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Solar powerCharlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s utility company, does a lot (and spends a lot) to cozy up to powerful politicians of both parties and to promote an image of a responsible corporate citizen. Unfortunately, when it comes to the well-being of the planet, it’s clear that Duke is solidly aligned with the polluters and exploiters. A new report from the good people at Environment North Carolina explains:

“Duke Energy is front and center in a new report connecting the company to a national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks providing funding, model legislation, and political support for anti-solar campaigns across the country.

‘North Carolina is a solar success story, providing a clean, renewable source of energy to power our homes and businesses,’ said Rachel Morales, clean energy organizer with Environment North Carolina. ‘Duke Energy, with help from fossil fuel interest groups, are fighting to take away that progress, preventing us from reaching our full solar potential.’

The report, Blocking the Sun, was released by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, and shows that while Duke Energy touts its support for solar energy, the company is simultaneously lobbing against policies that would help solar grow. In Florida, Duke Energy is actively giving campaign contributions to anti-solar politicians. While here in North Carolina, the company is an active opponent of the same policies that have helped North Carolina rank fourth nationally for solar capacity added two years running.

‘It’s tragic that Duke Energy was able to recklessly disrupt North Carolina’s once-growing renewable energy industry,’ said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, an energy and climate justice group. ‘They are killing jobs and slowing the urgently needed national shift to clean, affordable energy. This excellent report exposes those shameful efforts.’

Duke Energy is not alone in its effort to scale back solar energy’s growth. In September, the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers front group, held a forum to voice concerns about the growing renewables market it North Carolina. Representative Mike Hager, R- Rutherford, former Duke Energy employee and outspoken opponent of North Carolina’s renewable energy standards and renewable energy tax incentives, organized the event.

‘By wide margins, North Carolina supports pro-solar policies,’ said Morales. ‘Duke Energy, the Koch brothers, and their friends in the legislature are working to dismantle commonsense energy policy that is working for North Carolina. We need our leaders in the General Assembly to stand up to Duke, and support solar energy initiatives that make it easier for every farm, family, and business to go solar.'”

Click here to download and read the entire report.

Commentary

Add the Fayetteville Observer to the list of media outlets to blast the recent decision of Governor McCrory and the General Assembly to do the bidding of their Koch Brothers-funded buddies in the far right advocacy groups by deep-sixing the state’s game-changing renewable energy tax credits. As the Observer rightfully points out in this editorial:

“The lights aren’t going out in this state’s fast-growing solar-energy industry, but they’re about to dim.

Until now, North Carolina has been a national leader in extracting electricity from the sun. In part, it’s because conditions here are ideal – abundant sunshine and thousands of acres of level, underused farmland available. But other states can easily make the same offer. What gave us an edge was the 35 percent tax credit the state offers solar developers, which investors can spread over five years.

Good conditions, land and the tax credit have brought dozens of solar farms to this region. Construction on the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains is about to begin in Gray’s Creek. Unfortunately, it may be the last such project for a while. It’s getting started just in time to earn the tax credit, which the General Assembly foolishly decided to end on Dec. 31.

While solar industry leaders remain optimistic about the future in North Carolina, they say new investments are likely to move to other states. And it’s not like North Carolina will save money because of it. Every dollar of the tax credit, the president of one solar company says, generates $1.54 in state and local revenue.

Much of that investment is going to the state’s poorest, rural counties, where the farmland is underused and available for the most modern of crops. Farmers are able to lease land to solar companies for rents as much as five times greater than they could get for agricultural use. The farms also bring construction jobs during their setup and a few maintenance jobs on a more permanent basis.

Fayetteville state Rep. John Szoka says he’s studied the solar industry and wanted to extend the tax credits. The state and federal tax codes, he said, already offer plenty of incentives to more conventional energy companies. Szoka is a Republican and as conservative as most of his peers in Raleigh’s ruling party. But he’s looked at the solar industry and seen a winner.

It is, without question, a big part of our energy future, already able to compete in many ways with conventional power sources. And it’s the one industry that state government can point to that’s brought new cash flow to the state’s rural communities.

It’s not corporate welfare when the tax investment is producing even greater returns for state and local taxpayers. It’s a smart investment in the next big energy industry. When our lawmakers return to work next spring, we hope they take a second look and reauthorize the tax credit program. It would be a smart move.”

Amen.

Commentary

North Carolina environmental advocates are having trouble listing all the bad new laws and money decisions crammed into the 400-plus page budget agreement. As the good people at the League of Conservation Voters reported in an update this afternoon, the budget agreement includes provisions:

  • Allowing the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) to expire. For every $1 in tax credit allotted to our renewable energy industry, it has generated $1.54 in new state and local revenue. That means more money is coming into our coffers, creating jobs and drawing in a total economic impact of $4.7 billion. Allowing the REITC to expire will likely damage North Carolina’s ability to attract new businesses and investors, especially for our state’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties that have received more than $1.9 billion in direct investment thanks to REITC.
  • Earmarking $500,000 for shale gas exploration (aka “fracking”). The irony of allowing a “subsidy” for solar to expire but include half a million dollars in handouts to an industry that already has the funds and the competitive advantage shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Regardless, this is a terrible use of state revenue dollars.
  • Creating loopholes for repeat violators and reducing penalties for those who break state sediment and erosion control laws. While we were pleased to see the Sedimentation Control Commission remain intact, this overseeing body won’t be able to actually enforce any of the rules and protect us and our natural resources from pollution with these gaping holes.
  • Extending funding for the botched SolarBee project to the tune of $1.5 million and delaying the implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules for at least three more years. This simply allows the pollution load to grow and grow, making future clean up efforts even more difficult and costly.

The LCV list doesn’t include the decision to expand controversial terminal groins that will liteally change the shape of the state’s coastline or, undoubtedly, numerous other provisions that will only come to light days after the new budget is law.

In other words, the news from Jones Street is bad and getting worse.

Commentary
House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

Today’s most outrageous, “you can’t make this stuff up” development in the North Carolina public policy world has to be the apparent behind-closed-doors flip-flop whereby House budget negotiators agreed to end the state’s investment in solar energy tax credits.

The decision comes on the same day that analysts at the nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group Environment North Carolina released yet another report highlighting the amazing success of the credits. This is from the press release that accompanied the report:

“North Carolina ranked 4th nationally for total solar electric capacity, and 9th per capita, according to a new report, Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014 by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

Lighting the Way III found that it was not North Carolina’s ‘long summer days’ that put the state on the map among the Top 5 leaders in the renewable energy sector. Like in many states, policies are what lay the groundwork for leadership in energy innovation and investments. North Carolina’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard (REPS) law is what opened the door on solar, other renewable energy sources and energy efficiency programs beginning in 2008, along with the renewable energy investment tax credit (REITC) as a vital financing mechanism. These clean energy policies have allowed limited market competition in North Carolina’s highly-regulated, monopoly-controlled electricity market and the resulting economic benefits are now being felt by North Carolinians in every region of the state.”

The apparent decision — which would require the House to back down from its previous stance — also comes during the same legislative session in which House Speaker Tim Moore voiced strong support for preserving the credits. Earlier this year, after a House committee defeated an effort to eliminate the credits, Moore said the following:

“I would have had a difficult time talking to a CEO who just brought 300 jobs to Cleveland County [and telling him] that I’m going to vote to eliminate this program that justified their investment.”

If the new reports are true, it looks like Moore will have some explaining to do.

Commentary
© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

There’s a fabulous op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by a fellow named David Jenkins of the Virginia-based group, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. In it, Jenkins exposes the outrageous and dishonest war on renewable/sustainable energy being waged by fossil fuel front groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and their allies in the Pope empire here in North Carolina:

“We have all heard about President Obama’s ‘war on coal,’ but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the ‘war’ label would imply.

There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.”

Jenkins goes on to explain that all energy sources are subsidized by government and that the subsidies provided to fossil fuels greatly surpass those provided to renewables. (Indeed, as was explained in this post the other day, the subsidies provided to fossil fuels once one factors in the environmental costs are truly staggering — as much as 6.5% of GDP!)

Here’s Jenkins:

“These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values – and our nation’s long-term energy security. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.”

The bottom line: Call it what you want — conservative or liberal — but the simple truth that fair and true competition can help save the planet when it comes to energy is undeniable.