(The Center Square) – After months of negotiations, the North Carolina General Assembly is poised to vote on an energy bill this week that lawmakers said will move the state away from coal to renewable energy without a heavy burden for taxpayers.
Gov. Roy Cooper slammed the previous version of House Bill 951 for not doing enough to protect energy consumers. Cooper and legislative leaders now have agreed on a new proposal he said will benefit all stakeholders involved. Critics argue, however, it still benefits corporations over people.
"This bipartisan agreement sets a clean energy course for North Carolina's future that is better for the economy, better for the environment, and better for the pocketbooks of everyday North Carolinians," Cooper said. "I am encouraged that we have been able to reach across the aisle to find a way forward that will update our energy systems while saving people money and doing our part to slow climate change."
The new version of the legislation has not been published, but it will be released Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy and Environment meeting.
Blair Reeves, co-founder of progressive think tank Carolina Forward, said the bill is "deeply problematic." Reeves said it would increase consumers' energy prices and widen the benefits for one of the state's biggest utility companies, Duke Energy.
"At the same time that Duke Energy is demanding consumer rate increases, the company is also raising its shareholder dividend and has spent close to $3 billion buying back its own stock just in the last year," Reeves said.
An April survey conducted by Carolina Forward showed 66% of North Carolina voters want Duke Energy and other utility companies to convert more of their production to renewable energy sources. Reeves, however, said the bill allows the company to rely more on fossil fuels.
"On this bill, the voters lost, and the corporate lobbyists have won," Reeves said.
According to the state leaders, the agreement will require the North Carolina Utilities Commission to find the least expensive but reliable way to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It requires 45% of solar power to come from a competitive bidding process among independent power producers and 55% from public utility units, which lawmakers said would help reduce costs and encourage innovation.
It directs public utility units to use securitization at 50% to retire coal-fired power plants, which lawmakers said also would reduce cost. It also directs the Utilities Commission to develop multiyear rate plans and performance-based incentives on rate making and make accommodations for low-income consumers.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at free-market think tank John Locke Foundation, said the revised bill is an improvement over earlier proposals.
"The John Locke Foundation continues to support energy policies that focus on what's best for the consumer: access to low-cost, reliable energy," Kokai said.
The House agreed, 57-49, to the last version of the bill in July, but Cooper said it weakened the Utilities Commission's ability to prevent higher electricity rates on consumers in the "short-run" and fell short on clean energy in the "long run."
Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the new proposal would help the state establish a stable supply of reliable and affordable energy that would attract more businesses and people to the state.