Swift action needed toward N.C. Clean Energy Plan goal

Moving North Carolina away from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources such as solar is key to reducing problematic pollution. (© Alice Keeney)

SELC submitted comments on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s draft Clean Energy Plan just as the comment period closed this week. Though the draft is a strong start, we’re recommending more ambitious targets and revisions to make the plan a clearer guide for taking action right away.

“The draft lays out a good ‘menu of options’ and a strong goal,” says Derb Carter, director of SELC’s North Carolina offices, but the crucial step will be to swiftly turn the plan into concrete action. We must reduce carbon and other heat-trapping pollution in the face of the harm suffered by North Carolina residents and businesses from increasingly intense storms and flooding, and predictions by scientists of even hotter and longer summers, he adds.

The draft clean energy plan follows devastating flooding across the state from increasingly intense storms such as hurricanes Florence and Michael, and recent destruction from Hurricane Dorian.

Record heat threatens public health and worsens energy burdens, which are already a serious problem in North Carolina. Rainfall patterns are changing in ways that increase the chances that we will suffer both flooding and droughts; crop ranges are shifting; and saline infiltration literally salts the earth our farmers plow.

According to Carter, moving the state away from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources is key to reducing problematic pollution. “North Carolina is already a leader in solar and we can do our part along with other states and countries to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” he adds.

Five key points in our comments submitted include:

  • The plan is the direct result of an extensive public stakeholder process. DEQ actively sought public input through in-depth facilitated workshops, regional listening sessions, a statewide clean-energy conference, and comment online. And DEQ listened. As a result, the draft Clean Energy Plan is tailored to our state’s needs and its recommendations are sound. 
  • The draft Clean Energy Plan is a strong start to addressing the threats facing North Carolina. It includes bold but achievable heat-trapping gas reduction goals for the electric power generation sector. We recommend a clear goal of 70 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050. The most straightforward path to that goal is simply putting a cap on carbon pollution, which can easily be set to decline over time.
  • The draft Clean Energy Plan rightly focuses on equitable access to clean energy and ensuring that our transition from relying on polluting fossil fuels to a clean-energy economy is just. Energy efficiency and clean energy programs—such as weatherization and community solar—can help to lift the energy burden that climate change is worsening by including a focus on savings for low-wealth households. Programs like an energy efficiency apprenticeship and support for creating long-term jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits in clean energy work will help to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind in our transition to a clean energy economy.
  • The draft plan correctly leaves no place for forest-derived biomass or hog waste biogas in our state’s clean energy future. Cutting and burning trees adds huge amounts of harmful carbon dioxide to the atmosphere immediately, undermining our emissions reduction goals. Biomass production and combustion also create serious local air quality problems and destroy natural, intact forests that are necessary to protecting our coastal communities and absorbing carbon. Hog waste biogas relies on the primitive lagoon-and-sprayfield system to manage industrial-scale animal feces and urine that continues to disproportionally devastate communities of color in eastern North Carolina, and pollute the air we breathe and the water we need.
  • Because time is of the essence, the draft Clean Energy Plan should recommend doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Wherever possible, the plan should recommend taking action rather than conducting further study.

 

Once DEQ considers the public comments that have been submitted, it will send the plan to the state’s Climate Change Interagency Council, which will then submit the plan to the governor for his consideration.

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