Green energy advocates to march over carbon plan

Duke Energy's Marshall coal-fired power plant on Lake Norman.
Duke Energy's Marshall coal-fired power plant on Lake Norman. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Green energy advocates will march through Charlotte on Wednesday to protest what they call a sure-to-fail state plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

North Carolina and other states have to detail how they will obey Obama administration rules that are intended to cut emissions linked to climate change 32 percent by 2030.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s environmental agency contends the plan is a largely illegal “federal intrusion” that will drive up electricity rates. North Carolina is one of 24 states that have sued the administration to overturn it.

The Department of Environmental Quality crafted a compliance plan that is limited to improving how efficiently coal-fired power plants operate.

The plan ignores two other potential solutions – increased reliance on cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable energy – that DEQ argues can’t legally be applied.

A public hearing in Charlotte on Wednesday night, held by the state Environmental Management Commission, will be followed by hearings in Raleigh on Thursday and Wilmington on Jan. 5.

“I think what you’re going to hear from everybody is the need for a meaningful plan, particularly in the wake of the talks in Paris,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club.

Nearly 200 nations agreed in Paris last weekend to take measures that will limit warming temperatures, driven at least in part by carbon emissions, to no more than 3.6 degrees.

Green energy advocates say DEQ, in proposing a limited plan, is picking a legal fight with EPA that it won’t win. They complain that the public wasn’t consulted in crafting the plan, which was developed internally by the department’s Division of Air Quality.

“DAQ staff will read and consider all comments that are made at the public hearings or submitted during the public comment period” that ends Jan. 15, department spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco said by email.

Hawco said the department will seek broader input in developing a backup plan, consistent with the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the rules, once its initial plan is submitted by September. The backup plan will be submitted only if North Carolina’s legal challenge fails, she said.

EPA’s goal for North Carolina is a 36 percent reduction in emission rates by 2030, compared to 2012. The state’s limited plan falls short of that target. The federal agency may impose a plan on North Carolina if the state doesn’t file an acceptable version.

Most states that have filed legal challenges of the carbon rules are already working on plans to submit if they lose in court, said Jonas Monast, climate and energy director at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

“Where North Carolina is different is that it appears to be working on a plan that ignores the target the EPA has assigned,” Monast said. “DEQ is relying on its own interpretation of the Clean Power Plan rather than EPA’s interpretation. As far as I’m aware, that is not what other states are doing.”

North Carolina would likely be close to meeting the EPA carbon goal if the state’s plan included recent energy trends. Those include a move by utilities to natural gas and a green-power boom that has made it the nation’s fourth-largest solar energy state.

Duke Energy, which has cut its carbon emissions 22 percent since 2005, said Tuesday it is “carefully reviewing DEQ’s approach and preparing comments for submission.”

Chief executive Lynn Good has previously said Duke 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 expects to have a clearer picture in early 2016.

“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 in November.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

Clean Power Plan hearing

The Environmental Management Commission will hear comments on the state plan for complying with the federal rules at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. in Charlotte.