Environment

Despite the moratorium, Duke Energy moving ahead on wind energy plans

(Illustration: Creative Commons)

Although Sen. Harry Brown put an 18-month kibosh on new wind farms in North Carolina, Duke Energy Carolinas announced it’s looking to buy 500 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2022. The utility issued a Request for Proposals this week.

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said that the utility had been working on the RFP for months, and the wind moratorium did not change its timing. The moratorium was inserted at the last-minute by Sen. Brown into House Bill 589, which originally focused solely on solar power.

In fact, if politics stymies the growth of wind power in North Carolina, Duke Energy could bypass the state entirely and import wind power from elsewhere. In 2011 and 2012, Duke Energy Carolinas purchased wind capacity from a farm in North Dakota. “If the price is attractive enough, it can be wheeled from faraway states,” Wheeless said. “That’s the purpose of the RFP — to see what the market looks like.”

According to the RFP, bidders could sell wind power to Duke Energy; build a new wind farm, which Duke would then buy, or sell the utility an existing facility.

Under the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, investor-owned utilities like Duke must purchase or generate 6 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. That amount increases to 10 percent next year and 12.5 percent in 2021.

Since the wind power won’t be delivered until 2022, that won’t help Duke meet its REPS requirements. However, Wheeless said that the utility is on track to meet those benchmarks even without wind

Duke already owns 20 wind farms nationwide, generating in total about 2,500 megawatts of power, equivalent to the amount of electricity for half a million homes.

 

Courts & the Law, News

In midst of merit selection talk, snapshot of demographic data shows NC judges are overwhelmingly white

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, presented some district court judges last week with a potential merit selection plan.

The biggest concern raised at the board of governor’s Friday meeting for the NC Association of District Court Judges was what impact such a plan would have on racial diversity on the bench.

Research on judicial selection systems and diversity shows that appointive systems fare no worse than elective ones — “they have both failed to produce judiciaries that reflect the populations they serve,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Some district court judges expressed concern at Friday’s meeting not that minorities wouldn’t be qualified through a merit selection process, but that they likely wouldn’t have the same contacts for recruitment as white judicial candidates.

The Brennan Center wrote in a report that to have any claim to legitimacy, a 21st century method of judicial selection must be more effective in delivering a judiciary that reflects diverse communities.

“Reformers should explore ways to bring a diverse array of stakeholders into the selection process,” the report states. “It is necessary that the process be inclusive: The courts are too important to be left only to lawyers and a small group of interested parties.”

Other research on the subject confirms that the merit selection processes impact on racial diversity depends on nominating commissions’ diversity and governors’ willingness to appoint minorities.

The overall reaction North Carolina judges have to a potential merit selection process is not yet known, as consideration of such a plan has still not been publicly discussed by legislators. State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin announced earlier this summer that he would be in support of merit selection.

Either way, current data from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) shows that the makeup of the state’s bench does not represent the diverse communities living in North Carolina. Here is a snapshot of the demographic makeup of the state’s judges:

Of North Carolina’s 403 judges, 78 percent are white, according to data from the AOC. To compare, only 64 percent of North Carolina’s population is white.

Side note: If that percentage sounds familiar to you, it’s because the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center recently found that 78 percent of the General Assembly is also white.

North Carolina’s judges are made up of 19 percent Black or African American individuals. The state’s Black or African American population is 22 percent.

The diversity statistics drop significantly from there. Hispanic or Latino judges only make up .5 percent of the state’s bench, compared to 9 percent of the state’s overall population. American Indian or Alaskan native judges make up 1 percent of the state’s bench, compared to about 2 percent of the state’s population.

There is only one Asian judge, which makes up .2 percent of the bench, compared to North Carolina’s Asian population at 3 percent.

The population data is based on the 2015 U.S. Census data and the percentages used were rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Commentary, News

Triad TV news story: NC is failing its public school teachers

Reporter Bob Buckley of High Point based WGHP TV (aka “My Fox 8”) posted a fine story last night that explains some of the important ways in which North Carolina political leaders continue to fail the state’s public school teachers and, thereby of course, its students. In particular, the story has harsh words for Senator Phil Berger’s punitive and destructive school grading system:

Jennifer Mangrum is on a mission.

Mangrum was a teacher for 15 years and now helps prepare tomorrow’s teachers as a professor at UNC-Greensboro’s highly-respected School of Education. She also has had op-ed pieces in many of North Carolina’s major newspapers, making the case that the things the General Assembly is doing for education are likely, in her view, counter-productive in the long run.

Among those things was the “grading system” that was started for parents to know how well their child’s school was performing.

“I think the intention was to hold schools accountable,” says Mangrum. “But what we found through research is that an F school pretty much just determines the level of poverty. And when you have high numbers of kids in poverty, they don’t have all those wrap-around resources, right? They don’t have health care, they don’t have vision care. Some of them have a scarcity of food.”

Mangrum’s take on the grading system mirrors the analysis and conclusions of scores of experts that labeling schools as failing is no way to coax or drive better results. Instead, it takes a genuine commitment to improving school resources, combating poverty, hunger and lack of housing and health care and, of course, promoting better diversity and integration in the schools.

The story goes on to highlight the despair that many teachers feel as a result of their low pay, lack of resources and respect and the state’s obsession with high-stakes testing.

Let’s hope Buckley keeps producing high quality segments like this one that it inspires other journalists around the state to keep telling this vitally important story. Click here to read/watch “Teachers say they need more support.”

Commentary

A rare bit of good news for North Carolina workers

North Carolina’s state government took an important first step this week toward recognizing and addressing the problem of misclassification, which occurs when employers wrongly classify employees as independent contractors. On August 11, Governor Cooper signed The Employee Fair Classification Act (SB 407). The Act codifies the Employee Classification Section in the NC Industrial Commission, established by Governor McCrory via Executive Order in 2015. The section was originally created in response to series of articles in the News and Observer that highlighted the costs of worker misclassification on employee wages and benefits as well as the harm to state coffers and to competing businesses that classify their workers appropriately.

While the new law is a good first step, many more are needed to address the problem, since the work of the Employee Classification Section remains hamstrung. Three obvious ones top the list:

  • North Carolina does not currently recognize worker misclassification as per se illegal, and there are no penalties to deter employers from wrongly classifying employees as independent contractors. This needs to change
  • In other states, agencies or task forces established to combat misclassification have the power to issue stop work orders to employers violating misclassification law. North Carolina should adopt such a rule.
  • Additionally, there is no current legal framework in North Carolina to prohibit state or local governments from contracting with businesses that misclassify their workers.Again, we should move in this direction.

The bottom line: The new law is a good start, but only one small step. North Carolina needs more comprehensive protections for workers and businesses to deter and stop employee misclassification and state leaders should redouble their efforts in this area.

NC Budget and Tax Center

A look at the seven N.C. Counties that will be on the Eclipse’s “path of totality”

Next Monday, Aug. 21, the continental U.S. will experience a total eclipse of the sun from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years, and North Carolina is one of the 14 states that will be in the eclipse’s “path of totality.” Across the U.S., 290 counties will be in the path of totality, and seven of these counties are here in our state.

The seven N.C. counties that will be in the path of totality include: Cherokee, Graham, Swain, Clay, Macon, Jackson and Transylvania.

That the solar eclipse will draw millions of people to mostly rural counties across the U.S. is no secret. However, what might be unknown on that day to millions of travelers is the actual population and poverty rate of the rural county that they are visiting, and what it truly looks like when the sun does shine.

Here are the populations, poverty rates, and interesting facts about the seven N.C. counties that will be in the eclipse’s path of totality. It is worth noting that five of the seven counties have a poverty rate that is higher than the state average (16.4 percent), six of the seven counties have a median age that is significantly higher than the state median age (38), and the combined population of the seven counties (175,016) is equivalent to double the population of Asheville.

A look at the seven North Carolina counties that will be on the Eclipse’s path of totality

County

Population

Poverty Impacts (State average: 16.4%)

Median Age (State Median Age: 38)

Interesting Fact

Cherokee

27,935

18.3% of county
residents (4,902 people)

50

Is the westernmost county in NC.

Graham

8,684

21% of county
residents (1,783 people)

45

Is the only dry county in NC (the only one in which alcohol sales are forbidden).

Swain

15,256

16.2% of county residents (2,295 people)

41

The county seat, Bryson City, has two live webcams to view the city happenings from.

Clay

11,140

17.4% of county
residents (1,845 people)

51

377 is the total population of the town of Hayesville, the county seat.

Macon

35,411

18.8% of county
residents (8,183 people)

49

Home to various waterfalls (Cullasaja Falls, Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Quarry Falls).

Jackson

42,221

20.9% of county
residents (7,879 people)

37

Richland Balsam is the county’s tallest peak (6,410 ft.) as well as the highest point along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway (6,053 feet).

Transylvania

34,369

15.4% of county
residents (4,983 people)

51

Is the wettest county in NC, receiving over 90 inches of rain annually.
Sources: The Budget & Tax Center’s County Economic Snapshots (released April 2017), NC OSBM County Estimates.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.