by Jane Porter
The Affordable and Reliable Energy Act (House Bill 298), which would repeal the provisions in 2007's Senate Bill 3 mandating that a portion of electricity sold by utilities companies be from renewable sources—is gaining traction in the General Assembly.
At a public hearing today, the Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Energy and Emerging Markets approved a revised version of the bill by an 11-10 vote.
Speakers who oppose the bill, including clean energy business leaders, farmers and energy experts, say HB 298 will undermine North Carolina’s expanding clean energy industry, which has generated $1.7 billion and more than 20,000 jobs in the state since Senate Bill 3’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standards (REPS) laws have been in place.
John Morrison, chief operations officer at Chapel Hill’s Strata Solar, said North Carolina is on track to becoming the fourth-largest solar energy provider in the country. “House Bill 298 sends the message to the investment community that North Carolina is no longer open for business for solar investors,” Morrison said.
HB 298 sponsor Rep. Mike Hager, and speakers from conservative political advocacy groups Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, argued that ratepayers are unduly burdened by REPS that factor into their power bills.
Duke Energy media spokesperson Jeff Brooks said yesterday that the charges passed along to ratepayers by utilities companies for complying with REPS laws are small. Utilities companies may charge ratepayers only up to $12 a year for compliance with REPS; currently they are charging roughly half that. Progress Energy Carolinas customers pay 56 cents a month, while Duke Energy Carolinas customers pay 22 cents a month to cover REPS.
Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, said, “Today, by a one-vote margin, a divided House subcommittee turned its back on hundreds of small business owners and thousands of jobs. Today’s vote was a triumph of right wing ideology over investment in our economy, environment and positioning our state for future prosperity.”