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Tim White: Ideologues punish renewable energy's success

The irony is contained in what's not in the budget: a continuation of the state's renewable-energy tax credit. Until now, North Carolina has been a national leader in adopting alternative energy, especially solar. If you drive through farm country around here, you've seen it – thousands of acres covered by photovoltaic panels aimed to take best advantage of our abundant sunshine.

The tax credit helped foster the industry through its infancy and into growing competitiveness. The installation of solar farms has created thousands of jobs and sent lucrative lease payments to farmers who have taken loss after loss as former cash crops like cotton and tobacco have lost their value.

But at the end of this year, the tax credits will be gone. And so will the solar-energy companies, who will likely flee to neighboring states that saw our success and implemented their own alternative-energy incentives.

Why are our legislative leaders so determined to undermine success? For the same reason they dismantled other tax-credit programs: They're ideologues, not pragmatists, and they're determined to impose their politics on all of us, even if it sends jobs elsewhere – as it already has in the film industry, which has moved its Southern epicenter from Wilmington to Atlanta. Georgia prospers as filmmakers pump millions into local economies – money that once fueled thousands of jobs here.

The assault on alternative energy was pushed enthusiastically by the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries that mostly is seeking to fulfill the arch-conservative brothers' agenda – and not coincidentally help the fossil-fuel-related portions of the Koch business empire.

But for the rest of us, it's not about prosperity. Especially in the long term, because no matter what the Koch machine is directing its North Carolina puppets to do, our real prosperity lies in developing the energy sources of the future, not the past. Solar energy is at the threshold of major breakthroughs that will transform American energy sources and policies.

That's why former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is traveling the country and the world to talk about renewable energy, and especially solar. The man who once presided over the country's largest investment in power plants running on fossil fuels said in a WUNC interview earlier this month that, “I believe that solar electricity will be cheaper than building huge central station plants, transmission lines and distributions.” Rogers believes this is the way to bring electricity to the rest of the developing world.

And in North Carolina, Rogers reminds us that power plants become obsolete and have to be replaced. Duke is doing that across the state now. Solar technology, he said, may be the right replacement, instead of gas-powered conventional plants.

Just a few months ago, Elon Musk, the billionaire who developed the electric-powered Tesla automobile, unveiled a new battery technology that can turn solar energy into 24/7 power for a home – or scaled up, for a whole community. The system is new and a little pricey yet, but battery technology is evolving fast and getting cheaper with each generation. So is the price of solar panels. We're only a few years away from its being an affordable alternative for most of us who own homes.

And so our leaders have decided to drive the business away. Maybe it's time for the voters to drive some of our lawmakers away. That option is starting to have a lot more appeal.

Tim White is the Observer's editorial page editor. Follow him on Twitter @WhatTimSaid. He can be reached at 486-3504 or You can discuss this column online by going to and clicking on today's column.