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Construction of a six-acre solar farm in Crossnore began in summer 2012. Photo by Matthew Hundley

Originally published: 2013-03-16 16:33:00
Last modified: 2013-03-18 10:21:32

Backtracking on green energy?

by Anna Oakes

A bill filed in the N.C. House of Representatives March 13 would eliminate the renewable energy mandates that were enacted in 2007 and imposed on North Carolina utility companies.

House Bill 298, the "Affordable and Reliable Energy Act," would abolish the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard.

The law requires investor-owned electric utilities in the state to meet at least 12.5 percent of their energy needs through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures by 2021. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric suppliers are subject to a 10 percent REPS requirement.

The legislation has picked up a number of sponsors in the House, with 27 as of March 15. House Speaker Thom Tillis has cautioned legislators to move slowly with changes to the state's energy policy, however, and has directed the legislation to be reviewed by four House committees prior to consideration on the House floor.

The bill says that eliminating the REPS requirements would "reduce the burden of high energy costs on the citizens of North Carolina."

Electric utilities have frequently cited energy regulations as the driving factor behind wholesale power cost increases and rising electric rates.

Blue Ridge Electric CEO Doug Johnson specifically referred to North Carolina's REPS in an August 2012 statement about rising consumer electric rates.

"We're seeing billions of dollars spent to comply with state and federal environmental laws, such as the North Carolina Smokestacks Act and Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, as well as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, to protect our environment," Johnson said at the time.

Renee Whitener, spokeswoman for Blue Ridge Electric, said House Bill 298 could reduce future costs for utilities.

"Electric rates would not immediately decrease, but the legislation as it's currently written does have the potential to help contain future rising costs for consumers," she said. But other factors contribute to rising electricity costs as well, including modernization of the national and local electric grid and federal environmental regulations, she noted.

"It's our priority to ensure all energy resources, whether traditional or renewable, be sustainable, affordable and provide ongoing benefits to our members," Whitener said.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association has urged clean energy advocates to speak out against the bill. North Carolina ranks second in the United States for clean energy jobs, according to a report released by the group Environmental Entrepreneurs earlier this month.

Since 2007, the total economic benefit to North Carolina from clean energy project development is $1.7 billion, the association stated, and during the same period, 21,162 job years have been created. A job year is one person working in a job for one year.

And "despite claims by House Bill 298 to the contrary, clean energy policies in North Carolina will save ratepayers $173 million by 2026," the association stated, citing a new study released by RTI International and La Capra Associates.

Appalachian State University is a national leader in the field of sustainable development, including renewable energy education and programs.

"When the portfolio standards came into being, they were a tremendous stimulus (for the green energy sector in North Carolina)," said Ged Moody, sustainability director at ASU. "At the time, it had a tremendous effect."

"At Appalachian State, we believe that renewable energy is important, and we remain very dedicated to exploring it from an educational standpoint and from a practical application standpoint," he said.