North Carolina proves climate action can be bipartisan

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday signed into law a bipartisan mandate that will require the state to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

House Bill 951: Energy Solutions for North Carolina directs the Utilities Commission to “take all reasonable steps” to achieve the emissions targets from electric public utilities.

“Today, North Carolina moves strongly into a reliable and affordable clean energy future,” Cooper said in a statement. “This new bipartisan law requires the North Carolina Utilities Commission to take steps needed to get North Carolina a 70% reduction in carbon emission by the year 2030 and to carbon neutrality by 2050

“Making transformative change is often controversial and never easy, especially when there are different points of view on big, complex issues. But coming to the table to find common ground is how government should work.”

Under the bill, the Utilities Commission has until the end of next year to develop a plan with utilities to achieve the mandated emissions targets. “The Carbon Plan” will then be reviewed every two years and may be adjusted. Any generation and resource changes must maintain or improve the reliability of the grid.

The Utilities Commission is authorized to direct the procurement of solar energy in 2022 by utilities if determined to be necessary by the initial Carbon Plan. Within 180 days, the Utilities Commission will establish rules for the early retirement of subcritical coal plants.

The bill was changed nearly 50 times since first being introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, Spectrum News reported.

Luis Martinez, director of southeast energy for the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, commended North Carolina leaders for reaching a bipartisan agreement on energy legislation.

“North Carolina is the first state with a Republican-controlled legislature to codify such rigorous climate targets, which include 70% reductions in power-sector carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050,” Martinez said. “While HB951 is a big step forward, the bill also has flaws and more must be done to protect North Carolina’s low-income residents. From here, we will engage in every step of the process — particularly before the North Carolina Utilities Commission — to ensure progress on the carbon reductions and clean energy required by the bill and to ensure that we reduce the energy burden for low-income North Carolinians.”

The bill took effect on the day it was signed into law — Oct. 12.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress continues to haggle over details of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, both with major advancements for climate mitigation and clean energy infrastructure. Budget reconciliation, with the most substantial climate steps, could get cut in half, however, because of objections from moderate Democrats in the U.S. Senate.