North Carolina lawmakers have an opportunity to promote lower emissions while growing the state’s economy — it’s critical that they take that chance. 

The state Senate recently advanced SB678 to the House Rules Committee. If passed, the bill would change the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) to a Clean Energy Portfolio Standard (CEPS) and define nuclear power as a source of clean energy. The legislation would adopt a more technology-neutral energy standard, paving the way to deploy more nuclear power in the state. Adding nuclear will be essential to meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals while providing affordable, reliable power to consumers.

As an energy policy analyst, too often I have seen prescriptive government policies and regulations impede innovation. At the federal level, the outdated permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act increases the cost of energy projects — particularly clean energy projects — by millions of dollars and delays completion times by an average of 4.5 years. These setbacks hurt the U.S.’s ability to deploy clean and reliable energy to consumers.

The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in my home state has allowed Raleigh’s policymakers to distort the state’s energy market to favor renewables at the expense of sources like nuclear power. While renewables are an important piece of a low-carbon future, the state’s technology-specific energy portfolio standard has prevented North Carolinians from enjoying the full scope of nuclear power’s economic and environmental benefits. 

Nuclear power is by far America’s largest and most reliable source of carbon-free energy. Every year, America’s fleet of nuclear power plants prevents more than 470 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of removing more than 100 million passenger vehicles from roads. And while nuclear provides 33% of North Carolina’s energy generation, coal still plays a significant role in the state’s power generation and supplies thousands of jobs to local communities. Though this share will decline as Duke Energy shuts down its remaining plants over the next 10 years, the question remains: what will replace them?

The passage of SB678 would ensure that nuclear has a chance to make up that difference by requiring investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through clean energy sources.

This requirement will benefit not only the environment, but our local economy as well. North Carolina’s nuclear industry is already an economic boon to communities across the state, directly employing over 1,000 North Carolinians. Nationally, the nuclear industry offers wages that are on average 25-30% higher than wages from other energy technologies. Meanwhile, nuclear power plants — which contribute an average of $400 million annually to the economic livelihood of local communities across the country — can also help North Carolina move on from coal production without leaving coal communities behind. 

In addition to benefiting North Carolina’s workers, SB678 would send a signal to the state’s private sector that nuclear energy has a meaningful role to play in North Carolina’s energy future. This in turn would accelerate the clean energy goals that the state’s energy producers have already established. For instance, Duke Energy CEO Lynn J. Good recently stated at the Bloomberg Green Summit in New York, “Nuclear for us is essential, [we] can not meet any [climate] target without nuclear.” Duke Energy has announced plans to invest in small modular reactors and is looking for ways to expand its fleet of larger, light water reactors. 

Wilmington-based GE Hitachi, a frontrunner in next-generation nuclear energy innovation, recently signed the first commercial contract for a grid-scale small modular reactor (SMR) in North America with Ontario Power Generation. Under the agreement GE-H will deploy its BWRX-300 SMR at the Darlington New Nuclear Project site in Clarington, Ontario by 2028. 

GE Hitachi is also working with the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring its SMR technology to the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee and has partnered with TerraPower and the Department of Energy to develop and deploy the Natrium reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming on the site of an old coal plant. 

While these developments are impressive, prescriptive, technology-specific energy standards continue to impose an undue burden on the state’s nuclear industry. By reducing barriers for the deployment of nuclear power, SB678 will unleash more breakthroughs like these and encourage innovation to stay in the state.

To be sure, additional reforms are needed at the federal level to spur nuclear power in North Carolina and the United States. However, taking steps to modernize North Carolina’s regulatory framework will drive clean energy innovation in the state and enable power producers to provide dependable energy to households and more affordably reach the state’s environmental objectives. For any resident of the state who cares about the environment, the economy, and the livelihoods of people across North Carolina, supporting SB678 is a slam dunk.