Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a bill establishing competitive bids for most utility-scale solar projects in the state despite the bill’s controversial moratorium on wind permits added to the bill by the N.C. Senate.
He praised the painstaking, months-long effort that led to the compromises on solar in the original bill, At the heart of those compromises was the competitive bidding process Duke Energy sought and a commitment from Duke to seek 2,660 megawatts of new renewable energy bids through mid-2021.
“This bill is critical for the future of significant increases in our already booming solar industry,” Cooper says in a prepared statement.
“I strongly oppose the ugly, last-minute, politically motivated wind moratorium,” he says. “However, this fragile and hard-fought solar deal will be lost if I veto this legislation and that veto is sustained.”
A veto of the legislation, generally referred to as House Bill 589, never seemed likely. Cooper has long been a champion of solar and other renewable energy interests in the state. And he received significant support for the solar industry and other renewable groups in his race for governor.
The real question was whether he would sign the bill or allow it to become July 30 without his signature to register his objections to the 18-month moratorium on wind permits.
Instead, he opted to issue Executive Order 11 at the same time he signed the bill. It calls on the Department of Environmental Quality and the Coastal Resources Commission to make their “best efforts to expedite pre-application review and processing” for wind projects not already in the process. And it says the state will continue to “recruit innovative energy projects, including wind energy … and process new wind permit applications without prejudice,” when the moratorium ends in mid-2018.
The moratorium had been made retroactive to the beginning of 2017 in the legislation.
“I want wind energy facilities to come online quickly when this moratorium expires so our economy and our environment can continue to benefit,” Cooper says.
Adam Forrer of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, based in Raleigh, says his oragnization is disappointed the moratorium will go into effect. “But we are pleased that Gov. Cooper took immediate steps to demonstrate support for the wind industry and to demonstrate that the state is open for business on wind projects,” Forrer says.
The signing of the bill won praise from Duke (NYSE:DUK), which had called on Cooper to sign the bill despite the moratorium.
“The solar aspects of this legislation will benefit residential, commercial and industrial customers alike – saving them money and allowing for more ways to secure renewable energy, while also protecting the reliability of the energy grid,” says spokesman Randy Wheeless.
Solar on board
Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, the state’s largest solar developer, says: “The governor made the right decision.” But the company, in a release, says it “also stands with our clean energy colleagues in the wind industry.”
“We were disappointed in last-minute actions inserting a harmful and unnecessary wind energy provision into the bill,” the company says, “and going forward we will support efforts to ensure wind energy has a fair chance to thrive in this state.”
Steve Levitas, senior vice president for Regulatory Affairs and Strategy for California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, says the impact of the bill will be important.
“This landmark legislation will ensure that North Carolina remains a national leader in the development of low-cost solar energy,” he says. “H.B. 589 creates the framework for Cypress Creek and other solar companies to continue our significant investment in North Carolina while ensuring that North Carolinians have increased access to clean, affordable electricity.”
In the works
North Carolina has one wind project, the Amazon Wind Farm, operating in the state.
Two others are working their way through the permitting process. They are the the $300 million Timbermill Project proposed by Virginia-based Apex Wind Energy in Chowan and the $200 million Little Alligator project proposed by Britain-based Renewable Energy Systems.
Forrer says the ultimate impact of the moratorium on those projects in process is not clear. But he notes that neither is prepared to go to construction immediately, so he is hopeful that they will be able to proceed after the moratorium ends.
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