Monday, August 16, 2010

Renewable energy: Has NC lowered the bar on itself?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Our state definitely isn't being as aggressive on the renewable energy front as it could be when compared to other states and in light of the monumental task at hand. So, what's the problem?

The Independent Weekly takes a look. Here's a snip:

The North Carolina studies comport with an analysis by the World Resources Institute of "clean power opportunities" in the southeastern United States. In North Carolina, the institute study found, renewables could supply 40 percent of the state's electricity by 2025. Costs would be comparable to those of conventional power sources—coal, nuclear, natural gas—but with major advantages in air quality, reduced water consumption and zero "climate impacts," it said.

The institute analysis didn't include energy-efficiency programs. But a 2009 scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy did. It rated North Carolina 26th of the 50 states for efficiency, including state building codes and utility-sponsored incentive programs. With more aggressive policies, the council study found, North Carolina could reduce electricity usage by almost one-fourth by 2025. In the next 20 years, renewables (40 percent) combined with energy-efficiency (24 percent) could account for nearly two-thirds of the state's electric-power needs.

Today, renewables account for just 3 percent of the state's electricity, with nearly all coming from biofuels and hydropower. Coal accounts for nearly two-thirds, nuclear for 31 percent.

To reach these goals, however, advocates of renewable power will again need to grapple with nuclear power. When SB 3 was enacted, the state's investor-owned utilities—Duke Energy and Progress Energy—insisted that the Legislature include a provision guaranteeing that any money the companies spend on nuclear plants, no matter how much, must be compensated with higher rates.

The CWIP provision (for construction work in progress) assured that the utilities would recover nuclear plant costs in any rate case. But now, Duke Energy is lobbying for SB 3 to be changed so that utilities are compensated for CWIP costs as they're incurred, without an overall rate review.

For utility customers, rate increases related to nuclear plant construction costs would come sooner; any savings resulting from the actual production of nuclear power would come later.

Duke Energy officials (but not Progress Energy) pitched the CWIP change in a recent meeting with legislative leaders and a few "legislative skeptics," says state Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a self-described "skeptic."

"When they were arguing for SB 3," Harrison said, "the utility lobbyists would say the CWIP provision they were after was better [for ratepayers] than the ones in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Now they're back asking for what they have in the other states."

Harrison worries that if the Legislature reopens SB 3, including the 12.5 percent target, it will have to consider the CWIP rule, too. "It's very frustrating," she adds, "because, as a veteran of these utility debates, I can tell you the utilities always win."

Read the entire article, by Bob Geary, here.

Of course, it's ironic that the state's largest city, Charlotte, is working diligently to re-brand itself as a green energy capital. Also ironic, Duke Energy is headquartered in the Q.C. The company, of course, got its start in the early 1900s just west of the city on the Catawba River.

Here's more on Charlotte's quest to become a renewable energy hub from UNC TV:

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