Citing the importance of the legislation for the solar industry, Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., has signed into law H.B.589, a comprehensive energy bill that is expected to help boost North Carolina’s solar sector but also establishes a moratorium on new wind farm permits in the state through 2018.
The legislation is the result of a long stakeholder process among legislators, renewable energy developers, utilities and many other parties, but the controversial wind development measure was added in the eleventh hour. Making it clear that he opposes the wind side of the bill, though, Cooper has also signed an executive order aimed at mitigating the effects of the moratorium.
“A strong renewable energy industry is good for our environment and our economy,” the governor states in a press release. “This bill is critical for the future of significant increases in our already-booming solar industry. I strongly oppose the ugly, last-minute, politically motivated wind moratorium. However, this fragile and hard-fought solar deal will be lost if I veto this legislation and that veto is sustained.”
Led by state Reps. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, and Dean Arp, R-Union, House lawmakers crafted the comprehensive approach to overhauling and modernizing North Carolina’s energy policies. According to a press release from the House speaker, H.B.589, otherwise known as the Competitive Energy Solutions plan, implements a competitive bidding process for solar developers to control costs and foster market-driven solutions for power customers in North Carolina. The legislation also establishes a rooftop solar leasing program in the state, which is expected to allow customers to work with private parties and take advantage of a competitive market to install renewable energy with competitive pricing. Among other actions, H.B.589 also creates a Green Source Rider Program, which will allow large utility customers, such as corporations, to offset their electricity usage with renewable energy.
In a statement, Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), thanks Cooper for his “leadership in signing … a measure that will significantly enhance the solar market in North Carolina and continue the growth of solar jobs within the state.”
“The programs created by this legislation, namely the competitive solicitation process for new utility-scale solar and the addition of a rooftop solar leasing program, will help North Carolina retain its position as a top market for solar in the United States,” Hopper explains.
Randy Wheeless, spokesperson for North Carolina-based utility company Duke Energy, says, “We are pleased to see this important legislation signed into law – paving the way for a smarter energy future and benefiting all North Carolina customers. The solar aspects of this legislation will benefit residential, commercial and industrial customers alike – saving them money and allowing for more ways to secure renewable energy, while also protecting the reliability of the energy grid. We look forward to offering new solar energy programs for our customers.”
Though satisfied with the legislation’s solar aspects, SEIA’s Hopper states, “Unfortunately, the last-minute inclusion of an 18-month wind moratorium was both unnecessary and disappointing, and we hope the governor’s executive order can help mitigate that portion of the bill. We stand by our colleagues in the wind industry and hope that legislators will see the positive economic development that both solar and wind offer to rural North Carolina.”
Speaking out against the moratorium earlier this month, the American Wind Energy Association explained that under the new bill, which cites concerns for disruptions at military bases, neither the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) nor the Coastal Resources Commission would be able to issue a permit for a new wind project or wind project expansion until Dec. 31, 2018.
Specifically, the moratorium is meant to “allow the General Assembly ample time to study the extent and scope of military operations in the state … and to consider the impact of future wind energy facilities and energy infrastructure on military operations, training and readiness.”
However, Cooper’s newly signed Executive Order No. 11 “directs DEQ to continue recruiting wind energy investments and to move forward with all of the behind-the-scenes work involved with bringing wind energy projects online, including reviewing permits and conducting pre-application review for prospective sites,” the governor says.
“I want wind energy facilities to come online quickly when this moratorium expires so our economy and our environment can continue to benefit,” he adds.
The executive order states that North Carolina “is the most military-friendly state in the country, and the wind permit process already rightly directs the [DEQ] to consider military bases and flight paths when permitting wind farms.” Also, considering that the population of the state is expected to expand to 12.1 million people by 2035, “government and industry” will need to take “prudent steps to meet North Carolina’s future energy needs.”
In a statement, Armando Pimentel, president and CEO of NextEra Energy Resources, says, “We applaud Governor Cooper’s efforts through the signing of H.B.589 to create new opportunities for solar development in the state. We share Governor Cooper’s view that the wind moratorium is unnecessary, appreciate his executive order to mitigate its negative consequences and are hopeful that the study of the potential impacts of wind projects on military bases is completed expeditiously. We have successfully sited a number of wind projects near military bases throughout the country, working with local and federal agencies, as well as other stakeholders, and are certain that any potential issues or concerns can be resolved quickly to ensure a timely end to the moratorium.”