The benefits and dangers of revamping NC's renewable energy policies

Big changes could be on the horizon:

Word that the work of a large stakeholder group of industry and environmental advocates convened in early 2015 to tackle a number of energy issues would likely yield new legislation this session came in a keynote speech Friday by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, at the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment’s Clean Tech Summit in Chapel Hill.

“When that draft bill was shown to the groups who had been part of the collaborative process, everyone got their shorts in a wad,” McGrady said in his remarks. “Surprisingly though, in a very short period of time, the outline of an energy bill is emerging.”

Instead of taking up space on the front page with my usual long-winded rant, follow me below the fold if you're interested:

I've been studying the growth of the Solar industry here in NC (and elsewhere) for the last ten years, and I can tell you with all confidence that growth has been almost exclusively tied to NC's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, in combination with other states' similar mechanisms. In short, we created a demand by instituting minimum production levels of renewable energy for utilities, and the market responded to fill that demand. In the process, production costs of Solar panels and wind turbines have dropped precipitously, which was expected. Those prices would not have dropped in the absence of the REPS' mandates, and we wouldn't have Solar farms scattered across our state, either.

I had a discussion recently with a relatively "new" environmental advocate, someone who had been in the game for about 3 years or so. This person was very excited over the idea of third-party sales of Solar energy to businesses, and downright giddy over the prospect of "community Solar" projects, completely off the grid and owned by the community itself. But she was also completely unaware of even the existence of REPS programs, much less how their formulas worked. And about halfway through my explanation of such, when she discovered the program was market-based and people were making money engaging in it, a sour look of disapproval came over her face.

But that's nothing compared to the sour look she will have if we negotiate away the core elements of our REPS in favor of other ideas, ideas that may be more ideologically pure but lacking in the market "drivers" that have been so successful already. Understand: If we dilute our REPS percentages, we will also be killing 3rd Party Sales before they're even a thing. Here's some background on Solar Renewable Energy Certificates to contemplate:

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are a solar incentive that allows homeowners to sell certificates to their utility. A homeowner will earn one SREC for every 1000 kilowatt hours (kWhs) produced by their solar panel system. An SREC can be worth as much as $300 in certain markets.

SRECs exist as a result of a regulation known as the renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Renewable portfolio standards are state laws that require utilities to produce a specific percentage of their electricity from renewable resources. Nearly 30 states and Washington, D.C. have an RPS, and eight states have a renewable portfolio goal.

To meet their RPS requirements, electricity providers must obtain renewable energy certificates (RECs), which serve as proof that they have either produced renewable electricity themselves or paid someone who is producing renewable electricity for the right to “count” that electricity themselves.

Lowering, capping, or outright removal of those required percentages from our REPS will result in the unraveling of the incentive to invest in a 3rd Party contract. So, if we do trade one for the other, it will be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Those percentages drove the success, and their absence will drive the failure. And being politically naive is not helpful. From the original article:

“It won’t have every aspect that everyone wants addressed,” Szoka said. “But I think it will have the majority of them. The ones that will be left out, I think we can deal with as separate, independent pieces.”

Although participants in the stakeholder process have declined to discuss specifics in the pending legislation, there was a general sense of optimism that a comprehensive plan could be put together.

Allison Eckley, spokesperson for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, or NCSEA, said the bill would be a significant step forward.

“Ten years ago, legislators brought stakeholders together, including NCSEA, to discuss and negotiate a broad range of energy issues, which ultimately resulted in overwhelming, bipartisan support and passage of Senate Bill 3 in 2007 by the North Carolina General Assembly,” Eckley said. “We look forward to similar opportunities to help shape and update our state’s energy goals and policies for the next five to 10 years.”

SB3 was put in place by a majority Democratic Legislature. The difference between 2007 and 2017 as far as Legislative goals and integrity is so vast it can't be measured. And even then, Duke Energy was able to include CWIP (Construction Work In Process), something that had been outlawed since the 1980's, wherein they can make us pay upfront for their power boondoggles like Cliffside and nuke plants. I don't trust Szoka or any other Republicans to chop something out of a bill and give it to us in another one. They have proven (beyond a shadow of a doubt) they can't be trusted, to either do the right thing or even follow through on their own promises.

Diligence, folks. And that includes taking the time to understand how something works, and how it can be undermined.