North Carolina has significant potential to develop wind and other alternative energy without drastically increasing customer bills, a study prepared for the N.C. Utilities Commission says.
The report, presented this morning to state lawmakers, concluded that renewable energy could provide as much as 1,800 megawatts of power, the equivalent of two power plants the size of Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County.
The study comes at a time that Progress Energy and Duke Energy are planning to build nuclear plants and Duke Energy is also planning to build coal-fired power plants. Requiring utilities to use renewables would offset the need to build some power plants, the study concludes, reducing pollutants, greenhouse gases and radioactive nuclear waste.
“We’d be substituting these renewable resources for a portion of this planned expansion,” said Jonathan Winer, the lead consultant on the study.
The six-month study was prepared by La Capra Associates, a Boston consulting firm that has advised other states on energy alternatives. It was prepared for the state utilities commission and presented to a legislative study group as lawmakers review the state’s future energy policy.
However, if the general assembly adopted a renewable energy requirement, the time required to develop and establish the program would not likely be sufficient to cancel the coal and nuclear plants that are being planned now, Winer said.
In the past five years, about two dozen states have started requiring electric utilities to produce or purchase a portion of their energy from renewables. Utilities in North Carolina have resisted past efforts to require the use alternative energy, most recently lobbying against a bill proposed in 2005 that would have required utilities to make renewables 10 percent of their energy mix.
Progress and Duke contended that renewable energy is not sufficiently available here, and not always reliable when needed.
Solar energy is expensive and is not considered feasible without substantial subsidies. Wind power is coming down in price and increasingly practical, but not available when the wind isn’t blowing.
One of the biggest obstacles to renewable energy in North Carolina has been the state’s cheap electricity rates. States that have adopted renewable portfolio requirements typically have high electricity costs, making alternatives more affordable.
The study issued today says that electric utilities in the state could generate 5 percent of their electricity from renewables and as much as 10 percent if they expanded their energy efficiency programs. Currently, almost all the state’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants and coal-fired plants, with less than 2 percent coming from renewables.
A 5 percent renewable energy requirement would double renewable use in the state and result in rate increases of less than 1 percent, the study says. A 10 percent requirement, implemented over 10 years, would raise rates by 3.6 percent at most in the 10th year.
If energy efficiency were included as part of the renewable program, rates would go up by less than 1 percent, but actual bills would be lowered because energy use would decrease, according to the study.
Staff writer John Murawski can be reached at 919-829-8932 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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