Raleigh, N.C. — Amid protests from some members seeking a show of hands for a vote, Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bill Rabon quickly adjourned a Wednesday meeting after declaring that a bill to freeze and repeal the state's renewable energy standards had enough support to advance.
A voice vote on Senate Bill 365 was close, but Rabon determined that backers were in the majority, talking over repeated requests from several committee members for a more definitive vote. The bill now heads to the Senate Commerce Committee.
North Carolina in 2007 became the first state in the Southeast to adopt a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, requiring utility companies to acquire a growing percentage of their power from renewable sources. Senate Bill 365 would eliminate subsidies and set-asides for renewable energy producers by 2023.
Sponsor Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said many technological advances were promised in 2007 if lawmakers helped get the green-energy industry off the ground. Those advances should be in place over the next decade, he said, making energy cheap to produce and the subsidies unnecessary.
"Economic development follows low-cost energy," Brock said, adding that forcing utilities to purchase renewable energy raises electricity costs for businesses and consumers. "When you have higher energy costs in North Carolina, it's tough to get jobs going because it puts an undue burden on our companies."
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said the renewables industry has grown in North Carolina despite the sluggish economy in recent years because of the state support, and it offers more growth opportunities in the future if lawmakers would leave it alone.
"The anti-small-business hostility of this legislation is really amazing," Stein said. "Investors will not play (in North Carolina) if we keep playing these games."
Hog farmers who have invested in waste-to-energy production and representatives of energy industries spoke out against the bill, saying repealing the subsidies would cost them money and jobs.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said repealing the standards is bad public policy.
"One thing we've begun to do is back away and back away and renege on obligations we've made," McKissick said. "This is just another quantum step backward."
But Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said subsidies can't go on forever.
"Sooner or later, you've got to put an end point to this," Brown said. "How long do you subsidize?"
A companion bill in the House failed in committee last week. Sponsor Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, planned to bring it up for another hearing Wednesday, but the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee never addressed it.