By Francis De Luca and Susan Myrick
What do President Barack Obama and a growing number of Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have in common? The answer – their love of major solar energy companies – Big Solar, for short.
As for the President – everyone remembers Solyndra. Before going bankrupt in 2011, the solar energy company received a $535 million federal loan guarantee thanks to the 2009 “stimulus.” In 2010, Obama went so far to say that the company was “leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” Just a matter of months later, however, Solyndra was bankrupt.
Solyndra was just one of many indications that solar is not a viable alternative to conventional power sources unless it receives massive government mandates and subsidies.
There is a growing group of Republicans in the General Assembly who actively support legislation that backs government mandates and taxpayer subsidies as well as higher electric bills for consumers. In fact, they are working to extend the government mandates, tax credits and overall government assistance that have helped create and sustain solar energy companies in North Carolina, along with the resulting higher electric bills and the less reliable power supply.
So what would make a self-avowed conservative change his or her mind on an issue that is a basic principle for conservatives? Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), perhaps the most outspoken proponent of solar energy this year, is listed as a sponsor on HB 454 The Energy Investment Act, a bill that would extend the 35 percent state tax credit for renewables. He also is a primary sponsor on another bill, HB 245, Utilities/The Energy Freedom Act, which will allow third-party sales of electricity from on-site renewable energy facilities.
In several interviews Szoka, who was first elected to the state House in the 2012 conservative wave, has said that he believes in free markets, but at the same time says he wants to keep incentives for renewable energy. Does he not recognize this contradiction? His change of heart since 2012 now makes him a darling of the solar lobby. Liberal environmental groups such as NC WARN have publicly praised him.
Szoka is not the only Republican who has turned his back on conservative, free-market principles to take up the cause of more government mandates, political favoritism and higher electric bills. In April 2013, Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford) sponsored legislation to roll back the renewable energy mandates. Six Republicans joined with all the Democrats in the Public Utilities and Energy Committee and voted against the legislation, preventing the bill from making it to the House floor for a vote. The Republicans who voted against the legislation, thus maintaining these solar mandates, were current Speaker of the House Tim Moore (Cleveland), Jerry Dockham (Davidson), Ruth Samuelson (Mecklenburg), Nelson Dollar ( Wake), Charles Jeter (Mecklenburg), and Linda Johnson (Cabarrus.)
In this April 2013 Carolina Journal article, Hager is quoted as saying, “Some not-so-conservatives decided to vote for a bill that extends mandates and subsidies forever. We presented a bill that’s a conservative bill, but some Republicans subsidized a sector of business that would go on forever.”
The environmentalists pushing “clean” energy have fashioned a new weapon that can best be described as “Big Solar.” But Big Solar is not a job-growth engine as claimed by lobbyists, it exists only because of government. The major solar corporations, however, have hired the right Republican political consultants and lobbyists in North Carolina to push the narrative to their clients – GOP legislators.
For example, the “Clean Energy” power players in North Carolina include the most powerful and well-connected Republican political consultants.
Paul Shumaker, Partner, Strategic Partners Solutions and President of political consulting firm Capitol Communications, Inc. Shumaker boasts as his clients Sen. Richard Burr, Supreme Court Justices Mark Martin and Bob Edmunds, and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. Shumaker served as campaign director for the North Carolina Republican Party from 1985-1987 and worked for former Gov. Jim Martin in both of his successful gubernatorial campaigns.
Dee Stewart, Partner, Strategic Partners Solutions, is also CEO and President of the political consulting firm the Stewart Group, Inc. Stewart was U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry’s chief of staff in 2005 and is currently his chief political advisor. He was the executive director of the Iowa Republican Party during a presidential primary year. According to the Strategic Partners Solutions website, Stewart has worked for dozens of current and former state legislators – all Republicans – including Senate Leader Phil Berger, Sen. Bill Rabon (Brunswick) and Rep. David Lewis (Harnett).
Betsy McCorkle, political consultant to North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance (NCCEBA). McCorkle is the director of government affairs for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Alliance (NCSEA) and was formally the Economic Development Program Manager for the North Carolina Solar Center at NC State University.
Kristen Laster, Managing Partner, Southern Strategy Group. Laster is also a registered lobbyist with NCSEA and is the treasurer for the NCCEBA PAC.
Scott Laster, Partner, Southern Strategy Group is a registered lobbyist with NCSEA. Laster worked as the house campaign director for the North Carolina Republican Party in 2010. In 2012, he was hired as executive director for the NCGOP.
Other clean energy operatives working to recruit conservatives to Big Solar include:
Mark Fleming, President and CEO of Conservatives for Clean Energy. Formerly, Fleming served as district director for Congressman Patrick McHenry. According to his bio, he also worked as vice president of NCFREE and executive director of the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ivan Urlaub, executive director and registered agent for NCSEA. He was also the registered agent for the NCCEBA.
These power players, and the misnamed “conservative” groups, are all connected to environmental groups who get their funding from some of the most radical and well-funded organizations in the world. A 2014 United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Minority Staff report, titled “The Chain of Environmental Command – How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA,” described an organization named Sea Change this way:
“Even more unsettling, a dominant organization in this movement is Sea Change Foundation, a private California foundation, which relies on funding from a foreign company with undisclosed donors. In turn, Sea Change funnels tens of millions of dollars to other large but discreet foundations and prominent environmental activists who strive to control both policy and politics.”
The same report describes the Energy Foundation this way:
“The Energy Foundation is a pass-through public charity utilized by the most powerful Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) members to create the appearance of a more diversified base of support, to shield them from accountability, and to leverage limited resources by hiring dedicated energy/environment staff to handle strategic giving. The Energy Foundation is the largest recipient of grants from the foreign-funded Sea Change Foundation; yet, it appears the Energy Foundation attempts to hide donations from Sea Change, as it is not listed as one of Energy Foundation’s partners.”
Sea Change and the Energy Foundation are working together to fund the radical left environmental movement in North Carolina. The Republicans working to achieve the Left’s environmental goal of government mandates, tax incentives and subsidies to sustain Big Solar are supporting a decidedly non-conservative environmental agenda.
For instance, in 2014 Conservatives for Clean Energy/NCSEA received $350,000 from the Energy Foundation; NCSEA has received $925,000 from the Energy Foundation (46 percent of their grant funding) since 2008.
That brings us to Conservatives for Clean Energy, a relatively new 501(c)3 organization created in June 11, 2014. Mark Fleming is listed as the CEO and president of “Conservatives for Clean Energy.” These days it seems tacking the word “conservative” on to a name of a group has become a tactic by not-so-conservative activists who wish to dupe those who support free markets and free enterprise. It wasn’t that long ago that another non-profit took the name “Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty” and with a little investigating we traced the funding to a national group funded by George Soros.
Perhaps the Republicans who are supporting crony tax credits and subsidies for Big Solar are getting advice that helps them rationalize a shift towards the left. Strategic Partners Solutions, owned by Paul Shumaker and Dee Stewart, conducted a poll for Conservatives for Clean Energy and presented the poll at an NCSEA breakfast on March 4 this year. Julie Robinson, a lobbyist for NCSEA, tweeted during the presentation and quoted Shumaker as saying: “don’t be a knuckle dragger – because you can’t win the unaffiliateds if you’re on the anti-side of issues.” She also tweeted this quote from Stewart: “appealing to the middle is key to winning NC. Reality of life; you can’t just win with your base anymore.”
North Carolina is not alone – the same scenario has played out in other states over the past four years: in Florida, in Michigan, in Georgia and in Florida, where a local tea party group was used as a front for the Big Solar agenda.
Republicans need to take a step back and see that the solar sector exists mostly because of government subsidies, tax credits, and mandates. It is a business that can’t compete on a level playing field. As time goes on, solar may in fact reach parity with existing energy sources as a source of affordable, reliable electricity. But it is not there yet.
For the time being, Republicans and conservatives need to question why groups and people on the left are thanking them for standing with them in extending unending government subsidies and mandates and leaving North Carolinians with higher electric bills. But, most of all, these Republicans need to think about their constituents who sent them to Raleigh to change the way business is conducted in North Carolina. Too many of these legislators are beginning to look a lot like the progressives that controlled North Carolina for more than 100 years.