Consumers + Workforce

NC Greenpower Model Translates to Smart Initiatives

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine January/February 2010

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WHEN YOU THINK OF THE SOUTHEAST UNITED STATES, you don't usually think of renewables. NC GreenPower is working to change that, specifically in North Carolina.

NC GreenPower focuses on engaging the consumer and even supporting economic development in the renewables arena. Despite its renewables focus, NC GreenPower's approach could serve as a model for organizations tasked with engaging consumers in smart grid efforts and developing a more robust workforce to support smarter technologies. The group also shows that consumer engagement with energy doesn't always have to come from a utility.

SPEAK WITH YOUR DOLLARS

Established in 2003, NC GreenPower is the first statewide multi-utility renewable energy program in the United States. The program gives all North Carolina electric customers the opportunity to promote the use and development of green power generated in the state. NC GreenPower's efforts include a volunteer speaker's bureau, community outreach efforts and contribution opportunities. ''We want to help people understand renewables and have a vote-with-your-dollars moment,'' said Martha Gettys, business development manager at NC GreenPower. ''Customers can let North Carolina know that renewable energy matters to them. They are making contributions with a measurable result.''

So how do contributions work? Electricity customers interested in NC GreenPower can choose to subsidize the organization's Renewable Energy product or Carbon Offset product. With the Renewable Energy contribution, a contribution of about $4 per month adds 100 kWh of green energy to North Carolina's power supply. For Carbon Offset, a $4 contribution mitigates 500 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. NC GreenPower actively recruits participants and these recruits can make contributions directly to their utility bill-or even skip the utility relationship altogether and make contributions directly to NC GreenPower.

ECONOMIC + WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

So what do these contributions mean for workforce and economic development? ''We give affirmation that North Carolinians want more renewable energy,'' stated Gettys. ''And we have a big emphasis on 'buy local.' We keep it local and keep it in the state.''

Katie Shepherd, marketing and communications manager for NC GreenPower, added that ''our contributors and outreach efforts tie us in with job and economic development. Projects that we support couldn't have happened otherwise. We're glad to offer subsidies for green generation that are really working toward making it feasible.''

NC GreenPower uses contributions to support renewable energy projects, help new renewable generators get started and expand new technologies. So, the group is working to bring new green jobs to North Carolina. This means new opportunities for the North Carolina workforce and an opportunity for the state's workforce to develop new skills for renewable generation.

TRANSLATING TO A SMARTER GRID

Renewable energy contributions at the individual level are somewhat simpler than subsidizing a smarter grid, which would require changes across the network to support individual customer desires-like communications networks and more complex IT systems.

A model like NC GreenPower seems more practical for engaging consumers at the premises-whether installing home energy displays, home area networks or building automation systems. Third-party providers could even be the eBay of smart electricity to help broker real-time transactions between consumers and energy generators. Really, it comes down to enabling consumer choice and getting people on board with new greener, smarter concepts. Third-party resources like NC GreenPower demonstrate that utilities don't have to work alone in engaging consumers. Third-party resources in the smart grid can also help build momentum for wider adoption of smart grid technologies, which ultimately translates to more jobs and new skill sets.

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