WASHINGTON – An environmentally and economically damaging power bill crafted behind closed doors by Duke Energy and North Carolina state lawmakers is now public, drawing swift condemnation from environmentalists, consumer watchdog groups and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, because it would boost fossil fuels and punish ratepayers.
The secret months-long talks that locked out consumer and environmental advocacy groups produced the bill, HB 951, which was released on June 17. It would allow the monopoly utility Duke to ignore the climate crisis by building new fossil gas plants. Greater reliance on dirty fossil fuels will set back efforts to promote cleaner energy and delay vital emissions cuts.
And that’s just one part of a harmful bill that would also lock in prospective nuclear power plant permitting costs on the backs of ratepayers, ensure unwarranted and double-dipping additional charges on customer bills, restrict solar development, and ensure utilities have ironclad control over the electric system while increasing their profits.
The only part of the legislation that isn’t clear is what benefit it would create for consumers, because ratepayers are on the hook for the cost of implementing it.
“This bill is proof positive that the most important and powerful constituent in North Carolina, at least in the eyes of the Republican leaders in the state legislature, is Duke Energy,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “We can expect more reliance on fossil fuels, higher monthly bills for ratepayers and a pitiful neglect of renewable energy sources, among other offenses, if this bill becomes law.”
EWG has long warned about the flaws of an “all of the above” energy policy, code for more expensive and dirty natural gas plants and nuclear power. North Carolina’s lawmakers should instead make a priority of renewable energy, energy efficiency and other clean options that are cheaper and can actually address the climate emergency.
“Naturally, the bill would force Duke’s captive customers in North Carolina, and not investors, to cover the $50 million the utility plans to spend on wildly expensive and untested small modular nuclear reactors,” said Cook. “It’s on brand for the company that always tries to pass along the costs of its failed, uneconomical disasters onto ratepayers.”
One section of HB 951 would shift the financial risk for seeking an early site permit for small modular nuclear units from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to customers. The bill would let Duke recoup up to $50 million from ratepayers for such costs, which are upfront costs incurred prior to expenses involved with site preparation and construction.
Nuclear power plant construction has always been plagued by enormous cost overruns, and the financial disasters seen with efforts to build smaller units in other countries should be a warning sign that larger facilities in the U.S. will face the same outcome.
Earlier this year, EWG released its “None of the Above” series on the future of energy policy, including an analysis of why small modular reactors, or SMRs, and the nascent technology behind them would be extremely expensive and would not help combat the climate crisis.
Cook and EWG are founding members of the Duke Energy Accountability Coalition of public interest, social justice, watchdog and environmental groups holding the nation’s largest investor-owned U.S. electric utility accountable for its policies, which affect almost eight million Americans in six states and impede our progress on a clean energy future.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.