‘Brighter Future’: N.C. Co-ops Pledge to Hit Zero-Net Carbon by 2050

North Carolina Electric Membership Corp. owns a 61.51% share of the Catawba Nuclear Station’s Unit 1 in York County, S.C. (Photo Courtesy of NCEMC)
North Carolina Electric Membership Corp. owns a 61.51% share of the Catawba Nuclear Station’s Unit 1 in York County, S.C. (Photo Courtesy of NCEMC)

North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives are pledging to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 as part of a larger initiative to improve the quality of life for rural residents and communities they serve.

The North Carolina co-op network’s new “Brighter Future” long-term effort brings together the co-ops’ continued support for local communities with sustainability measures and expanding innovation that strengthens the grid, coordinates distributed energy resources, and provides new energy services and a variety of benefits to members.

“Electric cooperatives are leading a wide range of economically sound, innovative energy solutions and advanced technologies that make the electric grid more flexible, efficient and resilient than ever before,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, chief operating officer and senior vice president of association services at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, the Raleigh-based statewide association and generation and transmission co-op.

“Integrating and coordinating new energy resources will allow our co-ops to play a greater role in the operation of the distribution system and give the entire cooperative network the opportunity to leverage operational efficiencies and benefits.”

She said the co-ops will meet their CO2 goals, while preserving reliability and affordability, by using innovative technology and solutions that make the grid more flexible and efficient and enable the integration of more renewable resources. North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives will also continue to rely on carbon-free nuclear energy, which already accounts for about 60% of its portfolio.

Co-op resources will be aggregated and coordinated on a statewide level using the G&T’s distributed energy resource management system (DERMS). This centralized interconnected energy platform “allows us to deploy resources in a way that offsets the need for traditional power generation and provides significant savings and benefits to cooperative consumer-members,” Hotchkiss said.

Keith Dennis, NRECA Business and Technology Strategies vice president, said a growing number of co-ops are using DERMS to expand their energy options and improve efficiency.

“North Carolina’s work in this field is a demonstration of how the industry is changing and how cooperatives are adapting to provide more value to their members,” he said.

Hotchkiss said “Brighter Future” also goes well beyond power generation and includes co-op investments in education, economic development and community enrichment.

Curtis Wynn, CEO of Aulander-based Roanoke Electric Cooperative and NRECA president, spoke at the unveiling of the Brighter Future initiative and focused on how his co-op’s high-speed internet rollout benefits co-op members and communities.

“There is a critical need for broadband connectivity in rural areas, and Roanoke Electric is working to close the digital divide with our Roanoke Connect initiative,” said Wynn. “These broadband efforts are just the latest iteration of our focus on providing economic opportunity and access to new services for our members.”

Paul Spruill, CEO of Pantego-based Tideland EMC, cited co-ops’ work to make rural areas more competitive and attractive, including the development of two microgrids within his service territory.

“We are embedded within the local community and keenly aware of the needs and capabilities of our members,” Spruill said. “This gives us flexibility in pursuing innovative solutions that position our entire region for growth and success.”

Jeff Clark, CEO of Jones-Onslow EMC in Jacksonville, spoke of the importance of engagement with both members and other co-ops, as his co-op recently launched a new smart thermostat demand response program. 

“We’re one of four cooperatives in North Carolina that are implementing this new program, and we’re looking forward to demonstrating the importance of coordinating grid resources in partnership with other co-ops,” Clark said. “We’re able to do this because we have such a strong cooperative network and strong engagement with our members.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.