It appears ALEC has instructed Pat McCrory to weaken our Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. McCrory’s comments weren’t conclusive, but they used enough right-wing code words like “role of government” to communicate a destructive intent. We’d better get ready for another wearying battle to defend progress. The Renewable Energy Standard must be kept, and every argument against it is specious or ignorant.
The Standard requires utility companies (nowadays, one utility company) to produce 12.5% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. This is an exceptionally modest request–New York requires 30% by 2015. But despite its small scale, the Standard has already produced more utility-scale solar farms than any other state. Along with an expanding capacity, we’ve achieved the second-highest Green Jobs growth rate in the U.S. for two straight years. Solar energy offers far greater job-creation potential than fracking, which only creates one-third of the jobs per dollar invested.
The Standard is necessary to sustain this trend. In the short run, it’s cheaper for utilities to invest in greater coal capacity. That’s because every high-tech industry requires government assistance to get off the ground. Once Solar achieves significant momentum, though, experts think it will be at least as cheap as coal very soon. It will create twice as many jobs and spur much more technological innovation.
Republicans’ main anti-renewables talking point is that these sources are “too expensive” and “uncompetitive.” But the GOP doesn’t care about electricity costs. This year’s tax “reform” bill levied taxes on utility bills. McCrory, a wholly owned subsidiary of Duke Energy, didn’t speak out against his patron’s 4.5% rate increase. And they all aggressively support new nuclear plants, whose generation costs are three times current electricity rates.
Lingering below the “cost” argument is free-market fundamentalism. Since it currently requires support, they view clean energy as morally debased. That is no reason to kill a growth industry. The fact is, high-tech industries emerge with help from the public sector. The Wright Brothers themselves benefited from key government contracts.
The Renewable Energy Standard, then, has catalyzed the creation of over 15,000 permanent jobs and is key to sustaining the industry’s momentum. No empirically minded person should oppose the policy. It sounds crude to say so, but the Energy Standard debate shows just how fickle and venal McCrory really is. Earlier this year, he was declaring “Solar Energy Month.” Then a special-interest group came by and he agreed to kneecap the industry.
Somebody needs to knock some sense into the guy, if it’s possible.
*Unless individually linked, most data points in this article come from this brochure.