Luis Martinez, Senior Attorney, Energy and Transportation Program, Asheville, North Carolina

On Monday, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced their new Clean Power Standards designed to protect health and tackle climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030.  For North Carolina, the rules require that the state reduce its CO2 emission rates from the electric sector by 40% between 2012 and 2030.

The good news is that North Carolina already is well under way to meeting these reductions thanks to a number of policies that clean up our state’s power plants and increase generation from clean sources.  These policies have not only improved our air quality and delivered significant public health benefits, but they’ve also helped spur the growing clean energy sector in the state, creating thousands of jobs. 

The story of clean energy in North Carolina begins back in 2002 when the state implemented the Clean Smokestacks Act.  Designed to reduce pollution from power plants beyond federal limits, the Act set an 11 year compliance path that delivered health benefits an order of magnitude greater than the costs.  Since 2002, Nitrous Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide emissions in the state have each dropped over 80%, by requiring Duke and Progress Energy to update or replace their fleet of power plants.  Today, the act continues to yield even more public health and economic dividends, since it has moved North Carolina ahead of the curve on the needed CO2 emission reductions. 

A second part of the clean energy story in North Carolina took place in 2007, when the state approved the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) which is still the only such standard in the Southeast. The REPS policy requires that, by the year 2021, 12.5% of the electricity from private utilities come from renewable energy or energy efficiency starting with 3% on 2012.  Soon after the policy took effect, Environmental Entrepreneurs reported that for 2012, North Carolina ranked second in the nation (behind only California) in the number of clean energy jobs announced that year.  Strangely by 2013, the North Carolina legislature was trying to repeal the REPS, and the number of clean energy jobs in the state plummeted

Both the Clean Smokestacks Act and the REPS, ensure that in North Carolina we are well on our way to meeting these new Clean Power Standards.  And like both of these policies, the new EPA standards were put together by taking a look at the state’s situation, figuring out reasonable steps the state can already take, and providing plenty of time to get to the goal.  Finally, like in NC, EPA recognized that energy efficiency is a key piece in reducing energy costs, creating clean energy jobs, and cleaning up emissions for the sector.

North Carolina has already made a significant part of the investments and policy decisions that will help the state comply with these new carbon pollution standards.  And the opportunity that these new safeguards present is huge.  North Carolina sent $1.8 billion dollars out of state in 2012 to import coal to generate electricity, which is second in the nation behind only Texas.  As we transition away from dirty energy, let’s invest in our own growing clean energy sector which is ready to create jobs and lead in the Southeast.  That’s smart policy because it improves our economy and health, and takes us where we need to go to thrive in the 21st Century.