Library filed under Energy Policy from North Carolina
Environmentalist groups have pushed for years for a state policy that requires utilities to develop renewable energy and efficiency programs. But many of those groups are fighting a bill in the General Assembly that includes their long-sought goal.
Provisions make it easier to finance new power plants. Legislation to force N.C. power companies to be greener would also make it easier for them to build power plants that would pollute, environmentalists and some lawmakers say. The complex proposal requires Duke Energy Corp. and other power companies to produce 12.5 percent of electricity from energy efficiency programs and renewable sources, such as the wind, the sun and animal waste. Environmentalists have fought for clean energy requirements for years, increasingly popular around the country. But some say this bill is little comfort because it has several corporate-sponsored provisions, including ones that make it easier to finance new power plants and pass those costs on to consumers.
Legislation designed to help the state reduce energy use and promote the use of renewable power sources sailed through the state Senate this month. But the bill has stalled in the House amid growing concern that it would have the opposite effect: encouraging the construction of more power plants.
For years, environmental advocates have pushed for North Carolina to require its power companies to use a set amount of renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, solar energy or animal waste. This year, that might happen - but the bill that would do it also includes provisions that some advocates say would hurt the environment by encouraging more coal and nuclear power plants. The bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the N.C. Senate, is now being studied by the N.C. House of Representatives. It would require Duke Energy and Progress Energy to generate a significant amount of their electricity through renewable sources. The bill is expected to face a tougher fight in the House than it did in the Senate. The House energy committee is scheduled to hold a three-hour public comment period on the bill today in Raleigh at 3 p.m.
Six of the nation's 10 largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions are coal-fired power plants in the South, but year after year Southern lawmakers balk at pushing utilities toward cleaner renewable energy. Last month, Republican senators from the South provided about half the votes that defeated federal legislation to require power companies to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Nationally, almost half the states have adopted their own renewable mandates, but only one, Texas, is in the South. Southern lawmakers -- responding to heavy lobbying from local utilities -- argue their region isn't conducive to solar or wind power like the sun-baked Southwest or the open plains of the West.
RALEIGH - It's hard to run a business when nobody wants to buy what you're selling. Some businesses have found a way around this obstacle: Get the government on your side. This is the reality in the renewable energy industry, where excessively high prices keep the industry from being competitive. North Carolina has a voluntary program, called NC GreenPower, which allows the public to voluntarily support renewable energy. The participation rate has been dismal. Renewable energy sold through the program accounts for only about .01 percent of all electricity sold in the state. The state Senate passed Senate Bill 3 since North Carolinians won't voluntarily support renewable energy. Apparently, the state Senate thinks people must be forced to support renewable energy against their will.
Though more consistent than such sources as wind energy and solar power, the Haw River hydroelectric project would produce full power only about 50 percent of the time, depending on the amount of water available.
RALEIGH - Are you willing to pay higher electricity rates to support renewable energy? If so, you're one of only about 10,000 people in North Carolina who is. That's because the well-publicized N.C. Green Power program has given state residents an ample opportunity to buy power derived from sources such as solar, wind and hog waste. Yet only 10,000 have signed up, or about .01 percent of the population. As a referendum on renewable energy, N.C. Green Power is a pretty clear indication North Carolinians aren't interested. Yet legislators are gearing up to force people to buy energy from renewable sources ($10 per month worth, phased in to as much as $30 per month later). So in what has become business-as-usual, the General Assembly is set to introduce yet another hidden tax that, if passed, will mandate that 8-plus million of us buy what we have elected not to buy -- expensive energy with negligible environmental benefits.
North Carolina could be the first state in the Southeast to require its power companies to generate a substantial amount of electricity from renewable sources, under a measure overwhelmingly endorsed by the Senate. The legislation - which has been pushed for years by environmental groups - would require that solar energy, animal waste and other renewable sources make up at least 12.5 percent of Progress Energy's and Duke Energy's energy mix by 2021. The utilities can also meet the requirement with conservation programs that encourage customers to reduce energy use. Currently, less than 2 percent of the state's electricity comes from renewable sources; almost all comes from coal-burning power plants and nuclear energy.
RALEIGH - A nonprofit environmental advocacy group, which staunchly believes global warming must be reduced through reductions in human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, controls another nonprofit organization that advises a climate action panel started by the N.C. Division of Air Quality. The DAQ-created group, in turn, makes recommendations on carbon-dioxide reductions to the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change. The advisory organization, the Center for Climate Strategies, is Pennsylvania-based and helped establish the study commission through a proposal to DAQ. But there is question whether the study panel, called the Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPAG), is authorized under N.C. law.
States with renewable portfolio standards have generated growth in the renewable energy sector, but many of the Appalachian states don't have one. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York all have some fairly progressive goals, but West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee don't have a state RPS and wind projects often ignite battles.
Wind power would seem to be a necessary component of any strategy by North Carolina to increase the amount of energy produced here from alternative sources. Put simply, there’s plenty of wind in these parts. The downside is that sections of the state where wind currents are strongest and most consistent also happen to be ones that are heavily dependent on tourism and where there is an understandable priority on protecting natural views. That holds for the coast, and it holds for the mountains. The issue of whether and how to take advantage of mountain winds now is before the state Utilities Commission. The commission yesterday held a hearing focused on a proposed Ashe County “wind farm” — 25 or so giant turbines that would be built near Creston in the state’s far northwest. It is easy to see why the project has stirred local opposition in an area where vacation-home development is an economic mainstay.
North Carolina has significant potential to develop wind and other alternative energy without drastically increasing customer bills, a study prepared for the N.C. Utilities Commission says. The report, presented this morning to state lawmakers, concluded that renewable energy could provide as much as 1,800 megawatts of power, the equivalent of two power plants the size of Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County. The study comes at a time that Progress Energy and Duke Energy are planning to build nuclear plants and Duke Energy is also planning to build coal-fired power plants. Requiring utilities to use renewables would offset the need to build some power plants, the study concludes, reducing pollutants, greenhouse gases and radioactive nuclear waste.
Under direction from the state Environmental Review Commission, the N.C. Utilities Commission sponsored a study to analyze the costs and benefits of a Renewable Portfolio Standard. If adopted by the legislature, an RPS would require the state’s three investor-owned utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from renewable sources by a given date. The Utilities Commission paid $150,000 to Boston-based contractor La Capra to conduct the study, which is due out this week.
An important variable is how much power can be generated using alternative forms of energy such as solar and wind, and other sources that are either renewable or cheaply available. North Carolinians need an independent evaluation of the potential of these energy alternatives. The good news is that state utility regulators have commissioned one.
"In a number of European nations, offshore wind farms are well established. However, in the United States, the concept is relatively new and an established approval process for offshore wind farm permitting does not yet exist. This document identifies the approval process one would need to take in order to site an offshore wind farm in coastal waters of the U.S., particularly North Carolina." Editor's Note: The U.S. Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department, has review responsibility for offshore projects per the 2005 Energy Policy Act passed in May 2005.