Local Politics

Lawmakers consider renewable energy bill

Power companies and environmentalists disagree on the merits of an energy bill before the state Legislature, but both sides warn it could affect electric rates.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Power companies and environmentalists disagree on the merits of an energy bill before the state Legislature, but both sides warn that the bill could affect electric rates.

The bill, entitled Promote Renewable Energy/Baseload Generation, would require North Carolina utilities to get 12.5 percent of their retail electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power or methane gas from hog waste.

Since Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, filed the bill Jan. 24, power companies have convinced lawmakers to amend it twice.

In return for utilities' commiting to energy efficiency and conversion incentives, lawmakers added negotiated rate recovery provisions, which would enable utilities to charge customers up front to help build any new nuclear or coal-fired power plants.

Opponents and supporters of the bill got to voice their arguments Monday at a hearing of the House Energy and Energy Efficiency Committee.

Some environmental groups claimed that the amended bill strays from its purpose of promoting renewable energy.

"(The bill) is a consumer rip-off," said Rob Thompson, of the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group. "What the utilities did was, they leveraged their political power to get provisions inserted into these bills that are bad for consumers and bad for the environment."

Progress Energy spokesperson Cari Boyce said that demand dictates the need for proven power generation and up-front payment by customers will produce long-term savings for them.

"Focusing just on renewables, which are unproven technologies to date, would be unwise," said Boyce.

"We need to ensure that if we need new plants that we build them at the lowest cost to the consumer. ... So over the life of the plant, the cost to customers is lower than it would be without these provisions," continued Boyce.

The committee voted against stripping the negotiated rate-recovery provisions from the bill and passed it with only two changes.

"Politics are going on here with the utilities. In order to get their agreement on the renewables, we had to give something," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, committee chair.

The bill must go to two more House committies before being voted on by the full House. The Senate has already passed the bill.


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