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Flip the light switch. Boot the computer. Crank the thermostat.

North Carolinians pull thousands of kilowatts from the power grid daily, and if the legislature passes a Renewable Portfolio Standard this session, some of that energy could come from wind, wood waste and hog farms.

More than 20 states, although none in the South, have passed an RPS, requiring utilities to provide a percentage of their power from renewable sources.

The RPS is among the top environmental legislative priorities, which include landfill and hog waste moratoriums, electronics recycling and land preservation.

Although Duke Energy and Progress Energy defeated an RPS proposal last session, it has a more promising chance of passing in some form this session because of a recent study released by the Environmental Review Commission. That analysis showed the state, which imports nearly all its energy, could provide up to 10 percent of its power using renewable energy and efficiency, while creating thousands of jobs and saving North Carolina a half-billion dollars over 20 years. [See “Study: N.C. can thrive on renewable energy,” Dec. 20, 2006,]

Interim reports from the legislature’s Global Warming Commission are expected to also support an RPS.

“We hope the utilities are ready to have policies like this to encourage them to make the right investments,” says Ulla Reeves, regional program director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Duke and Progress, both with large coal-fired or nuclear plants in the pipeline, told the Independent last month that they “would be interested in looking at an RPS” but added they could meet projected energy demands only with coal or nukes.

The utilities’ influence could dilute legislation, and the Clean Energy Coalition “wants to make sure the standard would include efficiency and a wide range of renewable energy sources,” Reeves says. “To allow the expansion of Cliffside [Duke’s two proposed coal-fired plants] is hypocritical policymaking. When we have abundant alternative energy sources, why are we adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?”

“The study’s numbers should be a floor, not a ceiling,” says Sierra Club lobbyist Christa Wagner. “We should be ambitious and ask for more.”

A bellwether for the RPS is whether Gov. Mike Easley includes a funding request in his 2007-08 budget for the State Energy Office, which promotes renewables and energy efficiency programs. The SEO’s federal funding sources have evaporated, leaving the state to cover its $8 million annual budget.

If Easley or the legislature decides against funding the SEO, the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State and similar programs at Appalachian State University and N.C. A&T will likely close or scale back. Research could continue, but these centers would no longer provide technical advice or outreach to green builders, homeowners or communities looking to incorporate renewables or efficiency into their projects.

An unlikely supporter of an RPS is the hog industry, which could partially solve its waste problem with renewable energy technology that captures methane from hog waste lagoons. A moratorium on new open-air waste lagoons passed in 1997, and it expires this summer. Environmental Defense attorney Dan Whittle says his group will ask for a permanent ban on the lagoons, while encouraging incentives for new technologies to handle 19 million pounds of waste generated annually by 10 million hogs. “The ban takes care of the future lagoons, but does nothing to address health and environmental issues from existing ones,” Whittle says.

Deborah Johnson, executive director of the N.C. Pork Council, says her group expects a moratorium extension. “It’s doubtful any more expansion will occur,” she says. “There’s not a lot of land left for farms. We’re looking at innovation and renewable energy incentives, but we don’t want mandates.”

A one-year moratorium on mega-landfills also expires this summer. The measure passed last session over outcry that waste management corporations planned to build large landfills in rural, poor communities in Eastern North Carolina.

“I would like to have no mega-landfills,” said Mike Nelson, lobbyist for the Conservation Council. “But I don’t know if the legislature will go that far. We should require out-of-state trash to comply with North Carolina law.”

Waste Management lobbyist Calvin Booker said the industry opposes extending the moratorium. “North Carolina has one of the least lenient review processes in the South, so we were shocked at the moratorium. We hope we can resolve whatever issues that caused it in the first place.”

Instead of tossing lead- and mercury-tainted electronics in North Carolina landfills, state Rep. Janet Cowell (D-Wake) is expected to reboot her electronics recycling bill that died last session. At issue are fees and types of recyclable products. California accepts TVs, video screens and laptops, but not computers, printers or iPods. Retailers have balked at charging a $5 recycling fee, and electronics manufacturers don’t want to include it in the price.

Land for Tomorrow, a $1 billion bond to preserve one million acres of open space, died last session but will be resurrected. The Land and Water Conservation Committee issued a draft report last month recommending it be implemented. A final report is due Feb. 1.

Lawmakers are overwhelmed with bond requests this session, but it could put Land for Tomorrow to a public referendum on the ballot during city elections or on the November 2008 ballot, along with the presidential election.

Margaret Hartzell of Environment N.C. notes that taxes on tourism, deed stamps and new buildings could help fund the plan, although homebuilders would likely balk at any additional costs levied on houses.

With the environmentally friendly state Rep. Joe Hackney likely to be crowned Speaker of the House, it is expected these issues will have an important ally.

“It can’t hurt to have a champion of the environment in leadership,” Reeves said.

Jan. 29, 2007: Correction to quote by Waste Management lobbyist Calvin Booker.