Front Porch Blog

Renewable Energy Standard Targeted by N.C. Legislature

By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013

North Carolina number five in solar.

North Carolina is number five in solar, but that huge success is under attack in Raleigh. Photo by SEIA.

Despite job creation directly linked to North Carolina’s burgeoning clean energy industry, the state’s modest renewable energy standard continues to be targeted by lawmakers.

The “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” which narrowly passed the House Commerce Committee, would warp the state renewable energy portfolio standard into a shadow of the law created with bipartisan support and the backing of the state’s largest electric utilities in 2007.

According to a study by RTI International and La Capra Associates, the state’s renewable standard has led to a net gain of over 20,000 clean energy jobs even while more than 100,000 jobs were lost in the N.C. economy during the same five years. The state’s clean energy investment has created a net revenue of $113 million since 2007, while the total economic benefit of clean energy over the past five years was $1.7 billion.

Investors are listening up and jumping on board, too, as clean energy investment has grown 13-fold over the past five years in North Carolina, resulting in an estimated 8.2 million megawatt-hours being saved through renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Additionally, it is estimated that state government energy efficiency programs have saved $427 million in taxpayer money.

Solar energy has soared in North Carolina due to the REPS. The state is fifth in the nation in solar installed and is projected to reach number four by this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Out of the 30 utility-scale solar projects in the Southeast in 2012, 21 were in North Carolina.

Those benefits could be cut short if the tunnel vision that has taken over North Carolina politics prevails.

If passed, the bill would begin by capping the mandated 12.5 percent contribution to renewable energy production from state utilities by the year 2021 to just six percent by 2015. It would also allow previously-excluded hydroelectric plants to count as renewable energy if they produce more than 10 megawatts of power and would allow utilities to use more energy efficiency policies in place of renewable energy production to meet the portfolio standards.

The required increase in use of solar per year would also be eliminated from the state’s energy projects, dampening the incentives for new solar energy companies to bring more jobs to North Carolina.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Mike Hager, is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a body keen on creating legislation which lift corporate interests over those of state citizens. The “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act” is nearly identical to ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act”—model legislation that has been introduced in more than 20 states with renewable energy standards.

But, according to a recent press conference call, N.C. business owners are speaking out against the ALEC bill, acknowledging that it seeks to undermine a promising industry in the state.

Maria Kingery of Mooresville solar company Southern Energy Management highlighted the fact that only a handful of businesses like hers existed in 2001, but now “hundreds of solar companies” exist. And CEO Michael Shore of Asheville’s FLS Energy argued that his company had invested more than $70 million in the state, leading to numerous jobs. This feat would not have been possible, he said, without the state “making a commitment to clean energy” through the REPS. “It has been hugely successful.”

With clean energy strong but still at a crucial developing stage in the state, this legislation is a deliberate attack on North Carolina jobs today and ones that are on track to be here in the future.

The next stop for the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act” will be the House Environment Committee.





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