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House bill aims to freeze solar energy standard


House Bill 332, which has passed in the North Carolina House, would freeze North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard.



This standard, enacted in 2007, requires utility companies like Duke Energy to sell more renewable energy each year. The act has a goal of 12.5 percent by 2021 but will remain at six percent if the bill is passed.



North Carolina is currently the top state for solar energy capacity in the southeast and fourth in the nation. Mary Maclean Asbill, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, said in an email that clean renewable energy has benefited North Carolina immensely, bringing 24,000 jobs to the state.



“This bill is job-killing legislation. The exact opposite of what this General Assembly says is its main mission,” she said.



The bill contains an additional measure that would decrease the size of solar farms eligible for standard contracts with utility companies.



Currently, solar companies larger than five megawatts have to negotiate a rate with utility companies, while smaller farms are given a standard contract. Under House Bill 332, the qualifying size of farms would be lowered to 100 kilowatts.



Monica Embrey, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said solar companies are less likely to build in North Carolina without the protection of a fixed rate since most companies must sell through Duke Energy, which has a legal utility monopoly in most of the state.



“The company has to negotiate with Duke Energy how much they’ll get paid for their farming,” she said. “And these are small mom and pop companies.”



Without the required increase each year, Embrey said it is unlikely that utility companies like Duke Energy will pursue clean energy.



“Right now Duke Energy is overwhelmingly dirty fossil fuels and nuclear power plants,” she said.



As the company moves away from depending on coal, Embrey said they will replace it with natural gas instead of solar energy.



The bill is supported by those who believe that the 2007 RPS mandate wrongfully forces utility companies to use high cost energy sources and increases consumers’ energy bills in order to subsidize the solar industry.



Mitch Kokai, spokesman at the John Locke Foundation, said in an email that the bill scales back the 2007 high cost energy mandate.



“There’s no good reason for ratepayers or taxpayers to be forced to subsidize any particular industry,” he said.



“If the solar companies depend on government handouts for their survival, then they should be allowed to disappear along with the mandate.”