NC energy bill revealed after months of secret talks


After months of covert negotiations between Duke Energy, Republican House leaders and other selected stakeholders in North Carolina, sweeping energy legislation has finally been unveiled.

But the 47-page (pdf) bill is not a big compromise. Duke and other groups involved in the closed-door talks were seeing the proposal for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, and one – the state’s leading clean energy nonprofit – announced its opposition a few hours later.

The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association particularly took issue with the front pages of the bill, which called for the shutdown of 10 of Duke’s coal-fired power plants, but the introduction of a slew of new gas-fired plants in their place. While only 900 megawatts of new gas infrastructure is spelled out in one provision, another section requires state regulators to approve coal replacement units that meet criteria that only natural gas could meet. This “mandate to replace expensive coal with unsafe natural gas” must be “eliminated,” the association said.

Defenders of the environment, excluded from the last months of talks, have accepted.

“This legislation appears to tie the hands of the commission in making it mandatory to build new fossil-fueled power plants, regardless of how these projects stack up against the alternatives,” said David Kelly, director of political affairs for North Carolina for the Environmental Defense Fund, in a press release. declaration. As a result, the measure would push the state “dangerously close to swapping one fossil-fueled future for another.”

Duke is also limited to withdrawing just $ 200 million from its coal assets using securitization, a tool that allows it to pay off debt to investors using taxpayer-backed bonds that bring in a lower interest rate.

“Duke has control over what they offer to securitize, so why do we need a cap?” Asked David Rogers, Deputy Southeast Campaign Manager for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “They have $ 6 billion left in factory balances.”

The legislation cuts utilities sector carbon emissions by 61% from 2005 levels by 2030, while Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has set a 70% reduction target in the same time frame . By mandating new gases and leaving multiple units of coal online, the bill could actually prevent further reductions in pollution, Rogers said. “This bill will make it harder to reach the governor’s 70% target,” he said, “not easier”.

Rep. John Szoka, Republican from Fayetteville and lead author of the proposal, stressed that it was not an “end product”, in part for which he plans to propose it for discussion, but not for a vote. , Thursday in the House. energy committee, which he co-chairs.

“Not everyone is in complete agreement with the bill,” Szoka admitted. By airing it in committee and listening to a wide range of stakeholders – not just those in the room during the talks, he said, “I hope we remove any potential obstacles to the game.”

“Problematic provisions”

For clean energy advocates, the deals made in the bill also include $ 50 million Duke can recover from taxpayers for suing small modular nuclear reactors. The company believes such “advanced nuclear” is crucial to meeting its climate goals, while skeptics say the technology is too little tested and expensive.

While the bill allows for initial multi-year pricing of up to three years – a proposal that fell to bipartisan opposition in the House two years ago – it also includes some taxpayer protections such as decoupling the motive for profit from the amount of energy it sells. . Yet, the Sustainable Energy Association said in its statement, the legislation lacks “reasonable safeguards to prevent over-earning utilities at the expense of customers.”

In addition to these “problematic provisions,” the bill amends a sweeping 2017 energy law that Szoka also wrote, refining the terms of a Duke program that allows large customers to purchase green power. and another allowing residential customers to buy shares in a community solar park. cultivate.

It requires the construction of an additional 4.6 gigawatts of solar capacity – enough to power more than half a million homes – over the next six years, increasing the state’s supply of resources by about two-thirds. Duke would own more than half of it.

And it would change the way rooftop solar owners sell their excess power back to Duke, implementing a “solar choice tariff” that Szoka’s office said reflects a deal Duke made with several clean energy groups in South Carolina Last year.

Optimism kept?

Through a spokesperson, Duke said he is still reviewing the bill.

Despite his group’s clear disapproval, the Director of the Sustainable Energy Association, Ward Lenz, called the proposal “an important starting point as we continue to work towards an affordable and cleaner energy future for all. North Carolinians “.

For his part, Szoka says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for his bill, despite issues that may need to be addressed.

But he’s also well aware that while he can get the bill through the GOP-controlled General Assembly, he still needs to get the approval of Cooper, a Democrat who has made the transition to energy. own a priority.

Noting the gap between the 61% cuts in his bill and Cooper’s 70% target, Szoka said, “Does that mean it’s an automatic veto? I do not know.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request Tuesday afternoon for comment on the legislation. But in a recent development focused on clean energy Podcast, Cooper offered some clues, anticipating “tough negotiations” within the legislature, where “there seems to be a lot of concern about wanting more and more natural gas as the clean energy economy pushes us away. of that “.

“I want to be able to sign legislation,” Cooper added later, “but I’m not going to sign it if it doesn’t do what we need to do to bring us clean energy in our state.”


About Darnell Yu

Check Also

All-New 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV named Green Car Journal’s 2023 Family Green Car of the Year

FRANKLIN, Tenn., November 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Awards are starting to roll in for Mitsubishi’s …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.