To ensure North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan succeeds, we must act now

North Carolina is already reeling from the impacts of climate change in the form of severe weather, sea-level rise and extreme heat. Our people and our communities are bearing the cost of inaction. Solutions are needed now, and thankfully more state leaders, like North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, are stepping up and pledging to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In October 2018, Gov. Cooper issued Executive Order 80, which set a goal of reducing North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2025 and called on state agencies to develop plans for achieving that goal. Last month, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, along with other state agencies, did just that by issuing a series of plans for how North Carolina will tackle climate change here at home.

These include the Zero Emissions Vehicle Plan, as well as the Clean Energy Plan, which Secretary Michael Regan, chair of the North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council, presented to the Governor on Sept. 27.

To ensure North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan succeeds, we must act now Click To Tweet

The Secretary received a well-deserved round of applause when he declared the plan’s three priority goals:

  • Reduce electricity power sector greenhouse gas emissions 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Foster long-term energy affordability and price stability for North Carolina’s residents and businesses by modernizing regulatory and planning processes.
  • Accelerate clean energy innovation, development and deployment to create economic opportunities for both urban and rural areas of the state.

EDF applauds these ambitious goals — particularly to achieve net-zero emissions from the electric power sector by midcentury — but the time for clear, bold action to create meaningful change is now. As the Clean Energy Plan states, “New policies are needed to achieve the levels of greenhouse gas emissions required to meet this goal and a carbon neutral power sector by 2050.”

The CEP proposes developing a report on limiting carbon pollution from the power sector and deploying a flexible, market-based framework to achieve that limit as has been done from Maine down to Virginia. This is an essential solution. Such a program will guarantee North Carolina has the policy framework to achieve critical reductions in the power sector — and to sustain and deepen those reductions over time.

The inclusion of such a policy framework in the Clean Energy Plan is powerful — but the time for action is now. This is a proven, time-tested framework that has been delivering reductions in nine other states for a decade and putting a similar limit on carbon pollution in North Carolina should be pursued without delay.

The best way to cut pollution? Binding pollution limits.

A regulatory program that places a limit on the total carbon pollution allowable from the energy sector (or multiple sectors), and then puts in place a flexible market-based compliance strategy stands out as both the most cost-effective and the most capable of delivering quantifiable emissions reductions.

The Cooper administration must move swiftly to initiate a regulatory process in order to establish a declining carbon pollution limit paired with a market-based mechanism that incentivizes flexible and cost-effective reduction opportunities. By doing so, Gov. Cooper would join a growing list of state climate leaders who are translating rhetorical commitments into concrete policy action resulting in quantifiable pollution reductions consistent with achieving science-based reduction targets.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced just last week that he was directing his Department of Environmental Protection to develop a regulation to cap carbon pollution from power plants across the state. He further instructed that such a program should be designed to be compatible with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a market-based carbon emissions reduction program among nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that has a proven track record of reducing emissions at a low cost, and has bipartisan support. Wolf’s DEP will propose the regulation before the environmental quality board no later than next summer — giving the state and stakeholders a framework to thoughtfully evaluate the best way to design such a program to maximize benefits to Pennsylvania.

It’s time for North Carolina to follow the lead of Virginia and Pennsylvania and commit to putting a limit on pollution now to make certain that the state’s power plants are finally required to limit their carbon pollution just as they face limits on other damaging air contaminants.

A just transition

North Carolina must tailor climate solutions for a just transition to a zero-carbon future. It’s critical that strategies are crafted to not inadvertently burden front line communities by simply swapping environmental concerns for economic ones. We support DEQ’s recommendations to address equitable access and energy affordability, especially as they pertain to low-income and energy burdened communities that have historically been disproportionately impacted by electric power generation.

It is critical that the policies North Carolina adopts today create certainty for the future. This will not only prevent a rise in GHG emissions after 2025, once the easiest reductions in emissions have been achieved, but will also provide regulatory and investment certainty for businesses and residential customers across the state. EDF looks forward to continued engagement with the Cooper administration, clean energy partners and policymakers across the state to help ensure a clean, affordable energy future for North Carolina that protects public health and mitigates the worst impacts of climate change.

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