A road map for unknown territory

It’s common these days to hear cries for a massive shift in the way electricity is produced, in order to stave off the worst consequences of climate change. What’s less typical is for an organization that’s clamoring for a carbon-free future to offer a thorough answer to one key question: How?

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy released a “comprehensive blueprint” for North Carolina’s energy future on June 9, providing a detailed plan for how the state might—by 2030—slash today’s global-warming pollution levels by 60 percent. Targeting policymakers, the analysis took about a year to complete, according to the nonprofit.

“There are great challenges to N.C. from not taking action,” Steven Smith, executive director of SACE, said during a press teleconference. “Great national treasures like the Outer Banks are threatened, as well as … the mountain ecosystems of Western North Carolina.”

Four cornerstones will bolster the economy while solving the energy puzzle, according to SACE. The first, energy efficiency, would account for half the reductions, according to Research Director John Wilson.

Compact-fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances only amount to a drop in the bucket, according to Wilson. “Other things, like updating heating and air-conditioning systems, doing better insulation and adopting better new-construction practices” would save more, he said. And applying energy-efficiency goals to the commercial and transportation sectors would make an even greater difference.

In terms of alternative energy, wind may be the most promising: “The most cost-effective options are the ridge tops in Western North Carolina,” Wilson said. Some 11 million megawatt-hours could be generated in WNC ridge tops alone, according to SACE’s calculations. (Under that analysis, important tourism sites are off-limits.) But the major potential for wind lies in offshore generation. That idea has been slow to progress, though, largely because of an unclear permitting process.

SACE also touted cellulosic ethanol as a promising path to a clean-energy future. But concerns about using wood products as a raw ingredient for that fuel have led some environmental groups to link cellulosic ethanol with deforestation. Smith acknowledged the concern, but noted that ethanol could be made from woody debris derived from private, not public, lands. In any case, North Carolina has already adopted a plan calling for mass-scale biofuels production.

Pollution capture was the third area highlighted. That could mean injecting carbon dioxide from power plants into deep wells, or using an ancient technology called Biochar that increases the soil’s capacity to store carbon dioxide. The final cornerstone was long-term planning for less intensive overall energy use.

Implementing solutions will always require tough choices, Smith said, and no technology is perfect—but doing nothing may represent an even bigger risk.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

3 thoughts on “A road map for unknown territory

  1. Erich J. Knight

    I hope you will come to share my passion in getting the word out on the wonderful solutions provided by Terra Preta soil technology (TP, aka Biochar).

    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using “Slash & CHAR” verses “Slash & Burn”, it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels via Pyrolysis of Biomass………, Massive Carbon sequestration via Biochar to soils (1/3 ton C per 1 ton Biomass)……………, 10X Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions………….., and 3X Fertility Too.

    Indeed, James Hansen is now placing it in the center stage of pro-active solutions for the climate crisis.


    the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP) soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass, this integrated virtuous cycle could sequester 100s of Billions of tons of carbon to the soils.

    UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference


    SCIAM Article May 15 07;


    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill


    Bolstering Biomass and Biochar development: In the 2007 Farm Bill, Senator Salazar was able to include $500 million for biomass research and development and for competitive grants to develop the technologies and processes necessary for the commercial production of biofuels and bio-based products. Biomass is an organic material, usually referring to plant matter or animal waste. Using biomass for energy can reduce waste and air pollution. Biochar is a byproduct of producing energy from biomass. As a soil treatment, it enhances the ability of soil to capture and retain carbon dioxide.

    ( Update; In conference the $500 M was cut to $3M….:( :( :( )

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

    The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. The papers from this conference are posted at their home page; http://www.biochar-international.org/home.html

  2. Erich J. Knight

    ISU Research Farm Field Days 2008 ScheduleAgricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research and Demonstration Farm
    This field day will be held twice—once on August 25 and again on August 29. On Aug. 25 it’s 1 to 4 p.m. (before Farm Progress Show) and on Aug. 29, it’s 9 a.m. to noon (after Farm Progress Show) There is a $5 fee per person for the tours.

    Topics: New Century Farm plans for an integrated biomass production and processing research facility, bioenergy crop plots, biochar as a soil amendment, instruments for measuring soil and water effects, bioenergy crop residue harvesting equipment, woody crops for biomass and biomass refining. Meet at farm headquarters, 1308 U Ave. The farm is located west of Ames on Highway 30, one-quarter mile south on U Avenue.


  3. John D. Wilson

    Ms. Bowe, thanks for covering our report!

    Ms. Knight, when you get a chance to review our report, you’ll see that we include pictures, discussion and recommendations related to biochar. I even have it in my personal garden!

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.