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NC General Assembly sees flood of energy bills

Legislators introduced six bills concerning energy last Tuesday, a tenth of all the energy bills proposed so far this year. Most focused on job creation through the energy sector instead of environmental regulation as they had under the Democratic majority.

Energy bills flooded the N.C. General Assembly last Tuesday, the final day to file major legislation this year. But with the budget crisis and the Republican majority, the bills have a different focus than they have had in the past.

Legislators introduced six bills concerning energy last Tuesday, a tenth of all the energy bills proposed so far this year. Most focused on job creation through the energy sector instead of environmental regulation as they had under the Democratic majority.

The last session of the General Assembly, which was dominated by Democrats, heard 195 bills dealing with energy, 27 of which became law. The year before, about 20 of the nearly 150 energy bills became law.

"There was sort of a golden age of environmental bills," said N.C. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, who has introduced a bill that would improve energy efficiency in buildings around the state.

She said the bill is not likely to pass.

"We've seen less energy legislation over the course of the last year," said Margaret Hartzell, policy advocate at Environment North Carolina. "We're having to defend more of our environmental protections, but there are a few good things... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Energy bills flooded the N.C. General Assembly last Tuesday, the final day to file major legislation this year. But with the budget crisis and the Republican majority, the bills have a different focus than they have had in the past.

Legislators introduced six bills concerning energy last Tuesday, a tenth of all the energy bills proposed so far this year. Most focused on job creation through the energy sector instead of environmental regulation as they had under the Democratic majority.

The last session of the General Assembly, which was dominated by Democrats, heard 195 bills dealing with energy, 27 of which became law. The year before, about 20 of the nearly 150 energy bills became law.

"There was sort of a golden age of environmental bills," said N.C. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, who has introduced a bill that would improve energy efficiency in buildings around the state.

She said the bill is not likely to pass.

"We've seen less energy legislation over the course of the last year," said Margaret Hartzell, policy advocate at Environment North Carolina. "We're having to defend more of our environmental protections, but there are a few good things coming out."

Cuts to energy budget

Gov. Bev Perdue's budget proposal would cut more than $50.5 million from the Low-Income Energy Assistance Block grant, which provides free services like heating equipment repair to improve homes' energy efficiency. The total funding for the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources would see a 14 percent cut.

The N.C. Green Business Fund, established in 2007 to give grants to small businesses for innovative green technology or efficiency efforts, also has concerns about its future funding.

In 2009, the state appropriated $1 million to the agency, but federal stimulus funds have provided funding since 2010. That money will expire next year, and the agency will again have to get its funding from the state.

It will attempt to educate the General Assembly, especially the many new lawmakers, about its mission and try to maintain funding next year, said John Hardin, executive director of the N.C. Board of Science and Technology, which operates the N.C. Green Business Fund. But the budget crisis means some programs lose funding, and Hardin said he is worried the party makeup of the legislature won't work in the agency's favor.

"It's difficult to predict - this is the type of project that is more favored by Democrats, but this program favors small businesses," Hardin said of next year's funding.

But Jim Warren, executive director of environmental agency NC WARN, said while some budget cuts are inevitable, the party makeup and new legislators could offer a new perspective to the energy debate.

"Duke and Progress Energy have held enormous influence over both parties in this state for a long time," he said. "In some ways, the majority party now is showing some independence from those companies, but you don't know how that's going to play out."

Bills and their potential

Hoping to create jobs and improve the state's economy, and with it, the state's budget, lawmakers are pushing to harness the coast's energy potential and do away with regulations that might burden companies like Progress and Duke.

The Energy Jobs Act, sponsored by three Republican senators, would create a commission to find energy job opportunities in the state, and more controversially, open the coast to offshore exploration for natural gas and wind power development.

Natural gas and hydrocarbon production alone could add 6,700 jobs to the state, according to the Southeast Energy Alliance.

If the federal government shared revenues from energy production, the state would earn about $484 million a year, according to the report.

But offshore drilling has its risks, as the Gulf of Mexico spill showed exactly a year before this bill was proposed.

"The lesson of the oil spill in the Gulf reminds us once again that drilling for oil and gas is high-risk for North Carolina," said Molly Diggins, state director for the Sierra Club.

Perdue, a Democrat, supports the legislation.

"It is imperative that North Carolina have the opportunity to share in the profits and not limit our options to pursue alternative energy solutions such as wind power," she said in a press release.

Another bill, titled Offshore Wind Jobs and Economic Development, would pursue wind power more aggressively, requiring the state to begin producing it by 2017.

The bill would require power companies to make long-term plans for building wind farms - totalling 2,500 megawatts in about 10 years.

"If we can get out ahead of other states in this regard, then we can become the state where manufacturers for wind turbines want to locate," said N.C. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.

North Carolina's wind capacity, the largest on the East Coast, could make the state an energy exporter, according to a study by environmental agency Oceana.

"If we can get more energy for less money, create more jobs and protect our environment from spills, why not choose offshore wind over oil and gas?" Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana senior campaign director, said in a statement.

Iberdrola Renewables, the world's largest wind development company, has already proposed a plan for a wind farm near Elizabeth City, but no utilities have contracted the electricity yet.

Progress Energy has been talking with several potential wind developers, said spokesman Scott Sutton. The company also sells solar power off the grid and offers incentives for energy conservation, but renewable energy like solar is more expensive than traditional power plants, he said.

Progress and Duke Energy have said they are looking to expand their nuclear fleet, but Warren said a new nuclear plant costs just as much as a solar one.

Because of a 2007 law, utility companies have to make 0.2 percent of their sales from solar energy by 2018.

Warren said the standard is so low because of lobbying by power companies, which have said they oppose another bill that would double the solar standard and one that would repeal the 2007 law and its renewable requirements entirely.

"We're on target," Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams said of the standard. "We just want to keep things in place. We can't have regulations going back and forth."

Because of the investments power companies have already made in renewable energy, the bill to repeal the 2007 law probably won't pass, Kinnaird said.

She said the environment was a bigger issue in past legislative sessions, but now the budget is the main concern.


Source: http://www.dailytarheel.com...

APR 26 2011
http://www.windaction.org/posts/30726-nc-general-assembly-sees-flood-of-energy-bills
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