This editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
We get the politics of it: Red states are pretty much duty-bound to oppose the Obama administration’s tough new limits on carbon emissions.
But we’re not at all sure why North Carolina would otherwise kick up a fuss over Environmental Protection Agency rules that require big cuts in power-plant emissions. Truth is, we’re already well on our way to cleaning up this state’s air.
A decade or two ago, we were a big contributor to air pollution in the region. Most of our power plants were belching a nasty cocktail of pollutants, thanks to their coal fuel. But that’s been changing fast, due as much to market forces as to any environmental conscience.
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Coal is no longer the fuel of choice for electric utilities, which are moving as fast as they can to run power plants with the cleaner-burning, cheaper natural gas that this country has in great abundance, thanks to the fracking boom.
We already caught a break from the EPA, which set a lower-than-expected target for emission reduction: 36 percent by 2030, with the cuts to start by 2022. The EPA’s preliminary plan set out a 40 percent cut for North Carolina. The plan also recognizes our national leadership in solar energy, allowing our fourth-best-in-the-nation status to count toward our goal.
Solar may be a key to meeting EPA goals easily. The cost of solar energy is plunging faster than most analysts expected. A Nevada utility owned by Warren Buffett is buying solar-generated electricity for less than four cents a kilowatt, which may be the cheapest electricity in this country.
At the same time, wind energy is coming into its own, with taller, longer-bladed windmills providing cheaper and more reliable power. North Carolina is leaping into that business too, with a sprawling wind farm that will plant 102 turbines across 22,000 acres near Elizabeth City. The plant will sell all its energy to Amazon Web Services, which will use the power to run its server farms. The wind farm will produce enough electricity to power more than 60,000 homes. Conditions in that area are considered among the best in the nation for wind energy, and more turbines could be added.
The state is nevertheless planning legal action against the EPA and a Senate bill would even forbid state cooperation with the federal regulators. It appears to be much ado about very little, because we’re well on our way to meeting those goals anyway.
Imagine how much progress we could make if state government supported a market trend that’s already going strong.
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