Letters to the Editor

Richard Harkrader: Truths about solar and renewable energy

Regarding the June 17 Point of View “Counting the costs of North Carolina’s renewable energy rules”: Readers might think that North Carolina’s national leadership in solar is the worst thing to ever happen and that North Carolina’s law mandating renewable energy and energy efficiency is stealing taxpayers and electric ratepayers blind.

It’s time to say enough of the misleading studies, half-truths and talking only about costs and never about the benefits.

As for what solar detractors say:

▪ Electric rates: They say rates went up 2.5 percent for each of the past five years, much more than the national average, and insist the increase is due to solar and renewable energy. The cost of renewable energy development is listed on everyone’s electric bill and is just 39 cents in the average monthly Duke residential bill of $110.

The real cause of recent electric rate increases is investment in new, conventional generation, especially the new Cliffside coal plant and new gas-fired generation and modernization of the grid. Look at the RTI reports from 2014 and updated in 2015 “The Economic Impact Analysis of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina.” RTI is the same consultant that state government hires to study important public issues. The report found that the N.C. REPS law has saved ratepayers an estimated $162 million to date and will save ratepayers an additional estimated $489 million by 2029.

▪ Property taxes: They say solar farms are not paying property taxes. Solar farms pay full property taxes, often 10 to 100 times more than the previous owner due to solar changing the property use from rural agriculture (which has a property tax deferment) to industrial/commercial use, which pays full property taxes.

Solar farms do pay a reduced rate on the farm’s personal property (the solar equipment) because solar is very capital intensive and taxing it at a full rate would take 33 percent to 100 percent of net income, a tax rate anyone would say is excessive. Overall, a county’s tax revenue increases tens thousands of dollars per year for each solar farm installed because solar farms do not use services.

▪ Tax incentives: They say solar and renewable energy survives only because of tax incentives and should instead compete in a “free market” with the other forms of energy. Actually, there is no “free market” in energy. All other forms – oil, gas, coal and nuclear – receive much more tax incentives than renewable energy.

Renewable energy incentives are just more visible because the incentives for other forms of energy are written permanently into the tax code. The RTI study cited above reports that state and local government from 2007 through 2014 received $1.54 in tax revenues for every $1 in incentives paid to clean energy projects.

▪ Jobs: They say solar and renewable energy development is costing jobs by driving up electric rates. Rates are going up for reasons other than solar, and a 2014 census of clean energy jobs in North Carolina found more than 24,000 full-time equivalent jobs, with 20 percent being new jobs in solar since 2007.

Richard Harkrader

Carolina Solar Energy