The Air Quality Committee, of the Environmental Management Commission, on Wednesday, unanimously voted to recommend that the full commission deny a petition to approve a set of rules that bring the state to zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
The petitioners seeking the rules are three North Carolina high school students, two from Raleigh and one from Chapel Hill, but the push is being supported by the Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
Now the petition will be posed to the full commission March 7 where, if it is denied, the petitioners will be able to seek a review of the decision in the NC Superior Court.
All three petitioners spoke at the meeting as well as Francis De Luca, outgoing president of the conservative Civitas Institute. Michael Abraczinskas, the head of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Division of Air Quality, addressed the committee as well.
There are three paths for rules to be formed under the Environmental Management Commission (EMC), a rule in response to an act of the legislature, a rule formed under the authority the commission has, and a rule formed by outside petition, but would fall within the purview of the EMC.
From comments made by the committee members the overwhelming reason to vote for the denial recommendation was based on the belief that the committee, and by extension the commission, did not have the authority to install the proposed rules, under a North Carolina law prohibiting more stringent rules than those required under federal law.
The reasoning that was brought up by De Luca, who in front of the committee summarized his earlier letter he submitted, declared that the committee would be required to deny the petition under state statute 150B-19.3. That statute places limitations on certain environmental rules which reads “an agency authorized to implement and enforce State and federal environmental laws may not adopt a rule for the protection of the environment or natural resources that imposes a more restrictive standard, limitation, or requirement than those imposed by federal law or rule.“
There are exceptions to that provision such as the presence of a “serious and unforeseen threat to the public health, safety, or welfare” or if a specific act of the legislature requires it or if a court order requires the change.
In spite of the prohibition on forming these types of rules the petitioners were not only arguing that the EMC has the authority to install the proposed rules but an obligation to, saying that the state is legally obligated to protect its natural resources for the benefit of its citizens and to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change, pointing to climate change for droughts in the western part of the state, floods along the coast and damage from hurricanes in the state.
Included in the executive summary of the more than 550-page document is a summary of the reasons for the proposed rules saying, “The best available science shows that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are threatening to disrupt the global climate system. Climate change is already harming forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches and other places of beauty in North Carolina. If not addressed, climate change will continue to negatively impact the State’s residents, economy, and environment.”
Looking beyond authority
But looking beyond whether the committee or the commission had the authority to implement the rules to bring the state to zero CO2 emissions, De Luca also had concerns about the proposal itself.
In his statement to the committee De Luca said, “Approving this petition will result in massive energy cost increases. The cost of energy is one of the most important considerations for locating large facilities.”
De Luca raised the point that in the petition it was argued that changing over from coal to non-CO2 producing means of generating electricity would lead to lower energy costs and if that were true then why is that not already how power producers in the state, which are required to use a least-cost model for power production, already utilizing those technologies over coal.
Included in the petition is a cost estimate for the transition to non-CO2 producing methods of power generation that tally the cost at $327 billion, with the recognition that most of that would be borne by power producers, and in turn their customers, but the proposal posits that the benefits will be outweighed by the cost.
The petition goes on to say that the transition would result in energy cost savings of $139 per person per year, as well as factoring in and quantifying air quality benefits of $1,382 per person per year.
The petitioners argue that the cumulative benefits would overcome the $327 billion price tag between three and 23 years after the transition.
So while the plan does admit that it would lead to increased energy costs per megawatt there is an assumption that there would be a decrease in end-use power consumption.
The petition says that end-use costs will decline due to decreases in demand and increased energy efficiency estimated at a 39.5 percent decrease in power consumption.
The petition says that the estimated reduction is reflective of anticipated greater electricity efficiency relative to combustion efficiency and improved efficiency due to technological improvements and innovations.
Looking at straight unit cost the transition to a zero CO2 power production plan would be expected to increase business costs of power generation from 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 11.1 cents per kilowatt hour, which for an average North Carolina household would mean an increase of nearly $80 per year in energy costs, not taking into account inflation or other increases in power production costs.
Petition calls for more than 11,000 windmills in the state, millions of solar panels
To achieve the power production capacity needed in the state the plan calls for the construction of 1,598 windmills on land in the state, 9,758 offshore windmills in our coastal waters, 1,753 wave-powered generation devices, 146 tidal devices, 2.8
million residential solar panels, 83,600 commercial and government solar panels, 981 solar plants and 45 concentrated solar power systems.
Concentrated solar power systems use mirrors to direct solar light to a central unit that then transfers the light to steam to create power.
The facilities are known for incinerating birds flying near highly concentrated beams of light.
In a 2016 article by the Los Angeles Times it was reported that about 6,000 birds were immolated at the Mojave Desert facility in a year, or about 16 a day.
Looking at the power production alternative included in the petition, using the 2016 figures, as many as 270,000 birds could be killed annually in the state by these facilities.
But bird-lovers should not be too concerned yet as a report from the North Carolina State University Solar Center said that concentrated solar power (CSP) is unlikely to be viable in the state: “Due to the moist climate with high humidity and regular cloud cover, it is unlikely that CPV or CSP systems will be developed in North Carolina.”
This does however pose a problem for the plan fitting the state’s power needs as that capacity would likely mean an increase in one or more of the other facilities included in the petition.