Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NC mining/energy panel ready to meet

North Carolina's new Mining and Energy Commission, created by state legislation this summer, will hold its first orientation meeting on Sept. 6.

The 12-member panel reforms the old state mining commission. It's charged with working with state staff to develop rules on oil and gas exploration, particularly the previously prohibited techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated this summer that N.C. shale formations, the deposits that fracking taps, holds gas that could supply the state for 5.6 years at 2010 usage rates. Earlier estimates had cited up to a 40-year supply.

A state study earlier this year concluded that fracking could be safe if properly regulated. That critical task will be overseen by a commission that, per the legislation that created it, is tilted toward mining and oil-and-gas professionals. Gov. Bev Perdue, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, made the appointments:

Raymond Covington, a Guilford County real estate professional who also's part of a concern that negotiates oil and gas leases for property owners. (Tillis)
Charles Taylor, a council member in Sanford, part of the Triassic Basin in which most shale deposits are found. (Tillis)
William McNeely III, a sand-and-gravel miner in the mountains of Transylvania County. (Tillis)
Charles Holbrook, a former Chevron geologist who lives in Moore County. (Tillis)
George Howard, president of a Raleigh firm that restores waterways and a member of Triangle Land Conservancy. (Berger)
James Womack, a county commissioner in Lee County, also in the Triassic Basin. (Berger)
Ivan "Tex" Gilmore, a former longtime PCS Phosphate geologist in Beaufort County. (Berger)
Vikram Rao, executive director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium. (Berger)
Jane Lewis-Raymond, general counsel of Piedmont Natural Gas in Charlotte. (Perdue)
Charlotte Mitchell, a Raleigh environmental lawyer and member of Triangle Land Conservancy. (Perdue)
Amy Pickle, a Raleigh attorney at Duke's Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions and a member of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission. (Perdue)
Marva Price, an associate professor at Duke's School of Nursing and a member of the N.C. Public Health Commission. (Perdue)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Coal plant cleanup law benefits consumers, study says

North Carolina's 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act, which cracked down on pollution from coal-fired power plants, will save consumers money as it keeps them healthier, says a paper from Duke University.

Scholars at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions found that complying with the state law put N.C. utilities ahead of the game in meeting two upcoming federal standards.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, announced last year, reduces power-plant emissions that add to smog and fine-particle pollution. A second set of new standards place the first federal controls on mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired plants.

Because N.C. utilities have already paid for pollution controls to meet Clean Smokestacks, they and their customers will save money in meeting the new federal standards. Duke Energy and its new subsidiary, Progress Energy, plan to shut down older coal-fired units rather than upgrade them.

Expected costs of meeting the new federal standards will depend on how long pollution controls stay in service and how much it will cost to replace them.

Future savings for Duke Energy Carolinas customers, for example, range from $1.2 billion to $1.9 billion under the decades-long scenarios the paper analyzed. Those in Progress Carolinas territory would save $600 million to $1.1 billion. The savings drop, but stay in the hundreds of millions of dollars, when past spending under the state law is included.

Clean Smokestacks also kept people alive longer by giving them cleaner air to breathe, the paper says. It put the median monetary benefits of avoiding premature N.C. deaths at $6 billion to $16 billion, depending on two differing studies, from 2005 through 2011 -- several times more than customers paid for pollution controls.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Delay pig waste-to-energy mandate, utilities ask

It's not easy turning poultry litter and pig poop into economic electricity, North Carolina's power providers are finding.

Duke Energy's two Carolinas utilities reported Wednesday that they have agreed with farm and renewable-energy groups to support a delay in a state mandate to make electricity from poultry and swine wastes. The mandate, spelled out in a 2007 law, goes into effect this year.

The agreement supports a  request to the N.C. Utilities Commission to give electric suppliers another two years to comply with the law. They won't be able to meet the mandate in 2012 and 2013, the suppliers say.

The suppliers cited "overly optimistic" projections by swine waste developers, leading to contracts being canceled. Poultry waste projects, they say, have been afflicted by cost, financing, permitting and "commercial viability" problems.

The agreement reported to the commission Wednesday is among the Duke utilities, the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, the N.C. Farm Bureau, the N.C. Pork Council and the N.C. Poultry Federation.

Under its terms, Duke would report its progress in securing swine and poultry power twice a year, set up a website to help energy developers and increase its solar-energy output for 2012 and 2013.