Roxboro Kiwanians hear talk on renewable energy

May. 31, 2014 @ 01:13 PM

At the May 5 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club at Clarksville Station Restaurant, Gary Freeman, director of supply side resources for Duke Energy Progress, presented a program on developments in renewable energy.  He advised that this term covers more than solar energy, but that is the principal resource in this field at present.

Freeman noted that while Duke is a regulated utility, it also has sizable non-regulated business.  In 2005, 55 percent of its fuel source was coal, but this is down to 38 percent, with the difference being in the growth of natural gas and other renewable sources.

The company has invested $3 billion nationally in wind and solar projects, while maintaining safety and reliability as its goals.  He emphasized that it is also committed to keeping rates low, and that its roots are deep in North Carolina, in that it employs 12,900 people in this state.

Freeman reminded the club of the 1967 Arab oil embargo which, although concerning, was not widely effective.  This was followed by the 1973 gas shortage, which was much more significant and resulted in increased concern for energy sources other than oil.

Notably, the National Energy Act in 1978 introduced the concept of avoided cost as a way of paying for alternate energy sources.  In 1979 additional shortages brought the country perilously close to gas rationing.  From 2005 through 2007, the federal government made renewable energy projects attractive with tax credits.  The final measure creating the framework of current energy policy also took place in 2007, when North Carolina required graduated percentages of energy to be generated from renewable resources.  12.5 percent from renewable resources is legislatively required by 2021 and the availability of tax credits will likely come up again in the long session next year. 

Swine and poultry waste is one of these sources, involving the extraction and combustion of methane.  Swine waste is wet and toxic, making it difficult to deal with.  Poultry waste is more manageable and burns more readily.  Landfill gas is also an option, and is the subject of 14 projects in the Duke Progress service area.  Freeman also mentioned biomass, such as wood chips and tires.  He expressed the opinion that the future of wind is not promising, since there is considerable opposition to the placement of wind farms on land and it is currently too difficult to do so off-shore.

The conclusion is that solar is the chief source of renewable energy.  North Carolina ranks third in solar generation nationally.  Duke Progress owns 10 megawatts (mgw) of solar power and has 2,700 mgw of capacity proposed.  The company and its customers have already spent $500 million on solar generation and there is another $4 billion under contract. 

There is a cost involved in pushing down the usage of coal to accommodate solar, because the most efficient way to operate plants is at full capacity.  Ramping up and down is harder on the equipment, which is ultimately more expensive.  Freeman speculated that the future of the grid seems to be digital, but that in his opinion the need for large plants is not going away in the foreseeable future.  He contends that coal is still plentiful and is the most economical fuel source.

In response to questions, he informed that two nuclear plants are being built in Georgia and one in North Carolina, and that there are no plans to replace coal with natural gas at the Duke Progress facilities at Hyco and Mayo in Person County. Freeman urged anyone seeking more information to visit www.duke-energy.com/solar.