North Carolina rises from sea level at its Atlantic Ocean coastline to the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. The state’s terrain ranges from the barrier islands of the Outer Banks in the east across the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont region to the heavily forested spine of the Appalachian Mountains in the west. Nearly 19 million acres of woodland cover about three-fifths of North Carolina, providing both employment for more than 70,000 people working in the state’s forestry products industry and biomass for energy production. Rivers flowing through the mountainous western part of the state and through the Piedmont region provide hydroelectric power to many communities. Wind energy is being developed onshore, and offshore winds along the coast could provide some energy for electricity generation as well. North Carolina does not have any fossil fuel production, although shale gas and coalbed methane resources may be present. In addition to its natural resources, North Carolina is one of the leading nuclear power-producing states in the nation.
Total energy consumption per capita in North Carolina is in the lowest third of all states in the nation. The state has a strong agricultural base and is a leading producer of hogs, poultry, and tobacco. North Carolina’s key industries include aerospace and defense; auto and truck manufacturing; biotechnology and pharmaceuticals; green and sustainable energy; business and financial services; food processing and manufacturing; furniture; computers and information technology; plastics and chemicals; and textiles. The energy-intensive chemical industry accounts for three-tenths of the gross domestic product from manufacturing in North Carolina.However, the electric power sector is the largest consumer of energy in the state, followed by the residential sector and the transportation sector.
Hydroelectric dams provide more than half of the electricity generation from renewable resources in North Carolina. Most of the approximately 70 hydroelectric dams that are monitored by the North Carolina’s Dam Safety Program are privately owned, including those owned by electric utilities. However, seven hydroelectric dams on the Hiwassee River and the Little Tennessee River in western North Carolina are federally owned and administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority. A few other hydroelectric dams are owned by local governments.
Biomass and solar energy provide additional renewably sourced generation in North Carolina. Although much of North Carolina’s electricity generation from biomass comes from wood and wood waste and from landfill gas, the state also has abundant biomass resources from agricultural and animal waste. The amount of electricity generated from solar energy in North Carolina has increased rapidly, and solar PV contributes almost as much as biomass does to the state’s net generation.North Carolina installed 1,140 megawatts of solar capacity in 2015, the second-largest amount of any state. With 2,294 megawatts, the state has the third-largest installed solar capacity in the nation. Biomass and solar resources together supply more than 3% of North Carolina’s utility-scale net generation. When hydroelectric power is included, renewable resources fuel about 7% of the state’s total net electricity generation. Although North Carolina has no utility-scale wind generation, a wind farm with more than 200 megawatts of planned capacity is under construction. The state has undeveloped wind resources offshore.
North Carolina has targeted biofuels in the state’s strategic planning. There are several biodiesel plants and one ethanol plant in the state. The ethanol plant owners plan to transition from using corn as a feedstock to using tobacco. Biodiesel is sold at refueling stations across North Carolina. Most of the biodiesel stations in the state are private-access stations used for government or private fleets only. An 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline mixture, E85, is sold at about 60 stations in North Carolina, and most of those refueling stations are private-access.
North Carolina was the first state in the southeast to adopt a renewable energy portfolio standard.
In August 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the southeast to adopt a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). The REPS requires investor-owned electric utilities in North Carolina to meet 12.5% of their retail electricity sales through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures by 2021. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric suppliers must source 10% of retail electric sales from renewable supplies by 2018. Sales of electricity generated from solar energy are required to reach 0.2% by 2018. Additionally, the REPS sets statewide targets for energy recovery and electricity derived from swine waste and from poultry waste. Those requirements are 0.2% of sales from swine waste by 2019 and thereafter and 900,000 megawatthours of sales from poultry waste by 2016 and every year thereafter.
North Carolina is one of the nation’s top producers of electricity from nuclear power.
North Carolina is one of the nation’s top producers of electricity from nuclear power. In 2015, nuclear power surpassed coal as the largest fuel source for electricity generation in North Carolina for the first time and now contributes about one-third of the state’s net generation. Before 2012, coal-fired power plants provided more than half of the electricity generated in the state, while natural gas provided less than one-tenth. However, about 30 coal-fired units were retired between 2010 and 2014, and, by 2015, coal-fired power plants provided less than one-third of the electricity generated in North Carolina. The contribution of natural gas-fired electricity generation in North Carolina increased as electric utilities added natural gas-fired power plants. Natural gas supplied almost three-tenths of the state’s net generation in 2015. Coal and natural gas together account for approximately three-fifths of the state’s net electricity generation. Conventional hydroelectric power, biomass, and solar photovoltaics (PV) provide almost all of North Carolina’s remaining net electricity generation. Petroleum fuels less than 0.5% of the state’s net generation.
Even though North Carolina is among the top electricity-generating states in the nation, it is a net recipient of interstate transfers of electricity. The largest share of retail sales of electricity in the state goes to the residential sector. About three in five North Carolina households use electricity for home heating, and, because of the hot and humid summers, almost all of the households in the state use air conditioning as well.
A planned pipeline expansion would link the state to shale gas production from the Marcellus and Utica Shales to the north.
North Carolina does not have any natural gas reserves or production. Although no commercial quantities of natural gas have been found in North Carolina, shales and coalbeds in the geologic basins that are located in the center of the state may contain natural gas. In 2014, the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission created a regulatory program for the management of oil and natural gas exploration and development in the state, including the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Three major interstate natural gas pipelines supply North Carolina with natural gas from the south and from the west. Planned pipelines will link the state to shale gas production from the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale to the north.
Increased natural gas use by power generators is driving demand in North Carolina. The electric power sector has overtaken the industrial sector as the state’s largest natural gas-consuming sector. The industrial sector led the state in natural gas consumption until 2012, when the electric power sector became the largest user for the first time. The residential sector is the third-largest natural gas consuming sector in the state. About one-fourth of North Carolina households use natural gas for home heating.
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