In the six months that have passed since Duke Energy filed its carbon plan, this is the question that I’ve puzzled over the longest.
Why do legislators and those who blindly accept Duke’s promises act surprised when vague commitments around affordability result in ratepayers getting the short end of the stick? Why do they feign surprise when Duke Energy suggests missing a timeline they set for themselves? Why do they pretend to be shocked when years of advocacy and “compromise” result in a utility cherry-picking what they want, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
I’ve tried to get away from terms like “bad faith” in the last year. Opportunities to do the right thing are abundant, and those who keep doing the wrong thing, despite having all the information they need to guide them, have lost the presumption of ignorance.
Duke’s proposed Carbon Plan filing does all the wrong things. Faced with a state law that orders the commission to come up with ways to meet North Carolina’s carbon reduction goals, Duke drafted a plan that proposes an unnecessary amount of natural gas expansion, an abysmal estimate for the amount of solar they can bring online, and shows a blatant disregard for the impacts its commitment to fossil fuels and unproven technologies will have on public health and ratepayers’ pocketbooks.
Our job is easy. We don’t have to expect the unexpected, we just have to listen to the words of a corporation that has, for as long as I’ve been involved with the work, made it clear what their objectives are: to make money for shareholders, to keep raising rates, to consistently fall short of the bare minimum; providing energy to North Carolinians in a way that is clean, affordable, and reliable.
During the carbon plan hearings, hundreds of ratepayers from across the state stood outside in historic heat to lift up what our future can look like. They’ve talked about rooftop solar, residential battery storage and actually accessible energy efficiency. They’ve talked about an energy grid that works for all of us. It looks different. It would be a change and change can be hard, but sometimes we are called to meet the moment and change is what we need.
Appalachian Voices intervened in the Carbon Plan because we knew we would have to fight. Our work with PSE Healthy Energy highlights how more aggressive investments in rooftop solar, battery storage and energy efficiency can lower emissions, costs, and, over time, even lower the amount of need for bill assistance programs that help households struggling to afford their energy bills. It shows that natural gas expansion will cost us astronomically, and it shows that we can lower emissions while lowering costs for customers.
The newly passed Inflation Reduction Act allocates billions of dollars towards the kind of clean energy investments at the very heart of this discussion. These investments could help North Carolina meet its carbon goals and lower costs for ratepayers. But Duke’s plan would have to be drastically retooled to take advantage of them.
As the quasi-judicial process involving legal intervenors, including Appalachian Voices, and Duke has ended, the decision about what the final Carbon Plan looks like falls to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, a panel of experts whose job is to preserve a reliable, low-cost energy system for all North Carolinians. This year, Duke does not get to decide who wins.
In September, the commission heard testimony from intervenors across the state. The hearing comes on the heels of a multi-stop public hearing tour that reached Durham, Wilmington, Asheville and Charlotte. We know what Duke wants; we do not know how the commission will rule. Because of that, it is imperative that North Carolinians continue to make our voices heard every chance we have.