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Expert witness hearing starts Tuesday on Duke Energy's carbon plan

Duke Energy workers install photovoltaic panels at the Speedway Solar project in Cabarrus County last fall.
Duke Energy
Duke Energy workers install photovoltaic panels at the Speedway Solar project in Cabarrus County in 2021. The speed that the state moves toward solar and wind power will be determined by regulators this fall.

Expert witness hearings on Duke Energy's proposed carbon reduction plan begin Tuesday morning in Raleigh.

State utility regulators will hear from experts with Duke Energy, environmental and business groups and the state attorney general's office. The testimony will guide the North Carolina Utilities Commission as it finalizes a plan to eliminate carbon emissions from energy plants that cause climate change by 2050.

Last year's North Carolina energy reform law, House Bill 951, ordered the Utilities Commission to draft a plan to meet the state's climate goals. The plan included cutting carbon emissions from energy production by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

Regulators will be considering multiple scenarios from Duke as well as alternate plans from other groups. Duke Energy's Kendal Bowman talks about the company's approach when it filed its plans in May.

"We're trying to get to this carbon reduction, which benefits everyone. But we're doing it under those fundamental principles of affordability while ensuring reliability," Bowman said.

Since filing its plans, Duke has faced a barrage of criticism from local government leaders, businesses, environmental groups and the attorney general's office. In public statements and utilities commission filings, many argue that Duke's plans don't move quickly enough to renewable energy. They say Duke is relying too heavily on plans to build costly natural gas-fired plants in place of coal.

The question for regulators is whether to approve one or all of Duke's plans or adopt a faster timetable for expanding solar and wind power, as others would have them do.

In an interview last week, NC Attorney General Josh Stein said he hopes the commission will listen to those questioning Duke's assumptions.

"I think that the commission is going to give full consideration to all of the arguments that are made," Stein said. "It's going to be a very detailed and comprehensive hearing. (Duke's) experts will testify. Our experts will testify. Other parties' experts will testify. And so I think the commission is going to have a rich source of information to consider when it makes a determination on what the plan actually should be."

The hearings are expected to take several weeks. The Utilities Commission must approve a plan by Dec. 31.

The hearings begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. They'll stream live on YouTube. For details, see https://www.ncuc.net/Consumer/carbonplan.html

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.