Located deep in the mountains at the intersection of Clay, Bell and Leslie county lines, Red Bird Mission is almost a town in itself. The campus hosts a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade accredited school, clinic, community store, craft program, dorms, affordable housing, cabins for mission volunteers, food distribution, and a variety of other services – all vital to their community.
In 2017, with electricity costs rising, Red Bird Mission knew that they had to do something to keep costs down and called on the Mountain Association’s energy team for recommendations. Three years later, our energy team estimates that they are saving $42,000 a year, and are on track to save even more as they work to upgrade the staggering 65 buildings on their campus.
The multi-year process began with the low hanging fruit: switching to LED lighting. For most businesses and organizations, LED lighting is one of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to reduce electricity bills as they use 75 percent less energy. This was no different for Red Bird. The Mountain Association’s Commercial Energy Specialist, Josh Bills, worked with Red Bird’s resident building and maintenance expert, Sylvester Nolan, to show him how to switch out the school’s inefficient fluorescent lighting, and to install occupancy sensors so that rooms are not lit when they are empty.
The next project was looking at the cost of running their very old boiler (a boiler uses either oil, gas or electricity to create heat). After examining their utility bills, Josh discovered that even though the boiler was shut down during the summer, the school was still paying $1,500 per month to Kentucky Power to keep the boiler on. Following Josh’s recommendation, the school began shutting off electric service to the boiler during the summer, which saves more than $6,000 over the course of each summer. In the winter of 2019-2020, they reduced the number of elements energizing the boiler, saving an estimated $14,000 a year in demand charges alone. Their overall heating bill for the winter was $36,451—a $22,427 drop from the winter before.
This freed up money to allow the school to invest in other energy saving improvements to the 65 buildings on their campus.
In order to do this, Red Bird worked with the Mountain Association to design a New Energy Internship for Cecil Hall, one of their longtime staff members.
Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Mountain Association’s New Energy Internship program was designed to offer former coal industry or out-of-work individuals six-month internships to get training on evaluating and implementing clean energy solutions like energy efficiency and rooftop solar – helping to build a trained workforce in this market opportunity. Training includes auditing buildings and homes for energy efficiency issues, coordinating complicated retrofits with contractors, and implementing smaller retrofits, particularly in lighting and duct sealing, and more. Since designing the program, the Mountain Association has realized the value of training non-profit employees, like Cecil at Red Bird Mission and Fuzz Jonson at HOMES Inc., so they can also further energy efficiency and renewable energy in their non-profit’s work in the region.
Cecil’s internship began in February 2020. Over the next six months, Cecil will be trained on HVAC systems, lighting, sealing, crawl space encapsulation, and more. After graduating, Cecil will be able to train other Red Bird Mission employees and volunteers in order to complete the improvements without hiring outside labor. Red Bird Mission is making plans to incorporate this into an adult training programming, where Cecil can train other community members in these skills.
“We are so grateful for all of the opportunities offered through the Mountain Association that led to a significant reduction of our energy costs and key training opportunities for our staff and the community. This has allowed us to move even further toward realizing the vision of creating and maintaining a healthy and sustainable community in and around the Red Bird valley,” Executive Director Kari Collins said.
The Mountain Association has also connected Red Bird Mission with the Left Coast Fund, which offers grants to nonprofits through their Solar Moonshot Program. The organization granted Red Bird Mission $25,000 toward the completion of a solar installation which will save them another estimated $6,000 a year once operational.
The Mountain Association has facilitated the solar project for Red Bird by helping with system design, review of contractor proposals and the installation, which began in early July 2020.
Along with Cecil, our HOMES, Inc. intern, Fuzz Johnson, and other employees from HOMES, are helping with the solar install, increasing their own capacity for solar work, a skill set which will eventually create a revenue line for their low-income housing non-profit.
We are proud to support the work of Red Bird Mission, as well as other non-profits and for-profit businesses, by helping them save money on energy bills, reduce carbon emissions, and build resilience in the face of climate change. Learn more about our energy work here.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Bird Mission is working hard to serve even more families through their essential life sustaining services including the provision of food for children under 19, those in urgent situations and delivery of food to their vulnerable senior citizens within the surrounding communities. Please consider donating to Red Bird Mission through their online donation system here.