Environmental activists gathered in downtown Raleigh last week to oppose a proposal from Duke Energy that aims to cut carbon emissions in North Carolina, claiming it doesn’t go far enough.
The plan in the crosshairs, called the Carolinas Carbon Plan, is being considered as a proposal from Duke Energy by the N.C. Utilities Commission. The plan is also taking shots from free-market advocates, as research from the John Locke Foundation has shown that it relies too much on wind and solar power to be fiscally feasible or generate reliable power.
The Carolinas Carbon Plan traces its history to 2019, when Gov. Roy Cooper issued an arbitrary goal of reducing North Carolina’s carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions from energy generation by 70% from where they were in 2005. In 2021, the N.C. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed House Bill 951 requiring the Utilities Commission and Duke Energy to create a plan to cut CO2 emissions from electricity generation by that same amount — 70% from 2005 levels to around 2030 and be “carbon neutral” by 2050.
The bill text requires that the plan be “reasonable,” cost effective, in compliance “with current law and practice,” and “maintain or improve upon the adequacy and reliability of the existing grid.”
On May 16, Duke Energy filed the Carolina’s Carbon Plan with the Utilities Commission. The plan has drawn opposition from left-wing groups in the Tar Heel State. Several of those turned out for a rally Sept. 23 in downtown Raleigh.
“What Duke calls its Carbon Plan is really an antiquated 20th century dirty energy plan which will limit the amount of solar that can be installed in N.C., cost ratepayers far more than necessary, preserve Duke’s corrupt monopoly, wed N.C. to expensive fracked gas for decades to come, and violate NC law,” said Steve Norris, board vice president of the N.C. Alliance to Protect our People and the Places We Live, in a statement. “The N.C. Utilities Commission has a moral and statutory responsibility to reject Duke’s plan, and require Duke to take full advantage of solar, wind and battery storage resources with a just transition to renewables that is accessible and affordable for all.”
However, an analysis presented to the Utilities Commission by the Locke’s Center for Food, Power, and Life (CFPL) shows that the Duke plan would rely too heavily on wind and solar generation, not too little.
“Because renewable sources are notoriously unreliable, the Duke plans would require massive overbuilding of wind and solar facilities, with electricity consumers paying the costs,” said CFPL director Jon Sanders. “All of the Duke plans would risk capacity shortfalls in winter and summer along with dramatically increasing electricity prices. As they are, the Duke plans cannot abide within the requirements of law to maintain grid reliability and keep electricity generation on the least-cost path.”
A better way forward, according to Sanders, is to invest in zero-emissions nuclear and low-emissions natural gas. “These would reduce CO2 emissions without harming the reliability of our electrical grid and with less impact on customer rates,” he said. “The critics, however, are advocating for even less reliable, more expensive electricity than the Duke plans would provide.”
The debate over the Tar Heel State’s future in energy generation comes as Americans are increasingly worried about the spiking cost of utilities. According to a Gallup poll from March, the percentage of Americans who say they “worry a great deal” about the cost of energy has jumped from 22% in 2020 to 47% in 2022. Another 30% say they worry “a fair amount,” while only 17% say they worry “only a little” and 5% “not at all.”