Saturday, March 28, 2015

NC GreenPower Tests New Focus on Solar for Schools & Community

(Blog reposted from original story by NC Sustainability Connection)





Photo Credit: Alex Snyder / CreativeCommons

NC GreenPower has announced two new pilot projects that signal a shift in the organization's focus. After more than a decade of helping to boost the state's voluntary renewable energy portfolio through production-based incentives, the group is transitioning its direction toward school solar installations and other community impact projects more likely to galvanize contributor support.

A Changing Landscape for Renewable Energy
Launched in 2003, NC GreenPower is a Raleigh-based non-profit that has supported nearly 1,000 projects across the state, with emphasis on residential solar PV. The first initiative of its kind in the nation, the program pools support from donors who contribute in $4 increments through their utility bill. Only 25 percent of this donation is kept for marketing and administrative costs, and the $3 remainder goes toward payments to renewable energy generators. Since 2003, donors have supported the generation of more than 550 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy on NC's electric grid and have helped offset 28,493 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases.

In the last decade, the state has seen a dramatic shift in the renewable energy landscape, due in part to NC GreenPower's incentive program. By 2014, according to the organization's website, North Carolina was ranked third in the nation for solar PV installations, with more than 2,500 registered solar PV installations statewide, as well as more than 60 wind turbines, more than 70 hydroelectric facilities, and 32 landfill energy projects in operation. In recent years the cost of solar PV has decreased significantly, from around $10 to around $4.50 per watt, and federal and state tax credits have made this technology affordable to a large portion of the population.

But the $1 out of $4 contribution model has never been enough to sustain NC GreenPower's program costs in the long term, and donations to support a general pool of generators have decreased, according to the group's recent pilot proposal submitted to the NC Utilities Commission. With nearly 600 Renewable Energy Credit (REC) generators in the current program, incentive payments and their accompanying administrative costs exceed donor contributions.

A New Direction
When NC GreenPower approached its ten-year anniversary, its strategic planning committee partnered with the Solar Electric Power Association and the UNC Environmental Finance Center to study other green pricing programs and assess NC GreenPower's options to stay viable. Their research discovered that similar production-based incentives programs were changing because of high administrative costs and a decrease in public contributions.

NC GreenPower Vice President Vicky McCann is quick to point out that the program still enjoys the support of 9,000 contributors, but she says they are looking at moving toward a model where donors can see the direct impact of their contribution. “We've seen from other studies that people want to have a direct connection to things they support, and that they would be thrilled if they could put their money to support their son's school down the road or the high school they used to attend in the next town over. They're more inclined to donate to something that's tangible,” says McCann. “The cost has gone down dramatically, and there are a host of different reasons why people are less inclined to support general projects across the state instead of specific projects.”

On January 27, the NC State Utilities Commission approved the launch of two pilot projects that will test a new direction for NC GreenPower.

50/50 Hybrid Pilot
“The 50/50 hybrid takes part of the old program and combines it with part of a new program,” explains McCann. Half of the $4 contribution will continue supporting generator incentive payments, and the other half will be applied toward solar installation projects at schools across North Carolina.

The pilot will be open to applications from all K-12 schools across the state, though special emphasis will be made to target Tier 1 counties with the most need. The program will include provision of monitoring equipment so that students can learn about real-time energy generation, as well as curriculum development assistance so that the project can be incorporated into classroom lessons on science, health, math, and more. “We hope to be able to arm our teachers with a really fantastic educational tool,” says McCann.

NC GreenPower donations will match 50 percent of project funds up to $10,000; the balance is to be raised by the school and surrounding community. NC GreenPower will help market and raise support for the school campaign through use of its website fundraising tool, my.ncgreenpower.org, and will play a close role in contractor selection and other administrative aspects of the project. “When we're using contributions, we want to make sure it's done well. Advanced Energy, our parent company, has engineers with a lot of experience so we feel like we can deliver a sound project, and once it's installed we hope the teachers and students can maximize the benefits of the tool,” says McCann.

Investor and Crowd-Source Funded Renewable Energy Pilot
The second new pilot is an ownership transition model that will help pay for large-scale renewable energy projects at schools, non-profits, and other community locations to offset facility usage.

Through this pilot, NC GreenPower will partner with a third party who will recruit investors and form an LLC to pay for the upfront costs of the system. The investor group will own the system and sell the electricity to the utility for a six-year period, allowing them time to gain return on their investment, in addition to payment from NC GreenPower's contributors for the associated Renewable Energy Credits. After six years, investors will donate the system to the host site. When the school, non-profit, or community takes ownership, they can continue to sell electricity to the utility to offset their electrical consumption and will own it for the life of the system.

The pilot projects are planned for an April launch. “We have a lot of work ahead of us,” says McCann. “If we can get more people to donate, we can do more across North Carolina. We hope to learn a lot and find success during the pilots and make it a real program that will positively impact as many schools as possible.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

5 tips for a greener Valentine’s Day – Love is in the air!



Valentine's Day. It’s the time of year when roses are received from a secret admirer, gifts are exchanged between friends and couples in love enjoy romantic candle-lit dinners. On the other hand, plenty of couples ignore the over-commercialized holiday and do nothing… Or feel forced to do something.
theOatmeal.com


Whatever your opinion of the holiday is, please love the earth and have an eco-friendly celebration! We’ve pulled together 5 tips for you:


  1. Look for recycled paper Valentine’s Day cards or create a handmade one. Around a billion Valentines are sent each year globally, making the day the 2nd largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. NOT including cards exchanged in classrooms between children, 180 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged in the U.S. alone. Plenty of crafty spots have some great ideas for recycled paper cards. (like Pinterest) I especially like this idea from Merriment Design that uses recycled security envelopes!   
  2.  Giving flowers? Look for locally-grown or pesticide-free organic buds. It’s easy to find some local flowers at your neighborhood farmer’s market. The NC Farm Fresh website lets you search by product (like “cut flowers” or “roses”) in your area of North Carolina or for nurseries and garden centers near you. The FlowersFor Good line by Organic Bouquets will send 5% of your purchase to selected nonprofit charities. You can also shop through Goodsearch and get 25% off your Valentine’s gift AND a donation will be made directly to NCGreenPower! 
  3. Not a flower person? How about a rose bush or a potted plant! Instead of traditional flowers for Valentine's Day, give a potted plant from a local supplier. Just as beautiful and lasts much longer. An estimated 120 liters of water (about 32 gallons) is used to produce a dozen roses. Plant a rose bush instead - You'll conserve water and save money. WIN-WIN 
  4. If chocolate is his/her weakness, be socially responsible and make a smart choice. Send your sweetheart organic fair trade chocolates this V-day. Visit Equal Exchange Coop to learn more about organic sweets. You probably also have a local chocolatier in your city! 
  5.  Big spender? Eco-friendly and people-friendly jewelry choices are easy to find. If you’re really splurging this year and want to get jewelry, find a jeweler who uses conflict-free diamonds or recycled materials from an online retailer, like Brilliant Earth or BlueNile. For the socially conscious jewelry buyer, consider estate jewelry from a local retailer.
Remember to consider your loved one along with the environment with your Valentine’s Day purchases this year. Natural fragrances, soy candles and dinner at home are also some great ideas! Taking a trip? Green up a vacation with your loved one and donate to NC GreenPower carbon offsets for your trip. 

And during the month of February, donate$36 on behalf of a loved one and your valentine will receive and NC GreenPower local organic cotton tee shirt! Give $48, and we’ll send you a t-shirt, too!



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Eco New Year’s Resolutions

We at NC GreenPower hope you had wonderful holidays! Now that we have welcomed the New Year, it’s time to reflect on some ways you can make small changes to live more environmentally friendly. We’ve compiled a list of ideas for New Year’s Resolutions you can make that will help you live a greener life. A lot of the time, small behavioral changes make a big difference!

1) Pledge to never buy bottled water again! Ok, you can in a pinch, but make a real effort to remember to bring your own bottle. This will not only be good for the environment, it will help your wallet, too. Watch this video from the Story of Stuff to learn more.


2) If you live close enough to work, resolve to make an effort to bike or walk to work (if you don’t already!). It depends on your own personal biking experience and level of athleticism, but you could aim to bike to work once a week, once a month, or even just a few times a year. Biking or walking to work accomplishes two things at once: it cuts down on pollution and it gives you a little exercise, which boosts your mood. Studies have shown that those who commute to work by bicycles are the happiest of all commuter transportation groups (verses single person cars, carpooling, or taking public transportation). Visit bikeleague.org to learn about biking safely.



3) Resolve to buy more locally produced food. Visit your local farmers’ market more often! Buying local not only reduces the transportation impact of the food, it also helps support the local economy. And you get yummy food out of it – sounds like a good deal to me! Find a market near you at NCFarmFresh.com


  4) Transition to using only LED lighting. It would be pretty wasteful to throw out all of your current incandescent light bulbs if they still work, but whenever you replace a bulb or install new lighting, resolve to use LED.

  5)  Make your own home cleaners. This can save you money and greatly improve the air quality in your home in addition to keep unwanted chemicals out of the water supply (notice a theme here? A lot of these changes have many additional benefits, not just for the environment!

 6) Eat less meat (or become vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian). Many countries have introduced meatless Fridays in their public schools in an effort to teach kids about the negative impacts that meat production and consumption has on our environment. Why not embrace that message and adopt a similar policy yourself? Choosing one day to go meatless is a very small commitment but if followed consistently it could have significant effects environmentally, financially (saves you money!), and for your health.

To me, New Year’s Resolutions are best when they are rather small and manageable. Then it’s much more likely that you will actually follow them! I hope you have gotten some good ideas of how you can make your 2015 more green. 




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

9 Tips for End-of-Year Giving



Thanks to the good folks at KFOR channel 4 in Oklahoma City for putting this story together!  

https://www.ncgreenpower.org/donate/now/


OKLAHOMA CITY – It is the season of giving and many are volunteering their time, goods or money to charities. In fact, this time of year is when many non-profits receive a bulk of their donations.

This is also a great time for taxpayers to get a tax break for making those contributions to charitable organizations.  The OSCPA recommends following the following tips for donating.
The Oklahoma Society of Professional Certified Accountants, OSCPA, recommends these tips.

Do your research first.
Only donations that are made to qualified charitable organizations are tax-deductible. If you aren’t sure whether an organization is qualified, ask to see its letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.) Many organizations will actually post their letters on their websites. You can search online using IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check at www.irs.gov. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are considered de facto charitable organizations and are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they’re not on the list. You can learn more about a charitable organization’s tax exempt status online at Guidestar.org and Charity Navigator.org.

http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/22-3895009/nc-greenpower-corporation.aspx
[NOTE: NC GreenPower is a 501(c)(3) designated Guidestar Gold-rated charity and all donations to our organization are eligible for a tax-deduction.)

Get and keep your receipts. 
Cash deductions must be substantiated by a bank record (such as a canceled check or credit card receipt, clearly annotated with the name of the charity) or in writing from the organization. The writing must include the date, the amount and the organization that received the donation. You don’t have to submit the receipt with your tax return, but you need to be prepared to show it if you are audited.

Be an itemizer.
In order to claim charitable deductions on your tax return, you must itemize your deductions on Schedule A of your Federal Form 1040. Deductions aren’t available to individuals who choose the standard deduction. This includes anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). You can use the 2014 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.

Do the math.
If you happen to receive something in exchange for your donation—no matter how big or small—the donation is deductible only for the amount the donation exceeds the value of any goods or services received.

Don’t forget documentation.
Be sure to document every time you give. Be sure to keep good records of all donations. If you donate non-cash items, you’ll need to be able to substantiate the value of your donation. If you leave a donation at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method you used to determine that value. There are additional rules that apply for a contribution of $250 or more.

Know your limits.
There are limits on the amount of charitable contributions you can deduct. The specific limitations can be fairly complicated, so consult your CPA if you contribute more than 20 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Keep an eye on the calendar.
All donations must be made by the end of the tax year for which you want to claim the deduction. If you put a check dated December 31 in the mail by that day, you’re okay. The same goes for donations charged by year’s end to your credit card—even if you don’t pay the bill until next year.

Keep your paystubs.
If you have elected to have money taken directly out of your paycheck for charity, keep your paystubs, Form W-2 or other document showing the total amount withheld, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

Donate appreciated property.
Appreciated property can be donated to a charity instead of cash, which can yield double the bang for your buck, because an individual can deduct the property’s fair market value on the date he or she gives the gift and avoid paying capital gains tax on the appreciation. The deduction of appreciated property is generally limited to 30 percent of adjusted gross income. If the claimed value is more than $500, the organization must provide you with a Form 1098-C or a similar statement and it must be attached to your tax return.

Full story and video available online here:
http://kfor.com/2014/12/16/9-tips-for-end-of-year-charitable-giving/

Donate to NC GreenPower today!

 https://www.ncgreenpower.org/donate/now/



Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Top 10 Ideas!



It’s not too late for some holiday tips!! Here are 10 ideas to keep sustainability on track:




Holiday tip #1: Act like a boy scout & be prepared. Make lists. Try to do all of your shopping in one trip.  Save on gas & stress!

Holiday tip #2: Knows store return policies and get gift receipts so they can be returned or exchanged if needed.

Holiday tip #3: Look for gifts that are not over-packaged, labeled energy efficient, made with recycled materials, or recyclable. 
Image courtesy of Terraskin












Holiday tip #4: Think durability and length of warranties!  How long will the item last? Will it just end up in a landfill?

Holiday tip #5: Give a gift of time: Take someone to a concert or movie. Make gift cards for a special dinner, pet-sitting or house cleaning. 

Holiday tip #6: Plants make excellent presents and help to reduce indoor pollution.  Herb-growing kits are also a great idea.

Holiday tip #7: If you give a gift that requires batteries, include the rechargeable kind – and a battery recharger. 
Holiday tip #8: Give the gift of charity this year. Sponsor a child refugee, support a homeless shelter, or protect an acre of rainforest.

Holiday tip #9: Give the gift of yourself.  Volunteer in your community! Join the NC GreenPower Speakers Bureau.

Holiday tip #10: Turn holiday lights on only when people are around to enjoy them. Avoid leaving them on all day and use a timer at night.


Still looking for a last minute gift? Buy used! There are many local consignment shops that specialize in “gently used” items.