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Duke Wants Trees To Count As Renewable Energy Source

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The North Carolina Utilities Commission is considering whether trees count as a renewable source of energy. Power companies say they should. But two environmental groups have challenged Duke Energy's definition of renewable. The Commission held a public hearing on the subject today in Raleigh. The phrase renewable energy conjures up images of solar panels and wind farms, not so much trees. But Duke Energy and other power companies want them to count as such to comply with new state standards. By 2012 North Carolina power companies must produce 3 percent of their energy from renewable sources. That moves up to 12.5 percent in 2021. Duke wants wood chips made from harvested trees to be deemed green. Jason Walls, a spokesman with the utility, refers to that as woody biomass. "Woody biomass plays an extremely important role within a portfolio including other renewable energy options as a way to bring cost effective renewable energy options to customers across North Carolina," says Walls. The problem comes in interpreting the state statute which says "biomassincluding wood waste" passes the renewable test. Duke Energy says that means it can harvest trees. Environmentalists cry foul. Derb Carter with the Southern Environmental Law Center says the intent of the law is to only include waste items like construction and logging debris. "Duke has requested to use whole trees or basically forests, throwing them into some of their coal fired power plants," says Carter. "We think that exceeds the definition of renewable resources that is provided for in state law." Excluding trees from the renewable mix would dramatically change Duke's strategy to comply with the law. Duke spokesman Jason Walls says the utility would have to rely on more expensive forms of energy like solar which would drive up rates.