Friday, September 14, 2012

Use NC's offshore winds, group says

Atlantic states including North Carolina should more aggressively take advantage of their offshore wind resources, the National Wildlife Federation says in a new report.

Harnessing 4 percent of the 1,300 gigawatts of Atlantic wind energy potential, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated, could power 14 million homes. North Carolina has more wind potential in near-shore waters than any other East Coast state, the lab has estimated.

Yet not one turbine spins off the East Coast, although the controversial Cape Wind project in Massachusetts is expected to generate electricity by 2015.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is working with officials in North Carolina, South Carolina and eight other states to set the stage for offshore wind-energy leases. The bureau expects to announce potential lease areas and gauge the interest by commercial developers through an upcoming "call" for information.

About a dozen developers responded to similar calls in Virginia and Maryland, says Brian O'Hara, president of the N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition. The Department of Energy is also expected to announce research grants for offshore wind technology aimed at bringing costs down.

The challenge, O'Hara says, is finding buyers for the power. It's a question not only of connecting offshore turbines to the electric grid but of policy. North Carolina demands that utilities supply the cheapest power available, a position that doesn't consider the long-term benefits of developing a resource with high initial costs.

Wind should be included in the state's renewable-energy standard, alongside the existing targets for solar and other alternative fuels, says Richard Mode, the Wildlife Federation's outreach coordinator in Morganton. Legislators should make the standard itself more aggressive than the 12.5 percent clean-energy goal it sets for 2021, he says, and reconsider a measure to boost the economic development potential of offshore wind.

"All this is to build certainty in the marketplace" that state policies support the industry, he says.

Gov. Bev Perdue created an offshore wind task force in 2011, but because of budget cuts it has never been met.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Duke makes one sustainability list, falls off another

For the seventh year, Duke Energy has been ranked on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North American companies -- but fell off the world index after a two-year run.

Duke is among nine utilities picked of 33 considered for the North American index. Companies are reviewed for their performance on topics including corporate governance, environmental policy, climate strategy, human capital development and labor practices.

Now the largest U.S. electric utility after its merger with Progress Energy, Duke touts its renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental records in an annual report“Sustainability pushes us to find the right balance among the needs of people, the planet and profits,” Lee Mazzocchi, Duke's senior vice president and chief integration and innovation officer, said in a press release.

But Dow Jones dropped Duke from its world index, where it was listed in 2010 and 2011. Duke was the fifth-largest corporation to be deleted, following IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, United Technologies and Spain's Telefonica SA. Microsoft, Target and Hewlett-Packard were among U.S. companies joining the list.

It's not clear why Duke fell off the index. A Dow Jones spokesman wasn't immediately available.

"I think it's just a matter that the bar keeps getting raised," said Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless. "We definitely have our sights set on getting back on that list."

Dow Jones compiles the index with Zurich-based Sustainable Asset Management Group.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Charlotteans like public transit -- and suburbia

A national survey by the Natural Resources Defense Council finds support for more local spending on buses, light rail and other public transportation. But additional interviews in Mecklenburg County also show a strong appetite for far-flung suburbs and long commutes.

A bipartisan polling team conducted telephone interviews with 800 likely voters for NRDC in late June and early July. The survey found that Americans want to spend less time in their cars, but most feel they have no other choice.

Mecklenburg officials say vehicle emissions -- compounded by commuters driving alone to and from work -- are the biggest local contributors to Charlotte's long-time smog problem. Metro Charlotte routinely ranks among the nation's smoggiest cities.  

Only one in three in the NRDC survey said convenient public transportation is available, while two out of three said they would like their local governments to spend more on buses, trains and light rail. Those surveyed were twice as likely to support expanding public transportation instead of building new roads.

The pollsters did 200 additional interviews in Mecklenburg County and in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, home of Cleveland, and suburban Philadelphia. All three cities fell in line with national support for improving public transportation.

But this is where the answers get interesting for Charlotte.

While 43 percent of Mecklenburg residents like compact houses on small lots with short commutes, 45 percent prefer larger houses on bigger lots with commutes of 40 minutes or more. Nationally, only 29 percent like such communities.

Fifty-one percent of Mecklenburgers want walkable communities with mixes of houses, apartments and stores. But 46 percent would rather live in residential-only neighborhoods where they have to drive to stores, a lifestyle endorsed by 40 percent nationally.

Another 51 percent in Mecklenburg say new development should be built within existing cities and suburbs. Thirty-nine percent -- compared to 30 percent nationally -- say it should go on undeveloped land outside those areas.

"It seems like it might be people wanting the best of both worlds," says Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, an advocacy group working with NRDC. The group hosted a panel discussion on the topic during last week's Democratic National Convention.

Binns theorizes that driving is an accepted part of Charlotte's culture and that traffic congestion hasn't gotten bad enough to push local people toward alternatives. Changing that mindset, he acknowledges, will be a challenge.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Conservationists lacking in N.C. legislature, group says

And this year's winner of the N.C. Wildlife Federation's Legislator of the Year award is: Nobody.

For the first time in the 49-year history of its conservation achievement awards program, the Charlotte-based federation found no lawmaker worth honoring.

"These awards are the highest conservation honors in North Carolina, yet in the wake of one of the most wildlife- and environmentally-hostile General Assembly sessions of the last half-century, no legislator was singled out for heroic effort," the venerable group says.

The Republican-controlled legislature rolled back or seriously weakened "decades of common-sense protections and new ideas about sustainable energy development," the federation says. "Fundamental assumptions about science and economics were dismissed during the vicious acts of gutting regulations that protect clean air, clean water and the lands used for farming, timber harvest and outdoor recreation."

Legislators this year approved the controversial drilling practice of "fracking" for natural gas, which the federation says could hurt groundwater and wildlife habitat. Lawmakers also debated, but later softened, a measure that prohibited use of scientific models that show rates of sea-level rise accelerating as oceans warm and glaciers melt due to climate change.  

The federation will honor other winners of its annual conservation awards on Sept. 8.