While a pronuclear energy bill currently under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly appears to stand a good chance of advancing to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, its chances of receiving his signature are less clear.
The legislation, S.B. 678, would replace the term “renewable energy” in state statutes with “clean energy” and specify that the new term includes both nuclear fission and fusion. In addition, the bill would eliminate language impeding the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) from issuing Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity for nuclear facilities.
According to S.B. 678, “clean energy resource” includes solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, “waste heat derived from a clean energy source and used to produce electricity or useful, measurable thermal energy at a retail electric customer’s facility,” and “nuclear energy resources, including an uprate to a nuclear energy facility, fusion energy, or hydrogen derived from a clean energy resource.”
The current language of North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard specifically excludes nuclear, along with fossil fuels.
Introduced on April 6 by Sen. Paul Newton (R., Dist. 34), the General Assembly’s majority leader and a former president of Duke Energy North Carolina, S.B. 678 has passed a second reading in each chamber—48–0 in the Senate on April 26 and 107–12 in the House on August 16. At this writing, the bill is with the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Operations.
The Cooper question: A Democrat who has served as North Carolina’s chief executive since 2017, Cooper signed H.B. 951 in October 2021, authorizing the NCUC to “take all reasonable steps” to achieve a 70 percent reduction (from 2005 levels) in carbon dioxide emissions from electric public utilities by 2030 and full carbon neutrality by 2050.
In comments at this year’s State Energy Conference in April, however, Cooper told business leaders that he didn’t want politicians to be seen as influencing the commission’s authority regarding which power sources should be included in the state’s clean energy plan—a less-than-encouraging statement for S.B. 678 supporters, as well as for nuclear advocates in general, who are still reeling from last month’s dispiriting news from Illinois, where Gov. J. B. Pritzker vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have removed the state’s ban on new nuclear plant construction.
In case you missed it: Last month, Duke Energy filed an update to its 2022 state-mandated carbon-reduction plan with the NCUS, proposing the deployment of small modular reactors at the Belews Creek coal plant in Stokes County, N.C., which is slated for retirement next decade. A similar system would be added at a second site yet to be determined for a total of 600 MW of advanced nuclear. (Both the advanced reactor production tax credit and investment tax credit included in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act offer a 10 percent bonus for facilities sited in certain energy communities, including those with retiring coal plants.)