Energy policy reform set to emerge as legislative priority

Poll commissioned by renewable energy interest groups finds bipartisan support for clean energy mandates

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
North Carolina is one of the top states in the solar market

RALEIGH — A recent poll of 600 North Carolinians across the political spectrum conducted by Strategic Partners Solution, a Republican campaign consulting firm, found bipartisan support for increasing access to renewable energy and energy efficiency, maintaining or increasing the state’s existing Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) law, and increasing competition and choice for energy purchasing.The results were revealed at a Conservatives for Clean Energy forum Tuesday.”While we have plenty of issues that divide our state, renewable energy isn’t one of them,” said Mark Fleming, president and CEO of Conservatives for Clean Energy. “North Carolina voters see renewable energy as a tremendous opportunity for economic growth for our state, which is already home to over 34,000 jobs across a $7 billion clean energy industry. We need only to look at other states in the Southeast, such as South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, as states pursuing more aggressive clean energy policies.”The poll conducted Feb. 27-28 found that more than half of respondents believe multi-acre solar farm installations positively impact their communities. More than three-quarters of Republicans polled said they were more likely to vote for candidates that supported clean energy initiatives.”At last count, an average of 281 people relocate to North Carolina every day,” said Paul Shumaker, political strategist and president of Capitol Communications. “Many of those transplants see the value of renewable energy and want legislators to make renewables a priority for North Carolina. In addition, our survey revealed both lifelong residents and those who live in rural areas strongly support renewables.”Dee Stewart, another established political insider and president of The Stewart Group, said the alleged positive economic impacts of clean energy drive its popularity.”At the end of the day, North Carolinians care about job creation,” said Stewart. “They have seen the positive economic impact of renewables in their communities and want lawmakers who will help keep the economic momentum driving forward by supporting energy policies where renewable energy growth can be sustained and more communities can benefit.”The poll and public relations blitz by Conservatives for Clean Energy comes as lawmakers work behind the scenes to reform energy policies, such as the percentage of energy utilities are required to get from renewable sources and the favorable property tax abatement afforded projects like solar farms.Renewable energy mandates were passed by the General Assembly in 2007, forcing utilities to leverage alternative energy sources for a certain percentage of their power and handing out taxpayer-funded benefits to providers of those energy sources such as solar farms.Republicans like former House Majority Leader Mike Hager (R-Rutherfordton) later led efforts by conservative lawmakers to repeal or meaningfully reduce what they described as a welfare program for crony capitalism, but the bill was buried in committee by then-Speaker of the N.C. House and current U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.Energy reform legislation is expected to be revealed later this week.