N.C. unwisely looking to fit dirty fuels into clean energy standards

Farms like the one above rent land for solar installations to generate additional income. (© iStock)

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Energy Policy Council will consider what can only be described as a “dirty energy portfolio standard.” The North Carolina Energy Policy Council falls under the purview of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), includes administrative and legislative appointees, and makes reports and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the Council’s latest proposal would undermine North Carolina’s strong clean energy economy, driven by the state’s existing Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS).

In contrast to REPS, the Dirty Energy Portfolio Standard would allow non-renewable natural gas and nuclear energy to count towards the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requirements, a move which clearly undermines the renewable energy portfolio’s intent. Despite the Energy Policy Council’s stated goal to “promote growth and job creation,” this proposal would jeopardize thousands of renewable energy jobs, including over 4,000 solar jobs, created in North Carolina by the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which was passed almost unanimously by the state’s General Assembly in 2007. DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, who sits on the Energy Policy Council, initially proposed the Dirty Energy Portfolio Standard (which he calls the “Clean Energy Portfolio Standard”) at a subcommittee meeting earlier this month.

The Dirty Energy Portfolio Standard unwisely incentivizes more outdated, polluting sources of electricity generation and undercuts the benefits of North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. The REPS has already saved North Carolina ratepayers an estimated $162 million and is expected to save ratepayers $651 million in the long run. Businesses in North Carolina, ranging from Google, Facebook, and Apple to agricultural business leaders, have all written the state legislative leadership to express their support for continued strong North Carolina renewable energy policies and how important the availability of clean, renewable energy is to their businesses.

These letters supporting renewable energy by tech and agricultural business leaders makes even more puzzling another proposal by the Energy Policy Council that would make permit requirements more difficult for North Carolina solar installations. Solar installations help many companies in the state reach their corporate sustainability goals and often provide alternative and steady sources of income for North Carolina farmers.

Discussion on the proposed change to the state standards will take place at the council’s meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Talley Student Center on the N.C. State campus in Raleigh.

Post-meeting update: Members of the industry-heavy Energy Policy Council had too many questions and concerns in the meeting about committee recommendations that would put the brakes on renewable energy in the state. The proposals were sent back to committee to address the numerous and significant concerns.

Read WRAL's coverage of the meeting here.

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