In NC, Duke Energy got to write a blank check and call it a Carbon Plan | Opinion

Editor’s note: On Dec. 30, 2021, the North Carolina Utilities Commission released its long-awaited Carbon Plan, one of its most important rulings in the last decade. The 137-page ruling directs Duke Energy to drastically reduce its carbon dioxide emissions in the state. The plan was met with widespread criticism and many critics claim it gives deferential treatment to Duke Energy. In this op-ed piece and the one below writers from two diverse political perspectives outline their opposition to the plan.

The decision of the North Carolina Utilities Commission to accept Duke Energy’s Carbon Plan proves once again that the Commission is derelict in its duty to serve the public interest.

The approved Carbon Plan green-lights the build-out of new fossil fuel infrastructure and expensive, unproven technologies while failing to meet the legal requirement set by N.C. House Bill 951 of a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Jodi Lasseter
Jodi Lasseter
Connie Leeper
Connie Leeper

It is deplorable that this Carbon Plan — which was supposed to rapidly transition our state toward a clean energy future — instead only ensures that Duke Energy will reap record profits from the guaranteed rate of return it will earn on the dozens of infrastructure projects this plan includes.

With the untested, unsafe forms of technology included in the plan, it is unclear how, when or even if we will make progress on our actual clean energy transition.

Nuclear power, natural gas and hydrogen are highly polluting and dangerous forms of energy that are neither “clean” nor appropriate to meet the urgency of the climate crisis. The time and cost it will take to build them will take precious resources away from the real solutions of distributed solar and wind power.

Meanwhile, Duke’s coal fired and natural gas facilities will continue to cause worsening public health and climate impacts in our communities.

The plan also diverts investment from distributed solar and wind power which are essential industries for reducing carbon emissions while creating thousands of high-paying jobs. Unions in our state are ready to work on the build-out of solar and wind, but not on modular reactors and hydrogen.

The N.C. Utilities Commission’s choice of energy production may necessitate bringing in workers from outside the state, rather than providing much needed employment for North Carolinians. This Carbon Plan does not account for project labor agreements, which are essential after decades of lax regulations that endanger workers.

If nothing else, we can take away this vital lesson from the past two years of deliberating how to best reduce carbon emissions from North Carolina’s energy sector: We will never get a just outcome from an unjust process.

The Commissioners should have created an equitable approach based on the expertise of scientists and authentic input from impacted communities. Instead, they enabled Duke Energy, the monopoly they are supposed to regulate, to write itself a blank check and call it a Carbon Plan.

Jodi Lasseter and Connie Leeper are founding co-directors of North Carolina Climate Justice Collective.