Winds of change

Published 12:35 pm Thursday, July 12, 2007

By Staff
It appears North Carolina has a love-hate relationship when it comes to wind power.
The state is somewhat of a hotbed for industry related to wind power. So is South Carolina, to some degree.
PPG Industries near Shelby cut hundreds of jobs several years ago as it competed with China to make fiberglass. Now, PPG Industries is spending $20 million during three years to produce the product for windmill blades. According to The Charlotte Observer, The American Wind Energy Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes the industry, contends factories in the Carolinas are perfect for making the windmill tools.
Demand for the blade material is growing by 30 percent each year, according to McInnis.
In Greenville, S.C., the General Electric plant there saved jobs in 2005 by adding wind-powered turbines to its production of parts for jet engines and gas-fire turbines, the newspaper reported.
Demand for renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power, thanks to government mandates, continues to increase. Last week, the N.C. Senate approved a bill that requires 12.5 percent of power in the state come from renewable energy. The bill mandates the state’s largest power providers derive that 12.5 percent from efficiency programs and renewable energy sources.
Municipal utilities, such as Washington Electric Utilities, and electric cooperatives would have to derive 10 percent of their power from efficiency programs and renewable energy sources.
The bill, as it stands now, makes sense. It should help reduce our dependency on power produced by plants that use fossil fuels such as oil and coal. That’s good for the environment.
If the bill becomes law, North Carolina will be the first state in the Southeast to have such a requirement. That would be a feather in the state’s cap.
The bill does provide some protection for consumers. The mandate, in its current language, would have to result in rate increases of no more than $10 a year to a homeowner’s bill in 2008, and no more than $34 a year in 2015 and beyond.
The additional cost comes from the power providers investing in efficiency programs and renewable energy sources, which require new technologies and monetary incentives for consumers who reduce their energy use.
That’s the good news.
North Carolina law prohibits development of power-producing windmills on mountain ridgelines. Of course, that’s where wind turbines operate most effectively. Some North Carolina local governments are banning or thinking about banning windmills, contending they are noisy and are not attractive.
So, while the state and local governments take a harsh view of windmills, industrial centers in the Carolinas — areas that have lost many manufacturing jobs in recent years — are providing the wind-power industry with workers.
If state law forbids windmills on mountain ridgelines, perhaps it should allow windmills to be erected in Raleigh. After all, there’s plenty of hot air and wind blowing when the General Assembly’s in session.
Joking aside, more power to the General Assembly when it comes to turning this proposal into a reality.