Legislator's bill would be a renewable energy low on Jones Street

May 10, 2013 

We’ve watched for weeks as Republicans now ruling the General Assembly have disassembled Democratic programs, sliced up education, acted to cut the number of poor people eligible for Medicaid and seen to it that jobless citizens will be hit even harder by cuts in unemployment.

But now, it’s getting interesting. Having walloped the minority Democrats at every turn, they’re now fighting with one another. The issue is a bill to dismantle the state’s renewable energy policy, passed with bipartisan support in 2007, which sanely requires that at least 12.5 percent of retail power sales by electric utilities come from renewable energy sources (solar or wind, for example) and energy efficiency programs by 2021, and continue indefinitely. It’s simply an attempt to get the utilities to use cleaner sources of energy, and energy companies don’t even object to it.

In fact, they’ve essentially endorsed it, as have any number of Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly. That might seem a bit unusual these days, but leaders from both sides recognize the value of the policy and it’s relatively low cost to consumers, who pay a bit more on their utility bills to support it.

Enter Mike Hager, a conservative Republican representing western counties Burke and Rutherford, who introduced a bill to kill off the program. (He’s a former Duke Energy employee.) The measure was beaten in committee, and Republicans are among its opponents. But Hager brought it back, and says he’ll keep bringing it back. And on Wednesday afternoon, the bill got through a Senate committee on a voice vote that had Democratic Wake County Sen. Josh Stein loudly warning that, “This is not a banana republic.” The vote, Democrats felt, was a railroad job.

What’s going on here, besides a heap of embarrassment for Republicans?

Apparently, various conservative groups have joined together and decided it’s time to put Republicans on Jones Street through their paces, to make them pass a litmus test to make sure they are ideologically pure. So they want them to support repeal of renewable energy requirements, though this seems more like a hoop through which these groups want members to jump just for fun.

In the process of conducting his little parliamentary show, Hager may lose his privileges to the members’ cafeteria, because he’s making a lot of Republicans mad. They know the law is constructive, and ought to be non-controversial, but they don’t want to be put on the spot about it.

And Hager’s Republican speaker, Thom Tillis, is getting ready to run for the U.S. Senate and doesn’t need to be saddled with the extremist label of “tea partyer,” which is what supporting this silliness might do.

Once again, Republicans are standing under a bright light, showing they’re better at running than governing. They can thank Rep. Hager for this particular spotlight. But he shouldn’t be sitting by the phone.

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