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Bill in North Carolina legislature would define nuclear as source of clean energy

The Shearon Harris nuclear power plant
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
/
nrc.gov / submitted image

A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly would ensure that nuclear energy is part of the state's plans for cutting greenhouse gases.

"Nuclear is going to play, have to play, absent some revolutionary innovation in the field of energy, a major role for us to achieve a carbon-free grid," said Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus).

Newton is the primary sponsor of the bill and former executive at Duke Energy, which owns and operates four nuclear power plants in North Carolina.

The bill, which advanced through the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee on Wednesday, would change statutory language from "renewable" to "clean" energy, and would add nuclear facilities to that category along with wind and solar.

"I am for the least cost (sic) energy consumers have to buy," Newton said, acknowledging that he expected pushback from environmental advocates concerned about public safety risks posed by waste from nuclear facilities, as well as the competing wind and solar industries.

In a series of executive orders, including one issued last year, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina by 2050. And a bipartisan bill passed in 2021 authorizes the state Utilities Commission to take reasonable steps towards achieving those goals.

Since that 2021 law gave discretion to the State Utilities Commission to determine what mix of energy should be employed to reach climate goals, Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) questioned why this new legislation was needed.

Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham), a member of the Agriculture, Energy and Environmental Committee, expressed reservations about a bill that would change statutory language from "renewable" to "clean" energy and add nuclear facilities to that category along will wind and solar.
Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham), a member of the Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee, expressed reservations about a bill that would change statutory language from "renewable" to "clean" energy and add nuclear facilities to that category along will wind and solar.

"It just seems to me this is search and replace of the word 'renewable' with 'clean' in our statute," Woodard said at Wednesday's committee meeting, adding that he had concerns any prescriptive language in the bill would override the Utilities Commission's authority to make determinations about the state's energy portfolio.

The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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