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Jim Rogers criticizes N.C. legislature for 'moving into the past' on energy policy

Former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers came down hard today on the N.C. General Assembly for proposals that could gut the state’s solar and renewable-energy industry.

In his keynote speech at the annual Energy Inc. Conference in Charlotte, Rogers said lawmakers “are moving not into the future, but into the past.”

“I say shame on us for not being focused on the technology of the 21st century. Shame on us for turning our backs on this industry growing here,” he told the crowd of about 420 attendees at The Westin Charlotte. ”Shame on us for letting the legislature move in that direction.”

CBJ reporter Erik Spanberg (right) interviews John Skvarla, the recently installed head of the N.C. Commerce Department, on stage and before the crowd at Energy Inc.

Challenged vote

On Wednesday, state Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) pushed a bill through the Senate Finance Committee that's seen as attacking the state’s solar industry in particular.

The legislation moved through the committee on a highly controversial voice vote. Even some Republicans on the committee said the bill appeared to lose on the voice vote, the News & Observer reported Thursday morning. But Rucho, who co-chairs the committee, refused to have a roll call vote and announced the bill had been approved.

A lot of attention has been focused on the bill's provision that would freeze state mandates for renewable energy production at the current 6 percent level, changing an existing law that raises that requirement in steps to 12.5 percent in 2021.

But the bill, which has already passed the N.C. House, has two other provisions that could deal a greater blow to renewable energy development.

Crippling solar?

The bill would cut the amount of money utilities pay renewable-energy projects for the electricity they produce. And it would severely reduce the size of projects that qualify for standard contracts — eliminating support the 5-megawatt utility-scale solar projects that have pushed North Carolina to fourth place nationally in solar power.

“I was sad to pick up the paper this morning and read what the legislature did yesterday,” Rogers said.

He said the solar industry employs more than 6,000 workers in North Carolina now. He said it's an industry that deserves the support the state has given it.

Largely upbeat

Rogers was largely upbeat in his keynote speech for the annual conference sponsored by the Charlotte Business Journal and the energy industry organization E4 Carolinas.

He said North Carolina is building the venture capital capacity to support more investment in the energy industry in the state. He said the power industry's manufacturing base in the state continues to grow, and it ranges across the categories of traditional and renewable energy sources.

He praised the decision of Duke and Piedmont Natural Gas to join Dominion Resources and AGL Resources to build a 550-mile natural gas pipeline to bring fuel from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to Virginia and southeastern North Carolina.

Off script

The $5 billion pipeline is designed to transport 1.5 million cubic-feet of gas daily. “When I see a pipeline that size being built here, that’s cool,” he said.

But Rogers said the actions in the legislature forced him to “go off script” and object to what lawmakers are attempting.

“What this requires is that we all get on the phone to our representatives and demand that they focus on the future,” he said.