NC takes lead in finding energy options

August 17, 2013 

This summer, North Carolina beachgoers have looked out on a blue horizon broken only by clouds, boats, seabirds and the occasional ad dragged by a small airplane. But future visitors may see a different vista: rows of 460-foot-tall turbines turning 11 miles offshore, using wind to generate power.

That vision was presented to coastal residents last week in a video simulation produced by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The video shown at Carolina Shores is being used to gauge public reaction to how the turbines would appear. One simulation shows the turbines at night as a line of red lights blinking on the horizon.

Coastal resident Eileen Marrone of Calabash told The News & Observer’s John Murawski that she favors alternative energy but doesn’t want to see turbines aligned along the coastline like an invading armada.

But coastal residents might want to think again about their objection to offshore wind power. Developing alternative forms of energy is an important element in the race to reduce greenhouse gases that are heating up the Earth’s atmosphere and causing, among other things, sea levels to rise. The future sight that coastal residents ought to worry about isn’t distant windmills, but the sea overrunning barrier islands and coastal communities.

Seeing solutions

Offshore wind farms alone won’t stop the environmental crisis, but they are prominent symbols of how Americans need to see energy differently. The turbines would not be an obstruction. They would be part of a solution.

Raising awareness of global warming and finding solutions that all sides can agree upon are the concerns of a national organization known as the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). The group is pushing a “carbon tax” as a way to make fossil fuels more expensive and alternative energy sources more attractive.

The revenue-neutral tax, surprisingly, has support from some conservatives. The tax would be placed on fossil fuels based on their carbon dioxide content and increase the cost of those fuels. Tax proceeds would be returned equally to all households as a monthly or annual refund. The tax would increase annually, pushing the nation toward the use of cheaper, alternative fuels.

Donald Addu of Durham is the founder of the Triangle Chapter of CCL, which, as its names implies, is a largely volunteer organization of citizens who are trying to address global warming by lobbying legislators and speaking with the media. Addu, a contract administrator for a biotech lab, said the carbon tax is the “simplest, most elegant solution to one of our most complicated problems.”

Addu said it’s crucial to find a common way to curb the amount of carbon being loaded into the atmosphere. If nothing is done, oceans are expected to rise by 2 feet globally by 2100. In North Carolina, sea rise would be even more pronounced because of the state’s relatively shallow coastal waters and the gentle slope of the Coastal Plain. At the current rate of sea level rise, the CCL says, Ocracoke Island will be underwater by the end of the century.

State laws help

While North Carolina is especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming, it also is a leader in developing alternative energy sources. It has perhaps the largest wind resource on the East Coast, and a number of private companies and utilities are looking at ways to harness it both on land and offshore.

State laws requiring state utilities to get a portion of their power from alternative sources are promoting new energy industries here. Solar energy has been particularly successful. Other technologies are being developed that convert hog and poultry waste to energy.

Lowell Sachs, a spokesman for the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, said more than 1,100 North Carolina companies are engaged in developing or deploying alternative forms of energy or conserving energy.

Efforts in the last legislative session to eliminate a charge on utility bills that supports alternative energy and to weaken building code requirements that promote energy conservation failed.

Preserving the Earth’s climate will rely on how well alternative energy advocates fare in today’s political and economic climates. So far in North Carolina, the results are encouraging.

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