House Bill 589, the misnamed Competitive Energy Solutions for NC, is making its way through the North Carolina Senate. As I said previously, “the skids have been greased” for this bill, with the combined lobbying forces of Duke Energy and “Big Solar” both pushing it.
Both will benefit from passage of HB589. Unfortunately, the harm will fall on the people of North Carolina as electric bills soar due to mandates in this and previous bills. As power rates increase, we all will pay more to light, heat and cool our homes.
And Republicans backing HB589 should beware: that could damage the GOP brand.
Higher utility costs hit lower-income workers hardest as they end up spending more of their disposable income over something they have very little control over. In the meantime, upper-income households and big companies can show how green they are – while passing the costs along to everyone else through the mandates and rebates in HB589.
For employers, as electric costs go up, the money available to hire and pay workers is reduced. As hiring slows and wages stagnate, everyone loses.
The solar industry is one of the biggest winners of government favors, with Duke almost doubling the purchase of solar in the next few years, while also profiting from a renewable rebate program that according to Section 8.(b) would allow cost recovery by the public utility for the cost of the rebates program. Translation: everyone else in the state will pay for those who get the rebates.
Over the past several years the North Carolina solar industry has received over $1 billion in tax credits paid for by taxpayers. At the same time, Duke and Dominion are reporting NC customers will overpay more than $1 billion for solar power. This money ends up in the pockets of Big Solar – is it any wonder they want this bill?
So far electric customers have been lucky. The tremendous gains in natural gas drilling and production have allowed the U.S. to offset the increase in solar-related costs through the increasing use of inexpensive natural gas to produce electricity. Without that, we would all be paying much higher prices. Any increase in gas prices or disruption in supply will have an immediate impact on our wallets.
As for the Republican Party, it is mostly in charge in North Carolina. Though conservative principles oppose government subsidies to favored companies, a segment of the GOP is backing HB589. At some point, its voting base is going to ask why they constantly pay more for electricity. If the GOP establishment believes solar is truly the energy of now and the future, no problem. But if they are doing it merely to make lobbying constituencies happy – that motive might anger voters, and bring a different and less favorable political outcome.
As I always say, renewables such as solar and wind have a place, and when a cost-effective method of storing the power is developed, they will be an important, cost-effective method of producing electricity. But right now and into the foreseeable future they don’t produce when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. When I turn on the heat on a cold night, I want to know there is electricity there to warm my house! Ditto for the air-conditioning during a heat wave!
All of which means renewable energy sources will be more expensive for many years to come. The legislature shouldn’t try to tinker with the energy market while also making North Carolinians pay more to light, heat and cool their homes.