Yesterday afternoon, Duke Energy released its Carbon Plan. The proposed plan offers four pathways to reduce power sector carbon dioxide emissions in North Carolina 70% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 as required by state law.
The proposed plan and its four scenarios, three of which completely miss the law’s 2030 deadline, are far too dependent on polluting resources like fracked gas, and fail to capture the benefits of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar. Investments in battery storage and widespread energy efficiency aren’t just good for our environment or ratepayers’ pockets. They also create good, stable, well-paying jobs within communities across the state.
Additionally, Duke’s proposal fails to address numerous concerns raised during the Carbon Plan stakeholder process. For instance, the plan completely lacks any of the tools and resources that could offset its cost while reducing household energy burdens and promoting affordability for ratepayers who are already unable to meet monthly payments on their bill.
Appalachian Voices and other intervening parties have until July 15 to respond to Duke Energy’s plan, or respond with plans of their own. A series of five public hearings begins in Durham on July 11. The North Carolina Utilities Commission is required to issue a ruling by December 31.
“To truly achieve a ‘least-cost’ pathway for reducing carbon emissions, Duke should have considered a number of options that aren’t in the draft plan, including procuring all new generation through a competitive wholesale market,” said Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst with Appalachian Voices. “Prior studies have shown this could reduce the cost of decarbonization by hundreds of billions of dollars. Additionally, Duke could have proposed much stronger investments in energy efficiency, directing a large portion of those investments to low-income households and communities in order to make the transition more affordable.”
Duke suggests paying for its plan with annual rate increases as high as 2.5%, amounting to a 20-40% increase in the average residential electric bill by 2035. But the company did not address how to mitigate the impact that this increase would have on low- and moderate-income families that are already struggling to pay their light bills. This has set off alarm bells for economic and racial justice advocates.
“The proposed plan does not adequately address the extensive needs we’re witnessing in community, nor is it enough of a step towards equitable clean energy,” said Jovita Lee, policy director at Advance Carolina. “At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, ratepayers fell behind on their utility bills by over $200 million dollars, nearly double the previous year. We cannot continuously allow piecemeal solutions to be presented when we have real communities who are making the hard decisions daily between maintaining their utilities or providing the basic needs for their households.”
Notably, Duke claims that achieving any of the four proposed pathways relies heavily on access to new fracked gas resources from Appalachia, which is produced through a process that results in fugitive emissions of methane, a stronger and longer-lasting greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Duke’s plan would also subject more Appalachian communities to the health hazards of increased fracking, and put more residents and waterways in the path of unnecessary fracked-gas pipelines.
“This carbon plan’s proposal to increase fracking in the Appalachians threatens the very safety of the existing community members and disaster-displaced residents seeking asylum from hurricanes on the coast,” said La’Meshia Whittington, deputy director of Advance Carolina. “Our priority should be to lower utility bills for Duke Energy customers already in arrears, support environmental justice communities in accessing a clean economy while working for a just transition, and prioritize the inclusion of community comments in the incorporation of a true carbon plan for our state.”
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.