Green in brief: MountainTrue seeks ban on single-use plastics

In the wake of new research showing that microplastics are present in watersheds throughout Western North Carolina, Asheville-based nonprofit MountainTrue is calling for bans on single-use plastics in Asheville, Buncombe County and Boone.

A study conducted by MountainTrue found an average of 19 microplastic particles — pieces smaller than 5 millimeters, formed by the breakdown of larger plastics — per liter of water in local river systems. Exposure to microplastics has been tied to allergic reactions and other health impacts on humans, as well as negative effects on fish.

“The first step to stop the contamination of our environment and our bodies is to reduce the amount of plastic that enters and escapes the waste stream,” he says Anna Alsobrook, MountainTrue’s French Broad watershed outreach coordinator. “And that starts by breaking our dependence on single-use plastics like plastic grocery bags and fast-food utensils and packaging.”

A model ordinance developed by the nonprofit and the WNC Sierra Club would prevent restaurants and retailers from offering many single-use products, mandate that all single-use utensils be recyclable or compostable and require merchants to charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags. (Customers using government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program would be exempt from the fee.)

North Carolina state law doesn’t explicitly prevent local governments from establishing such rules, and communities in the Outer Banks got the General Assembly to pass a local plastic bag ban in 2009. However, that ban was repealed by a Republican legislative supermajority in 2017.

More information on the MountainTrue proposal is available at PlasticFreeWNC.com.

Local solar companies join legal challenge to Duke Energy

A battle over a Duke Energy proposal to change how owners of home solar panels are compensated for the power they generate now involves several Western North Carolina businesses. Weaverville-based Sundance Power Systems has formally objected to the new rule through the NC Utilities Commission; the company also joined Asheville-based Asheville Solar Co., Rhino Renewables Solar & Electric, Sugar Hollow Solar and SolFarm Solar Co. in signing an open letter to Gov. Roy Cooper urging him to reject Duke’s changes.

The companies claim that the new rules, which would let Duke pay less for solar electricity sent to the grid during hours of peak sunshine, would reduce the average value of rooftop solar by 25%-35%. “If approved by the NC Utilities Commission, Duke’s revised [net metering] rider will dramatically slow the fast-paced growth of the rooftop solar industry, cost thousands of well-paying solar jobs and also slow the transformation of North Carolina’s economy to clean energy,” says Dave Hollisterpresident of Sundance Power Systems.

In a statement to xpressDuke spokesperson Randy Wheeless argued that the changes would not hurt solar customers and pointed to support from environmental groups, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center and Vote Solar. “Duke Energy is committed to finding collaborative paths forward to help with the clean-energy transition and carbon-reduction goals in the Carolinas,” Wheeless wrote. “Our settlement with many leading solar groups ensures fair and reasonable treatment for all customers whether they choose to install solar or not.”

Duke has until Thursday, April 28, to reply to the formal objections on his proposal. The NCUC will then consider whether to allow the new rules. The full docket for the case is available at avl.mx/prwp.

community kudos

  • Three teams of students from Buncombe County’s Nesbitt Discovery Academy placed among the top seven in the Area 1 Regional Envirothon, qualifying for the state Envirothon later this month. The interactive, outdoor competition tests students on wildlife, aquatic ecology, soils and other environmental topics.
  • Five students from Asheville High School and the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville were selected by NASA to develop an experiment that will be launched to the edge of space next year. The group plans to collect air samples and test them for new pollutants that may be formed when fracking chemicals interact with wildfire smoke.
  • Western North Carolina farms received $320,000 in WNC AgOptions grants for 2022. The funded projects will help 41 local agricultural businesses grow and expand their offerings. Recipients include The Never-Ending Flower Farm in Buncombe County, Cold Mountain Angus Beef in Haywood County and Clem’s Organic Gardens in Transylvania County. More information is available at WNCAgOptions.org.