North Carolina energy compromise elicits mixed reactions

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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and leaders of the two GOP-controlled General Assembly parties have reached a deal on a major energy bill – the culmination of months of talks and a rare display of bipartite cooperation in Raleigh.

The compromise text removes most of the Duke Energy-backed bill that narrowly cleared the House in July. This version has drawn opposition from a range of critics, from clean energy advocates to textile factories to the governor himself.

“Our goal was to have a different bill and a better bill,” said Senator Mike Woodard, Democrat of Durham and one of the chief negotiators, “and I think we got it done.”

The new House Bill 951, a 10-page cut from the previous 49, eliminates mandates for new gas power plants, energy storage projects and solar farms – leaving commission regulators to utilities to allow resources as they see fit. .

At the same time, the bill calls on the commission to take “all reasonable steps” to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 70% over the next decade, a key goal for Cooper, who has made the fight against the climate crisis and investing in clean energy. a priority.

“The goal was to implement the governor’s clean energy goals,” said Woodard, “and getting them into law is a big deal.”

But the measure also retains a key feature that Duke is looking for, allowing initial multi-year pricing that critics say would heavily favor public service and hit low-income taxpayers hardest.

So, while Cooper and legislative leaders issued a joint statement praising their accomplishments on Friday afternoon, the solar industry and clean energy advocates remained silent, still working to analyze the details of the legislation.

“A key consideration will be whether there are any loopholes that call into question the certainty with which critical pollution reductions will be achieved on schedule,” said David Kelly, North Carolina state director for the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement.

The North Carolina Justice Center was among the few groups to categorically oppose the bill, saying that a bill-based financing program included in the bill, supposed to help the poor, had proven largely ineffective in many cases. other states. In addition, the possible advantages of this measure were largely outweighed by the disadvantages of the multi-year pricing section.

Appalachian Voices, a strong advocate for overworked North Carolina residents, estimated that a provision allowing the utility to earn more than half a percentage point would cost taxpayers $ 72 million. The group released a scathing denunciation of the new language.

“Raising costs for families and businesses just to give Duke Energy more profit, especially when the only trade-off is that we ‘can’ achieve 70% carbon reductions by the end of the decade. ‘is bad enough, ”Energy Manager Rory McIlmoil. analyst for the group, said in the statement.

“But to do so at a time when nearly half a million homes served by Duke Energy remain in debt of $ 125 million to the utility due to the pandemic is downright immoral and unfair.”

Woodard vigorously defended the compromise, which he said was hard won. Republicans, he said, were particularly resistant to low and moderate income taxpayer assistance programs.

“Is this perfect and all we wanted?” Not at all. Woodard said. “But as a compromise bill, together with our fellow Republican who are in the majority, I think it ended up being quite remarkable.”

Representative Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, praised the governor’s and other negotiators’ hard work, but sympathized with energy justice advocates.

“If we achieve the 70% reduction through the discretion given to the commission, that would be great,” she said. “But it would be good to protect low income taxpayers along the way. “

Despite its criticism, the H951 seems ready for a quick pass. The measure is scheduled for a committee hearing on Tuesday and supporters say it will be returned to the House by the end of the week.

“A bill with opposition from a number of corners has turned into a consensus bill,” said Rep. John Szoka, Republican of Fayetteville and one of the original authors of the legislation. “I think this is a huge step forward for energy policy in North Carolina.”


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