Tag Archives: Wind Energy

NC Senate: Proposed 2017 Budget

May 10, 2017.  Some highlights of the state budget proposed by Senate leadership as it affects environmental programs:

Money. The Senate budget continues  a nearly 10-year trend of cuts in environmental programs. An earlier post described some of the impacts of previous  budget cuts that began with the  2008 recession (including a 9% reversion of already-budgeted funds in 2009) and continued after the economy began to recover.

The Senate’s proposed budget for 2017 would reduce state appropriations to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by nearly $7 million.  That represents a 10% reduction in state appropriations and a 3% reduction in the department’s overall budget (which also includes federal grant funds and permit fees).

The reductions include:

♦ A $3.5 million discretionary cut,  which means DEQ will have to identify  reductions within the department’s operating budget.

♦  A $1 million transfer of funds  to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to challenge an EPA rule defining federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Under the McCrory administration, DEQ had joined  a number of other states in suing over the federal rule.  The Cooper administration dropped out of the litigation and the Senate provision would fund DACS  to continue the state’s participation in that litigation.

♦ The budget eliminates  56.5 positions from existing DEQ programs:

      32.5 positions in the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. Those cuts affect non-regulatory waste reduction, recycling,  water/energy efficiency and  permit assistance programs. The cuts would effectively eliminate DEQ programs that work with business/industry to voluntarily reduce waste generation which allows those businesses and industries  to reduce their regulatory burden and save money.

      14 regional office support positions. DEQ’s seven regional offices house frontline permitting and enforcement staff for multiple environmental programs. The legislature has targeted DEQ  regional offices for staff cuts in the past. This provision requires a reduction of an additional 2 positions in each  regional office. It is not clear which DEQ programs would be affected.

      5  administrative positions. The Senate bill  identifies specific jobs for elimination, including  DEQ’s Chief Deputy Secretary,  the Legislative Affairs Program Manager; a communications position; and the last two environment education positions remaining in the department.

      3 positions in the N.C. Geodetic Survey

      1 position in the Land Quality Section of the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources

      1 position in the Division of Marine Fisheries

Policy provisions in the budget bill. The budget bill includes a number of changes in state law or policy related to environmental programs:

♦  Conditions on use of funds the state may receive as a result of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s settlement with Volkswagen for violations of the Clean Air Act (Sec. 13.2 )  The Senate provision sets criteria for use of the funds and requires legislative approval of a DEQ plan for the funds.

♦  A provision  that allows the owners of old landfill sites to avoid environmental cleanup requirements by: 1. Accepting liability for onsite and offsite contamination; and 2. Providing financial assurance for any environmental harm.  There is an exception for property owners who did not receive compensation to accept local government waste for disposal. The provision affects a state program to assess and cleanup contamination associated with landfills and trash dumps that never met standards for solid waste landfills adopted in 1983. (iSec. 13.4).

♦  Changes to laws governing the Marine Fisheries Commission (Sec. 13.17) . The provision reduces the MFC from nine members to seven members and requires a super-majority of five  members to take any action — including adoption of rules. As with most state commissions, current law only requires a simple majority of the MFC to take most actions although a super-majority is required for adoption of fisheries management plans.

♦  A moratorium on wind energy projects (Sec. 24.2). The bill would prevent DEQ from issuing permits for new wind energy projects until December 31. 2020. During the moratorium, the bill would require a study of the impact of wind energy facilities on military operations in the state. Note; the process for approval of wind energy facilities already requires Federal Aviation Administration review and  input from military  installations.

Odds and Ends on Energy

April 6, 2013

Wind Energy

Offshore: Last fall, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) finished  a  renewable energy lease plan for the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the  North Carolina coast. BOEM  asked companies interested in  developing  wind energy in the designated lease areas to submit a proposal by March 7, 2013. Five companies sent in wind energy development proposals (Virginia Electric and Power Company, EDF Renewable Energy, Fisherman’s Energy LLC, Green Sail Energy LLC, and Outer Banks Ocean Energy LLC.) Find complete information on the proposals  here .  The BOEM website provides more information  on the   renewable energy lease plan  for  waters off the North Carolina coast.

Onshore (and near shore): Bills have been introduced in the N.C.  General Assembly  to create a state permitting process for wind energy facilities. Senate Bill 491  (= H 484)  creates a new state permit to be issued by  the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).   The permit review would look at both environmental impacts and  impacts on military operations.  Last year, two land-based wind  projects proposed for sites near the North Carolina coast (one in  Beaufort County and  the other in Pasquotank and Perquimans  counties)  raised concern at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro.  (There are more onshore wind energy projects  proposed for  the coastal counties, but  not as far along in the planning/site approval process.)

The  military has two concerns about the siting of wind turbines:  radar interference caused by  movement of the blades  and  risk of  collision between low-flying military aircraft and wind turbines that may be more than  500 feet tall. North Carolina’s  coastal counties have a large amount of  military special use airspace, including training routes  that have “floors” as low as 200 feet.  Wind energy development could be a real  economic boost to  interior and largely rural areas of the coastal counties. The trick will be to make wind energy development compatible with military operations that  contribute significantly to the broader state economy and have an important role in national defense. The Department of Defense has a clearinghouse for review of development projects that may affect military operations.   The new state wind permit would provide a  way to consider military concerns in state decision-making.

Note: State jurisdiction only extends three miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean, so most offshore wind projects  only require  federal permits.  North Carolina can influence federal permitting and lease decisions  for   offshore energy development  (whether wind turbines or oil and gas production) through the state’s coastal management program.

Study Links Underground Disposal of Wastewater and 2011 Oklahoma Earthquake

This  New York Times article provides a good overview of a recent study (published in the journal Geology) concluding that underground disposal of wastewater from oil production caused a 2011 Oklahoma earthquake that measured 5.7 on the Richter scale, destroyed a number of homes and injured two people. The Oklahoma Geological Survey reached a different conclusion.

Could Fracking and Renewable Energy Make a Happy  Marriage?

Kevin Drum,  writing  for Mother Jones, has an interesting blogpost on  fracking and renewable energy.

Should N.C. Abandon the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard?

Some members of the  N.C.  House of Representatives have proposed to do just that.   House Bill 298  (the Affordable and Reliable Energy Act)  would repeal  2007  legislation developed  — with support from the state’s major electric utilities — to increase  use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures to meet demand.  Abandoning the renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS) would also mean walking away from the state’s  commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency as a source of investment and  job creation.

In 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the southeast to adopt a renewable energy portfolio standard.  Session Law 2007-397   (or “Senate Bill 3”) set a two-tiered goal for use of clean energy to meet electric power demand. By the end of calendar year 2018, municipal utilities and electric membership corporations must use a combination of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures  to meet 10% of retail sales.  The  two major investor-owned electric utilities, Duke Energy and Progress Energy,  have a slightly higher REPS  goal of 12.5%  by 2021.  Greater use of  clean  energy sources reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but Senate Bill 3 also identified renewable energy development as a way to improve the state’s energy security and generate private investment.

According to the most recent N.C. Utilities Commission report on implementation of Senate Bill 3, the electric utilities  have met the first  REPS milestone  ( 3% of 2011 retail sales). Aside from the environmental benefits, the REPS requirement  also appears to have met the goal of encouraging clean energy investment in the state.   A recently released  RTI International/La Capra  Associates study,   The Economic, Utility Portfolio, and Rate Impact of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina, found that North Carolina’s clean energy incentives (including tax credits, investment in energy efficiency and the REPS requirement) spurred $1.4 billion in project investment statewide between 2007 and 2012.   Investments in clean energy took a sharp upward turn in 2011-2012 as the first Senate Bill 3  milestone approached. Even after accounting for the  “cost” of state renewable energy tax credits,  the report found a net economic benefit to the state. A census conducted by the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association identified 15,200 full-time equivalent employees in clean energy jobs as of September, 2012.

The primary sponsor of House Bill 298, Rep. Mike Hager (R- Burke,Rutherford), has said that the renewable energy/energy efficiency standard should be repealed in the interest of lowering electricity rates for customers. There is a small add-on fee (a “rider”) that the electric utilities can use to recover the costs of meeting the REPS goal. Senate Bill 3  put caps on the riders, but also required the N.C. Utilities Commission to approve the actual amount as reasonable and necessary to cover the electric utility’s cost.   Senate Bill 3 capped the REPS  rider for residential customers at $1 per month;   the approved riders are now 42 cents per month for Progress Energy’s residential customers and 21 cents per month for Duke Energy’s residential customers. The riders have never reached the maximum of $1 per month and the actual  amounts  have come down from year to year.

The RTI/ La Capra study concluded that North Carolina’s clean energy incentives (including the REPS requirement) will  have little impact on rate-payers — and may be a net benefit in the long term. The benefit largely comes from reduced costs as a result of energy efficiency measures; energy efficiency gains  translate into new energy generation costs that can be avoided or delayed.

This will be an interesting bill to watch. Skepticism about renewable energy and energy efficiency seems to have become an article of faith  among some conservatives — which may account for the fact that the bill has 27 sponsors in the House. But the bill also has been given four House  committee referrals; the long path through the House likely reflects some counter-pressure on the jobs  and investment side.

One other note about House Bill 298 — it is difficult to know exactly what to make of this, but the bill changes the  definition of “renewable energy resource” to exclude wind energy and include peat and fossil fuels.


Postcards From the Coast: Offshore Drilling

March 6, 2013

First,  a postcard from Raleigh to the coast — While fracking has used up most of the oxygen in recent  discussions of  state energy policy, offshore energy development has  taken on new political life.   The sections of Senate Bill 76 dealing with shale gas production have gotten more attention, but the bill also revives  legislative proposals on offshore  energy  development that did not survive  the 2011-2012 session. These sections of the bill apply to all kinds of offshore energy generation (including ocean  wind  turbines), but the bill clearly intends to  signal support for  offshore oil and gas drilling.

In Section 7, Senate Bill 76 proposes a way to divide up state revenue received from  offshore energy  production.   Whatever the merits of the Senate plan  — and it seems designed to promise money for every good thing possible —  it is not certain that the state will ever receive revenue from offshore  energy  production.   The United States has had no experience with  offshore wind turbines and the economics of ocean wind energy make it  an unlikely revenue  source.  Most oil and gas drilling sites are in federal  waters outside the limits of state jurisdiction;  all revenue from drilling in federal waters goes to the  United States  treasury unless Congress authorizes  revenue sharing with the   states.   Gulf Coast states benefit from a federal formula for sharing revenue from production in the Gulf of Mexico and something similar would be needed to allow  Atlantic coast states to receive revenue from production along the eastern seaboard.  Assuming Congress allows revenue sharing for Atlantic coast oil and gas production, the benefit to North Carolina  will depend on where  drilling  occurs and how  the revenue sharing formula works.

Note: The U.S. Department of Interior is not currently issuing offshore oil and gas leases in Atlantic coast waters.  Under the department’s  5- year lease plan, no Atlantic coast leases will be offered until 2018 at the earliest.

The bill also encourages the Governor to negotiate an interstate offshore energy compact with the governors of Virginia and South Carolina. As described in the bill, the purpose of the compact would largely be to lobby for earlier issuance of  oil and gas leases  off  the  east coast of the United States; revenue sharing for Atlantic coast states; and quicker permitting of offshore oil and gas activities.

Although Senate Bill 76 has not yet become law, Governor McCrory has already checked off two  items on the bill’s to-do list. Governor McCrory   joined the governors of South Carolina and Virginia in sending a letter to the President’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell,   urging her to  open east coast waters for oil and gas drilling  sooner.  A February 14 press release  issued by Gov. McCrory’s office includes excerpts from the letter and a link to the full text of the letter.

The following week, Governor McCrory joined the governors of Alaska, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina   as a new member of the Outer Continental Shelf Governor’s coalition.  The coalition advocates for more offshore leasing, quicker permitting of offshore oil and gas operations, and revenue sharing for all states with offshore energy production.

Senate Bill 76 has passed the Senate; the bill will go through three House committees (Commerce, Environment and Finance) before reaching the House floor.