SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
State Energy Overview
North Carolina is home to a uniquely diverse landscape, ranging from the mountains of Western North Carolina to the Outer Banks along the Eastern shore. These unique and treasured places also come with distinct risks from climate change.
In 2002, North Carolina became a regional leader in the effort to protect our air, water and public health with the passage of the Clean Smokestacks Act which directed power plants to cut pollution. After a decade of implementation, utilities in North Carolina have cut emissions of smog-forming pollution by nearly 90 percent.
In 2007, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed the Southeast’s first and still only Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS). By requiring utilities to generate a portion of our electricity from clean, renewable sources, North Carolina’s clean energy industry has rapidly grown. Despite attempts by opponents to repeal the law in recent years, REPS has been a driving force behind NC’s $7 billion clean energy industry and its 26,000+ jobs without significantly affecting costs to consumers.
In recent years, these forward-thinking energy policies that made North Carolina a regional leader have been under attack. Despite clear opportunities for energy efficiency, solar, and wind (both on- and off-shore), North Carolina utilities have not yet adopted a market-driven approach to investing in clean, renewable energy resources. We remain hopeful that North Carolina’s newly elected governor, Roy Cooper, will make good on his campaign promises to promote stronger clean energy policies and address the causes and impact of climate change in order to further the clean energy economy, better protect our natural resources, and improve our state’s air and water quality.
Solar: North Carolina has been a leader on solar development in the Southeast, and even nationally, for the past several years. In 2015, North Carolina installed 1,140 megawatts (MW) of solar, ranking it second nationally for new solar installations, and boasted a total of 2,436 MW of overall solar electric capacity, ranking it 3rd in the country for solar. An assortment of policies enabled this growth, including a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS); a 35% state investment tax credit; and an 80% exemption on the value of a solar system from property tax. The REPS target mandates the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to supply 12.5% of their retail sales from “eligible energy sources” (a combination of renewables, efficiency, and renewable energy credits) by 2021, and for municipal and cooperative utilities to supply 10% by 2018. Of note, within the REPS mandate there is a requirement for IOUs to meet their target with at least 0.2% of retail sales coming from solar (i.e., carve-out) by 2018.
The bulk of solar capacity in North Carolina has been built as “solar farms,” or larger-scale projects where the solar power is sent directly to the grid through an arrangement with the utility and project developer, rather than being used onsite. This is the result of relatively good standard contracts offered by investor-owned utilities in the state, as well as the benefits associated with economies of scale. That said, following a local campaign, Solarize Asheville, in which homeowners were able to reduce the cost of going solar by coordinating their purchase together, more Solarize campaigns have sprouted up across the state. In turn, more distributed solar development has and will result. Attempts to introduce a bill to allow third-party financing in North Carolina began back in 2015, and if it were to pass and become state law, the opportunities for distributed solar development could growth substantially. You can read more about solar by visiting our Learn About page, here.
Wind: North Carolina has the best offshore wind resource in the country. A study managed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy suggests that enough area exists off the state’s coast to support approximately 42,000 megawatts of offshore wind development – more than enough to meet all of the state’s current energy demands. North Carolina is already the top wind energy manufacturing state in our region, employing more than 2,000 workers in the wind industry, and new opportunities could create thousands more jobs for North Carolinians. The state also has excellent onshore wind resources, and strong academic and business communities supporting wind power. Early in 2017, the state’s first wind farm began to provide electricity to the internet company Amazon with modern wind turbine technology. With modern wind turbines, over 8,200 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind potential currently exist in North Carolina. Developing just one gigawatt of wind energy capacity (1,000 MW) in North Carolina (just 12% of North Carolina’s onshore potential) could power more than 255,500 homes a year! Learn more about North Carolina’s wind energy potential here.
Energy Efficiency: The state has clear opportunities for energy efficiency but efforts to help customers lower energy bills through energy efficiency have stalled. You can read more about energy efficiency by visiting our Learn About page, here.
Coal: There are currently 14 coal plants in North Carolina owned by Duke Energy (Progress), the major energy provider in the state. Duke Energy has made commitments to retire 3,134 Megawatts (MW) of coal-fired capacity from 27 units at 9 coal plants by 2018 (one facility retiring is located in South Carolina). North Carolina utilities currently spend a total of about $2.35 billion on coal each year. The state appears as number 4 in the list of the top 15 states for coal health impacts in 2010, there were 487 hospitalizations, 912 heart attacks and 681 deaths related to pollution from coal plants in North Carolina. In 2010, 55.9% of energy in the state came from coal. Even though dependence on coal has declined over the past decade from 62.1% in 2000, it is still a dominant part of North Carolina’s energy mix. You can read more about solar by visiting our Learn About page, here.
In addition to creating air pollution, North Carolina’s power plants produce nearly 5.5 million tons of toxic coal ash every year. The ash is mostly dumped in unlined pits near waterways where it can easily pollute water used for fishing, drinking, and recreation. Although North Carolina ranks 9th in the nation for coal ash generation, it lacks many basic safeguards to keep coal ash from polluting air, water, and endangering communities. North Carolina’s advocacy groups are leading the charge in taking legal action against Duke Energy calling for them to clean up their coal ash pollution. Check out this fact sheet to learn more about coal ash in North Carolina.
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