North Carolina ranked among the top three states in the nation for production of photovoltaic, or PV, electricity in 2016. Outranked only by the sunshine states of California and Arizona, North Carolina further established its dominance in this area by the construction of a wind farm that was placed online in 2017. Its capacity of 208 megawatts makes it the largest wind farm in the southeastern region of the U.S.
This achievement is particularly impressive considering that North Carolina has historically neither produced much of its own energy nor had stores of fossil fuels on which to draw. In the past, nearly all of North Carolina’s energy supplies came from other states. Coal came from Kentucky and West Virginia, natural gas and refined fuel oil came from Louisiana and Texas, and the uranium necessary for the production of nuclear energy was from West Virginia. Most of the state’s renewable energy has been from hydroelectric plants owned by the utility companies.
Not only has North Carolina’s advances in renewable energy benefited the state and the planet, it’s contributed significantly to the local and state economies. Through an increase in the number of jobs available, an increase in tax revenues, economic development of rural areas, and improvements in infrastructure, North Carolina’s economy is booming. Currently, approximately 35,000 jobs in North Carolina are directly linked to the renewable energy industry.
The Renewable Portfolio Standards legislation, or RPS, which has been passed in many states, mandates that renewable energy be part of their utilities, although the specifics vary somewhat from state to state. North Carolina passed its version in August 2007 and it required that a minimum of 12.5 percent of retail electricity be from renewable sources by the year 2021. This applied to investor-owned utilities only, publicly owned utilities have different mandates. More information on North Carolina’s RPS statute can be found here.
NC GreenPower was established in 2003 by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The objective for GreenPower was to increase the state’s usage of green power and reduce its reliance on outside sources. Another motivator was to improve the environment so that the world was a healthier place to live. Transitioning from coal-fired plants to clean energy improved not only the air quality but the contamination to the water supplies. North Carolina GreenPower is an independent non-profit organization and operates through voluntary contributions.
North Carolina GreenPower has supplied almost 900 million kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy to the area, which equates to approximately 22 million days of energy usage from traditional sources.
Approximately 55,000 tons of greenhouse gases have been mitigated, which is the equivalent of about 121 million pounds of methane gas or 153 million miles not driven.
North Carolina and four other states have increased their use of solar energy more than the all rest of the states since 2007.
Overhead is responsible for about 25 percent of their contributions but GreenPower uses grants to pay for their marketing expenses.
Renewable Energy Sources
North Carolina isn’t limiting their reliance on renewable energy to PV and wind sources. Additional sources include:
- Solar thermal
- Wave energy
- Landfill gas
- Waste from renewables
- Electricity demand reduction
In addition to its investment in renewable energy, North Carolina is requiring green construction for commercial buildings, particularly educational facilities. The goals are to reduce both energy consumption and water usage; senate bills have been passed to establish regulatory policies that will facilitate those goals.
Although some states allow decoupling of their electricity and natural gas revenues, North Carolina does not. Decoupling separates sales of utilities from revenues generated, which distorts both revenue and usage statistics.
North Carolina has a limited amount of natural gas resources so it must obtain natural gas from other states. Natural gas in North Carolina is currently obtained from organic shales, which is a relatively new procedure designed to make use of unproductive rock beds. This has contributed to the rise in renewable energy research and the variety of innovative methods by which it’s obtained.
Targets and Goals
By the year 2021, at least 12.5 percent of retail electricity from investor-owned utilities must be generated from renewable energy sources; municipal utilities must be a minimum of 10 percent from renewable sources by the year 2018.
New construction, both commercial and residential, must adhere to the 2012 North Carolina Energy Conservation Code, which decreases both water and energy use and mandates the installation of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Low-flow water appliances and equipment are also required in this code.
Advances in technology and the widespread commitment to cleaning up the environment have performed wonders in the area of renewable energy. Innovative ideas, such as recycling landfill gas, are proof of the commitment to clean, renewable energy that prevents further pollution. It’s evidence of the national commitment to preserve the natural resources and leave the world a cleaner, better place.
Several states and cities have made commitments to be 100 percent renewable by the year 2050, and this is possible for all states and cities. Not only will it require the dedication of the state, local, and federal governments, but it will require the effort of businesses and individuals as well.
North Carolina has made significant strides in its pursuit of replacing traditional energy sources with clean, renewable energy. At its current rate of progress, North Carolina should be operating on clean, renewable energy well before the national target date of 2050.