The following essay was written By Rachel Morales, Clean Energy Organizer at Environment North Carolina.
Don’t let North Carolina’s commitment to solar power fade
By Rachel Morales
Solar power has been an enormous success in North Carolina. During each of the last two years, North Carolina has ranked fourth in the nation in the amount of solar capacity added.
What’s more, that growth is no mistake or accident. In the last decade, our state leaders passed forward-thinking policies, like tax incentives to encourage individuals to buy solar and a “renewable energy portfolio” standard that requires a portion of North Carolina’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources.
Indeed, these and other policies have spurred a solar boom in the state. Solar businesses have popped up statewide and more and more families, businesses, and farms have decided to go solar. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) North Carolina now generates 1,088 megawatts of solar energy each year, enough to power 116,000 homes. A new poll by the ClearPath Foundation found that 84 percent of registered voters “support action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” including 72 percent of Republican voters.
At a glance, Duke Energy is also a proponent of solar energy. The energy giant has installed more than 600 megawatts of solar capacity to date and is touting plans to bring more online in 2016.
Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the company has taken action to discourage rooftop solar in the state. Read more
The New Bern Sun Journal featured a powerful op-ed over the weekend by Carrie Clark and Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters that skewered the Governor’s penchant for talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to North Carolina’s natural environment. As Clark and Crawford explained, McCrory has repeatedly sought to portray himself as a friend of renewable energy and environmental protection (positions he knows to be popular with voters) even as his administration promotes policies that go in precisely the opposite direction:
“Consider the case of North Carolina’s growing solar industry. As McCrory touts the need to support solar energy in our state, he talks out of the other side of its mouth when he signs legislation that ends it. This short-sighted reversal comes just as the industry was taking off. In 2014, the solar industry provided 4,000 North Carolinians with jobs, but by allowing the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit to expire, the McCrory administration is effectively turning out the lights on solar energy in North Carolina.
One side of the McCrory administration will tell you that they are simply trying to get the government out of the business of picking winners and losers. Here again, they are being two-faced because McCrory will point to the importance of creating jobs when justifying government subsidies for fracking.
The same duplicitous language is evident in McCrory’s economic rationale for supporting dirty energy. While van der Vaart vocalizes energy affordability as a “weapon against poverty,” he openly fights against renewable energy sources as part of the energy mix, which have proven cost-savings for all North Carolinians, not to mention reduced public health and environmental impacts….
While McCrory’s public-facing persona continues to take advantage of photo ops such as the “historic” construction of a wind farm, his talking head van der Vaart guts renewable energy from the inside. Under van der Vaart, the McCrory administration outlined the “harms” of solar energy panels on our environment; a PR campaign in support of opening North Carolina’s coast to offshore oil and gas drilling; and not one but two lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on key federal policies: the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.”
The bottom line: North Carolina’s state motto is, of course, Esse quam videri (“To be rather than to seem”). Unfortunately, when it comes to the natural environment, the stance of the McCrory administration is almost always the precise opposite of this maxim. Click here to read the entire op-ed.
Charlotte-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.'”
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.”