Many environmental threats facing North Carolina are the result of the excessive global carbon emissions. Along our coast the economic viability of coastal communities is threatened due to increased flooding, erosion, salt-water intrusion, and storm surges. Crops suffer under heat stress, as does dairy and livestock production. And decreasing air quality increases health risks for our people.
Changing the state’s energy-supply portfolio will involve a complicated set of decisions made over time. As a first step toward defining and organizing these decisions, the Department of Environmental Quality should convene a robust stakeholder process, as was done with the Clean Smokestacks Act, to receive public input and advice from all interested parties – including representatives from business and industry, medical and health care organizations, and consumer groups.
Progress on this issue requires a defined goal and our leaders should commit North Carolina to a 32% reduction of our power-sector carbon emissions by 2030.1
While 2030 is the target date, now is the time to begin working toward our goal. Our state can earn federal compliance credits for wind and solar projects built before 2022 under the Clean Energy Incentive Program. More importantly, delay risks intervention under the federal government’s Clean Power Plan, and creates the possibility that a less-flexible, more-expensive carbon mandate will be forced on our state. Such an outcome could be more costly than a North Carolina-run plan developed under DEQ’s guidance.
Climate change is a global issue, but North Carolina cannot stand idly by. So much of our way of life—from our fragile coastline to agriculture to our children’s health—stands to suffer if we let pollution go unchecked. If we are willing to lead, we can move our state and our region toward a healthier future, while reaping the rewards of the clean-energy economy.
Cutting our power-sector emissions represents a challenging but rewarding opportunity for the state. The challenge is in reconstituting our state’s electricity-generation portfolio into a new, lower-carbon set of options, while minimizing costs and maintaining power supply reliability.
The economic and health benefits of achieving this goal will be substantial. New clean-energy and clean-technology jobs will be created, and our economy will get a boost from the surge in revenue. In addition, decreasing our air pollution through the mitigation of greenhouse gas will have a positive impact on the health of our communities. And the earlier we begin working toward our carbon reduction goal, the sooner these benefits can be felt.
1 A 32% reduction is based on the state's 2012 level of power-sector carbon emissions. Typically, goals within a fifteen year time period are in the 30% range because of the attainability of the goal. These percentage goals are based on the historic CO2 rate from coal fired power plants. Goals of reduction are expressed in two different ways – a rate-based reduction and a mass-based reduction. The state chooses how it will express reduction goals. The official plan for North Carolina is not yet out (as of January 2016) and the public comment period is currently ongoing.