In a late September letter to the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC), the Wilmington City Council asked that any path forward on reducing carbon also take into account price and grid reliability.

The letter begins by praising the October 2021 law, H.B. 951, which creates targets for N.C. utilities for carbon reduction. This law, called “Energy Solutions for N.C.,” set targets at a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and complete carbon neutrality by 2050. H.B. 951 also directs the NCUC to create a plan every two years detailing how to work towards these goals.

The NCUC’s first plan is due by the end of the year, and they are considering many options, one of which is the “Carolinas Carbon Plan” proposed by Duke Energy. An analysis by John Locke Foundation’s Center for Food, Power, and Life found that the Carolinas Carbon Plan would raise monthly energy costs by about $90 per household by 2050 and would threaten grid reliability by relying too heavily on solar and wind.

Initially, the Wilmington City Council was set to approve a letter supporting Duke’s plan, but City Councilman Luke Waddell began questioning why the council should support NCUC choosing the Duke plan over other potentially more reliable and cost-effective options.

“It seems to me in delving into a lot of this, that reliability nor cost are really being considered properly here,” Waddell said at the Sept. 20 meeting. “And while certainly clean energy is absolutely something we need to be striving for… there’s got to be a balancing act that’s going to consider the reliability of our grid, which is paramount.”

After discussion, the council decided to draft a new amended letter that did not explicitly back Duke’s plan and which instead recommended that the NCUC balance “the reduction of carbon output with our citizens’ needs for reliable energy at a reasonable and achievable cost.”

“Seeing a municipality like Wilmington highlight the critical elements of H.B. 951 — reliability and least cost — as crucial for their residents and taxpayers further proves the research Locke has produced is making an impact on how people are thinking about a reasonable pathway forward for carbon reduction,” said Andre Beliveau, government affairs manager for John Locke Foundation. “Likewise, they point out a significant, yet sometimes overlooked, aspect of the law that gives discretion to the NCUC to go beyond the dates specified in the law (in cases of building nuclear facilities and wind) if it will produce a more reliable and more affordable outcome.”

The Locke-proposed plan for NCUC involves using nuclear and natural gas to reduce carbon drastically while also maintaining a reliable grid and affordable energy for ratepayers.

“Nuclear energy is the most reliable zero-carbon-emitting energy source available,” Beliveau said. “Any plan that is serious about reducing carbon while also being reliable must have nuclear power at its core, as well as other baseload, dispatchable options, like natural gas, as part of the mix.”