12/04/07 — Utility company looks ahead to future needs for power in Carolinas

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Utility company looks ahead to future needs for power in Carolinas

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on December 4, 2007 2:02 PM

More people mean more energy needs -- more electricity for air conditioners, blow dryers and sump pumps.

And having more people is definitely a North Carolina issue: The state is projected to grow to more than 12 million people by 2030, up from a little more than 8 million in 2000.

Mike Hughes, director of utility communications for Raleigh-based Progress Energy, put that growth in terms of customers on Monday afternoon.

"All of our service area, we're growing by about 25,000 to 30,000 homes a year," Hughes said.

To accommodate all of those new customers, the utility will eventually have to build new plants, including expanding the capacity of the Wayne County Energy Complex in Rosewood.

One other proposal includes adding two reactors to the one-reactor, 900-megawatt Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County.

But the process isn't simply about building these days, Hughes said -- it's also about introducing new technologies, especially now that state law puts the onus on utilities to do just that.

Hughes and Dan Oliver, a community relations manager for the utility, met with News-Argus staff Monday.

They spoke of N.C. S.B. 3, a law that the state legislature believes will change the state's energy landscape, promoting "the development of renewable energy and efficiency in the state," the law states.

That law sets specific requirements for energy utilities, mandating that 3.5 percent of North Carolina retail power sales come from alternative sources by 2012.

Of that 3.5 percent share, 25 percent can come from improved energy efficiency, Hughes said. By 2021, it becomes 12.5 percent of total retail energy sales, with 40 percent allowed to come from efficiency.

Oliver said tying the new energy mandates to retail sales adds accountability on all sides, because customers will decide what new technologies their budgets can bear.

"The situation here is a little different," Oliver said. "It's actually being subsidized through the sale of those kilowatt hours."

Efficiency can mean things like better operation at the company's power plants, but the habits of their customers are also important, they said.

Progress Energy has launched an ad campaign and Web site to educate people about ways to save energy -- which is something many customers ask for, Oliver said.

Customers can access those tips at www.SaveTheWatts.com, where the utility offers up 100 tips to lower your energy bill.

The Raleigh-based utility has also put out a request for proposal that asks for new ideas in creating energy.

North Carolina-based ideas for so-called alternative energy sources will get preferential treatment for consideration by the utility.

"We are ... in learning mode, and trying to figure out what's out there" in terms of new sources of energy, Hughes said.

And although none of the ideas on the table would provide the quantity of energy that a coal-fired or nuclear plant, some might be capable of providing energy that would help the utility manage peak demand, Oliver said.

"We're obviously looking at solar and wind, methane generation from hog lagoons, burning turkey litter or poultry litter in general.

"We're looking at a number of different technologies that may, up to now, not have been technically feasible or cost effective," Oliver said.

One other possibility is fuel cells, and Progress Energy has a $1.5 million stake in Microcell of Raleigh, which is trying to produce commercially viable fuel cells.

Although both Hughes and Oliver said they believe automobiles might be the place where that technology breaks through cost and other barriers, they still are not sure what exactly the future holds.

"We sort of find ourselves at this point, particularly where we are as a nation and as a world -- we're more conscious of power," Hughes said. "We're at an energy crossroads."

State legislators made it clear they understand that crossroads with the way the new law is set up, Oliver said.

"(Legislators wanted) to be really sure that we need to build these new plants. They said 'Conserve all you can, eliminate all that you can, and don't build any more than you need.'"