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As SC worries about higher power bills, Duke shifts strategy to address NC carbon law

  • Jan 25, 2022

Jan. 25—Amid concerns in South Carolina about a possible increase in power bills, Duke Energy has withdrawn a request that utilities' oversight commissions in both Carolinas meet jointly to discuss a climate plan that would cut releases of carbon dioxide.

Michael Callahan, the company's South Carolina president, announced the decision in a news release Monday night and again during an online discussion Tuesday about carbon reductions the power company would enact.

A 2021 North Carolina law requires Duke, which has customers in both states, to substantially reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and 2050. The company must come up with a plan on how to do that, such as eliminating its reliance on coal-fired power plants to produce energy and increasing the use of solar and wind energy.

As a result, Duke had asked the S.C. Public Service Commission and the N.C. Utilities Commission to meet together to discuss how Duke would put the North Carolina law in place.

But some state officials in South Carolina have expressed reservations, arguing that the meeting could lead Duke to eventually increase rates for its South Carolina customers to pay for the North Carolina carbon law.

In an opinion last week, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson's office questioned the legality of the meeting and of charging South Carolina customers to comply with the 2021 Tar Heel State law.

South Carolina has not passed a similar carbon reduction law. But Duke has previously said in legal filings that South Carolina customers should share the cost of implementing the North Carolina law.

"Our requests were submitted in the spirit of providing a forum for South Carolina and North Carolina stakeholders to engage on how best to meet their respective energy needs," Callahan said in the news release. "We recognize the similarities and differences across the two states and are committed to work with stakeholders to make the energy and other aspirations of both states a reality."

Duke has about 800,000 customers in South Carolina, mostly in the Upstate and the Pee Dee regions of the state.

Despite Duke's withdrawal of the request for a joint meeting involving the two utilities' commissions, Callahan and his North Carolina counterpart, Stephen De May, said Duke's costs are shared by customers in both states.

Callahan said energy facilities in the South Carolina counties of Anderson, Oconee and Darlington have been paid for, in part, by customers from North Carolina. The same holds true for facilities in North Carolina being paid for in part by South Carolina customers.

The bottom line is that Duke needs to look for cleaner sources of energy that would help both states, Callahan said.

"We are past the point where clean energy is a choice; the electric utility sector is moving in this direction," Callahan said. "And if we cannot move the Carolinas together, we could lose momentum, which would not be good for our economies. It also wouldn't be good for our customers who tell us that they want to see us continue to take carbon out of our business."

Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that has contributed heavily to global warming, which is resulting in a range of problems, including flooding in both Carolinas.

The North Carolina law requires Duke to develop plans to reduce carbon by 70 percent in the next nine years and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Duke is now seeking input from people in both Carolinas on the carbon reduction plan. An online meeting — not held with the S.C. Public Service Commission — was convened Tuesday.


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