This article was published in WRAL June 28, 2021.
Textile manufacturing executives from around North Carolina gathered in Raleigh Monday to pan a wide-ranging energy bill, saying it would boost electricity costs enough to drive manufacturing out of the state.
"Definitely will push investments out of our state," said Dan Nation, director of government affairs for Parkdale Mills.
"Would be devastating," said Jay Flanary, director of manufacturing for Frontier Yarns. They were joined by a lobbyist for the North Carolina Justice Center worried about what the bill would do to residential rates and one from the Southern Environmental Law Center worried that the bill would push North Carolina toward too much reliance on natural gas, even as renewable energy becomes more feasible.
Josh McClenney, a field coordinator for an environmental group Appalachian Voices, called the bill "a blatant attempt to take money away from families and businesses." Together, the group advocated against House Bill 951, a major piece of energy legislation backed by Duke Energy, the state's largest electricity provider by far. Several speakers called on North Carolina lawmakers to study a regulatory overhaul instead that would allow other electricity wholesalers to compete against Duke, something the energy giant has pushed back against even studying in North Carolina.
House Bill 951 dives deep into the complexities of energy planning and regulation, and it's difficult to nail down its impact on costs. Kevin O'Donnell, an analyst for manufacturers in the state, said it would increase rates 50 percent in a decade, something textile manufacturers repeated over and again during Monday's press conference.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission's Public Staff, which represents the public in rate hearings when the commission decides whether or not to let Duke increase its rates, came out with a much lower estimate last week, in the neighborhood of 12 to 13 percent by 2030. The Public Staff's predictions don't include the billions of dollars Duke wants to spend on grid modernization, though, or a handful of other factors deemed "infeasible to quantify due to unknown factors," according to the analysis.
In O'Donnell's figuring, those impacts are crucial.
"My numbers are correct," he said in a recent email. "I stand by my analysis." It's not clear what's next for the bill, which has had one committee hearing in the House but hasn't yet been put up for a vote.
During that committee hearing, a number of rank-and-file members seemed nervous about a difficult-to-understand bill negotiated for months behind closed doors. Manufacturers, including the Carolina Utility Customers Association that helped organize Monday's press conference for textile companies, were part of those negotiations, but they came away dissatisfied with the bill.
In a written statement Monday, Duke focused on the Public Staff's analysis, saying it was pleased to see "the nonpartisan Public Staff’s analysis that the legislature’s 'all of the above strategy' will achieve carbon reductions of 64% while keeping bill impacts to an estimated $3.50 more per month by 2030."
"We applaud the legislative sponsors and stakeholders for finding a balanced approach that will protect against price spikes, ensure continued reliability and maintain North Carolina’s competitive edge," Duke spokeswoman Grace Rountree said in the statement.
Textile manufacturers said Monday that they've long relied on North Carolina's competitive electricity rates, and now they fear losing that edge. Brian Rosenstein, the chief executive of TSG Finishing, said manufacturers have long considered Duke a partner, but this legislative attempt to change the state's regulatory structure may change that.
"These actions by Duke Energy are not what a partner does in a business relationship," Rosenstein said.