North Carolina will have to reduce its rate of carbon emissions from power plants 40 percent to comply with a rule the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Monday. That's among the larger reductions the EPA is calling for in its push to reduce emissions.
The EPA wants to cut carbon emissions from power plants 30 percent nationwide by 2030. To get there, the EPA set specific goals for each state based on their energy mixes.
North Carolina would need to cut how much carbon its coal and natural gas plants emit for each unit of energy they produce by 40 percent.
Washington state would have to cut its rate the most (72 percent), while North Dakota would need to cut its rate the least (11 percent).
Victor Flatt is an environmental law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He said North Carolina's goal is achievable.
"There's still quite a bit of room in North Carolina to continue adding renewables," he said. "There's a lot of room for increasing energy efficiency. There's still room for substituting power production from coal to natural gas."
And Flatt said the proposed rule gives states the flexibility to use those and other tools to reach the goal. They can even set up regional cap and trade systems.
States would have to submit a plan to the EPA on how they'd hit the mark. A spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the state has concerns about the practicality – and legality – of the proposed rule.
But North Carolina has made progress on this front. Charlotte-based Duke Energy is the 800-pound gorilla of the North Carolina energy industry, and here's Duke Spokesman Chad Eaton:
"Duke has retired or has announced the retirement of nearly 6,800 megawatts of older coal and large oil-fired capacity," he said. "And our CO2 emissions across the enterprise are nearly 20 percent lower than they were in 2005."
However, Eaton would not say what Duke thinks of the new EPA target or what the company would need to do to meet that target.
"Our evaluation of this proposed rule will include a thorough examination of potential compliance costs our customers will ultimately bear," he said.
He's hinting at a common refrain from energy companies about the new EPA proposal – it's going to raise your energy bill.
The EPA disagrees. It projects that if states hit their targets, energy bills would actually decrease 8 percent.
Flatt from UNC said that could happen.
"And the reason is because any gains that are made in efficiencies, either end-user efficiencies - how well people use the electricity - or efficiencies at the plant, are almost always cost-saving overall," he said.
But bottom line, Flatt said it's tough to project how this will impact your energy bill before the changes start taking place.
That could be a while. The EPA is now taking public comments on the proposed rule and will finalize it a year from now, assuming it doesn’t get mired down in lawsuits.