My turn, Bill Graham: Clean energy is part of solution

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2020

By Bill Graham

These are uncertain times.

People are understandably concerned — concerned about their jobs, concerned about their health and concerned about their future. So many aspects of so many lives have been touched by the global COVID-19 pandemic and, aside from exercising social distancing and supporting local charities, we’re all feeling a bit helpless. It’s hard to know how to respond or what to do. 

As someone who cares about the field of clean energy, the pandemic has underscored for me that now, more than ever, is the time to double down on our commitment to clean energy. Once we overcome this virus and our communities are well and safe, a clean energy focus can be part of the recovery solution by lowering customer utility costs, boosting jobs and investing in energy sources that don’t impact our health.  

According to the experts, our state and our country are still very much in the middle of the battle against COVID-19. And yet, the impacts are already taking a toll on North Carolinians, with unimaginable job losses and business closures. People are paying closer attention to our paychecks and account balances, and will be looking for practical ways to save money on our essential and non-essential purchases.

Clean energy is part of the solution for easing the monthly burden of utility costs. Technologies like solar and wind, especially when combined with battery storage, are viable, affordable options that aren’t subject to the volatility of fuel markets. A focus on expanding North Carolina’s renewable energy options, both large scale and residential, can help lower costs for all customers statewide. 

Expanding clean energy options for North Carolina would also boost jobs. For several years in a row, North Carolina enjoyed job growth in the solar industry, but in recent years we’ve hit a plateau.

The Solar Foundation’s February 2020 report indicated a decline in solar jobs in North Carolina. A recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) bumped the Tar Heel State down four notches in our national ranking of installed solar, signaling the lowest annual total in six years. This is not the time to be complacent in our pursuit of clean energy. Once the state is in recovery mode, the time will be right to ramp up our focus on expanding the use of renewables, providing clean energy to our citizens and growing the job market. 

The highly contagious nature of the coronavirus has made most of us more attuned to our health, with folks buying masks, hand soap and all forms of sanitizers in bulk. But there is a health risk ongoing from the pollution emitted by coal-burning power plants. According to research shared by Duke Health, pollution from North Carolina’s coal plants causes those living nearby to experience a higher risk of respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart disease. The data also indicates that people living near coal plants have higher death rates at earlier ages. (Data shows people with existing respiratory conditions are more susceptible to viruses like coronavirus and SARS.) 

In the midst of a pandemic we cannot control right now, let’s consider the impacts of another health crisis we’re facing — one that we can address by supporting policies that will transition us to a clean energy economy. Once our communities are safe from the current threat, we can make choices that help make electricity more affordable for North Carolinians, create jobs, and protect our health. 

Graham is a Salisbury attorney, businessman and former Republican candidate for governor.