(The Center Square) – Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a bill into law that transitions the state to clean energy. Backers said the bill ensures the smallest burden on consumers to reach carbon emissions goals.

House Bill 951 requires the North Carolina Utilities Commission to find the least expensive but reliable way to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

"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," Cooper said Oct. 13 during a bill signing ceremony.

HB 951 will require 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.

The legislation directs public utility units to use securitization at 50% to retire coal-fired power plants, which lawmakers also said 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.

The House approved the measure, 90-20, on Oct. 7 after it cleared the Senate, 42-7 on Oct. 6.

Critics of the bill said it prioritizes big utility companies over consumers. Others said it centers around misconceptions about climate change. The measure, the 49th version of the proposal, was a compromise between Republican and Democrat legislative leaders.

"We're quickly approaching an energy crisis here in North Carolina," Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said. "The gas shortages following the Colonial Pipeline disruption was a fairly gentle reminder of the consequences of an extended energy supply crunch, so it was critically important that the leaders of our state come together to agree on legislation for our energy future."

North Carolina faced gas shortages after the Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline reported a ransomware attack May 7. It also resulted in a spike in gas prices.

Cooper said the new law would bring more jobs to the state. He said the clean energy industry accounts for nearly 113,000 jobs in North Carolina and contributed $22.5 billion to the state's economy between 2007 and 2020.

"I look forward to watching those numbers grow," Cooper said.

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