In the last few years, the Tar Heel State has quietly become a leader in rolling out solar. The Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, notes that last year, North Carolina added 335 megawatts of capacity—the third-best tally of any state in the country. With a total of 592 megawatts of solar capacity installed, North Carolina ranks fourth among the 50 states. So far this year, according to SNL Energy, North Carolina ranks second in the number of solar farms under construction, behind only California.
As the industry has gained critical mass, it has also gained clout. The SEIA says $787 million was invested in solar plants in the state last year, and Urlaub says 570 green energy firms in the state employ 18,400 people. That helps explain why in 2013, when Rep. Mike Hager tried to repeal the state’s renewable portfolio standards law, it died in the committee he chaired.
Unfortunately, Mike Hager is only one of several threats to NC's Solar boom. The next big threat is coming from a group that was not elected by the people, and it may be just as devastating as repealing the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards:
Duke Energy wants the North Carolina Utilities Commission to let the company pay for rooftop solar power what it pays for other types of generated power.
Owners of rooftop solar systems sign contracts with Duke Energy that allow them to sell surplus electricity for 11 cents per kilowatt hour, the same price households pay for electricity.
If individual residential Solar owners charged Duke the way Duke charges the rest of us (or tries to, anyway), they would force a much higher rate down Duke Energy's throat to cover the cost of their construction within a few short years. But that's not how it works. Even at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, the return on investment for a residential Solar PV array goes well past the ten year mark. But if Duke Energy gets its way on this pricing request, the ROI for many will be extended, adding years to the payoff, and causing many who are contemplating this to change their mind. Which is the (real) goal of Duke Energy.
Several hundred residents plan to pack a public hearing Monday to voice their objections to a proposed 36-acre solar farm near affluent subdivisions in eastern Lincoln County at Lake Norman.
Homes worth a total of $400 million surround the site, opponent George Arena, a former Lincoln County commissioner, has said. Soybeans are now grown on the 36-acre site where Strata Solar hopes to build the farm. Webbs Road leads to pricey Sailview, the lake community where Arena lives, and to Governor’s Island, one of the lake’s most exclusive developments.
The irony of this opposition is: Lake Norman was not created as a recreational spot, it was formed to (among other things) provide water for the Marshall Steam Station, a coal-burning power plant which has caused at least 130 deaths and over a billion dollars in health care costs, due to particulate air pollution. And the pricey Sailview community gets more than just a whiff of that pollution. But setting aside the toxic and noxious elements of this story, there are some interesting private property issues you won't find unless you go hyperlocal:
A lawyer for landowners who were denied a permit last week by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners says the unfounded worries are putting in jeopardy a lucrative industry. In a separate case, the Laurinburg Planning Board on March 12 denied the same company, Strata Solar of Chapel Hill, a permit for panels off U.S. 501. To Rowland Mayor Elizabeth Hunt, the concerns aren't unfounded. "It's not an issue of trust. It's not technology lagging behind. It's the unknown," Hunt told Robeson County commissioners during the April 1 hearing on the Strata farm. She said she read that materials in the panels contained toxins that could leak into groundwater or sewer systems.
This article is somewhat dated, and Robeson County has since reversed its decision. But it's apparent there is some sort of stealth propaganda campaign going on, because the same unfounded fears are showing up in different places. Film at eleven.
A recent statewide public opinion survey conducted by Fallon Research found that 75.7% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats, and 81.6% of Independents (82.6% overall) said state leaders and elected officials in North Carolina should seek more alternative or renewable energy sources in order to provide consumers and businesses with electricity.
That small percentage of people who oppose renewable energy, for whatever misguided reasons, need to understand: this poll isn't a product of confusion. Even those who question the validity of global warming are aware of the pollution burning coal produces, and even the small percentage of those who dismiss that or try to ignore it know it's unwise to be reliant on finite resources when infinite resources are available. If lawmakers try to reverse the progress we've made in this area, the voters will be (understandably) perplexed and upset. And this part was pleasantly surprising:
"With wood you get half the amount of energy typically than with conventional fossil fuels." Mitchell says it'll take at least 100 years for everything to equal out. "You're going to be doing more harm than good than if you were to just be using fossil fuels."
I could argue that (most) wood contains far fewer toxins and heavy metals than coal, but none of these are the proper questions. The proper question is: "Why are we still relying on steam to generate our power?" Which includes nuclear power, by the way. It's just a fancy (dangerous) steam engine. This is what we need:
Submitted by scharrison on Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:21pm
I won't be dwelling on the legal or ethical problems associated with the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle; I'm sure investigators will be sorting that out soon enough. But I did want to clarify a few aspects of this situation, because apparently many folks are viewing this company's troubles as a failure of either public policy or the viability of renewable energy itself. Far from it. As a matter of fact, this story represents a stunning victory. Not only was the precipitous drop in the price of solar panels predictable, it was desired.
The company announced last week that Guilford County was one of seven locations being considered for the $1.5 billion project that could use up to 4,000 acres of land and generate up to 400 megawatts of power once complete. Thursday's meeting brought together leaders from Greensboro and Guilford County goverments, the Greensboro Partnership, the Piedmont Triad Partnership, Duke Energy and the state Department of Commerce.
Independent solar companies say they can’t even get in the door to negotiate with the Charlotte energy giant. “It’s not difficult to do a deal with them,” says Richard Harkrader of Carolina Solar Energy in Durham. “It’s impossible.”
In Charlotte, Optima Engineering founder Keith Pehl says all 17 of the independent commercial solar projects his company brought to Duke Energy in the past two years foundered on failed power-purchase negotiations. Pehl contends Duke’s approach is to control the local market and refuse to pay competitive prices for power from developers and building owners.
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