The Green Scene

Tracking N.C.‘s carbon footprint

A new online database called Carbon Monitoring for Action could prove to be a powerful tool for activists who are pushing companies and policy-makers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Available at no cost to users, the easy-to-navigate database displays information about how much carbon dioxide individual power plants, utilities and geographic regions emit. On Nov. 20, the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center released a report based largely on information gleaned from the site. North Carolina, it noted, generates almost as much carbon dioxide in a year as California (77 million tons versus California’s 79 million). This despite the fact that California is much bigger and has about 36.4 million people, according to U.S. census data, as compared with 8.8 million in N.C. Meanwhile, New York state, with a population of 19.3 million, emits a little less than 70 million tons annually.

Other fun facts about North Carolina’s carbon footprint, taken from the CARMA database: Power plants operated by Duke Energy Carolinas emit roughly 39 million tons of carbon dioxide annually; Progress Energy’s N.C. plants release some 31 million tons annually. Of the 168 power-generating facilities listed for North Carolina, 31 are flagged as “red alert” plants—those that release more than 1,750 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

Progress Energy’s Skyland plant emits about 2.3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to CARMA statistics, placing it eighth on a list of the state’s major greenhouse-gas emitters.

Duke Energy’s Cliffside power plant ranks sixth on the list, with some 3.6 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions per year. But if the new plant proposed for Cliffside successfully clears the approval process, it will ratchet up the facility to fourth place.

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Making the cut

Local clean-energy advocates were circulating anxious e-mails recently warning that pending federal legislation could hamper the development of alternative energy sources. Word had it that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were preparing to cut key provisions from the U.S. energy bill, eliminating tax credits for renewable energy and a proposed requirement that utilities derive a certain percentage of the electricity they generate from alternative energy sources or efficiency measures. The House and Senate each passed different versions of bill this past summer, and the compromise version is still in limbo.

“Removing renewable-energy tax credits will make it more expensive for North Carolina to comply with our new state Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard,” a widely dispersed notice from the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association warned. The state’s standard, passed in August, requires utilities to derive 12.5 percent of the electricity they provide from renewable-energy or efficiency measures by 2018. The state also offers tax credits for alternative energy.

“I manage business development in North Carolina for renewable-energy company Biomass Gas & Electric (based in Atlanta),” Asheville resident Damien Hoffman wrote in an e-mail. “If … these [tax] credits expire, all projects in the industry—including the ones I have in the pipeline in N.C.—will lose financial backing and therefore collapse.”

But it’s not over yet, says Jennifer Rennicks, who works in the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Asheville office and spends a great deal of time tracking federal legislation pertaining to clean energy and global warming. “There is absolutely no confirmation that [these provisions] are being axed,” she says, adding that the bill didn’t pass before Thanksgiving, as had been anticipated. “Word has it that on Dec. 5 or Dec. 12, there could be a vote,” she reports.

The proposed federal standard would require utilities to produce 15 percent of the energy they provide from renewable sources or efficiency measures by 2020. The tax credits, meanwhile, would encourage wind- and solar-energy development. But the controversial provisions face opposition from utilities, Rennicks notes, and their future is uncertain.


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