think tank

Institute for Southern Studies: How renewable energy won in North Carolina

  • Posted on: 25 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

(Photo from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

This article by Sue Sturgis was crossposted from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

A bill that would have ended North Carolina's renewable energy program was voted down this week by a state House committee in a bipartisan vote by a surprisingly wide margin.

House Bill 298 was backed by more than a dozen conservative advocacy groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the John Locke Foundation -- organizations that have considerable influence in North Carolina's Republican supermajority-controlled legislature.

So how did the measure lose?

In a word: jobs.

From the moment talk of repealing the state's renewable energy standard began intensifying following last year's election among conservative groups that have long denied the reality of global warming, the state's sustainable energy industry and environmental advocates pushed back by focusing on the law's track record of creating jobs and other economic benefits.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, an industry lobby group, commissioned an economic analysis of the law, which passed in 2007 by a wide bipartisan margin and was the first of its kind in the Southeast. Released in February, the study conducted by RTI International and La Capra Associates found that North Carolina's law has been a driver of clean energy development, which in turn as been an important job creator for the state.

The researchers found that while the state's economy lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012, clean energy development led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 "job years" (one job that lasts one year) over the same period. It also found that tax credits used by renewable energy projects were important revenue generators for state and local governments, and that the bill would save ratepayers millions of dollars over the long term by avoiding construction of costly new power plants.

In all, the study found that North Carolina has reaped $1.7 billion in total economic benefits from the law over the past six years.

When the repeal bill came up for its first public hearing earlier this month in a House Commerce subcommittee, the only people who spoke in favor of it were from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, another conservative advocacy group. The overwhelming majority of speakers praised the renewable energy law's positive economic impact. Besides owners of clean energy companies, they included farmers who have begun investing in systems to generate power from livestock waste methane, which counts as a renewable under North Carolina's law. They were also joined by rural economic development advocates who spoke about how clean energy generation has created jobs and expanded the tax base in struggling rural communities.

It proved a convincing message in a state with the nation's fifth-highest unemployment rate and entrenched poverty in rural areas, where many of the state's renewable energy projects are located.

Though the repeal bill squeaked by in its first subcommittee vote by 11-10, two key Republicans voted against it. State Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer and House majority whip who was one of the bill's four primary sponsors and its most outspoken proponent, saw that his proposal was in trouble. He has made several revisions to the measure in an effort to win support.

This week the proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Environment Committee chaired by Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte -- one of the Republicans who voted against the measure in the Commerce subcommittee. But on Monday, the measure was re-referred to the House Public Utilities Committee, which is chaired by Hager himself, for an April 24 hearing.

It was there that the repeal bill appears to have been defeated with the help of a half-dozen of Hager's fellow Republicans, including three GOP leaders. After a relatively brief half-hour debate in which lawmakers noted that the policy has brought investments and jobs to their districts, the committee voted 18-13 to kill the bill. The wide margin surprised many observers, who thought it would likely go either way by a single vote.

"This vote to defeat the REPS repeal bill was not just a good outcome, it was the right outcome," said Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. "North Carolina businesses, ratepayers, workers, and state and local economies all had a stake in this outcome, and they all won a victory today."

While the bill appears dead for now, the possibility remains that it could come back in a revised form. Hager told the Associated Press after the vote that the sponsors are "going to try and patch it up."

In the meantime, Dallas Woodhouse, director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told The News & Observer of Raleigh that Republicans who voted against the repeal "need to be held accountable." AFP and allied opponents of North Carolina's renewable energy law portrayed it as a burdensome tax on consumers. Duke Energy's residential customers pay 22 cents a month and Progress Energy's 42 cents to subsidize renewables under the law.

AFP had joined with the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that has been a leading voice of climate science denial and an opponent of renewable energy initiatives, to launch a StopGreenEnergyTax.com website to promote the repeal bill. Following the bill's defeat, the Locke Foundation posted a statement saying the committee voted to continue a "raw deal for tax payers and rate payers."

The effort to repeal North Carolina's renewable energy law is part of a broader conservative attack against such laws in a number of states including Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Many of the groups involved in the repeal effort, including AFP, have financial ties to fossil-fuel interests.

Duke Energy and ALEC Attack North Carolina Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard

  • Posted on: 15 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

NC Rep. Mike Hager: ALEC member and former Duke Energy employee.

Corporate polluters are taking aim this year at states with renewable energy laws, starting with an attack on North Carolina's clean energy economy by a corporate front group known as ALEC with support from Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries. North Carolina state Representative Mike Hager says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state's clean energy requirements during his second term. Rep. Hager is a former Duke Energy engineer and a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Duke and Progress Energy (now legally merged) have given Rep. Hager $14,500 for his last two election bids, outspent only by the NC Republican Party.

This is where ALEC makes things awkward for Duke Energy: the law that Rep. Mike Hager is targeting (2007 SB3) was created with input from Duke Energy, and Duke explicitly opposes ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act," the model law to repeal state Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Duke Energy re-asserted its support for North Carolina's REPS law to the Charlotte Business Journal last April and Progress Energy publicly supported the law before merging with Duke.

Apparently, Duke forgot about supporting North Carolina's clean energy incentives somewhere along the way. Duke Energy remains a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Duke Energy and outgoing CEO Jim Rogers have dismissed over 150,000 concerned citizens demanding that Duke leave ALEC due to its role in protecting polluters, suppressing voters, increasing gun violence and other serious threats to the public on behalf of ExxonMobil, the National Rifle Association, Reynolds tobacco and other corporate interests with a rich history of negligence and dishonesty.

ALEC: The Polluter's Voice

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) creates model state laws rolling back protections on our health, our clean air and water, public safety, public education…public anything, really. State legislators that support a corporate ideology pay a small fee to become ALEC members, working alongside giant companies to create models bills that are then introduced in states across the country.

In contrast to Duke Energy's "Call to Action" supporting climate legislation and clean energy development, it has not abandoned ALEC's long record of denying climate science and blocking solutions to global warming. ALEC focuses this year on undoing state laws that increase production of clean energy like wind and solar power.

ALEC's Electricity Freedom Act model bill was written by the Heartland Institute, a shill group made infamous for comparing those who recognize climate scientists to terrorists like Ted Kaczynski.

This dirty ambition is ALEC's self-stated priority on energy issues this year--repealing state laws that created Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS), including North Carolina's SB3. Todd Wynn, a corporate influence peddler who heads ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, named North Carolina as one of several states ALEC will focus its clean energy attacks, citing a debunked report from the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute of Suffolk University's economics department. Like ALEC, Beacon Hill is part of the Koch-funded State Policy Network. See the Morning Sentinel and a scathing Portland Press Herald editorial for important critiques of the Koch-funded Beacon Hill reports cited by Todd Wynn.

Actually...Clean Energy has Treated North Carolina's Economy Well!

We've known for decades that phasing out fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and ambitiously implementing clean energy not only slows our sprint toward irreversible, catastrophic climate change, but stimulates the economy and creates jobs that do not poison us. In North Carolina, SB3 has helped create the current 15,200 full-time equivalent clean energy jobs in NC, up 3% from the previous year, and generated $3.7 billion in economic activity in 2012 (North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association 2012 Industry Census).

While ALEC has touted a pile of Koch-funded reports written with the pre-determined conclusion that clean energy is ALWAYS too pricey, the Charlotte Business Journal reports that SB3 has a "negligible impact on customer bill increases" for Progress Energy Carolinas' customers, at about 41 cents per month.

If let be, North Carolina's Senate Bill 3 would ensure at least 3% of North Carolina's energy is from renewable sources this year, increasing to at least 12.5% by 2021. North Carolina appears to be one of the first states subjected to ALEC's dirty energy agenda this year.

What Next for the ALEC Attacks?

Expect similar ALEC attacks on clean energy laws in states around the country. According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio (by Sen. Kris Jordan, an ALEC member).

Now with rumors of war appearing in North Carolina, it appears that ALEC has morphed from the opportunistic observer to the coordinator of attacks on our states' clean energy laws.

For more on how the American Legislative Exchange Council is degrading public policies across the United States, see ALECExposed.org.

This piece was crossposted on Greenpeace blogs.

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