In a surprise move this month, the U.S. Supreme Court “stayed” (or put a hold on) the Clean Power Plan, which sets common-sense carbon pollution standards for power plants, our nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. States can craft their own plans to meet the standards, including the deployment of renewable energy generation, energy efficiency, and fuel switching. The Clean Power Plan also provides incentives for increasing energy efficiency in low-income areas.
About 20 states are moving ahead and continuing work on plans to curb carbon pollution and comply with the plan. Other states – including my home state of North Carolina – are challenging the plan’s implementation. This action is unfortunate because North Carolina will benefit from the plan on many levels, and studies show that compliance is not going to be a problem for North Carolina, as opponents claim.
When utilities such as Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte and also the nation’s largest power company, endorsed the need for carbon reduction targets, there was every reason to be optimistic that North Carolina would develop a serious compliance plan. Duke Energy, along with economic-oriented and environmental stakeholders, were already studying the best approaches.
Then the Supreme Court issued the stay. Does it mean that North Carolina’s low-carbon and clean energy future is thwarted? The answer is an emphatic no, and here are four reasons why.
- Carbon will be regulated.
The Supreme Court decision does not change EPA’s responsibility to regulate carbon emissions. The Clean Power Plan is firmly anchored in our nation’s clean air laws, and the high court has ruled three times that EPA has the authority and responsibility to act. With this authority established, North Carolina would do well to continue planning to meet the standards, even while they are under review by the courts.
Furthermore, there is no reason North Carolina should not be assessing the most cost-effective way to achieve carbon pollution reductions now, to take the greatest advantage of a low-carbon future. This gives North Carolina more power over its plan, and puts it in a good position to comply with the standards.
- Many power companies are already preparing for carbon regulation.
The historic December 2015 Paris agreement – which brought together 196 countries to create a global framework for cutting greenhouse gas emissions –provides even more momentum in the United States to reduce emissions. Power companies appreciate the signal that Paris sends, as well as the regulatory certainty to plan investments that can be subject to lengthy approval processes. Power companies can’t afford to delay incorporating greenhouse gas emission controls into their portfolios, and they need to know where to make their next investments.
What’s more, many power companies are continuing to move forward with their commitments to reduce carbon pollution and to invest in renewables, even in light of the stay. Duke Energy sees controlling carbon as part of its future.
- North Carolina wants to keep its status as an energy leader.
Neighboring states, such as Virginia, have already started to act and will do so regardless of the court’s recent stay, and many other states are also moving forward. Dominion Resources provides service in both states and will be incorporating controls on carbon emissions, while other utilities may recognize an opportunity to develop renewables in North Carolina that they can sell to compliance-oriented states.
Any responsible energy strategy must include alternatives.
- North Carolina has abundant renewable energy resources.
The Clean Power Plan can help North Carolina move more quickly toward a diversified energy portfolio and expedite clean energy’s incorporation into that mix. Any responsible energy strategy must include alternatives.
So what now? North Carolina has an opportunity to lead, to get ahead of the curve, to bring the stakeholders together, and to start making a plan. As prices for renewable energy continue to drop, and technology to reduce energy losses and store renewables come online, the state has an opportunity that must be embraced.
Now is the time to create the vision for a clean energy future for North Carolina. The stay of the Clean Power Plan should not get in the way of building that future now.