Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Legislative leaders need to end war on renewables and back growing the clean energy economy

Posted January 16

Wind farm, wind energy, wind turbine

A CBC Editorial: Monday, Jan. 16, 2017; Editorial# 8111
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

State Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort County, may have set the speed record for a politician stabbing his constituents in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties in the back.

Within hours of the opening of the 2017 legislative session, it was disclosed that Cook joined nine other state legislators calling on the federal government to shut down the $400 million nearly ready to go online Amazon wind energy farm in the two counties.

It is part of an unrelenting ideological war by luddites in the General Assembly, who reflexively oppose renewable energy as some kind of alien plot foisted on North Carolina by zombies wearing bellbottom jeans and beads.

While these legislators may be getting their kicks at tilting -- quite literally in this case -- at windmills in their misguided effort to crush the state’s growing renewable energy industry, they need to more deeply consider the consequences of their actions.

In Pasquotank and Perquimans counties it is about dollars and cents. At risk is nearly $500,000 annually in local property taxes along with another $550,000 in payments to land owners. The $400 million project employed several hundred during construction and the 17 permanent positions will bring in salaries averaging $80,000. This is money that pays for the public schools, builds roads, puts shelter over families’ heads and food on their tables.

The project is the model to provide an economic boost in rural areas – particularly ones where they lag behind the state employment and household income. Not only does the area benefit from the single project, but word of it has led other businesses to approach local economic development officials.

The legislators’ opposition is flimsy at best. The rambling letter sent to Gen. John Kelly, the nominee for Homeland Security secretary, raises concerns about the wind farms possible interference with a military radar facility near the North Carolina-Virginia line. That matter was addressed in detail during the permitting process with the Defense Department, said Paul Copleman, communications director with Avangrid Renewables, the owner and operator of the project. The power it produces will be sold directly to Amazon.

One local legislator, Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, declined to sign onto the letter and raised objections with House leaders. He contends the effort to close the wind farm has less to do with any concerns for the military than it does with the long-running fight against renewables in the General Assembly. “I have not talked with anyone from the military that has said they cannot coexist with this particular project.”

Just last week we learned that the state’s clean energy economy accounts for more than 1,000 firms, 34,000 jobs and $6.4 billion in annual revenues, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association’s annual census.

This latest misguided effort, coupled with HB2, only makes North Carolina appear even more business unfriendly. It is time for the leadership of the General Assembly to stop the foolish fight against the renewable energy industry – an economic sector with little downsides and one of the few bright spots in North Carolina’s economy since the Great Recession.

Instead of tossing road blocks in the way of this important sector of North Carolina’s economy, lawmakers should look for ways to foster its growth. One good place to start, in fact, is to revive the renewable energy tax credits the legislature recently repealed.

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Capitol Broadcasting Company owns a solar farm in Wake County. The electricity generated is sold to Duke Progress Energy.

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