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New Offshore Wind Partnership Signals North Carolina’s Renewables Leadership

Kate Zerrenner headshotWords by Kate Zerrenner
Energy & Environment
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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has put an emphasis on transitioning the state to clean energy since his election in 2016, and the renewable energy industry is responding with alacrity.

In one of many efforts to kick the offshore wind deployment in North Carolina to the next level, the Business Network for Offshore Wind has added RenewComm as public relations counsel onboard. This announcement is just the latest in a string of efforts across the country to transform the energy economy. As a first act, the Business Network held a spotlight event focusing on North Carolina.

Such moves are important as North Carolina has been hit by three major hurricanes and suffered three so-called 500-year floods since 2018. Further, these extreme flood events have been punctuated by heatwaves and droughts. All of these events put strain on the electric grid. The state’s grid is powered by 90 percent fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered electricity.

In addition, coal, nuclear, and natural gas, respectively, are the most highly water-intensive energy sources. A centralized grid also creates challenges for resilience when the next big hurricane comes through – as during Hurricane Michael in 2018, when more than a million people were left without power.

It’s clear: North Carolina on the front line of climate change.

Enter Roy Cooper and his plans to transition to a cleaner energy economy. The state plans to double its solar capacity in the next five years, and Governor Cooper has announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. One-third of the state’s energy comes from nuclear helps with emissions, but there is a potential problem when the next heatwave or drought means that water will too hot, or levels too, low to safely cool these nuclear power plants.

Cooper does face some obstacles in the state with a legislature that is generally not supportive of climate change-friendly policies and what critics say is a monopoly held by Duke Energy. While Duke has set an ambitious net-zero carbon emissions goal, it is simultaneously making major renewable energy investments harder by putting its resources toward additional pipelines, fracking, and additional transmission to support centralized power plants. The state’s residents are already struggling with rate increases to fund these efforts as well as dealing with the effects of energy-related pollution, like toxic coal ash.

Efforts by the governor’s office to make the state more open for renewable energy investments are garnering a response from the industry, as evidenced by the recent announcement. As states grapple with the impacts of climate change, energy systems will need to be at the forefront of planning in order to ensure that they can operate or rebound in extreme weather.

For example, distributed solar panels can be helpful in extreme weather, as these panels are designed to withstand winds up to 140 miles per hour and benefit from being able to provide power while the grid is offline. Customers are starting to notice: In Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit, there was a nearly 700 percent traffic spike in traffic in Texas to an article about whether solar panels could withstand hurricanes. Similarly, wind turbines are typically built to withstand winds up to 55 miles per hour. Although Harvey had winds nearly double that speed, some equipment was able to continue to generate power and function reliably. Nevertheless, sometimes the turbines couldn’t provide power because the local electric grid went down and there was nothing left to which these installations could connect.

Like the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian and Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, leaders will need to consider how to deploy energy systems for a changing climate, to protect their citizens and systems. This latest announcement out of North Carolina is a step in that direction.

Image credit: Pixabay

Kate Zerrenner headshotKate Zerrenner

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

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