Thursday, August 30, 2007

Renewable Energy

North Carolina took a major step forward this year in environmental policy in Senate Bill 3 by establishing a requirement that North Carolina power utilities get at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources -- such as wind, biomass, and solar energy -- and energy efficiency by 2021. A utility must meet at least 7.5 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy sources and can meet as much as 5 percent from improved efficiencies. The REPS has minimum set aside requirements for power from poultry waste, swine waste, and solar energy. The solar set aside is important in creating a market in NC for the solar industry, but the animal waste set asides are troubling. The swine set aside may result in perpetuating a flawed and polluting lagoon and sprayfield system for handling the waste, which has made life intolerable for neighbors of many of the industrial-sized hog farms. Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield and I pushed to amend the bill on the House floor to require that those farms meet certain performance standards, but the effort failed.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 3 started out as a renewable energy bill similar to House Bill 77 that I sponsored with Representatives Martin, Harrell, and Justice, became a broader base load financing bill. It contains provisions which make it easier to construct new nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bill was the subject of months of negotiations, and it became clear that it would be difficult to pass an REPS without the utilities sweeteners. We worked hard with environmental, health, and public interest advocates to soften the baseload provisions and in the final analysis, the good outweighed the bad. The bill is expected to help cut our carbon emissions by 13 million tons and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The REPS will also expand the market for renewable energy, and is predicted to create as many as 20,000 jobs. Governor Easley signed the bill into law two weeks ago, and I am proud that North Carolina is now the first state in the Southeast with a renewable energy standard.

Sentate Bill 3 also changes our renewable energy tax credit to now allow a donor to a non-profit to take advantage of the tax credit that would otherwise be available to the non-profit. This should encourage churches and other non-profits to pursue more aggressive renewable energy options, such as solar panels.

Our budget ensures the future of the State Energy Office, the state's lead agency for energy programs and services, by appropriating nearly $2.7 million from the general fund for operating costs. Nearly $2 million of the money will be used for a utility savings initiative and to support the operation of energy centers at North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Appalachian State University. The state also gave the office $5 million for a reserve fund to support energy efficiency in state buildings. Readers may remember that the Senate proposed cutting funding, but the House leadership, the Governor, energy advocates, and I pushed hard for this funding.

A new law prevents municipalities or neighborhood associations from banning the use of solar panels. The panels use the heat of the sun to produce energy. They are sometimes banned because they are considered unsightly, but a bill, Senate Bill 670 signed into law last month prohibits outright bans while still allowing reasonable rules about where the panels can be located. Representative Susan Fisher and I sponsored the House companion, House Bill 1187.

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