NC energy production: Keep your cool, save some green

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Electric lines at a substation in downtown Raleigh crisscross the sky on May 4.

RALEIGH — Completely burn a standard four-inch kitchen match and you will generate roughly 1 Btu, the metric used to measure electric power. Burn 138 of them and you’ll produce approximately the amount of power that the average North Carolinian consumes every minute on a residential basis, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.aNot every minute of every day has an average temperature, though, and that was certainly reflected last month when Duke Energy Carolinas reported its all-time summer record for peak usage of 20,617 megawatt-hours for the hour ending at 5 p.m. on July 27 — or about 70.4 billion kitchen matches.It doesn’t take a meteorologist to tell you it’s been hot outside, or that you’re probably consuming more power than usual just to keep your cool. But what are the power companies doing to more efficiently, and more cheaply, produce your energy to save you money? The North State Journal followed up with the two biggest energy players in the state — Duke Energy Carolinas and Dominion North Carolina Power — to find out.Randy Wheeless, a 25-year employee at Duke Energy, said the company has been building newer natural gas facilities as it retires its older coal-fired stations, which consequentially lowers energy production costs due to the currently favorable pricing of natural gas in the energy market. He estimated Duke creates 90 to 95 percent of the electricity generated within the state and maintains market share of over 3.3 million homes, accounting for about 70 percent of the state’s residential population.And while you may complain about how often it’s been raining on your way home from work, Wheeless said this summer could have been a lot worse as the consistent evening rainstorms in the state have actually helped lead to cooler nights and thus cooler mornings. That means the intense daytime heat has not resulted in an overall strain on summer energy production, keeping energy prices manageable.Bonita Harris, Dominion’s community relations manager for North Carolina, said natural gas is currently the best priced and one of the cleanest sources of energy. Her company currently provides power for 21 counties in lesser-populated northeastern N.C., which includes roughly 122,000 customers. Harris said although Dominion has a relatively small customer footprint in the North Carolina compared to Duke, the company provides power to 14 different states and its largest number of solar energy partnerships stem from coastal N.C., including the Morgans Corner Solar Facility in Pasquotank County.Peter Ledford, the regulatory counsel at the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, called North Carolina a leader in solar energy. N.C. currently ranks third in the nation in solar power capacity, just behind California and Arizona. Ledford, whose organization advocates for policies to expand clean energy generation and energy efficient practices, had some advice for people trying to save money on their power bill.”The average person can do anything from extremely low cost to extremely high cost measures,” he said. “Every home is different, every family is different. So you can do things such as installing a smart thermostat that learns your habits and adjusts your HVAC accordingly, that’s a couple hundred dollars. You can spend $10 at Lowe’s getting caulking for windows and things like that, that’s a very cheap measure that can save money on your energy bill.”And then there’s more expensive things, such as installing new insulation or improved windows or an upgraded HVAC system altogether. Or geothermal that would make a big change, but they’re capital intensive upgrades.”For those on the Duke grid, Duke spokeswoman Meghan Miles said customers can opt in to voluntary demand response programs that pay its customers for reducing their energy during times of high demand.