Yesterday, the North Carolina House Commerce Committee narrowly passed a bill that would repeal the state’s successful renewable energy standard. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Renewable Energy Standard’s (RES) to encourage electric utilities to expand the power they generate from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
In 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the Southeast to adopt such a standard — Senate Bill 3 passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support and requires state utilities to supply 12.5 percent of renewable energy by 2021. Since then, clean energy companies have generated billions in revenue and have created thousands of in-state jobs — all while reducing pollution and saving ratepayers money.
But now, North Carolina has joined the growing list of states in which organizations like the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Council, or ALEC, and Koch-backed Grover Norquist have been lobbying against renewable energy policy, and pushing “model legislation” to undo these standards. House Bill 298, called the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” was introduced by known ALEC member Representative Mike Hager, and aims to fully repeal the energy standard.
The nearly two-hourly long committee hearing concluded with an 11-10 vote on the RES repeal, barely escaping committee with two key Republicans voting against it. The Raleigh News and Observer reported that Representative Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte who is the Republican conference leader, said the bill went too far. Samuelson said the law has helped develop an alternative energy industry that has benefited rural communities — and she is absolutely right.
North Carolina now has over 1,100 clean energy companies that have contributed $3.7 billion in annual gross revenue. This clean energy development has led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 jobs in just five years. Moreover, the renewable energy standard has lowered residential bills and these savings will more than double within a decade, with expected savings of up to $173 million to ratepayers. The RES standard also catapulted North Carolina to fifth in the nation in solar energy development and the state is expected to move to fourth place this year. “It’s an extraordinary success story that there’s an industry that hardly existed several years ago,” said Michael Shore, CEO of FLS Energy in Asheville.
Despite its success, this law has been the target of conservatives since it was adopted.
Legislation was also introduced in 2011, but got no traction in part due to the state’s largest utilities protesting its repeal. Thousands of dollars have been spent by conservative organizations across the state to dismantle the program, with efforts being led and coordinated by Koch fueled groups. Indeed, the Koch brothers have donated $150,000 and $25,000 to ALEC and the Heartland Institute respectively, the organizations responsible for creating the model legislation. The Koch brothers have also donated to the John Locke Foundation, one of the state’s most outspoken climate science denial groups. The John Locke Foundation was created by Art Pope, a discount mogul and conservative benefactor that was once a national director of Americans for Prosperity, the tea party group founded and funded by the Koch brothers. Pope was also key to fueling the Republican Party historic takeover of the state legislature in 2010, spending over $2.2 million targeting two dozen key state races. His organization released a report attacking the RES with false claims that it would increase the cost to consumers and cost the state jobs.
Grover Norquist has also joined in on the conservative battle, who wrote an op-ed attacking renewable standards in which he cites the report released by the John Locke Foundation as a basis for repeal. He recently was seen in Topeka, Kansas trying to convince state legislators to weaken their own renewable energy standard through SB 82 and HB 2241. However, the Republican controlled House and Senate responded by rejecting the bills. This occurred after thousands of people signed online petitions, and organizations like the Kansas Farm Bureau wrote op-eds supporting the state standard.
Today, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, responded to Norquist with an op-ed of his own. McGinn writes,
So as a nationwide initiative funded by opponents of renewable energy targets state Renewable Portfolio Standards, Americans should be asking themselves, with all the benefits that came with doubling our renewable energy capacity from 43.5 gigawatt to 85.7GW from 2008 to 2012, “Do we want more renewable energy or less?”
Kansas policymakers showed their support for the state’s renewable energy standard – it’s time for North Carolina legislators to do the same.
Tiffany Germain is the ThinkProgress War Room Senior Climate/Energy Researcher. Matt Kasper is a Special Assistant for the Energy Policy team at the Center for American Progress.