May 1, 2013

Good News! North Carolina Votes to Keep Renewable Energy Policy

North Carolina lawmakers voted down the bill which would have rolled back and then eliminated the state's renewable energy policy, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). 

The vote on the bill, modeled on ALEC's Electricity Freedom Act, was 18-13 in the House Public Utilities Committee, making it unlikely that it will move to a House vote.  

Economics won the day and this time it favored renewable energy. There's too much positive economic activity for lawmakers to vote it down, with over 100,000 green jobs in the balance and hundreds of solar companies now in the state. North Carolina is now 4th in the US for new solar installations because of the RPS.

North Carolina's law requires utilities source only 3% of renewables by 2014 and rises gradually after that, reaching 12.5% by 2021. Utilities can meet the targets through energy efficiency in addition to adding renewables or buying certificates.

The Affordable & Reliable Energy Act would have cut the 2021 target and eliminate it after that.  

Rep. Mike Hager, (R-Rutherford), the sponsor of the bill and a member of ALEC, pulled it from the House Committee on Environment and instead placed in the House Committee on Public Utilities and Energy, where he thought it would get easy support since he chairs that committee. 

Originally, he wanted to cut the 2021 target to a mere 3%, but when he felt resistance he raised it to 6%. In this last version, he kept the 12.5% target and eliminated the program after 2021.

Even that failed, thanks to six Republicans - including three of the most powerful legislators in the state House - who voted with Democrats. 

"It was based off local issues back home," Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland County) told the News & Observer. "I would have had a difficult time talking to a CEO who just brought 300 jobs to Cleveland County [and telling him] that I'm going to vote to eliminate this program that justified their investment." 

Although solar has seen the most growth under the RPS, it covers all renewables, including biogas, which local farms are interested in. Solar is also popular with farmers.

A local developer is planning a 100 MW solar plant, the biggest in the east, and Apple now boasts the biggest corporate-owned solar PV and fuel cell system, there.

Conservatives are Furious

Hager could tweak the bill and continue pushing it and judging by the reaction of his base, that's possible. 

"The vote in Raleigh was closely watched by national conservative organizations that had targeted North Carolina as the first domino in a national strategy of toppling green-energy policies in more than two dozen states," notes the News & Observer. 

16 states are considering similar legislation right now, more than half the states that have an RPS.   

16 conservative organizations, such as ALEC, American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform and Heartland Institute, pushed hard to get the bill passed, even sending a letter telling lawmakers that it was their "moral obligation" to oppose government programs that interfere with free markets, reports the News & Observer.

And two people from Americans for Prosperity witnessed the vote to let lawmakers know "other states are watching."

When it was voted down, Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina's  director for Americans for Prosperity, said he could barely contain his anger.

"This was a horrible vote by Republicans, and they need to be held accountable," he told News & Observer. "And that's all I'm going to say."  

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