Gov. Pat McCrory embraces solar power

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2013 

— Republican Gov. Pat McCrory endorsed solar energy – and the incentive policies that support solar and other renewables – in a public show of support for programs that some lawmakers in his own party have vowed to dismantle.

McCrory stood before a solar farm recently built in Wake County on Tuesday and said he was “speaking to the choir” about the importance of the solar industry to North Carolina’s economy and environment.

The governor, a former employee of Duke Energy, then declared June to be Solar Energy Month, and he noted that North Carolina is ranked as the fifth-largest solar developer in the country. McCrory spoke to representatives of environmentalist organizations and the solar industry who in recent months have been scrambling to salvage state environmental policies that have been targeted for rollback by conservative critics in the legislature.

“We think the energy business, alongside with agriculture, will help North Carolina get out of this recession,” McCrory said.

McCrory was careful to emphasize that he supports an “all of the above” approach to energy development, including shale gas exploration, offshore drilling and offshore wind farms. But he has also taken the position that diversified energy resources are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

McCrory chose the 5-megawatt Fuquay Farm in Willow Spring, built this year by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, as the backdrop for Tuesday’s photo opportunity. He said he has had friendly meetings with officials from three solar developers – Strata Solar, Southern Energy Management in Morrisville, and FLS Energy in Asheville.

Strata Solar CEO Markus Wilhelm, who counts his company among the largest solar developers in the nation, said North Carolina’s solar renaissance is “something that only happened because the state’s been very supportive of renewable energy.”

Wilhelm embraced McCrory as “a friend of our industry” for supporting those policies.

Legislative resistance

McCrory made his solar proclamation at a time that some Republican lawmakers have targeted two policies that have given the state’s fledgling solar industry a financial leg up.

One is the state tax credit that covers 35 percent of the cost of a solar farms and other renewable projects, up to $2.5 million. Tax reform proposals now under discussion by lawmakers would allow that subsidy to expire at the end of 2015.

The other is the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, enacted in 2007. It requires electric utilities to offset retail power sales with clean energy and allows the utilities to charge customers extra for that power if necessary.

Legislation pending in the House and Senate would end the state’s renewables policy. But the bills have stalled in both chambers, and McCrory said that legislative effort “has died at this time.”

Phasing out subsidies

However, McCrory said that subsidies for renewables can’t last forever and will eventually have to be phased out.

“At some point in time, you’ll have to stand on our own,” McCrory told the solar community.

He explained that he opposes suddenly eliminating state incentives because abrupt policy changes make investors jittery and less likely to finance new projects and create jobs.

Stephen Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Solar Center, said he’s frustrated with those who get worked up over solar subsidies but turn a blind eye to subsidies for the oil and nuclear industries.

“This was a policy designed to start the industry, which is what actually happened,” Wilhelm said of North Carolina’s incentives programs. “The energy policy of the state has not created a bubble.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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