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Renewables advocates stress economic benefits

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North Carolina's renewables lobby and trade group is countering Republican attempts to roll back green energy subsidies with a new report painting the state's current policies in a GOP-friendly light as job creators and revenue generators.

Some Republicans consider subsidies for solar farms and other renewables to be boondoggles that raise power bills for households and businesses. State legislature is likely to consider a number of bills to scale back such subsidies, including an expected bill to freeze the amount of solar, wind and biomass power that electric utilities have to add to the state's power grid.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association announced a report Monday saying that since 2007, programs that encourage or mandate renewables and conservation have created 21,162 jobs and generated $1.7 billion in economic benefit for the state. N.C. SEA warns that those jobs and revenues will go to neighboring states if North Carolina abandons its policies to promote green economy jobs.

"Clean energy is creating thousands of jobs, fostering innovation, and attracting billions in private investment to North Carolina," said Betsy McCorkle, N.C. SEA's government affairs director.

N.C. SEA brought in some reputable names for its effort to preserve policies favorable to its members. The report was commissioned by N.C. SEA and conducted by RTI International in Research Triangle Park and La Capra Associates in Boston, Massachusetts.

One of the consultants on the project was Vikram Rao, executive director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium and formerly senior vice president and chief technology officer at Halliburton, when the energy conglomerate's CEO was former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney.

Rao is also a current member of the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission, which was created by the state legislature last year to write regulations and reports to govern natural gas fracking in the state.

North Carolina has several important policies to encourage alternative energy development. One is a 35 percent state tax credit that can be coupled with a 30 percent federal tax credit to offset more than half the cost of a solar farm or wind farm. Another is a 2007 state law requiring electric utilities to use renewables and conservation programs, and authorizing power companies to charge the program costs to their customers.

N.C. SEA would like to see these policies left in place, not curtailed.

The report says that the public pays lower electric bills as a result of these policies, if one takes into account the avoided cost of power plant construction.

"For a typical North Carolina residential customer, the monthly savings amount to almost $0.50 in 2012 and more than $1.00 by 2024," the report states. "Overall, we conclude that the rate impact of clean energy policies is quite minor, and, based on the assumptions in our analyses, generally results in savings for North Carolina ratepayers over the study period."

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.