North Carolina Clean Energy Advocates Give State Carbon Plan a Failing Grade

Today, People Power NC, a coalition of clean energy and social justice organizations, released a report card assessing the state’s new carbon plan. 

On Dec. 30, 2022, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) issued an order establishing the state’s first Carbon Plan. Unfortunately, the NCUC adhered closely to a proposal by Duke Energy that continued to put profit before people and our environment. The Commission ignored alternative proposals that were submitted by intervenors which would meet North Carolina’s statutory emission reduction goals and cost less for the North Carolinians Duke Energy serves. The final carbon plan puts goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 in jeopardy. The NCUC has failed the people of North Carolina.

The People Power NC coalition graded the NCUC’s decision against the 12 Principles for a Carbon Plan in the public interest, which was released early last year. “The purpose of creating these twelve principles was to provide the NCUC a roadmap toward a resilient, equitable, clean energy future for North Carolinians,” says Jake Duncan, Regulatory Director, Southeast for Vote Solar. “It is disappointing that the NCUC chose to not listen to public input and move forward with an almost entirely Duke-driven plan that actively opposes the interests of the public.”

Duke’s carbon plan received failing grades in 5 of 12 criteria, including its inability to set an ambitious timeline for coal plant closure and reducing reliance on costly fossil fuels. In fact, the final carbon plan greenlights extending the life of multiple coal-fired power plants beyond what is necessary and it makes additional new investments in fossil gas. 

“The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters believes the initial carbon plan is a failure overall because it doesn’t provide the cheapest and most reliable path to carbon reduction — clean solar and wind energy with battery storage. Instead of relying on Duke Energy’s claims that it needs to build more gas-fired plants to best serve the people of North Carolina, the NC Utilities Commission should look at the facts,” says Robin Smith, Director of Policy and Enforcement with North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. “Duke Energy failed us with its dependence on gas and coal that proved unreliable in extreme weather and resulted in rolling blackouts statewide at Christmas. Duke Energy’s primary interest is serving their stockholders, not the people of NC or our climate. NCLCV hopes the Utilities Commission won’t allow Duke Energy to ignore their record or the growing case for affordable, reliable clean energy in the next round of this plan.” 

The report card also criticizes the plan’s  lack of urgency regarding climate issues directly affecting North Carolinians, noting “if the NCUC truly wants to ensure that our energy decisions are ‘reasonable and prudent,’ it should quickly phase out fossil fuels and make a much more robust and rapid commitment to renewables, battery storage, and energy efficiency.”

People Power NC has criticized the NCUC for ceding authority to Duke Energy, rather than shouldering responsibility for the carbon plan’s development. “The commission’s carbon plan ruling was disappointing in that it failed to take account of the comments, concerns and robust suggestions presented by intervenors and members of the public,” says Maddy Koch, Energy Democracy Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “It was especially disappointing that the commission allowed Duke Energy to continue planning to build increasingly expensive and unreliable methane gas plants just days after these fuels contributed to rolling blackouts across Duke’s territories.” 

“With its Carbon Plan, the North Carolina Utilities Commission ceded its authority to Duke Energy. In so doing, the NCUC failed in its responsibilities to the residents of North Carolina and beyond,” says Jerome Wagner, lead organizer for 350 Charlotte. “More important than what the plan does is what it fails to do. The present plan fails to guarantee attainment of the legislated 2030 goal. It fails to prioritize urgent deployment of existing renewable generation over reliance on “imaginary technology” which might be available in the future. It fails to avoid the build-out of new fossil gas generation. It fails to make use of supplemental generation opportunities such as residential rooftop solar and community solar. And it fails to advance equity and environmental justice.”

The People Power NC coalition is keeping their eyes on developments with Duke Energy and the NCUC, working to ensure future iterations of the North Carolina carbon plan include significant improvements. The NCUC has requested that Duke Energy prepare a new draft of the Carbon Plan, in conjunction with its Integrated Resource Plan (now referred to as the CPIRP) by September 1 of this year. While we are yet again disappointed that Duke Energy will have the first say, we are counting on the NCUC, after listening to the public and the many intervenors, to have the last word, and provide a safe, reliable, resilient, least cost, clean energy future for us all.

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