Under the Dome

House OKs freeze on renewable energy goals

The state House approved legislation Wednesday potentially clouding the future of North Carolina’s solar energy industry.

A provision in a bill making changes to a wide range of regulations would freeze the requirement that electric utilities use increasing amounts of renewable energy. The provision could also make it harder to launch new solar projects, and it would reduce what had been a guaranteed market for renewable energy.

The provision’s backers say it would prevent utilities from having to buy energy that they don’t need, and that it would address their opposition to giving a specific industry special advantages. The freeze would be in effect until it could be studied.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, unsuccessfully tried to lift the freeze on the current 6 percent of energy that must come from renewables, which rises to 12.5 percent by 2020 under the current law. Harrison said the renewable energy industry has brought to the state 25,000 jobs, billions of dollars in investments in all counties and jobs that aren’t outsourced, all for a small cost on utility bills.

But Rep. Jeff Collins, a Republican from Rocky Mount, disagreed with her numbers. He said the state handed out more than $281 million in tax credits, primarily to solar farms, over three years with few additional jobs to show for us.

“There’s no way in the world you could have spent $281 million on anything else in North Carolina and not come up with more jobs than we have in this particular field.”

At more than 25 pages, House Bill 760 covered a lot of other ground, too:

▪ Would give local government the authority to require wider buffers that protect streams than the state requires, but allow that property to be counted toward offsetting environmental damage.

▪ Restrict the authority of state wildlife officers to inspect hunters’ and fishing anglers’ weapons and equipment.

▪ Prohibit licensing boards from using investigators to look into claims who are employed in the same field. Bill sponsors say some boards have used investigators to go after companies that they are in competition with.

The bill passed on a vote of 77-32, with seven Democrats joining Republicans, and now goes to the Senate.