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Is renewable energy law good for N.C.? Yes

YES: Getting rid of it would be turning our backs on job growth

By John Robbins
Special to the Observer

Clean energy is helping North Carolina’s economy and creating jobs in and around Charlotte. One of the drivers of this economic growth has been the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or REPS, which in 2007 passed with a nearly unanimous, bipartisan vote.

Under the standard, utilities obtain a portion of their power from clean, renewable sources of energy like solar. REPS has done more than just reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, improve our air quality, and protect our children’s health. It also has helped drive an estimated $1.7 billion in economic growth in our state and helped create tens of thousands of new N.C. jobs.

In a vote Wednesday, many state legislators turned their backs on this economic growth and all of REPS’ other advantages. These lawmakers also turned their backs on the state constitution, which requires legislators to “control and limit the pollution of our air and waters.” In an 11-10 vote, the House Commerce Committee voted to repeal the law. I applaud the 10, including Mecklenburg’s Republican Rep. Ruth Samuelson, who had the courage and wisdom to vote No.

This bill, and its Senate counterpart, are bad for all of us. According to the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), North Carolina has recently emerged as a leader in clean tech jobs. In 2012, more than 10,800 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in North Carolina. In a state with a 9.4 percent unemployment rate, we need such policies that create jobs, not kill them.

A healthy number of these jobs are in the Charlotte region, including manufacturing giant Parker Hannifin, which is siting a new division for wind and solar components that will grow to 200 employees. Schletter is siting a solar plant here that will employ 300. Without a robust local market, we will lose these businesses, as well as the solar farms and clean energy installations such as at the new Apple plant in nearby Maiden. Projects like these are happening all across North Carolina, including rural areas hit hard by the recession.

Beyond creating jobs, energy efficiency standards that are part of the REPS will save N.C. electric customers a total of $173 million by 2026, according to a recent report by RTI International and LaCapra Associates, as fossil fuel costs rise and renewable energy costs decline. Duke recently reduced its allowed renewable energy rate charge to a refund.

With so many good jobs growing here and more savings for consumers on the way, it’s not surprising North Carolinians overwhelmingly support our clean energy law. A recent statewide public opinion survey conducted by Fallon Research found that nearly 83 percent of North Carolinians – including 76 percent of Republicans – said state leaders and elected officials should seek more clean and renewable energy sources.

In contrast to the anti-clean energy policy of many of our elected officials, I point to New Jersey. NJ’s REPS standard is guiding expansion of its clean and renewable energies. New Jersey’s enlightened administration recognizes the economic and environmental factors. In addition, and very importantly, New Jersey recognizes that these power generation tools allow a more distributed and therefore more resilient energy network.

Policies like REPS earn overwhelming support because they work. We all need to provide that support by fighting the current backward mentality in our legislature.

Legislators will have another chance to get it right as the anti-renewable energy bill moves to the Environment Committee. They need to look hard at how clean energy is creating jobs and economic opportunity in Charlotte and beyond.

John Robbins of Concord is the president of Greathorn Development Co. He is a member of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity. He is also vice chair of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.
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