Press Release

Carbon Plan must account for affordability

Appalachian Voices and PSE Healthy Energy respond to the North Carolina Utilities Commission ruling on the 2022 carbon plan.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 31, 2022

CONTACT:
Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683, dan@appvoices.org
Rory McIlmoil, (423) 433-9415, rory@appvoices.org
Yunus Kinkhabwala,(607) 262-6952, y.kinkhabwala@psehealthyenergy.org

RALEIGH, N.C. — Yesterday evening, the North Carolina Utilities Commission approved several measures to lower carbon emissions in North Carolina. The commission chose to focus on short term plans and therefore not pick any single portfolio or generation mix, the plan falls far short of what the law that started this process allowed and what could have been accomplished.

The commission’s ruling sadly presents Duke Energy with further opportunity to pursue fracked gas infrastructure, with a 35-year life-span, that is both unnecessary and irresponsible. It’s a decision that furthers our electricity grid’s reliance on volatile fuels like fracked gas, which remains expensive when compared to alternative energy sources like rooftop solar. The commission also approved the future use for hydrogen fuels, a volatile and under tested resource that would require further expensive changes to our energy infrastructure.

Furthermore, despite acknowledging that “The work of the Low-Income Affordability Collaborative … reveals, starkly, the magnitude of the [affordability] challenges that a significant percentage of residential customers in North Carolina face,” the commission’s ruling fails to incorporate affordability issues that affect low- to moderate-income customers. Even though increased energy efficiency programs could both lower emissions and shrink the need for bill assistance down the road, the commission’s plan does not meaningfully address these programs, instead only requires Duke to model an “aspirational” goal of achieving stronger energy efficiency gains than what the utility originally proposed.

The Carbon Plan process emerged from HB 951, legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2021 that overhauled North Carolina’s energy system and set carbon reduction targets of 70% by 2030, with carbon neutrality by 2050. Various groups and communities from around the state engaged in an intensive stakeholder process with Duke Energy in early 2022 to advance a plan that would meet the needs of all customers. However, Duke’s draft plan failed to incorporate most stakeholder recommendations, leading to a wide range of groups including environmental justice advocates, clean energy groups, industrial buyers and ratepayer advocates pushing back against Duke’s proposal.

Appalachian Voices and our partners at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute, served as interveners in the process, focusing on how Duke Energy’s fracked gas expansion would result in unnecessary increased costs while exacerbating affordability challenges for low-income households, and on how lower-cost options like solar, battery storage, and energy efficiency could offset the need to build new fracked gas infrastructure in the near term while reducing electric bills for all customers.

“Today’s order on the Carbon Plan places nearly one million low-income families served by Duke Energy at an even greater risk of having their power shut off because they struggle with affording their monthly bills,” said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst for Appalachian Voices. “Expanding our state’s reliance on expensive natural gas generation while doing absolutely nothing to help offset the impact on low-income customers is shameful and undermines both the Commission’s and Duke Energy’s claim to care about affordability.”

“The approved Carbon Plan failed to take advantage of the many benefits of clean energy resources such as efficiency,” said Yunus Kinkhabwala, Clean Energy Scientist for PSE Healthy Energy. “As a result, due to historic underinvestment in low-income households, the roughly one million households in North Carolina that spend more than 6 percent of their income on home energy needs will continue to be saddled with unnecessarily high energy bills for many years to come.”

The commission states their focus is on immediate planning in 2023-2024. This perspective lacks long term assurances of a renewable energy future, but leaves the door open for advocates, like Appalachian Voices, to continue to push for cleaner and more affordable energy. The commission’s commitment to meeting the 2030 deadline, as well as their commitment to making sure any new gas infrastructure must go through necessary regulatory processes, is positive and means stakeholders can continue to have meaningful change in North Carolina.

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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.

PSE Healthy Energy is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to supplying evidence-based scientific and technical information on the public health, environmental, and climate dimensions of energy production and use. We are the only interdisciplinary collaboration focused specifically on health and sustainability at the intersection of energy science and policy. Visit us at psehealthyenergy.org and follow us on Twitter @PhySciEng.

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