It took a state law and several years of effort, but Progress Energy said today it has reached a symbolic milestone in renewable energy: 100 megawatts of clean electricity from solar farms and other renewable energy resources.
The Raleigh-based electric utility's milestone is a consequence of the state legislature's requirement that power companies increase their use of green energy. In 2021, renewables and energy efficiency must account for at least 12.5 percent of annual retail sales.
Progress still has a long way to go to achieve its green potential. As the state's renewable requirements phase-in over the next decade, the company will likely have to buy at least several hundred more megawatts of alternative energy.
The biggest single renewable resource in the company's renewable portfolio today is biomass, a category that includes wood waste and landfill gas. Sunshine accounts for about 10 percent of the 100 megawatts under contract, including industrial-scale solar farms in Cary, Raleigh and Roxoboro.
Progress has yet to sign a contract for electricity generated from swine waste, poultry waste or human waste, all three of which are energy-rich natural byproducts under development in this state.
The energy source for most of the electiricty generated by Progress in the Carolinas is coal, followed by nuclear energy. The two leading fuel sources account for about 95 percent of the company's electricity. A large nuclear plant has a capacity of 1,000 megawatts of power, whereas 1 megawatt is considered a large solar farm in this state.
The 100 megawatts of renewables doesn't include about 250 megawatts of renewable resources in Progress's energy mix before the N.C. General Assembly passed the state's renewable portfolio standard in 2007. Most of the older renewables are hydroelectric power generating facilities, some of which have operated in this state for more than seven decades. Previously existing renewables don't count toward a utility's green mandates.
Much untapped potential remains, but it's not clear if it will ever produce electricity in this state. Progress doesn't use any wind energy, even though the state has rich wind resources in the mountains and along the seacoast. Attempts to develop wind farms in tourist areas have sparked fierce opposition.
Likewise, proposals to burn poultry droppings as a fuel have also run into resistance in this state, largely over the issue of air pollution from incinerated animal dung, which is comparable to burning coal.