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Is The Military Getting Undue Credit For Solar Power In North Carolina? (Part 1 of 2)

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UPDATE: Duke Energy spokesperson Randy Wheeless tweeted that Duke Energy is in fact keeping the renewable energy credits from the solar farm at Camp Lejeune to count toward North Carolina’s renewable energy portfolio standard. That confirms that the Navy should not be counting this installation toward its 2015 target of 1 GW, as it has done in the press.

The US Military has earned high praise for its embrace of renewable energy to power its bases, with a goal of sourcing 25% of its facility energy from renewable sources by 2025. Greenpeace’s other issues with the military notwithstanding (and we have a lot), a military powered by renewable energy is smarter, more secure, and less wasteful than one powered by fossil fuels.

Solar panels on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released) 120719-N-RI884-240

Solar panels on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released) 120719-N-RI884-240

Renewable energy locks in low-cost electricity prices for the military for decades, saving taxpayers money. It provides greater energy security, ensuring that defense infrastructure maintains power even if the grid is compromised. And of course, a military powered by renewable energy plays a part in decreasing the pollution that causes climate change, which the Pentagon says “poses immediate threats to national security,” as President Obama noted in last week’s State of the Union.

But in its latest deal for renewable energy, a 13 MW solar farm at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC, the military has a problem: it may be taking credit for renewable energy that it doesn’t deserve.

The utility in North Carolina, Duke Energy, is building the solar farm at Camp Lejeune, and all of the electricity generated will go to Duke’s broader grid. The military is neither owning the system nor buying the electricity. In fact, the arrangement is not so much an energy deal as it is a real estate transaction, wherein the base rents land to Duke so that Duke can build more solar.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the difference? More solar is good. Who cares whether the military owns the solar energy or Duke owns it?”

To a certain extent, that’s true – we do need a lot more solar power, both the kind owned by utilities and the kind owned by everyone else. But as companies and institutions like the military set goals for how much renewable energy they want to use to power their operations, they have to meet those goals with integrity. Since it’s impossible to track physical electrons, renewable energy “credits” are used to track who “owns” renewable energy and thus gets to count it toward a goal. Only one party can ever get the credits from any given amount of renewable energy.

This idea of counting credit is more than a public relations exercise: North Carolina’s Renewable Portfolio Standard legally requires Duke to source 6% of its retail sales of electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2015, and Duke will use renewable energy credits to prove that it’s complied with that law. The military and Duke could structure this Camp Lejeune deal so that Duke does exactly that.

Or, the parties can structure the deal so the military gets the credits, and gets to count the solar energy toward its 25% by 2025 goal, and the Navy’s goal of procuring 1 GW of renewable energy by the end of 2015.

But they can’t work out the deal so that both the military and Duke get credit for the same kilowatt-hours of electricity, and while it’s not clear who’s taking the formal credits yet, both are certainly taking the opportunity to do so in their public relations. Here’s the quote that the Navy provided for Duke’s press release:

“Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus set an aggressive but critical goal for the (Department of the Navy) to produce or procure one gigawatt of renewable energy by the end of 2015,” said Robert Griffin, executive director of the department’s Renewable Energy Program Office. “Through an effective partnership with (Duke Energy Progress), and once both parties sign the lease agreement, the project at Camp Lejeune will be another opportunity to bring renewable energy online, providing greater resource availability, and diversity for Camp Lejeune and the surrounding community.”

And here’s what Duke said:

“The facility will be owned and operated by Duke Energy Progress (DEP) and is expected online in 2015. It will help Duke Energy further its commitment to renewable energy, diversify its energy mix and meet the N.C. Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard.

Those two quotes seem to indicate that the renewable energy from this project is being double-counted, at least in the press, which would call into the question the integrity of the respective efforts of either Duke or the Navy — and really both — to reach their renewable energy targets.

Once the Camp Lejeune project is built, months from now, one party or the other will officially register the credits with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System. In the meantime, Duke and the military should clear up the confusion and state simply which of them is counting this renewable energy toward its target.

Part II of this blog will explain why this awkward double-counting situation is coming up in North Carolina, when the military has otherwise managed to buy renewable energy much more effectively in many other states.

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helps lead Greenpeace's campaign for a 100% renewable energy future. He writes about how leading technology companies can embrace renewable energy to power the internet's growing electricity demand, and how utilities should stop fighting and start embracing the growth of distributed renewable energy. Greenpeace is the leading independent environmental campaigning organization in the world. David has worked there since 2008, and blogs for Greenpeace here.


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