1.1 Developing Renewable Energy

Currently, almost all of North Carolina’s electricity is generated from fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and uranium, which are produced outside the state. Some coal plants in North Carolina are reaching the end of their useful lives and being retired.[1],[2] Alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, have become much more economically attractive in the last several years, making it possible to economically replace some nuclear, coal, and gas electricity generation with these  sources.[3] 

More than three hundred privately financed utility-scale solar facilities operate in North Carolina under current electricity prices, regulations, and policies, with more planned for the future. As with any new technology, price drops and performance improvements may be expected over time as production volumes increase and experience is gained. Since 2009, the total cost to develop and build a utility-scale solar facility in North Carolina has dropped from over $5 per watt to about $1 per watt. This rapid cost reduction in utility-scale solar facilities has greatly improved the financial viability of solar projects; many solar projects are now being planned even without the North Carolina renewable energy tax credit that expired at the end of 2015.[4],[5]

In addition to the increasingly attractive economics, some of the shift towards solar energy has been driven by policy choices. Solar and other types of renewable energy have many benefits that have motivated support from policymakers. For instance, they do not use imported fuel, reducing our exposure to fuel price volatility. Solar energy also does not produce the air pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, and it avoids some other environmental risks associated with fossil and nuclear fuels such as coal ash and radioactive waste disposal. Reduction of air pollution has been part of state and national policy for decades, and the U.S. has seen steadily improving air quality as a result.[6] Solar and other clean energy sources assist in this ongoing reduction in air pollution.

Solar energy offers many benefits to North Carolina. However, while solar development provides a source of clean in-state energy, it requires land to do so. This means that solar energy projects will sometimes compete with other potential land uses.

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References
  1. ^ Tonya Maxwell. Duke plans to retire Asheville coal plant, replace with natural gas.Citizen-Times. May 19, 2015. Accessed August 2017. http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/05/19/duke-plans-retire-asheville-coal-plant/27571083/
  2. ^ Duke Energy News Center. Duke Energy’s fleet modernization allows two coal plants to retire early.February 1, 2013. Accessed August 2017. https://news.duke-energy.com/releases/duke-energy-s-fleet-modernization-allows-two-coal-plants-to-retire-early.
  3. ^ Reuters,Solar Power is Finding its Day in the Sun, July 5, 2016, Accessed August 2017, http://fortune.com/2016/07/05/solar-power-is-finding-its-day-in-the-sun/.
  4. ^ John Murawski, NC Solar Workforce Growing Annually, The News & Observer, February 7, 2017, Accessed August 2017, http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article131316314.html.
  5. ^ John Downey,N.C. Tops the U.S. for utility-scale solar built in Q1. Charlotte Business Journal. May 30, 2017. Accessed August 2017. https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2017/05/30/n-c-tops-the-u-s-for-utility-scale-solar-built-in.html.
  6. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health.Accessed August 4, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/progress-cleaning-air-and-improving-peoples-health.