It’s hard to imagine a better public investment when it comes to long-term societal well-being than solar energy. In a time of increasingly dire environmental news, solar has the potential to bring huge benefits to the health of the planet while, at the same time, freeing numerous countries from their heroin-like addiction to the oil of various theocracies and dictatorships. Even if solar energy required significant and permanent public subsidies to be economically viable, it would be more than worth the investment.
Here, however, is the cool part: Solar energy is an increasingly viable and competitive industry that will require less and less public stimulus as time goes on. As demand rises and costs of solar installations (both large and small scale) continue to fall, solar is fast becoming a genuine rival to the fossil fuel industry. It is, in short, a best-of-both-worlds scenario: a money-making capitalist enterprise that could help save the world.
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry and its apologists are doing everything they can to stifle this progress. A classic case in point is taking place right now in North Carolina where lawmakers are looking to decimate a law that has helped prime the solar energy pump and place the industry on the road to full economic viability. Contributor Jesse Grossman explains in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:
“HB 760 would reduce the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from the existing 12.5 percent by 2020 goal to 6 percent. REPS has been critical to solar in North Carolina since it became law in 2007 and has fended off attacks with bipartisan support several times, most recently this April.
A REPS rollback would hamstring the market’s forward velocity and overall potential and is counter-intuitive considering solar’s statewide economic contributions and other states increasing their renewable energy targets.
A second change-of-course amendment in HB 760 would eliminate North Carolina’s existing property tax exemption for solar projects already in operation. The exemption has been on the books for years and would suddenly change the economics of utilities and businesses.
These entities installed solar assuming one economic equation, and imposing a new tax effectively devalues their investment. Imagine if a new property tax were suddenly imposed on homeowners – how many residents could still make mortgage payments? Retroactive tax changes like this are rare in America and would significantly harm many companies.”
In short, the so-called “reform” bill would decimate the public pump priming of the solar energy that North Carolina has pursued to great effect. Meanwhile, of course, the huge subsidies that federal, state and local govenrments provide to the more-than-century-old fossil fuels industry in the form of various tax breaks and the huge public investments in cleaning air and water pollution would be untouched
The bottom line: It would be a tragedy for the state to junk the huge progress it has made in promoting solar energy just as the industry is approaching the point where it can compete on a more level playing field with the fossil fuels industry. Let’s hope that articles like Grossman’s help convince state legislators to think twice taking such a step.