Duke Energy Can Burn Forests for ‘Green’ Credits

forest fire photoIt’s (once again) the law of unintended consequences for Green groups: In order to fulfill a 2007 state mandate that they derive 12.5 percent of electricity from so-called “renewable” sources, a North Carolina appeals court has ruled that Duke Energy – which will soon be more or less the only investor-owned utility in the Tar Heel state – may burn whole trees to comply with the regulation.

Last year Duke sought permission from the North Carolina Utilities Commission to classify two of its coal-fired power plants as renewable facilities, because the company wants to burn a combination of wood chips and coal at the plants. NCUC determined the renewables statute allowed that “wood derived from whole trees in primary harvest is a ‘biomass resource’ and thus a ‘renewable energy resource,’” and therefore approved Duke’s application. Environmental Defense Fund and the NC Sustainable Energy Association – with Southern Environmental Law Center providing legal help – challenged the ruling, and the Court of Appeals sided with NCUC and Duke:

The statute at issue in the instant case is not ambiguous because all wood fuel is encompassed by the meaning of the term “biomass.” Since the statute does not specifically define “biomass,” we look to its ordinary meaning.  The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “biomass” as “organic matter used as fuel.”

There is wailing and gnashing of teeth over the decision.

“We are concerned about this decision for many reasons,” said John Bonitz of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “First and foremost, We The People have no assurance that our taxes and electricity bills are supporting energy production that clearly benefits the environment, improves ecosystems, and helps mitigate climate change.”

The Green groups have only themselves to blame. They spent months, if not years, in great numbers working the halls of the North Carolina General Assembly, which has been dominated until this year by Democrats friendly to their cause. History shows that the two major utilities (which are about to merge) – Duke Energy and Progress Energy – more or less agree to the environmentalists’ demands, so long as they get their cost recovery when all is said and done. That environmentalists are now angry, because they botched statutory language that would only allow vegetation of their choosing to be legally burned for energy, is laughable.

Unintended consequences of the Greens’ policy priorities are repeatedly the norm: “Biomass,” “biofuels” and ethanol are just burning of food, incentivize clear-cutting, and create more emissions than they save; bans on DDT led to the deaths of millions; mandating the replacement of the Edison light bulb with compact fluorescents will create a toxic environment in your home when you break one; and I could go on

Meanwhile the fact that Duke loves to get cozy with the Greens and with government eco-regulators in order to make profits on the backs of taxpayers, but then wants the option to clear cut forests for the purpose of earning Renewable Energy Credits to meet the mandate, confirms they are a company without a conscience that is willing to slap their dance partners in the face for a buck.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and is executive director of American Tradition Institute.