NC Utilities Give Glimpse Of Opposition To U.S. Carbon Rule

Oct 3, 2014

Opposition is already shaping up to the Environmental Protection Agency rule that, if enacted, would be the first to limit how much carbon the nation’s existing power plants can emit into the air. At the Making Energy Work conference in Uptown Charlotte on Thursday, North Carolina utilities gave an early glimpse of the grounds on which they oppose the rule.

Duke Energy's Buck coal plant in Rowan County
Credit Duke Energy

“We’re not sure that it can be implemented as written,” Duke Energy senior vice president Dwight Jacobs said during a panel discussion at the event.

The carbon cuts vary by state, requiring North Carolina power plants to emit about 40 percent less carbon for each unit of energy produced.

To hit their emissions targets, the EPA projects states will need to close about a fifth of their coal plants, upgrade and scale back others, and heavily rely on natural gas to fill the void. Jacobs suggested the effort to be cleaner would hurt other utility considerations.

“We have to constantly balance on behalf of our customer reliability, being clean, being safe, and making sure it’s affordable,” he said.

“There’ll be plenty of litigation on it, that’s for sure,” said Bob Schwentker, a senior vice president at the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, which supplies power to North Carolina’s smaller, cooperative utilities.

After the EPA proposed the rule in June, nine Republican governors, including governor Pat McCrory, swiftly signed a letter opposing it as a federal overreach. North Carolina’s environment agency has threatened to sue over a mid-2016 deadline for states to submit plans.

Schwentker also aired another common North Carolina grievance: Utilities in the state have already been cutting back on coal usage and adding renewables in reaction to state law already on the books, but the EPA did not credit states for past cuts—the basic formula looks at what states could do, rather than what they have already done.

“There are a lot of things that have gone in, a lot of steps that were taken in North Carolina, that I’m not sure the rule is giving credit for,” says Schwentker.