Managing Growth in Sustainable Ways
NC’s electric cooperatives are supporting economic growth in the stateBy Eddie Oldham
In North Carolina, business is booming. Our state is among national leaders in population growth, and we’re a hotspot for new corporate and manufacturing campuses. North Carolina’s 26 electric co-ops serve portions of 93 counties across the state, from the mountains to the sea, and are experiencing this growth firsthand. We are taking a thoughtful approach to managing these changes, to ensure affordable, reliable power is there for all of our members when they need it.
Overall, North Carolina is becoming a popular destination for those looking for a better quality of life, with our tight-knit communities, reliable job market and wealth of natural beauty. Between 2021 and 2022, we ranked 9th in the country for population growth, with those calling North Carolina home growing by 1.3% (Florida was the leader, growing by 1.9%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Last year, North Carolina was named the top state in the nation to do business by Business Facilities magazine, an industry leader that reports on project site selections. By partnering with economic development agencies, electric cooperatives are supporting job creation and businesses seeking to start, expand or relocate to our state.
Electric cooperatives are supporting job creation and businesses seeking to start, expand or relocate to our state.
My electric cooperative, Central Electric, serves more than 23,000 members in (as our name implies) the central part of the state. Our region is among several in North Carolina that has benefited from the recent boom of economic development, with a number of large corporate and industrial projects, both from domestic and overseas companies, drawn to the area due to its open spaces, skilled labor force and proximity to major transportation corridors.
Central Electric, like many of North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, has managed consistent, measured growth over the years with new business and industry being a key driver. The energy needs of commercial and industrial businesses vary significantly from those of residential members, which require us to strategically manage our grid and resources to meet their needs while also keeping electricity reliable and affordable for all of our members.
For example, our co-op recently partnered with our statewide organization to bring online a utility-scale battery project in the southwestern part of our service area. This project is one of 10 substation batteries currently deployed across the state by North Carolina’s electric cooperatives. Adding battery energy storage builds flexibility into the electric grid, enabling cooperatives to deploy renewable generation and distributed energy resources in a way that optimizes their performance. Batteries also improve the efficiency of the grid, providing value to members, and are expected to provide cost savings over their lifetime.
Similar technologies are being deployed directly at industrial and commercial sites, benefiting all co-op members in the process. An agricultural microgrid in development at Rose Acre Farms in Hyde County, for example, has a number of benefits. The microgrid, which integrates solar power and battery storage, supports reliability and environmental sustainability for the egg farm — allowing an existing employer the opportunity to meet its business goals — and is a powerful resource for its local electric co-op, Tideland EMC, enhancing grid resiliency for the surrounding community.
Resources like these build on our generation mix of owned and contracted resources, including natural gas and zero-emissions nuclear energy, and will be vital to meet the increasing needs of our members going forward — ensuring we are well-positioned to support economic growth in the state we call home.
About the AuthorEddie Oldham is CEO and general manager for Sanford-based Central Electric.