By Adam Wagner
The N.C. Utilities Commission’s first-ever plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by generating electricity in the state has been met with widespread criticism.
Environmental groups and solar energy trade associations have argued that the plan unnecessarily limits the amount of new solar energy while allowing Duke Energy to move forward with plans to build new power plants that burn natural gas. Those groups argue that solar represents the quickest, cheapest path for North Carolina to cut its reliance on coal and natural gas to generate electricity.
“North Carolina needs a strong Carbon Plan that lowers electricity bills, reduces health-harming air pollution and achieves the state’s climate targets. Unfortunately, the Commission’s plan does not guarantee those critical goals will be met, leaving the door open to new gas,” Will Scott, the Environmental Defense Fund’s director of Southeast climate and energy, said in a written statement.
Duke Energy, meanwhile, has said the plan represents an “all of the above” approach that will allow it to shift away from coal as a power source in North Carolina while adding natural gas, solar and potentially wind farms.
“We do plan to institute action based on what the Commission issued in their order,” said Kendal Bowman, Duke Energy’s North Carolina state president. “To me, I think that’s the benefit of 951 is this check-and-adjust approach, that you’re coming in every two years and checking and adjusting to make sure you’re on the right path.”
The Utilities Commission did not choose one of the portfolios of generation sources presented by Duke Energy or environmental groups. Instead, it directed the utility to take a number of steps that it says will position Duke to reach the carbon dioxide emission reductions required in 2021’s House Bill 951. That bill directed the Utilities Commission to target a 70% reduction in Duke Energy’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, with the utility reaching net zero by 2050.
To reach that goal, the commission has directed Duke to procure 2,350 megawatts of new solar panels to go online by 2028, required the utility to retire its six remaining North Carolina coal plants by 2035 and required it to extend the licenses at its three nuclear power plants in the state.
The commission is also allowing Duke to procure 1,000 megawatts of battery storage that will draw energy from the electric grid and 600 megawatts that will be paired with solar panels, as well as upgrading the electric grid to connect the new solar panels.
Additionally, the utility is supposed to study the possibility of acquiring and developing areas off the coast for new wind farms, as well as plan for new natural gas-fired power plants