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Addressing Questions about Renewables

As an industry and as a company, we have decades of experience in siting, building and operating coal, nuclear and natural-gas power plants. As we develop renewable energy projects, we are finding that they are not without their critics and challenges.

For example, stakeholders in North Carolina are debating the types of wood that should qualify as biomass fuel under the state’s renewable energy standard. Some believe only wood waste should be allowed, meaning limbs, treetops and other forest management residuals. Others, including Duke Energy, support a broader definition, because there is simply not enough waste wood to fuel the need for biomass renewable energy in the state. Studies show North Carolina’s forest inventory can support significant additional harvesting and still produce more trees than are harvested.

In October 2010, the North Carolina Utilities Commission ruled in favor of the broader definition, but an appeal has been filed with the N.C. Court of Appeals. If upheld, the ruling would allow Duke Energy to continue to consider biomass as a scalable and reliable means of compliance with the state’s renewable energy standard. A more limiting definition could significantly reduce the viability of biomass projects across the state.

Another example is in the Midwest, which has some of the best wind resources in the country. Duke Energy is developing a 200-megawatt wind power project in northwestern Michigan, the Gail Windpower Project. We will commit to building the project once a long-term agreement with a power purchaser — typically an electric utility or cooperative — is in place.

Area residents are largely supportive of the project given the jobs, tax revenues and clean, renewable energy it will provide. Some, however, are concerned about sound and vibrations from the proposed wind turbines, property values, and impacts on the viewshed. We are keeping area residents informed about the proposed Gail Windpower Project through a variety of in-person and written communications.

As an industry, we still have much to learn about renewable energy as well. The Electric Power Research Institute has launched a new research program, “Environmental Aspects of Renewable Energy,” to share insights on the siting, building and operation of these important sources of energy, and to address concerns about their development.