If you pay any attention to the news today, you are getting a belly full of stories of how divided we are.It is as if everyone is bound and determine to take the “united” out of United States.
Well, friends, I am here to offer you a ray of hope.
My cousin Benny.
Now Benny doesn’t talk politics much. He once observed, “I’m not what you call a liberal,” but that was as far as he went.
Benny spent his life in law enforcement, and he tends to see issues in that context. Break the law and you go down. Not much gray area there.
If you have an urge to go someplace you shouldn’t, and want to come out alive, take Benny. Well over six feet tall and carrying 250-plus pounds, he is much a man. Curly blond hair going gray, matching mustache and goatee, he has an affinity for black t-shirts embossed with slogans like “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” and “careful, contents under pressure.”
Like me, he is getting up in years, but in his younger days, when he got home from work, he’d go out riding on his bicycle.Helped him unwind.
Now Benny likes snakes. Well, actually, he likes to kill snakes, skin them, and cure the hides. Don’t ask why, just keep up with me.
One day, late summer, Benny was pedaling along when he saw a rattlesnake in the road. Naturally Benny took out his derringer (if Benny has on clothes he has a gun) and shoots at the snake. He misses. So, he tries to run over it. The snake takes this none too kindly and bites the tire, hangs a fang, and is caught fast.
Picture the scene (visuals are important here). A massive man who looks like a fugitive from rednecks-R-us rolling a bike back and forth over a snake with its fangs hung on the tire.
Up drives this black couple. They see the situation and the man, like any good Southerner would, asks Benny, “You need any help?”
“Got a gun?” Benny asked. (Not a dumb question, down in Dixie. ‘Course he does.)
The black man pulls out a .40-caliber automatic, hands it to good ‘ol boy personified, who takes it and shoots the snake — a head shot. Impressed, the black man asks the white man if he’d like a drink.
‘Course he would.
Snake killing is hot work.
So, the black man reaches in his cooler, and pulls out a “Big Orange” for each of them.Then the black man, the black woman, and the white man kick back, cool off, and talk about snakes and guns and stuff.
Now that, dear hearts, is how to get along.
Find a common ground, celebrate, enjoy.
We need more of that.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Electric cooperatives and their consumer-members are joining together to invest in community solar installations, which generate clean, renewable electricity for their local communities.
Growth in electric cooperative interest in community solar skyrocketed in the past four years, says Tracy Warren, senior program manager with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
“It’s clean, local and homegrown power,” she says. “The benefits stay within the community. There is just a lot to like.”
What makes community solar unique is not any special technology, but rather how it’s organized and financed. Basically, the electric co-op builds and operates an array of solar panels, then sells or leases the long-term energy output of the panels. In return, the home or business that participates typically receives credit on their electric bill for the portion of their power generated by those solar cells.
“It’s fun to see the community solar credit on your electric bill,” says Warren.
That fun helps drive the popularity of community solar for both electric co-ops and their consumer-members, says Warren. She coordinates online conferences about how to set up community solar programs that typically attract more than 250 people from co-ops around the country. A survey conducted four years ago found 38 electric co-ops had started a community solar project or were planning to. That number grew to 198 this year.
Community solar is not for everyone.
That number is still just a fraction of the more than 900 electric co-ops in the United States. Part of the reason for that small portion is that community solar is still developing. Another reason is that community solar might not make sense for some local electric co-ops, says Paul Carroll, a senior project manager for grant projects at NRECA.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all anything,” says Carroll. He says some state laws restrict community solar-style setups. The co-op also needs to consider factors like solar power not being available when the sun doesn’t shine, the most practical fuels to generate electricity in that co-op’s area and what those fuels cost.
“A lot of co-ops already have plenty of wind and plenty of hydro,” says Carroll. “They’re always having to watch out for the best interests of their members. Expensive power is not what they’re about. They’re about the safest, most reliable, cheapest power possible. Solar has traditionally been a more expensive energy source.”
But that expense is changing fast. Costs for some of the major solar panel parts have fallen 85 percent in a seven-year period, says a report by NRECA, as technology improves and more mass production lowers prices.
“As you start making things at larger and larger scale, they just get cheaper,” says Carroll. “It’s the same as what happened with large-screen televisions. They used to be terribly expensive, $25,000, and now you can get a large-screen TV for 500 bucks.”
Co-ops are also smoothing the road to community solar with innovative financing and by sharing their practical experience with each other.
The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, an organization that provides financing for electric co-ops, has developed a program that lets electric co-ops take advantage of tax incentives to build community solar systems. The organization also provides loans to support renewables and energy efficiency.
Community solar’s popularity has also been helped by a program that puts together information on solar energy, and shares that with other co-ops. That information can cover technical details from the most productive size of a solar power installation, to the best siting procedures in order to make sure the co-op complies with zoning and land use rules. That collaboration between the electric co-ops and the Department of Energy is called the SUNDA project, which stands for the descriptive but intimidating full name, Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration.
A new relationship with the co-op
NRECA’s Tracy Warren credits the SUNDA project with boosting community solar by finding, refining and promoting ideas from pioneering co-ops to others just thinking about trying it out.
Among the ideas catching on, she says, are financial arrangements that make a basic change to the structure of buying a share of the solar panels and then receiving credits. Instead, co-op members can lease part of the solar array, or even just pay for it month-to-month.
Community solar offers energy uniquely suited to local, member-owned electric co-ops, says Warren. A co-op can work with its members to decide how to tailor community solar to suit local conditions, or whether to offer it at all.
Among the advantages of community solar, says Warren, is that if an individual member doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to. For members who do sign up, she says, “They feel like this is something they can do for future generations. They like the environmental benefits.” Some co-ops find a community solar program can help with economic development, as businesses look to locate in areas where they can meet the organization’s renewable energy goals.
“The community solar model is well-suited for co-ops because it is flexible, and it can be a way of matching supply with the demand from the co-op membership,” says Warren. “The co-op can gauge how interested its members are in participating and then size the program accordingly.”
Warren even sees community solar as building a stronger bond between the local co-op and its members.
“They’re literally helping to provide the power for the co-op,” she says. “That’s changing the relationship between the consumer-member and the co-op.”
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.
Better energy efficiency at home starts with savings, not sales, and an energy audit conducted by a trained energy advisor can help you get there.
“Members are our community and we are the experts in the electric energy arena,” says Manuela Heyn, an energy services representative for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, who is also a member of the Southport, Florida-based co-op. “We have the tools, knowledge and commitment to assist our people. Saving energy can also help shave peak loads.”
Heyn conducted her first energy audits with very basic tools: a flashlight, laser temperature gun and candy thermometer (to check water heater output temperature). She now has access to more sophisticated equipment such as thermal imaging equipment.
Members become frantic when they see a major increase in the power bill and want almost immediate answers as to why. In conjunction with experience and the ability to refer to meter data reports, the process of identifying major power consumption problems has been simplified and resolved in many instances in the office.
During on-site audits, she uses all her senses to find abnormalities such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps, damaged power cords, construction issues – one case leading to spongy drywall, disconnected ducts and lack of insulation to name a few.
She also checks household systems many homeowners seldom see or consider unless they spend time with their HVAC technician.
“One home I visited had an overflowing air handler water pan and extreme fungal growth” says Heyn. “Some members, particularly renters, don’t realize that their HVAC systems have an air filter. When they are dirty, they can freeze up the system and cause an increase in power consumption.”
Many electric co-ops that provide energy audits support professional development for energy advisors that includes exposure to building science concepts.
Training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common. Specialized training for multi-family units and manufactured housing are also common.
“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” says Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Wysocki starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based upon meter data. Talking with the consumer-member, she learns about household size and behavior patterns, and considers seasonal factors like heat tape used to prevent water lines from freezing.
“We have many ‘second homes’ in our service territory,” says Wysocki, adding that even when those homes are empty, energy use continues. “Fan coil blower motors, whole house humidifiers, boiler pumps, ventilation systems, driveway snowmelt pumps, pool pumps, hot tubs, garage heaters, heated toilet seats and towel bars are using energy, regardless of occupancy.”
The co-op serves Colorado’s popular ski areas around Aspen and Vail, and is currently designing a new audit form. It will stress benefits members can receive through efficiency upgrades, including comfort, said Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.
Co-ops that offer energy audits use the service to reinforce their roles as trusted energy advisors, helping members save energy in an effort to help them control their electricity costs.
While some co-ops provide audits free of charge, especially when they are requested in response to high bill concerns, others may charge a small fee, offering rebates to members who implement some of the recommendations provided.
Time spent with an energy auditor can help a member avoid ineffective upgrades or the purchase of outsized equipment that might not improve their comfort or produce savings through recoverable costs.
An energy advisor’s home visit usually gets far more attention than a brief discussion about energy efficiency at a co-op district meeting, a county fair or other community event. Most audits are initiated following a request tied to high bill concerns, when members are really motivated to control their energy costs.
On average, a member can reduce their energy use by about 5 percent if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given during the audit. Additional savings of up to 20 percent can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as HVAC replacement, attic insulation or major duct repair discovered during the audit.
Improved energy efficiency not only helps the co-op control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it also provides opportunities to discuss services available to members. Those include rebates, weatherization programs and payment assistance.
To learn more about energy audits available to you, contact your local electric cooperative.
Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.
Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, matches that contribution, sends taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reports wages to Social Security. However, self-employed people must report their earnings and pay their Social Security taxes directly to the IRS. These taxes will help determine your eligibility for benefits later.
You’re self-employed if you operate a trade, business, or profession, either by yourself or as a partner. You report your earnings for Social Security purposes when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.
Net earnings for Social Security are your gross earnings from your trade or business, minus your allowable business deductions and depreciation. Some income doesn’t count for Social Security and shouldn’t be included in figuring your net earnings.
Social Security has been a cornerstone of American security for more than 80 years. Your small business is another cornerstone in the foundation of our economy. Working together, we make this nation stronger.
We’re here for you, securing today and tomorrow. Remember, the most convenient way to contact us anytime, anywhere is to visitsocialsecurity.gov.
Ron Sparks was well aware of the vital importance of having local health care available in recruiting and keeping economic development and healthy growth when he was named director of the former Alabama Rural Development Office. One of his first actions was to meet with 20 prominent Alabama rural health stakeholders to identify what this new office could do to improve rural health care.
There was unanimous agreement that the single greatest rural health need was to establish an Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. Alabama was one of only a few states that did not have this valuable program that seeks to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in medically underserved (especially rural) areas.
With great assistance from officials at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama was awarded a federal AHEC grant and has established a statewide AHEC program. The central office is in Birmingham with regional offices in Brewton, Demopolis, Gadsden, Huntsville and Montgomery.
According to the National AHECF Organization, most state AHECs provide the following services:
Health Careers Recruitment and Preparation: AHECs attempt to expand the health care workforce, including maximizing diversity and facilitating distribution, especially in underserved communities. AHECs offer health career camps, science enrichment programs, healthy lifestyle education programs, health careers curricula and programs for elementary, middle school, and high school students. These programs introduce students to a wide assortment of health career possibilities, guide them in goal setting and educational planning, and offer science courses to strengthen critical thinking skills.
Health Professions Training: AHECs provide community placements, service learning opportunities and clinical experiences for medical, dental, physician assistant, nursing, pharmacy and allied health students and residents in rural and urban underserved communities. Through interaction with patients in federally qualified health centers, county health departments, free health care clinics, and local practitioner’s offices, students and residents can observe the economic and cultural barriers to care and the needs of underserved and ethnically diverse populations in a primary care environment.
Health Professionals Support: AHECs provide accredited continuing education offerings and professional support for health care professionals, especially those practicing in underserved areas.
Health and Community Development: AHECs evaluate the health needs of their regions and provide responses to those needs. AHECs develop community health education and health provider training programs in areas with diverse and underserved populations.
Alabama’s young AHEC program has not matured to the point of being able to offer all of these valuable services yet. Funding also poses a challenge because the federal grant for establishing and maintaining an AHEC program must be matched with local funds. Encourage your local school counselors to fully utilize AHEC services. Encourage church, civic, and other groups to contact their regional AHEC about hosting a presentation on this valuable rural health program.
Submit Your Images!October Theme: “Pumpkin Patch”Deadline for October: August 31. Submit photos online:www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.