NC Department of Environmental Quality

N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

RALEIGH — Modernizing utility incentives, tools and planning and reducing the energy burden for low-income residents are some of the goals laid out in the N.C. Clean Energy Plan, which will be presented to Gov. Roy Cooper by Oct. 1.

The 137-page report was commissioned by Cooper’s executive order in October 2018, which Cooper believes will make state citizens healthier and put the state in a better economic position to become a clean energy producer.

“The Clean Energy Plan is a shared vision for the energy future we need in North Carolina,” said Secretary Michael S. Regan of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in a statement. “It includes consensus policy recommendations on the key changes necessary to combat climate change, create economic growth and modernize our power grid.”

A total of 164 organizations across the state participated in the development process through workshops and listening sessions, according to the draft document. Local organizations include Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Appalachian State University and environmental nonprofit Appalachian Voices.

Renee Whitener, spokesperson for local energy utility Blue Ridge Energy, said the utility provided comments to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality through its statewide trade association, the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Five strategy areas and actions are listed.

  • “Utility Incentives and Comprehensive System Planning” addresses recommendations related to utility compensation methods, regulatory processes and long-term utility system planning.
  • “Customer Access to Clean Energy and Economic Development” focuses on the methods to increase customer access to clean energy resources, regulatory processes related to the way clean energy resources are valued and evaluation of emerging areas such as wind energy, to further create economic opportunity for the state.
  • “Equitable Access and Just Transition” targets actions for addressing energy burden of low income communities and job training to create a workforce to meet future demand.
  • “Carbon Reduction and Resilience” addresses actions that can be taken to mitigate the effects of climate change through emission reductions and minimizing its impact by building a resilient power grid.
  • “Beneficial Electrification and Energy Efficiency” contains recommendations that would move the transportation sector from fossil fuels to electrification and decrease demands on the power grid through energy efficiency.

Several priority recommendations were made in the plan with ideas either put under short-term solutions (in the next year) or medium-to-long-term solutions (one-to-three years and three-to-five years, respectively).

Under the recommendation of modernizing utility incentives and tools, one of the short-term ideas includes launching a stakeholder process to inform future policy makers about “policies and tools that better align utility incentives with public interest, grid needs and state energy and carbon policy.” Other short-term ideas include grid modernization and supporting clean energy solutions.

The idea of providing customer access to equitable access and energy affordability includes short-term solutions such as developing a green energy bank or statewide clean energy fund and developing statewide and regional offshore wind collaborative partnerships.

Short-term actions for carbon reduction and grid resilience strategy and action include requiring utilities to develop projects focused on distributed energy resources, community solutions and microgrids at state facilities and critical infrastructure locations, such as hospitals and shelters.

In providing equitable access and a just transition, short-term solutions include examining the feasibility and proper design of a low-income rate class and associated rate structures, mentioning the elimination or reduction of fixed charges for ratepayers with high energy burdens. Another short-term solution includes including marginalized people in decision making in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Establishing an energy efficiency advisory council, having minimum energy efficiency goals and updating the N.C. Building Code to ensure these goals are reached are some of the other short-term plans included.

Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst with Appalachian Voices, said he took part in two working groups as part of the plan and submitted a letter in response to the draft plan on Sept. 9. The two groups McIlmoil took part in produced the N.C. Energy Efficiency Roadmap and the “Equitable Access and Just Transition to Clean Energy,” plan. Recommendations from both were included in the draft.

In his Sept. 9 letter, McIlmoil states that the plan falls short in several areas.

“We call on Governor Cooper and state government agencies to do more to ensure that rural areas in N.C. are set more squarely at the center of the final plan,” McIlmoil’s letter states. “If equity is a central focus of the plan, it can’t just be a plan for Duke Energy customers, for urban areas and for the affluent. But to achieve that goal, we need to address the significant barriers to expanding clean energy opportunities for rural and low-income communities.”

“It is important to keep in mind that this is a 2030 vision plan with some goals that may go beyond a 10-year planning horizon,” Whitener said. “(Blue Ridge Energy) will continue to evolve specific initiatives to meet our part of state and federal guidelines, but not all have been developed or economically analyzed at his point.”

Overall, the Clean Energy Plan calls for cooperation between all sectors that are or could be involved in producing clean energy.

“An ongoing transformation of North Carolina’s electricity system requires ambitious actions at the state and local levels, with active participation from the private sector,” the conclusion of the Clean Energy Plan states. “To achieve the goals and performance measurement targets laid out in the Clean Energy Plan, a framework is needed that centers on strategic investments that provide long-term energy, economic and environmental benefits.

“In the coming months and years, the entities identified in this plan are called upon to lead this effort by carrying out the stated recommendations or make adjustments within their normal business and operational practices to achieve the collective vision,” the Clean Energy Plan concludes. “We recognize that certain strategies and actions will require additional deeper dives and detailed analysis when considering new legislation or amending existing policies/practices. Many experts from within the state and across the country are ready to work with North Carolina leaders to continue transforming our state into a national leader in the clean energy economy.”

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