and the 100-kilowatt wind turbine on Bodenheimer Drive.
Students from diverse areas of study participate on the REI Student Committee, which evaluates proposed funding allocations based on multiple factors, including return on investment, ethical sourcing and climate justice. If the project meets REI criteria, the committee recommends it to the REI Student Board for a vote.
“One of the things REI has to balance is getting the most impact with the students’ money. We want to demonstrate to the university the students’ commitment to purchasing green electricity,” said REI Chair Daniel Johnson ’21 of Chapel Hill, a graduate student studying appropriate technology.
“We’re definitely excited about this. We’re hoping that REI will be able to use its resources to support the climate action plan in other ways, such as funding renewable energy generation and energy efficiency,” Johnson said.
The new contract with CPP (formerly NTE Carolinas LLC) has been several years in the making, with Everts authorizing negotiations to begin in 2014, and an agreement finalized in 2016. The previous wholesale power agreement with Blue Ridge Energy had a termination option at the end of 2021, allowing NRLP to pursue a new power provider beginning in 2022.
“Back in 2014, to be thinking about the opportunity at hand with climate action in January 2022, it was very forward thinking of Chancellor Everts and her leadership team at the time,” said App State Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball.
Decarbonizing App State’s purchased electricity footprint, which accounts for approximately 40% of campuswide greenhouse gas emissions, is a key strategy identified in the climate action plan developed by 13 different groups and more than 50 students, faculty, staff and administrators. The groups — organized around focus areas such as electricity, transportation, climate justice, food systems and resilience — worked to assess the impact of each area as it relates to the carbon footprint of the university and to recommend mitigation strategies and lower carbon alternatives.
In addition to expanding options to increase the university’s renewable energy portfolio, NRLP’s purchase of hydroelectric power from the Smoky Mountain portfolio is helping the Town of Boone make progress toward its own climate goals. The town government, which is served by both NRLP and Blue Ridge Energy, is buying enough hydroelectric electricity in 2022 to cover all of the power it purchases through NRLP — approximately 25% of the electricity consumed by municipal operations. The town is also purchasing solar-powered electricity from Blue Ridge Energy, its other power provider, to offset the remaining 75% of electricity usage in town facilities.
George Santucci, sustainability and special projects manager for the Town of Boone, stressed the importance of these efforts. Without them, he said," Boone cannot meet its goal of municipal climate neutrality by 2030 and to transition the entire town to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050."
Individual energy customers have the option to buy in, too, with NRLP’s Green Power Program. For $5 extra per month, customers can purchase a 250-kilowatt-hour block of renewable hydroelectric energy, and customers may purchase as many blocks as they want. The average residential customer can offset 100% of their power usage for a total of $15 extra per month. For more information, visit nrlp.appstate.edu.
"The recent approval to move to 100% renewable energy in all of our town facilities is a significant step for the town in achieving our goals and will serve as an example of how private business and residents can join us in making a difference in our local community," Boone Town Manager John Ward said.
In the future, the NRLP contract with CPP provides the flexibility to move the current hydroelectric purchases to solar or other renewable sources. App State and NRLP continue to explore additional options for renewable energy, Everts said.
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About the Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative
The Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative (REI) is a student-led, student-funded organization that seeks to install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Projects can be proposed by any member of Appalachian and are carried out by the REI committee with the help of faculty and staff advisors. Since its inception in 2005, the REI has funded over 20 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, including the Broyhill Wind Turbine, which, until recently, was the largest wind turbine in North Carolina. The REI works closely with Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability. Learn more at https://rei.appstate.edu.
About Sustainability at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The university’s holistic, three-branched approach considers sustainability economically, environmentally and equitably in relationship to the planet’s co-inhabitants. The university is an active steward of the state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources and challenges students and others think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that focus on sustainability. In addition, 100 percent of Appalachian’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course or course that includes sustainability, and all students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. Learn more at https://appstate.edu/sustainability.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.