University of Wyoming professor Timothy Considine, the “energy expert” commissioned by the conservative Civitas Institute to assail North Carolina’s renewables strategy, has at least one glaring problem: He regularly receives money from fracking advocates and the natural gas industry to write reports that advance their agenda.
Considine’s latest work, for Civitas, “North Carolina’s Renewable Portfolio Standard: Examining the Economic Effects” predicts a gloomy future for the state if it continues to generate power from wind and solar energy. Based on factual leaps, like solar is so expensive it will hike electricity rates by 42 percent (solar is getting cheaper), Considine estimates the state will lose 50,000 jobs by 2020, when the next tier of the Renewable Portfolio Standard goes into effect. In contrast, in papers written for pro-fracking and natural gas groups, Considine has forecast exorbitant job growth.
Considine also dismisses the social and public health costs of greenhouse gases. Even though the RPS is estimated to reduce carbon emissions by nearly 9 million tons this year, Considine says the financial costs outweigh those concerns.
Considine’s record as an academic has been defined by his studies for hire: His clients have included the American Petroleum Institute, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Shale Resources and Society Institute. Considine, who is an economist, also wrote a study for the Employment Policies Institute, funded by Richard Berman, also known as “Dr. Evil.” Berman is a former lobbyist and a public relations executive who is often hired to target environmental groups, food activists, and unions.
The Civitas-Considine project is yet another attempt by conservatives to undermine the state’s renewable energy industry. Republicans have tried to overturn the RPS since it passed the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2007, even though its goals were modest: In four years, North Carolina’s investor-owned utilities, such as Duke Energy, will be required to meet up to 12 percent of its power needs through renewables or energy efficiency. The standard for rural electric coops and municipal utilities is lower, 10 percent, by 2018.
New York, for example, has an RPS goal of 50 percent by 2030; even Pennsylvania, where fracking is king, has set an 18 percent benchmark for 2020, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
And in the most recent legislative session, GOP-sponsored legislation tried to regulate solar and wind out of existence. Senate Bill 843, co-sponsored by Bill Cook of Beaufort County. (His coastal district is home to the state’s first large-scale wind project; Cook retired from the electric power industry.) However, the legislation didn’t make it out of committee.
But Senate Bill 770, the NC Farm Act, did pass the full House and Senate. It’s awaiting the governor’s signature. The legislation prioritizes swine- and poultry-waste energy projects over clean renewable sources like solar and wind. The catch? While under SB 843, wind turbines would have had to be more than 7,000 feet from a property line, swine-waste lagoons can sit much closer — only 500 feet.