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2024 Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative Summit

February 5 - February 6

Transitioning to a Net-zero Energy Future in North Carolina: Equity, Environmental, and Economic Considerations

In response to the climate change crisis, the nation is transitioning to a net-zero economy that includes moving towards low to zero carbon energy production, reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from cars, trucks, and non-road engines, electrifying home heating and cooking, and adopting strategies for capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.   The transition from current conditions to a net-zero (or net negative) future will result in significant investments in new technologies, changes in policies that govern everything from how we produce and use energy to how we move from place to place, to decisions about locations of manufacturing for electric batteries, to building codes and permits.  All of the changes can lead to the intended outcomes of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change but can also lead to both positive and negative indirect impacts.  These can be both foreseen, for example knowing that GHG emissions reductions will also reduce emissions of other air pollutants, or unforeseen, for example increases in environmental contamination resulting from mining of critical minerals needed to produce batteries for electric vehicles.  In addition, both the positive and negative impacts of the energy transition may not be experienced equally across the population.  Concerns have been raised that the benefits of the net-zero transition, at least in the short term, may not be experienced by disadvantaged populations, while the environmental and economic costs may be disproportionately borne by those same disadvantaged populations. 

In North Carolina, many disadvantaged populations reside in rural counties, and these communities have special concerns about both the consequences of climate change and the impacts of the energy transition.   Rural communities have resources, for example land, that may be desirable for a number of different potential net-zero components.  For example, rural communities may see increased demand for installation of utility scale solar installations, wind farms, or management of land for carbon sequestration.   A recent study of scenarios for achieving net zero CO2 by 2050 showed that in all modeled scenarios, capturing and storing carbon is necessary (Browning et al, 2023).  In addition to opportunities for zero-carbon energy production, North Carolina has significant capacity to contribute to nature based solutions to removing carbon from the atmosphere.

North Carolina is also poised to be an important contributor to the technologies for the zero-carbon future.  Already, NC is investing in industrial facilities to produce critical components for electric vehicles.  In addition, NC had the 4th most installed solar capacity in 2023, increased from 16th in 2022, and has 9% of electricity produced from solar.   And yet there are important considerations that are arising around these new investments.   For example, environmental concerns have been raised about the impacts of lithium mining to supply battery makers, and there are both economic and equity issues regarding access to and benefits from installation of rooftop solar panels, including intersections between utility energy producers, grid access, and access to electricity markets.

These issues are ripe for discussion across local, state, and national perspectives, including those from government agencies, energy producers and consumers, technology developers, the transportation sector, builders, developers, and communities, including rural and urban communities with environmental justice concerns.  To address these issues, the RTEHC is convening a 1.5 day summit on February 5-6, 2024 involving appropriate stakeholders, thought leaders, and experts across North Carolina (state/federal/local government, academia/research, community groups, business) to:

  • Understand the current set of opportunities and challenges in NC resulting from the transition to a net-zero CO2 future
  • Develop a framework for characterizing the full range of positive and negative consequences of the energy transition, including economic, environmental, and equity outcomes
  • Identify and characterize the potential negative impacts of these transitions on rural and urban disadvantaged communities, and develop potential strategies that can be used to ameliorate those impacts, and increase the benefits of the energy transition to these communities
  • dentify “low hanging fruit” for net zero investments that can benefit all NC communities, and provide extra benefits for disadvantaged communities
  • Identify opportunities for enhanced coordination, cooperation, and collaboration across government, non-government organizations, industry, communities, and academia

In addition to increasing understanding of opportunities and challenges, this summit can help identify gaps in data and scientific understanding related to the net-zero energy transition that need to be addressed to effectively develop and implement net-zero strategies.

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February 5
February 6
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Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative
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NC Biotech Center
15 TW Alexander Dr
Durham, NC 27709 United States
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