Cooper no fan of energy bill

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 18, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — Negotiators of a wide-ranging North Carolina energy bill to retire Duke Energy coal-fired electricity plants, expand solar power production but keep nuclear, defended the measure’s goals Thursday despite current opposition from interest groups and Gov. Roy Cooper.

The bill’s contents, revealed this week after months of input from utilities, power customers and renewable energy boosters, got its first public scrutiny in a House committee. Members urged Republicans managing the bill not to rush debate and address concerns that changes they fear would boost customer electric rates.

Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican and bill sponsor, said the bill’s not perfect and asked for constructive criticism of the 47-page proposal, which he considers a jumping-off point for discussions. No votes were taken Thursday.

“The plan seeks to foster the right mix of energy generation sources to maximize reliability and cost savings for consumers, and minimize environmental impacts and lower our carbon footprint,” said another sponsor, Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican.

Cooper, a Democrat who would be asked to sign any bill into law, came out against the measure shortly before the meeting. He wants a 70% reduction in power-sector greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and become carbon-neutral by 2050. House Republicans calculate the bill would contribute to a 61% decline by 2030 as low-performing plants are retired earlier.

The bill “would cost ratepayers too much, fall short of clean energy goals, hamper job recruitment and weaken the Utilities Commission which exists to provide accountability for utility companies,” Cooper said in a emailed statement. “It takes some steps toward more renewable energy but not nearly enough and it’s clear they need to go back to the drawing board and negotiate with a broader spectrum of stakeholders in order to get a better plan.”

The measure would direct subsidiaries of Charlotte-based Duke Energy, the state’s dominant electric utility, to retire coal-fired plants at Marshall, Allen, Roxboro, Cliffside and Mayo plants — by the end of the decade. Marshall would transition to a plant powered by natural gas, while Allen would go to a combination of solar and battery power.

Environmental advocates contend the bill would force the state’s energy resources to depend on fossil fuels longer than necessary when alternatives are becoming more plentiful and affordable.

Duke Energy also would be able to seek rate increases in three-year blocks through the state Utilities Commission, rather than year by year. The utility was unsuccessful two years ago in getting legislative approval for the multiyear idea.