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Groups say Duke Energy carbon plan limits their climate efforts

Coal at marshall plant.jpg
David Boraks
Coal at the Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman is seen in 2016. Regulators are reviewing Duke Energy's plan for closing coal-fired plants and shifting to cleaner energy.

Businesses and local governments across North Carolina have set goals for reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. But they say those climate goals could be out of reach unless state regulators require changes in Duke Energy's plan for cutting carbon emissions from energy generation.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission has until the end of the year to approve the so-called carbon plan.

On Tuesday, a group of 13 companies and organizations in the pharmaceutical, food and brewing industries sent a letter urging regulators not to approve a plan that fails to prioritize energy efficiency and renewable energy.

"The trend is that companies are committing to 100% renewable energy. And companies are really explicitly advocating for policies and proposals that decarbonize the power sector as quickly as possible," said Alli Gold Roberts, senior director of state policy at the sustainability group Ceres, which coordinated the letter.

The group includes companies based in North Carolina or with significant operations here. They include Biogen, Burt's Bees, Unilever, Earth Equity, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, Nestle, New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada brewing.

Meanwhile, eight local governments, including Raleigh, Durham, Matthews, and Greensboro, sent regulators a letter expressing concern that Duke's plan would hinder their climate goals.

"Even with implementing everything possible in our control, we will not be able to meet our goals without significant and swift decarbonisation of our electricity grid," Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger told regulators at a virtual public hearing Tuesday.

Other communities, including Charlotte and Asheville, also have filed comments on Duke's plan.

Nancy Carter of Charlotte, a former City Council member, told regulators at Tuesday's hearing that she's part of a group monitoring the city's progress at meeting its Strategic Energy Action Plan goals for cutting carbon emissions.

"We're convinced that neither the 2030 nor the 2050 goals approved by council are achievable at the current governmental, institutional and private level of funding, focus and fundamental commitment. A major part of this view is formed by the reliance of all of these entities on energy mainly through our provided by Duke Energy," she said. "If Duke does not move forward more rapidly to non-carbon emitting fuel, no other entities will be successful."

Regulators have scheduled an expert witness hearing that begins on Sept. 13 and could last weeks.

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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.