RALEIGH — Citing major storms that have destroyed many parts of North Carolina in recent years, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order aiming to curb climate change on Monday.
“A strong clean energy economy combats climate change while creating good jobs and a healthy environment,” said Cooper, a Democrat. “With historic storms lashing our state, we must combat climate change, make our state more resilient and lessen the impact of future natural disasters.”
The ceremony took place at the SAS Institute’s solar farm in Cary, according to media reports.
Citing the state constitution’s conservation requirements, Cooper said the state will support the 2015 Paris Agreement goals and honor the state’s commitments to the United States Climate Alliance.
Cooper sets three goals to accomplish by 2025, including: reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels; increase the number of registered, zero-emission vehicles to at least 80,000; and reduce energy consumption per square foot in state-owned buildings by at least 40 percent from fiscal year 2002-03 levels.
The order also establishes the North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council, with the goals of recommending new and updated goals and actions and implementing programs to address climate change.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is directed to develop an N.C. Clean Energy Plan by Oct. 1, 2019, to encourage the use of clean energy, including wind, solar, energy efficiency, and energy storage.
Other goals ordered by Cooper include: cabinet agencies evaluating impacts of climate change and integrating climate change mitigation into operations; accelerating and prioritizing zero-emission vehicles across state government; having the N.C. DEQ improve cabinet agencies’s energy efficiency and publicly report utility consumption; empowering the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s expansion of clean energy businesses and service providers, clean technology investment with companies who have a commitment to procuring renewable energy; and intergrating climate mitigation and resiliency planning into cabinet policies, programs and operations.
The order was lauded by multiple climate groups nationwide, plus the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and Audubon North Carolina, but faced criticism from N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger.
“While arbitrary platitudes might satisfy far-left donors, our state’s energy policies have to account for the real costs they impose on the public,” Berger told ABC-11 out of Raleigh. “I support an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes renewables, but I don’t support programs that have minimal positive impact and can only sustain themselves with taxpayer and ratepayer money from those who can least afford it. The key is to find solutions that actually work in the private market, and I’m open to any and all ideas that help get us there.”
Locally, the High Country has seen commitments to clean energy from its local governments. In July, Boone Town Council approved $100,000 to implement solar collectors around town for its 2030 Clean Energy Plan.
Blowing Rock Town Council approved a resolution calling on the state and the U.S. to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Boone passed the same resolution in September 2017.
Appalachian State University Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball applauded Cooper’s measures.
“As a leader in sustainable initiatives for the state, ASU supports efforts to encourage the development and use of technology and products that are environmentally and economically advantageous for the citizens of North Carolina,” Lee said. “At the university level, we have seen a financial benefit to developing the awareness of how to solve complex problems that have an environmental as well as an economic impact: more than half of our students have chosen to attend ASU because of our commitment to think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications.
Ball noted that ASU has hosted the Appalachian Energy Summit, which has to date saved the UNC system campuses and industry partners nearly $800 million in avoided energy costs.
Former ASU professor and environmentalist Harvard Ayers of Boone said that Cooper’s executive order was “100 percent positive.”
“I see nothing here that isn’t good,” Ayers said. “Everything in here is working towards getting more carbon-free energy and getting more carbon-free fuel for vehicles we all drive.”
Ayers did caution that Cooper signing off on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would mean getting to the goals would be “impossible” and is something to work on.