Climate change: North Carolina gov signs major energy law

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, center, speaks before he signs into law a major energy bill, listened to, from left to right, by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham; House Minority Leader Robert Reives, D-Chatham; House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland; and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, during an Executive Mansion ceremony in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Photo: AP/Gary D. Robertson)

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina 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.

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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.”

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.”

“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.