Duke Energy is in discussion with large companies, including Google and Facebook, to use renewable energy to power new electricity needs in North Carolina. Companies can pay a premium and Duke will pour energy of the companies’ choice—solar or wind, for instance—into the grid to match the amount of power used. The new program sailed through the state utilities commission last month, but some environmental organizations question its potential. WFAE’s Ben Bradford joined Morning Edition host Kevin Kniestedt to explain.
KNIESTEDT: Ben, give our listeners an example of how this works.
BRADFORD: Okay. Let’s say Google, expands one of its data warehouses out in Lenoir. Now it’s using more energy. Google’s a company that likes solar energy, so they opt into this program, and Duke generates the new energy specifically from solar—or they buy it from other solar companies.
KNIESTEDT: Power doesn’t get divided by source once it enters the electric grid, though. So, how’s this work?
BRADFORD: That’s true. Google’s actually getting a mix, like we all do, from nuclear, gas, coal, etc. But, Duke adds the amount of renewable energy that Google is buying to the grid.
KNIESTEDT: So, the way the program is set up: large companies can opt-in to this program, get new energy from renewable sources they choose, and everyone else’s bills stay the same. Some environmental organizations have criticized it, though—why?
BRADFORD: Duke basically worked this deal out with the regulators before it was ever formally introduced. That meant the groups had less time to formally review it. So, that was more of a process complaint. The other big complaint comes from NC WARN, which is an environmental group whose stated mission is to push Duke into using more renewable energy. Here’s the group’s president, Jim Warren, talking about his concern:
WARREN: It appears there might be no new renewable energy coming forth or if there is some it would be coming very possibly from out of state—Texas and other places.
BRADFORD: Warren’s basic point is that, here in North Carolina, less than one percent of Duke’s power generation comes from renewable energy it has built. He says this program doesn’t encourage Duke to build more, because it lets the utility either buy more green energy from other companies or pump it in from out of state.