A plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions in North Carolina is receiving widespread criticism.
Environmental groups believe the state’s first Carbon Plan lacks specifics while other critics are concerned that too much reliance on renewable energy will be costly to the state. Some customers believe increasing renewables will mean a less reliable grid.
The passing of House Bill 951 requires Duke Energy and other electric utility providers to reduce carbon emissions 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The Carbon Plan released on Dec. 30, one day ahead of the state deadline, essentially serves as a roadmap for how to make that happen.
State regulators won’t dictate to Duke Energy how they reach that goal but require that the utility use a mix of energy sources.
“As we shift away from coal and build a new generation of power sources, we are going to see our power bills go up over the next generation,” said Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Director for Southeast Climate and Energy Will Scott. “What we saw in this last round, if you actually selected the most economical options, you would end up with a mix of battery, wind and solar primarily over the next decade.”
The order does tell Duke Energy’s subsidiaries in North Carolina to work towards retiring its remaining coal-fired plants by 2035, in keeping with a previous announcement by the company. The North Carolina Utilities Commission adopted several different steps, including these mandates: Purchase more solar by 2024 to be online by 2028 Maintain, consider expanding nuclear fleet Increase battery storage Upgrade transmission facilities Retire coal-fired generating units by 2035 Study offshore wind development Plan for engaging low-income, minority and rural communities
“This is one of the biggest investments we are making in our state, period, going forward,” Scott said.
The state commission order establishes “a least cost path forward to meet the carbon dioxide emissions reduction mandates of House Bill 951 — to achieve a 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from electric generating facilities in North Carolina owned or operated by Duke Energy Progress, LLC, and Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (Duke), from 2005 levels by the year 2030 and carbon dioxide neutrality by the year 2050 — while maintaining or improving the reliability of the electric system.”
“I think one of the things this plan ordered more investigation into is that if you order gas plants that have a life that goes past 2050 when you are supposed to hit net-zero, how do you get rid of those emissions?” Scott said.
Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton released a statement on Dec. 30 about the plan.
“We believe this is a constructive outcome that advances our clean energy transition, supporting a diverse, ‘all of the above’ approach that is essential for long-term resource planning,” the statement reads. “We’ve already made incredible progress, retiring two-thirds of our aging coal plants in North Carolina and South Carolina and reducing emissions by more than 40% since 2005 – we will continue this ongoing work of lowering carbon emissions to reduce risk for our customers while balancing affordability and reliability.
“The communities we serve are already seeing the benefits of this transition. Customers in both states deserve a clean energy plan that supports communities and keeps rates as low as possible, while ensuring the continued economic competitiveness that the Carolinas depend on. We look forward to thoroughly reviewing the NCUC order and incorporating it into our resource planning, including our filings in South Carolina in August 2023.”
The North Carolina Utilities Commission provided a statement of its own.
“The emergency outage events this month particularly underscore the need for an orderly transition away from fossil fuels to low and zero carbon dioxide emitting generating resources while maintaining or improving the reliability of the electric grid,” the commission’s statement read in part.
Scott worries the plan leaves open the window for Duke Energy to build new gas plants.
“We really think economic modeling had showed those could be more cheaply replaced with a combination of battery storage and renewables,” Scott said.
While some critics, including leaders with the John Locke Foundation, agree that expanding natural gas would be cheaper and more reliable, it would not allow the state to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 70% by 2030. The commission would have to approve of any new plants.
Duke Energy must submit a new proposal by September 2023.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission is required to review the plan every two years.
Other reaction to the Carbon Plan
On Monday, John Locke Foundation CEO Amy Cooke released a statement about the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s plan. See the article : Opinion | Climate Change Is Not Negotiable.
“While China emits enough carbon dioxide to eliminate any gains North Carolina makes in a matter of minutes, the NC Utilities Commission has chosen to saddle our state’s ratepayers with an energy plan that guarantees higher bills and colder homes over the winter,” Cooke wrote in part. “Our early analysis of the Utilities Commission’s report indicates it may not fully comply with House Bill 951, a bipartisan law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.”
Much of Duke Energy’s carbon reductions have come from retiring coal plants.
“Now, to get that next 50% emissions reduction, you need to start really integrating the low-cost energy options of solar, battery storage and wind and figure out how the full mix works,” Scott said.