Let’s remember the benefits of N.C. renewables

A 250-kilowatt solar farm in Holly Springs. N.C.
A 250-kilowatt solar farm in Holly Springs. N.C. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

From William H. Schlesinger, Dean (Emeritus) of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, in response to “Let’s repeal an expensive energy policy” (July 25):

Don Bryson’s op-ed overlooks the real reasons that North Carolina adopted a renewable energy portfolio in 2007 – to improve the environment, from the air we breathe to the water we drink.

A transition from coal-fired power plants to alternative, clean energy sources, such as solar and wind, alleviates the emission of toxic air pollutants to the atmosphere and reduces the risk of coal-ash contamination to our drinking water and waterways.

Hundreds of solar workers visited the state capitol to support the state’s renewable energy standard – a clear representation of the real jobs created here by renewable solar energy. Big business (Apple, Google, and Facebook) and corporate CEOs from Duke Energy and Bank of America support North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards as critical to their future.

A recent study published by RTI International and Scott Madden Consultants shows that the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) has saved ratepayers $162 million since it was adopted and will save ratepayers an additional $489 million by 2029. In North Carolina, the solar industry supports over 4,000 jobs and represents at least $2 billion of direct investment. In fact, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard has resulted in the growth of small businesses in North Carolina where energy is otherwise a regulated monopoly, Duke Energy.

Transitioning away from coal-fired power means fewer Appalachian mountains are denuded and left as permanent scars on the landscape. Did Bryson count the 2000 square miles of denuded land in his assessment of the land used to generate electric power? This land dwarfs the area that would be impacted by wind mills and solar panels, which can accommodate ancillary agricultural activities beneath their structures.

Indeed, a good portion of the state of North Carolina could be powered by solar panels on rooftops with no additional impact on the land at all.

There is much more to life in North Carolina than for it to be a good place to do business. The air we breathe and the water we drink are fundamental determinants of our health. As shown by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center, the reduction in air pollution that followed the Clean Smokestacks Act in North Carolina has resulted in significantly fewer deaths from respiratory illness.

The state’s renewable energy standard would further reduce toxic air pollution. Lest we forget, we all breathe the same air. I’ll take mine clean.

To say that Renewable Energy Portfolios should be eliminated simply to increase current economic growth is not supported by the facts and offers only a short-sighted view of the future. As wind and solar power approach economic parity with some of the traditional sources for electricity, Duke Power and other utilities should embrace connecting wind and solar-farms to their grid.

The accusations aimed at the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards seem more motivated by corporate campaign contributions that benefit the rich, rather than any real empathy for the poor and unemployed. If lawmakers are concerned for the well being of their constituents, they will focus on the multiple benefits of clean and renewable energy.