Raleigh, N.C. — Conservative lawmakers are making another run at ending state subsidies to renewable energy firms by freezing requirements that utilities purchase some of their energy from solar farms, wind farms and other producers of renewables.
The state adopted a renewable energy portfolio standard, or REPS, a decade ago, calling for utilities to obtain a growing percentage of their power from renewable sources, topping out at 12.5 percent by 2021. Since then, North Carolina's solar energy industry has flourished, and wind farms are starting to open in eastern parts of the state.
Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, said Wednesday, however, that the state has given $1.6 billion in tax credits to renewable energy producers since 2010, which is hundreds of times what was forecast when REPS was put in place. Consumers also have been forced to pay more, he said, as utilities added riders to monthly bills to make up for the cost of buying renewable energy.
Under House Bill 745, the REPS standard would be frozen at the current 6 percent level, but all existing contracts for renewable energy would be honored. The proposal also would repeal tax breaks for solar energy production.
"This will transition us back to affordable energy," Millis said, noting that the bill also calls for the North Carolina Utilities Commission to finish a study in the next year the costs and benefits of "distributed generation."
"The form of energy production is not the issue," he said. "It's the subsidies and the mandate."
Similar efforts to roll back REPS have been introduced in each of the last two sessions, but they ran into opposition and died.
Donald Bryson, state president of Americans for Prosperity, said his group will exert pressure on lawmakers to ensure House Bill 745 is passed.
"North Carolina families need reliable and affordable energy," Bryson said, adding that REPS will continue driving up electric costs in North Carolina and hurt the state's economy.
Landon Stevens, policy director of Utah-based Strata Policy, said REPS has had a "precipitous drag" on the state's economy already, costing about $3,500 per family by 2013.
The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association disputes those findings, saying that REPS has saved customers statewide $162 million so far and that more than $2.6 billion has been invested in renewable energy projects in North Carolina, creating more than 26,000 jobs.