Renewables rollback moves forward in House

Posted April 3, 2013

State House lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to freeze and repeal the state's renewable energy standards.

The measure, House Bill 298, passed a House Commerce subcommittee 11-10 on Wednesday. Reps. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, and Tom Murry, R-Wake, joined Democrats in voting against it.

The vote concluded a two-hour hearing at which the committee heard comments from 16 members of the public. All but three were opposed to the bill.

Critics of the bill included solar developers, small farmers, hog producers and green energy experts from the public and private sectors. All said they had benefited from 2007's Senate Bill 3, which established requirements for utility companies to acquire a growing percentage of their power from renewable sources.

North Carolina was the first state in the Southeast to adopt a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

House Bill 298 would end set-asides and subsidies for solar energy, wind energy and other renewables.

John Morrison, chief executive of Strata Solar, which started four years ago and is now the nation's fourth-largest solar company, said the company built 10 solar farms in North Carolina, investing about $200 million. This year, it's on track to build as many as 30 projects worth $500 million. 

But he warned that could change if lawmakers "send a bad message" by removing the state's support for solar power.

"We have to go to the capital markets" for funding, Morrison said. The bill "would send a very strong message to the investment community that North Carolina is no longer open for business for the solar industry."

Economist Ross Loomis with RTI International, a nonpartisan consulting group, says the state's renewable standards have driven $1.4 billion in investment to the state since 2007 and was responsible for 21,000 job-years.

Warren County Economic Development Director Gabe Cumming said his county's "solar boom" has brought more investment than any other sector, creating badly-needed jobs and local tax revenue. 

Solar energy "is one of the rare forms of development that is accessible to rural areas as well as urban areas of the state," Cumming said.

Tom Butler with Butler Farms said his operation is one of six in the state currently producing power using methane from hog waste.

"Butler Farms is proud to be known as a high tech, environmentally friendly renewable-energy farm," he said. "The technology is dragging, but it’s coming along, and if we do anything to this bill, it will stop it."

A updated version of the bill rolled out Wednesday would protect swine and poultry waste support, but Craig Westerbeek with hog producer Murphy Brown said his employer is still opposed to the bill.  

"It will send exactly the wrong message to prospective manure-to-energy investors," Westerbeek said, "and that’s the message that North Carolina's not serious about encouraging renewable energy products in this state.”

But supporters of the rollback, including the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, say the price of renewable energy is too high, and state taxpayers and ratepayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize the sector.

"I understand you want this gravy train to continue," Hager told developers in the audience. "I see this as an entitlement program that’s beginning to get its roots into our state."

"We’ve been in this six years," he said of subsidies and support for solar power. "How much longer do we need to go?"

Dallas Woodhouse with conservative group Americans for Prosperity said Senate Bill 3 has driven up utility costs in North Carolina at the expense of ratepayers who may not even understand that "cost-recovery" charges added to their bill are paying for the renewable standard.

Woodhouse said environmentalists are pushing green energy because they want power to be more expensive.

"It is a goal of them to have higher electricity costs because they want to punish people for using power," he said. "They think using power is a bad thing. They want to punish people for flipping the switch." 

Brian Balfour with conservative think-tank Civitas said that, while jobs may have been created by the green energy sector, other jobs have been lost because of higher energy prices and opportunity costs the sector has created.

"What does a society lose when resources are tied up satisfying a renewable energy mandate?" he asked. 

Samuelson argued the bill should be delayed till 2014, giving a study commission time to determine which policy changes would best fit a long-term energy plan for the state. 

She pointed out that, in a regulated monopoly like North Carolina, all forms of power production are subsidized to some extent.

"We are still picking winners and losers in this bill, and we are still giving subsidies. I just want us to be honest about that.," she said.

Samuelson also took issue with claims that getting rid of the renewable standard would help struggling ratepayers. 

"There’s no guarantee that passing this bill is going to lower your rates," she said. "There are a lot of things that are causing electric rates to go up. This isn’t going to magically fix that problem."

Hager replied that solar requires much higher levels of subsidy than other modes of power generation. 

Committee Chairman Jason Saine refused a request by Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, to hear from Duke Energy Corp. about the impact Senate Bill 3 has had on its operations.

Rolling back the renewable standard "is a huge change," Carney said, asking for the vote to be delayed till next week. "I don’t know what the rush is."

"That's why we had a two-hour meeting today," Saine, R-Lincoln, replied, noting that the bill still has to go through three more committees before reaching the House floor.


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  • chip8 Apr 4, 2013

    Follow the money. Who benefits from quashing the renewable energy credits? Certainly not farmers, NC's environment and the citizens of NC. The current administration is doing an impeccable job of distorting reality to suit their real sponsors. Duke Energy is the winner here, the citizens of NC the real losers. The administrations argument is insane. Energy costs are constantly rising so we should not do anything to lessen this? Oh yea who does renewable energy threaten? The environment? The citizens of NC? Congratulations GOP for showing your true colors so quickly. Surely the citizens of NC are not so ignorant as to you true intentions. One can only hope.

  • hp277 Apr 4, 2013

    The renewable energy charge is a tiny amount to pay for all the benefits the state receives in economic development and jobs - not to mention the environmental benefits.

  • avower59012 Apr 4, 2013

    I pay $.42 a month on my Progress Energy bill for the Renewable Energy Portfolio charge. This expense is killing my budget. Who cares about clean air, anyway? I just stay inside most of the time working so I can pay my cable and cellular phone bills. .

  • georgesnider88 Apr 3, 2013

    Wow, that info on North Carolina's participation in the programs offered by Duke, Progress and Dominion could prove to be embarrassing to the State and especially Rep.Hager.

  • zxcasdqwe99222 Apr 3, 2013

    You know, its kinda silly that no one in the news media or the opponents of the bill has not asked the State to provide an accounting of how many projects and incentives the State has applied for and received from the various REPS programs in the last 4 years.................if its really that bad, why did they apply for the incentives?

  • sisu Apr 3, 2013

    These people won't "get it" until it is too late. Climate change is very real and anyone who doesn't believe in it is a fool.

  • vivianfulk Apr 3, 2013

    Hack job today via ALEC. Of the four primary sponsors of HB 298, three are known to be affiliated with ALEC. They are Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer whose top industry campaign contributor is electric utilities; Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Wake), the former administrative director of the John Locke Foundation (JLF), a conservative think tank founded and largely funded by conservative benefactor Art Pope (now the North Carolina budget director) that has long targeted renewable energy and climate science; and Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow), who has been a big promoter of climate science denial at the legislature. The other primary sponsor is Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Nash), a financial consultant and founder of the Rocky Mount Bible Church.

  • Come On_Seriously Apr 3, 2013

    "Economist Ross Loomis with RTI International, a NONpartisan consulting group, says the state's renewable standards have driven $1.4 BILLION in investment to the state since 2007 and was responsible for 21,000 job-YEARS."

    But don't let that get in the way of a little oil lobby gravy.

    Never mind the whole renewable/non-renewable business either.

    Too bad our current DENR sec and his sea-level-can't-rise pals disagree with 99.99% of real science and have decided oil is renewable and sunshine is worse than fracking chemicals in our water.