Mary Ellen Cassidy organized the event. She’s the director
of the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling
a center of research and analysis, education and action that tries to address
struggles Appalachian people face.
“I did a lot of research,” Cassidy says.
“I looked into
community energy programs like this throughout the nation: New
York, Vermont, Wisconsin,
Kentucky. I got in touch with a
lot of those coordinators and tried to collect lessons learned—what worked and
what didn’t. Then we held small focus groups and meetings in Wheeling with some
of the community leaders and business people and home owners and tried to
figure out how we can adapt research we’ve done to fit our community. We came
up with this program.”
In addition to the Appalachian Institute, the event was also
co-sponsored by the Wheeling Academy of Law and Science—a non-profit organization
with a mission of education outreach located in one of the historic buildings
in downtown Wheeling dubbed “The
First State Capitol.”
Patrick Cassidy explains that the historic building,
built in 1858, from which West Virginia’s first governor gave his inaugural
address, has recently undergone an energy audit of its own.
“We’ve had an energy audit done. We had a walk-though with a
couple energy experts who converted it to about twenty recommendations. It goes
everywhere from, finish replacing the windows, to replacing the roof with a
white roof instead of the black rubber roof we have now,” Cassidy says.
“A lot of the recommendations are just common sense things
that, when you’re busy in your profession practicing law—I don’t have time to
think about it. We just pay the utility bills every month and we have been told
that if we accomplish this the savings will be tremendous.”
acquire their energy audit through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program. They’re also working with Rita
Gale Cruise, a project manager who works with Natural Capitol Investment Fund
to help finance energy projects.
“This is one of
the buildings we did an energy audit on,” Cruise explains.
“They wanted this to
be an example of how you do energy efficiency. The State Capital Building is
just absolutely wonderful because you get a chance to see what a historic
building can be and how you can save energy as part of that.”
with a variety of small businesses and farms throughout West Virginia.
non-profit community development lender. We work with banks; we work with the
USDA and the SBA. We work with all different entities to get energy efficiency
improvements done to save them money and to finance the project in general.”
Cruise was just one of the energy experts available there. Cassidy
worked with the Department of Energy and other organizations to come up with a group
of experts who could talk to community members.
David Ruhl, for
example, is the Weatherization Manager in the northern West Virginia branch of
the Change Inc., a community action agency. The agency has been weatherizing homes
in West Virginia since 1987.
Ruhl says they’ve served a lot of low-income
families, he has a waiting list of about two years right now, and with federal
cut-backs, the wait might be longer in coming years. A large part of what his
organization does is educating individuals on how they can conserve energy day
“There are so
many things people can do to help themselves,” Ruhl says.
light bulbs are a big one. Thinking back to my childhood, if my mom was baking
or cooking the first thing she would do is turn on the oven to get it
preheated and then half an hour or forty-five minutes later she’s putting
dinner in the oven. The way stoves are designed now, ten, fifteen minutes is
all it takes to heat it up.”
people to dry multiple loads of laundry in succession to take advantage of the
already heated drum in the drier. He says plugging TVs and cable boxes into a
power strip and switching the power strip off when not in use can save a lot of
energy and money, too, even if it’s inconvenient to reset some devices. He says
otherwise, these devices use a lot of electricity even when they aren’t on.
invited Edward Outlaw from a company called GoodCents that serves utility
companies by working to make their operations more efficient. Outlaw has a
message about a rebate program available to Appalachian Power and Wheeling
doing for the residential customers—we’re providing a free home energy audit to
any customer that is Wheeling Power or Appalachian Power in the state of West
Virginia,” Outlaw says.
"They’ll actually come through
and do a walk-through of your facility and tell you what you can do to save
money on your energy costs. They’ll bring a kit of CFLs and low-flow aerators
to help you save money and do the instillation on those as well.”
Outlaw says between commercial and residential facilities,
his company has over $5 million allocated this year to help customers
achieve greater energy efficiency. Outlaw says when power companies invest in these
programs it’s a win-win.
“The power companies are able to operate more efficiently,”
Outlaw says. “It saves them money in man-hours and in bringing units on and
off. It helps consumers relying on the grid which helps them control the power
studies have confirmed that for every dollar utility companies spend educating
customers on how to be energy efficient, they get a return investment of $1.26.
She says home and business owners and schools may have even more to gain.
while convincing some community members to seriously consider energy makeovers
is the short-term goal of the evening, Cassidy says the larger goal is to inspire
action within the community at large and thereby reinvigorate the economy.
“It needs to be
a volume community level so that construction people, home repair people, HVAC
people start hiring again,” Cassidy says.
“And new companies start up. Wouldn’t
it be great if college students in our area started a small company based on
energy management and software for these different energy efficiency
technologies? There are all kinds of possibilities here but we need that
volume. It can’t just be one or two.”
Cassidy hopes this is the first Green Drinks event of
many. She collected surveys to assess the potential effectiveness of the event
and hopes, armed with more information, she will be able to grow community