The Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy convened Tuesday morning to evaluate the progress of the Carbon Plan passed by the General Assembly in 2021 to work toward a carbon-neutral future for North Carolina utilities. 

The committee approved a bill increasing regulatory fees that the Rural Electrification Authority collects. The fee increase is recommended for consideration in the 2024 Regular Session, which begins late next month. 

“Policy, as we all know, is followed by implementation,” said committee co-chair Sen. Paul Newton, R–Cabarrus. “And good policy can only be successful with faithful implementation of it. So part of the purpose of today is to remind everybody that the legislature cares a lot about how 951 is implemented, we’re not going to pass this bill and go away into the night.”

Newton served as state president of Duke Energy from 2013 to 2015.

Passed into law three years ago by a Republican-controlled state legislature, General Statute 62-110.9 requires public utilities in North Carolina to achieve a 70% reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide by 2030. By 2050, utilities are expected to be carbon neutral.

Duke Energy filed its carbon plan in August 2023 but recalculated its load forecast in January 2024 due to increased economic development in North Carolina. High growth in North Carolina will lead to more demand than initially projected, said Duke Energy, spurring new load forecasts and the filing of a supplemental carbon reduction plan. The new plan calls for hundreds of megawatts of wind energy.

During Tuesday’s meeting, experts from the North Carolina Utilities Commission highlighted the requirements of the Carbon Plan and outlined the many energy resources available. Current state law binds the Utilities Commission to the least-cost and most reliable path toward zero emissions.

“The selection of any particular type of generation – solar, wind, gas, nuclear, or any new innovative types of energy generation – must compete on a level playing field with two important boundaries,” added Newton, alluding to cost and reliability factors. “Because without reliability, we don’t have anything. The idea here is that the cost of carbon reduction cannot be built on the backs of the poor, nor can it degrade grid reliability.”

In a new report authored by Northwood University in conjunction with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, experts ‘graded the grid’ and concluded wind and solar to be the worst energy generation options. Both were given an F based on their ability to meet the growing demand for affordable, reliable, and clean electric generation. The analysis determined natural gas to be the best option with an A, followed by nuclear with a B+. 

Proponents market wind energy as able to reduce carbon emissions, protect the environment, reduce electric rates, and improve grid reliability. However, the analysis states there are numerous other grid reliability, environmental, economic, and social costs associated with its use that are often overlooked. 

“Given that society increasingly relies on a steady and reliable supply of affordable energy, government policies that mandate and heavily subsidize a transition to wind generation represent a growing threat to human health and well-being,” the analysis states. 

TotalEnergies and Cinergy, which is owned by Duke Energy, lease wind energy areas 22 miles off the coast of Wilmington from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Incentivizing the project are federal tax credits allocated to clean energy projects in the Inflation Reduction Act, and construction on the lease parcels must begin soon to maximize those federal credits. If they meet all government conditions, the companies could receive a 50% return on the value of the offshore wind farms. Since 2016 wind power has received nearly 20 times more federal subsidies per unit of power generated than nuclear, and solar has received nearly 100 times more than nuclear.

“From our perspective it’s really an issue of not leaving dollars on the table and bringing value straight back to ratepayers,” said Jen Banks, TotalEnergies’ permitting and development coordinator for the company’s North Carolina lease.

Those ratepayers can expect their monthly utility bills to increase in the years ahead. Despite low costs being a top priority, model data show monthly costs for energy customers are expected to increase significantly.

A report from John Locke Foundation’s Center for Food, Power, and Life recently examined the costs of North Carolina’s different electricity-generating sources.

“The first issue of cost to understand is that power generated from new power plants costs more than power from existing power plants,” reads the brief. “If this seems counterintuitive, it’s because existing power plants have lower fixed costs than new ones.”

Regardless of the costs of creating new plants, state law allows the cost of building new power plants to fall on electricity consumers through increases in their power bills. Reliability may only keep pace if that new generation comes from traditional sources. Just last week, Duke Energy revealed plans to build a new natural gas power plant in Catawba County beginning in 2026, electing for a reliable energy source as demand growth accelerates and green energy options fall short.