North Carolina renewable energy and energy efficiency

The state of North Carolina has many programs for renewable energy and energy efficiency, which exist across a wide range of technology types and are available for utility-scale, commercial, and residential customers. In terms of installed solar generating capacity, North Carolina ranks second in the United States (second to California).

A history of renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Carolina

Historically, North Carolina has largely depended upon other states for its energy needs. This is because North Carolina does not have reserves of coal, natural gas, or uranium. The financial drawbacks of relying upon other states for energy needs has made renewable energy an appealing option in North Carolina. In 1978, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) as part of the National Energy Act. PURPA requires utilities to purchase power at the rate of the utility's avoided cost from qualifying facilities. This act was federally mandated, but many aspects were left up to individual states, such as the calculation of avoided cost and the capacity thresholds. As opposed to other states, North Carolina set longer contract terms and higher capacity thresholds. This allowed renewables to grow considerably in the state.1

Solar energy in particular has grown immensely in recent years, thanks in part to North Carolina's Renewable Portfolio Standard (passed in 2007), propelling North Carolina to becoming a leader in utility-scale solar, currently ranking second only to California in installed generating capacity.2 North Carolina also had a generous tax credit for renewable energy for many years, which expired on January 1, 2016. In 2017, North Carolina passed House Bill 589, which was the first bipartisan comprehensive piece of energy legislation in North Carolina in a decade. This bill added competitive bidding for solar developers, a solar rooftop leasing program operating statewide, a community solar program, and the Green Source Rider Program, which enables large utilities to offset their electricity use with renewable sources.3

North Carolina also has potential for wind power generation, especially in the eastern part of the state and offshore. Currently, the interpretation of the 1983 Ridge Law prohibits wind farms from being placed on mountaintops in western North Carolina.4

North Carolina's Renewable Portfolio Standard

When Senate Bill 3 passed on August 20, 2007, North Carolina became the first Southeastern state to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard. North Carolina's Renewable Portfolio Standard stipulates that 12.5% of energy sold by the state's investor-owned utilities must come from renewable sources or energy efficiency measures by 2021. Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives are required to meet a target of 10% by 2018 and are governed by slightly different rules than investor-owned utilities.

Important renewable energy organizations in North Carolina

The State Energy Program, a division of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, runs several programs to address energy issues in the state. The Energy Assurance Program works with other state agencies and the private sector to develop effective responses to energy emergencies. The Utility Savings Initiative supports energy efficiency in public buildings. The State Energy Program also provides free technical assistance to state agencies, the University of North Carolina system, community colleges, public schools, local governments, and nonprofits.

NC GreenPower has worked since its inception in 2003 to improve the environment by supporting renewable energy projects and providing grant funding for solar projects at K-12 schools. NC GreenPower is supported entirely by voluntary contributions from citizens and businesses across the state. Most utilities in the state provide an option for their customers to purchase blocks renewable energy from NC GreenPower through their utility bills.

Utilities in North Carolina are also a key player in the advancement of renewable energy within the state. The three largest utilities in the state are the three Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), namely Duke Energy Progress, Duke Energy Carolinas, and Dominion North Carolina Power. In addition to the three IOUs, North Carolina has 32 Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs) and 76 municipal utilities. 26 of North Carolina's EMCs are managed by the organization NC Electric Cooperatives and its municipal utilities are managed by ElectriCities. Both organizations are nonprofit and dedicated to the communities they serve.


  1. NC Solar Now. “How PURPA Helped Boost Utility-Scale Solar in North Carolina.” Accessed October 28, 2020.
  2. NC Utilities Commission. “Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard.” Accessed October 28, 2020.
  3. NC Sustainable Energy Association. “North Carolina House Bill 589.” Accessed October 28, 2020.
  4. NC General Assembly. “Article 14: Mountain Ridge Protection.” Accessed October 28, 2020.

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