Brownie grew up on a working farm in Pickens County, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He and his brother Boyd spent much of their time in the summer bailing hay and in the winter, they planted trees with their dad, Leon. Brownie moved to the Asheville area in 1990 to attend Warren Wilson College, where he received a BA in History and Political Science.
Brownie has a long-standing dedication to protecting the natural heritage and ecology of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. During his time at Warren Wilson, he volunteered with several local environmental and conservation organizations, which ended up turning into a full-time job.
Brownie served as the Executive Director of the Western North Carolina Alliance, where he worked with state legislators to develop and pass the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002. This legislation reduced air pollution emissions from the Progress Energy coal-fired power plant in south Asheville, the largest air emission source in the region, by more than 90%. It also required the clean-up of other coal-fired power plants across North Carolina.
Brownie was elected to the Asheville City Council in 2003. He was re-elected to City Council in 2007. In 2009, he was elected by Council to serve as Mayor Pro Term (ie. Vice-Mayor). During his time on Council, Brownie has advocated for policies to establish Asheville as a leader for clean, renewable energy, including a policy to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 80% and to require all new city buildings to be LEED Gold certified. He has supported reforms to Asheville’s land use policies to reduce urban sprawl by encouraging new in-fill development along the city’s commercial corridors and transit routes.
In 2008, Brownie joined with four other people who had recently started a new solar energy business in Buncombe County called FLS Energy. The company was founded with the common purpose of making solar a mainstream source of energy. Since the time Brownie joined as a partner at FLS Energy, the company has grown from seven employees to 80 employees. FLS Energy developed the first utility scale solar PV project in western North Carolina on a retired landfill owned by Evergreen Paper in Haywood County. Brownie helped develop FLS Energy’s unique financing model which allows businesses and organizations to access solar energy at prices below the cost of fossil fuels.
Brownie helped develop FLS Energy’s landmark solar project at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, NC. FLS Energy has installed solar thermal systems on more than 1,200 homes at Camp Lejeune and will install more.