Koch Brothers' tentacles reaching into NC county Solar farm ban

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Backtracking the circuitous path of industry-funded pseudo-science:

Five of the planning board’s nine members present for Tuesday’s meeting voted unanimously to recommend the county’s unified development ordinance be amended to remove solar arrays as a permitted use.

The Planning Board’s recommendation comes in the wake of commissioners’ decision last month to impose a 60-day moratorium on consideration of any more solar farms in the county. Currituck Planning Director Ben Woody cited a number of reasons Tuesday for commissioners’ decision to impose the moratorium. One was a report by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality expressing concern about the loss of agricultural land and jobs in the state, as well as the loss of wildlife habitats.

And here is the first (of many) misleading statements or observations. The report cited did not come from DEQ researchers, it was compiled by the Energy Policy Council, a hodgepodge of business and industry people led by (believe it or not) Lt. Gov. Dan Forest:

The Energy Policy Council has 13 members, with the lieutenant governor designated as the chair. In addition to Lt. Governor Dan Forest, members of the council include:

Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce

Ten public members as follows:

John Brodman, Carteret County: Pine Knoll Shores commissioner and retired Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Energy Policy in the U.S. Department of Energy: a person experienced in oil and gas (appointed by the governor)

George Baldwin, Piedmont Natural Gas, Mecklenburg County: a member representing an investor-owned natural gas public utility (appointed by the Speaker of the House)

Paolo Carollo, Executive Vice President, Beta Renewables USA, Inc., New Hanover County: an energy economist/financier (appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem)

Walt Coleman, Associate General Counsel & Managing Attorney, Chicago Bridge and Iron, Mecklenburg County: an energy policy expert (appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem)

Scott Tew, Executive Director, Ingersoll Rand Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, Mecklenburg County: an industrial energy consumer (appointed by the Speaker of the House)

Carl L. Wilkins, Senior Director of Distribution & Asset Operations, Principal Advisor, Quanta Technology, Wake County: a member knowledgeable in alternative and renewable sources of energy (appointed by the Governor)

Michael T. Van Wingerden, Vice President, Metrolina Greenhouses, Mecklenburg County: a person experienced in trucking, rail or shipping (appointed the governor)

Dr. Herb Eckerlin, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, N.C. State University, Wake County: a member experienced in energy research and development (appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem)

Vernon Cox, Plant Industry Division Director, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Wake County: a member experienced in environmental management (appointed by the Speaker of the House)

Rob Caldwell, Executive Vice President, Duke Energy, Mecklenburg County: a member representing investor-owned electric utilities (appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem)

The report itself dedicates several pages to the myriad benefits of offshore drilling and fracking, two areas where those particular industries doesn't seem even moderately interested in coming to North Carolina. But the industry that *is* interested, and has spent hundreds of millions already in our state, gets a scathing assessment:

In March 2015, Dr. Ryan Yonk, Director of the Institute for Political Economy at Utah State University, presented the findings of a study of North Carolina’s REPS to the EPC. His research showed that the REPS that promotes clean energy development has resulted in 23,739 fewer jobs since 2008 in other sectors of North Carolina’s economy, and twice as much loss in statewide income than the $7 billion
reportedly gained in 2015. It is important to note that neither the 2015 NCCEC nor the Utah State University REPS study examined both the benefits and the costs of the REPS.

For future reference, when you see an "Institute" from some far-off University quoted, it's a good bet it is Koch-funded, and its findings should be taken with a grain of salt:

A new report claiming to assess the true cost of wind energy builds on the mistakes of a Newsweek article that resulted in several corrections and disclosures to be appended to it.

The study was published by the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University, which is funded by the Koch brothers, along with Strata Policy, an organization founded by Randy Simmons who is a professor at the Koch-funded institute. Simmons previously published a piece at Newsweek also claiming to assess the true cost of wind energy, but the errors and blatant attempt at hiding his Koch funding led to an uproar that led Newsweek to make several corrections, add disclosure of his funding, and publish a rebuttal piece on The True Benefits of Wind Power. This time around co-author Ryan Yonk, also a part of the Koch-funded institute at Utah State, is serving as the public face of the study, but is promoting the same misleading claims about wind power.

The Koch-funded study also greatly exaggerates the number of programs that support renewable energy, as most of the programs listed actually supported renewable energy writ large or “other activities.”

Renewable Portfolio Standards bring significant benefits at little cost. The study also cites a similarly Koch-linked group, the Institute for Energy Research, to claim that states with Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have significantly higher electric rates. However, this claim has also been debunked by DBL Investors, which found that the states with the most renewable energy actually had lower electric rates than the national average.

That Newsweek fiasco occurred in early 2015, and if nobody on the Energy Policy Council (especially the academics) was aware of the blatant conflicts of interest associated with this "Institute," then shame on them for not vetting their sources. If (as I suspect) some of them were aware, and chose not to share that with their fellow Council members, then mere shame doesn't cover it. That's government sanctioned fraud and misinformation, and they need to be excoriated for it.

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More on Herb Eckerlin:

He appears to be either a "hired gun" for anti-Solar activists like JLF/Civitas, or a fanatic himself. Either way, he's been poking into local government meetings to throw his academic weight behind anti-Solar efforts. Moore County:

Ms. Sara Webster of 1145 Union Church Road stated that she is concerned with the
hazardous chemicals used in the solar panels and the value of property in the area. Ms. Webster requested add itional conditions be made if the Board agrees to recommend approval. Ms. Webster submitted a packet of information for the record. Board Member McLeod asked where Ms. Webster’s property was and Mr. Webster explained through the map provided. McLeod further asked about the chemicals that are used that she found during her research. Ms. Webster explained that it depends on where they come from but cadmium and silicone is ones she remembered.

Dr. Herb Eckerlin a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor at NC State spoke on behalf of the Webster’s. Dr. Eckerlin provided testimony regarding the herbicides that are used, declining property values, broken panels, and the specific panels that are installed versus part of an application. Board Member Garrison asked if Mr. Eckerlin had any data regarding his testimony and Mr. Eckerlin stated he did not.

Sampson County:

Planning & Zoning – Solar Farms Planning Director Mary Rose provided an overview on how the County currently addresses requests for solar farms, noting that they are treated as a special use wherein the Planning Board reviews each application and a site specific plan for which conditions can be added as necessary to lessen the impact of the farm on adjoining property. Ms. Rose discussed the absence of potential land use impacts noted to date. Mr. Ronnie Jackson, Chairman of the Friends of
Agriculture asked to address the Board on this issue, explaining his concerns with the loss of prime farmland and potential environmental concerns including the potential for hazardous waste after the expected life span of a solar farm is reached without required plans for disassembly. He offered inform
ation regarding concerns from NCSU Professor Herbert Eckerlin and noted that Dr. Eckerlin would be willing to come to provide additional information. Mr. Jackson was asked if the Friends of Agriculture had
taken a position on the matter, and he said they had not yet. Commissioner Wooten expressed great respect for Mr. Jackson and his concerns, but noted his own concern about placing any additional requirements or restrictions on landowners. Commissioner Kirby noted concerns about land owners being told what they could do with their land, and Mr. Jackson noted he shared such concerns, but additional information is needed on potential hazards from someone other than the solar energy companies.

Currituck County:

Mr. Chuck Loller, attorney representing property owners living adjacent to the project, spoke of the uncertainties surrounding the project, noting that although the burden is with the applicant to show otherwise, they will demonstrate that the use will endanger public safety, will injure abutting lands and is not in harmony with the area nor in conformity with the land use plan. He said the state of North Carolina Division of Water Quality is just beginning to address the lack of oversight of solar farms and introduced experts that will testify.

Dr. Herb Eckerlin, professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University, began by providing a summary of his qualifications related to solar energy. Dr. Eckerlin said he is a proponent of solar power, named the different types of solar energy, and explained the intermittent nature of a solar farm. He noted their average production of 5 hours a day with no production on rainy days or at night, and that they rely on traditional power. He spoke about subsidies and how they are what brings solar developers to North Carolina. He said Grandy and Currituck County would get very little benefit out of solar development, and talked of solar energy's impact on power bills by comparing local energy costs at 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) with green energy areas such as California at .13 cents and Germany at .29 cents per kwh. He spoke to sustainability and the life of a solar farm, posing the question as to what happens after decommissioning. He referred to state legislation which provides for solar arrays to be treated as special projects, and said there is no state oversight or regulation. He said many panels come from China and no one really knows the composition. Dr. Eckerlin believes a moratorium should be placed on solar arrays until the state has had time to address issues.

Attorney Fox objected to portions of Dr. Eckerlin's testimony as being both irrelevant to the proceeding and hearsay. Chairman Griggs noted the objections for the record.

Dr. Eckerlin responded to questions posed by Mr. Fox pertaining to his previous testimony about the cost of energy in other states. Mr. Fox suggested the information was not based on personal knowledge and asked that the testimony be stricken. Attorney Fox suggested Mr. Eckerlin has a philosophical opposition to solar farms and is not relevant to the application. Attorney Lollar addressed the fact that the applicant's presentation was also based on hearsay, and Dr. Eckerlin's testimony rebuts the testimony given by the applicants experts related to value.

Yeah, he's all over the place. Meaning (very likely), that somebody is paying him to actively oppose solar farms wherever they might spring up.