Cutting Carbon Pollution in North Carolina

Drought conditions at Fontana Lake, N.C., summer 2007. Photo by Ryan Rasmussen, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Coal-fired power plants are among the top carbon polluters in North Carolina, emitting millions of tons of unchecked and unregulated carbon dioxide each year. These emissions contribute to global climate change, which is already putting at risk the health and welfare of North Carolinians, from impacting agricultural yields to raising waters along the coast to increasing the likelihood of severe weather events.

North Carolina is in a strong position to transition to more sustainable and cleaner power sources. Solar projects have increased dramatically, and the potential for offshore wind energy is greater in the Tar Heel State than any other mid-Atlantic coastal state.

Public health and safety

North Carolina has experienced record heat waves and droughts over the past decade, including:

  • The summer of 2010 was the warmest on record since 1895, with the statewide mean summer temperature more than 2˚F higher than the previous warmest summer of 2007.
  • The worst drought in more than 100 years was in 2007.
  • The worst tornado outbreak was in 2011.

These severe conditions have direct, dire consequences for North Carolinians. Increasing temperatures can threaten human health, particularly among the elderly who may suffer heat stress and worse. Heat also exacerbates other forms of pollution, and can trigger asthma and allergies. Floods can kill people and destroy private property, as well as contaminate water supplies and carry disease. And drought threaten the the availability of water resources, reducing surface waters and depleting aquifers.

Agriculture concerns

Between 1996 and 2006, no fewer than 14 tropical storms and hurricanes caused agricultural damages totaling $2.4 billion in North Carolina. Changes to rain patterns and water availability lead to decreasing yields for farmers, while drought conditions and heat can lead to livestock stress and mortality. Severe weather can also trigger tree mortality, which can greatly impact the state’s tree growers and wood products industry, and harm wildlife.

Our vulnerable coast

Seventy-one percent of North Carolina’s coastline is at high or very high vulnerability to sea level rise. The implications are dire — the Outer Banks could become completely submerged, destroying the livelihood and way of life for many North Carolinians, and dramatically reducing the state’s tourism revenue. Further, increasing salinity would threaten drinking water supplies in many parts of eastern North Carolina.


In August 2007, North Carolina adopted a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) and in doing so became the 25th in the nation, and the first state in the southeast to enact such a policy.

Carbon Pollution Limits for Power Plants: This year, the EPA will issue rules for new plants limiting the amount of carbon pollution that can be emitted from new coal fired power plants and it will trigger the state creating rules for existing plants, known as the 111(d) rules. In North Carolina there is already pushback. In a letter to the EPA Secretary John Skvarla questions the federals agencies authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. A WRI study shows that North Carolina can reduce its power sector CO2 emissions 29 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 using policies and infrastructure already in place. Moreover, the state could achieve even greater long-term emissions reductions—as well as significant cost savings—by expanding existing programs.

Energy Efficiency for N.C.: In North Carolina utilities have expanded energy efficiency programs in recent years, their levels of investment and performance, however, still remain below the national average. Reducing the amount of energy required by improving energy efficiency is recognized as one of the most influential actions available, and is especially beneficial to rural customers.

Promoting solar and wind: North Carolina is ideally located due to our geographical location, weather, and landscape to take advantage of the abundant solar resources — with the state having as many as 250 sunny days a year. NPD Solarbuzz, a solar energy market research and analysis firm, recently ranked North Carolina the second-highest state in terms of solar capacity in the country, losing only to California. However, recent attacks on solar by the power industry threaten to undo the solar advances in the state.

Also due to its geographical location, North Carolina has more off-shore wind than any other state on the Atlantic coast and gives us a prime opportunity to develop our wind resources. Just a fraction of the wind energy resources off North Carolina’s coast would help the state meet 20% of its energy needs. Legislation introduced in 2011 could create 2,500 MW of offshore wind turbines. It is estimated that developing that amount of offshore wind would create over 10,000 construction jobs and 2,000 long-term operations and maintenance jobs, in addition to jobs associated with future manufacturing exports to other markets. Since North Carolina is currently the second largest importer of coal in the US, this would reduce the amount of money leaving the state each year to purchase fossil fuels.

Our Work

Appalachian Voices is working to cut carbon emissions in the region through our programs to promote energy efficiency and clean energy economies throughout the Southeast: