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NC Senate panel pushes through renewables repeal

Gary d. Robertson, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- An effort in the North Carolina Legislature to repeal renewable energy mandates for electric utilities found new life Wednesday in a Senate committee as Republicans pushed through a bill ending the requirements.

A divided Senate finance panel recommended the bill a week after a House committee turned back a similar measure. Both versions seek to phase out a 2007 law requiring utilities to generate a percentage of sales from efficiency efforts or renewable sources such as solar, wind and animal waste. The repeal dates for both bills, however, aren't until early in the next decade.

Clean energy groups argue the law has made North Carolina an emerging market for solar, wind and methane gas production, created jobs and will ultimately save utility ratepayers money. The speakers at Wednesday's meeting, including some hog producers who are turning waste into fuel, urged lawmakers to leave the 2007 law alone because millions of dollars have been invested in energy projects.

But Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie and the bill sponsor, said the alternative energy industry should be weaned off its favored treatment from the government to produce what is relatively expensive energy. The 2007 law allows utilities, which are regulated by the state, to pass along part of the cost of complying with the law to home and industrial customers on their power bills.

"In reality we're subsidizing an industry that has had at least six years to" grow, said Sen Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who supported the bill. "Were having the taxpayers subsidize the cost of electricity by trying to move these forward."

Duke Energy currently requires its residential customers to pay 21 cents per month, and the utility proposes a 1-cent credit to customers in the coming year, said Dan Conrad, a staff attorney with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Riders for commercial and industrial customers are higher.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said clean energy investors will avoid North Carolina if the 2007 law is tinkered with.

"Why we would try to destroy one of the few sectors that have actually grown over the last recession is beyond me," Stein said.

Large utilities are required to generate 12.5 percent of retail sales from alternative sources and efficiencies by 2021, while electric cooperatives and city-owned power companies must meet a 10 percent requirement in 2018. The law has no expiration date. The Senate bill would keep both categories at their current 3 percent requirement for another 10 years, when the mandates would be repealed.

The House bill would cap the requirement at 10 percent for electric companies and 6 percent for cooperatives before phasing it out in 2021. A motion to approve the bill in the House Public Utilities Committee failed last week. That bill was placed back on the committee agenda earlier Wednesday but wasn't heard.

Democrats complained after the Senate bill passed on a voice vote that Republicans wouldn't count the votes by a show of hands. Some Republicans on the committee raised concerns about the bill, which now heads to another committee.