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Students, Duke Energy talk sustainability

October 10, 2013

Published here on September 16, 2013.

Two students from the N.C. State Fossil Free group met with representatives from Duke Energy and the UNC -System sustainability division to discuss concerns about renewable energy on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

After several months of preparation and meetings, Caroline Hansley, a senior in interdisciplinary studies, and Jaclyn Mills, a junior in plant and soil science, expressed their thoughts — in person — to the company that provides energy to N.C. State.

Mills said the meeting was a rewarding experience.

“It was really great overall to be at the table,” Mills said “We’re students, and UNC [representatives] said ‘We want you at the table because you started this whole thing.’”

Last semester, the N.C. State Fossil Free group, which seeks to promote 100 percent use of renewable energy by UNC-System schools, launched a campaign to meet with Tom Ross, president of the UNC-System. Mills said the purpose of the meeting was to ask Ross to meet with Duke about its energy sources.

“We can’t meet all of our climate neutrality goals if we’re still getting energy from nonrenewable sources,” Mills said.

N.C. State has a goal to reduce its energy consumption by 30 percent during the next year and a half. Hansley said this is laudable, but further energy reduction will be difficult without Duke’s help.

“There’s only so much energy efficiency we can do,” Hansley said. “We need to start looking at what [Duke’s] giving us.”

Securing a meeting with Ross turned out to be easier than expected. Mills approached Ross on N.C. State’s campus after he delivered an address to the Student Senate about the proposed add/drop period changes. Ross gave Mills his business card, and the Fossil Free group set up a meeting with him and other members from the UNC general administration.

Mills said this was just a meeting to introduce the Fossil Free group to Ross, and that while there, she said she learned that Ross had a particular interest in renewable energy. Before his current position as head of the UNC-System, Ross was president of Davidson College, which is located in Charlotte, N.C.

Duke Energy is also headquartered in Charlotte, and Ross often lobbied the company for increases in renewable energy on Davidson’s campus.

“He was a little familiar with the negotiation process,” Hansley said.

A few months later, members from the Fossil Free group met with Terry Feravich, the UNC sustainability director, and other members from the UNC general administration to discuss a possible new energy tariff by Duke Energy.

Hansley said Duke had recently released a joint press release with Google about a new rate class, specifically designed for customers that consume a lot of energy. The UNC-System is Duke Energy’s largest customer, and Hansley thought the general administration should explore a similar possibility.

After that meeting, Hansley and other members from the Fossil Free group joined forces with the N.C. Student Energy Network and representatives from the UNC-System to draft a letter to Duke Energy. This new team wrote a letter for Ross to send to Duke’s CEO, requesting a meeting about the energy tariff. At the time, Duke hadn’t released any details about the new rate category.

Hansley said the meeting was essentially an investigation into how the UNC-System could partner with Duke in a similar fashion.

“We were sending the symbolic message that ‘we’re watching what’s going on with you, Duke, and we might want in,’” Hansley said. “We just wanted to get that talk going. That was our whole goal of that meeting and letter.”

Mills said the meeting went well, but the greater benefit was the connections the pair developed.

“Sometimes I feel when people in general are running campaigns, they want to campaign against something—against Duke Energy, against dirty energy,” Mills said. “But I think it’s a good perspective to see that we need to be on good terms with our energy providers. We’re fighting for renewable energy, not against Duke.”

Mills said while some people disagree with this idea, the meeting with Duke helped establish a base for future activity.

“I have friends and people that I campaign with that disagree,” Mills said. “But I think it was really beneficial to be at the table with the UNC administration and Duke officials. That was great. I think it was also necessary so we can move forward and look at other things too.”

Mills encourage students who are interested in the Fossil Free group to attend the next meeting this Tuesday, from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m in Daniels Hall 232.

“We are very open to ideas on how to move forward,” Mills said. “We have some ideas but we need more input on them. The more brains working together, the better.”

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