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North Carolina: C'Mon, Raise Up and Defend Clean Energy

Luis Martinez

Posted April 18, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Thumbnail image for SEIA NC graphic.pngI am proud that my state, North Carolina, was the first southern state to enact a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). The REPS works by requiring investor-owned utilities to produce 12.5 percent of their electricity by 2021 using renewable sources and energy efficiency measures. The law is a great first step toward the clean energy future that the vast majority of Americans want. And, already, the law has had tremendous impacts on clean energy development and job creation in North Carolina, with nearly 75 percent of North Carolina companies in the clean energy sector saying that REPS was either ‘very important’ or ‘important’ to the clean energy industry in 2012:

  • Eleven hundred clean energy companies in our state now contribute more than $3.7 billion in annual gross revenue. And between 2007 and 2012, clean energy development led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 jobs.
  • In 2011, North Carolina's renewable sector was responsible for more than 77,000 jobs.

New State, Same Strategy

Despite these facts, opposition groups descended upon North Carolina, spending millions of dollars to push for a repeal “by drowning” in the legislature. (The bill would allow existing hydropower to count as a “new” renewable energy, thereby stopping in its tracks actual new renewable energy development.) Who’s backing them? Out-of-state fossil fuel interests funded by oil billionaires David and Charles Koch

Here’s their strategy, in a nutshell:

  • Bring in fossil-fuel money from out-of-state: The Koch brothers donated big to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the climate-change-denying Heartland Institute. Together, the two groups crafted model legislation to repeal renewable energy standards in nearly two dozen of the 29 states that have such standards on the books.
  • Appoint a bill carrier: Rep. Mike Hager, the Republican majority whip. He has a history with ALEC – he has received campaign contributions from corporate members of ALEC and he’s also a member of the organization.
  • Back opposition up with fuzzy math: The John Locke Foundation, one of North Carolina’s most outspoken climate skeptics, released a report attacking the REPS, making false claims about increased electricity prices and job losses in the state. The organization is founded by Art Pope, who has spent millions fueling North Carolina conservative efforts and was one of four national directors of Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party group that the Koch Brothers fund. Their foundations have also donated $122,472 to the John Locke Foundation directly.

If ALEC’s strategy sounds familiar, that's because it is. ALEC, Koch Industries and their allies tried the same thing in Kansas earlier this legislative season. They failed.

Unearthing Even More Benefits

Along with its economic and jobs benefits, North Carolina’s REPS also helps consumers. A recent study found that in 2012, it lowered residential electric bills, and those savings are expected to more than double within a decade. A comprehensive study authorized by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the state agency charged with monitoring electricity rates, found, in June 2011, that full REPS compliance by all participating utilities would translate to a $500 million savings for the state's electric consumers. Both studies show that the REPS is keeping more money in the pockets of North Carolinian families, farms and businesses.

Efficiency Generates Consumer and Business Savings

The “E” in REPS stands for efficiency. Utilities can meet up to 25 percent of their REPS obligations through energy efficiency practices before 2021, and up to 40 percent after that.  In response to the enactment of the standards in 2007, Duke Energy and Progress Energy initiated energy efficiency measures that resulted in immediate savings for their customers.  Both Duke and Progress achieved greater savings and spent less to attain them than they had predicted.  Electricity consumers conserved over 700 million kWh of energy in the efficiency initiatives' first year alone, a savings that translates in to $70 million annually in reduced electric bills.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports that investment in energy efficiency induces demand for an array of skilled professions, creating work for everyone from construction workers and shipping clerks to engineers and lawyers. Supporting the findings with case studies, ACEEE concludes that, “Energy efficiency jobs span a multitude of industries and reverberate over time throughout economies locally, regionally, and nationally.” Setting energy efficiency standards is smart policy for North Carolina and for any state looking to lower energy costs, stimulate local economies, and create skilled jobs that can't be shipped overseas. 

A Solar Powerhouse

Among all fifty states, North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for solar energy production. That success has been due, in no small part, to the REPS solar provision. It requires NC's three largest investor-owned utilities—Duke Energy, Progress Energy Carolinas, and Dominion North Carolina Power—to source a small percentage of their electricity from solar energy by 2018. (Just 0.2 percent, in fact.) The utilities easily met their 2012 targets, and are now purchasing more than 100 MW in capacity from sun-powered sources. The REPS sparked the creation of new incentives and financing programs for solar development across the state. Retired farmers are now building utility-scale solar arrays on their fallow fields. Schools are mounting solar panels on their roofs, saving money on electricity that they can then devote to educating kids.

In turn, private investment in solar energy has surged, as commercial and residential energy consumers installed more than 1,000 new photovoltaic (PV) systems. Conservative estimates conclude that some 3,000 jobs have been created in the four years that the REPS solar provision has been in effect.

Raise Up

All across North Carolina, municipal and state-supported policies, incentives, and programs are encouraging renewable energy development. The REPS helps families, businesses and farmers make their homes, workplaces and farms more energy efficient. Clean energy policies allow us to run on the renewable energy North Carolinians want. The REPS is the driving force behind new jobs and economic development that have helped our financially hard-hit state. North Carolina: This is our opportunity to “raise up.” Push back against out-of-state fossil-fuel-funded interests. They’re out of touch with the benefits clean energy.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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