State and federal regulators are expected to weigh in soon on the future of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). At stake are more than 4,400 jobs supported by its construction and $7.7 million in annual property-tax revenues for the eight eastern North Carolina counties the pipeline will traverse.
But the ACP means more to North Carolina’s future than that. For starters, the pipeline will help ensure the energy resources needed to accommodate the state’s rapid population growth. We’re already the nation’s ninth most populous state, and the number of North Carolina residents is expected to grow to more than 12 million by 2035, according to the Office of State Budget and Management.
Meeting the energy needs of 2 million new consumers over the next two decades will take smart planning on the part of our utility providers. Thankfully, working with partners in three states, Duke Energy is thinking strategically about the power needs of our fast-growing state.
Reliable and affordable supplies of natural gas – the cleanest-burning of all fossil fuels – will also go far in supporting North Carolina’s manufacturing renaissance. We now have more manufacturing jobs than any southeastern state. And with its wide-ranging supply-chain inputs, the sector has outsized economic impact: While employing about 11 percent of the total workforce, manufacturing accounts for nearly 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the North Carolina Chamber.
Many factors have come together to make North Carolina home to the nation’s fifth largest manufacturing economy. Credit the state’s investment in transportation infrastructure and ready industrial sites, as well as the key role our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities play in turning out well-trained workers – from entry-level machinists through Ph.D.-holding design engineers.
High-quality, competitively-priced energy is an equally critical success factor for a diversified manufacturing economy that now includes pharmaceuticals, transportation equipment, electronics, advanced textiles, food and beverages, and more. While industrial utility rates in North Carolina are comfortably below the national average, they are the fourth highest in the southeastern U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration, a unit of the U.S. Department of Energy. On average, industrial buyers of electricity in North Carolina paid 6.23 cents per kilowatt hour in 2016, while their competitors in South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia paid 6.0 cents, 5.82 cents and 5.64 cents, respectively.
What looks like a minor difference can significantly impact the bottom line of a major manufacturer, a point not lost on expansion-minded companies striving to compete globally.
There’s little doubting the passion of those who stand against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on environmental grounds. But they are blind to a central irony: the surging demand for natural gas is actually the result of market-changing EPA regulations that prompted the retirement of coal-powered plants in favor of natural gas-fueled generating facilities. The 2011 conversion of Progress Energy’s (now Duke’s) L.F. Sutton power station in New Hanover County, for example, boosted electrical production while cutting carbon dioxide emissions in half, lowering nitrogen oxides emissions by 95 percent and all but eliminating sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions.
ACP is designed to address North Carolina’s environmental and energy needs in a way that is beneficial to the rural communities hosting it. By lifting the competitive posture of our manufacturing economy, the pipeline’s positive economic impact will be strategic and statewide. With its safety and viability thoroughly studied for the better part of the past three years, it’s time to move forward with this key piece of economic infrastructure.