Exciting! Benham$aves energy efficiency project receives $200,000 pledge | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Exciting! Benham$aves energy efficiency project receives $200,000 pledge

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KFTC members took part in a special called meeting of the Benham Power Board on February 12 to share the good news that an anonymous donor pledged $200,000 to support the Benham$aves Program.

Chase Gladson, a local high school student who represents the Harlan County chapter on KFTC’s steering committee, said, “One hundred percent of these resources will be used by the Benham$aves program to pay the upfront costs of energy retrofits in this community. We estimate it will be enough to fix up 20-25 homes, close to 10% of all homes in Benham. Eventually those funds will stretch even further as the investments are repaid and recycled.”

The Benham Power Board is Kentucky’s smallest municipally owned utility, serving about 280 customers. Most homes in the community were built nearly 100 years ago when the community was founded as a model coal camp, and many are poorly insulated. A recent study showed that Benham’s homes have the highest average monthly electricity use of any utility in Kentucky.

Benham$aves pays the upfront costs of residential energy efficiency retrofits for qualifying homes. Residents repay that investment over 15 years, using a portion of projected savings on their monthly electricity bill. As repayments are recycled back to the investment fund, they are available to serve additional households. Eventually, the investment fund will be used to support additional types of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Benham.

The program was established by the Benham Power Board in 2015 thanks to the vision and hard work of many local community leaders, and the efforts of other collaborating organizations, including KFTC, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development; COAP (Christian Outreach with Appalachian People), Harlan Community Foundation and Appalshop.

As Gladson explained, “Ever since the Benham$aves program began, KFTC has worked with the Benham Power Board and other community partners to try to raise funds for this program. We raised enough to fix up the first 5-6 homes, but then funds ran dry. With more than 20 homes on the waiting list, KFTC helped the Power Board to submit grant applications to the U.S. EPA, SOAR and many local and national foundations. We got a lot of pats on the back. And we heard a lot of noes. Then late last fall, we were contacted by an anonymous donor, who let us know they want to support the Benham$aves program. Tonight we are proud to announce that this generous donor has given $200,000 to support the Benham$aves program.”

Andrea Massey, a local resident and KFTC member said, “I also want to thank the Benham Power Board for expanding your efforts to help our residents save money and energy at a time when most utilities in Kentucky are scaling back their energy efficiency programs. Benham is setting an important example. The rest of Kentucky should take notice.”

Her comments were echoed by Carl Shoupe, a disabled miner and KFTC member who serves on the Benham Power Board. “We are blessed to live here in the mountains, near the highest point in Kentucky. It’s my hope that this project can be a light shining from the top of Black Mountain that can be seen by people in communities everywhere across eastern Kentucky and our Commonwealth. This is a powerful example of what’s possible when people come together to help our communities survive and thrive.”

Harlan County Magistrate Paul Browning attended the announcement and took part in a working session about the program earlier in the day. He told the audience, “This is the most marvelous idea to come out of this area since they found coal. When I heard about it, it blew my mind. Good ideas should be promoted, and this is a good idea. These are new and revolutionary ideas that have grown out of care and concern.”

Gladson and Massey told the audience that the anonymous donor has also challenged KFTC to help raise an additional $50,000 in individual donations for Benham$aves. Tax-deductible donations to help meet that challenge may be made to kftc.org/kcdonation. (Be sure to put “Benham” in the referral box for your donation to count toward this challenge.)

As the Power Board meeting wrapped up, Gladson and Massey said in unison, “Congratulations to the Benham Power Board and the whole community. KFTC looks forward to partnering with you on this project and other efforts to shape a Just Transition.”

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