At rally and hearing, speakers challenge Duke carbon plan
North Carolina's debate over how to eliminate carbon emissions from energy production made its way to Charlotte Thursday, with a rally by climate activists uptown and a public hearing later before state regulators.
Last year's energy reform law requires the North Carolina Utilities Commission to adopt a carbon reduction plan by year's end to reach the state's climate goals. These include cutting carbon emissions from energy plants by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero carbon by 2050.
About 75 climate activists gathered at Marshall Park uptown where speakers argued for the speedy elimination of fossil fuels and fair pricing for consumers. Some chanted slogans including "Make NC Fossil Free" and "What do we want? Renewables, When do we want 'em? Now."
Corine Mack of the Charlotte Mecklenburg NAACP called on Duke Energy to move more quickly toward clean energy.
"There are some people who refuse to do what is right. What the scientists have said over and over and over again (is) turn back environmental injustice. Begin to do what we need to do to have clean air and clean energy," Mack said.
Some scenarios in Duke Energy's carbon plan would miss the carbon reduction goals embedded in last year's energy reform law. John Harvey of the Climate Action Project of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters told the crowd:
"We're all here today because we can't continue on business as usual. And the good thing about that is everybody here today has the power to enact change. So we're asking the North Carolina Utilities Commission to take control over how this carbon plan is constructed and pass a plan that does not delay our 70% clean energy goal by 2030."
The environmental group NC WARN co-hosted the rally with several Charlotte groups. Director Jim Warren said during the event that he hopes the utilities commission listens to the comments of those who have raised questions about Duke's plan.
"I mean, it's a solid wall of opposition from the nonprofit community to the attorney general to big business, you know, the big techs and others. I think Duke stepped too far with the way they rigged the plan to make gas look better and to make renewables with storage look worse," Warren said.
Public hearing comments
The rally preceded a public hearing on energy reform at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. There, state utility regulators heard comments from about 40 speakers on how the state should reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Most opposed Duke Energy's proposed carbon plan, submitted in May.
The hearing was the last of four around the state this month to help the North Carolina Utilities Commission draft a plan for cutting carbon emissions at Duke Energy plants. The plan is required under an energy reform law adopted last year.
Many speakers singled out Duke's plans to construct new natural gas plants to replace coal. The Reverend Amy Brooks Paradise of Huntersville says we need "moral urgency" around the energy transition.
"In my work, I see people around the world are suffering from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and consumption. Duke Energy's response is to present us with plans that demand we rely on fossil fuels for decades to come. This is wrong, it must stop," she said.
June Blotnick, executive director of CleanAIRE NC, urged the commission to reject Duke Energy's multi-scenario carbon plan and adopt its own.
"We strongly urge the commission to investigate and choose the best ways to reduce carbon emissions as fast as possible, while minimizing costs and ensuring equity given the current state of climate emergency," Blotnick said.
Former Charlotte Mayor and climate activist Jennifer Roberts pointed out that many local governments in North Carolina have adopted their own carbon reduction goals, to help fight climate change. But she said they can't get there with Duke Energy's plan.
"They're not going to meet those plans. With this current (Duke Energy) carbon plan, we're going to let our cities and counties down because it has been shown that many of its calculations are suspect. And it does not get off fossil fuels fast enough," Roberts said.
Hannah Stephens of the group Sunrise Charlotte was among a group of 10 activists in their 20s who joined both the rally and the hearing. She worried that Duke Energy has too much control over the process and that the utilities commission will ignore younger people like her. She and her fellow activists walked out of the hearing room after her comments.
Consultant John Gaertner of Charlotte said Duke Energy has made great strides in adding renewable energy to its plans, based on feedback from the community. He told WFAE that Duke's proposed carbon plan is a good starting point in the transition to clean energy.
"My hope for this process is that because Duke has made a diligent effort and proposed a carbon plan, that now the public sector can pick it up, and we'll move forward together to improve it and reach our objectives with it," Gaertner said.
Listening to the proceedings were several Duke Energy officials, including spokesman Bill Norton, who said during a break: "We've already retired two-thirds of our coal plants. We're proposing three times the current level of solar. So we all have the same goal in the end, which is net zero emissions by 2050. It's really just the path about how we're going to get there."
The utilities commission is expected to call for expert witness hearings in September. It's supposed to adopt a carbon plan by year's end, and then update it every two years.