By William Driscoll
Fifteen organizations aim to transition North Carolina to 100% renewable electricity, largely by ending monopoly control of generation by the state’s dominant utility, Duke Energy, and opening the state to electricity competition. Their online petition says that in states with competitive energy markets, “cheaper clean and renewable energy rapidly replaces fossil fuels and drives economic development.”
Local concerns are driving the campaign. “Our communities are being harmed both by Duke Energy’s coal ash negligence and by repeated flooding from our changing climate,” said Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition, at a press conference. Other motivating issues are the “proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline” and “constant rate hikes.”
The coalition says polls show widespread voter support. A survey by Clean Energy Conservatives, showing that 85% of North Carolina voters would more likely support “a lawmaker or candidate who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options,” was cited by Jim Warren, executive director of coalition member NC WARN.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order last October aiming to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to a level 40% below 2005 levels by 2025. A solar contribution of about 30% of the state’s electricity generation would correspond to that goal, according to a pv magazine analysis.
North Carolina currently gets 5.4% of its electricity from solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But Mr. Warren said solar represents only 3% of generation in Duke territory, and that Duke’s latest integrated resource plan shows the utility will be at 8% total renewables in 2033. “Other utilities around the country are doing 20-30% renewables,” said Mr. Warren, “and projecting to go much higher still.”
In response, Duke Energy spokesperson Randy Wheeless noted that North Carolina’s solar capacity is second only to California’s. He cited a graph that the utility presented to shareholders last week, showing that the utility plans to reach 14% renewables, including hydropower, by 2030.
For comparison, across the U.S., solar contributes more than 10% of generation in five states, while wind and solar combined contribute more than 20% of generation in ten states. Last year, the competitive electricity market in Texas reached 22% generation from wind and solar, up four points from 18% in 2017. California stands at 26% renewables (19% solar and 7% wind), thanks to its renewable portfolio standard and competitive electricity market, and has seen a “substantial decline in daily average prices” according to a working paper from Energy Institute at Haas.