Duke Energy’s Actions Matter More Than Its Words

Given Duke Energy’s track record and current actions, we have to look behind the curtain on its clean energy claims in the Carolinas Carbon Plan.

Under North Carolina legislation (HB 951), the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) is required to finalize a carbon reduction plan by the end of 2022. That carbon plan must meet the legislative goal of reducing carbon emissions from electric generation in the state by 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and to net-zero emissions by 2050. This emissions reduction goal was the number one ask of all stakeholders emerging from the two-year Clean Energy Plan process. The NCUC has tasked Duke Energy with: (1) running a stakeholder process that includes at least three meetings; and (2) filing a proposed plan with the NCUC by May 16, 2022.

HB 951 is the compromise legislation that was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper in October 2021. NRDC supported the legislation because it will make binding the governor’s Clean Energy Plan, which established targets of 70 percent reductions in power-sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. HB 951 also requires the NCUC to design and implement a plan to achieve those carbon pollution reduction goals. 

Past NRDC modeling, in the 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) docket, shows that those goals are achievable without substantial new gas investments, meaning that the 70 percent emissions reduction mandate would effectively prevent any new gas builds. This is a much better situation than where we were during the 2018 Duke Energy IRP process, when the company was proposing an additional 9.6 gigawatts of new fracked gas generation in North Carolina.[i] Moreover, the passage of HB 951 also signals that bipartisan progress on climate policy is possible, even in conservative or divided government states.

After Duke’s plan is filed, intervenors, including NRDC and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), will then have the opportunity to file their own plans or evaluations of Duke’s plan within 60 days by July 15, 2022.

While we’ve had high hopes that, with this legislation, Duke Energy would implement a new vision for rapid transition to clean energy, the stakeholder process indicated otherwise. During the stakeholder meetings, Duke signaled that it would potentially build fossil generation outside the state to serve North Carolina’s load; that it may seek to extend the deadline for emission reductions beyond 2030; that it can’t possibly connect solar energy fast enough; that offshore wind energy would somehow disappear in the 2030s; that it is looking seriously at small-modular nuclear, even though that’s not commercially viable; and, in general, it did not include enough measures and programs for equity considerations. SACE has done a longer summary on some of the serious problems that these stakeholder meetings have shown.

Right now, we’re concerned that Duke Energy is only saying the right things, whereas closer inspection of its actions reveals it is not making a good-faith effort to achieve the goals of HB 951 and the needed rapid transition to clean energy.

In April 2022, NRDC, along with several other partners, is running a seven-figure campaign urging Duke Energy to “come clean.” Our ads are airing on Bloomberg, CNBC, FBN, and across North Carolina.

Duke Energy runs a slick ad campaign, and it wants the public to think that it’s committed to producing net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and having a 70 percent clean energy portfolio by 2030. So far, these stakeholder discussions show that this is not the case, as Duke continues to suggest it wants to push the emissions goal past 2030—maybe beyond 2032.

The Dirty Truth

Duke still relies on dirty sources of energy, like biomass and methane, even though these produce some of the most noxious greenhouse gas emissions.

What We Can Do About It

If you believe North Carolina deserves an affordable clean energy future, then join NRDC, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Foundation, and citizens across the Tar Heel state. Your voice needs to be heard.

We are concerned that Duke Energy’s actions do not, and will not, match its words. While the company may be telling investors about its laudable climate and clean energy goals, what we’ve seen is unfortunately more of the same.

Under North Carolina’s House Bill 951, Duke Energy must submit a plan to the NCUC by May 16, 2022, detailing how it will achieve a 70 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Instead, Duke has been stalling while it looks for ways to continue producing energy from methane, as well as from controversial energy sources like nuclear, biomass, and biogas, and also push back the 2030 deadline required by the new law, which is the real way to a real clean energy future.

Making investments in clean energy now will reap enormous economic benefits for North Carolina. Wind and solar electricity, for example, are the cheapest forms of new power. That means that in most places, it is cheaper to build new renewables than to run existing coal-fired facilities. Additionally, while we try to figure out how to compensate Duke Energy for bad coal-generation investments that are no longer competitive and must be retired early, the building of any more fracked gas generation will only lead to another round of early retirements that ratepayers or shareholders may be on the hook for. Finally, we cannot afford to wait around to see if small modular nuclear reactors will ever be viable technology when we have plenty of available and affordable solutions on hand.

Clean energy is already fueling the state’s economy, and North Carolina is the one of the biggest states in the country for solar power—representing almost $8 billion in investments and 7,000 permanent local jobs.

The Bottom Line

Meeting the energy goals of HB 951 are critical to preserving and protecting North Carolina’s environment and public health and driving economic growth across the state.

Duke Energy is a major partner but it needs to be an authentic and genuine leader in achieving North Carolina’s climate and clean energy goals. We remain hopeful that the plan proposed by Duke Energy in May 2022 will demonstrate a long-awaited pivot to a leadership position that drives clean energy transition without trying to delay the goals, without waiting around for unproven technologies, and without more fossil energy. Ultimately, the legislation made the NCUC responsible for creating a final plan and achieving the goals. NRDC, with all of our partners, will work tirelessly to ensure we have a final plan that will deliver the change we need.

i Simply put, Duke Energy’s recent IRPs in North Carolina have been too dependent on outdated fossil fuels, and it undervalued low-cost, low-risk clean energy resources like energy efficiency, demand-side management, renewable energy, and battery storage. Moreover, the passage of HB 951 signals that bipartisan progress on climate policy is possible, even in conservative or divided government states. While HB 951 does make efforts to tie utility revenue to performance in achieving policy goals like energy efficiency improvements or reducing energy burden, it did not go far enough to address equity issues.

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