NC GreenPower Celebrates 20 Years of Impacts
November 21, 2023
NC GreenPower is excited to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. Thanks to the generous contributions of individuals and businesses, NC GreenPower has, for two decades now, been working to expand public knowledge and acceptance of cleaner energy technologies to all North Carolinians through local, community-based initiatives.
NC GreenPower’s impact has been felt far and wide: by people and organizations who’ve been able to offset their electricity consumption and emissions; by the thousands of individuals who increased their knowledge of clean energy; by local renewable energy and carbon offset generators, for whom renewable projects had been out of financial reach; by schools and their students, who are benefiting from solar power and STEM curriculum on their campuses; and by the renewable energy landscape more broadly, thanks to the foundation built by the nonprofit.
NC GreenPower traces its origins back to 1997, with the legislative Study Commission on the Future of Electric Service in North Carolina. In 2001, the Study Commission requested that the North Carolina Utilities Commission examine the potential for a voluntary “green” power checkoff program on utility bills. With renewable energy deployment still nascent, the goals were to encourage the development of local resources and to add more renewable energy to the state’s power supply. The North Carolina Utilities Commission asked Advanced Energy to investigate.
Throughout 2001 and 2002, Advanced Energy convened stakeholder meetings to discuss the possibilities. Participants included representatives from consumer groups, electric utilities, regulators, renewable energy resource developers, the environmental community, the State Energy Office, and others. “There was a lot of interest in supporting the state’s existing renewable generators and expanding the amount of renewable (green) energy in the state,” said Carl Wilkins, a former Advanced Energy employee who led the stakeholder meetings and was the primary architect of NC GreenPower’s structure.
In 2002, Advanced Energy and several North Carolina utilities filed a proposed program with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and after statewide public hearings and an updated program plan, NC GreenPower was approved in January 2003. It launched later that year as a nonprofit subsidiary of Advanced Energy and as the nation’s first statewide program supported by all of the state’s electric utilities to advance clean energy.
“Other states had mandated renewable portfolio standards, and the terms ‘green tags’ or ‘renewable energy certificates’ were already being used. National businesses were already selling RECs to North Carolinians, many from wind farms in Texas and the Midwest,” said Sam Watson, general counsel at the North Carolina Utilities Commission who was instrumental in the founding of NC GreenPower. “The emphasis of the NC GreenPower program was to support development of renewable energy generation within the state. The name NC GreenPower was intended to distinguish this program from those out-of-state programs and emphasize in consumers’ minds the connection to green power generation in North Carolina.”
The story of NC GreenPower’s founding also can’t be told without acknowledging the tremendous impact of Dr. Bob Koger, president of Advanced Energy at the time. Dr. Koger was the visionary behind the idea. “He had this uncanny ability to connect the players and stakeholders together in a way that came up with unique solutions. The creation of Advanced Energy is one of those, and another was the creation of NC GreenPower,” said Wilkins.
Offerings and Accomplishments to Date
When NC GreenPower began, renewable energy was highly expensive and cost prohibitive. To make these resources more economically viable, the organization’s primary focus was to use voluntary donations to provide incentive payments to local renewable energy generators. Thanks to NC GreenPower’s partnerships with North Carolina’s utilities, residential and business customers across the state could easily donate through their monthly electric bills.
As the market evolved, NC GreenPower evolved along with it. In 2008, it added support for carbon offsets, providing financial incentives to encourage the development of projects that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and in 2013, around its 10th anniversary, it explored additional ways to bolster renewable energy. “We had some really great meetings during that time period talking about how solar is doing fine on its own and asking, ‘Where is there a need? What’s not happening?’” said Julie Woosley, who has served on NC GreenPower’s board of directors since 2005 and is its current chair.
NC GreenPower’s board recognized that schools represented a great opportunity to reach a new audience, and what resulted was 2015’s Solar Schools pilot program. In 2019, the North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a full-scale version called the Solar+ Schools program.
Solar+ Schools provides grants to K-12 schools for educational solar photovoltaic (PV) packages. In addition to a solar array — which was 5 kilowatts (kW) initially but has since grown to 20 kW — awarded schools receive a weather station, data monitoring equipment, teacher training, and valuable STEM curriculum and materials.
Solar+ Schools prioritizes schools in Tier 1 and 2 counties — the state’s most economically distressed counties as defined by the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation has also been an invaluable partner, providing grants to assist with the installation costs for selected public schools each year.
NC GreenPower conducted its first Solar+ Schools dedication in 2016, at Meadowview Magnet Middle School in Surry County, and will have reached 86 schools across 46 counties by the end of 2023, bringing solar energy and STEM education to nearly 60,000 students. Through mid-September 2023, the schools had collectively produced an estimated 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of green energy, with a cumulative savings of about $113,000.
Beyond the numbers, the initiative has garnered overwhelmingly positive reactions from students, faculty members and community members alike, who praise it for its instructional opportunities. “If you’re educating kids in elementary, middle and high school so that they’re aware of solar, they understand the basics of it, they have a system they can look at, put their hands on, see the energy being captured in real time, and if they have a whole curriculum where they can learn about it, I think that’s really going to help with the development of that workforce in the future,” said Woosley. “It’s really important to plant those seeds early, and that’s one piece that I feel like we’ve gotten absolutely right with NC GreenPower.”
Supplementing its program-based work, NC GreenPower has, throughout its history, placed substantial emphasis on more general outreach and education. With the help of a large and engaged volunteer network, the team attended hundreds of events throughout the state to promote renewable energy.
“Early on people didn’t really understand the barriers to solar, the different steps that were required, how it connects to the grid, how it affects your bill, etc., so I feel like the biggest service, particularly in the first decade, was about helping people understand what it took to make solar work, what those barriers were, and how a program like NC GreenPower could help overcome them,” said Woosley.
On top of its myriad tangible accomplishments in renewable energy, decarbonization and education (see sidebar), NC GreenPower has had less concrete, but no less impactful, achievements in shaping the renewable energy landscape more broadly. For example, its work helped pave the way for 2007’s Senate Bill 3, which created the North Carolina Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), a first-of-its-kind standard in the Southeast that required that utilities provide a certain percent of their electricity portfolio from renewable energy or energy efficiency. Senate Bill 3 in turn helped spur the more recent House Bills 589 and 951.
“I am convinced that NC GreenPower has had a tremendous impact on renewable energy generation in North Carolina,” said Watson. “It both supported the development of renewable generation facilities and demonstrated public support for renewable energy. It was a precursor to Senate Bill 3 in 2007 and the enactment of a renewable portfolio standard for North Carolina, still the only state in the Southeast with an RPS.”
Wilkins echoed that sentiment, “NC GreenPower set the precedent that stakeholders and citizens of North Carolina wanted more green energy in the state. It was the advent of a new era in low-carbon clean energy in North Carolina.”
“None of those [impacts] stand alone,” added Woosley. “If you don’t have public support, you’re not going to get the political support to have changes like what happened in 2007, so I feel like it’s all tied together.”
NC GreenPower also set the stage for similar utility-run programs that arose years later, a pattern that is no stranger to Advanced Energy: The company prides itself on helping to get concepts and technologies off the ground and then letting the market take over.
Reflecting on Achievements
NC GreenPower’s longevity and ability to remain at the forefront of such an everchanging industry are a testament to the insight, drive and dedication of the individuals who helped form the program 20 years ago and who continue to help shape it today — too many people to name.
“In those early days, I couldn’t have imagined we’d be where we are now,” said Woosley. “I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire time I’ve been with NC GreenPower. It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’ve met some incredible people, so I do hope we get the chance to recognize them.”
“20 years later looking back, this is something I’m very proud of, professionally and for the state,” said Wilkins. “I think North Carolina planted the flag in the Southeast, declaring that we are going to have renewable energy and we’re going to lead, and I think it all stemmed from NC GreenPower.”
Eyeing the future and the significant advancements on the horizon in the space, NC GreenPower looks forward to further supporting its mission of expanding public knowledge. “Education will remain essential to meeting the clean energy needs of today and tomorrow,” said Bob Goodson, who served on NC GreenPower’s board for 15 years and is the nonprofit’s current president. “NC GreenPower is eager to grow its programming for students and teachers to continue to prepare the next generation of energy leaders.”