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Wide-Ranging NC Energy Bill Would Mean Significant Move To Natural Gas

State House Republicans have introduced wide-ranging energy legislation. One of the proposals in the "Modernize Energy Generation" measure is to transition five Duke Energy coal plants in North Carolina to mostly natural gas by 2030.

The bill says switching the coal plants to either natural gas or solar power could lead to a 60% reduction in carbon emissions in the state by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. This compares to the 70% reduction sought by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his Clean Energy Plan.

The state currently has eight operational coal-fired power plants, according to the United States Energy Information Administration's latest 2020 North Carolina report. With no local coal production, the combustible is transported in by rail primarily from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, the EIA reports.

Based on EIA analysis, the majority of the state's energy was derived from coal prior to 2012, but nuclear and natural gas now represent an increasing segment of North Carolina's energy production. The agency reports that nearly 30 coal-fired plants have been retired in North Carolina since 2011, replaced by approximately 30 natural-gas units.

The "Modernize Energy Generation" bill was drawn up with input from utilities, customer and business groups and renewable energy boosters, said Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican and bill sponsor.

But some sustainable energy advocates say this measure is simply trading one fossil fuel for another.

David Kelly of the Environmental Defense Fund says the bill essentially mandates the new natural gas power plants, even though the North Carolina Utilities Commission typically has to approve such projects.

"The legislation appears to bind the hands of the Commission, irrespective of how those new power plants stack up against available alternatives," said Kelly.

The proposed legislation will be discussed Thursday during a House energy committee meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Celeste Gracia was born and raised in deep south Texas. She’s always loved to read and write, so when she discovered journalism in high school, she knew it was for her. She graduated from the University of North Texas. She previously interned at CBS News Radio in New York and Morning Edition in Washington D.C. She constantly craves cookies & creme ice cream and enjoys singing along to Broadway musicals.
Laura Pellicer is a producer with The State of Things (hyperlink), a show that explores North Carolina through conversation. Laura was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, a city she considers arrestingly beautiful, if not a little dysfunctional. She worked as a researcher for CBC Montreal and also contributed to their programming as an investigative journalist, social media reporter, and special projects planner. Her work has been nominated for two Canadian RTDNA Awards. Laura loves looking into how cities work, pursuing stories about indigenous rights, and finding fresh voices to share with listeners. Laura is enamored with her new home in North Carolina—notably the lush forests, and the waves where she plans on moonlighting as a mediocre surfer.