Solar power advocates urge no change for North Carolina laws that encouraged growing industry

Energy Associated Press

Solar energy advocates urged North Carolina legislators on Thursday to resist pressure from big energy interests and leave in place incentives that have sprouted an industry that employs 3,000 statewide.

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The sun could generate 20 percent of the electricity North Carolina uses by 2030 if lawmakers make no changes after returning to work in January, solar power boosters said. Solar power now makes up about 1 percent of the state's energy use, said Maya Gold of the advocacy group Environment North Carolina.

"To take solar power to the next level, our leaders just have to keep the foot on the accelerator and certainly not put on the brakes," Gold said at a news conference at the Legislative Building.

A report by the independent research firm RTI International released in April said about $2.7 billion was invested in North Carolina clean energy development between 2007 and 2013. That's nearly 20 times greater than the state tax credits for them, the Research Triangle Park-based company said.

Republicans will again hold large majorities in the General Assembly after they start their two-year session in January. Some GOP lawmakers invoked free-market principals last year when they sought to stop requiring North Carolina electric companies to meet alternative power targets.

Legislators in 2007 passed a landmark law that requires big electric utilities such as Duke Energy Corp. to generate an amount equal to 12.5 percent of its retail sales from efficiency efforts or renewable sources such as solar, wind and animal waste.

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Opponents of that law, led by retired Duke Energy engineer and Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said last year it was time to remove what they called subsidies for alternative power industries. Utilities can pass along part of the costs to home and industrial customers on their power bills.

Other Republican legislators scrapped the proposal, citing the renewable energy jobs created and investments by large farming operations that could hire more.

Duke Energy said in September is plans to invest $500 million to build three solar-power generating facilities and buy power from five other facilities built by investors to meet its 2015 requirement for renewable power.

GOP lawmakers are unlikely to expand alternative energy tax credits as they look for ways to follow through on their goal of reducing and simplifying taxes while broadening what gets taxed, said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford. But lawmakers could encourage solar power by preserving sales of electricity generated by rooftop solar arrays, she said.

Duke Energy has said it would like to trim the price it pays for electricity produced by homeowners who install rooftop solar power arrays. The company says that would reflect falling costs.

Spokeswomen for the state's top legislative leaders did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.