Environmentalists shine light on alternative energy bill

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 18, 2015

Environmentalists are concerned a bill in the North Carolina House would remove any incentive for electricity providers to continue investing in alternative energy.

Called the N.C. Energy Ratepayers Protection Act, the bill has support of 14 state representatives, including Harry Warren, a Republican who represents part of Rowan. Opposition to the bill specifically centers around a provision that would eliminate renewable energy efficiency standards for electricity providers such as Duke Energy after 2018.

It was filed on Monday and has been bounded around between three different committees — environment, public utilities and finance. On Thursday, it was referred to the House Finance Committee after being withdrawn from Public Utilities.

The NC Sustainable Energy Association has called the bill misleading and a “deadly blow to North Carolina’s $4.8 billion clean energy economy.” The group’s Governmental Affairs Director Betsy McCorkle said the bill could create uncertainty for investors who are looking to invest in the state’s burgeoning solar economy.

“People that have brought jobs here, people that are thinking about bringing jobs here are suddenly going to feel as if North Carolina’s energy policy is on shaky ground and perhaps North Carolina isn’t the best place to do business,” McCorkle said. “If a company was looking right now to sign a contract for renewable energy, they would only be compelled to sign a three-year contract for that power. Nobody is going to finance the construction of a project if they only have a buyer for three years.”

Duke Energy, for example, purchases 550 megawatts of solar power in North Carolina, according to numbers provided by the company. Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said the company is building 140 megawatts currently. For comparison, Wheeless said the Buck Combined Cycle Plant in Rowan generates 620 megawatts of electricity.

Duke is the largest electric power company in the nation. All renewable energy facilities that it receives energy from are solar powered.

McCorkle said Duke wouldn’t likely go back on any current contracts, but, without the requirement for a portion of energy required to be renewable, McKorkle said it’d be difficult to predict future investments.

Warren, a primary sponsor of the bill, said a decrease in the number of alternative energy contracts signed by power companies is a possibility when asked about the proposal.

“This bill is changing existing legislation,” Warren said. “There’s no guarantee that this couldn’t be addressed in the next legislative session, depending on the strides that the industry is making.”

However, he said, the change in the requirement could provide incentive for power companies to increase the share of energy provided represented by solar or wind. It could also result in lower energy prices for ratepayers, Warren said.

Warren said he’s received a total of 31 emails about the N.C. Energy Ratepayers Protection Act, 16 of which are from people in the industry. He said two comments about the bill came from Rowan County and others came from elsewhere in North Carolina.

Presently, state law doesn’t have an end to the requirement that electricity companies maintain renewable energy a percentage of the total provided. It does, however, remain flat starting in 2018. The current law sets three deadlines for electric providers in North Carolina — 2012, 2015 and 2018.

In 2012, state law required companies to have three percent of its total sold in 2011 to be renewable energy. This year, law required the amount to be 6 percent. In 2018 and thereafter, the requirement was 10 percent.

Wheeless said Duke is committed to solar power. Wheeless said he expects Duke’s solar power holdings to continue expanding.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.