NC Renewable Energy Standard Scores Surprise Win

Maybe state renewable portfolio standards aren’t quite so fragile after all. On Wednesday in North Carolina, an RPS thought to be among the most vulnerable withstood attack.

A broad assault on these laws, which operate uniquely but in general terms require utilities to source a growing amount of renewable energy, is being waged by thoughtful free market devotees or ruthless corporate interests, one or the other. (You can decide which; just know that the American Legislative Exchange Council has been right in the middle of it all in most states, as it was in North Carolina, along with the Heartland Institute, Grover Norquist, the John Locke Foundation and others, all with fossil fuel backing, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.)

north carolina rps

The 1-megawatt Martins Creek Solar Project in Murphy, N.C. (image via Duke Energy)

Remarkably, the bill to gut the RPS failed even to get out of the committee chaired by its sponsor. With six Republicans voting against it, the tally in the Committee on Public Utilities and Energy was a resounding 18-13 against moving the bill forward.

The anti-RPS folks were aghast. The News & Observer quoted Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina director for the anti-tax, anti-government Americans for Prosperity, thusly: “This was a horrible vote by Republicans, and they need to be held accountable. And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Renewable energy advocates in the Tar Heel State had a slightly different take.

“The vote’s outcome and the fact that it occurred in the Committee chaired by the bill’s own sponsor, Chairman Mike Hager, not only helps to secure a path forward for continued economic development in the renewable energy sector, it also showed the strength of the voices from across the state that spoke out against the misguided effort to have North Carolina turn away from a promising clean energy future,” the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association said in a statement.

Last October, the NCSEA reported in its 2012 NC Clean Energy Industries Census that “the clean energy sector is a growing economic force in North Carolina that conservatively contributes over $3.7 billion in revenue and more than 15,200 full-time equivalent jobs directly from activities in clean energy.”

Indeed, the sense, even among many Republicans, that to kill the RPS would be shooting North Carolina’s economy in the foot was a key factor in turning expected supporters against the measure. Again from the News & Observer:

“It was based off local issues back home,” Rep. Tim Moore of Cleveland County, who also chairs the powerful House Rules Committee, said after the vote. “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.”

The funny thing is, the North Carolina RPS is quite modest, requiring utilities to source just 3 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewables this year, rising gradually to 12.5 percent by 2021 (compare that to California, where investor-owned utilities are at 20 percent now, and must hit 33 percent by 2020). But it’s better than nothing, and a defeat would have emboldened renewable energy opponents, no doubt. Instead, they suffered a stinging loss, just as they had in Kansas last month.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • This mode just goes to show you that as North Carolina’s are too independent and too headstrong to be pigeonholed into voting one way or the other. The bottom line is that renewable energy (or increasing energy efficiency, as can be the case under this RPS) makes a lot of economic sense and neither Republicans nor Democrats are going to do anything that will make North Carolina’s pay more out-of-pocket for their electricity bills.

  • Pete:

    I’m assuming that you are a sincere person who would stick to the facts — as vs promote political opinions. True or false?

    The fact is that NC’s RPS is a NET jobs loser, a NET economics loser, and a NET environmental loser.

    Are you about the NET or the niche?

    • It would be interesting, indeed, to see ALEC change its strategy and embrace non-imaginary modeling and analysis.

      • Pete:

        I submitted this several hours ago and it never showed up, so I’m trying again.

        You seem to have a hot-button with ALEC. The fact is that in this case they were not only one of many players, but that they were a very minor party.

        So how about my main query: NC’s RPS is a NET jobs loser, a NET economics loser, and a NET environmental loser. Are you about the NET or the niche?

        • Acknowledged: The Beacon Hill Institute should be held responsible for the bad information fronted by ALEC (among, as you note, others).

          • Pete:

            Again, ALEC, and the BHI, are bit players here.

            So how about my main query:
            NC’s RPS is a NET jobs loser, a NET economics loser, and a NET environmental loser.

            Are you about the NET or the niche?

          • No.

          • Pete:

            My assumption is that you are a straight-up guy.

            As an expert I am giving you an objective, accurate dissection of the NC RPS situation.

            NC’s RPS is a NET jobs loser, a NET economics loser, and a NET environmental loser.

            It would seem that almost anyone would oppose that — but you seem resistant to do so.

            Why is that?

          • Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.

          • Pete:

            Good that you can quote interesting phrases.

            I was asking you a very basic, appropriate question.

            It boils down to: Is your focus on a tiny niche market, or what is in the best interests of the overwhelming majority of citizens and businesses?

            If you’ve equated discussing what is at the core of the issue as being played, that’s an unfortunate perspective.

          • tonylurker

            Expert? In what world are you qualified as an expert on this subject? Having a passing knowledge about a field does not make one an expert. Expertise must be demonstrated and is usually recognized by others in the field, not self proclaimed. So, please, on what authority, or based on what past demonstration of ability do you claim expertise in this field?