Renewing debate on renewables

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 25, 2014

Civitas speaker attacks N.C. energy requirement
RALEIGH — One of the more bitter fights that occurred in the North Carolina General Assembly last year involved whether lawmakers should repeal a 2007 requirement that electricity suppliers get a portion of their power from renewable sources of energy.
North Carolina is one of 27 states that now have what is known as a renewable energy portfolio standard.
Proposals to roll back and eliminate the requirement created some bitter rifts among legislative Republicans.
Supporters of the repeal argued that the requirement amounted to an alternative energy subsidy foisted on powerless consumers; opponents of the legislation pointed to the booming solar energy industry in the state and cited the 2007 requirement as a key reason for the industry growth.
The livestock industry weighed in as well, telling legislators that killing the requirement would put an end to livestock-waste-to-fuel projects now under development.

With Republicans divided, proposals to drop the renewable portfolio standards ultimately died in 2013. That doesn’t mean the idea won’t be revived in some future legislative session, even if it won’t happen this year.
At a recent conference held by the conservative Civitas Institute, one of the invited speakers spent some time arguing that North Carolina consumers would have saved $4.2 billion if not for the renewable energy requirements.
James Taylor of the Heartland Institute based the claim on figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showing that North Carolina’s electricity costs had risen 17.8 percent since 2007, compared to an increase nationally of 10.8 percent.
No doubt, Taylor spoke to a sympathetic audience, including some conservative legislators who attended.
Liberal groups have not been so kind to the Heartland Institute, calling it an anti-global warming propaganda outfit that tries to hide (sometimes not so successfully) its ties to major oil companies.

One fact that cannot be overlooked: Taylor is not a scientist, despite his designation as “senior fellow for environment policy;” he’s a lawyer.
Claims that rising electricity costs in North Carolina are solely or primarily the result of the renewable energy standards also ought to be looked at skeptically.
There are a couple of key reasons why:
One, while Taylor focused on the period when the legislation passed to the present-day, virtually none of the requirements went into effect until 2012.
Two, the period that he did examine covered a time when the utility companies in North Carolina were spending a tremendous amount of money mothballing coal-fired power plants and replacing them with gas turbine plants, costs passed onto consumers.
Another reason to question the conclusions can be gleaned from figures provided by the same government agency that Heartland relied upon.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, North Carolina ranked 31st among the 50 states in the average residential cost for electricity as of January 2014, despite the cited increases.
Five Southeastern states that have not adopted renewable energy portfolio requirements have higher average residential electricity costs.
Wonder whether those figures will make into the next legislative debate?
Scott Mooneyham writes columns for Capitol Press Association.