CAMDEN – The increasing footprint of wind and solar energy projects in Northeastern North Carolina became a policy flashpoint at a candidates’ forum in Camden Saturday.
While no one objected to renewable energy projects outright, Republican state Senate candidate Clark Twiddy and GOP state House candidate Candice Hunter both said they oppose subsidies for renewable energy.
State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, who faces Twiddy in the May 8 GOP primary in the 1st Senate District, defended renewable energy as part of an overall energy strategy and said subsidies are a small part of some $980 million a year in subsidies that go to energy giant Duke Energy.
Eddy Goodwin, a Chowan Republican who is challenging Hunter for the 1st District N.C. House seat in their party’s primary, and Ronald Wesson, a Bertie Democrat who’ll face the winner of the Hunter-Goodwin primary, also made positive comments about renewable energy at Saturday’s forum.
The forum was held at the Camden County Senior Center and also included the three candidates for Camden Clerk of Court and the three candidates for Camden sheriff.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is our future,” Wesson said, referring to renewable energy projects. Wesson said family farms in Bertie County had been kept in the family by renting out part of the land for solar farms.
Goodwin said renewable energy is important to the nation’s energy independence. “I don’t like that my gas is coming from Arab countries,” he said.
The tax investment in counties from renewable energy projects is important and the projects also provide an additional source of income for farmers, Goodwin said.
Goodwin said he agrees that large renewable energy projects shouldn’t be built too close to homes. He downplayed the significance of subsidies.
“What in our federal government and state government is not subsidized?” Goodwin asked.
But Hunter, a former broadcast journalist who described herself as “a big fan of facts,” said the tax benefits from solar projects to counties is overstated. She also claimed that Perquimans and Pasquotank counties took a bad deal on the wind energy project known as Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East. She also said she doesn’t call wind and solar facilities “farms” because they don’t grow anything.
Hunter also said that while some farmers get income from wind or solar projects, farmers pay property tax based on use value rather than the full value of their property.
Pete Gilbert, a leader of the Republican Party in Pasquotank County, asked Hunter what she as a legislator would have been able to do about the deal the counties got on the project.
“They could have done a better deal overall,” Hunter said.
When Gilbert repeated the question, Hunter acknowledged that the counties’ agreement with the wind project’s developer was a local issue. She noted she wasn’t living in Perquimans when the deal was brokered, but had she been, she would have helped the counties negotiate for a better agreement.
“I am here to fight to get the very best and the very most for northeastern North Carolina,” Hunter said.
Goodwin said he hasn’t seen any of the counties turning down the tax revenue they get from the renewable energy projects.
The renewable energy discussion started with a question from audience member Bill Lehmann, a Pasquotank resident.
A pair of questions from audience member Charlie Hughes drew a pointed response from Steinburg. After Steinburg said his work with other legislators had led to tax reductions in the state, Hughes asked how the tax cuts help him in the long run.
Steinburg said lower taxes had created a very favorable business environment that is resulting in the creation of new jobs.
Hughes responded that he’s not seen that result – he’s not seeing new jobs being created.
“Y’all don’t do what you say you’re going to do,” he said.
“Well then sir, you aren’t paying very close attention,” Steinburg replied.
A 600-worker tire plant is locating in Edgecombe County and other jobs are on the way in eastern North Carolina, Steinburg said.
“You’re rolling your eyes – are you listening to me?” Steinburg then asked Hughes.
Hughes said he was listening.
“You obviously are misinformed,” Steinburg said.
During her opening statement, Hunter walked over to Hughes, shook his hand and asked his name. She told Hughes she understood his question to be all about jobs. She said she hears all the time from people that they want their children and grandchildren to be able to get jobs and stay in the community.
She said she would work closely with local officials on economic development.
Wesson said he and the other county commissioners in Bertie have made good strides in ensuring there are jobs for local residents. He said he wants to represent the region in Raleigh to ensure there is state investment in the region.
Twiddy said he favors lower taxes and less regulation. He also said he will listen, adding that it’s an important trait in a legislator.
He said he appreciated the capacity crowd that turned out for Saturday’s forum.
“We the people have a government that is of, by and for the people,” Twiddy said.
Cole Phelps, a Washington County Democrat who will take on the winner of the Steinburg-Twiddy race, did not attend Saturday’s forum. He sent a statement explaining he had a prior commitment to attend a candidates forum in another county.
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