Conservative clean energy leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a landmark solar energy bill that aims to protect and preserve our state’s economic future. While it was disheartening to see an unnecessary, 18-month wind energy moratorium added by the Senate at the last minute to an otherwise solid piece of legislation, the Competitive Energy Solutions for NC bill (HB 589), is still a conservative win on energy reform.
Creating clean and renewable energy that is made and distributed here in North Carolina is good for our economy and consumers. Not only will energy prices and production become more affordable and clean, but also consumers will gain more access to greater energy choices and competition in the marketplace.
Clean Energy’s $18B Impact in NC
Looking at HB 589 through a conservative lens, we see three conservative principles that were furthered by its passage. The first is economic development and growth. The clean energy industry has been an economic boon to North Carolina’s economy. According to a recent RTI study, the clean energy economy has created an $18 billion economic impact in North Carolina. That’s a lot of investments and jobs, that’s a lot of food on the table, that’s a lot of retail spending in cities and towns across our state. It would be difficult to find another industry sector that has grown as rapidly as clean energy has in North Carolina over the last decade, especially in rural communities.
With more than 34,000 North Carolina clean energy jobs, this sector is making a direct economic impact — particularly in some of the most rural, economically challenged counties in our state. In addition to the jobs associated with building renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, North Carolina is also becoming a leader in clean energy manufacturing. Our state has 27 wind turbine component manufacturing facilities alone, and North Carolina made products such as steel is used in the racking systems on which many solar panels are installed.
Clean energy is a strong American and North Carolinian industry. Experts estimate that the solar provisions in House Bill 589 will generate an estimated $15 billion in new investments in our state in the coming years.
Initiating Competitive Energy Markets to Bring Down Costs
Competitive markets bolster stability and lower prices for businesses and consumers. HB 589 opens the door for additional competition in the form of third-party solar leasing for home and business owners, which will make it a lot more accessible for those who can’t or don’t want to buy solar panels upfront.
The legislation is also implementing a proposal process for energy procurement, so that our regulated public utilities will now accept bids from the competitive marketplace.
By encouraging market competition, the cost of clean energy procurement should drop. And as utility companies acquire clean energy at lower costs, they in turn are free to translate those savings into lower costs for consumers.
Building a Stronger and More Secure America
Finally, conservatives want a stronger and more secure America. Support for our military and the men and women who serve are hallmarks of being a conservative. North Carolina is the most military friendly state in the country and the U.S. military supports clean energy. State Representative John Szoka (R-Fayetteville), a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Army, was the primary sponsor of HB 589, and deserves much of the credit for its passage.
The newly signed bill allows the military to work directly with renewable energy developers to purchase the type of renewable energy that makes the most sense for our bases, and sets aside 100 MW of renewable energy for our military.
Some might ask, “why is the military such a strong supporter of clean energy?” Clean energy projects reduce the need for foreign conflict, because it can be produced and distributed here on our own soil. With an increasing domestic clean energy supply (as well as, to be fair, increased domestic production of natural gas, and other fuel sources), we are much less dependent on foreign energy sources.
Clean energy builds mission readiness by providing a cheap, reliable, on-site source of electricity. Because solar is renewable and can be installed off-the-grid, it is indispensable at military bases in and outside the country. In a remote conflict situation, being able to stay put rather than going on a risky fuel resupply mission could mean life or death for our troops. Pointing to these facts, the military has been taking aggressive steps to enlist clean energy power generation.
Clean energy provides jobs to veterans and provides comprehensive training specifically for our vets through scholarships and other fast tracks to high-paying employment. Veterans make up a full 10% of the solar industry, which translates to over 113,000 solar-employed U.S. veterans. Here in North Carolina, Fayetteville Technical Community College is home to the “Solar Ready Vets” program, training veterans for jobs in solar facilities in North Carolina and throughout the country.
Clean Energy — A Mainstream Conservative Value
For economic development reasons, more competitive markets, and a strong and resilient military, it is no wonder that conservatives support clean energy so strongly. A recent poll we commissioned earlier this year found that support for clean energy is strong across conservative groups. 79% of Republicans surveyed said that they were more likely to support a legislator or candidate who supported policies that encouraged renewable energy options such as solar, wind, and waste-to-energy technologies.
The original HB 589 (before the wind energy moratorium was added on) passed the State House 108-11. NC House Speaker Tim Moore, State Representative John Szoka, and State Representative Dean Arp deserve much of the credit for driving the year-long stakeholder process that resulted in an overwhelming vote in the State House. 63 of 74 Republicans (85%) of the House Republican Caucus voted to support this clean energy legislation. The result is further proof that support for clean energy is now a mainstream conservative position.
Support for clean energy makes sense on a number of levels, and there is strong connection between this emerging industry and our most foundational conservative values and principles.
We see these core conservative values at the heart of this bill: