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North Carolina   North Carolina Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: August 17, 2017

Overview

North Carolina rises from sea level at its Atlantic Ocean coastline to the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.1 The state's terrain ranges from the barrier islands of the Outer Banks in the east across the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont region to the heavily forested spine of the Appalachian Mountains in the west.2 Nearly 19 million acres of woodland cover about three-fifths of North Carolina, providing both employment for more than 70,000 people working in the state's forestry products industry and biomass for energy production.3,4,5 Rivers flowing through the mountainous western part of the state and through the Piedmont region provide hydroelectric power to many communities.6 Wind energy is being developed onshore, and offshore winds along the coast could provide substantial energy for electricity generation as well.7,8 North Carolina does not have any fossil fuel production, although shale gas and coalbed methane resources may be present.9,10 In addition to its natural resources, North Carolina is one of the nation's leading nuclear power-producing states.11

Total energy consumption per capita in North Carolina is in the lowest third of all states in the nation.12 The state has a strong agricultural base and is a leading producer of poultry, hogs, and tobacco.13 North Carolina's key industries include aerospace and defense; auto and truck manufacturing; biotechnology and pharmaceuticals; business and financial services; energy; food processing and manufacturing; furniture; information technology; plastics and chemicals; and textiles.14 The energy-intensive chemical industry accounts for about three-tenths of the gross domestic product from manufacturing in North Carolina.15 The transportation sector is the largest end-use energy-consuming sector in the state, followed closely by the residential sector.16

Petroleum

North Carolina does not have any crude oil reserves or production.17 More than 125 exploratory oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in the state since 1925, and, although traces of crude oil and natural gas were found in a few of those wells, none were sufficient for sustained production.18,19 North Carolina does not have any petroleum refineries or crude oil pipelines, but there are two petroleum product pipelines that pass through the state, both of which originate on the Gulf Coast.20,21 A third pipeline supplies propane from refineries in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi to customers in seven southeastern states before terminating in Apex, North, Carolina, just southwest of Raleigh, North Carolina.22,23 Petroleum products also arrive in North Carolina at the Port of Wilmington. 24,25

Petroleum product imports arrive in North Carolina at the Port of Wilmington.

More than four-fifths of the petroleum consumed in North Carolina is used by the transportation sector, primarily as motor gasoline.26,27 Conventional motor gasoline can be used throughout the state. Until recently, motorists in several of the state's more densely populated counties were required to use motor gasoline formulated to reduce emissions that contribute to ozone formation during the summer months. But, in late 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relaxed those requirements statewide.28,29

The industrial sector uses the largest share of the remaining petroleum consumed in North Carolina, followed by the commercial and residential sectors. The electric power sector uses very little petroleum.30 About one in nine North Carolina households heat with fuel oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Almost twice as many use LPG as use fuel oil and kerosene.31

Natural gas

Planned pipeline expansions will link the state to shale gas production from the Marcellus and Utica Shales to the north.

North Carolina does not have any natural gas reserves or production.32 Although commercial quantities of natural gas have not been found in North Carolina, shales and coalbeds in the geologic basins that are located in the center of the state may contain natural gas resources.33,34,35 In 2014, the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission created a regulatory program for the management of oil and natural gas exploration and development in the state, including the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.36 Three major interstate natural gas pipelines supply North Carolina with natural gas from the south and from the west.37,38 Planned pipelines will link the state to shale gas production from the Marcellus and Utica Shales to the north.39,40

Increased natural gas use by power generators is driving demand in North Carolina.41 The electric power sector is the state's largest natural gas-consuming sector. The industrial sector led the state in natural gas consumption until 2012, when the electric power sector became the largest user for the first time. The residential sector is the third-largest natural gas-consuming sector in the state.42 About one-fourth of North Carolina households use natural gas for home heating.43

Coal

The Deep River coalfield in central North Carolina is the only area in the state known to have coal. Bituminous coal was produced from that field intermittently from 1854 to 1953. Production in the Deep River area ceased because the remaining coal is deeply buried, and the coalbeds are badly broken by many faults. It is estimated that more than 110 million tons of coal exist in that area, but, because of the faults, less than half of the coal might ever be mined.44 Peat, a precursor in the creation of coal, is a fossil fuel of the lowest grade.45 Fuel-grade peat deposits, averaging about 5 feet in thickness, cover almost 700,000 acres of coastal North Carolina. There are about 500 million tons of moisture-free peat in the state, but North Carolina peat has only been used in agricultural products, not for energy.46

The electric power sector uses almost all of the coal consumed in North Carolina.47 Most of the coal delivered to North Carolina's electric power generators is shipped by rail from states east of the Mississippi River, primarily West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. A small amount of coal is delivered to industrial and commercial users as well.48

Electricity

North Carolina is one of the nation’s top producers of electricity from nuclear power.

North Carolina is one of the nation's top producers of electricity from nuclear power. In 2015, nuclear power surpassed coal as the largest fuel source for electricity generation in North Carolina for the first time and, in 2016, it contributed about one-third of the state's net generation.49 Before 2012, coal-fired power plants were the leading source of electricity generation in North Carolina and provided more than half of the electricity generated in the state, while natural gas provided less than one-tenth.50 However, almost 30 coal-fired units have been retired since 2011, and, in 2016, coal-fired power plants provided less than three-tenths of the electricity generated in North Carolina.51,52 The contribution of natural gas-fired electricity generation in North Carolina has increased as electric utilities have added natural gas-fired power plants. Natural gas supplied about three-tenths of the state's net generation in 2016, exceeding coal's contribution for the first time.53,54,55 Coal and natural gas together account for approximately three-fifths of the state's net electricity generation. Hydroelectric power, biomass, and solar photovoltaics (PV) provide almost all of North Carolina's remaining net electricity generation.56

Even though North Carolina is among the top 10 electricity-generating states in the nation, it is a net recipient of interstate transfers of electricity.57,58 The largest share of retail electricity sales in the state goes to the residential sector.59 About three in five North Carolina households use electricity for home heating, and, because of the hot and humid summers, almost all of the state's households use air conditioning as well.60,61

Renewable energy

Hydroelectric dams provide about two-fifths of the electricity generated from renewable resources in North Carolina.62 Most of the approximately 70 hydroelectric dams in the state are privately owned, including those owned by electric utilities. However, four hydroelectric dams on the Hiwassee River and the Little Tennessee River in western North Carolina are federally owned and administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority. A few other hydroelectric dams are owned by local governments.63

Biomass, solar, and, as of 2016, wind energy provide additional utility-scale renewably sourced generation in North Carolina.64 Although much of North Carolina's electricity generation from biomass comes from wood and wood waste and from landfill gas, the state also has abundant biomass resources from agricultural and animal waste.65,66 The amount of electricity generated from solar energy in North Carolina has increased rapidly, and, in 2016, the contribution from solar PV to the state's net generation exceeded that from biomass.67 North Carolina installed 995 megawatts of solar capacity in 2016, the fourth-largest amount of any state, for a total installed capacity of 3,288 megawatts, second only to California.68 Biomass and solar resources together supply almost 5% of North Carolina's utility-scale net generation. When hydroelectric power and wind are included, renewable resources fuel about 8% of the state's total net electricity generation.69 In 2017, North Carolina's first utility-scale wind farm, with 208 megawatts of capacity, came online. It is the largest wind farm in the Southeast.70 The state has undeveloped wind resources offshore.71

North Carolina has several biodiesel plants and one ethanol plant. The state's biodiesel plants have a combined capacity of more than 16 million gallons per year.72 Biodiesel is sold at refueling stations across North Carolina. Most of the biodiesel stations in the state are private-access service stations used for government or private fleets only.73 The owners of North Carolina's only ethanol plant, which has a capacity of 60 million gallons per year, plan to transition from using corn as a feedstock to using tobacco.74,75 Although almost all the motor gasoline sold in the state and in the nation is E10, gasoline blended with 10% ethanol, an 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline mixture, E85, is also sold at about 76 stations in North Carolina. Most of those refueling stations are public-access.76

North Carolina was the first state in the southeast to adopt a renewable energy portfolio standard.

In August 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the southeast to adopt a renewable portfolio standard, called the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). The REPS requires investor-owned electric utilities in North Carolina to meet 12.5% of their retail electricity sales through renewable energy resources by 2021. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric suppliers must source 10% of retail electric sales from renewable supplies by 2018. However, energy efficiency and demand-side management can be used to meet up to 25% of the investor-owned utilities' requirements until 2021 when the amount can increase to 40%. Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives can use unlimited amounts of energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet their requirements and can use large (greater than 10 megawatt) hydropower facilities to meet up to 30% of their goal. Sales of electricity generated from solar energy are required to reach 0.2% by 2018 for all investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities, and electric cooperatives. Additionally, the REPS sets statewide targets for energy recovery and electricity derived from swine and poultry waste for all providers.77,78

Endnotes

1 North Carolina State Parks, Mount Mitchell State Park, accessed July 14, 2017.
2 North Carolina Secretary of State's Office, North Carolina Kids Page, NC Climate & Geography, accessed July 14, 2017.
3 North Carolina Forestry Association, Members, accessed July 14, 2017.
4 North Carolina Forestry Association, FP Industry in NC, accessed July 14, 2017.
5 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), North Carolina Profile Overview, Map Layer, Biomass Power Plant, accessed July 14, 2017.
6 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Overview, Map Layer, Hydroelectric Power Plant, accessed July 14, 2017.
7 American Wind Energy Association, North Carolina Wind Energy, accessed July 14, 2017.
8 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, North Carolina Offshore 90-Meter Wind Map and Wind Resource Potential, accessed July 14, 2017.
9 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed July 14, 2017.
10 Leonard, Anne, "North Carolina Natural Gas? East Coast Triassic Rift Basins Opening Up," drillinginfo (October 9, 2014).
11 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.9.B.
12 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates, 1960 through 2015, DOE/EIA-0214(2015) (June 2017), Table C13, Energy Consumption per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
13 U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2016 State Agricultural Overview, North Carolina, Census State Profile: North Carolina, Ranked Items Within The U.S., 2012.
14 Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Industries, accessed July 14, 2017.
15 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, GDP and Personal Income, Regional Data, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in current dollars, All Industries, North Carolina, 2015.
16 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates, 1960 through 2015, DOE/EIA-0214(2015) (June 2017), North Carolina Tables CT4, CT5, CT6, CT7, CT8.
17 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed July 14, 2017.
18 North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, North Carolina Geological Survey, Mineral Fuels, NC Mineral Resources, An Overview, accessed July 14, 2017.
19 Leonard, Anne, "North Carolina Natural Gas? East Coast Triassic Rift Basins Opening Up," drillinginfo (October 9, 2014).
20 U.S. EIA, Number and Capacity of Petroleum Refineries, North Carolina, Annual (as of January 1), accessed July 15, 2017.
21 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, accessed July 15, 2017.
22 Enterprise Products Partners L.P., NGL Pipelines, Dixie Pipeline, accessed July 15, 2017.
23 Enterprise Products Partners L.P., Dixie Pipeline, accessed July 15, 2017.
24 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, accessed July 15, 2017.
25 U.S. EIA, Petroleum and Other Liquids, Company Level Imports, accessed July 15, 2017.
26 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates 2015.
27 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates, 1960 through 2015, DOE/EIA-0214(2015) (June 2017), Table C2, Energy Consumption Estimates for Major Energy Sources in Physical Units, 2015.
28 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Relaxation of Summer Gasoline Volatility Standard for Mecklenburg and Gaston counties, North Carolina Direct final action, accessed July 15, 2017.
29 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Relaxation of Summer Gasoline Volatility Standard for Florida and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Area (Triangle Area) and the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point Area (Triad Area) in North Carolina, accessed July 15, 2017.
30 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates 2015.
31 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, North Carolina, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011-15 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
32 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed July 15, 2017.
33 Reid, Jeffrey C., and Kenneth B. Taylor, "Shale gas potential in Triassic strata of the Deep River Basin, Lee and Chatham counties, N.C. with pipeline and infrastructure data," North Carolina Geological Survey, Open-file report 2009-01 (2009).
34 North Carolina Environmental Quality, Oil and Gas Program Geologic Assessment, accessed July 15, 2017.
35 Leonard, Anne, "North Carolina Natural Gas? East Coast Triassic Rift Basins Opening Up," drillinginfo (October 9, 2014).
36 North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, Energy Group, Oil and Gas Program and Final Oil and Gas Rules, accessed July 15, 2017.
37 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Profile Data, Distribution and Marketing, accessed July 15, 2017.
38 U.S. EIA, About U.S. Natural Gas Pipelines, Natural Gas Pipelines in the Southeast Region, Principal Natural Gas Pipeline Companies Serving the Southeast Region, accessed July 15, 2017.
39 Atlantic Coast Pipeline, About ACP, accessed July 15, 2017.
40 Williams, Atlantic Sunrise, Overview, accessed July 15, 2017.
41 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Natural Gas Deliveries to Electric Power Consumers, 1997-2016.
42 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End-Use, North Carolina, Annual, 2011-16.
43 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, North Carolina, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011-15 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
44 North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, North Carolina Geological Survey, Mineral Fuels, NC Mineral Resources, An Overview, Mineral Fuels, Coal, accessed July 15, 2017.
45 U.S. EIA, Glossary, Peat, accessed July 15, 2017.
46 North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, North Carolina Geological Survey, Mineral Fuels, NC Mineral Resources, An Overview, Mineral Fuels, Peat, accessed July 15, 2017.
47 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 2016), Table 26, U.S. Coal Consumption by End Use Sector, Census Division, and State, 2015 and 2014.
48 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Distribution Report 2015 (November 2016), North Carolina Table DS-32, Domestic Coal Distribution, by Destination State, 2015.
49 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B, 1.9.B.
50 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Electricity Profile 2015, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2015.
51 U.S. EIA, Electricity Form EIA-860 detailed data, 3_1 Generator Y2015, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Retired & Canceled Coal Units Only).
52 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B.
53 Duke Energy, Bringing the future to light, 2016 Sustainability Report (2017), p. 27.
54 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B.
55 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Electricity Profile 2015, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2015.
56 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B, 1.5.B, 1.7.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
57 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.3.B.
58 U.S. EIA, North Carolina Electricity Profile 2015, Table 10, Supply and Disposition of Electricity, 1990 Through 2015.
59 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 5.4.B.
60 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, North Carolina, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011-15 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
61 U.S. EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), 2009 RECS Survey Data, Housing Characteristics Tables, Table HC7.10, Air Conditioning in Homes in South Region, Divisions, and States, 2009.
62 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
63 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Carolina Hydroelectric Facilities, accessed July 17, 2017.
64 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
65 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 3-1 Generator Y2015, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only), accessed July 17, 2017.
66 Southern Forest Research Partnership, Inc., Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products (September 2007), Factsheet 2-10, North Carolina Biomass/Bioenergy Overview p. 77-80.
67 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
68 Solar Energy Industries Association, Solar Spotlight: North Carolina (June 8, 2017).
69 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2016), Tables 1.3.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
70 American Wind Energy Association, North Carolina Wind Energy, accessed July 18, 2017.
71 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, North Carolina Offshore 90-Meter Wind Map and Wind Resource Potential, accessed July 18, 2017.
72 Biodiesel Magazine, U.S. Biodiesel Plants, operational, updated May 11, 2017.
73 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, Biodiesel Fueling Station Locations, North Carolina, include private stations, accessed July 18, 2017.
74 Tyton Biofuels, Renewable Fuel Production in North Carolina, accessed July 18, 2017.
75 Ethanol Producer Magazine, U.S. Ethanol Plants, All Platforms, Operational, updated July 11, 2017.
76 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, Ethanol Fueling Station Locations, North Carolina, include private stations, accessed July 18, 2017.
77 North Carolina Utilities Commission, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), accessed July 18, 2017.
78 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, updated September 23, 2016.