News | May 29, 2024

A brighter future in North Carolina is possible

Clean energy advocates say that speeding up the development of carbon-free, no-regrets resources – like these home solar panels – can help North Carolina meet state climate requirements. (Jackson Smith)

On a warm October day in 2021, with temperatures climbing into the 80s, climate action became law in North Carolina.  

“The law couldn’t have been timelier,” remembered David Neal, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “No matter where you live in North Carolina, most people now experience harms from climate change: rising seas that endanger our coastal communities, worsening inland flooding, and more erratic and extreme weather events year-round.” 

Bipartisan and backed by state electric monopoly Duke Energy, House Bill 951 requires that the power sector reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution 70% by 2030, on a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050. The law tasks the N.C. Utilities Commission with developing a “Carbon Plan” for meeting these deadlines. 

But just a few years after its passage, Duke Energy is seeking to delay compliance with a law that it helped shape. The company has proposed a Carbon Plan that pushes the pollution reduction deadline until 2035 or even later.  Duke’s plan would move too slowly on the development of clean energy resources like solar and wind, while taking North Carolina backwards with a massive new gas buildout that violates federal climate rules.  

There are real solutions out there to give our kids a healthier, safer future. It’s an amazing opportunity we have right now to protect North Carolina and our kids and our future generations.

Lisa Dietz, Davidson resident

Now, on behalf of clean energy advocates including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, we’ve filed testimony before the utilities commission critiquing Duke’s proposal. 

Our message? 

“A brighter, safer future is possible,” Neal said. “But to arrive there, Duke must comply with state law and accelerate development of the clean energy resources that will leave our communities without regrets and our children without the burden of more delay.” 

Inside Duke’s fossilized proposal 

Duke is stepping on the gas, but it’s not driving climate action forward at the pace or scale that we need. 

Often known by its industry-friendly moniker, “natural” gas pollutes the climate with heat-trapping carbon and methane, threatens communities that live near pipelines and powerplants, is subject to volatile fuel price swings that customers bear, and has grown increasingly unreliable during extreme weather. Duke’s proposal would result in the construction of five new, massive combined-cycle power plants across North and South Carolina and would represent one of the largest overall gas buildouts from any utility in the country.  

Duke’s proposed Carbon plan includes a massive gas buildout and heavy reliance on expensive, commercially unavailable technologies, threatening to dig North Carolina deeper into climate delay. (Getty)

Why is so much gas supposedly necessary? Citing projected economic development, including new industrial facilities and data centers, Duke’s plan forecasts enormous growth in energy demand. While the monumental scale of Duke’s forecast has been critiqued by experts, Neal agreed that some increased energy demand is on the horizon – and noted that the utility failed to adequately prepare for the growth.  

“For years, Duke has not done all it could to ready the grid for clean energy, including upgrading the transmission grid to connect solar,” he explained. “Now, to meet its forecasted increased energy needs, the utility has come up with a plan that consistently underestimates the risk of its dirty fossil fuel buildout and delays coal retirements.”  

Critically, said Neal, Duke’s plan would breach federal rules that significantly limit carbon pollution from new gas plants after 2032 and dictate timely coal retirement schedules.  

“As its current proposal stands, Duke’s plan would leave its customers stuck with the costly bill for new methane gas plants that would violate pollution limits in a few short years,” he said.  

No-regrets solutions, not climate pollution  

Neal emphasized the need to meet state climate requirements through the accelerated development of carbon-free, clean energy resources like solar power, offshore wind, battery storage, energy efficiency, and virtual power plants. Duke’s plan currently imposes annual limits on the development of certain clean energy resources and artificially inflates the cost of a Carbon Plan pathway that would rely more heavily on clean energy to meet the climate deadline on time. 

 “We’re urging Duke to remove arbitrary barriers that slow the clean energy transition and create a plan that best protects customers,” he said. “Carbon-free clean energy is available, reliable, and cost-effective. We’re better off investing in these no-regrets options now rather than waiting until after we’ve built more polluting gas plants.” 

In addition to utility-scale clean energy development, “virtual power plants” – like battery storage connected to home rooftop solar, managed electric vehicle charging, smart thermostats, and efficiency – can help customers save money, lessen demand on the grid, and reduce climate pollution.

In addition to utility-scale clean energy development, “virtual power plants” – like battery storage connected to home rooftop solar, managed electric vehicle charging, smart thermostats, and efficiency – can help customers save money, lessen demand on the grid, and reduce climate pollution. 

“Duke has demonstrated that it can craft effective programs that help North Carolinians save on their bills while easing climate impacts,” said Neal, referring to the utility’s recent rebate program for home solar and battery installation. “Our communities need more innovative, ambitious clean energy expansion – not a fossilized proposal that plans for pollution and postpones progress.” 

A brighter future 

When asked to create her version of “a great future,” Rosalee drew a park before and after a clean-up: “One has a Cheeto bag, orange peels, an eaten apple, and flies around the trash can. [In the other], all of these things are in the trash and the flies went inside the trash can.” (Contributed photo)

When it comes to protecting our communities and our earth, North Carolinians of all ages and backgrounds have high hopes for a brighter future. 

Six-year-old Rosalee, a Chapel Hill denizen who says she dreams of being a full-time soccer player and an artist on weekends, explained that when she thinks of a great future, she thinks of a healthy earth. “We want our earth to be happy,” she said. “Without a good earth, we wouldn’t be surviving right now.” 

Meanwhile, at public utilities hearings this spring on the Carbon Plan, parents, scientists, medical professionals, and community members from all over our state spoke about the need for moving faster when it comes to protecting our families, our communities, and our future from the increasing impacts of climate change.  

“There are real solutions out there to give our kids a healthier, safer future,” Lisa Dietz, who lives in Davidson, said during a virtual hearing. She continued, “It’s an amazing opportunity we have right now to protect North Carolina and our kids and our future generations.” 

The North Carolina Utilities Commission will authorize a Carbon Plan at the end of 2024. Said Neal, “Like so many parents and concerned North Carolinians, I have hope for a cleaner, safer future. And I know that hope is sustained by action.”