As local governments across the country puzzle over how to eliminate their use of electricity generated by fossil fuels, one North Carolina town has met that goal.
The mountain town of Boone had a goal of running town operations on carbon-free electricity by 2030. Beginning Feb. 1, all town buildings and facilities will be powered entirely by renewable energy, said town sustainability director George Santucci.
"All the energy that we use in our buildings, to run our wastewater treatment plant, run our water treatment facilities, all the electricity used for all the town's operations is coming from either solar or hydropower," Santucci said.
Boone has about 19,000 residents. It's about 115 miles northwest of Charlotte, and it's home to Appalachian State University.
Boone is meeting its goal eight years early because the Town Council voted Jan. 12 to adopt a new arrangement for electricity purchases from its two providers. Santucci believes it's the first local government in North Carolina to reach the milestone.
"I can't find any," Santucci said. He's part of a statewide network of sustainability directors and said he talks regularly with colleagues.
"I've done as much research as I possibly can to find out if any town in North Carolina has achieved this. And I don't have any evidence that any town has actually done this," he said. There's no place that formally tracks municipal energy sources. And people WFAE talked to this week say they haven't heard any other municipal governments make the same claim.
So how did they do it?
The Town Council vote came a little over five years after Boone officials first decided to set their own climate goals. A 2019 update to the goals calls for reaching carbon neutrality in municipal operations by 2030. The plan also seeks to shift the entire town of Boone — including homes and businesses — to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Electricity generation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina. Local governments rely on what's available from their utilities, so they can't do it alone.
"We could not have accomplished this without the help of our utilities, and their willingness to pursue and step out and invest in these hydro and solar facilities," Santucci said. The town has two electricity utilities — an electric cooperative called Blue Ridge Energy and New River Light and Power, which is owned by App State.
New River provides electricity to both the university campus and most of the town of Boone. The university itself recently announced that it now gets about 18% of its electricity from renewable sources.
"About 25% of Boone's total usage is on New River Light and Power, so we (now) have 25% hydro. And then 75% of our consumption is actually on Blue Ridge. And that's all solar," Santucci said.