The big news out of Paris about a worldwide agreement on global warming gave a big stage to news coming out of Woodland, a small town in northeastern North Carolina.
Heads of state agreed on fighting climate change by committing their nations to using more energy from renewable courses, but the Woodland town council was having no more of it. The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald reported that the council voted 3-1 against rezoning a property for a solar farm and passed a moratorium on future solar farms. The town has already accepted three.
The vote came after some residents questioned the economic benefits and the health and environmental risks of solar farms. One resident worried that solar farms are sucking up sunshine from adjacent areas and hurting plants and trees.
The story of the little town’s opposition became grist for national reports about how hard it may be to translate the terms of the Paris agreement into local policy. But it’s unfair to imply that the agreement is in danger because of rural towns suspicious of solar arrays. In the United States, the opposition is coming from the highest levels – Republican congressional leaders and the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Almost certain rejection by the Republican-led Congress of any deal caused a fundamental change in the agreement. Instead of making the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory, the agreement makes them voluntary. That change was made to avoid having the agreement require approval by the U.S. Congress, another victory for intransigence over progress.
In North Carolina, a tax break that triggered a boom in solar energy installations will be allowed to expire at the end of this year. Meanwhile, state House Majority Leader Mike Hager, a Rutherford County Republican and former Duke Energy employee, plans another push to end the state’s requirement that utilities increase the amount of power they get from renewable sources.
The Paris agreement reached by representatives of 195 nations unites the world in an urgent effort to hold off climate change and its potentially devastating effects on crops, weather and poor countries. It’s an agreement that the people of Woodland don’t oppose. The town of 766 people in Northampton County is trying solar farms and testing the benefits of turning unused land over to solar arrays.
What’s confusing Woodland is a lack of information, support and leadership from Raleigh and Congress. So long as Republican leaders treat solar and other renewable sources as a threat or a waste, there will be an unnecessary and damaging drag against energy conversion in Woodland and across the United States.