Rural Sustainability Summit

January 27, 2017

By Daniel Inmacolato ’17

At 8:00 on a Friday morning, George Elliott and I scrambled to catch the Robertson bus leaving from Duke West Campus. Headed into enemy territory, we were to meet David Schwartz and attend the morning panel of the Rural Sustainability Summit: Renewable Energy as a Tool for Rural Development at UNC.

Steve Kalland, the Executive Director of the NC Clean Energy Technology Center, was the first to take the floor at a large auditorium in UNC’s student center. He gave an overview of the renewable energy sources with substantial promise in North Carolina. First, he discussed the increasing popularity of using wood pellets as fuel. Kalland acknowledged the debate as to whether wood pellets were actually an environmentally friendly option, but assured the audience it was a much lower-carbon option than fossil fuels.

Much to our enjoyment, the second renewable energy he discussed was animal waste. Animal waste, he explained, releases methane, which can be used to generate power. Because North Carolina has one of the largest hog industries in the country, there are tons of waste not being utilized. After discussing how wind energy needed technology improvement, Kalland asserted that solar was the most viable renewable energy option in North Carolina.

Reverend Bill Kearney, owner of Bill Kearney & Co Consulting, proceeded to discuss his work in Warren County. He described adversity the county previously faced when North Carolina decided to create a landfill and dump polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) there. This landfill further impoverished Warren County.

However, the recent arrival of a solar energy plant has given many in the Reverend’s community hope. The plant has lowered electricity bills, provided jobs and given his church enough revenue to open a daycare center. In fact, the local high school even started offering a solar maintenance degree. Upkeep is extremely important to optimizing the productiveness of these technologies. Reverend Kearney gave the audience a salient example of how renewable energy sources can not only save the planet, but also be of huge benefit to rural communities.

Lastly, the moment we had been waiting for arrived. Tom Butler, owner of Butler Farms, stood at the podium. He started his talk by saying, “I am a polluter, but I pollute legally. I will continue to pollute until laws change.” Asked about Hurricane Matthew, he commented disdainfully, “The government had 15 years to fix the problem since the last large flood, but hasn’t done anything.”

In his closing remarks, Butler stated that government promotion of renewable energy technologies on hog farms was something he really wanted to see happen. It seems he would be happy to change his business practices if laws were enacted that required him to so. Unfortunately, without proper legislation, much like other farmers, he refuses to do so.

With that, George, David and I concluded our visit to UNC. Our main takeaway was this: local communities and corporations are both in favor, or at least willing to compromise, when it comes to sustainable energy. Government, however, has to be the one to create an environment capable of supporting these changes.

Learn More