“A library is not a luxury, but a necessity in life.”- Henry Ward Beecher
This quote was written in the 1800s, but it holds truer than ever today – especially in rural communities like Letcher County. For people of all ages, the Letcher County library branches are a place that they can always turn, for not only a book– but reliable internet, fellowship, and healthy and inspiring activities, from yoga to story contests.
The four branches in the towns of Whitesburg, Jenkins, Blakey and Fleming-Neon serve thousands of people every year with essential services. But the library, like many of us in recent years, has had to dedicate more of its budget to paying energy bills due to the ever-rising costs charged by Kentucky Power.
Several years ago, the Mountain Association began working with a group of organizations called the Letcher County Culture Hub to tackle this issue. This work has since helped nonprofits and businesses in the county make major energy efficiency upgrades and add solar, resulting in tens of thousands of avoided energy costs every year.
We began working with Alita Vogel, the library’s director, to complete a billing review and a walk-through audit of each building a few years ago. From the billing review alone, we found that the Neon branch was paying sales tax even though they are an exempt organization. Unfortunately, this is a common error we see in our billing reviews for nonprofits and public buildings. They have since received a $2,280 refund, and now save over $500 every year as a result.
At our walk-throughs, we identified a major opportunity for each branch to save on lighting. They have since had the lighting replaced in their branches with the following estimated results:
Pays for itself in less than a year
Pays for itself in 3.2 years
Pays for itself in 3 years
With all four branch buildings being at least 10 years old, the work has fit in well with other necessary building repairs over the last year. In Whitesburg, they recently added a more energy efficient HVAC.
Alita said that operating costs have been higher in recent years, and the energy savings are beginning to alleviate that burden, “Every little bit we save on energy means we can provide more resources to the community.”
Over the last two years, they have averaged serving nearly 27,000 people each year through their four branches, as well as their book mobile, which allows them to bring their services to people who may not have transportation or access otherwise. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they suspended many of their in-person event offerings with the exception of Narcotics Anonymous, pivoting to virtual classes and other creative ways to bring the community together during hard times.
All of the lighting upgrades have been completed by Scott Shoupe of New Age Solutions in Harlan County. Scott was trained through the Mountain Association’s New Energy internship program a few years ago and has since been busy all across the state and Southeast on projects.
“It’s been an honor and privilege to work with Alita and her staff at all four locations throughout Letcher County,” Scott said. “People often fail to realize how small cost efficient investments can pay off big on utility costs. Allowing organizations to put real money back in their pockets through energy efficiency savings is one of our main goals as a company. Like our name says, we provide ‘New Age Solutions’ for businesses and organizations so they can progress forward with the times and help eliminate the rising costs of utilities.”
The library is now considering adding solar, which would mean major energy savings and a bigger impact to their bottom line. We look forward to continuing to support them in their energy savings efforts.
Our energy audits are currently free for small businesses, nonprofits and public buildings thanks to grant funding from the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy and other generous funders. To apply, please visit: https://mtassociation.org/energy/apply-for-an-energy-audit/ or contact Carrie Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 544-0023 with questions.