Archives

Commentary

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, News

If you’re looking for a measure of good news to get you through the weekend (and are willing to look outside North Carolina), check out this story (and the amazing photos) on NPR.org detailing the massive new solar power plant in the northwest African nation of Morocco. To quote:

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

“Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It’s capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants.

When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation’s long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.”

The plant is especially exciting because it uses a technology that will allow it to generate electricity well after the sun goes down each day.

Mind you this is a country with roughly one-fifth the gross domestic product of North Carolina. And still, somehow, it has managed to muster the kind of world-changing investment that all nations need to be pursuing. If the Moroccans can do it, surely so can Americans (and North Carolinians). The fact that the U.S. solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy and created more jobs than were created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined last year indicates that we’re already on the right track.

For more information on North Carolina’s mixed/wavering commitment to this essential field, check out a pair of interviews on yesterday’s edition of WUNC’s The State of Things by clicking here and here.

Commentary

This morning’s Fayetteville Observer gets it exactly right with this editorial deriding efforts to undermine North Carolina’s promising solar energy industry. Here’s an excerpt:

“A state program that let solar developers deduct 35 percent of their startup costs from their state tax bill helped North Carolina become one of the top states in solar energy production. Anti-solar zealots who want to leave us dependent on the energy sources of the past succeeded in killing the tax break last year, but the state still has aggressive targets for renewable-energy use. More solar farms are coming, including a 200-acre development in Hoke County that was approved this month.

Critics of solar want to stick with conventional plants, especially now that fracking has given this country a near glut of natural gas. They want, too, to encourage a return to nuclear power. But even a traditional energy giant like Duke Energy is aggressively developing solar, believing a diverse array of energy sources is the best approach to an uncertain future.

State Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, has led the efforts to undo solar incentives and he may return to the fight in the next session. “I’m a free market person,” he told an Observer reporter. “I think the market should take hold.” We think it already has, but if he wants to end solar subsidies, we encourage him to get rid of all the tax breaks the General Assembly has given to the power industry, not just those that helped solar.

But that’s not the wisest course. Solar equipment costs have dropped dramatically and innovative battery technology will soon solve solar’s difficult relationship with sunsets and cloudy days. It’s a big part of our energy future, and it has brought new tax revenue and jobs to our most troubled rural economies.

Fayetteville’s state Rep. John Szoka is a solar fan and co-chair of the Energy Policy Committee. He believes we need to continue our commitment to solar and that attempts to repeal other renewable energy laws will fail. They should, and the solar tax credit should be brought back to help smaller developers and homeowners. We have seen the future of energy, right here in our own backyard, and its name is solar.”

Commentary, News

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.