In late June, North Carolina legislators released House Bill 951: "An Act to Modernize North Carolina's Generation and Grid Resources and Ratemaking and Invest in Critical Energy Infrastructure for the Benefit of Customers." This bill is the result of a long, closed-door negotiation between Duke Energy, state legislators, energy organizations, and manufacturing lobbyists. It has received mixed feedback from interest groups, particularly from environmental organizations and ratepayers, who were notably left out of the legislative process. The bill comes on the heels of a controversial Duke Energy Integrated Resource Plan, which has also been a major target of criticism, given its anticipated decades of continued dependence on natural gas.
The bill outlines a number of coal plant retirements and plans to reduce carbon emissions by 61 percent by 2030. It also allows for multi-year ratemaking, revenue decoupling, and performance-based ratemaking. All of these features are being marketed as cost-saving measures for consumers; critics, however, disagree, anticipating that such provisions would primarily benefit utilities. What's more, the bill's actions are a far cry from what is necessary to meet Governor Cooper's Executive Order 80 climate goals (EO 80). It focuses less on renewable energy investments and instead leans heavily on building new natural gas plants as a replacement for retiring coal facilities.
If we are to meet EO 80 targets and address the imperative for climate action, natural gas cannot be in the mix. Aside from continuing to emit harmful greenhouse gases, policy change will leave fossil fuel infrastructure economically stranded as the technologies grow obsolete. This economic burden will then be borne by everyday energy consumers. The final iteration of HB 951 should instead center around renewable energy investment, which will yield more benefits for all. According to the International Energy Agency, solar is now the "cheapest electricity in history," and renewable installations continue to outpace capacity projection pathways. All-in-all, renewable energy is undercutting fossil fuels, and it's clear that the logical next step is to heavily invest in these resources.
North Carolina has been an early leader in the clean energy transition. We want to stay ahead of the curve, not fall behind. In its current form, HB 951 is not in keeping with this forward progress, and given these shortcomings, its progress in the legislature has slowed. The bill needs major changes if N.C. wants to move the needle on climate and clean energy.