Viable options to inappropriate grid solutions exist

Fighting climate change is economic development. It is national security. It is a central innovation target for quality civilization.

“A complex issue like climate change requires a collaborative, multipronged approach that involves all stakeholders. We must continue to work together in forums, act on market trends and incorporate innovative technologies that we cannot even imagine today.” – Lynn Good, Duke Energy CEO, April 17, 2015 national Op/Ed

Since first trying to get support for Smart Grid DEEP for WNC (Smart Grid, Distributed Energy, and Efficiency Program) in 2006, it’s encouraging to see the opportunities for linking CleanTech policy with fighting human-caused climate change form through President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Part of the plan is the EPA Clean Power Plan. By time the proposed 650 megawatt combined cycle natural gas (650 MW CCNG) plant in completed, North Carolina will have to developed and begun implementation of our NC Clean Power Plan (CPP). If not wasteful GOP lawsuits will ensue and poor energy planning will continue that not only add to climate risks, but drag down our economics.

NC Sen. Terry Van Duyn learned about Sen. Apodaca and Duke Energy’s 650 MW CCNG plant by reading the May news reports, not through an open, collaborative process including all stakeholders and all facts. This 1950’s approach to energy and climate policy in North Carolina is an absolutely ludicrous way to make grid projects happen these days.

One recent news story has this from NC Rep. Chuck McGrady seems to understand that the new plant will produce more than enough electricity to WNC. How much is ‘more than enough’? Is the design of this solution entirely inappropriate for this region? McGrady says, “Everybody from Duke Energy … to the environmental community agrees that this is a very good thing.” It’s one option for not using coal, and not using coal for electricity is a good thing. But do we have a EPA Clean Power Plan for our state? No. The NC CPP should include ‘best systems for (esp. carbon) emissions reduction’. Is the 650 MW CCNG plant our best systems for carbon reduction. That’s in doubt and I have no problem putting these claims in doubt and starting the process of heading in a new direction towards working on the NC CPP.

Lynn Good and NC Sen. Apadoca are attempting to prove a pure market based solution to climate change via the 650 MW CCNG unit. The 2013 City of Asheville Clean Energy Economy resolution and follow on Asheville Community Energy Plan task force are examples of municipalities leading on forming the NC CPP. What’s needed now is open dialogue and collaboration around facts and ‘best systems for emission reduction’. I thanked NC Rep. Chuck McGrady for amending the Mountain Energy Act to reflect need for public notice and a public hearing.

That 650 MW CCNG plant is most certainly in part a supposed market solution to the EPA CPP, possibly setting up an argument that no government CPP is needed, thus justifying future GOP lawsuits. The problem with the Lynn Good-Apodaca way is there is no carbon budget calculation. We don’t know if the 650 MW CCNG plant is the appropriate solution.

Actually there are electrical grid market trends and innovative technologies that WNC communities need to understand right now. Lynn’s commentary specifically mentions the EPA Clean Power Plan, part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. President Obama recently spelled out what the Department of Defense has said: human-caused climate change is now a central national security risk. While the solution is partly a commercial response, the overall strategy is very much a public matter now.

Duke Energy has a Corporate Responsibility Strategy and donates a great deal to communities like ours. The City of Asheville launched a partnership with Duke Energy in 2013 that led to the Asheville Community Energy Plan (ACEP) task force activating last fall. It’s a mystery why news media hasn’t covered these important developments, but that’s part of how the community can learn more about energy innovation.

Duke Energy knows a robust national climate change response is only an election away. For Duke Energy’s part they just need to donate more to the ACEP and to an open innovation process. For example, explain all the nation R & D initiatives Duke Energy is part of. Describe the way Duke Energy offered no resistance to Apple’s fuel cell-biogas-solar microgrid in Maiden, NC. Why, because arguing about Apple’s CSR program would be ridiculous. Duke Energy can do more to help the public understand what demand response offers and why the upcoming US Supreme Court decision on FERC Order 745 is important.

The 650 megawatt combined cycle natural gas (CCNG) plant proposed for Duke Energy’s Lake Julian plant is still just that, a proposal. I’m not going to focus on the obvious benefits of eventually turning of the coal units and going CCNG. What’s important and seems to be too difficult for journalists, politicians, and current nonprofit leaders to spell out is that the difference between North Carolina’s human-caused climate change response capabilities and ordering up a CCNG plant is like comparing apples and oranges if there’s no measurable, coherent strategy behind the choices as advertised and omitted ones. That strategy is called the North Carolina Clean Power Plan (NCCPP) and its time to take the ACEP work, connect with other municipalities having similar initiative, and work with the legislature and governor to face facts and at least openly discuss the risks of resisting the need for the NCCCP and the rewards of harnessing our state’s sizable innovation power and form a responsible approach.

American business giants Apple, Google and Facebook have published a letter on the GOP-designed North Carolina House of Representatives bill 332 which rolls back state CleanTech expansion goals. The joint letter states, “[HB 332] alterations risk undermining the state’s almost decade-long commitment to renewable power and energy efficiency. We support a comprehensive review, in which we would like to participate. In the meantime, to avoid creating new risk and uncertainty for our businesses, we urge you to keep in place the existing, well-balanced and meticulously examined energy policy.” Existing North Carolina CleanTech policy includes out state renewable energy portfolio standard.

The truth is North Carolina’s CleanTech market is relatively immature as is. We’ve scaled back the public engagement work and general scope of our state energy office as the GOP obtained majority rule. The lack of an engaging, modern state energy program linked to our finite carbon budget drives new risks and uncertainties for our people, the nation, and globe by failing to help set the bar higher. On basic economic terms alone the way these high market capitalization firms describe North Carolina’s energy decisions makes us look like irresponsible rubes operating in disordered, anti-innovation, servile rectitude to Duke Energy.

There’s no doubt Duke Energy has been and will continue to be a community partner. What galls me the most is the with Duke Energy’s resources they could easily help WNC understand the many energy innovation options bursting through the old grid model. Duke Energy is a partner with a program called Envision Charlotte. This is an example of demand response and small-scale microgrid technology in being demonstrated in Charlotte. The next phase of Envision Charlotte includes more current microgrid technology. There’s no point in other WNC communities not having this vital infrastructure innovation described to them in detail.

It’s been wild watching Duke Energy, Sierra Club and its affiliates like MountainTrue, a few politicians, and journalists deterring Asheville and WNC’s ability to address climate change without expertise and with no open forum. The City of Asheville’s community energy plan is promising, but suffers from lack of community awareness as well as the new list of options available to Asheville. I’m running for Asheville city council and I have proposed a new direction:

1) Revive the successful local program GroWNC deployed under the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities within a dynamic, free-thinking, yet strategic nonprofit. I call this ‘GroWNC’ program Sustain Asheville / Sustain WNC. Each willing WNC community should have its own Sustain Waynesville, etc… or create a distinct title. The point is we work as a team on the major sustainability challenges facing our region… especially how to make our economics as sustainable and resilient as possible while joining the climate change fight.

2) Conduct feasibility studies and deploy microgrid technology in Asheville. A microgrid is a grid substation and an interconnected grouping of distributed energy resources (DER). DER means solar, but it also means 24/7, all-weather base load equipment like stationary fuel cells. I call this program Asheville Microgrid. Again, other participating WNC communities deserve this economics shifting, resilient, reliable, and carbon budget sensitive solution.

3) Initiate research and handle project management issues (especially for lessons learned and cost effectiveness) as a regional transmission organization (RTO). I call this program Smart Grid DEEP (Smart Grid, Distributed Energy, and Efficiency Program).

It’s up to citizens to back the smartest candidates who have the most powerful, actionable public trust solutions. I have written a detailed article covering the risks of Sen. Apodaca’s combined cycle natural gas plant concept and practical risk managing options citizens were never allowed to review: LINK. We can change the course we are on, but only as a team. Many of you may need to give up assumptions as to who seems like the best folks are for city council membership along the way.

If regional journalists were to do news reports as to the state of US and global energy innovation driven by our increasingly tight carbon budget, that would help a lot. For example, if the searched the US Supreme Court granted cases list for the following items, they’d begin to see that the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission has determined not all aspects of business models like Duke Energy’s serve the public trust best:



Helping the public understand what demand response is about is only fair. I believe its more than fair to question a 650 megawatt combined cycle natural gas plant deployment in a part of the country where our smaller, dispersed WNC communities surely serve as a target for microgrids. I am in contact with a growing list of subject matter experts on these matters I’d be happy to send our journalists to.

While I also promote the fee and dividend carbon tax with fracking transparency rules found in the Federal Climate Protection Act of 2013, those who also see the market value of a CleanTech boom for North Carolina and the nation but have other perspectives on market interventions may appreciate US Sen. Angus King’s new bill Free Market Energy Act of 2015.

We can take a new course of action, but only if we work as a team. At the same time many citizens are going to be giving up their assumptions as to what leadership looks like as more ethical, open, evidence-based policymaking becomes the new normal. Let’s get moving North Carolina. There’s a great opportunity at hand for cities like Asheville and other WNC communities.

Grant Millin lives in Asheville.

Grant’s family first moved to Asheville in 1980 when his parents purchased the historic T.S. Morrison & Co. property and business. He is a local management consultant with an interdisciplinary studies, independent bachelor’s degree in Sustainability and Security Studies, Master of Entrepreneurship, Master of Project Management, and MBA coursework. He was the North Carolina project manager for the historic Hydrogen Road Tour and also produced and was panelist on the Forum on Smart Grid and Hydrogen Economies at Duke University.


Posted in Asheville, Climate Change Innovation, Innovation and Opportunity Ecosystem.