As we prepare to close out 2020 and begin the new year, we wanted to provide an update on issues of interest since our last update in November.
North Carolina remains in a modified stay-at-home order currently slated to last through Jan. 8. Earlier this month, North Carolina saw its first COVID vaccines administered to health care workers throughout the state. ElectriCities has discussed COVID vaccine distribution protocols with state officials and asked them to prioritize essential utility employees including lineworkers and power plant staff. As the state receives more regular vaccine shipments, we anticipate more information on prioritization and access.
Remaining Election Updates
Since our Capital Connections Elections Update following the November elections, a few lingering election results have settled:
- North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice – a full machine recount and partial hand recount confirmed Republican Paul Newby’s win over incumbent Democrat Cheri Beasley by just over 400 votes across the state. This race is particularly significant because the chief justice will set special judicial panels including those that weigh in on future disputed congressional redistricting cases. Even with Newby’s win though, Republicans remain in the minority on the N.C. Supreme Court.
- Final North Carolina House and Senate results – as of our last update, a handful of races in the state Senate and House had yet to be called. While those outstanding races did not change party majorities for either chamber, all races have now been certified. In January, Republicans will control the Senate 28-22 and the House 69-51. Complete results can be found here.
- United States Senate – as noted in our last elections update, control of the U.S. Senate remains unknown as the country awaits two runoff elections in Georgia in early January. Currently, Republicans can claim a 50-48 majority in the Senate.
Federal COVID Relief
Shortly before Christmas, Congress came to agreement on a federal COVID relief package, more than eight months after the federal CARES Act passed. The package includes a number of bipartisan-supported policies including a second round of direct payments to individuals, additional unemployment insurance, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, federal rental assistance, school funding, and more.
Of note in the agreement, states and localities would have all of 2021 to spend any remaining CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations. Previously, those dollars would have had to be spent by the end of December to avoid being sent back to the federal government.
Noticeably absent from the package is liability protection for businesses and additional state and local funding – two major sticking points that prolonged an agreement. The relief package is part of the larger government funding deal to keep the federal government funded through next September.
Following a veto threat from President Trump just before Christmas, the president agreed to sign the deal Dec. 27. Details of the relief bill can be found here.
Gov. Cooper’s HOPE Program
The government affairs staff and others at ElectriCities have been working with the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) regarding HOPE program specifics and collaborating on ways to expedite program payments to utilities. Funds are getting to utilities through local assistance agencies/nonprofits, and several member cities are on their way to being able to receive bulk payments from NCORR. At this point, NCORR is limiting the number of utilities eligible for the bulk payment option. Our team will be in touch with members should that change.
As part of the federal omnibus package, Congress included $25 billion in rental and utility assistance, of which approximately $700 million could come to North Carolina. As the law is written, a portion of the $700 million will go to cities with more than 200,000 in population; the remainder will be distributed by the General Assembly. The omnibus bill also extended the nationwide eviction moratorium to Jan. 31.
It is unclear at this point whether the new rent and utility relief funds will be distributed via the HOPE Program. However, it is spelled out in the legislation that, like LIHEAP and HOPE funding, the funds go to the utility for the benefit of the customer rather than going to the customer with the hope that the money is used for legitimate purposes.
The expansion of broadband, particularly in rural areas, has been a hot topic as North Carolinians continue to work and learn from home. Earlier this month, Gov. Cooper and the state legislature reached a compromise to ensure $30 million allotted for broadband expansion can access federal funding. At issue was a provision included in the federal CARES Act that required certain CARES Act money to be spent by Dec. 30.
The agreement ensures the funding can be used to supplement the Growing Rural Economies through Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program. The legislature will formally appropriate the money in January when it returns to Raleigh, but the Office of State Budget and Management will be able to review grant applications in the meantime. Additionally, the latest federal COVID relief package includes $7 billion for broadband access nationwide.
The pandemic has brought broadband access issues into the forefront, and we believe there will be a significant effort in the General Assembly to address the issue. There is broad bipartisan agreement on the need to increase broadband funding, and we will be pushing hard once the legislative session begins.
Energy Secretary Brouillette
In October, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette made a stop in Raleigh to discuss workforce development issues with an intimate group of academia, utilities, and chamber leaders. ElectriCities Vice President of Human Resources Melissa Miranda was invited to join the STEM Career Pathways Roundtable and provide insight on challenges and opportunities public power faces when it comes to filling the pipeline with well-qualified candidates. Given our current environment, the conversation was especially pertinent as the energy industry faces new tests during the pandemic.
Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan
Following the issuance of Gov. Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan in October 2019, the stakeholder process to address climate change and energy industry changes is wrapping up 13 months of work this week. While both the plan itself and the stakeholder reports would largely require legislation or action by the N.C. Utilities Commission to enact the sweeping change they envision, they provide an important point of reference for state leaders working on these issues.
To that end, some of the workgroups in the stakeholder process are proposing draft legislation on particular items. We do not know which, if any, of these draft bills will gain traction in the General Assembly.
Our discussions with members of the General Assembly continue to indicate that it is unlikely that a large, paradigm-shifting energy bill will move in the upcoming legislative session. However, we could see a few smaller concepts discussed. One of the most likely candidates would be a bill to commission a study of wholesale market concepts (Regional Transmission Organization, Energy Imbalance Market, etc.). Another would be a bill to allow the Utilities Commission to let Duke Energy use financial securitization to recover costs from any coal plants that are retired early. We will continue to watch these issues and will keep you informed.
VW Settlement Level 2 Charge Rebate Program
In July, we shared that House Bill 1087 had been signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, effectively putting Phase I of the Volkswagen emissions settlement that allowed for funds to be used for DC fast charging stations for electric vehicles into motion. In November, the new round of funding through the settlement was announced, opening funds for Level 2 charging stations. Approximately $1.15 million will be available through the Light Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Level 2 Charging Infrastructure Rebate Program. For more information on the program, application timing, and FAQ, click here.
Since then, Phil Bisesi on the Residential Energy Services team at ElectriCities has made members aware of the announcement and process for applying for funds. Applications will be awarded on a first come, first served basis. Members interested in applying can start doing so January 25. For more information, please reach out to Phil Bisesi directly at email@example.com.
APPA Legislative Rally
The American Public Power Association’s 2021 Legislative Rally will be conducted virtually March 1-2. Rally details and registration are available here.
There is no cost for the virtual rally. However, it is open only to APPA member utilities, joint action agencies, and state association members.
Dates we’re watching
January 3: The 117th Congress convenes in Washington
January 13: North Carolina General Assembly sworn in for the 2021-22 biennium
January 20: Inauguration of the President of the United States
February 22-26: ElectriCities Connections Summit (registration is open)
March 1-2: APPA Legislative Rally (virtual)
2020 Election Wrap-up
Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief election night, assured that they could go back to listening to endless lists of prescription drug side effects on TV commercials instead of hearing yet more political ads. And while the focus is still on the all-but-over race to the White House, elections for Congress and all three branches of government in North Carolina were on the ballot. With near-record turnout, about three-quarters of eligible voters in the state made decisions that will affect public power communities for years to come.
Overall, voters nationwide and in North Carolina showed a taste for divided government. President-elect Biden will more than likely need to work with a Republican Senate to enact legislation, and while Gov. Roy Cooper secured another four years in the Governor’s Mansion, he still faces a majority-GOP General Assembly and Council of State in Raleigh.
A wrap-up of likely results is below.
N.C. Council of State
Gov. Roy Cooper won with a comfortable margin, but the Council of State overall will likely not see a change in partisan makeup. Cooper defeated current Lt. Gov. Dan Forest by garnering 51% of the vote to Forest’s 47%, making it one of the largest vote-margin differences in what was a tight election night overall.
Democratic incumbents for the statewide roles fared well, but Republicans were able to defend three open-seat offices Democrats had hoped to gain: lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction, and commissioner of labor. The partisan breakdown of the Council of State will remain at 6 to 4 in favor of Republicans, assuming final vote tabulations (and a likely recount) do not change incumbent Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein’s 11,000-vote lead over Republican Jim O’Neill.
N.C. Council of State winners:
Governor: Roy Cooper (D)*
Lieutenant Governor: Mark Robinson (R)
Attorney General: Josh Stein (D)*^
Auditor: Beth Wood (D)*
Commissioner of Agriculture: Steve Troxler (R)*
Commissioner of Insurance: Mike Causey (R)*
Commissioner of Labor: Josh Dobson (R)
Secretary of State: Elaine Marshall (D)*
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Catherine Truitt (R)
Treasurer: Dale Folwell (R)*
^ Recount possible
N.C. General Assembly
Contrary to many predictions, Republicans in the state Senate were able to withstand newly drawn districts and a wave of leadership retirements to retain control of the chamber.
The Republican majority in the state Senate has lost one net seat to Democrats in each of the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections, meaning the upper chamber will convene in January with a shrunken 28-22 majority. (This party breakdown assumes that former state senator Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, maintains his lead over incumbent Sen. Harper Peterson, D-New Hanover; Lee currently leads by about 1,400 votes). Complete results can be found here.
N.C. House of Representatives
Many General Assembly watchers pointed to the House of Representatives as the most likely to switch party control for the 2021-2022 biennium. But the GOP margin actually grew with a net pickup of four seats: Republicans will hold 69 seats and Democrats 51 seats.
Although several races are quite close and it is not outside the realm of possibility that a few outcomes could change, Republicans are assured continued control of the chamber. Also important is that the GOP gains were not enough to override gubernatorial vetoes. Complete results can be found here.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, Republicans may have swept the statewide judicial contests. Not only did the GOP candidates win all three seats on the ballot for the state Supreme Court, but voters chose Republicans for all seats on the North Carolina Court of Appeals that were on the ballot.
The big caveat here is that, in the race for chief justice, current Republican Associate Justice Paul Newby leads incumbent Democrat Cheri Beasley by just over 2,000 votes out of more than 5 million cast. But if the election-night results hold, Democrats’ 6-1 advantage on the court will drop to a 4-3 tally with Newby as chief. The five Republicans who won their races for the 15-member Court of Appeals were April Wood, Fred Gore, Chris Dillon, Jeff Carpenter, and Jefferson Griffin. Complete results can be found here.
Note on North Carolina: According to N.C. officials, 116,500 is the total number of potential uncounted votes. The actual number of uncounted votes will be much lower as that figure represents the number of absentee ballots that were sent to voters and have yet to be returned but does not account for those who requested absentee ballots and ended up voting in-person, any ballots deemed ineligible, and those who decided not to vote altogether.
Resources for more in-depth results:
Over the weekend, major news organizations called the race for the presidency in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. While President Trump has not yet conceded and has filed lawsuits disputing vote counts, the Biden campaign has begun the transition process.
By all accounts, the race for the presidency of the United States will go down as a historic one, with record turnout during a pandemic.
While the current tally of Senate races between Democrats and Republicans stands at 48-48, Republicans are favored to maintain control of the chamber by a slim margin. Four Senate races have not yet been called, including the race between incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and Cal Cunningham (D) here in North Carolina.
Assuming Tillis and Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska both win re-election, which is likely, Republicans would have a guaranteed 50 members in the Senate. Republicans do not have the Senate locked up yet, as the remaining two uncalled Senate races are headed to a runoff in January, meaning control of the Senate will not be determined until then. Should both outstanding Georgia Senate races go Democrat, control of the Senate would be deadlocked. Under a Biden presidency, Vice President Kamala Harris would be in a position to break the Senate tie in the Democrats’ favor.
Click here for a full list of results.
House of Representatives
Democrats will maintain control of the House, although not by as large of a margin as the current makeup. Twenty-three House races remain uncalled as votes continue to be tallied. It is predicted that Democrats will hold the House majority with 225-227 seats compared to a predicted 208 to 210 for Republicans.
All of North Carolina’s House races have been called. North Carolina’s House delegation will still lean Republican, with eight Republicans to five Democrats (a change from the current 10-3 split. In January, representation for the state’s 13 districts will break down as follows:
G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson)
Deborah Ross (D-Raleigh)
Greg Murphy (R-Greenville)
David Price (D-Chapel Hill)
Virginia Foxx (R-Boone)
Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro)
David Rouzer (R-Four Oaks)
Richard Hudson (R-Concord)
Dan Bishop (R-Monroe)
Patrick McHenry (R-Denver)
Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville)
Alma Adams (D-Charlotte)
Ted Budd (R-Advance)
Click here for a full list of results.
Congress now looks toward a lame-duck session during which another Covid relief package is potentially on the agenda. Congress also needs to pass a spending bill before Dec. 31 to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2021.
Both parties will hold their internal leadership elections in the House and Senate in just a couple of weeks, which will shed additional light on policy priorities for both parties. The Senate will also focus on the continued confirmation of judicial nominees.
Come January, the Biden Administration is likely to face a split Congress which will limit the administration’s ability to implement its agenda and the speed at which it will be able to move. Majorities in both chambers will be slim, further complicating legislating.
Dates we’re watching
Although the election results won’t take effect until January, there is plenty to watch between now and the new year. If Congress passes another round of Covid relief, look for the General Assembly to return to Raleigh right away to allocate funding to localities. Other dates:
November 12: North Carolina State Board of Elections certifies state election results.
November 16: U.S. House of Representatives reconvenes in Washington. (The Senate returned to D.C. Nov. 9.)
January 3, 2021: The 117th Congress convenes in Washington.
January 13, 2021: North Carolina General Assembly sworn in for the 2021-22 biennium.
January 20, 2021: Inauguration of the President of the United States.
July 7, 2020
The North Carolina General Assembly wrapped up the bulk of its work on June 26, coming back into town briefly in early July to act on the governor’s vetoes. Legislators plan to return Sept. 2 to address anything needed regarding Covid-19 funding issues and appointments.
It is no surprise that the session was taken up largely by coronavirus response measures, as the General Assembly itself adopted such novel methods as virtual committee meetings and proxy voting to maintain social distancing. The traditional role of the even-year “short session,” adjustments to the biennial budget, was not even on the table – although some stand-alone funding bills for limited subject matter did make their way to the governor.
The General Assembly’s second coronavirus relief bill was signed by Cooper on July 1, appropriating a remaining portion of the federal CARES Act funding that was originally spent in the first state-level response bill in early May. House Bill 1023 released another $150 million in aid to local governments to add to the $150 million allocated in May.
Of importance for Public Power communities, the new legislation stipulates that counties must provide at least 25% of the funding it receives to municipalities in that county. All the funding provided by the bill must be spent on Covid-related expenses.
The U.S. Treasury Department has issued guidance on the federal CARES Act and how state and local governments may use the $150 billion that Congress appropriated to the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).
As Public Power communities look to alleviate budget shortfalls and await Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision on whether to extend the statewide moratorium on residential service disconnections, the guidance provides some less-than-solid assurance that funds could be used by municipal systems to help customers pay power bills.
Movement on broadband bills
Noting the increased dependence on access to reliable internet service amid the Covid pandemic, three bills of note aimed at expanding broadband moved this session, with one being signed into law.
Senate Bill 212 establishes a Satellite-Based Broadband Grant Fund at the Department of Technology, making funds available to broadband providers to make investments in underserved areas across the state. Under the bill, priority is given to applicants capable of providing access to the greatest number of unserved households. The bill was signed into law on July 1.
House Bill 1105 would provide funding to the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) to expand broadband infrastructure by way of a supplemental grant period and process for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. Under the bill, $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funding would be used to expand the existing GREAT program, which provides grants to internet providers working to expand into underserved communities.
House Bill 1205 expedites the process for leasing state-owned facilities and property for new broadband infrastructure. The bill requires the Department of Administration or agency controlling the property in question to process lease requests within four months. Both House Bill 1105 and 1205 passed the House with bipartisan support and are awaiting action in the Senate.
VW settlement update
After failing to see movement on the issue last session, the bill that would allow for funds from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to be used for DC fast charging stations for electric vehicles unanimously passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 1.
House Bill 1087 appropriates $30.6 million from the Volkswagen Litigation Environmental Mitigation Fund to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for – among other initiatives – diesel bus and vehicle replacements or upgrades and zero emissions vehicle infrastructure, including DC fast charging stations.
Five ElectriCities member cities have submitted applications for grants to fund the purchase and installation of DC fast charging stations in their cities.
Manager, Government Affairs
Senior Public Affairs Specialist