Illinois and North Carolina are hashing out the future of clean energy, and it’s getting dramatic

Hope you had a restful weekend. Time to kick off the week with two states hashing out the future of clean energy.

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Hope you had a restful weekend. Time to kick off the week with two states hashing out the future of clean energy.

Jeff dug into both stories for Canary Media. Here’s what you need to know.

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Massive clean power at risk in Illinois

Illinois generates more nuclear power than any other U.S. state. That carbon-free source delivers 58 percent of net electricity production, followed by coal and natural gas; renewables rank a distant fourth.

But renewables are growing, while the nuclear plants are in danger of shutting down due to low market revenue. 

Renewables developers and nuclear companies don’t always pursue the same policies. But both stand to gain from this legislation:

  • Four at-risk nuclear plants would get $694 million over five years to keep their emission-free production online.
  • Renewables programs would get $500 million per year, roughly double an earlier funding stream that recently dried up.
  • The law would codify a pathway to 40 percent renewable electricity by 2030.
  • Coal-fired power would shut down by 2035 and natural-gas power plants would cease operations by 2045.

But allies of a handful of coal and gas plants that don’t want to be shuttered appear to be holding up the deal. 

The Illinois Senate adjourned last week without resolving the dispute. Stakeholders hope the legislature will reconvene and pass the deal this summer.

The stakes are highest for the nuclear plants; losing them would forfeit a massive amount of carbon-free generation that’s already here, whereas a delay in funding new solar programs threatens things that haven’t been built yet. 

Wholesale markets without a carbon price don’t factor in the value of round-the-clock carbon-free power. Illinois is attempting to move its entire grid to round-the-clock carbon-free power. We’ll see if some or all of this deal makes it across the finish line.

Who calls the shots in North Carolina?

Republican legislators in North Carolina unveiled their own epic clean energy bill this week, which they crafted behind closed doors.

It contains some wins for clean energy:

  • It would force utility Duke Energy to close its last coal-fired power plants by 2030.
  • It calls for 4.7 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2026. It also contains solar-specific mandates for 3.5 gigawatts of new solar projects by 2027 and 7.3 gigawatts by 2030.

But the package also gets prescriptive with how Duke should replace certain power plants.

  • In some cases, the bill requires the construction of new gas plants, whether or not they’re the most competitive option. 
  • Consumer advocates say other measures in the bill could let the utility charge customers too much money.

Legislators will have to choose how much they want to indulge Duke’s monopoly status or expose it to competitive pressures. This creates some unusual political fault lines.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper wants to open up more room for energy providers to compete to deliver new projects. 

  • Competition among firms could drive prices lower for consumers. 
  • Big corporate energy buyers with strong climate commitments like this idea — folks like Google, Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, Target and Walmart.

Exposure to market forces could make it harder for Duke to earn the money it wants to make from its customers. And it could undermine the utility’s hopes of building a bunch more gas plants before zeroing out its carbon emissions over the next 29 years. 

If you had to wager your own money that a large gas plant would remain profitable for the next three decades, you might be inclined to check what other options are out there. The extent to which Duke feels that pressure is now up for debate.

(Image: Installing solar panels” by OregonDOT is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.