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Community Might Not Make 100% Green Target

By Leslee Kulba- A draft of “Moving to 100 Percent: Renewable Energy Transition Pathways Analysis for Buncombe County and the City of Asheville” is now available to the public.

It was prepared under a $100,000 joint city-county contract with the Cadmus Group in order to help the two local government bodies reach their admittedly “ambitious” goals of: (1) eliminating the use of all fossil fuels by city and county government by 2030 and (2) getting all private-sector operations to use only renewable power sources by 2042.

This report dealt only with how the area was going to source all electricity used in its buildings from renewables. The authors said recommendations for transitioning HVAC and transportation off fossil fuels will require additional studies. What’s more, city and county government only account for 0.9% of building electricity demands within Buncombe. Therefore, “the community” (a.k.a. you and I) will have to start making tracks.

Before focusing exclusively on building electricity, though, the report cautioned, “At current market prices, there may be some economic challenges in replacing gas heat. For example, converting a home’s energy inputs from natural gas to electricity could require both service (e.g., distribution line) and appliance (e.g., water and space heating) upgrades, which could require upgrades to expand the capacity of the electric service panel to accommodate new load requirements.” Then, once the conversion is made, the electricity would cost $0.11/kWh compared to natural gas at $0.05/kWh.

Now, before anybody throws out their car, lives in the dark, and eats raw only what can be grown on their apartment patio; it is important acquaint those new to the game with the rules. That is, just as the sins of Catholics used to be absolvable provided one could afford the going rate for indulgences; persons living or doing business in Buncombe County will be able to pollute inasmuch as they can figuratively cover the costs of any climate change so produced by purchasing RECs.

RECs, renewable energy credits, would be sold by Duke Energy, and proceeds would be used to construct solar or wind farms or hydropower plants. A downside, according to stakeholders convened in focus groups, is the plants could be located anywhere, so payors won’t necessarily enjoy direct benefits from the clean air they’re buying. Obvious questions are, “What will other municipalities do when utilities have maxed out their ability to build with RECs” and even, “What guarantee do purchasers have that green power is being produced somewhere?”

An upside is, the 2030 goals can be totally covered by RECs. The Cadmus group, given the cost of the report, claims local government’s sins can be 100% absolved for “a large annual cost” of approximately $24,000 for the city and $36,000 for the county. More clarification on those numbers would be appreciated, since the county’s libraries alone have budgeted $175,000 for utilities this year.

Things are not so bright for “the community,” where Cadmus estimated all reasonable approaches could only meet 48% of demand, estimated at 3,125,000 MWh, by 2042. The authors estimated RECs would tap out at around 10% of demand. The community could meet demand by putting solar panels on every building, but that strategy did not pass the feasibility screen.

The lion’s share of the 48% would be handled through changing state legislation and regulatory policy. To do this, the report does not suggest lobbying, but, instead, “engaging in conversations on state-level/utility policies.” One suggested change would be to increase the minimum renewable generation requirement for investor-owned utilities. Current standards require renewables to generate 12.5% of their energy mix by next year. Other changes would offer alternative means of financing or otherwise widen eligibility standards for various programs.

Whereas local governments can only mandate renewable installations on their own buildings, the state could pass a law requiring them on all new construction. Other local-government actions Cadmus suggested include constructing renewable farms on government-owned land and/or leasing government land for that purpose, and establishing a revolving loan fund. A win-win would be to streamline the permitting process for green generation installations, perhaps by making it a use-by-right in all zonings.

The report also recommends capacity-building, where jobs are created and saved for bureaucrats. An example would be an education and outreach program that lets citizens know how much free money they can get from the government or what they can do to help Duke transition to 100% clean generation.

Other suggestions include hosting more Solarize campaigns, where citizens invest together in a fire sale to take advantage of bulk purchasing rates. The report says the last time the city hosted one, it resulted in 1,200 leads and 100 signed contracts for solar. If no intervention is taken, solar would only make up 7.6% of the “community’s” energy mix by 2042, with nuclear energy supplying 40%, natural gas 30%, and coal 13%.

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