Archive for the 'Energy Policy' Category

The Growth of the Solar Industry in North Carolina

I asked my colleague Steve Wall, Policy Research Associate at the UNC Institute for the Environment, to reflect on the growth of solar in NC and to give you ideas of places where you can go to learn more.

North Carolina has long been recognized as a national leader in a number of economic sectors, from biotechnology to agricultural to tourism. The emergence of the solar industry in the state means that North Carolina can now stake a claim to being a national leader in renewable energy. Just last week Duke Energy announced that it will be investing $500 million in solar projects across the state in coming years.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association North Carolina was ranked third in the country for the amount of solar installed in 2013. As the recent announcement by Duke Energy illustrates, solar development appears to be on a path to continue this strong growth. Primarily the growth in the solar industry across the state has developed through the construction of large solar farms rather than conventional rooftop solar on homes and businesses.

The success of the solar industry in North Carolina leads to the question of how did the state best known for basketball and barbeque become a national player in solar development? There are many factors that go into answering that question. However, one critical factor assisting in the solar industry’s remarkable rise is the foundation of state policy.

When North Carolina lawmakers adopted a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) in 2007, it became the first state in the Southeast to have such a law. The REPS requires that the utility companies in North Carolina produce a certain amount of their electricity from renewable resources. The law also required that a certain percentage of the renewable generation come from solar—a provision deemed the solar set-aside. Teachers: Have your students learn more about the NC REPS and identify what other “renewable resources” can be utilized to meet its mandates. The Citizen’s Guide to the REPS from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association is a good place to start.

The increasing amount of solar development across North Carolina has not come without some controversy. In some instances, local governments, community groups, and individual landowners have expressed concerns about the impacts of solar farms. Some of the concerns include potential impact on property values, taking agricultural land out of production, and aesthetics. Faculty at the UNC School of Government released a report earlier this year to help guide local government leaders to ensure that the siting of solar farms is done in a responsible manner. Teachers: Have your students explore whether there are any solar farms (click here for a summary of Duke Energy Renewables’ commercial solar farms) in your region and whether there was any opposition to their construction. Internet research and local newspapers may be the best resources for this exercise.

The recent surge of solar development in North Carolina appears likely to continue into the foreseeable future. The long-term success of the industry remains reliant on sound policies as well as addressing issues raised by local communities where these facilities are sited. If state and local officials fail to recognize the economic value of these new industry and choose to back away from the current policies that have made the state a national leader, the Palmetto state has passed a new law that shows it is willing to take North Carolina’s place.

Teachers: For more information on solar and renewable energy policies in North Carolina and across the country the North Carolina Clean Technology Center is a great resource!


WFAE’s Charlotte Talks examines Fracking in NC

When I lived in Charlotte one of my favorite programs to listen to during my commute was WFAE’s Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins and so I am looking forward to listening to a two part discussion on fracking in North Carolina that aired on September 3rd and 8th, 2014.

Fracking in NC| Sept 3rd program with featured guests:

  • Christopher Hardin, P.E. – Senior Project Director, CH2M HILL
  • Franklin H. Yoho – Senior Vice President – Chief Commercial Officer, Piedmont Natural Gas
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte

Fracking Part 2| Sept 8th program with featured guests:

  • James Womack – Commissioner for the Mining & Energy Commission
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte
  • Cassie Gavin – Director of Government Affairs with Sierra Club’s NC Chapter

You can listen to each segment online and find links to related content from WFAE.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan & NC

On Monday June 2nd, the EPA proposed its Clean Power Plan that is intended to cut U.S. carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent (compared with 2005 emissions) by 2030.  The reductions in carbon pollution that will need to be implemented will be different for each state given that each state utilizes a different fuel mix for electricity generation and may already be incorporating low-carbon technologies at existing power plants. According to the EPA, “states can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs.” You can view the June 2nd press release here.

As a teacher, this proposed rule provides a great opportunity for your students to examine the current energy sources used to generate electricity in NC and then to critically assess the various strategies that could be used to reduce carbon pollution by the electricity sector in NC.   Janet McCabe, head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in her post titled Understanding State Goals Under the Clean Power Plan on the EPA Connect Blog, summarized the four measures the  EPA identified that are “technically sound,  affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity. They are:
1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants,
2) increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants,
3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and
4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses.”

According to data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), in 2012 NC ranked 15th nationally in terms of its contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan interactive map tool enables users to click on a state to learn more about EPA’s carbon reduction goals for that state and to learn about the fossil fuel fired power plants covered by the proposed plan.  The EPA has proposed that North Carolina  lower its carbon pollution to 992 lb/MWh in 2030. North Carolina’s 2012 emission rate was 1,646 pounds/megawatt hours (lb/MWh) so this represents a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030.

You can read more about what this plan means for NC by reading the June 2, 2014 News and Observer article, EPA calls on NC power plants to reduce emission rates 40% by 2030. According to the article, which referenced Jonas Monast, director of the climate and energy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law, federal projections show North Carolina is already on track to see an 18 percent drop in carbon emissions by 2020, compared with 2005.

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule are available here.

This graphic from the New York Times may also be useful in instruction.

New interactive tool for exploring future U.S. energy-use scenarios

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy released an interactive online tool “to help researchers, educators, and students explore future U.S. energy-use scenarios.” The Buildings Industry Transportation Electricity Scenarios (BITES) Tool is a scenario-based tool for analyzing how changes in energy demand and supply by economic sector can impact carbon dioxide emissions.

This web-based tool can be used in the middle and high school classroom to enable students to manipulate inputs, such as energy sources used for electricity generation and transportation fuel use, and to compare outputs and impacts on carbon dioxide emissions and the U.S. energy mix to the year 2050. Output data are made available in graphic form giving your students exposure to interpreting graphs.

To get started, watch the 4 minute intro video on the BITES website and then view scenarios that have already been created or, after a quick registration process, you can start building your own scenario.  A good starting point would be to show your students either the 2010 or 2011 Annual Energy Outlook (U.S. Energy Information Administration) base case.  By not making any changes to the inputs for this base scenario, the outputs will reflect current projections for the “business as usual” scenario. From here students can create their own scenarios, making modifications to one or more economic sectors and then comparing outputs to those of the base case.

Educator resources, including a tutorial and an online learning module are going to be available soon.

The BITES team is very interested in feedback, suggestions and lesson plans developed using the BITES tool! Please consider providing feedback on ways to improve the website and interface as well as sharing the lessons you build around using the BITES Tool. Feedback can be sent to


Burn: An Energy Journal

BURN: An Energy Journal is the flagship program of The Public Radio Energy Project and winner of the 2012 American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) Kavli Science Journalism Award for their documentary special titled Particles: Nuclear Power After Fukushima (54 minutes in 3 segments) that examines the future of nuclear power one year after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan..

Two other documentaries are available, The Hunt for Oil: Risks  and Rewards and The Power of One a two hour special that includes segments on fracking in Pennsylvania, drilling for oil in the Arctic and the quest to build better batteries.

A Primer on Modern Shale Gas Development

This 2009 publication was prepared for the US Department of Energy (DOE) by the Groundwater Protection Council.  According to the DOE website, this primer “underscores technology advances and challenges of shale gas development” and cites that “addressing water issues [is] key to increasing U.S. shale gas production.” Forty-two graphics, figures and photos can be found throughout this report which describes the nation’s major gas shale basins (Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville, Marcellus, Woodford, Antrim, New Albany) including the stratigraphy of each. The primer also includes a discussion of the regulatory framework in place for shale gas development as well as environmental considerations needed to reduce impacts to human health and the environment.

NCDENR Releases Draft Report on Hydraulic Fracturing

On Friday March 16th, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) released a draft report concluding that “Hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in North Carolina as long as the right protections are in place prior to issuance of any permits for the practice.”  NCDENR cited that the “need for more information on groundwater resources in the area where drilling for shale gas may occur before making final decisions on environmental standards.”

According to the press release, the draft report contains a set of initial recommendations developed by NCDENR in consultation with the Department of Commerce should the General Assembly choose to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina.  These recommendations are outlined in the executive summary (pdf)  and described further here and in the full report (pdf).

The final report to the General Assembly is due May 1.


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