N.C. carbon plan to get Charlotte hearing

Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station, now retired, in Rowan County.
Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station, now retired, in Rowan County. File

Charlotte residents will get to comment on North Carolina’s plan to comply with federal carbon-cutting rules that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration contends are illegal.

States have until September 2016 to say how they will comply with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which will curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Carbon emissions are linked to climate change.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said last week that North Carolina will join 23 other states in filing legal challenges to the rules. Secretary Donald van der Vaart called the rules “federal overreach” that will drive up energy bills.

DEQ crafted a compliance plan that addresses the only part of the federal rules that the department deems legal – improving the operating efficiency of power plants.

“Allowing this proposed rule to proceed to hearing . . . is the best way to comply with the law, protect energy rates and prevent federal takeover of the state’s energy program,” van der Vaart said in a statement Thursday.

According to energy experts, that is a risky course for the state, erasing the benefits of its solar energy industry and utilities’ move from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, which can also be used to comply.

Environmental advocates also criticized the plan, which they said federal officials are likely to reject.

“Rather than make an honest effort to reduce carbon emissions, the McCrory administration would rather use taxpayer money and resources to pick a fight with the EPA,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club.

The state Environmental Management Commission, however, voted Thursday to hold public hearings on DEQ’s limited state plan.

Hearings will be held in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington. The hearing in Charlotte will be at 6 p.m., Dec. 16, at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

DEQ said it will develop a backup compliance plan to be submitted “in the unlikely event that the primary plan is not successful,” van der Vaart said this week.

The federal government can impose plans on states that do not file acceptable versions.

Duke Energy chief executive Lynn Good said Thursday the company believes its phaseout of coal-fired power plants, move to natural gas and energy-efficiency programs will limit the impact of the federal rules. Duke will have a clearer picture in early 2016, she said.

“We are supporters of a stakeholder process to explore a variety of options for a plan, because we believe states’ ability to craft a plan that takes most advantage of their resources and policy expectations is the way to go,” Good said as Duke reported quarterly earnings.

“In many of our (service territory) states, the states are following a parallel path – litigation on the one hand and a stakeholder process on the other. I believe that’s an approach that makes a lot of sense, so you continue to have as many options as you can to comply.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender