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NCSEA's statement on the Currituck County Solar Ban

Posted By Emily Holmes, Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Updated: Thursday, March 16, 2017
It is unfortunate that Currituck County residents will miss out on future jobs and land-lease payments from additional local solar development. The recent move to ban new solar projects from coming to the area shuts the door on the millions of dollars* in economic development and increased property tax revenues generated by existing Currituck County solar projects. 

In reaching their decision, county commissioners cited inaccurate and misleading data from NC DEQ -- misinformation that NCSEA has worked to refute at the state level. NCSEA urges NC DEQ tour visit and ensure the accuracy of their materials regarding solar development; particularly those distributed in communities across North Carolina. 

We also encourage other local governments to carefully vet the information they are given about solar, as solar misinformation has taken many forms in recent months -- often from seemingly reliable sources. 

NCSEA hopes that the Currituck County commissioners will soon reverse or revise their decision to allow for future solar development opportunities. In the meantime, other North Carolina local governments should think carefully about considering such a broad-based ban. Alternatively, we hope to see communities work with a coalition of stakeholders to either develop new, sensible regulations around solar development or adapt the North Carolina Solar Template Ordinance to fit their community's needs.  

Have Questions about Solar in Your Community? NCSEA is committed to providing North Carolina residents with the facts on solar. The following NCSEA resources are evidence-based and designed to clarify common questions about the impacts of solar energy:
*According to RTI International, Currituck County saw $50,312,803 invested in solar from 2007-2015. 

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A Reflection on 2016

Posted By Emily Holmes, Thursday, February 9, 2017

2016 was a significant year of transition for both the NC Sustainable Energy Association and our state’s clean energy economy. NCSEA starts our 39th year stronger, more capable, and better positioned to advance clean energy on all fronts than at any time in NCSEA’s modern history. NCSEA stands ready to deliver on our commitment to make clean energy work for all North Carolina – consumers, industry, utilities and our government statewide.

Inside NCSEA, our team and Board transitioned to an entrepreneurial business model, focusing on our highest and best contributions, creating value daily with and for each of you as our ‘customers.’ We added a collective 52 years of relevant career experience to our accomplished staff team.  Thanks to many of our members and supporters, NCSEA’s funding support is diversifying and growing around our new and existing programs.  We have formalized and scaled up the way we communicate with you, now reaching 1.6 million North Carolinians through our new Communications Hub, and telling your stories with our nationally recognized Story of Clean Energy campaign.

Across our great state, clean energy has become a beneficial and critical part of our landscape, our culture, and our economic opportunity. In nearly every county clean energy now puts food on the table for North Carolina families and businesses, driving billions in new private investments while contributing more in local tax revenues that pay for schools and the services we all depend on each day. All electricity customers are benefiting as clean energy development continues to slow the rise in our electricity rates. The first wind farm in the southeast will soon be online, and utilities have fully complied with the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard five years ahead of schedule at half the cost. NC is now #2 in installed solar capacity and energy efficiency remains dominant.

NCSEA seized every opportunity to learn, lead and succeed together, because we know as well as most that underneath our shared accomplishments much work remains to be done. In each of the past twelve months, our team invested heavily in spending time with you - convening members and stakeholders to identify challenges and immediate steps forward for both emerging and established clean energy solutions. We learned where challenges remain for customer owned solar, geothermal, bioenergy and utility scale solar, and we laid the groundwork for significant policy and market improvements in 2017.

A key part of leadership is building trust and dialogue. NCSEA launched new programs in energy storage, customer-owned solar, biogas, energy efficiency, solar and agriculture, and wind power, involving utilities, industry, consumer advocates and decision-makers. Our Utility Solutions Program is growing rapidly with generous support from our largest funders and a grant from the US Department of Energy.  NCSEA now also works outside of public policy with our utilities, proving out leading edge data driven solutions that can enable utilities to solve their business model challenges around clean energy through delivery of customer savings and service.

On behalf of NCSEA, thank you for the role you play in our affordable, resilient and increasingly clean energy economy.  The best is yet to come!



Ivan Urlaub
Executive Director 

You can read NCSEA's 2016 Annual Report here. 

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Thank You, Ruth

Posted By Allison Eckley, Thursday, January 26, 2017

In her 57 years of life, Ruth Samuelson was many things to many people. Among her many roles: wife, mother, friend, mentor – and a principled change-maker. Today and in the years to come, NC Sustainable Energy Association cherishes the legacy of Ruth, a Republican who saw past the traditional “us vs. them” and fought for North Carolina’s sustainable energy future.

It has been said that Ruth saw her conservative and conservationist principles as complementary. That was evident in her actions as both a private citizen and 
a NC House Representative. Throughout her impressive eight-year tenure at the NC General Assembly, Ruth acted boldly to support the growth of clean energy in North Carolina. And she did it with tact, with grit, and with grace.

As a result, Ruth garnered attention and bipartisan respect as a unique voice and champion for clean energy policies. In 2014, NCSEA recognized Ruth with our inaugural Excellence in Public Policy Award. Then-Rep. Samuelson understood fully why clean energy works for North Carolina: To her, the issue of sustainability transcended politics, as she saw its ability to benefit both our beloved NC natural resources, as well as our economy.  

In today’s polarized political environment, as The Charlotte Observer noted, “We need more Ruth 
Samuelsons – especially now”. We couldn’t agree more. Until then, we will go forward in her memory, honoring Ruth with work that serves to unite and benefit everyone in our great and diverse State.

With gratitude –
NC Sustainable Energy Association  

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NCSEA's 2016 Accomplishments

Posted By Emily Holmes, Tuesday, January 3, 2017


As 2016 comes to a close, we reflect on a year filled with much uncertainty. This is not a new concept to us – but neither is resiliency. Thanks to your support of NCSEA, everyone in North Carolina breathes cleaner air and lives a little better. Your giving has helped grow the clean energy economy, reduced energy bills for everyone, and equipped us to be the best champions of clean energy we have ever been.

In recognition of this progress, NCSEA is pleased to share with our top ten accomplishments from this year. Without your support, this list could not exist.


2016 Top Ten Accomplishments

  1. 10 Years Strong and Growing: Thanks in part to the hard work of NCSEA members and staff throughout 2016, North Carolina’s clean energy industry experienced its 10th consecutive year of industry growth with 26,154 jobs and $6.96 billion in annual clean energy industry revenues. Watch for our 2016 Clean Energy Industry Census results in January.
  2. Defining Problems and Advancing Solutions: NCSEA convened representatives from the energy storage, customer-owned and large scale solar, wind, bioenergy, and geothermal sectors to participate in ongoing "working group" discussions about the current state of the industry, policy and pathways forward for affordable clean energy in North Carolina.
  3. Seeing Ourselves in Clean Energy: In 2016, NCSEA launched 'The Story of Clean Energy' campaign, telling the many and diverse clean energy stories of North Carolinians across our great state. There are many more stories to be told in 2017, and we encourage you to help us tell them through our new communications hub, also launched this year. 
  4. Legal and Finance Education: NCSEA helped lead a collaborative effort with some of North Carolina’s most experienced utility legal experts to create a utilities law specialization within the North Carolina State Bar, and two of NCSEA’s attorneys were among the inaugural class of specialists. In addition, NCSEA’s second annual Continuing Legal Education event on renewable energy law and clean energy finance event for accounting CPE credit each received high marks from attendees from across the Southeast.
  5. Legislative Support for Clean Energy: NCSEA’s work connects state and local decision-makers with the clean energy workers, investors, business leaders and resources in their communities and beyond. In 2016, our state’s leaders worked with NCSEA to successfully prevent all harmful policy proposals from becoming law and began exploring positive policy options for 2017.
  6. New & Improved Newsletters: NCSEA overhauled our email communications in 2016 with great results, replacing our general newsletter with three monthly newsletters tailored to our unique members and subscribers: The Clean Energy Storyteller, Clean Energy Events Radar, and Clean Energy Insights.
  7. Inclusiveness Initiative: NCSEA launched our new Inclusiveness Initiative, to ensure the work of NCSEA and our members is advancing opportunities for all North Carolinians to participate in and directly benefit from our clean energy economy.
  8. Solar Leadership: While North Carolina has been a pioneer for decades in passive solar design and high performance building, in 2016 we surpassed Arizona to become #2 in installed solar PV generating capacity with more than 2,000 MegaWatts of installed solar capacity – 53 MW of which is customer owned rooftop solar.
  9. Strong Team of Experienced Leaders: NCSEA added 52 additional years of direct career experience to our team, which quickly translated into increased collaboration, problem solving and impact with our members, partners and stakeholders. NCSEA staff also completed our fourth year as a lab team participant in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Innovations Laboratory, known as e-Lab.
  10. Utility Solutions Program at the Leading Edge: NCSEA designed and launched our innovative new Utility Program. We have started working with several North Carolina utilities to test new data-driven approaches to identify clean energy and business model options that can be beneficial for both utilities and their customers. 

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Looking forward to 2017

Posted By Allison Eckley, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The 2016 election season has finally come to a close, and many are wondering what’s next for clean energy. NCSEA’s answer? To borrow from sports terminology, North Carolina still controls its own destiny.

You see, North Carolina’s $7 billion clean energy economy is resilient, thanks to years of conditioning through adversity. The grey area is not a new place for us. In today’s uncertain times, where questions linger at the state and federal levels, one thing is certain: NCSEA’s work, in collaboration with our valued members and partners across the state, matters more than ever.

We’re used to operating – and thriving – in the trenches, where leadership, fair rules and market signals can change in an instant. So as we take time to consider what happens next, in many ways NCSEA is already “there” – convening stakeholders, influencing policy, advancing an increasingly diverse and accessible marketplace. The existing suite of common-sense clean energy policies and our diverse, robust clean energy business presence throughout the state must continue working together as our bedrock. 

Despite policy setbacks and market barriers over the years, our diverse clean energy business community doesn’t just find ways to survive; we do our homework, take the blows as they come, and bounce back to advance together. Today and tomorrow, regardless of who is in power at different levels, we take comfort in knowing that North Carolina clean energy has already 

saved NC consumers over $162 million
, proven ourselves viable and competitive, and most importantly, promises so much more for our future. We also know there is far more to be optimistic about than leery of.

Put simply: The benefits of clean energy to our state’s workers, consumers, manufacturers and investors are ours to lose. NCSEA intends to work as we always have to protect and proliferate those benefits on behalf of every consumer in every corner of the state. We look forward to working in 2017 to continue leading the way, serving as a model to other states as we fervently pursue an increasingly clean, reliable and affordable energy future.

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Reflections on the 2016 Election

Posted By Emily Holmes, Friday, November 11, 2016

Change can be difficult.  It always comes with challenges and opportunities.  Over the last few days, we at NCSEA have been reading a lot of surprise and concern about the election and speculation as to its meaning for energy policy both at the Federal level and at home in North Carolina.  There will be challenges.  Based on things President-elect Trump has said, we have reason to think that his administration will be less favorable towards the clean energy industry. For example, the Clean Power Plan will likely be stopped, defunded, or overturned by the courts.

The election for governor presents clean energy advocates with opportunities regardless of who ends up winning. With either a new governor or a second term, there is an opportunity to start afresh."  We look forward to working with North Carolina's governor and General Assembly to support a clean energy economy that is safe, affordable, reliable, clean, secure, and resilient. NCSEA will continue to educate decision-makers on the impact the clean energy sector has on North Carolina's economy. There are, however, many unknowns, and though it is human nature to assume the worst, we should resist doing so.

We should be careful to remember all of the clean energy progress already made in North Carolina and across the United States. Through our hard work, we have already made great strides towards the clean energy future we envision. No matter what happens, that fact will continue to make North Carolina an attractive place to build on our success.

NCSEA is busy analyzing the new energy landscape. We are going to be very proactive in engaging decision makers on behalf of our agenda. Along with clean energy companies, customers, the utilities, and environmental groups, we will work to protect the progress we have made and ensure that North Carolina continues toward a clean, sustainable energy future that is affordable and safe.  Please let us know about your concerns and be sure to stay in touch with us as we develop our strategy for moving ahead in this changing environment.

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Making Energy Work 2016: Your Questions, Answered

Posted By Allison Eckley, Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Making Energy Work 2016: Your Questions, Answered!

Thank you to the many MEW 2016 attendees for participating in the exciting conversation about our long-term energy future. The following is a recap of key questions asked at MEW, organized by the panels where they were asked. In the recent weeks following MEW, we asked panelists to help us answer the questions many of you asked in the sessions and through our app. Below is the feedback we’ve received thus far; please check back for future responses, which will be added as we continue receiving them.

We hope these questions and answers are valuable to you, and we look forward to continuing this very important dialogue together.


The NCSEA Team


Panel: North Carolina’s Energy Outlook
Etan Gumerman, Duke University, The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

·       Question: “Please discuss the appropriateness of hourly production cost models to capture benefits from resources such as storage that operate on a sub hourly basis.”

o   Etan: “Different models do different things well. Hourly production cost models will capture hourly variation topics better. The capacity expansion models forecasting 20+ years into the future probably don’t capture hourly or sub-hourly subtleties. All models are approximations of reality, using computers to try and relatively quickly answer various questions. If you are interested in sub-hourly analysis there may be better approximations or you need to understand the limits of models that only capture hourly or seasonal dispatch.” 


·       Question:In the scenarios where coal appears to be growing, how do you see this manifesting (I.e., retrofits, new builds)? And why do you think the forecast shows coal growth?”

o   Etan: “Capacity is decreasing, which is not the same thing as generation decreasing. Generation can vary because of relative fuel prices between natural gas and coal for example. So I see it as annual capacity factor variation. Over time I think AEO has less efficient coal units closing (those with least generation) and those with better Heat Rates sometimes increase their capacity factors.” 


·       Question: “Why do any of these projections show growth in coal-fired generation when the utilities have plans to continue shuttering coal-fired plants, and it seems unrealistic that new plants will be built?”

o   Etan: “I think only the Annual Energy Outlook numbers that I showed, have coal increasing generation. First, I should point out that I was discussing generation, not capacity. Retirements mean less capacity, not necessarily less generation. Similarly, more generation does not necessarily mean new capacity is built; it depends on annual generation and variation in annual capacity factor. The AEO had a 40% coal generation reduction between 2014 and 2015 for VACAR region. So, the growth that I showed does not return to 2014 levels. Another point of reference: AEO forecasts ~5 GW less coal capacity in 2030 than in 2015.” 


·       Question: “Were there models run where coal was mandated to be reduced?”

o   Etan:Not usually coal constraints per se, but most models run scenarios with constraints based on CO2 emissions. I only discussed in detail a few of the many scenarios. Almost every model does some CO2 constrained scenarios. The Nicholas Institute model ran many permutations of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), EIA’s baseline includes CPP, etc.”   


·       Question: “You broke down gas into CT and CC. In your opinion, do you see biogas growing as a scalable chunk in the next 15 years?”

o   Etan:This is not an area I’m very familiar with, so I don’t know how much biogas is in our state. I am sure biogas generation will grow, but am not aware of circumstances that would allow it to grow to a large chunk in the next 15 years.”


·       Question: “What role does storage play in each model?”

o   Etan:Not much at this point. Pumped storage is included in many models, but plays a modest role. The timing, performance and cost expectations for grid-scale storage advances are still rather uncertain.”


·       Question: “As you run models, are there any conditions that have the model predict energy efficiency as a much bigger slice of the energy pie compared to what you showed us?”

o   Etan:Most these types of energy models consider EE as an exogenous input (assumption) rather than a supply option that can be economically dispatched.  Certainly, you could treat it as a supply option – TVA just started doing that in the last year or two for their IRP. I’m doing some research about different ways to model EE as a supply-side resource, but there is limited data to base cost curves on. The short answer would be, “yes, but.” Yes, if you assume that there is enough EE available at a low enough price (and it persists), then you could predict lots of EE in the future. But, those assumptions would most likely be controversial.”    


·       Question: “In your opinion, what does the introduction of viable storage solutions do to these forecasts?”

o   Etan:As I emphasized, assumptions matter, and sometimes they matter a lot. I think viable storage solutions could either change everything or hardly change these forecasts. It depends what you mean by viable storage solutions. Storage is wide ranging, pumped storage is already viable, and what about Powerwalls, car batteries, CAES, flywheels, etc.? Will any of these or other technologies be economically competitive, dispatchable, and widespread in the short-term? I’m sure storage technologies will continue to progress for many other purposes beyond grid scale storage (reliability, peak shifting, vehicles, etc.), but I’m not sure if storage technologies alone can drive radical change in the next 15 years.”      

Panel: Creating a North Carolina Energy Vision
Moderator: Diane Cherry, NC Sustainable Energy Association
Rachael Estes, NC Conservation Network
Bob Koger, Advanced Energy Corporation
Angie Maier, NC Pork Council
Patrick Woodie, NC Rural Center

·       Question: “Given our history of droughts and heatwaves, which approaches and technologies are most resilient to these threats?”

o   Bob:Any generation that does not need to use water (steam) in the production of electricity would be beneficial in the case of a very severe drought. Of course, neither wind nor solar generation need the use of steam in their operation. However, their production is intermittent and, therefore, requires either storage or backup power generation.”

Advancing Clean Energy with Untapped Resources
Moderator: Andrea Braswell, NC Sustainable Energy Association
Maria Kingery, Kingery & Company, LLC
Randy Lucas, Lucas + Tax Energy Consulting
Marilynn Marsh-Robinson, Environmental Defense Fund
Jose Perez, Hispanics in Energy 
Larry Yon, B&C International

·       Question: “How can we incorporate "geographic inclusiveness?”

o   Marilynn: “When we think of diversity and inclusion, geography is a part of that because urban and rural landscapes and resources are very different. Though nationally and in NC, there is more rural land mass, focus is often put in concentrated urban clusters.  When thinking of opportunities, obstacles and resources, you have to think about both differently.  For instance, if you are thinking about energy efficiency program logistics for a rural vs. urban landscape, there are several things to consider:  the type of utility may be different (Investor Owned Utility [IOU] vs. cooperative), # of rate payers per square mile, workforce needs (would a rural community have the local workforce), educational/training support and availability (this may be more stressed in a rural area), economic development opportunity (how much this may be felt in a rural community vs. urban), ability to pay for upgrades (rural communities tend to have lower median incomes and this may need additional consideration) and program approval (an IOU is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission).”


·       Question: “Many minorities and poor people are renters. Landlords have few incentives to improve energy efficiency in their properties, leaving the poorest with the highest utility bills. What incentives do you recommend to encourage landlords to invest in energy efficiency (EE)?”

o   Marilynn: “A few incentives for landlords to invest in energy efficiency include 1) EE investing in your property increases the comfort of your property and can be advertised to potential renters as energy efficient; 2) Making the upgrades can also increase the overall property value; 3) Allows low-income residents to have some relief in utility bills and increase their chances of paying the rent on time if they do not have to contend with high utility bills; 4) Allows the landlord to do what is needed and not be regarded as a landlord that does not care. It shows community investment.”


·       Question: “How can we do a better job of "meeting people where they are" and avoid alienating groups by using jargon? Often we don't even realize we have an "elitist voice."

o   Maria: “I agree that this is a problem. The most important thing is that we remember to focus on what’s important to the people we’re talking with, not what’s important to us as an industry. Of course we need regulators and legislators who will support particular initiatives, and for them to do that, we need citizens who care and are bought in to a clean energy future. When we talk to people about this policy or that regulation, we lose them – and that’s our fault, not theirs.”


o   Larry: “Listening, and making an effort to understand the various factors that affect how one defines their challenges will give a better indication of the messaging to use to relate to that individual. As a part of our Inclusiveness Initiative, NCSEA will work with organizations in the North Carolina clean energy industry and beyond that have existing relationships and an established channel of communication with target populations; we will leverage those relationships to help us make the story of clean energy more relatable. These partnerships will help create opportunities for energy literacy programs, and enable us to collect data that will better inform us on the impact energy has on underrepresented groups.”


·       Question: “What factors attracted you all to the clean energy industry and what barriers did you specifically encounter in getting to work in the industry?”

o   Jose:I got involved in this industry in 2001, when my publication company, Latino Journal began covering a lot of energy issues. During that time, California’s largest investor owned utility was filing for bankruptcy. My team organized a forum with the key policy makers and stakeholder groups in the energy industry, to talk through the challenges they were facing during that time. The most noticeable barrier to me was the lack of knowledge among those not directly involved in the industry. It also became apparent that there was not much supplier diversity in energy. In 2003, I co-founded the California Utilities Diversity Council (now a national organization). I wanted to help create economic development opportunities for emerging communities, bridge the gap of energy literacy, and provide workforce development solutions.”


o   Randy: “As corny or mushy as it may be, I actually was attracted to sustainability and the clean energy industry after being inspired by the book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman (2009). In reading this book, I realized that while energy issues are global issues, the United States can and must play a key role in the sustainable future. Furthermore, I recognized that with my experience in corporate tax consulting, I can be a unique support in the marketplace to advise and assist companies in developing strategies to capture the available tax incentives and benefits of the clean energy economy through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and/or alternative energy investments.


As for barriers, I believe there are a few, but not as many as may be perceived by someone who has zero knowledge of how energy is produced, distributed, and consumed. This is a great opportunity for NCSEA and all others in clean energy to ‘pull in’ an inclusive audience to the industry as vendors, customers, innovators, policymakers, investors, etc. through education and sharing.”


o   Marilynn: “I came to the sustainability and energy space from corporate America after realizing that communities of color were often adversely impacted yet hardly engaged on solutions. Historically, African Americans have not been engaged by the larger environmental organizations but this is changing. Organizations are engaging more diverse audiences to broaden the size of the tent, understanding it will take more people with different perspectives to win on these important issues.


Regarding barriers to clean energy investments, issues are often discussed separately. Communities need silos to be eliminated and the topic of clean energy or sustainability to be connected to “kitchen table” issues, such as jobs, the economy, health, savings and economic development. Second, different levels of educational opportunities, workforce availability, economic development opportunities and financing options exist in rural and urban landscapes. Also, the availability of land dictates what type of investment is available and should be made. I also think that the lack of diversity in the field is a barrier to maximum penetration here and abroad.”


·       Question: “Can you give us some special examples of how to "pull people in"?”

o   Maria:For a start, those of us who work in the clean energy industry need to do a better job of engaging people in our networks. People are influenced by the people they know. It sounds simple, but a good start is sharing our enthusiasm for what we and our companies are doing! Clean energy is still perceived by many to be an aspirational “alternative.” We need to create an understanding of what it really is: an urgent imperative for the economic and environmental stability of our communities. We have to figure out how we can help people understand that we already have everything we need to transition to a clean energy economy – we just need the will (policies, long-term investment, etc.) to make it happen. We are making progress, however slow. To build momentum, we need to make it personal and share more of what’s working for clean energy, as well as focus on what’s possible, not what’s holding us back.”


o   Larry: “Education, mentorship and exposure are powerful tools that go a long way. It is also important to share success stories that people can relate to. “Pulling people in” in this scenario can be compared to encouraging people to vote. We have to help people realize the power of their voice and the power of their advocacy to drive the changes that will improve the lives of all people.”


o   Randy: “We can all certainly engage within our networks using an ‘inclusive lens’ with the intent to reach out particularly to audiences that may have been marginalized or not included in the past. I believe that NCSEA’s Making Energy Work 2016 this month illustrated a very good example of inclusivity in the panelists, facilitators, award recipients, and presenters throughout the entire conference, including the lunch gathering of women in the clean energy industry. Steps like these will ‘pull’ others in to what this industry is capable of accomplishing. Increased efforts to educate across all communities we serve, partner with, and support will help the clean energy economy to grow and meet its vision and mission.”


o   Marilynn:  “I agree with the aforementioned points. Education is needed on a broader level. People don’t know what they don’t know. Accessibility to affordable capital is also needed in order to “pull people in.” I worked with a utility cooperative that told me in the winter and sometimes summer months, it is not uncommon to have people with utility bills higher than their mortgage or rent payments. This is due to lack of insulation or other efficiency measures. Often times, people need access to loan programs with low interest rates and alternative credit guidelines such that they can lower bills and begin to enjoy utility savings.” 


o   Jose:  “It’s important to assess the level of understanding of people in the community, and we must present the information to them at their level. Very few people know what goes on behind the scenes after they turn on their light switch. Additionally, there are barriers to monetizing clean energy – this issue is largely related to the fact that not many clean energy  companies have diversity in their organizational leadership; we need to make sure that people who understand the needs of diverse communities are involved in the discussion of an energy future.”


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The Latest Misinformation About the Impact of NC’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard

Posted By Samantha Radford, Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Last week, the Civitas Institute published a report, "North Carolina's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard: Examining the Economic Effects" that criticizes NC's Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, or REPS. The NC General Assembly passed Senate Bill 3 in 2007, which included the REPS, with overwhelming support. Despite attempts by opponents to repeal the REPS law in recent years, a strong bipartisan group of legislators have voted numerous times to maintain the REPS, which has been a driving force behind NC's $7 billion clean energy industry and its 26,000+ jobs. All of this has contributed to much-needed investments found in every region of the Tar Heel state.

The Civitas report is the latest in a string of discredited and biased studies attacking the success of North Carolina’s REPS law. This report looks at 12 different states, ranging all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, which have Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) laws or goals. However, very little NC-specific data is used in its methodology, and instead relies mostly on national averages and outdated or inaccurate information. NCSEA takes issue with many of its claims and wishes to address a few here:

  1. Civitas gets the "basics" wrong. The report inaccurately says that NC's REPS law is 12% of total electricity consumption by 2020. In fact, the NC REPS increases incrementally to 12.5% of retail electricity consumption by 2021. The report also significantly overestimates the amount of new generation needed to satisfy future REPS requirements compared to projections from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  2. The report falsely assumes that all NC REPS requirements would be complied with new utility-owned and financed wind and solar projects. In fact, NC's REPS law allows for the REPS requirements to be met with energy efficiency (25% increasing to 40% after 2020) and various renewable energy resources. In addition, utilities can meet 25% of the REPS requirements by purchasing "out-of-state" renewable energy credits (RECs). NC utilities are also allowed to use significant amounts of biomass and small-scale hydropower. All RECs and energy efficiency credits are publicly available here.

  3. The report does not evaluate actual NC REPS requirements, including the cost cap that limits the amount customers can be charged for REPS compliance. The current (annual) cost caps are $34 for residential, $150 for commercial, and $1,000 for industrial customers; however, the NC REPS Riders have always been well below those cost caps. For example, Duke Energy Carolinas' residential customers currently pay $0.54 each month, and Duke Energy Progress is $1.17. Even accounting for the maximum amount that NC ratepayers could pay if the cost caps were met in 2016 (projected by the NC Utilities Commission and the Public Staff here and here), the Civitas estimate for NC REPS costs in 2016 is over $1 billion more than the maximum amount allowed under the cost caps.

  4. The report significantly overestimates the levelized costs of energy for solar and wind power in NC. For example, the latest version of Lazard's Levelized Costs of Energy shows that the LCOE for utility scale solar is between $58 and $70 nationally, and $32 to $77 for wind per MWH. Both of these estimates are significantly under the LCOE estimates in the Civitas study (estimated at $154 for solar and $135 for wind). 

In contrast, a 2015 analysis of NC's REPS law by RTI International and ScottMadden closely examined only NC-specific data regarding energy resources and costs related to NC's REPS law. It found dramatically different results than the Civitas report. The RTI/ScottMadden study found that by 2029, the REPS in NC is expected to save ratepayers $651 million, in addition to substantial new economic development opportunities and investments in communities.

North Carolina’s citizens and economy are the real winners under existing clean energy policies. Policymakers should continue to support the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard as a critical step to expanding North Carolina’s energy mix for a secure, affordable long-term energy future.


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July Giga-Thought: Why is an energy vision for North Carolina’s energy economy necessary now?

Posted By Emily Holmes, Thursday, July 14, 2016

By NCSEA's Ivan Urlaub & Diane Cherry

New energy technologies are becoming ever more affordable and changing our homes, how and where we work, and the infrastructure connecting and powering our communities. For several decades, energy consumers in North Carolina have relied on service from their energy utilities. When we only had five resources (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower) to meet our energy needs, the traditional utility business model was the preferable technological and economic approach.  Now, advancements in technologies, declining energy costs and the Internet of Things allow customers and service providers to manage their own energy consumption and control their utility.

Clean energy technologies such as solar power, wind power, and ways to use energy more efficiently, are outpacing additions in traditional energy sources like natural gas, nuclear and coal. The U.S. market for energy storage solutions will likely grow 100% per year, which will also continue to drive down the cost of electric vehicles, broadening the universe of control and choice for customers. But while these changes are beneficial for consumers, they are great challenges for utilities and the energy industry.

A vision must grapple with the following three forces:

1.     North Carolina’s globally competitive position in advanced technology sectors includes energy, but also the newer technology areas of smart grid, energy storage, intelligent and high performance buildings, electric vehicles, solar, bioenergy, wind energy, and smart transportation.

2.     The number of North Carolinians experiencing new energy options and control is growing each year as prices offered by non-utility companies continue to decline.

3.     The laws and rules governing our regulated utilities still exert a strong financial preference within the utility business model toward building traditional power plants (using the big five traditional resources), while limiting the utility’s options to cost-competitively offer customers newer technologies and services directly or as part of their regular service.

These forces are causing an important divergence between the utility, the energy industry, and the customers they serve. Every energy decision made today in North Carolina causes one to lose when another gains.  When the utility exercises its preference to build a profitable new power plant (necessary or not), they recover the cost from their customers. When the energy industry works with customers to deploy a newer technology with minimal utility involvement and using their own money, only the amount the utility pays for the electricity generated or the renewable energy certificates created can be recovered from all customers and no utility profit is allowed. To date, in North Carolina’s experience the first makes customers’ rates and bills go up but financially strengthens the utility, and the second causes a downward pressure on customers’ rates and bills, but financially weakens the utility. This is why North Carolina’s current and proposed clean energy laws are so controversial, because it is hard to see how using newer technologies has actually caused electric rates and your bills to go up less than if we had met our needs in the old way of only building traditional power plants and more power lines.

This divergence of interests will only intensify as new technology costs decline further and customers find new ways to affordably finance and use newer technologies without utilities earning a profit on customers’ investments.  As a result, all parties involved will continue making individual decisions that appear to be efficient and affordable, but in the big picture may not be. The sure fire way to guarantee electricity rates and bills will rise, is for all of us to continue allowing energy to be politicized and by failing to align around shared goals and a transparent planning process that ensures energy is inclusive of and beneficial for all customers, maintains financially strong and secure utilities, and ensures our competitive energy industry adds thousands more jobs annually for the next decade to North Carolina’s energy economy.

For all of these reasons, North Carolina must have a workforce development plan informed by a vision for our energy economy.

Originally published by the Institute for Emerging Issues. See the full version here

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June Giga-Thought: Better Policies Needed for our Growing Energy Economy

Posted By Emily Holmes, Wednesday, June 29, 2016

By Robert "Tate" Rust, Waterfurnace International, Territory Manager


Since the expiration of North Carolina's Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (RE ITC) in 2015, many things have changed. South Carolina approved a tax incentive for any individual or business installing geothermal ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) and Virginia appears to be on their way to something similar. Now, the jobs and revenue that were encouraged by our RE ITC will start to move instead to states that have policies which promote installing clean energy technologies, such as GSHPs, to efficiently meet heating and cooling demands.
The economic downturn in 2008 caused many local businesses to either close or downsize. The HVAC and GSHP industry was no exception and soon followed suit. However, once incentives started to materialize for GSHPs, many businesses were able to stabilize and grow. This positive growth even started to make an impact on the drilling contractors who worked on wells for GSHPs. Since water wells have diminished, irrigation regulations put into place, and reductions in environmental drilling made, many larger companies considered reducing staff, but GSHPs provided the boost they were looking for.
One question I ponder: if we took the opportunity to feed this industry, how much more growth could we accomplish? The benefits to the Old North State could be huge!
It is a fact that GSHPs have many benefits, and not just to the individual or business that installs them. For starters, these technologies can provide a benefit to power generators like Duke Energy because they are advantageous during peak loads in both the heating and cooling seasons. The technology can also profit local governments and power producers with less strain on their infrastructure. 

In the Southeast, homebuilders and developers are installing GSHPs and leasing them to homeowners. This helps to reduce the upfront cost and serve as a "positive cash flow", all while providing reoccurring revenue to the installer. These types of projects are also being promoted by the states and the power producer in an effort to reduce the demand and size of conventional power plants and lessen the strain on their grid. The reason is not to impede growth, but to provide their customers with innovative ways to efficiently and effectively meet their needs. Sounds like a perfect fit for North Carolina. 

Finally, the advantages to owners of these installations include comfort, reliability, and efficiency. It's well known that energy efficiency is a least-cost, least-risk energy resource and GSHPs are the most energy efficient technology for satisfying thermal loads (heat loss and heat gain) of homes and buildings.
Knowing all of this, we should be concerned about where energy policies lay in North Carolina. There seems to be a push to confine the geothermal heat pump industry to more of a building performance product, even though these systems provide value to power producers, users, and providers. In North Carolina's monopoly-controlled energy market, current policies are not encouraging GSHP adoption. Our decision-makers need to truly consider what is best for North Carolina and be more receptive when they hear the words "renewables" and "clean energy." North Carolina is fortunate to have a talented, educated work force -- one that would benefit from more productive clean energy policies. Are we willing to let jobs, businesses, and other investments leave North Carolina?


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