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Friday, January 15, 2016

Activists say North Carolina’s Clean Power Plan doesn’t do enough to help the poor—on purpose

Posted by on Fri, Jan 15, 2016 at 3:01 PM

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Last August, the EPA unveiled a draft version of its Clean Power Plan, an effort to stave off climate change by making coal plants cleaner, increasing energy efficiency the use of renewable resources and using gas plant more effectively. Under the plan, each state has to devise a proposal for cutting carbon emissions by a targeted amount—in North Carolina’s case, an ambitious 39 percent reduction over 2012 levels.

That goal has not sat well with the McCrory administration. “Not only will these new federal rules raise electricity rates,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in August, “they have the potential to jeopardize the success we’ve made in making North Carolina’s air the cleanest it’s been since we began tracking air quality back in the 1970s.” The Department of Environmental Quality has similarly argued that the EPA has overstepped its authority, and joined with 24 other states in a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s actions. Indeed, the state’s plan intentionally did not meet EPA requirements.

“The McCrory administration has been very open that this plan cannot meet the CO reduction goals EPA has set for NC,” Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, told the INDY in an email. “They full expect EPA to reject their plan and are openly looking forward to challenging EPA's anticipated rejection of the NC plan in court.”

Despite the state’s objections, the plan chugs along regardless. Environmentalists have criticized the state’s plan for not focusing enough on renewables like solar and wind. (The Legislature, of course, ended the state’s Renewable Energy Tax Credits program at the end of last year.)

But during the plan’s public-comment period—which ran from August through today—social-justice advocates pointed to what they see as another major flaw in the state’s approach. They argue that North Carolina’s CPP doesn’t do enough to address the needs of low-income communities. Specifically, the plan crafted by DEQ has no provision for a Clean Energy Incentive Program, which the EPA recommends. These programs use grants to improve energy efficiency at free or subsidized costs for low-income homeowners.
As the Center for American Progress explains in more technical detail:

The CEIP allows states to give emissions rate credits, or ERCs, for projects and programs that generate zero carbon energy or reduce energy demand by 2020 and 2021, respectively; states need these ERCs to meet the Clean Power Plan’s pollution reduction goals. The EPA will match credits for each megawatt-hour of carbon-based energy use that is avoided, up to the equivalent of 300 million short tons of carbon dioxide. Nationwide, 300 million short tons is roughly the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, emitted from 71.4 power plants per year, according to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator. Notably, EPA will give a two-to-one credit for eligible energy efficiency, or EE, projects in low-income communities.

Without such a program, advocates say, the state will miss out on a tool to reduce carbon and a chance to reduce the impacts of the regulations on low-income people.

“We need to reduce carbon emissions and, at the same time, work to lower the tremendous energy burden on low-income communities,” says Al Ripley, director of the N.C. Justice Center's Consumer & Housing Project. “North Carolina needs to adopt more aggressive energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs targeted directly and indirectly at helping low-income communities as part of the state’s CPP."

Besides improving low-income residents’ homes, advocates say, this program would also create jobs. Somebody, after all, has to do the work retrofitting and weatherizing these houses.
“For the homeowners we work with, a lack of meaningful energy efficiency and home-weatherization programs makes it very hard for low- and moderate-income homeowners to lower electric costs through energy efficiency,” Louise Mack, CEO and president of Prosperity Unlimited, a Kannapolis nonprofit that helps low-income families, said in a press release. “We need better programs that truly meet the needs of low-income homeowners.”

This omission is deliberate, Diggins says. Because the state sees the Clean Power Plan as illegitimate and wants to provoke a confrontation by not meeting EPA targets, it has no use for a CEIP: “To include a clean energy incentive program in the state plan would be to undermine their case,” she writes. 

A phone call to DEQ seeking comment on the Clean Power Plan has not yet been returned. 

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