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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Charlotte's lower-carbon energy mix attracts development

Catawba Nuclear Station, on Lake Wylie.
Duke Energy
Duke Energy
Catawba Nuclear Station, on Lake Wylie.

This story appeared first in reporter David Boraks' weekly email newsletter. Sign up here to get the latest news straight to your inbox first.

As North Carolina plans and debates a shift to cleaner energy, it's getting noticed for what we already have — a relatively lower-carbon energy mix. Officials with a company that wants to build a 2.5 million square foot data center in northeast Charlotte told Charlotte City Council Monday night that's part of what lured it here.

American Real Estate Partners wants to build the PowerHouse data center on 130 acres at the I-485/University City Boulevard interchange. The company's Greg Rowles says Charlotte is an attractive place to locate because of good data service, convenient internet connection points, and the availability of clean energy — which big customers demand.

"Power constraints in many major internet markets have refocused users to other areas that can provide reliable and available power," Rowles told the council. "Duke Energy does just that. They are also a leader in renewable energy production. Currently, 50% of their power comes from various renewable sources, which is very important to the hyperscale users."

Actually, it's more accurate to say 50% zero-carbon sources. That's mainly because of Duke's nuclear plants in North and South Carolina, which account for 50% of the electricity we use in this area. Just 6% of Duke Energy's electricity in North Carolina comes from renewable solar or hydroelectric power. Here's the current mix, according to Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless

  • 50% Nuclear
  • 35% Natural Gas
  • 9% Coal
  • 6% Solar and Hydro

Duke Energy recently filed the second iteration of its North Carolina Carbon Plan, which lists the steps it's taking to shift to cleaner energy. The plan, required by state law, closes coal-burning plants by 2035 and replaces them with new gas-fired power plants as well as nuclear, solar and wind.

As my colleague Ely Portillo reported, American Real Estate Partners wants to build the data center to meet what it says is the growing need for cloud computing to handle artificial intelligence and other applications. The site is near a Duke Energy substation that would supply the huge amounts of energy required.

The site has to be rezoned to allow the data center. It's currently zoned for 600 houses. The City Council will vote on the proposal at a future meeting.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.