by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
In 2021 the General Assembly passed House Bill 951 (see discussion here), which put into law Gov. Roy Cooper’s arbitrary plan to reduce North Carolina’s electricity-based CO2 emissions 70 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030 and reach “carbon neutrality” by 2050. According to the governor, the plan is about “fighting climate change.”
In keeping with this law, earlier this year Duke Energy Progress, LLC and Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (jointly, “Duke”) filed its Carolinas Carbon Plan with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The plan offered four separate scenarios. Concerning those, the law was very clear: the option chosen must adhere to “least-cost” and “reliable” strictures.
In response, the Center for Food, Power, and Life (CFPL) at the John Locke Foundation released analysis examining those scenarios. It demonstrated that none of Duke’s scenarios would pass the test on reliability, let alone least-cost. It also showed that it would be wrong for regulators to think that Duke’s four proposed scenarios were the only possible scenarios. The CFPL analysis provided a model scenario that would be a little less expensive than those proposed by Duke and that wouldn’t harm reliability (no capacity shortfalls).
As of 2019, North Carolina had already naturally reduced (naturally meaning owing to market choices, not government mandates) the volume of its energy-based CO2 emissions by 38.3 percent from 2005 levels (27.4 million metric tons). In view of North Carolina’s “China Carbon Time,” that reduction put North Carolina at 12:10 a.m.
China Carbon Time is a way of conceptualizing the vast difference between North Carolina’s reduction in electricity-based CO2 emissions since 2005 vs. China’s extremely large increase. If China’s increase were plotted as minutes in a day, how many of those minutes would North Carolina offset — and at what time of the “day” would China begin emitting CO2 unencumbered, with no remaining offset from North Carolina?
The most North Carolina can cut to get to a net-zero (100 percent reduction) scenario is known: 76.7 million metric tons of CO2, its peak emissions level in 2005. There is no end in sight to China’s ongoing increase in CO2 emissions. As of 2021, China had increased its volume of CO2 emissions by 5,177.8 million metric tons and was preparing for large, future expansions of high-emissions generating capacity.
China Carbon Time refers to the time beyond which when there’s nothing more the state could do to offset China’s increase in CO2 emissions. As shown here, if North Carolina had already achieved Cooper’s goal of 70 percent reduction, it would move China Carbon Time up five minutes to 12:15 a.m. If the state had reached “carbon neutrality,” it would have added just six minutes more (12:21 a.m.).
So the best North Carolina could do through accelerated, government-mandated CO2 emissions reduction in electricity generation would be to offset only a few minutes of China’s increased emissions. The question must be asked: At what cost?
How much would North Carolina’s electricity consumers be made to pay in order to gain an offset of, at most (see note below), 11 minutes of the increased CO2 emissions from China?
North Carolinians can hope for only a conceptual, infinitesimal benefit that would nevertheless be gradually eroded as China continues to add coal plants and increase CO2 emissions. The costs they would suffer, however, would be enormous. As estimated by the CFPL report, the costs and consumer impacts would include:
The greater portion of those costs would take place after 2035 as each of the Duke scenarios moved beyond the 70 percent CO2 reduction goal (from 2005 levels) toward achieving “carbon neutrality.” Getting just six more minutes in China Carbon Time and thinking it would be “fighting climate change” would cost North Carolinians dearly.
Note: “At most” because the exercise uses 2021 data. China, meanwhile, continues to add large coal-burning power plants. By the time North Carolina finally hits those two CO2 emissions-reduction goals, who can say how much more China’s emissions will have grown?