Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

Duke expands coal ash cleanup, but leaves N.C. communities in danger

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - posted by amy
Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

On Tuesday, Duke Energy announced it plans to excavate coal ash from ponds at three power plant sites in North Carolina, along with two more at its South Carolina facilities.

But the fates of several sites that pose significant threats to drinking water and nearby communities remain unclear.

Duke is already required by North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act to clean up four sites deemed “high-priority” by lawmakers. By recommending additional sites be excavated, Duke is committed to cleaning up ponds at seven of its 14 power plants across the state. That is, as long as the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is on board.

The total amount of coal ash now planned for excavation is 35.4 tons of ash. Duke plans to move the excavated ash to lined landfills or use it as structural fill material.

Although the company has now committed to cleaning up the ash at half of the sites in North Carolina, the majority of the ash polluting the state’s waterways remains largely unaddressed. As for the seven sites not included in today’s announcement, the company says further environmental testing is needed to assess contamination and determine clean up plans.

Importantly, the sites Duke has not committed to excavating are the largest in the state, including the 12.5 million tons of ash at Belews Creek, the 11.5 million tons at G.G. Allen, and the 27 million tons of coal ash stored at the Buck and Marshall plants. That amounts to more than 70 million tons — the bulk of Duke’s coal ash — still sitting in leaking, unlined ponds seeping and discharging into our waterways.

Around these unaddressed sites, nearly 500 households have been warned by the N.C. Department of Health that their well water is unsafe for drinking or to use for cooking due to contamination possibly associated with nearby coal ash ponds.

While Duke’s announcement is welcome news for the communities living near Moncure, Goldsboro, Lumberton and those who rely on the Cape Fear, Neuse and Lumber rivers for drinking water, others worry they’re being left behind and are concerned about potential harm caused by coal ash stored in landfills — and who is responsible for it.

A year and a half after the Dan River spill, Duke is certainly taking steps in the right direction. But there is still much work to be done for the company to prove it is the “good neighbor” it claims to be.

As the company’s coal ash cleanup efforts expand, we have just a few questions: Does Duke plan to leave more than 70 million tons of toxic ash in unlined ponds polluting North Carolina’s waterways? Will the company ensure the health and safety of workers and residents throughout the clean up process?

Until Duke makes an announcement that takes into account the safety of all its current and future neighbors, we’ll hold our applause.

Learn about the threat of coal ash pollution. Stay up to date by subscribing to the Front Porch Blog.

High Country residents speak up to save energy

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly
Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation's CEO Doug Johnson.

Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s CEO Doug Johnson.

Visit our Energy Savings Action Center

Urge your utility provider to provide debt-free energy efficiency financing for your community.

On a sweltering day earlier this month, several residents of North Carolina’s High Country packed into cars and made what for some is a one-hour trip to the annual membership meeting of their rural electric cooperative.

The reason? To tell the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation (BRE) Board of Directors they want incentives to improve their homes’ energy efficiency, specifically, though an “on-bill” financing loan program.

While this may sound too boring to encourage anyone to take hours out of their day to address the co-op board, the benefits of such a program are so exciting that they warranted the trip.

On-bill financing is a type of loan offered by utilities that pays for energy efficiency upgrades with no upfront cost to the homeowner or renter, making these improvements accessible to people of any income level. Loan recipients receive immediate savings on their electric bill after the upgrades, which may include insulation or air duct sealing. A portion of that monthly savings goes directly to the resident and the rest goes to the utility to pay back the cost of the upgrades.

These programs are designed so that no money ever comes out-of-pocket for the residents, who not only see immediate savings but also immediate improvements in the comfort of their homes and often their health. When all the upgrades are paid for (usually in five to ten years), the resident can see as much as a 40 percent reduction in their average monthly electric bill. Further, on-bill finance programs have substantial positive impacts for local economies and job creation.

The folks from North Carolina who traveled to BRE’s annual meeting wanted to advocate for these benefits. Mary Ruble, who, like almost anyone, could benefit from an on-bill financing program, spoke to the BRE board. She is hopeful that members will become more engaged so they too can voice the need for energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing.

“I know for myself I never really understood I was a member. It was just an electric bill,” she reflected.

Marisa Schor, another BRE member, spoke about being a renter and her limited ability to improve her home’s energy efficiency. “I can’t do anything about the insulation quality or efficiency of the heating system — I’m barely allowed to put nail holes in my walls,” Schor told the board.

Schor believes on-bill financing is part of the solution for her situation and for other renters. “What this program would do, however, is make it easy and convenient for landlords to increase the energy efficiency of their rental units,” said Schor. “As a tenant, this program would allow me the opportunity to easily reduce my energy consumption and would provide me with an easy, convenient and sustainable way to save money on my electric bill.”

BRE’s CEO Doug Johnson responded after each comment and assured the members that the co-op is seriously considering adopting an on-bill financing program for their members. In a press release after the meeting, Johnson stated publicly for the first time: “As we evolve into the utility of the future, key areas we are studying for programs to offer to members include renewables, more energy efficiency options, peak demand management, and a home weatherization/conservation program.”

Listen to a recorded presentation by Johnson here.

Electric co-op customers are actually members who own equal shares in the company and have the ability to significantly influence co-op decisions and direction. Appalachian Voices is working in western North Carolina and northeast Tennessee to connect folks with their electric co-ops and help them advocate for energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing.

This is especially important in the Southeast, where almost half of all co-op customers in the U.S. reside. The Southeast also accounts for almost half of electric co-op sales in the nation, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As electric co-op members continue to speak up — as in the case of BRE co-op in North Carolina’s High Country — demand will grow for on-bill financing and other energy efficiency programs.

Visit Appalachian Voices’ Energy Action Center to learn more, and take action now!

Video illustrates need for energy efficiency in the High Country

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - posted by eliza

In the mountainous northwestern corner of North Carolina, people pay higher percentages of their income on energy bills than almost every other part of Appalachia and the country. The especially harsh winters in this high-elevation region and widespread, outdated and energy-inefficient housing factor heavily into this problem.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia team held the High Country Home Energy Makeover contest this past winter to raise awareness about the issue and help three families in need. Their stories are representative of the more than 70 applications and inquiries we received about the contest. Our team is promoting affordable and accessible improvements to energy efficiency as a solution and advocating for our local rural electric cooperative, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., to develop a program that will offer these improvements to its members.

This video takes you to the homes of the three winners and provides a glimpse of their experience living with high energy bills and struggling to heat their homes in the winter. See for yourself what the face of energy efficiency looks like, and how it can make you smile with lower bills and a more comfortable home!

If you are a member of Blue Ridge Electric, sign on to our letter of support asking for an on-bill financing program, which would help members cover the cost of home energy improvements.

Residents Near Duke Ash Ponds Told To Not Drink Their Water

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett
Residents impacted by coal ash join together with concerned citizens to rally outside the annual Duke Energy shareholder’s meeting in Charlotte on May 7. Photo courtesy of NC WARN

Residents impacted by coal ash join together with concerned citizens to rally outside the annual Duke Energy shareholder’s meeting in Charlotte on May 7. Photo courtesy of NC WARN

Utility pleads guilty to separate water pollution charges

By Sarah Kellogg

Jeff Keiser and his wife, Kim, have lived in a small neighborhood in Belmont, N.C., near Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen power plant, for 15 years. Although their community is surrounded on three sides by coal ash, the toxic by-product of burning coal, the Keisers have used their tap water just like anyone else. But that changed in late April when they and their neighbors started receiving letters from the state health department advising them not to drink or cook with their water.

“It was pretty frightening for us to hear all of our neighbors getting do not drink letters from the state,” recalls Keiser. “We had been drinking the water with no worry at all, now we’re scared for our health.”

The do-not-drink orders were a result of mandatory water tests conducted by Duke Energy and required by North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act. As of late May, wells had been tested near eleven of Duke’s fourteen coal ash pond locations. Of the 207 wells tested by May —all located within 1,000 feet of the ponds —191 were deemed unsafe to drink. Most of the wells tested high for vanadium or hexavalent chromium, both known carcinogens. The Belmont community received 83 do-not-drink orders, the most of any location.

Duke Energy claims that the elements found in the wells are naturally occurring and not a result of groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds, although the utility agreed to supply affected residents with bottled water until the source of the contamination is determined.

Keiser and other residents feel certain that Duke is to blame for their bad water. “I do feel like it’s their ash ponds that have created this whole mess,” he says. His neighbor, Barbara Morales, who also received a do-not-drink notice, told the L.A. Times, “Duke just won’t admit their coal ash is poisoning my water, but they need to take responsibility.”

Two weeks after the first round of water tests was released, Duke Energy pleaded guilty in federal court to nine violations of the Clean Water Act at five of its North Carolina coal ash sites and agreed to pay a $102 million fine. The lawsuit was unrelated to the well water results, but rather was the result of a federal investigation that began after Duke spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in February 2014.

Separate lawsuits against Duke, filed by the state in 2013 for violations of the Clean Water Act at all 14 of the utility’s North Carolina coal ash sites, are still pending.

Duke’s guilty verdict and the do-not-drink orders come on the heels of a controversial wastewater discharge permit renewal for three of Duke Energy’s N.C. plants, including G.G. Allen. The state’s Clean Water Act lawsuits against Duke charge that the utility is violating the discharge permits at all of their plants due to toxic seeps from their coal ash ponds leaking into surface water and drinking water. Although the state is suing Duke Energy for the violations, it issued new draft permits that would make all current and future seeps from the coal ash ponds legal. As of publication, the permits have not been finalized, but hundreds of citizens submitted comments in April urging the state to limit the amount of coal ash pollution Duke Energy can discharge.

In Belmont and other communities, residents continue to process the news that their well water is undrinkable. “If we wanted to move, we’d feel obligated to let the purchasers of the house know about the issue with Duke and the drinking water in our neighborhood,” Keiser reflects. “That is very scary because this is our most valuable asset.”

Integrating a Plant Medicine Economy

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Vickers works in the Blue Ridge Bionetwork lab, which hosts training, education and outreach in addition to lab services. Photo courtesy of Bent Creek Institute

Vickers works in the Bionetwork lab, which hosts training, education and outreach in addition to lab services. Photo by Marie Knight

By Eliza Laubach

In a lab on the grounds of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Amanda Vickers looks at medicinal plants on a microscopic level. She is testing the plants — valued as a source of income by many in the biodiverse Blue Ridge Mountains — to determine their potency for use in herbal products.

As director of the U.S. Botanical Safety Laboratory, Vickers uses botanical labs at universities and community colleges across western North Carolina to conduct her tests. The results inform wild harvesters and farmers about when to harvest and how to process the herbs. Vickers also adds plant samples to North Carolina Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository, North America’s only gene and seed bank for medicinal plants.

“We’re sort of an engine for getting farmers’ crops qualified and getting them in the hands of other local people,” says Vickers.

The Bent Creek Institute, a nonprofit business accelerator, manages the lab and seeks to serve as a catalyst for economic development in a region abound with herbalists. As part of this goal, Vickers is currently working with a local salon to develop an herbal dry shampoo, first by connecting a wild harvester and a farmer with the hairstylists, and then testing the product as it undergoes development. This work is done out of the Bionetwork, a lab on the campus of A-B Tech that serves as public testing and teaching grounds. Ultimately, the dry shampoo may qualify for the Blue Ridge Naturally label, designating the local sourcing of the ingredients.

Blue Ridge Food Ventures is a commercial kitchen that also collaborates with the Bionetwork lab, initiated by the economic development group AdvantageWest. At the kitchen, entrepreneurs craft food and cosmetic products and can use the lab, or employ Vickers, to test the integrity of their ingredients. “We try to stay really embedded in the local economy,” says Vickers.

For more information, visit botanical-safety.com

CORRECTION: The original article misidentified where the lab Amanda Vickers works in as being in the basement of the North Carolina Arboretum and what is is called. It misidentified Bent Creek Institute as a business incubator, stated that the dry shampoo Vickers is working on will qualify for the Blue Ridge Naturally label and did not name the photographer of the picture.

Blazing Trails in Mars Hill

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett

By Kimber Ray

With the scheduled opening of Bailey Mountain Bike Park in Mars Hill, N.C., this June, mountain bikers skilled at high-speed maneuvering down steep, rough terrain may soon travel to rural Madison County from across the country.

Unlike traditional downhill trail operations, which often convert to ski slopes in the winter, Bailey will be the first in the U.S. to remain open year-round and cater exclusively to mountain bikers. The first stage of the park will include five trails, but the long-term plan is to build as many as 30 trails.

The nonprofit Natural Capital Investment Fund, a business loan fund that supports sustainable economic development, helped finance the park.

“We’re looking to make ourselves a mini-destination,” says Bailey co-owner Jennifer Miller. “It’s highly likely that the people who come to us will go and explore other things in the area too, whether it be the hot springs or downtown Marshall or Mars Hill.”

Miller is optimistic that, combined with continued development of nearby cross-country bike trails, Bailey’s opening could help “put Madison County on the map for some major mountain biking action.”

Visit: baileymountainwnc.com

Reworking the Region

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett
A worker-owner arranges fabric at the Opportunity Threads plant in Morganton, N.C.  Photo by Willa Johnson

A worker-owner arranges fabric at the Opportunity Threads plant in Morganton, N.C.
Photo by Willa Johnson

By Dan Radmacher

As Appalachia suffers through the effects of yet another downturn in the coal industry, a number of organizations are stepping up efforts to create jobs, retain young adults in the region and better educate the workforce.

“It’s a challenging environment, for sure,” says Brandon Dennison, executive director of Coalfield Development Corp., an organization devoted to revitalizing the local economy in Wayne, Mingo and Lincoln counties in West Virginia. “Almost all of our crew members have been economically affected by the coal downturn. There aren’t a lot of job opportunities.”

The organization’s Quality Jobs Initiative gives recently unemployed young adults a 30-month contract and puts them on a weekly 33/6/3 schedule: 33 hours of construction work, six hours of community college and three hours of life skills training.

Crew members who graduate from the program gain an associate’s degree, multiple professional certifications, hands-on experience, and training in life skills areas such as money, time management and emotional health. Similar programs for agricultural and service workers are also being planned.

“We want to give them the tools to reverse the cycle of poverty,” Dennison says.

For Jeff James, chairman of the new nonprofit Create West Virginia, giving tools to individuals, while important, is insufficient. Create West Virginia wants to change the culture in Appalachia so that it’s more conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship. The organization is hosting a three-day conference in Fayetteville in September, “Building Bridges to a New Economy,” the latest in a series of conferences aimed at finding ways to shift the region’s focus.

West Virginia has several creative magnets — areas that attract people who want to come to an area not just for jobs but for a sense of place. These range from geographic locations like the New River Gorge to technology centers like the Fairmont/Clarksburg/Morgantown corridor.

“West Virginia needs to grow creative muscle and the ability to diversify,” James says. “Small towns and the people that come from them need to know they can build an innovation economy. ”

Financing Rejuvenation

One thing that could certainly help in a number of revitalization efforts is an infusion of cash in the region. This could come in the form of President Obama’s POWER+ Plan, which will devote significant new money to the coalfields if the plan can pass Congress.

The plan would add $25 million in funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission, $20 million a year for re-employment services and job training for laid-off miners, money for grants to help economically distressed communities foster “an environment conducive to job creation and economic growth,” and a $200 million annual boost in spending on reclaiming abandoned mine lands.

“The POWER+ Plan would utilize resources on a scale that a single federal initiative hasn’t done in our region in a very long time,” says Eric Dixon, an Appalachian Transition Fellow at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.

“The way the [Abandoned Mine Lands] plan is structured, the money has to be used for projects that pose an economic development potential,” Dixon says. “These sites have potential for beekeeping, agriculture, recreational tourism and other economic engines, but those solutions won’t pop up unless we have a very big public dialogue about this money and this program to spark people’s imaginations across the region.”

The boost to the Abandoned Mine Lands program could be especially important for the region, both in the short and long terms, Dixon says. Getting laid-off miners and others with the necessary skills to reclaim old mine sites back to work will give communities an immediate economic boost. But the long-term impact could be far greater.
Adam Wells, economic diversification campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices, publisher of this newspaper, is fully behind the plan.

“For so long, Appalachia has been giving away our natural resources, and our cultural and social resources,” says Wells. “It’s really good to see a federal program that gives back to us in a meaningful way, and one that focuses so specifically on moving us forward to a diverse new economy in Appalachia.”

An influx of federal money could be helpful, but many looking to better Appalachia’s economy are wary of waiting for any kind of external savior.

Building on the Past

“Our philosophy is that we already have everything we need to thrive in Appalachia,” says Coalfield Development Corp.’s Dennison. “We have a proud history to build from; enterprising, strong, smart, creative people; vibrant communities that work with the land and close to the land instead of exploiting it.”

The desire to build upon history and use resources that already exist guides much of the work Coalfield Development Corp. does, such as the recent renovation of the Urlings General Store in Wayne, W.Va.

“We like to work in historic, abandoned buildings,” Dennison says. “We like to maintain the character, the sense of stories and history embedded in those buildings.”

And bringing new life to a vacant building is healing. “Empty buildings can be a real scar on a community,” says Dennison. “It’s great to return vitality and purpose to a place like that.”

The former general store is now home to five affordable housing units, built with energy efficiency in mind, including solar water heaters, both because such efficiency is good for the environment and because it helps low-income tenants by lowering their bills.

The building will also house commercial space, including a coffee shop operated by the tenants, who — like the crew members who renovated the building — will be on Coalfield Development Corp.’s 33/6/3 schedule.

“We’re trying to create truly empowering opportunities and replicate our model in a new industry,” says Dennison.

Crafting Worker Ownership

Revitalization efforts are underway outside of Appalachia’s coalfields as well. In rural North Carolina, hit hard over the last few decades by the collapse of the tobacco market and the textile and furniture industries, the focus is on re-envisioning what labor looks like through worker ownership.

Opportunity Threads is a worker-owned garment plant in Morganton, N.C., with a focus on sustainable production and building local resources.

“Traditionally, labor in the South involved wealth being taken out of the community,” says Molly Hernstreet, founder and general manager of Opportunity Threads. “Our challenge was to build models in these heritage industries where the wealth can be more deeply rooted in our community.”

Like Dennison, Hernstreet believes understanding Appalachian character is the key to future prosperity. “We’re makers,” she says. “We can hope for change, or know that’s what we’re good at. Let’s find the models that are financially the most viable and create the most wealth.”

For Hernstreet, the worker-owner model makes the most sense, especially in a low-margin industry like textiles.
“We can drive those narrow margins into good hourly wages and benefits,” she says. “Worker ownership lends itself to meeting all the challenges in this industry: Quick turnaround, high quality and a competitive price structure. When a worker is also an owner, they understand the value of their own productivity.”

Opportunity Threads is part of the Carolina Textile District, a cooperative that helps small textile shops work together and aggregate demand.

Sara Chester, part of Carolina Textile District’s management team, says that the idea is to recruit work — rather than companies — to the region. But one challenge has been convincing a new generation of workers to trust in textiles.

“We lost so many jobs in such a short amount of time,” Chester says. “Kids grew up with their parents and grandparents telling them not to work in these jobs. It’s been a real battle to change that image.”

As with much of this work, patience is key. “We’re not going to turn it around in just a year or two,” Chester says. “This is a message we’ll have to reinforce for years to come.”

Solidarity in the Tar Heel State

Monday, June 1st, 2015 - posted by interns
Local citizens rally against injustice as Appalachian Voices' N.C. Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd.

Local citizens rally against injustice as Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd.

Julia Simcoe is a senior sociology major at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She recently finished a “semester abroad” at Appalachian State University and is honored to intern with Appalachian Voices this summer.

Last Thursday, local residents and social justice advocates held two well-attended events in Walnut Cove and Raleigh, N.C. The theme of both events was opposition to pollution in low-income communities of color, and to show that, through solidarity, citizens can work within the system to create lasting changes.

Representatives of the Stokes County, state, and national levels of the NAACP spoke at the conference. Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and daughter of Al Gore, also spoke at the event.

Located in the greater Winston-Salem area, Walnut Cove is a predominantly African-American, low-income community. A press conference in the morning at the Rising Star Baptist Church focused on the negative health effects of coal ash ponds at Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station, and the state’s recent decision to drill a core sample to assess natural gas reserves in the same community.

Many fear that results from this test site will lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the community which has already suffered from the impacts of Duke Energy’s coal ash.

“In the past 20 years, our drinking water was brown, smelled of rotten eggs, and also had calcium and mineral deposits,” said local resident Lydia Prysock.

Though community members eventually fought for cleaner water and improvements were made, Prysock believes their water should not have been polluted in the first place–and should not be threatened further with fracking.

“Water is our God-given right. Even though we have to pay for the piping and the electricity to run it, we still have the right to good, clean drinking water.”

Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, traveled from the organization’s Baltimore headquarters to attend the events and bolster the community’s resistance to pollution. Fracking and other industrial pollutants are “disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color, which is unfortunately a national trend,” she said.

Black and white community members and protesters stood behind the speaker’s podium to show solidarity, holding signs that read “Water = life,” “Belews Creek Is Not Low Priority: Don’t Leave Us Behind,” and “Fracking = toxic.” One sign read, “We are high priority.” For me, this slogan invoked the nationally chanted “Black Lives Matter.”

Hours later, many of the same participants held a “Moral Monday” event rally in Raleigh on the grounds of the legislative building. Though the rally focused primarily on expanding Medicaid for North Carolinians, representatives from Stokes County spoke and connected their pollution to problems of health and corporate greed.

The NAACP’s Patterson urged the crowd to see connections between racism, healthcare, and pollution. “Sixty-eight percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant,” she said. “African-American children are five times more likely to enter into the hospital from asthma attacks and three times likely to die from asthma attacks, so this is definitely a moral issue.”

Local Walnut Cove resident Caroline Armijo also made the trek to Raleigh, and spoke to the experiences of community members.

“We have suffered an extraordinary amount of premature deaths because of coal ash in our community. A friend of mine discovered a stage three brain tumor at the age of 34. She lives on Pine Hall road, which is the road of Belews Creek Steam Station. This is Duke Energy largest steam station and also the home of Duke Energy largest unlined coal ash pond. It is 342 acres large, 12 stories deep, and it contains 39 million tons of coal ash,” she said.

“Now, Walnut Cove has decided unanimously to test drill for fracking and the land around this coal ash pond is owned by people not within our county and they are eager to frack this land. We have worked for 3 years to clean this coal ash and if that pond fails, we will never be able to clean it up and Stokes County will never be able to recover.”

Karenna Gore undoubtedly voiced the opinion of many when she said that a purpose of these moments of community solidarity should be to reverse the “short-term, financial gain for corporations above the welfare of people” that is the status quo.

Around and inside the capitol building, demonstrators chanted: “People united will never be defeated,” and “Whose house? The people’s house.”

A “crass abuse of power” in the N.C. Senate

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 - posted by brian
North Carolina Sen. Bob Rucho must be hard of hearing since several of his Senate colleagues attest that a bill to freeze the state's renewable portfolio standard failed on a voice vote before he declared the bill passed.

North Carolina Sen. Bob Rucho must be hard of hearing since several of his Senate colleagues attest that a bill to freeze the state’s renewable portfolio standard failed on a voice vote before he declared the bill passed.

The disgust with North Carolina Sen. Bob Rucho today is broad and bipartisan.

Yesterday in the state Senate finance committee, which he chairs, Rucho prevented any debate on provisions of House Bill 332 that would undermine a policy central to the success of North Carolina’s solar industry.

Then he broke Senate rules by refusing to allow an individual tally of votes and declared a failed bill passed.

North Carolinians: Send a message to your state senator telling them to oppose anti-solar provisions in H322.

As the News & Observer reports:

Senate finance chairman Sen. Bob Rucho pushed through a bill freezing renewable energy rates on Wednesday, cutting off discussion and refusing to allow a head count instead of a voice vote.

He declared the bill had passed, despite a louder and possibly more numerous chorus of “no” votes. The meeting ended with several senators, including at least two Republicans, openly complaining about the way Rucho had handled it.

“It wasn’t even close,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, a seven-term Republican from Archdale, told Rucho afterward.

Rules adopted by the Senate earlier this year require the presiding officer to hold a “division,” an individual tally rather than just by voice, if it is called for prior to the vote. In this case, the committee’s leading Democrat, Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, called for a division. Rucho refused and moved forward with a voice vote.

After the committee meeting, Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte tweeted:

Even former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers called out legislators for their regressive tack on proven clean energy policies. “They are not focused on the future,” Rogers told an audience at Charlotte Business Journal’s Energy Inc. Summit today. “They are focused on the past.”

The benefits of clean energy are abundant, but the game in Raleigh is rigged. Since opponents of sound energy policies that promote job growth and create billions in local economic benefits can’t win adhering to the rules, they break them. Bob Rucho has more than earned his nickname, “Napoleon Rucho.”

If you’re still finding it hard to believe Sen. Rucho could treat the democratic process with such brazen disregard, well, here’s his most recent tweet from back in January 2014.

Sen. Rucho, respectfully, treat people with respect if that is what you expect in return.

If HB332′s flawed passage is allowed to stand, the bill could be brought up on the Senate floor for a full vote. If that happens, we hope the bipartisan outrage with the way the bill has been handled thus far, and the fact that it’s bad policy to begin with, remains.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Send a message to your state senator telling them to oppose anti-solar provisions in H322.

Who’s casting shadows over N.C. solar?

Friday, May 15th, 2015 - posted by amy

FB-Cover02-cropped

I love living in North Carolina. The diversity of our state, its natural beauty, and its glorious Carolina blue skies and sunshine.

On average, North Carolina skies are sunny more than 200 days a year. Those sunny skies don’t just offer us great days for enjoying the beach or Saturday picnics; they also offer us a priceless opportunity for solar energy.

Over the past year, we have heard Gov. McCrory and members of the state Mining and Energy Commission talk about the “opportunities” that fracking will bring to the state, while categorically denying the real opportunities of the solar industry. So, let’s do a quick comparison (find links from chart at end of the post):

Doesn’t seem that this is a difficult equation to solve. So why are our elected officials pushing forward on fracking and offshore drilling, while working on legislation that casts shadows over North Carolinians right to utilize our sunshine?

Right now, a monster of an anti-environmental bill is in the General Assembly. House Bill 760 has many terrible provisions, you can see the disheartening summary here.

On the laundry list of rollbacks proposed in this bill is a major decrease of our Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The standard currently requires utility providers to obtain a small percentage (12.5 %) of their power from renewable sources by 2021—a modest amount compared to California, where utilities must hit 33% by 2020. The House bill would cut North Carolina’s requirement to just 6%.

That’s one.

A different bill is under attack that would allow residential customers to get “no money down” solar panels on their homes. House Bill 245, also known as the Energy Freedom Act, would allow residents to contract with an independant solar company which would cover the cost of panels and installation upfront, allowing homeowners to enjoy the benefits of solar power while paying off the cost over time. But Duke Energy is doing all it can to block the bill, and our legislators are listening to them—not us, the public, which polls show want solar.

That’s two.

The North Carolina Energy Tax credit is set to expire. Two bills—House Bill 454 and Senate Bill 447—would extend the 35% solar tax credit through 2021. North Carolina has enjoyed explosive growth in solar due to this tax credit, which has paid taxpayers back handsomely. According to research by RTI International and Scott Madden Consultants, $80 million in state tax incentives resulted in $900 million in clean energy and efficiency investments in 2014, as well as nearly 20,000 jobs. Despite the obvious benefits to our economy and the solar industry, our elected officials are showing no sign they intend to extend the credit.

That’s three.

In baseball, it’s one, two, three strikes……you’re OUT! Our elected officials are supposed to be on our team, so why are they set to strike us out on solar. Only this isn’t a game. This is a real opportunity—if we can just get our elected officials to act on behalf of citizens and take steps to make North Carolina #1 in solar.

Take Action Today!