Proposed rollback on NC renewable energy requirements again rejected
Posted April 22, 2015 4:17 p.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2015 10:51 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — For the second time in two years, a House committee has turned out the lights on an effort to scale back North Carolina's requirements that utilities use renewable sources to generate a specific portion of the power they provide.
Reps. Nelson Dollar and Chris Malone were among several Republicans who joined Democrats to vote down House Bill 681 by a 14-15 margin.
In 2007, North Carolina 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.
The REPS requirements basically force electric customers statewide to subsidize solar farms, wind turbines and plants that turn waste from hog and poultry farms into energy, said Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, a primary sponsor of House Bill 681.
"I'm not against one form of energy at the benefit another," Millis said. "But I am strongly against mandating and subsidizing one form of energy by the force of law, especially when the higher cost on the backs of our citizens are the very vehicle to do so."
He cited a March report from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that noted North Carolina is a REPS island in the Southeast and that higher energy prices over the long term could stunt the state's economic growth.
Millis said his bill would "hold harmless" the companies that have invested in renewable energy in recent years by freezing the amount of power Duke Energy and other utilities obtain through renewable sources at 6 percent for the next three years.
Under current law, the proportion would rise to 12.5 percent by 2021, but Millis emphasized his proposal is better than an outright repeal of the REPS requirement, which some lawmakers unsuccessfully sought in 2013.
"The (bill) does not aim to pull the rug out from underneath anyone," he said. "This bill is the ratepayers' and the taxpayers' most compassionate offer to the very special interests that have extorted their hard-earned money."
The bill also calls for a study of the costs and benefits of keeping "renewables at the energy table" and would allow the state to purchase power from renewable sources if it offers the lowest-cost option, he said.
Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston, asked Millis if Duke has promised in writing that electric rates would drop if less renewable energy was required under state law. Millis and others noted that rates are based on various factors, not just the REPS requirement.
Bill co-sponsor Rep Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said the DENR study showed rates in North Carolina have risen at 2.5 times the national average since 2008 – the year after the REPS requirements were enacted.
Dan Conrad, an attorney for the North Carolina Utilities Commission, told lawmakers that most of the recent electric rate increases approved in the state have been tied to the construction of new power plants to meet the demand of a growing population.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said the "green energy" industry has been an economic boon to the state throughout the recession, creating 25,000 jobs, and representatives for two solar companies asked lawmakers to defeat the bill.
Donald Bryson, state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said the measure was a compromise between the existing law and a complete REPS repeal.
"This is not an anti-solar or an anti-wind bill. This is a pro-consumer bill," Bryson said.