UNC Asheville Students Team Up with Blue Horizons for a Brighter, Energy-Efficient Future

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Renee Mazurek, adjunct lecturer in environmental studies at UNC Asheville, and students  Elina Morrison and Madison Bruehler
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A fierce wind blew snowflakes past the windows of a small home in the Kenilworth neighborhood in Asheville on March 21, where volunteers with Blue Horizons, a new organization providing a comprehensive hub of energy-efficiency programs, worked to seal windows and doors, keeping that cold winter air at bay. It was a group effort not only to keep the home more comfortable, but also to save energy and energy costs—an effort that benefits everyone.

The volunteer day represented the larger work of Blue Horizons, helping to provide resources to create more energy efficient homes in Asheville and Buncombe County, especially among low income housing. More energy efficient homes means less energy consumption, less expense to residents, and less negative impact on the environment.

Blue Horizons was formed through the Energy Innovation Task Force (EITF), a working group convened in April 2016 by the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and Duke Energy, with two primary goals: to transition the Duke Energy Progress – West Region to a cleaner, affordable, and smarter energy future, rooted in community engagement and collaboration; and to avoid or delay the construction of a 190 MW natural gas plant planned for 2023. UNC Asheville Director of Sustainability Sonia Marcus and Associate Provost and Dean of University Programs Ed Katz are both members of the EITF.

The volunteers, including Renee Mazurek, adjunct lecturer in environmental studies at UNC Asheville, and several of her students, gathered with representatives from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and Duke Energy to celebrate Blue Horizons’ launch.

“The community's desire to realize the highest good in the way that it applies its resources to the benefit of all is realized in the Blue Horizons Project,” said Jonathan Gach ’11, a leader in the Blue Horizons project and a UNC Asheville alumnus. “It is a unique collaboration between government, utility and stakeholders that has caught the attention of other towns as a good way to get good things done. The success of the program is not just measured by energy savings but its ability to operationalize equity and diversity so that it does work with people, not to them.”

“I have been living here for a few years now and have marched, voted, shopped locally, but have yet to volunteer for the community,” said Madison Bruehler, an environmental studies major. Bruehler decided to join Mazurek’s service learning project, volunteering with the Energy Savers Network—one of the organizations that comprises the Blue Horizons Project. “Also, sooner rather than later I would like to move out of an apartment and into a house, so I felt it was useful to know how to be a little more handy.”Buncombe County Commissioner Brownie Newman addresses the crowd in the wind and snow at the Blue Horizons launch.

Bruehler said her experience taught her those handy home improvements are often easier than they seem. “As we were finishing up working on the house I felt it get warmer after we sealed the drafty doors and windows,” she said. “So to see and feel this difference this work was doing was extremely rewarding.”

“This is a skill that, unless you directly seek out how to weatherize and do these kinds of things, I don’t think that we learn how to do them. It’s not always the norm,” said Mazurek. “So that’s the biggest benefit to them, is learning these skills for later in life.

“The other benefit is working with the lower income community, and seeing the need that is there,” Mazurek continued. “It’s an exercise in compassion.”

“By improving the durability, comfort and health of homes for residents in the community, their ability to adapt to environmental, social and economic change is improved,” said Gach, who describes himself as an environmental social worker. “This often times means that people can afford to stay in their homes longer, enjoy better health, better manage utility expense and reduce maintenance.”

For more information about Blue Horizons, visit their website.