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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.

North Carolina starts the process of drafting a plan to cut carbon in the energy business

Coal at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman is seen in 2016. The bill calls on state regulators to draw up a plan for closing and replacing coal-fired power.
David Boraks
A mountain of coal at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman in 2016. A new state law could lead to faster closure of some coal-fired plants in the state.

State regulators have laid out the schedule for a yearlong process that's supposed to close coal-fired power plants and transform the electricity business in the Carolinas to address climate change.

It's all happening because of a new state law that Gov. Roy Cooper signed in October. The law gives the North Carolina Utilities Commission until the end of the year to draft a plan to meet the governor's climate goals.

Those goals include cutting carbon emissions from electricity generation by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

The work of drafting the carbon plan began last week when 350 people attended the first of three public meetings hosted by Duke Energy. At least two more are planned — one on Feb. 23 and another before May 13 that has yet still to be scheduled. These all-day sessions are being organized for Charlotte-based Duke Energy by a facilitator, the Great Plains Institute.

The next key date on the schedule is May 16, the deadline for Duke Energy to file its own proposed carbon reduction plan. Regulators then will take public comments and hold public hearings on the plan this summer and fall.

Organizations or businesses that want to become formal intervenors in drafting the plan have until July 15 to seek permission from regulators. That would allow them to provide testimony or their own carbon reduction proposals as regulators draft a final plan.

Regulators have until Dec. 31 to adopt a plan.

The law requires using the cheapest and most reliable technology to replace coal-fired plants. While allowing for solar or wind energy, it also could let Duke Energy expand the construction of new gas-fired power plants.

Energy production accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina, which puts it second behind transportation. The energy reform law was a compromise between the Republican-controlled legislature and Cooper and fellow Democrats.

As WFAE has reported, the law also lets Duke Energy and other utilities seek rate increases over multiple years instead of year-by-year. It would let utilities earn incentives based on meeting goals set by regulators. And it creates a mechanism to reduce Duke Energy's losses if it closes coal-fired power plants earlier than expected and before they're paid off.

Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton said the company is working with regulators in both North Carolina and South Carolina on its clean energy transition while continuing to prioritize affordability and reliability for customers.

"We welcome public participation throughout the Carbon Plan process," Norton said. "Our initial stakeholder meeting had about 350 participants from both states, and participants commented on the constructive tone of the dialogue."

Most meetings and utilities commission proceedings are being held virtually. More information about the stakeholder meetings, including a slide presentation from the Jan. 25 meeting, is on Duke Energy's website.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.