A House subcommittee narrowly passed a bill Wednesday that chips away at a 2007 law that aimed to increase conservation efforts and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass.
Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the intent is to stop the burden of renewable energy subsidies and mandates on ratepayers.
But opponents of the measure argued it would set back the state’s efforts to increase clean energy sources and slow growth of a budding green energy industry in North Carolina, including on the coast.
The bill, which passed 11-10, must still pass several more committees before reaching the House floor, a difficult test for a controversial proposal.
Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, the bill’s primary sponsor, said his amendment to House Bill 298 would “soft land” the green energy sector, stating that by 2018 “you need to move from government subsidy and taxpayer rolls.” He called the renewable energy sector an “entitlement program beginning to get its roots into our state.”
However, the N.C. Sierra Club said the reworked measure was hardly any better than the original bill. The amendment would keep the so-called Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, or REPS, on the books through 2018 but cap the requirement at 10 percent of overall energy production.
It also would allow utilities to count pre-existing energy sources, including hydropower. Those changes would effectively thwart the intent of REPS because the remaining compliance requirements can be met through existing hydropower facilities, the Sierra Club argued.
Under current law, a utility is required to show that 12.5 percent of its energy portfolio comes from conservation or green energy sources by 2021, with specific amounts earmarked year-over-year for solar energy.
“Why delete the solar set-aside when it is the set-aside that has been the most successful?” a Sierra Club position paper says.
The two-hour debate before the Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Energy and Emerging Markets included charged debate from speakers in the audience.
Brian O’Hara, president of the N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition, said the state has the option of continuing to move forward into the green energy future or falling behind.
“This feels a lot more like jumping off a moving train and watching it drive away,” he said.
But others said that if green energy is viable, let it be driven by the market – without subsidies and mandates.
Paige Freeman, a Wilmington leader of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative national organization, said her power bill has gone “through the roof” in recent years.
“I feel that the energy ratepayer and taxpayer, of which I am both, should not pay onerous added costs to their already high energy bills, costs most ratepayers do not know are included in their bill,” she said.
How local subcommittee members voted on a bill to reduce state support of renewable energy.
YES: Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover; Chris Millis, R-Pender
NO: Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover