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NC greenhouse gas bill nears final approval with Senate vote

October 6, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An energy bill negotiated by legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper that aims in part to meet the governor’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for North Carolina received decisive Senate approval on Wednesday.

The measure, which also gives the state’s dominant utility, Duke Energy, the ability to seek multiyear rate increases and performance-based earnings incentives from state regulators, is now just one House vote from reaching the Democratic governor’s desk for his signature.

The bill gives the state Utilities Commission and public utilities until the end of next year to create a plan to reduce energy producers’ carbon dioxide output 70% from 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve zero-net CO2 emissions by 2050. These goals align with Cooper’s previously developed Clean Energy Plan. An earlier version of the measure from the House, panned by Cooper, set no such goals.

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While not specified in the bill, the commission could decide which of Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants should be retired first, and the mix of replacement fuels, such as natural gas, solar and nuclear.

The regulatory panel could revisit its plan every two years and goal dates could be pushed back if there are wind farm or nuclear plant construction delays. The commission must find the “least cost path” forward and ensure reliable and adequate electricity supplies to meet the carbon dioxide reductions.

“This bill creates a strong and reasonable path forward to ensure that North Carolina’s energy future will be affordable, reliable and increasingly clean.” said Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican and negotiator before the bill passed 42-7.

While several business groups back the measure, at least one industry coalition remains opposed to the bill, saying it will raise rates on customers significantly. Other welfare advocates say there aren’t enough protections for low-income people already struggling with overdue bills.

Criticisms coming from major environmental groups were muted, however.

While several Democrats praised the bill during the floor debate as a landmark measure that will also improve air quality, they said they wished more would have been specifically provided to help the poor.

But “the sheer reality is that the cost of inaction, or rather doing nothing for my constituents to advance our state’s energy efforts and reduce carbon emissions ... is simply not an option,” said Sen. DeAndrea Salvador, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

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Newton said he would consider putting minor changes to address the bill’s ambiguities in a broader “technical corrections” measure that often gets approved in the final weeks of the annual General Assembly session.

The bill also ensures that 45% of the additional solar energy production needed to reduce emissions originates from third party-owned suppliers. And Duke Energy would be able to issue bonds to recoup half of the remaining investments in retired coal-fired plants, rather than seek returns from electric customers.