A job-killing energy act

Guest Blog | March 29, 2013 | Energy Policy

This guest post about North Carolina energy policy was written by Tim Toben and originally published on the News Observer website.

If the General Assembly wants to establish itself as the most business unfriendly, anti-jobs and anti-growth legislature in the nation, it will pass the recently filed bill oxymoronically titled the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act.”

It is anything but. The act, which might better be titled the “Job-Killing, Anti-Growth and Keep NC Dependent on Arab Oil Act,” would repeal the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard. The rule requires that 3 percent of all electricity sold in the state come from renewable sources, with that portion rising to 12.5 percent by 2025.

North Carolina’s renewable energy standard, adopted with broad bipartisan support in 2007, isn’t some wacky radical conspiracy. It is a cost-effective, job-building, energy-independence program that is working and has broad support, particularly from those in the energy producing sector, most notably Duke Energy.

In fact, in 2011, when the N.C. Energy Policy Council approved its unanimous recommendation to the General Assembly, it was George Everett of Duke Energy who made the motion that the council make clear that continued support of the standard was critical to the state’s energy sector and economic development.

The council’s unanimous vote included not only Everett representing Duke Energy, but also representatives of the state’s other traditional energy and fuel generators and suppliers such as Piedmont Natural Gas, the state’s retail gasoline businesses and others affiliated with regulated power utilities.

Since 2007, when North Carolina led the Southeast in implementing its renewable energy standard, it has worked to help utilities slow the need to build expensive electric-generating facilities, creating jobs and keeping utility rates relatively low. This has been good for consumers and is an important factor in attracting new and expanding businesses and jobs to our state.

Recently North Carolina was recognized as a center for the growth of clean energy jobs. Environment Entrepreneurs said the expansion in North Carolina is one of the top national growth trends. “North Carolina’s strong fourth quarter, announcing 7,600 jobs in the quarter alone, by far more than any other state. North Carolina has vaulted into a top-tier state for clean energy jobs, lifting the entire Southeast with it.”

During the depths of the great recession, the number of solar energy-sector jobs increased by 21,160 while the general economy shed more than 100,000.

This month the Solar Energy Industries Association announced North Carolina was the fifth-busiest state for solar installations in 2012. The association predicted it would be the fourth busiest this year. North Carolina was ahead of Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Hawaii and Massachusetts and trailed only California, Arizona, New Jersey and Nevada.

The state installed 132 megawatts last year – enough to supply about 22,000 homes. There’s now 229 megawatts installed in the state, sixth nationally, according to the report. It is investing millions of dollars and hiring thousands of workers. Why would we thwart that momentum now?

Ask Catawba County farmers Judy and Gary Punch in Hickory about renewable energy. Strata Solar, one of the state’s leading solar energy developers, recently finished its latest solar project in Catawba County on their farm. The Punches have leased more than 37 acres where enough energy will be generated to power about 750 homes.

In addition to the two solar farms Strata Solar has built in Catawba County, Apple is building its second solar farm in Conover along with a 100-acre solar farm across from its data center in Maiden.

Argand Energy Solutions in Charlotte has filed plans with the N.C. Utilities Commission for two 5-megawatt solar farms on land in Moore County, while Strata Solar has filed plans for a 7-megawatt project east of Carthage.

As federal officials move toward leasing sites off North Carolina’s coast for wind energy development, at least five companies have told the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management they are interested in taking advantage of what is said to be the East Coast’s most promising chance to generate electricity with turbines. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Sierra Club both back the effort.

These are mainstream, practical points of view that have overwhelming support of North Carolinians across the political spectrum. A statewide public opinion survey taken at the end of January found 83 percent of the state’s registered voters agreed that state leaders and elected officials should seek more alternative and renewable energy sources. Seventy percent said the state having a policy that encourages greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency is a good idea.

Sure, our conventional ways of producing electric power are needed and will continue for the foreseeable future to be dominant. But it would be foolhardy to crush North Carolina’s growing and important clean energy industry.

So, if our General Assembly is true to its rhetoric about enhancing our economic climate, encouraging entrepreneurs and creating jobs, the misnamed “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act” will get forgotten in its committee maze.

Instead, our lawmakers will embrace the public mandate to encourage one of our most promising growth industries.

Tim Toben was chairman of the NC Energy Policy Council from 2009 to 2011.

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