Making Energy Work: Governor Cooper’s Office Spurring a Clean Energy Transition
NCSEA is gearing up for its annual Making Energy Work (MEW) conference taking place in Raleigh, NC October 25-27. As a reminder, this event offers an opportunity to delve into the policies driving the future of clean energy in North Carolina. This article features the clean energy priorities of Governor Roy Cooper’s Office. The administration’s Clean Energy Director, Peter Ledford, will be joining us at MEW to discuss these initiatives and what lies ahead for the state. If you haven’t already, be sure to register today!
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Governor Roy Cooper has made clean energy a key priority starting with his initial election in 2016 all the way through his re-election in 2020. This success can be widely attributed to Cooper’s leadership and the Office’s ability to effectively navigate legislative processes in a bipartisan, proactive manner. Throughout his term, Cooper has also appointed the most diverse cabinet in the state’s history, bringing more voices to conversations where decisions are made.
In July 2022, Governor Cooper announced that Peter Ledford would serve as his Clean Energy Director. Ledford, previously NCSEA’s General Counsel and Director of Policy, spent nearly eight years steering the path towards a clean energy economy. Prior to his tenue at NCSEA, Ledford worked in the Research Division of the NC General Assembly as a staff attorney and legislative analyst. These experiences have prepared him to take this position of helping Governor Cooper carry out his clean energy priorities as identified via Executive Order 80, which will be covered in more detail in the following section.
NCSEA has been advancing clean energy for over four decades, and in recent years, the industry has experienced unprecedented and mounting momentum. Governor Cooper’s Office has played a major role in helping to propel NC as a national leader in the space while setting the state up for future success. From the passage of historic House Bills (HBs) and signing of Executive Orders (EOs) to demonstrating a commitment to addressing inequities in resource access, some of the notable milestones from this administration include:
- October 2018: EO 80: NC’s Commitment to Address Climate Change and Transition to a Clean Energy Economy
- This marked a symbolic step in NC’s pursuit of a low-carbon economy. It re-committed the state to the 2015 United Nation’s Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels, established a target to increase zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) on the roads to 80,000, and created a goal to reduce energy consumption in state-owned buildings by 40 percent, all by 2025.
- NC Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Clean Energy Plan was also born from EO 80. By and large, the plan set out to reduce electric power sector GHG emissions 70 percent by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050. It also provided recommendations to achieve these goals to foster long-term affordability, price stability, and the advancement of our energy system into the 21st century. The plan proposed levers like performance-based mechanisms, multi-year rate plannings (MYRP), and revenue decoupling that would appear down the road in NC’s clean energy transition.
- July 2020: Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emissions Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Released
- This MOU committed seventeen signatory states and the Canadian province of Quebec to work together “to foster a self-sustaining market for zero emission medium- and heavy- duty vehicles.” As part of this objective, the Multi-State ZEV Task Force was developed to identify barriers, propose solutions, and produce an Action Plan for widespread fleet electrification.
- October 2020: Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia Offshore Wind (OSW) Partnership Announced
- The Governors from the three states announced a collaboration to advance projects that would transform the region into an OSW hub. To do this, the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER) was created. Through SMART-POWER, the states committed to increasing regulatory certainty to encourage domestic supply chains, information sharing, and a thriving clean energy economy.
- June 2021: EO 218: Advancing NC’s Economic and Clean Energy Future with Offshore Wind
- Governor Cooper’s Office acknowledged NC’s potential for the highest OSW generation on the east coast and second highest in the nation, according to a report released by the NC Department of Commerce. Amongst other things, EO 218 established the NC Taskforce for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies (TOWERS) to effectively advance projects, economic development, and job creation. The order also set a target of achieving 2.8 gigawatts (GW) of OSW generation in NC by 2030 and 8.0 GW by 2040. These targets are in play as OSW development has started taking off in the state with Avangrid Renewables holding the rights to the lease auction off the coast of Kitty Hawk and TotalEnergies and Duke Energy recently announced as winners in the Carolina Long Bay lease auction.
- May 2021: NC's First Clean Energy Youth Apprenticeship Pilot Program Launches
- Governor Cooper visited Halifax Community College in July 2021 to speak with students enrolled in this workforce development program. The program is designed to connect clean energy employers with schools like NC Agricultural & Technical (A&T) State University, Appalachian State University, and Eastern Carolina University, along with local community colleges, to build interest in NC’s clean energy future amongst students from underserved backgrounds to support a skilled workforce. These programs also build, a “sustainable pipeline of qualified workers that creates educational and economic opportunities for students,” according to Governor Roy Cooper’s Office.
- October 2021: HB 951: Energy Solutions for NC
- This bill marked a major milestone in NC’s clean energy pursuit, doubling down on progress made by HB 589: Competitive Energy Solutions for NC. First off, it mandated the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) to take “all reasonable steps” to achieve a 70 percent carbon emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. These reduction requirements emerged as the first of their kind for any state in the Southeast. Since then, NCUC has been working to develop its Carbon Plan ahead of the December 31, 2022 statutory requirement. In July 2022, NCSEA and partners filed their own modeling offering a more cost-effective and cleaner plan than Duke’s.
- HB 951 also took other important steps to promote a clean energy transition through use of power generation, transmission and distribution, grid modernization, storage and energy efficiency measures, demand-side management, and other technological innovations that meet the least-cost criteria. Two key levers included:
- Regulatory Reform: The bill proposed the next evolution of performance-based regulation, MYRPs, and performance incentive mechanisms to reform NC’s regulated utility monopoly structure. Overall, these more clearly align utility and consumer interest, while encouraging utilities to reduce low-income energy burdens and expand energy efficiency opportunities.
- Rulemaking: HB 951 tasked NCUC with implementing most of the provisions laid out in the bill. Notable focuses included establishing a pathway for the extension of the Competitive Procurement for Renewable Energy program from HB 589, coal securitization to retire coal-fired power plants early, riders to enable more customers to purchase clean energy or renewable energy credits (RECs), and authorizing performance-based regulations to further align utility and customer interests.
- January 2022: EO 246: NC’s Transformation to a Clean, Equitable Economy
- This order further elevated the state’s commitment to addressing power plant pollution, building out more clean energy, and focusing on environmental justice. EO 246 increased EO 80’s electric vehicle targets to 1.25 million vehicles on the road in NC by 2030 and 50% of new vehicle sales by the same date. Within EO 246, the Governor also directed the NC Department of Transportation to create a Clean Transportation Plan no later than April 2023 outlining recommendations to reach the ZEV targets and decarbonize the transportation sector. This is important, as NC DEQ found the transportation sector to be the leading emitter in NC’s economy, at 36%, in its updated GHG Inventory.
- EO 246 also works to distribute the benefits of this clean energy transition in an equitable and just manner. To achieve this, the Governor’s Office set out to hire an external consultant to establish effective engagement with a diverse group of stakeholders. Further, each Cabinet was required to identify an environmental justice lead.
- August 2022: Clean Energy Workforce Training Programs
- It was announced that NC A&T State University was a recipient of a $23.7 million grant from the US Department of Commerce as part of the American Rescue Plan Good Jobs Challenge. Its aim will be to expand clean energy workforce development and apprenticeship efforts in the state. Regarding the news, Governor Cooper, who was at the unveiling, remarked: “North Carolina is quickly becoming the center of our country’s emerging clean energy economy. This transformative grant will invest in our state’s diverse workforce as we continue to create high-paying clean energy jobs and bolster NC A&T’s reputation as a national leader preparing students for the economy of the future.”
- September 2022: Proclamation declaring September 26-30 NC Clean Energy Week
Forward-Thinking Policy for Today & Tomorrow
Incremental and impactful progress is being made in the quickly evolving clean energy landscape of North Carolina. Clean energy advocates across state sectors are helping pave the way to a low-carbon economy that benefits all North Carolinians. With Governor Roy Cooper’s commitments, along with bi-partisan support in the NC General Assembly, the clean energy sector has a long runway in the state moving forward, further building upon the nearly 100,000 North Carolinians employed in this sector.
To learn more about Governor Cooper’s commitment to clean energy, listen to Episode 50 of the Squeaky Clean Energy Podcast. We hope to see you at Making Energy Work later this month to talk more about many of the EOs and bills highlighted above and how they’re being implemented across the state!
This is fantastic and very exciting news, thanks.