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Music's in the AIRE

Article Published: Nov. 12, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Music's in the AIRE

From left, Jimmy Hunt, organizer of the Music on the Mountaintop Festival, presents a $5,000 check to Steve Owen, director of the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy, to go toward the organization's solar energy initative.

Photo submitted

This August's Music on the Mountaintop festival was not only keen; it was also green.

Headlined by Sam Bush and Keller Williams, the festival saw a host of local favorites take the stage, while thousands of music lovers took the High Country Fairgrounds.

Though 4,200 ticket-holders enjoyed the auditory festivities, Music on the Mountaintop's primary beneficiary was the environment.

Organizer Jimmy Hunt founded the festival on green grounds, with environmental consciousness a major player. Like attendance, this aspect doubled in 2009, with festival-goers recycling 1,900 pounds of aluminum cans, amounting to 75 percent of the vent's total waste, and volunteers scouring the New River for trash.

A "Green Village" was established, lined with booths representing area nonprofit organizations concentrating on sustainable living and renewable energy. One of the represented nonprofits was the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE), to which Hunt donated $5,000 from the festivals' proceeds.

"We hope all our nonprofits would benefit on exposure alone," Hunt said. "Specifically, though, we chose AIRE to receive a financial contribution. The first time I met Steve Owen, AIRE's director, I knew we saw the issues on the same page. He approaches the problem of renewable energy as a fight, which is how we at Music on the Mountaintop see it, as well."

Owen and AIRE are taking it to downtown Boone, pursuing and attempting to match an N.C. Main Street energy grant to effectively solarize downtown Boone.

In May 2009, AIRE started the Boone Community Solar Initiative, when an ASU graduate photovoltaic class installed a demonstration project at AIRE's sustainable "Greenhouse" building on Depot Street in downtown Boone.

"Our intent was to demystify renewable energy, to make it accessible on the community scale, and to create structures of cooperation in finance and ownership of local renewable energy production," Owen said.

AIRE's goal for the grant is to expand the students' project, adding renewable energy capacity in downtown Boone by installing the appropriate equipment on downtown rooftops, and eventually through the entire town. "It'll take a lot of collaboration between business and civic leaders," Owen said.

The Main Street program is administered through the State Energy Office as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "to encourage energy conservation and economic investment in North Carolina's Main Street communities," the grant description reads.

"Small-town main streets, municipalities, downtown redevelopment associations are all eligible, but they encourage broad community collaboration," Owen said, "and that's where we come in."
Designed to boost economic development in small towns, the program also boosts environmental consciousness. But it comes with a cost - in this case, $250,000.

Part of the grant would see light-emitting diode (LED) traffic lights installed downtown, while AIRE would work on the solarizing aspect.

Owen said the town could not afford to match $250,000 at present, with officials instead suggesting AIRE find a way to do so. As the fiscal sponsor, the town of Boone would submit the grant application, while AIRE would be the project consultant, with funding going toward discounted (by at least 30 percent) equipment for participating business owners, as well as covering the cost of project management.

Jeff Deal, information technology specialist with environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices, volunteers his services with AIRE, and said that North Carolina currently spends $2 million a year to import electricity, while a considerable portion of that could be spared through renewable energy systems.

Owen and Deal hope to see Boone contribute. With an application deadline of Nov. 18, they've been hitting the streets to generate interest and seek commitments from business owners to help match the Main Street grant. "We'll need to get businesses to commit to a dollar value," Deal said.

"We're working furiously, trying to pull it together," Owen said, reporting that as of this Tuesday, approximately $150,000 has been raised, with Hunt's $5,000 donation included. "Community interest, I'd say, is high, in terms of business owners in the Main Street designated area. They're really what's going to drive the success of this project."

Deal said the project will also instigate social change - when business owners are generating their own energy, they'll likely monitor it closely, eliminating waste and promoting conservation.
It's a business model the Greenhouse has adopted, and one that Music on the Mountaintop hopes to achieve.

"We hope one day to be completely off the grid and have a very, very small footprint," Hunt said. "Our overall goal with Music on the Mountaintop is not to have the biggest or most sought after event; instead, we hope to have the greenest and most sustainable music festival in the country."

And it's a model AIRE hopes Boone will follow.

For more information about AIRE or to participate, call (828) 268-5022 or visit AIRE is located in the Greenhouse, 164 S. Depot St. in downtown Boone.

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