House panel turns out light on effort to end renewable energy subsidies
A western North Carolina lawmaker received a stinging defeat Wednesday as his own committee voted down his proposal to freeze and repeal the state's renewable energy standards.Posted — Updated
Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, had pulled House Bill 298 from the House Committee on Environment, where it faced questionable support, to put it in front of the House Committee on Public Utilities and Energy, which he chairs, in hopes of keeping the legislation moving forward.
Instead, an 18-13 vote killed the bill, with powerful Republican Reps. Tim Moore, Ruth Samuelson, Nelson Dollar and others joining Democrats in opposing the measure.
Hager's bill would have ended the set-asides and subsidies for solar energy, wind energy and other renewables that lawmakers created in 2007. North Carolina was 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.
"If the only way a business can move forward is with a subsidy, then maybe we need to rethink the business," said Hager, a former Duke Energy employee.
He argued that the renewables requirement was costing consumers money and disputed opponents' contention that it had spawned a growing green-energy industry in North Carolina.
Other lawmakers responded by saying Duke Energy has its own subsidy by having an electric monopoly in many parts of the state and that government subsidies have been used for decades to help fledgling industries, from railroads to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Summer Lanier, a spokeswoman for Prestage Farms, a turkey and pork processor, said Hager's bill would scuttle the company's efforts to build a waste-to-energy plant in Bladen County and jeopardize other investments and job-creation efforts in eastern North Carolina.
John Morrison, chief operating officer of Strata Solar, which started four years ago and is now the nation's fourth-largest solar company, said the subsidies don't cost consumers a penny. Utilities would spend the same amount buying power from his company – or any other renewable energy supplier – as they would if they had generated it themselves, he said.
But Donald Bryson, a policy analyst with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, called the 2007 renewables law "shoddy" and told lawmakers that consumers shouldn't have subsidies for green-energy firms "rammed down their throats."