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Report describes paths toward N. Carolina net-zero emissions

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Meeting greenhouse-gas emissions reduction goals for North Carolina over the next roughly quarter-century will require innovative policies and initiatives in addition to an emphasis on the increased use of electricity, according to a new state report.

The North Carolina Deep Decarbonization Pathways Analysis was released this week by Gov. Roy Cooper, who commissioned the report in January 2022.

The paper sets out three methods by which emissions can be reduced 50% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero levels by 2050, news outlets reported. Existing policies get the state only 60% of the way to the midcentury goal, according to the report.

Several state agencies along with university experts, environmental advocates and utilities joined a consulting firm in developing the findings.

“This analysis will help us achieve pollution reduction while highlighting new market opportunities to ensure North Carolina remains on the forefront of the clean energy transition,” Cooper said in a news release Thursday.

By 2035 most new cars will need to be electric, with a robust statewide charging network, the report says, while evolving building codes need to encourage the installation of electric-power heat pumps and water heaters. And more electricity must be produced from nonpolluting sources.

The three routes to the goals differ on their emphasis. One focuses on broader electrification within building, transportation and industry; another envisions a larger role for hydrogen and advanced biofuels; the third examines how undeveloped areas and forests can be protected to increase the land that can absorb carbon dioxide.

While electricity accounts for about 30% of North Carolina’s energy demand today, it increases from 57% to 67% in the three proposals.

Complying with a bipartisan law approved in 2021, the North Carolina Utilities Commission in December approved the first edition of a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from Duke Energy’s electric production through 2050.

The commission’s order told Duke to complete a series of activities involving solar, wind, nuclear and other sources for electricity but didn’t endorse any particular mix. It does direct the utility’s two electric subsidiaries in the state to optimally retire its remaining coal-fired plants by 2035.

In an interview, Cooper told The News & Observer he believes the commission will need to direct more solar and wind generation resources to meet C02 reduction targets set in the 2021 law in future carbon plans. The governor chooses the commission’s seven members.