The North Carolina Senate is still considering a bill to freeze the state’s renewable energy standard (which currently requires 12.5% clean electricity by 2021) and reduce the size of clean energy projects that would be eligible for simple contracts though the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). HB 760, later changed to HB 332, passed the House on May 6. If it becomes law, the bill would require a 6% renewable energy standard while a study determines whether modifications are needed. The Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Bob Rucho, pushed the bill through his committee after refusing to count the votes during a controversial voice vote, amidst objections from both political parties.
A member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Representative Mike Hager, initially sponsored the bill. Hager is also a former Duke Energy employee. The utility giant has remained neutral regarding the legislation, and in June, a spokesperson for Duke Energy said it wants, “a collaborative process that involves all the issues, including the [RES] and the tax credit, and includes all the stakeholders.”
So while Duke Energy, which is a member of ALEC, remains neutral on the legislation, many fossil fuel-front groups are trying to move the legislation forward. Heartland published a flawed editorial on the supposed economic costs of the RES. Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a State Policy Network group, wrote the editorial. He citied the work of the Koch-backed Institute for Political Economy at Utah State University, which also produced misleading reports this year.
In addition, Heartland co-signed a coalition letter, spearheaded by the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), that called on lawmakers to repeal the RES. The letter cited the debunked Beacon Hill Institute report that says electricity prices are increasing due to the standard. In reality, the primary drivers behind rate increases in the state are due to the rising costs of building natural gas and coal infrastructure.
After the bill passed the House, AFP began to put pressure on the General Assembly to pass the bill. The organization started phone-banking to encourage voters to call their state officials and urge a vote. AFP also held a statewide Day of Action on May 16, to gather activists to do a full day of phone-calling and door-knocking to put pressure on the Senate.
A week later, the AFP state chapter released its jobs agenda, which included repealing the state RES. Rep. Hager was at the press conference to lend his support.
Another group making the case for the freeze is the John Locke Foundation. Jon Sanders, Director of Regulatory Studies, wrote an op-ed on June 16 in The News & Observer citing a 2014 Brookings Institution working paper authored by nonresident senior fellow Dr. Charles Frank Jr. to explain why solar and wind are not viable sources of electricity. However, as explained by physicist and chief scientist Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, “Using Dr. Frank’s methodology — flawed as it is — but swapping in accurate numbers for the nine key data points mentioned in the previous paragraph reverses his conclusion.”
This should not be a surprise, since the John Locke Foundation has ties to ALEC and the State Policy Network. And, as the Institute for Southern Studies concluded in a 2010 investigation, the John Locke Foundation works in concert with other groups funded by the Koch Brothers and Art Pope, AFP’s former board chair and a conservative financier, to create the illusion of disagreement about the fundamentals of climate science.