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 — the second-largest importer of coal in the U.S. — 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.
Coal-Power Plant Facts
- 3 of the 50 dirtiest U.S. power plants are in North Carolina: the Belews Creek, Roxboro and Marshall plants.
- North Carolina’s power plants are responsible for 51% of the carbon pollution in the state.
- In 2011, the Belews Creek plant near Winston-Salem was the state’s biggest global warming polluter, emitting carbon pollution equivalent of 2.9 million cars.
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.
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.
Good for business: In 2014, the EPA issued a draft for America’s first-ever rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, which hold tremendous potential for job creation. But even before the draft came out, there was pushback from North Carolina. In a letter to the EPA, then-Secretary John Skvarla questioned the federal agency’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants, ignoring the potential. A recent report shows that North Carolina can reduce carbon emissions from power plants 29 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 using policies and infrastructure already in place.
Energy efficiency: In 2007, the state adopted a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, becoming the first state in the southeast to enact such a policy. Since then, utilities have expanded energy efficiency programs, but they 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: Due to North Carolina’s location, weather, and geographic features, it is ideally suited to take advantage of abundant solar resources — with as many as 250 sunny days a year. NPD Solarbuzz, a solar energy market research firm, recently ranked North Carolina the second-highest state in terms of solar capacity in the country, losing only to California.
North Carolina also has more offshore wind capacity than any other state on the Atlantic coast. Just a fraction of those wind resources would help the state meet 20% of its energy needs. Developing 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind would create more than 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.
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.