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Duke Energy files carbon reduction plan in North Carolina

The document filings with the North Carolina Utilities Commission come seven months after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed bipartisan legislation that directed the utility to lower carbon dioxide emissions 70% from 2005 levels by 2030. Zero-net CO2 emissions would be met by 2050.

This article includes reporting from the Associated Press

Duke Energy Corp.’s electricity-generating subsidiaries for North Carolina told regulators on Monday how they can comply with a new state law demanding significant greenhouse gas reductions by the end of the decade.

The document filings with the North Carolina Utilities Commission come seven months after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed bipartisan legislation that directed the utility to lower carbon dioxide emissions 70% from 2005 levels by 2030. Zero-net CO2 emissions would be met by 2050.

The law says the commission, which must rule on an energy path by year’s end, can delay the target years in some circumstances, and three of the four energy-portfolio alterations offered by Charlotte-based Duke Energy extend the date to 2032 or 2034.

Those three portfolios will have an increased reliance on both onshore and offshore wind, Duke said, and/or small modular nuclear generation.

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On May 11, Duke Energy had a $155 million winning bid for the right to develop offshore wind on 55,154 acres in the Carolina Long Bay.

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good told investors on Feb. 10 that the utility plans to double its renewable energy generating capacity by 2030 from 10,000 MW currently to 24,000 MW. Energy storage capacity would grow from 3,700 MW to 5,900 MW in 2035 under the proposed carbon plan.

The carbon plan also aims to address energy efficiency and demand-side programs to reduce peak electricity demand by more than 3,400 MW by 2030.

The four portfolios envision retiring Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants located in North Carolina by 2035, in keeping with a companywide announcement in February. The utility has already retired its coal-fired plants in South Carolina. Some that remain in North Carolina serve South Carolina customers.

All of the options rely on an “all of the above” mix to make up for the lost coal-fired power production and address future electricity need. They include grid improvements and energy efficiency; more solar power and battery storage; hydroelectric power storage; an emerging form of small nuclear power plants; and additional natural gas-powered plants, which provide energy on cloudy or high-demand days.

“Customers in North Carolina and South Carolina deserve an orderly energy transition that supports communities and maintains affordable rates, while ensuring the continued reliable service and economic competitiveness on which both states depend,” Duke Energy North Carolina President Stephen De May said in a news release.

The North Carolina law says the commission can examine “the latest technological breakthroughs to achieve the least cost path,” among other considerations in signing off on a plan. The panel, composed of seven members nominated by Cooper, has the discretion to delay the 2030 target by up to two years, and even longer if regulatory and construction delays for nuclear or wind energy facilities arise, or if the grid’s performance is questioned.

Duke Energy said over 500 people representing more than 300 groups in the two states offered their input and feedback as the options were drafted. The commission will hold public hearings in July and August.

A coalition of environmental and clean energy groups said Monday that it will offer an alternative plan by July 15 that will also focus on equity and environmental justice.

“We may not agree on all the details included in the modeling to reach these goals but are optimistic that this process will lead to a cleaner electricity sector and more jobs across the state,” said Peter Ledford with the NC Sustainable Energy Association, a coalition member.

In Oct. 2021, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a bipartisan mandate that will require the state to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. (Courtesy: North Carolina Governor’s Office)

Company officials cautioned that the potential annual customer bill increases, ranging from 1.9% to 2.7%, could change and likely would be zero or minimal in the first few years of any plan that regulators approve. Some businesses and advocates for the poor opposed the final legislation because they believed the cost to ratepayers would be much more, or that the law lacked enough monetary assistance for low-income residents.

The law was considered a major regulatory and political accomplishment when enacted in October following negotiations largely between Cooper and state senators from both parties.

Duke is the dominant electric utility in North Carolina, while the two subsidiaries serve roughly a third of South Carolina electricity customers.

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