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The lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run this morning by highlighting a powerful new report out of N.C. State on the enormous potential benefits of equipping North Carolina schools with solar panels.

“A pair of new reports from renewable-energy experts propose a bright idea for enterprising school districts in North Carolina: solar arrays on public school rooftops and in school parking lots.

Such an arrangement could save millions, they say, and, in time, even generate revenue for cash-strapped schools.

It’s as brilliant a notion as a noon-day sun in August. And it’s being pushed by an advocacy group called Repower Our Schools in Durham, whose schools spend $5.7 million a year on electricity, and in Charlotte, whose public schools’ electric bill totals about $18 million a year.

By comparison, Guilford County Schools paid $12.3 million for electricity in 2014-15.”

And this is from the summary to the reports themselves:

“Two reports by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) released February 3rd found that Charlotte­-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and Durham Public Schools (DPS) can meet 100 percent of their electricity needs and save millions over the next 25 years by installing solar panels to power their schools. With solar-friendly updates to solar policies in the state, including the allowance of third party energy sales and changes to net metering policy, CMS and DPS could produce renewable electricity for 25 years and reduce their total electricity cost by 11 percent.”

Seems line a no-brainer, right? Well it clearly is, but unfortunately, when it comes to a shortage of brains in the  North Carolina energy policy world, you can probably already guess who the problem children are. That’s right, it’s the state’s conservative, Koch Brother-loving political leaders and the fun people at Pat McCrory’s old employer, Duke Energy.

Until we get McCrory, the General Assembly, Duke and the denizens of the Flat Earth Society “think tanks” to back down from their destructive obstruction of all things renewable and sustainable, this splendid idea will likely be left moldering on the shelf somewhere.

Commentary

Coal ashThe Greensboro News & Record has a good editorial this morning in which it lauds the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the General Assembly’s overreach in its turf battle with the Governor over control of the state coal ash commission.

But the editorial concludes with this warning to the Guv:

“It’s the governor’s responsibility. Now he’s got to prove that legislators of his own party were wrong to distrust him with this important task.”

Commentary

Coal ash eventSome victims of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution gathered with a group of advocates and activists in front of the North Carolina Governor’s mansion this morning. Their message to Gov. Pat McCrory (who was recently revealed to have had a secret dinner meeting last summer with representatives of his longtime former employer (i.e. Duke) even as the company was facing prosecution for its misdeeds):

“Come have dinner with us too….Oh, and bring some water, too.”

Lord knows they could use both.

The water would come in handy because Duke has now informed a large number of folks living near ash sites in Goldsboro, Belmont and other places that their water is no longer safe to drink. Indeed, the company is now providing these folks with one gallon of bottled water per person per day for an indeterminate period even as it continues to drag its feet in cleaning up the sites.

As one homeowner noted (after listing some of the numerous untimely deaths that have occurred in her community from cancers and other diseases), “just imagine trying to live this way.”

And the dinner meeting? Well, if McCrory would actually break bread with some of these people (many of whom stated this morning that they have been asking for such a meeting for months to no avail) it might force him to summon up a smidgen of empathy. After all, we’re talking about average, middle and working class folks living in the 21st Century in one of the most advanced societies on the planet, who have lost access to one of the fundamentals of life: safe drinking water.

It’s enough to make a body think of the ongoing disaster in Flint, Michigan (where the city and state are now attempting to deal with the fallout from having poisoned a large portion of the citizenry through their shortsighted decision to save a few bucks).

Indeed, as one public health expert argued persuasively the other day, it’s quite plausible that the scandal in Flint amounts to a human rights violation:

“This emergency goes beyond simply a public health problem….It is something much worse: a human rights abuse in an American city. In 2010, the United Nations declared that ‘ … clean drinking water … [is] essential to the realization of all human rights.’ Flint’s contaminated water will prevent children from realizing their human right to health, enumerated in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Let’s hope things don’t get that far in North Carolina. But if these wronged North Carolinians don’t soon get some relief, perhaps it’s time to start raising the same question here: Are Duke Energy and the McCrory administration committing (or, at least, enabling) a human rights violation? It would be interesting to hear McCrory’s explanation as to why they aren’t.

Commentary

Be sure to check out this morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the latest controversy swirling around Gov. Pat McCrory and his former long-time employer, Duke Energy. The headline and subtitles do a good job of summarizing the content:

“Gov. McCrory numb to the appearance of hosting Duke Energy
-Is Gov. Pat McCrory just oblivious?
-Meeting with Duke officials
-Appearances do matter”

As WRAL reported earlier this week, McCrory held a private, closed door meeting with his former employer at the very moment that his administration was engaged in important law enforcement activities targeting the the energy giant. The N&O editorial rightfully blasts McCrory for not recognizing the obvious conflicts inherent in such a meeting:

“The meeting demonstrates an amazing lack of awareness, as at the time Duke was in the middle of dealing with some of the fallout from a coal ash spill in the Dan River. The company’s saga with the spill included an agreement to pay a federal fine of $102 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and then a state environmental official wanted to impose a $50 million fine, according to records. The state ended up levying a $25 million fine for groundwater contamination, reduced in September to $7 million.

At dinner in the mansion were Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, other top Duke officials and the governor’s legal counsel, among others. McCrory worked for Duke for 29 years.

The governor should understand that meetings such as this one just look bad, coming as a company with which the governor had a long-term connection (providing him a handsome livelihood) is in the midst of controversy with different levels of government. If the governor isn’t astute about such appearances, those around him should be.”

The problem (as McCrory has made clear repeatedly over the last three years) is that he does not appear to “get” basic concepts like the difference between being Governor of a state and Mayor of a city. As the editorial puts it: “Sometimes, Gov. Pat McCrory seems to think he’s still the mayor of Charlotte….”

For better or worse, however, McCrory is the Governor and desperately needs to learn how to behave like one — ideally before his term is up.

Commentary, News

A statewide citizens group formed last year to demand stronger state environmental protection efforts to combat coal ash pollution is decrying the new state rankings attached to the state’s coal ash ponds and the closed door meeting between Gov. McCrory and Duke energy officials that came to light this week. Here are some excerpts from a press release that the group distributed yesterday:

“The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash formed in July as a way for residents from across the state to connect in solidarity in their demands for an end to the coal ash crisis. Members were appalled and confused last week when DEQ downgraded coal ash sites that as recently as December the agency’s staff had ranked as high priority. The proposed low or low-intermediate status means the sites could potentially be capped in place and left indefinitely to leak toxins into neighboring groundwater supplies.

‘It’s an established fact that all sites are leaking, so of course they should be listed as high priority,’ says Deborah Graham, who lives near the Buck plant in Salisbury. ‘We know more than we ever wanted to know about the damage this toxic waste causes to our environment and health each and every day it continues to sit there.’

‘DEQ changing our priority from high to low-intermediate is just wrong,’ says Debra Baker, who lives within 100 feet of the G.G. Allen plant in Belmont. ‘DEQ says they did not have enough information from Duke Energy, but they have had several months. Now, we are still living on bottled water, waiting for this mess to be cleaned up.’

To urgently address the realities of coal ash pollution, ACT Against Coal Ash released its Unifying Principles so that state decision makers, Duke Energy, and the public can better understand the needs and demands of residents most harmed — now or in the future — by Duke’s coal ash pollution.

The alliance also launched a website and a video.

And here are some statements made by ACT Against Coal Ash members in response to yesterday’s WRAL.com story that Gov. McCrory met with Duke Energy officials in a private, closed door meeting last June:

From Debra Baker, whose husband died from environmentally related lung disease several years after moving into their home next to G.G. Allen, which has been illegally polluting the air for decades:”I’ve tried calling and emailing Governor McCrory. I’ve sent him photographs of my house full of bottled water. And all I’ve gotten is his automatic email response. He’s never called, sent a letter, nothing. I’m mad that he’s having backroom meetings with Duke Energy but won’t talk to us. It seems like he thinks my husband’s life doesn’t matter. My husband was only 43 years old when he passed. Now, I’m a widow with a 19 year old son. They think this problem is just going to go away, but it’s not. It’s our lives. They need to talk to us.”

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