North Carolina has differences of opinion when it comes to its best energy future. Surprised?

I read a column in the Carolina Journal with a headline that nailed the issue: “As the governor touts energy policy of wind and solar, lawmakers leverage natural gas and nuclear to meet future demand and lower emissions.”

Never the twain shall meet? Seems that way sometimes and it is unfortunate. More than unfortunate. Policymakers should do better to craft a solution.

The Governor’s plan is good to read to see where his stakeholders are.

The study from the John Locke Foundation noted in the Carolina Journal is good to read as counterpoint.

In many ways, both are right in their viewpoints, though the shading of the comments need explanation. Each have their specific policy goals.

From the John Locke Foundation there is this synopsis: “The [Governor’s] Clean Energy Plan jeopardizes the reliability and affordability of North Carolina’s electricity.” It says that following the Duke Energy Portfolio D [high renewable option from its integrated resource plan] “would cause a direct cost increase of more than $400 annually for each North Carolina household.”

The Governor’s plan says, in part: “The declining costs and large-scale deployment of renewable energy systems and the rapid advancement of information management, communications, and consumer product devices are transforming both the electricity supply and public demand for our electrical grid. … New technologies can drive cost savings for customers, notably incentives and rate structures must modernize to achieve the values and goals prioritized in this document.”

Of course, there’s much more. The Locke Foundation looks as though it has done more homework for its plan.

In a short column like this the takeaways are that the Locke Foundation feels that tapping more nuclear and gas are major factors to get us to our energy future. Especially, by the way, compared to the Governor’s plan. The Governor’s plan emphasizes renewables. The Locke Foundation study says renewable jeopardize reliability; reduces the capacity factor of our power sources.

Black and white thinking is not a friend of either plan. My take, from a career in electricity (with a nuclear emphasis) and petroleum, is this:

  • Track Locke’s thinking on nuclear. New nuclear technologies are going to do good things for the customer and North Carolina ought not squander its inheritance on this valuable technology by letting others take the lead. Nuclear is essential.
  • Tap Locke’s argument for natural gas infrastructure. Gas is an obvious positive choice when it replaces coal. Only then, really. But manufacturers need gas and if policymakers care a whit about economic development they will not shun gas infrastructure. Also note that gas lines will, in time, likely be able to carry clean energy in the form of hydrogen.
  • Track the Governor’s promotion of renewables, but not as a stand-alone source of energy. Pair up renewables with batteries to manage demand when possible. North Carolina has several outstanding research entities that can help. Use them.
  • Remember that hydro is carbon-free. North Carolina has good hydro resources. Use them.

Here’s a final reminder to policymakers, too: Lead, don’t micro-manage what you do not know. If you are a skilled energy expert, let’s hear from you. If not, set goals for energy, environment, and economy, but don’t pick winners. Energy is made in plants and sent by wires, not made and delivered in conference rooms and spreadsheets.

Unusual in this situation is that the Locke study with nuclear and gas looks like it gets close to the carbon reduction goal touted by the Governor. So, policymakers, you have plans in front of you. There’s work to do for North Carolina citizens.