Bill retires many NC coal-fired plants, boosts renewables

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 16, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — Several coal-fired power plants operated by Duke Energy’s North Carolina subsidiaries would transition to alternate fuels by the end of 2030 and a renewable-energy procurement program would be expanded in legislation unveiled Tuesday by House Republicans.

The “Modernize Energy Generation” measure was drawn up with input from utilities, customer and business groups and renewable energy boosters, and is expected to be discussed later this week in committee, said Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican and bill sponsor. Talk of yet-disclosed energy legislation had surfaced in Legislative Building hallways for months.

The bill text says the legislation would contribute to a 61% reduction in carbon-based emissions in the state by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels. This compares to the 70% reduction sought by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his Clean Energy Plan. Szoka said Cooper administration officials were briefed on the measure Tuesday.

A key element of the proposal would be to retire low-efficiency “subcritical” coal-fired operations at five locations — at the Marshall, Allen, Roxboro, Cliffside and Mayo plants. While the Marshall plants would shift to natural gas fuel and the Allen plan to solar and battery power, alternative fuel for the other three locations will be determined later by the Utilities Commission.

“There are multiple goals we’re trying to get to here,” Szoka said, adding that he doesn’t want to pass legislation that emphasizes technology that could be outdated or inefficient in a short period of time.

Turning the Roxboro site from coal to natural gas may not be possible if the proposed extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline from Virginia into North Carolina doesn’t happen, according to a document provided by Szoka’s office. Cooper’s environment agency declined recently to issue a water quality permit for the project earlier this year, but an application can be refiled.

The bill also would introduce another attempt to let Duke Energy seek rate increases in three-year blocks though the state Utilities Commission, rather than year by year. The Charlotte-based utility was unsuccessful two years ago in getting legislative approval for the multiyear idea, which it says can reduce legal costs and provide more predictability. The latest multiyear rate proposal contains other provisions that emerged from separate energy discussions initiated by the Cooper administration.

The proposal would make changes to and expand a 2017 law designed to acquire renewable energy like solar power for Duke Energy’s electric grid using a competitive process. The measure also would allow Duke Energy to spend money to pursue a permit to find a locale for a new, smaller “modular” nuclear facility in North Carolina, a bill summary from Szoka’s office said.

Duke Energy, which is reviewing the proposal, said in an emailed statement that the most important aspect of any legislation to the company is that it “ensures the continued reliability and affordability our customers depend on while incentivizing clean energy and mitigating future price risks.”

But David Kelly with the Environmental Defense Fund questioned the bill for appearing to embrace a “top-down, centrally planned energy future” that could force the state to rely on other fossil-fuel power plants longer than necessary.

“The proposal appears to be a recipe for a more expensive, and more polluting energy system than North Carolinians deserve,” Kelly said in a release.