Environment, Legislature

State lawmakers ask FERC to stop work on Atlantic Coast Pipeline, reassess need

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford

More than 20 Democratic legislators, led by Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking it to issue a stop work order on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline while it reassess the need for the $7.8 billion project. The letter, dated April 12, also asks FERC to suspend the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, a requirement for energy projects, during the reassessment.

The ACP’s primary owners are Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. If built, it would start at a fracked gas operation in West Virginia and route more than 600 miles through Virginia, eastern North Carolina and into South Carolina. The project, though has been stalled by successful legal challenges in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is nearly two years behind schedule and at least $2 billion over its initial budget.

The cost increase, the lawmakers wrote, “would be passed on to captive ratepayers.” Instead of developing renewable energy projects, the utilities focus on the ACP “would lock not just North Carolina but the entire Southeast region into decades of climate-disrupting fossil fuel use,” incompatible with the state’s climate goals established in Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80.

The letter notes says that the utilities have overstated the need for natural gas. Duke Energy’s latest Integrated Resource Plan, essentially an energy blueprint for the next 15 years, delays planned natural gas plants by five years, and its “first power plant that might need more gas supply is not proposed to begin operating until many years after the ACP is supposed to be in service.”

 

Lawmakers to FERC by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

The utilities’ and supporters’ rationale for building the ACP is that it would jumpstart the economy in eastern North Carolina. However, subsidiaries of Duke and Dominion are the main customers for the proposed ACP gas in North Carolina. The average cost for a manufacturing plant to connect to the ACP is at least $1 million.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills this session to thwart renewable energy in North Carolina, an apparent rebuke to Gov. Cooper’s climate goals. Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, filed legislation that would ban wind energy projects within 100 miles of the coast, ostensibly to prevent them from interfering with military training exercises. However, at a committee meeting last week, the former head of the Defense Department’s Site Clearinghouse, which works with wind energy developers to avoid those impacts, said there have been no cases of wind farms interfering with military bases in the US.

Yesterday five Republicans co-sponsored House Bill 726, which would repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio Energy Standard. Passed in 2007, the REPS was the first in the Southeast. It set legal benchmarks for utilities to provide, either through generation or purchase, a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Currently, it is 10 percent. Duke Energy  previously told the utilities commission that it is meeting those goals.

Commentary, Legislature, NC Budget and Tax Center

GOP Medicaid bill takes a massive step in the wrong direction

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, presenting the GOP’s Medicaid bill Tuesday.

Yesterday, legislators filed a new version of Medicaid expansion, House Bill 655, titled “NC Health Care for Working Families.” This bill imposes even harsher work compliance provisions on low-income and poor North Carolinians than previous versions.

Specifically, the bill follows the work reporting requirements seen in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps). This raises a serious concern, considering that extensive research has demonstrated just how broken the SNAP program’s work provisions are.

A new report from the nonprofit ideas42 points out that not only do work requirements not help people to find jobs, the provisions seen in the SNAP program have the exact opposite effect. The report finds that:

  • The burdensome compliance of requirements dramatically increases the cost of obtaining assistance. Under SNAP rules, people are required to prove that they worked 20 hours a week. Lost paperwork, missed notices, and clerical errors have resulted in a significant number of people losing benefits, despite the fact that they’ve actually fulfilled the requirements. Additionally, many low-wage workers lack access to predictable schedules, paid leave, and other basic protections. This means that, regardless of a worker’s best efforts to comply, they may easily fall short due to circumstances completely out of their control.
  • Rigid work requirements fail to recognize that people living in poverty know best how to prioritize their time. People living in poverty face tremendous everyday pressures of deciding how to best use their time in order to fulfill their obligations and to make ends meet. The rigid 20-hour work requirement does not reflect the reality that a disproportionate number of low-wage workers are employed in seasonal industries with unpredictable hours, or that they are more likely to take time to care for sick or aging family members. Rather than attempting to legislate the schedules of North Carolinians living in poverty, policy makers should provide them with the tools to make decisions and choices to help lift them out of poverty.
  • These policies rely on and reinforce harmful and misguided beliefs about people living in poverty. Proponents of work requirements believe that these provisions will force people uninterested in work to find jobs. This presumption that this belief is built on could not be further from the truth. The U.S. Census Bureau found that less than 0.3 percent of SNAP recipients aged 18-49 reported that they are not working because they are not interested. Behavioral research has found that people living in poverty actually make better and more rational choices in regards to money than people with high incomes. This is because they have to. When living in poverty, there is very little wiggle room for wasteful or poor choices.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, states that the work requirements are a political necessity, arguing: “There are things we as legislators have to do in order to get things done.” This thought, however, does not reflect the emerging national conversation on work reporting requirements in our safety net programs.

Last year, proposals in Congress to make SNAP’s work requirements even more restrictive met opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. In a show of bipartisanship, legislators decided that more work requirements were not a good idea, and that making sure that struggling people receive the help they need was a higher priority.

Just last month, a federal judge ruled that similar Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky were illegal and that they undercut the entire objective of the Medicaid program to provide “medical coverage to the needy.” Research shows that when people have access to critical supports like food and healthcare, they are more likely to find gainful and steady employment.

Work requirements are an ill-informed attempt to legislate behavior and do not reflect the realities of people living in poverty. In fact, the science shows that they effectively take away the ability of people to make good, rational decisions. If our legislators are truly in the business of helping to improve the lives of North Carolinians, they will listen to the research and evidence and reject these harmful provisions.

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center at the N.C. Justice Center.

Environment, Legislature

Among GOP voters surveyed, majority want to break Duke Energy monopoly, doubt climate change is real

A road that had been washed out by intense rains from the catastrophic Hurricane Florence last fall. Climate change, said the majority of Republican voters polled last month, is not real. However, the scientific consensus is that climate change is very real, and storms like Florence are a byproduct of a warming world and an unstable atmosphere. (Photo: NC DOT)

The majority of Republicans surveyed last month would support candidates who were in favor of natural gas pipelines and offshore drilling, according to a poll sponsored by Conservatives for Clean Energy.  And 50% of people who said they vote Republican don’t believe climate change is real.

The results are based on a poll of 600 voters, conducted March 17 and 18. Two hundred forty-two voters said they vote Republican. There were 282 Democratic voters and 76 who said they were undecided.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

Of those who said they vote Republican, 50% doubt that climate change is real and that humans are responsible for it. Only 5% of Democratic voters polled share that view.

Whether a person believes in climate change appeared to determine their views on energy. Eighty-five percent of climate change deniers said they would support fossil-fuel candidates, roughly the same proportion who favor candidates that are pro-natural gas pipeline. More than three-quarters of climate change deniers would support candidates who are pro-offshore drilling.

However, the GOP does show some support for renewable energy sources, primarily for economic, not environmental reasons. Two-thirds of self-identified Republicans “believe solar and wind energy represent technological advances in energy production and should be expanded to help meet North Carolina’s future energy needs.” That figure compares with 77% of all voters and 71% of those registered as unaffiliated.

Three-quarters of Republicans polled said they are more likely to support candidates who are in favor of renewable energy, including wind, solar and waste-to-energy technologies. But the poll also showed that nearly the same number of Republicans would also support candidates who were pro-fossil fuels.

By comparison, 93% of Democrats and 81%t of unaffiliated voters would be more likely to support candidates who are in favor of renewable energy.

And nearly 8 in 10 voters surveyed oppose Duke Energy’s near-monopoly in North Carolina. Those voters agreed with the statement that “North Carolina’s current system of a controlled utility serving as the sole source of energy is an outdated model and that elected officials need to enact laws that promote innovation and competition to meet our energy needs.”

“Technology is changing our society, and voter attitudes reflect that,” said Mark Fleming, CCE President & CEO, in a prepared statement.  “Renewable energy, competition, and consumer choice are clear priorities for North Carolina residents.  This survey shows that these same voters want elected officials to enact pro-renewable, pro-competition policies.”

If these surveyed voters are representative of the state overall, then several GOP lawmakers are defying the wishes of most North Carolinians, including many within their own party. Sen. Brown introduced a bill that would essentially kill wind farms within 100 miles of the coast. Reps. Dixon and Bell filed legislation that would de-incentivize solar projects by reducing their property tax breaks.

Environment, Legislature

Bill would hike annual registration fees on electric cars, assess new surcharge on hybrids

Prius and other hybrid car owners could get dinged for an extra $87-$112 in annual registration fees, if a House bill becomes law. Fees would also increase on EV registrations. (Photo: Toyota.com)

Senate Bill 446 (primary co-sponsors Republican Reps. Jim Davis and Tom McInnis) would increase the annual registration fees for plug-in electric vehicles, and for the first time, assess a registration surcharge on gasoline-battery hybrids.

EV owners currently pay a $130 registration fee, which would increase to $175 next year. By 2022, EV owners would pay an additional $275 at the time of the initial registration and each time they renew.

One of the rationales behind the fee increase is that they could offset the reduction in gas tax revenues. EV drivers still use the road, but buy no gasoline, whose taxes help pay for road maintenance. (But EVs don’t emit greenhouse gases, a societal benefit beyond road repairs.)

The gas tax in North Carolina is 36.2 cents per gallon, according to the Department of Revenue, ranking the state 14th in the nation.  The federal gas tax is 18 cents per gallon.

There are about 10,000 EVs currently registered in North Carolina, which account for $1.3 million in extra registration fees each year. If the state registers an additional 80,000 EVs by 2025, as laid out in Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80, the surcharge could generate an extra $22 million annually.

Even though hybrid cars use gasoline, albeit much less of it because they also rely on battery power and an electric motor, their owners would also pay more: A $87.50 registration fee next year, $112.50 in 2021 and $137.50 in 2022.

The fees could further increase, as the bill calls for them to be adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index.

About 20 states assess registration fees on EVs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eight of those states also place surcharges on hybrids. Annual costs range from $50 to $200.

In at least four states—California, Indiana, Mississippi and Utah—these special fees are pegged to inflation or the Consumer Price Index, according to the NCSL.

Senate Bill 513 (primary co-sponsors Democratic Sens. Terry Van Duyn, Wiley Nickel, Michael Garrett) builds on  the governor’s executive order, which also requires a 40% statewide reduction in greenhouse gases  from 2005 levels. The bill sets a state goal for 100% clean energy by 2050.

That benchmark will be difficult to achieve if House Bill 543 (primary co-sponsors Republican Reps. Jimmy Dixon and John Bell) becomes law. It would amend the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to flatline the percentage of clean energy that investor-owned utilities would have to generate or buy.

Currently, the REPS requires Duke Energy and Dominion Energy to derive 10% of their power from renewable sources or clean energy, based on 2017 retail sales. In 2021, that percentage increases to 12.5%, based on 2020 retail sales.

However, the proposed legislation would keep the rate at 10%.

Duke Energy Progress, Duke Energy Carolinas and Dominion have all complied with the REPS benchmarks, according to NC Utilities Commission documents. In filings with the NCUC, Duke has said the utility “remains committed to meeting the requirements of NC REPS, including the poultry waste, swine waste, and solar set-asides, and the general requirement, which will be met with additional solar, hydro, biomass, landfill gas, wind, and energy efficiency resources.” Because of House Bill 589, a clean energy bill passed last year, Duke Energy’s  “long-term general compliance needs are expected to be met.”

Duke’s 15-year Integrated Resource Plan, though, is less ambitious. The controversial IRP indicates the utility will still rely on coal for up to 9% of its energy needs, with the bulk of its power coming from natural gas through 2033. Duke plans to increase its renewables generation by just 8 percent and its energy efficiency savings by 5 percent.

House Bill 541, another progeny of Reps. Dixon and Bell, would deincentivize solar energy systems by reducing their tax breaks. Currently, 80% of the appraised value of a solar energy system is excluded from property tax. If the measure becomes law, only 60% of its value would be exempt. Half of the extra tax collected would go to public schools and community colleges.

Environment, Legislature

Unhappy with the Resource Institute, two more coastal towns ask lawmakers to divert funds from controversial nonprofit

Sen. Bill Rabon (Photo: NCGA)

The fortunes of the Resource Institute could continue to dwindle, as the towns of Topsail Beach and Surf City are asking their lawmaker for tax dollars originally appropriated to the controversial nonprofit.

Based in Winston-Salem, the Resource Institute wrangled a $5 million appropriation in last year’s budget, first to study alternative technologies for coastal beach nourishment, and then, after Hurricane Florence, to work on innovative recovery and resiliency projects focused on Topsail Island.

The money comes via a “grant-in aid” from the NC Department of Environmental Quality. However, agency officials said they did not request the appropriation. DEQ has had a combative relationship with the Resource Institute on stream restoration projects, which are under scrutiny by the Legislative Program Evaluation Division.

The $5 million did not go directly to the towns — Topsail Beach, North Topsail Beach and Surf City — but to the Resource Institute to apportion based on project rankings. As the intermediary, the Resource Institute charged a 12 percent administrative fee of $600,000. The hefty commission, along with undue pressure North Topsail Beach felt to accept the Atlantic Reefmaker as one of its funded projects, prompted town officials to petition Sen. Harry Brown for their own share of the money.

Atlantic Reefmaker, a wave-attenuation technology, is a spinoff company of a main contractor for Resource Institute.

Last week, Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, amended Senate Bill 95 to peel off $1.6 million and redirect it to North Topsail Beach.

Officials from Surf City and Topsail Beach have indicated they want their share, said Steve Smith, chairman of the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission. He made the remarks last Thursday at a regularly scheduled public meeting.

“I expect this bill to change again,” Smith said. “The other two towns want to be treated equally.”

Smith said he had contacted Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican representing four southeastern counties, including Pender, for help. Rabon did not respond to an email sent by Policy Watch.

“There has been a lot of discussion about [the requirement] that the technology be innovative,” Smith said. “But there’s not a whole lot of new help being offered by the Resource Institute.”