History of the EnergyXchange  

When the landfill that served Mitchell and Yancey counties was closed in 1994, extensive research and discussion took place to find a use for the potential energy. Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council (BRRC&D), a local branch of the US Department of Agriculture, investigated potential uses for landfill gas. This research led to a new EPA program called the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP). LMOP conducted a feasibility study on the quality and quantity of methane in the gas being produced by the landfill, and determined that the site was commercially viable for energy development.

The idea for EnergyXchange was created through the partnership of BRRC&D and two other organizations– HandMade in America (HandMade), and Mayland Community College (MCC). From 1996 until 2000, the partners strategized and worked to develop plans, raise funds and bring the EnergyXchange project to life. In 1997, MCC began planning “Project Branch Out” to encompass the horticultural work at EnergyXchange. In 1998, HandMade joined the partnership to implement craft business incubators.

EPA awarded a $50,000 grant to hire a project manager, and The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina awarded $10,000 for greenhouse construction. A total of $1.5M in funding was raised for the construction of the gas collection system and campus construction. On Earth Day 1999, the landfill gas system was activated. The nonprofit corporation, EnergyXchange, was formed September 13, 1999 and received its tax exempt status in 2000. By 2001, the campus was complete and the first six artists had begun their residencies. EnergyXchange became one of the nation’s model energy recovery projects and was used regionally, nationally, and internationally as an example of successful small landfill gas projects.

The EnergyXchange Craft Incubator program was established to support six talented artists in starting, managing, and operating their own small businesses in the crafts of glass blowing and pottery. The clay kilns and glass furnaces were fired with landfill gas at no additional cost to the residents. These studios were the first in the world to be fueled by landfill methane gas and served as a model for other projects across the country and around the globe. For more information about using alternative energy to fire ceramics kilns, see this 2007 article in Ceramic Arts Daily, “Going Green,” by Jon Ellenbogen.

The EnergyXchange Today

Today the EnergyXchange complex includes a visitor center, classroom space, two greenhouses, two shade houses, seven cold frames, and pens for keeping pigs. At the greenhouses, we teach sustainable horticulture classes; grow plants using alternative energy and offer these plants for sale; and will soon re-open an aquaculture and hydroponics program, using fish waste as fertilizer for growing herbs and vegetables. The EnergyXchange serves as a meeting place for Star Park events. For sustainable agriculture, the College runs a small Berkshire pig program in conjunction with the three county extension offices in our region. A crafts business rents studio space at the EnergyXchange to produce functional dinnerware in both ceramic and glass.