Gov. Cooper signs energy bill into law: What you need to know

RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a milestone energy bill into law Wednesday that aims to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s power plants by 2030, celebrating the legislative accomplishment with Republican lawmakers.

In a ceremony with legislators from both parties, Cooper enacted a consensus measure that now tasks the state Utilities Commission with coming up by the end of 2022 with the arrangements to meet the carbon dioxide reduction goals sought by the governor.

At least 16 states previously have passed legislation establishing greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The only other Southeast state to have done so before Wednesday was Virginia.

“This is a new beginning,” Cooper said at the Executive Mansion ceremony. “Putting real and enforceable carbon reduction targets into the law, North Carolina is working to reduce the effect of climate change on marginalized populations, while putting our state at the forefront of the clean energy economy and the jobs that it brings.”

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The directive aims to reduce energy producers’ carbon dioxide output 70% from 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve zero-net CO2 emissions by 2050. To get there, coal-fired power plants operated by Duke Energy, the state’s dominant utility, are expected to be retired early, replaced by an evolving mix of alternate fuels for electricity. Duke and other advocacy groups will have input, too.

The new law also allows Duke Energy to seek multiyear rate increases and performance-based earnings incentives from the state Utilities Commission — a significant win for the Charlotte-based company. Representatives of Duke and other business groups supporting the new law attended the ceremony.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, described the law as a pro-economic growth measure, saying the business slowdown during the Colonial Pipeline disruption in the spring signaled the “consequences of an extended energy supply crunch.”

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“So it was critically important that the leaders of our state come together to agree on legislation for our energy future, and we did that,” Berger said. “The framework we put in place ensures continued reliability of energy here in North Carolina.”

The operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, Colonial confirmed it paid $4.4 million to a gang of hackers shortly after a May 7 ransomware attack that had temporarily taken the pipeline system offline.

Despite strong bipartisan support for the final measure and Cooper’s involvement in negotiations, many environmental groups and advocates for the poor declined to endorse the measure. They said it provided too many loopholes for delaying percentage-reduction emissions goals. They also said it gave Duke an outsized role in forming the plan and lacked monetary assistance for low-income customers to address expected higher bills.

“This plan is not designed to support those hurt first and worst by the ongoing climate crisis,” the North Carolina Council of Churches said in a recent statement, adding the bill “will only benefit those who are already thriving, not those who are barely surviving.”

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Bill supporters said there are ratemaking guardrails inside the measure and several other current programs to help customers with efficient electricity use. And the commission must achieve the “least cost path” and ensure energy reliability in reaching the targeted percentages. Cooper said renewable energy sources also would continue to decline in price.

The governor and others opposed the original measure that passed the House in July, which was much more prescriptive in telling Duke Energy which specific plants to retire early and at times what replacement fuel should be used, like natural gas. It also would have failed to reach the 70% CO2 reduction goal for 2030 that Cooper wanted. This led to extensive talks between state senators and Cooper for an agreement that was announced almost two weeks ago.

“We’re putting into law the roadmap for a sustainable future for our children and our grandchildren,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County said. “The efforts to see this plan across the finish line cannot be understated.”

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New wind farms would dot US coastlines under Biden plan

Seven major offshore wind farms would be developed on the East and West coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico under a plan announced Wednesday by the Biden administration.

The projects are part of President Joe Biden’s plan to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, generating enough electricity to power more than 10 million homes.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said her department hopes to hold lease sales by 2025 off the coasts of Maine, New York and the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Carolinas, California, Oregon and the Gulf of Mexico. The projects are part of Biden’s plan to address global warming and could avoid about 78 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, while creating up to 77,000 jobs, officials said.

“The Interior Department is laying out an ambitious road map as we advance the administration’s plans to confront climate change, create good-paying jobs and accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner energy future,” Haaland said. “We have big goals to achieve a clean energy economy and Interior is meeting the moment.”

In addition to offshore wind, the Interior Department is working with other federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands, Haaland said, with a goal of at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy from wind and solar power by 2025.

Haaland and Amanda Lefton, director of department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said officials hope to reduce potential conflicts with fishing groups and other ocean users as much as possible. “This means we will engage early and often with all stakeholders prior to identifying any new wind energy areas,” Lefton said in a statement.

Commercial fishing businesses have said planned offshore wind projects off the East Coast would make it difficult to harvest valuable seafood species such as scallops and lobsters. Some conservation groups also fear that big turbines will kill thousands of birds

Biden has set a goal to deploy 30 gigawatts, or 30,000 megawatts, of offshore wind power in the United States by 2030. Meeting the target could mean jobs for more than 44,000 workers and for 33,000 others in related employment, the White House said.

The bureau completed its review of a construction and operations plan for the Vineyard Wind project 15 miles off the Massachusetts coast earlier this year. The agency is reviewing nine additional projects, including the South Fork wind farm near New York’s Long Island and the Ocean Wind project off New Jersey.

Vineyard Wind is expected to produce about 800 megawatts of power and South Fork about 132 megawatts. Ocean Wind, the largest project, has a total capacity of 1,100 megawatts, enough energy to power 500,000 homes across New Jersey.

The administration has committed to processing the 13 other projects currently under federal review by 2025.

The ocean energy agency has said it is targeting offshore wind projects in shallow waters near Long Island and New Jersey. A recent study shows the area can support up to 25,000 development and construction jobs by 2030, the Interior Department said.

Heather Zichal, a former climate adviser to President Barack Obama who now leads the American Clean Power Association, a renewable energy group, said Biden’s goal for offshore wind was “ambitious but achievable.? Wind power is an essential part of the goal to reach 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, she said.

In a related announcement, the Energy Department said it is spending $11.5 million to study risks that offshore wind development may pose to birds, bats and marine mammals, and survey changes in commercial fish and marine invertebrate populations at an offshore wind site on the East Coast.

The department will spend $2 million on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds at potential wind sites on the West Coast.

“In order for Americans living in coastal areas to see the benefits of offshore wind, we must ensure that it’s done with care for the surrounding ecosystem by coexisting with fisheries and marine life – and that’s exactly what this investment will do,’’ Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a news release.

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