Gov. Roy Cooper has declared the week of Sept. 25 “Clean Energy Week.” Whether that indicates he will sign Senate Bill 678, “Clean Energy/Other Changes,” remains unclear. The measure is sitting on his desk, having passed the state legislature on Friday. It could pave the way for more investment in nuclear energy in North Carolina, something experts say is the most efficient energy resource available.

The bill had all Senate Republicans and one Democrat voting in favor. In the House, it passed 66 to 36 with support from nine Democrats and all Republicans but one.

Cooper has pushed for a green agenda since taking office. In 2021, he signed House Bill 951, a bipartisan law requiring the N.C. Utilities Commission to take the necessary steps for state utility providers to reduce carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

The S678 measure would relabel “renewable energy resources” as “clean energy resources” in the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and add nuclear fission and fusion into the definition of clean energy. If approved by the state legislature, this bill would make nuclear energy a viable option for replacing coal-fired power plants with new, cleaner sources. The bill also extends closure deadlines for certain coal-fired plants.

It would also help further nuclear energy by eliminating statutes that had previously restricted the construction of nuclear facilities in H951.

“Fusion energy may be a contributor to our success in the future, and we are wide open in North Carolina to welcoming fusion technology here in our state,” said bill sponsor Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus.

A Cooper spokesperson stated that the governor would not look at the bill until it reached his desk, but previous comments indicate that he may not support it. At the State Energy Conference over the summer, Cooper told business leaders that he did not want politicians to be seen as influencing which energy sources are prioritized over others.

Isaac Orr, policy fellow for energy and environmental issues at the Center for the American Experiment, called the measure “a step in the right direction.”

“Nuclear is the most efficient energy resource we have, routinely generating more than 90% of its potential output, while wind and solar in North Carolina operate about 30% and 21%, respectively,” he said. “We know nuclear works all the time; we don’t know if the wind will be blowing or the sun will be shining.”

Kevin Garcia-Galindo contributed to this report.