Shady attacks on renewable energy in North Carolina

North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) is under attack and it’s no surprise that the fight is led by fossil fuel power funded lobbyists. It’s the usual suspects: American Legislative Council Exchange (ALEC), John Locke Foundation and Americans for Prosperity (AFP)–all activist groups funded by fossil fuel and nuclear interests. These groups are leading a misinformation campaign to repeal the REPS, a state policy that drives clean energy development for North Carolina.

Fuquay Farm in Wake County produces 10,048 MWh of electricity a year, powering 750 average homes in North Carolina. Credit: Strata Solar

In 2007, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 3 with bipartisan support to enact a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), which requires North Carolina utilities to provide 12.5% of energy from renewable sources by the year 2021. REPS has been an important driver of renewable energy growth in the state, with North Carolina ranking second in the nation in 2013 for installed solar PV. In fact, if North Carolina was considered its own country, it would be ranked in the top 10 countries in the world for solar development.

The fossil fuel industry appears threatened by the clean energy industry’s success. Recent articles have surfaced attacking North Carolina’s REPS and renewable energy in an effort to repeal the state mandate, such as an article published last Saturday in the Carolina Journal. Never heard of the Carolina Journal? It’s a project of the John Locke Foundation–a North Carolina based organization which was founded by Art Pope, an alumnus of AFP, and has close connections with the Koch Brothers. To make matters clearer, the article features James Taylor, senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank heavily funded by Exxon and other fossil fuel industries to dispute climate science and provide misinformation on renewable energy. Then, on Sunday, AFP published an anti-renewable energy opinion piece in the Raleigh News & Observer. AFP has a history of pushing anti-renewable rhetoric in North Carolina, and has received millions of dollars from the Koch Family Foundation.

With just some basic research, it’s clear that AFP is busy in North Carolina defending the Koch Brothers, supporting the John Locke Foundation “journalism”, citing ALEC studies and complaining about renewable energy. It’s all a charade to dupe the public into believing these organizations aren’t connected.

This is a bold move by outsider fossil-fuel interests while the state is still suffering the repercussions of the Dan River coal ash spill from Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plan in Eden. A federal investigation is underway regarding the wrongdoings by Governor Pat McCroy’s administration and Duke Energy associated with the toxic disaster, which may cost North Carolina ratepayers up to $10 billion to clean up. By the way, $10 billion could build about 2,500 wind turbines – and provide enough electricity to power about 40% of all the households in North Carolina…for 20-25 years.* Of course, you won’t hear about that over at AFP, ALEC, or the John Locke Foundation.

Some parts of the Dan River's bottom are coated with a six inch layer of coal ash, and the dark grey plume discolored the river for 20 miles downstream.

Both pieces provide misinformation that renewables are heavily and unfairly subsidized. Yet, not only do all energy sources receive subsidies, but a study by the Environmental Law Institute in 2009 found that between 2002-2008, the federal government provided $72 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel industries, but the renewable energy industries only received about $12 billion. Not to mention that the wind industry currently does not have its primary incentive, since the Production Tax Credit expired at the end of 2013.

Attacks on North Carolina’s renewable policies ignore REPS’ overwhelming popularity. Nearly 70% of North Carolinians support the state REPS law. North Carolinians are not easily fooled and are experiencing firsthand the economic opportunities REPS is providing for the state.

While solar is already taking off (an 80 megawatt solar farm in North Carolina has just been proposed this week), wind energy has the potential to greatly increase renewable energy production in the state. Over $1 billion in wind farm projects have been proposed for North Carolina. Additionally, the state has more wind energy potential off its coast than any other state on the Atlantic coast and could generate a significant portion of its electricity from offshore wind farms. These are just a few renewable resources in the state that could be at risk by repealing the state REPS.

The Research Triangle Institute (RTI) conduced a study in 2013 that shows clean energy policies will save North Carolina ratepayers $173 million by 2026. The RTI study also highlights that between 2007 and 2013, North Carolina’s clean energy and energy efficiency programs have generated 1.4 billion in project investment. At the end of 2013, North Carolina’s clean energy industry contained 18,404 full-time equivalent employees in the state (up more than 20% from 2012). Attacks on the REPS greatly place these jobs and investments at risk – exactly what shady, outsider fossil-fuel interests want to happen. We need to expand our opportunities for growth in the renewable energy industry, not undermine our current progress and move the state backwards.

*Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory average wind energy capital costs in 2012 were about $2 million per megawatt, so $10 billion could buy 5,000 megawatts worth of wind power capacity. Turbines are frequently 2 megawatts or bigger, resulting in 2,500 turbines. Those turbines may achieve 40% capacity factors resulting in 17.5 million megawatt hours generated annually, and the average home in North Carolina consumes about 12 megawatt hours annually. That’s the equivalent of 1.46 million North Carolina homes, out of 3.7 million households, or about 40% of the state total. Turbine lifespans are about 20-25 years.

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