Bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions heads to governor for signature

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — A landmark energy measure for North Carolina that aims to dramatically reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions received final legislative approval Thursday, despite lingering concerns by some that customers aren’t helped enough with higher electricity bills.

The House voted 90-20 for the consensus legislation, which was largely worked out by state senators and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. With the Senate already voting overwhelmingly for the measure Wednesday, the bill was sent to Cooper for his expected signature.

“The strong bipartisan vote for the energy bill is a win for people all across North Carolina who will benefit from clean, renewable and reliable energy that is more accessible for everyone and better for the environment,” Cooper said in a statement after the vote.

The negotiated agreement tells the North Carolina Utilities Commission, with input from utilities including market-dominant Duke Energy, to draw up a plan by the end of next year to meet carbon dioxide reduction goals that Cooper has championed. Cooper’s previously identified targets would reduce energy producers’ C02 output 70% from 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve zero-net CO2 emissions by 2050.

An earlier version written by House Republicans and approved in July had no such directed goals, although utility researchers said it would have contributed to a 62% reduction in C02 emissions by the end of the decade. That version — criticized by Cooper, environmental and business groups — had identified which coal-fired plants should be retired and how much additional solar production was needed.  At least 16 states have passed legislation establishing greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most are in the Northeast and West regions.

The final bill also gives Charlotte-based Duke Energy the ability to seek multiyear rate increases and performance-based earnings incentives from the commission. The panel can issue three-year rate plans and cap base rate increases during the second and third years at 4%. Duke Energy unsuccessfully sought the alternative rate-making process two years ago.

Some bill supporters said this week that the final version will help North Carolina do its part to counter climate change, which scientists largely blame on carbon dioxide generated by humans. Other House Republicans said on Thursday that they would back the bill because interests back home — farms, electric cooperatives and economic recruiters — supported it.

“This is certainly a bill that everyone can vote and have a good conscience about,” said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican and retired farmer.

But several environmental organizations failed to endorse the measure, saying it fell short by allowing for delays in meeting the carbon-reduction targets or by giving too much power or profits to Duke Energy.