It’s hard to see what’s not to like about North Carolina’s growing renewable energy industry. It’s clean. It creates jobs. It puts idle farm land to profitable use. It’s part of what must be an urgent, global response to climate change.
Yet there are some in the General Assembly determined to halt and even reverse the state’s booming solar power industry and to lower its prospects as a leader in wind power. The legislature has let a state tax credit for renewable energy expire despite its spurring solar power development to a point where North Carolina is a national leader. And this session, there likely will be another push to scrap state rules that require utilities to generate a rising share of their electrical power from renewable sources.
Renewable energy opponents say solar and wind power and other renewable sources should now “stand on their own” without the help of tax credits or other incentives. This ignores the hefty tax subsidies enjoyed by utilities like Duke Energy and the light hand with which they are often regulated by state agencies. But more significantly it denies the public’s stake in finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels not only because of climate change but also to reduce pollutants that immediately affect public health. Duke Energy’s coal ash mess is a case in point.
Another undermining bill
Yet now comes another bill aimed at undermining the renewable energy industry. Republican state Sens. Bill Cook of Beaufort County and Andrew Brock of Davie County are the primary sponsors of a measure that would strangle a clean and promising industry with regulations. The senators’ proposed law, Senate Bill 843, would require that a wind or solar farm be at least 1.5 miles away from the neighboring property line, that solar farms be concealed by a border of vegetation and that wind farms not generate more than 35 decibels of noise – about the sound of a whisper.
Brian O’Hara, who monitors government affairs for Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, the state’s largest solar developer, says that no current solar farms meet the proposed standards and that new ones would be unlikely to be built if the standards were put in place.
“This bill is massive new regulation and essentially a ban on wind and solar in North Carolina,” O’Hara told The News & Observer’s John Murawski in a report on the proposed bill.
Cook said he proposed the changes because constituents have complained that wind turbines could make it hard to sell homes nearby. But the presence of turbines also means construction and maintenance jobs and land sales and rentals for owners of property that might otherwise go unused. That’s certainly true in two other counties in Cook’s district, Perquimans and Pasquotank, where a Spanish developer is building a 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm, the state’s first large-scale wind project.
Fortunately, that economic impact of solar farms has been felt in enough rural counties that other Republican senators appear unlikely to endorse this effort to kill the state’s wind and solar industry. But doing nothing is not enough. The General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory should ignore the fossil fuel lobby that seeks to slow or stop renewable energy and instead create incentives that will continue to fuel the growth of clean energy in North Carolina.