By Elizabeth Ouzts, Energy News Network

Manufacturers, mills, and environmental interests oppose Duke-backed legislation because it hampers the role of regulators and costs ratepayers.

It’s not often that paper mills and chemical manufacturers agree with the likes of the Sierra Club.

But the debate over controversial energy legislation in North Carolina shows how companies like DuPont, Chemours, and Georgia Pacific are increasingly aligned with environmental groups on utility policy.

The strange bedfellow scenario stems in part from economics. The rapidly declining costs of clean energy mean the gas plants mandated in the bill will almost certainly cost large ratepayers more than would cleaner alternatives, a reversal from a decade ago. 

“Couple that with the volatility of fossil fuel prices,” said Peter Ledford, general counsel for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, “it creates risks for ratepayers whose bills are in the millions of dollars a month instead of hundreds of dollars a month.”

And though clean energy nonprofits welcome the new solar farms and early retirement of coal plants required in the bill, they, like the manufacturers and mills, think utility regulators should keep their authority to authorize any replacements — not have it usurped by legislative mandates. 

The two camps are lobbying and testifying against the current draft of the Duke Energy-backed bill and even partnered on a news conference. “It’s nice to be standing together,” said Kevin Martin, director of the Carolina Utility Customers Association, a trade group that originated with textile mills. “People don’t normally see us standing together.”

A decade of tumbling prices

North Carolina utility law requires energy planning and ratemaking that results in the “least-cost mix of generation and demand-reduction measures” achievable. For decades, the provision favored fossil fuel plants over more expensive wind and solar farms.

To help counteract that reality, the state adopted a mandate for both renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2007. Though

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