Solar Makes NC Cleantech Shine, But Tax Credit Expiry Clouds Future

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replicated across half the states in the country and immediately unlock the storage market.

That’s exactly what we did with solar. When solar gets deployed in North Carolina because of a mix of policies in place that enable the revenue streams to flow to the project, it has this net effect of keeping rates lower than they would have been. Back in the middle of the last decade, we intentionally designed policy with the idea that deployment would have the effect of dampening the rise of electricity rates. Our evidence shows that that happened. But the tax credit was a key piece of that.

X: Google has a large data center in Maiden powered by solar. Facebook is pushing for more renewable energy for its data center. Amazon is building a wind farm. To what extent are big tech companies driving demand for renewable energy in the state?

IU: They’ve been a critical voice. They were very vocal this year as well-funded opposition activists showed up and motivated a small handful of really vocal legislators to try to gut all of our clean energy policies. That forced legislators to pay attention and really think through this issue. These well-funded campaigns, by spreading so much disinformation, are their own worst enemy. They created a good opening for large companies, like Google, to do what they’ve been doing, which is to take a really responsible approach to their energy and resource management and engage decision makers in each state where they do business, and say, “Enable us to be good stewards of the local economy and the resources. You’re not enabling us right now if you change your laws, and we’d actually prefer you do some things in the other direction.”

It’s key that [tech companies] don’t just go try to accomplish those operational goals and corporate objectives, but also try to engage society. It created a safe space, politically, for a whole bunch of other large [energy] consumers and employers in our state that are the backbone of our economy to also step up and add their voice, because they all want the same thing.

X: There have been studies done showing the wind energy resource potential in the state. Why has it taken so long to get wind energy projects sited in North Carolina?

IU: North Carolina is blessed with an amazing landscape. In the mountains, a lot of people have decided, culturally, that they don’t want wind turbines. They don’t want to look at them. On the coast, there’s a lot of tourism, there’s a lot of wildlife, there’s a lot of military. We have to be very thorough in the siting process. There are so many considerations we have to grapple with than other states. And our wind speeds are a little slower overall on land. With Iberdrola coming with its slightly larger turbine, they can make more economic use [of the available wind]. The site that they picked, when they made it through the [Department of Defense] clearinghouse, that was the last hurdle they needed to clear that prevented people who were ideologically opposed to wind from being able to stop it.

X: With Iberdrola moving forward with the Amazon project, does that pave the way for more wind energy projects in North Carolina?

IU: It could. Something that’s really critical is that project would not originally have been proposed if it were not for the renewable and efficiency portfolio standard, but the project’s contract does not rely on the REPS. I don’t know if it’s going to use the tax credit or not, but most likely not, since the legislature decided to not extend it. What we’re seeing is because … Next Page »

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Frank Vinluan is an Xconomy editor based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at Follow @frankvinluan

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