(The Center Square) – North Carolina's comprehensive energy bill is one step closer to becoming law, but Gov. Roy Cooper says the legislation is flawed.
The North Carolina House approved House Bill 951 early Thursday morning. Cooper has urged lawmakers to oppose and revise the current version of the bill and said it is inadequate and could hurt consumers.
"The House Republican energy legislation as currently written weakens the Utilities Commission's ability to prevent unfair, higher electricity rates on consumers in the short run," Cooper said in a statement before the first House vote. "And in the long run, this bill falls short on clean energy, which will create jobs and contain costs."
The House passed the bill, 58-50, on second reading Wednesday, but Democrats objected to the final reading during the evening session. House leadership then called a midnight vote, finalizing the bill, 57-49.
The measure moves North Carolina away from coal and launches a renewable energy program. It authorizes an alternative rate-making process that includes "decoupling revenue from electricity consumption" and replaces the state's current community solar program.
The House also approved an amendment Wednesday to prohibit Cooper's administration from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative without the Legislature's approval. The initiative is a market-based program meant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said lawmakers included a variety of energy stakeholders in the drafting of the bill that offers the state more diversity in energy sources.
"I'm determined to have North Carolina set the tone for what energy policy should be, and this bill gets our state moving forward, even leading the way," Moore said in a statement.
The bill also lifts several regulatory policies Duke Energy has pushed for in the past. Duke Energy said it answers the concerns of its customers by mobilizing its clean energy plans while keeping energy prices affordable. Part of HB 951 will extend the time Duke and other utility companies need to come before the North Carolina Utilities Commission to seek rate approvals in certain instances.
The Utilities Commission's Public Staff predicts Duke Energy customers could see rates increase directly from the measure by 1.2% to 4.4% by 2035.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said several important stakeholders were left out of the policymaking process. She voted against the bill because it misses Cooper's goals for carbon reduction by about 10%. Cooper's plan calls for a 70% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
Harrison also took issue with the parts of the bill that undermine some of the Utilities Commission's authority and that potentially increases energy rates for North Carolinians.
"There's a lot that we could do if we could work together, and I wish that we had had that opportunity to work together," Harrison said. "I know the governor has tried to work together to try and make this a better bill."