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Energy & Environment
WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Businesses Call On Lawmakers To Start Over On Energy Reform Bill

052616MarshallPlant1.jpg
David Boraks
/
WFAE
A mountain of coal at Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman.

A group of North Carolina businesses concerned about climate change says lawmakers should start over on an energy reform bill making its way through the General Assembly.

House Bill 951 passed the House last month and is now in the Senate environment committee. It has faced criticism from other businesses and environmental groups as well. Among other things, it calls on Duke Energy to close five coal-fired power plants earlier than planned, and replace them with gas-fired plants and/or energy storage systems.

In a letter this week to Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper, the businesses say the bill would limit access to affordable renewable energy. They want lawmakers to expand competition and relax limits on utility programs that they say make it hard for businesses to buy renewable energy in North Carolina.

"It is currently difficult to purchase cost-competitive renewable energy in the state and strict program eligibility requirements and arbitrary program caps further reduce accessibility and should be immediately addressed," the letter says.

The businesses also say it strips authority from state utilities regulators. "The North Carolina Utilities Commission is best positioned to balance the interests of the state's electric utilities and its people," the letter says.

And the businesses object to a provision in the bill that preempts the state Environmental Management Commission and North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality from considering their own reforms. Those include setting limits on carbon emissions from power plants and having North Carolina join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The RGGI is a group of 11 states from Maine to Virginia that set limits on carbon emissions and operate a marketplace where power companies can buy and sell carbon allowances — basically the right to pollute.

The letter was signed by 10 businesses: Google, biotech firm Biogen, big food companies Mars Inc., Nestle and Unilever; brewers New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, Schneider Electric, DSM North America, and Gaia Herbs.

Brianna Esteves is with Ceres, a nonprofit that circulated the letter and lobbies for clean energy and climate change policies on behalf of businesses.

"The businesses that we work with want North Carolina and its utilities during the transition to a clean, modern and affordable electricity grid. And we don't see that this bill does that. It doesn't go far enough. And they're actually calling on lawmakers to go back to the drawing board," Esteves said.

Duke Energy says in a statement it expects the legislation to evolve, and says it's committed to a transition away from fossil fuels.

“It's to be expected that there are going to be different points of view in this policy conversation. We look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders, policymakers and Governor Cooper as this proposed policy evolves, and hope everyone can agree that the time is now to accelerate efforts to transition away from coal and protect North Carolinians from price spikes.”

The bill will come up at the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday, where it's scheduled for discussion and public comment.

Here's the letter:

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