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Hotlist 6/19/19: Two attacks on NC’s clean energy potential

Welcome to the first edition of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters’ Hotlist for this session. The Hotlist is a (mostly) weekly email that talks about current environmental topics in our state.

This week’s Hotlist focuses on two stabs at North Carolina’s renewable energy industry: Senate Bill 568, which places unnecessary burdens on the solar market, and Senate Bill 377, which seeks to squelch the progress of wind energy in the name of supposedly protecting our military bases from obstruction.

With SB 568, which covers recycling and restoration of renewable energy equipment, sponsors Newton, Rabon, and Hise claim to be acting as “good stewards of the environment.” But that would be a first — veteran legislators Rabon and Hise hold respective 2% and 3% lifetime environmental scores, as of the 2017-18 NCLCV Legislative Scorecard. In actuality, the group is hindering environmental progress with excessive regulations and costs.

Ensuring proper cleanup, disposal, and recycling of renewable energy material aligns with NCLCV’s goals of reducing fossil fuel dependence, eliminating environmental hazards, and protecting North Carolinians’ health. North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity, and as the costs of harnessing wind and solar energy continue to plummet, it is important to ensure that these clean resources are utilized safely and effectively.

However, this bill attempts to create a remedy for a problem that does not actually exist. This places excess financial burden on renewable energy industries, discouraging future advancement of renewables in North Carolina. It puts a two-year time constraint on removal and cleanup following the end of solar farm operations, and requires financial collateral from owners or operators to assure that proper means are available for such actions. The Solar Energy Industries Association argues that, while programs to promote responsible clean energy decommissioning are a good idea, proper cleanup, disposal, and recycling of old solar panels is already underway. The only real consequence of this bill will be skyrocketing renewable energy costs — and a sucker punch to our state’s economic and environmental progress.

This bill was up for discussion in the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee on June 12th. The committee reported it favorably the next day, despite a number of opposing votes and calls for more thorough research prior to passage.

In an attack on renewable energy which has received even more attention, the Senate revived a ban on new wind farms in eastern North Carolina. In March, Majority Leader Brown introduced SB 377 as a follow-up to a recently expired 18-month moratorium, and sought to place a permanent moratorium on wind energy facilities near military zones. A Senate finance amendment last week has now shortened the time frame to a three-year ban. Bill sponsors claim the state’s military bases are too economically valuable to risk pilot training interference and base shutdown, should turbines pose a significant “vertical obstruction.” The shorter period is intended as a time for review and guideline creation regarding the potential for such interference.

Many stakeholders, including military officials, oppose the ban and call it unnecessary — both the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse and the Federal Aviation Administration already review such safety concerns.

The bill’s supporters have disregarded these assertions, offhandedly floating the idea of ditching the ban altogether, and touting the bill as a “viable compromise.” In committee, Senator Perry said he hopes to ultimately not need the moratorium at all, but sponsors have not committed to making this change in the bill text itself, breeding skepticism in the environmental community. Perry urged everyone to “take a leap of faith,” but an industry cannot survive on promises and hope. The potential to lose viable opportunities for the industry’s growth is a risk we cannot afford to take.

SB 377 passed its second and third readings in the Senate last Wednesday. It quickly moved to the House, and has been referred to the Rules Committee.

We strongly urge legislators to vote “NO” on both SB 568 and SB 377 to protect our state’s vital renewable energy industry.

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