State lawmakers fast-tracked major energy legislation Tuesday, moving on a bill that has bipartisan support from key leaders across state government.
House Bill 951 could be on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk by the end of this week and law soon after. It sets a 70 percent carbon reduction goal for the state’s power-generation sector, baking Cooper’s biggest climate change promise into law.
There’s wiggle room, though. The bill doesn’t lay out how Duke Energy, far and away the state’s largest electricity producer, gets there. State regulators would work with the company on the lowest-cost plan to cut emissions, and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, a key bill supporter, said Tuesday the bill allows for delay past the measure’s initial 2030 deadline.
“We’re giving them room to do the right thing at the right time,” said Newton.
Cooper, whose administration negotiated the bill behind closed doors with Senate Republicans, called the measure “a bold step” Tuesday.
“Sometimes, that creates uncertainty,” the governor told reporters. “But it’s a critical step that we have to take for North Carolina.”
In addition to the carbon targets, this bill overhauls the way North Carolina approves electricity rates, giving Duke some of the changes it has sought for years to an archaic regulatory system. Among other things, the bill allows for multi-year rate plans, letting the company seek North Carolina Utilities Commission approval for hikes three years at a time, instead of coming back repeatedly for lengthy public hearings to justify requests.
The measure also essentially shuts the door on talk North Carolina might move to a more competitive energy market, one where power generators bid prices and customers can pick the biggest bargain they find. That was never around the corner, but some lawmakers wanted the state to study such a move, something large energy customers backed.
Instead, the state’s regulated monopoly structure will be reinvigorated. It has “served North Carolina for well over 100 years and can continue to do so,” Newton, a former Duke executive, said Tuesday.
Some of the state’s largest energy users, manufacturers represented by the Carolina Utility Customers Association, predict large price increases.
“We agree with all of your intent,” CUCA Executive Director Kevin Martin told legislators Tuesday, as the bill moved through two Senate committees with limited debate and few questions from lawmakers.
“We expect to see large rate increases … both residential as well as manufacturing,” Martin said. “We pray that we’re wrong with that, but when we’re not (wrong), we will all see, every 30 days, a friendly reminder from the utility.”