The High Country Press offered both new members of the Boone Town Council, Nancy LaPlaca and Dustin Hicks, the opportunity to speak about the future of Boone and their work on the town council. Dustin Hicks’ replies will be shared later this week.
By Nathan Ham
Nancy LaPlaca, one of two new Boone Town Council members elected last November, has a lot she would like to see done to ensure a bright future for the town. Many of her ideas involve cleaner energy initiatives, addressing tax revenue issues and doing a better job of taking care of the beautiful environment we are blessed with in the High Country.
LaPlaca has had plenty of new things to get used to as well including learning about zoning and land planning and being able to coordinate what the council wants to do with town and county officials.
“As a regulatory policy analyst, these issues are new to me, so I’ve had a steep learning curve,” she said. “The staff is outstanding and other council members are very helpful so learning is just a matter of doing a lot of reading and asking relevant questions.”
One of the most recent concerns includes the tax revenue disparity that has forced the Town of Boone to file a lawsuit against Watauga County, which was announced in a statement from the town last Friday.
“A huge issue is the five-year problem of Boone getting less than its fair share of revenues from taxes, so that is paramount—a shortfall of around $1.3 to $1.5 million per year,” LaPlaca said. “We need to get at least a portion of the $1.3-$1.5 million per year we are missing out on, so that we can provide funding to local groups, invest in clean energy, increase funding for the institutions like the library, etc.”
LaPlaca’s expertise in energy policy is highlighted by her 30 years of experience in the field, including serving as a Policy Advisor to Arizona Utilities Commissioner Paul Newman from 2009 to 2013. Locally, clean energy has been debated at a smaller scale until recently. LaPlaca hopes to continue that debate and inform people about where their electricity comes from and how the local providers serve the area.
“As an energy policy expert, I am dismayed that New River Power and Light (NRLP) provides so few opportunities for Boone households and businesses to increase clean energy, to do home energy audits and to target low-income households for energy efficiency upgrades at low cost to homeowners,” LaPlaca said. “Our businesses also deserve an opportunity to participate in solar, or other programs that would reduce costs and fossil fuel use.”
LaPlaca says that some of the unhappiness with NRLP comes from them having less than two percent clean energy and recently signing an 18-year contract with natural gas company NTE Energy.
“I am concerned that until we have decent net metering policies (i.e. customers get paid a fair rate for solar electricity the customer feeds into the grid), we will continue to have a very, very low number of households with installed solar,” she said. “I see myself making an impact on clean energy, which is the work I have been doing in earnest for 15 years.”
Digging deeper into her research of energy usage in Boone, LaPlaca told the High Country Press that she filed a Public Records Request with Appalachian State to find out more details. She said that the contract was 97 pages long and heavily redacted.
Looking past the clean energy issues around here, LaPlaca said that some of the concerns that citizens have approached her and the rest of the council include waste disposal and recycling issues, local food issues, community-owned community solar power, home energy audits, home and business weatherization programs, plastic pollution and library funding. She says she has also heard from students who want to understand what is blocking clean energy and policies that will unleash clean energy jobs and help to clean up our air and water.
“Many of these issues can’t be addressed at the city level, because our state legislature does not allow cities to pass laws such as reducing or eliminating single use plastics. However, we can use our bully pulpit to help educate others and pave the way for better policies,” LaPlaca said. “Boone’s citizens are well-informed and care a lot about the future of their town and western North Carolina. I have spoken with countless people who are deeply upset that we are doing very little about the climate crisis. That has to change.”