April 25, 2013
House Bill 298, the bill to repeal the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS), failed to win approval in the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee yesterday. (See an earlier post for background on North Carolina’s renewable energy standard and House Bill 298.)
Although the bill had the backing of conservative political organizations, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives never seemed particularly enthusiastic. The bill won approval of the House Commerce and Job Creation Committee two weeks ago by only a one vote margin even after the bill sponsor revised the bill to wind the REPS program down more slowly.
When the bill reached the Public Utilities and Energy Committee, it had been modified again to push complete repeal of the renewable energy standard out three more years –from 2018 to 2021. A friendly amendment in committee made two additional changes to soften the impact of repeal on renewable energy companies that invested in North Carolina in reliance on the REPS requirement. The amendment removed language allowing electric utilities to use power generated by large hydroelectric projects to meet the REPS standard (returning to language in 2007 legislation creating the REPS requirement). The change was made to prevent large existing hydropower plants operated by Duke Energy and Progress Energy from crowding out new renewable energy sources even before the REPS repeal date. The amendment also extended the time allowed for electric utilities to recover costs associated with renewable energy contracts. Americans for Prosperity again spoke in support of the bill and submitted a letter of support signed by a number of other conservative political organizations.
In spite of those efforts, the motion to approve the bill failed by a vote of 13-18 in a committee dominated by Republican legislators. Republicans voting against the bill included members of the House leadership — Republican Conference Chair Ruth Samuelson and Rules Committee Chair Tim Moore.
The bill failed for a very practical reason — the REPS requirement has brought private investment and jobs to North Carolina at a minimal cost to consumers. “Riders” on electric bills allow the utilities to recover any additional cost of using renewable energy; the riders have never approached caps included in the 2007 REPS legislation. The cost of solar energy in particular has fallen by nearly half as solar companies expanded operations in North Carolina in response to REPS incentives and those costs continue to fall. (Duke Energy’s residential customers now pay 21 cents per month to cover the additional cost of solar energy. In a rate case filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission earlier this year, Duke proposes to take the residential REPS rider to -1 cent. Although Duke Energy has proposed rate increases, those increases are associated with the cost of conventional energy generation.)
At the same time, private investment in response to the renewable energy standard brought jobs to the state. See a 2013 report by Research Triangle Institute/ LaCapra Associates, The Economic, Utility Portfolio, and Rate Impact of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina, for more on the economic impact of the N.C. REPS requirement and state renewable energy tax incentives. A September 2012 clean energy jobs census by the N.C. Sustainable Energy Coalition identified over 15,000 jobs associated with clean energy companies.
Conservative political organizations like Americans for Prosperity have made renewable energy standards a target for repeal nationwide. Given extremely low consumer cost and increased private investment and job creation, there was little in the N.C. REPS experience that could be used as an argument for repeal. Supporters of House Bill 298 increasingly had to rely on an ideological argument against energy subsidies in general. That position has a significant weakness — conventional energy sources (such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power) also benefit from subsidies, but conservative opposition seems to focus only on subsidies for renewable energy. Bill supporters also cited stories of high cost and renewable energy business failures in other states and countries.
Approving House Bill 298 would have required legislators to ignore real economic benefits to the state in favor of an ideological argument against renewable energy subsidies. A majority of committee members chose reality.