February 22, 2016

North Carolina State Rep. Szoka Promotes Reforms to Boost Solar Energy

State Rep. John Szoka tried to get a bill passed last year that would have allowed power customers to buy electricity from someone other than a utility company.

He failed.

Now, he's setting his sights on comprehensive energy reform as co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy. He said he hopes a bill will pass next year.


Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican, was keynote speaker at the Sandhills Clean Energy Summit on Saturday. He talked about the benefits of his Energy Freedom Act, which did not make it out of a committee for a vote last year.

The bill would have made it easier for electricity customers to install solar or other renewable energy systems on their properties.

Existing law says a customer either has to buy from the local electric utility or purchase and install his own alternative generation equipment. The customer cannot buy power from a third party.

Buying and maintain solar panels and other equipment can be expensive. Szoka's bill would have let the customer avoid the up-front costs and maintenance expense.

People and businesses would have been allowed to pay a third party company to install the generation equipment such as a solar farm. That third party would have owned the equipment on the customer's property and sold the power it generated to the customer.

Szoka said the bill would have followed free market principles and provided energy security for the country. He said the bill also would have been business friendly and would have recognized private property rights, created jobs, saved taxpayers money, saved power customers money and met citizen demand.

Polls showed that 75 percent of North Carolina residents support renewable energy, Szoka said.

"If we can all recognize this, why didn't this bill pass?" he said.

Szoka said arguments against the bill included debate about whether policy changes should come before technical solutions to problems; a lack of knowledge about the issue among lawmakers; and "issue fatigue'' because the legislature had dealt with tax credits for renewable energy and similar issues.

Szoka said that in addition to his bill, he expects the commission to discuss the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which says utility companies must get a certain percentage of power from renewable energy sources over the next five years; and net metering, which allows customers to generate their own electricity.

"The complexity of this is incredible," he said.

Szoka encouraged those attending the summit to get involved with energy issues and tell elected officials what they think.

"Make your voice known," he said. "Don't be shy about it."

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