The pending legislation meant to create a Renewable and Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) for North Carolina electric utilities was deeply flawed from the beginning. The Canary Coalition and several other grassroots organizations have chosen not to support either H77 or S3 because either of theses bills serves to misguide those not paying close attention into believing something substantial is happening to address climate change and air pollution issues, when in fact it is not. A false impression of progress is dangerous because it can lead to public complacency and thwart efforts to accomplish the substantial changes in energy policy and laws needed to confront the climate change and air pollution crisis the world is confronting.
Until now, the basic irrelevancy of S3’s goals have made it worthy of ignoring. A combined 12.5% efficiency and “renewable” contribution by the year 2021, will all-but-certainly be far surpassed even with no legislation at all. There is a technological revolution in efficiency happening as we speak. Light bulbs that are 97% more efficient, dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, computers and many other commonly used household, office and industrial electrical appliances and equipment that are 40-60% more efficient are rolling off the assembly line or will be shortly. (www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/aug2004/nf20040823_9499_db_81.htm ).
Although the danger of S3 leading to public complacency is serious, now there’s another, far more compelling reason to oppose S3. The bill has been hijacked by utility interests in the state legislature who have amended it to include provisions for funding the construction of a new generation of coal and nuclear power plants. These “base-load” provisions include work-in-progress rate increases, meaning that ratepayers will be forced to pay for new polluting power plants even before they come online, eliminating risk for the industry. In the case of nuclear plants even the developmental phase of projects are subject to this funding, “including, without limitation, the costs of evaluation, design, engineering, environmental analysis and permitting, early site permitting, combined operating license permitting, initial site preparation costs, and allowance for funds used during construction associated with such costs.” Ratepayers will pay whether the power plants ever get built or not.
There’s more. North Carolina ratepayers will pre-pay for the development and construction of power plants to be operated outside the state if they are planned to contribute to the grid within our borders.
The “REPS” legislation also provides for the expansion of the natural gas pipeline network in North Carolina.
If funding for natural gas, coal and nuclear power seems misplaced in the context of a bill introduced by members of the environmental community to promote efficiency and renewable technologies, more exclamation points arise when examining practices being defined by the legislation as qualifying to make up the 12.5% “REPS.” The definition of “renewable resources” in this bill includes direct combustion of agricultural waste (such as chicken carcasses and hog waste) and waste wood from industries that practice unsustainable forestry. These are practices that were not permitted in the residential NC Greenpower program because they wouldn’t meet the standards of an independent non-profit organization administering such programs nationwide.
In S3, only two-tenths of one percent of total energy production is “mandated” for COMBINED solar thermal and electrical resources. Removing legal obstacles for wind development in North Carolina is not addressed. It’s difficult to imagine a future in which solar and wind energy don’t advance far more quickly than this mandate requires, especially a future in which the impact of human activity is not causing the worst consequences associated with climate change.
Unfortunately, there are members of the environmental community who have invested much time and valuable limited non-profit resources working to pass this legislation. But now that the utility industry’s legislative operatives have completely negated any environmental benefit from the bill, it’s time to cut losses and chalk it up as a lesson learned. The low renewable and efficiency goals of the original bill, as introduced, were meant to appease the utility industry in an effort to work with them toward a reduction in greenhouse gas and pollution production. It was thought these giant energy corporations could be persuaded to be part of the solution and they would willingly help to reduce energy consumption through a system of economic incentives. But, the power companies are in the business of selling energy. It is not in the interest of their shareholders to reduce demand for their product. Yet, this is the task at hand for the environmental community and our civilization at large. Real and meaningful progress toward reduced energy consumption is going to happen by overcoming the resistance and influence of the energy industry, unfortunately not by its cooperation. History and experience have clearly defined successful efficiency programs in this country as those administered independently of the energy industry (www.canarycoalition.org/factsheets/synapse.doc).
The process of energy efficiency improvement and renewable technology advancement is happening on its own. Wind and solar in particular have made great technological strides in recent years, wind becoming the fastest growing energy source in the world today. The most effective way to augment this process is to remove the legal, social and economic obstacles placed in its way and to provide economic incentive for electrical consumers and producers to invest in it. Neither S3 nor H77 address this challenge. But, there is a pending bill, H1825, that begins to come to grips with these issues.
S3 has to be defeated and replaced with a strategy that promises to yield better results. It may not (probably won’t at this point) happen in this legislative session, but we can begin to build the political momentum for the next session and/or the one after that, by supporting a proposal that reflects the true urgency of climate change and air quality issues, and will therefore resonate meaning that will attract massive public support. The Canary Coalition and many others have succeeded in putting H1825 on the table in the House. It’s currently in the committee on Public Utilities. This bill is not presently in the form it needs to be. For what they considered to be political expediency, the legislative sponsors of the bill removed much of the “teeth”, again, trying to appease the utility industry. H1825 was originally designed around the Energy Future Resolution (EFR), a proposal that proved its mass appeal by working its way up through Democratic Party precincts throughout the state in 2006 to be part of the party platform. The EFR proposal calls for an evaluation of least-cost methods of meeting future energy demand, including the costs of health and environmental impact, the costs of full fuel cycles and the cost of decommissioning power plants. No licenses for new power plants would be issued unless meeting the least-cost criteria under this definition. The EFR also calls for utility rate-restructuring to provide a steep economic incentive for electrical consumers to reduce energy consumption through investment in efficiency and conservation methods as well as independent renewable energy systems. Economics has always been the driving force behind social change and this is no different. When there is a significant economic reason for people, businesses, hospitals, schools and government institutions to use less energy they will find a way to use less energy. - in spite of the utility industry’s relentless desire to sell more energy. Unfortunately, when introducing H1825, the sponsors eliminated all but the study part of the proposal, allocating $95,000 and mandating the Utility Commission conduct the evaluation. No restriction on licensing of new power plants. No rate-restructuring. It’s a start, but nowhere good enough. In this form, H1825 will not excite the public and garner massive support. It has little chance of escaping committee in this session.
The environmental community is never going to win anything meaningful in the legislative process by compromising away all substance and shying away from speaking the whole truth about the extent of the changes that will have to occur to avert the worst consequences of climate change. A much more effective strategy is to make a strong proposal and stick to it, building support over months and years if necessary until the political momentum becomes unstoppable. Even if there’s a perception that speaking the truth will initially be unpopular and subject to ridicule by “practical” political pundits, and even if there may be seemingly insurmountable political obstacles, the true nature and extent of climate change solutions have to be publicly acknowledged before those solutions will be enacted in the politic realm. History clearly and emphatically proves it to be the case in great social causes of the past- the abolitionists, women’s rights movement, labor movement, civil rights movements, anti-war movements- all ridiculed in the beginning- all successful in the end.
If we can unite in demanding the substance be replaced in H1825, it’s worth supporting this bill, even if it doesn’t pass in this session. The EFR is a vehicle capable of gathering massive public support, in time, and creating the scale of political movement we need to implement meaningful, positive change in energy policy.
Please join the Canary Coalition in promoting an amended H1825 while adamantly opposing the disastrous S3.