We know this stuff is complicated, but if you’d really like to understand what North Carolina is doing to promote solar power (and other renewables) and why it is good for our economy, jobs, competition, freedom, capitalism, electric bills and, incidentally, the future of the planet, watch this excellent presentation at last week’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation by Ivan Urlaub, Executive Director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. (Click to the 5:30 mark to skip the introduction).

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Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:

NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.

SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.

Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.

The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.

H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.

After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.

“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”

“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

And this is from EDF:

North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems

(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.

“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.

“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.

“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”


frackThis spring, organizations across North Carolina are joining together to host “Fracking Stories,” a statewide screening tour of six short documentaries that explore the public health and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the ways that communities are coming together to respond. The events will provide an opportunity for audiences to learn about the issues, speak with community members, and gain information about how to get involved.

The North Carolina screening tour is co-presented by Clean Water for North Carolina, The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Appalachian Voices, and Working Films. In addition to the statewide partners, local collaborators include Pee Dee WALL, The Mountain People’s Assembly, WNC Frack Free, The Durham People’s Alliance, Sustainable Sandhills, The Winyah Rivers Foundation, The Haw River Assembly, Triangle, The Sierra Club Capitol Group, The Justice in a Changing Climate group at Community UCC, The Good Stewards of Rockingham, NC WARN, Temple Emanuel Environmental Movement (TEEM), No Fracking in Stokes, Carolina Taste, The New Hanover County NAACP, and The Cape Fear Group of the Sierra Club.

The series kicked off earlier this week in Pittsboro. Here’s the remainder of the schedule:

Saturday May 23rd, 11:00am
Cameo Art House
225 Hay St, Fayetteville, NC 28301
Hosted by: Sustainable Sandhills

Tuesday May 26th, 7pm
Community UCC
814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607
Hosted by: Triangle, Sierra Club Capital Group, and The Justice in a Changing Climate Group at CUCC Read More


Solar powerIt’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. Read More


The good people at the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters did a great job this morning of exposing the dishonesty in the latest attacks on renewable energy in North Carolina in recent weeks from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. This is from this morning’s LCV Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

“Meanwhile on another key legislative front, one of the most well-heeled anti-environmental advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has rolled out its latest dollars-and-nonsense attack on clean energy. AFP, which not coincidentally receives much funding from oil industry and other dirty energy sources, loves to attack clean, renewable energy development with factually questionable claims. In its latest assault on clean energy, AFP has launched a grab bag of dubious allegations attacking North Carolina’s imperiled Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS).

(For those who came in late, REPS requires electric utilities operating in North Carolina – especially Duke Energy – to produce or purchase a modest minimum percentage of its electricity from renewable sources like solar. REPS shares responsibility with the renewable energy development tax credits for the enormous boom in solar energy generation and related jobs in NC over the past eight years. Unfortunately, the House’s latest regulatory ‘reform’ bill, HB 760, was amended on the House floor to include anti-REPS changes. HB 760 passed the House and is now pending in the state Senate).

In working to gin up support for gutting REPS, AFP is flinging muddy claims about cost. Read More