We’ll give state Sen. Bill Cook this much: At least he knows when he’s in hot water with constituents. Too bad he doesn’t care enough about what his constituents actually want to try and avoid such an uncomfortable spot.
Cook, R-Beaufort, fell short of constituents’ expectations yet again last week when he acknowledged that he supports legislation that in all likelihood will kill any chance of a private wind farm — and the jobs and economic development it would likely bring — being built in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. Cook acknowledged that his support for House Bill 298 will generate some “pushback” for him in the 1st District.
Introduced by former Duke Energy engineer-turned Republican House member Mike Hager of Rutherford County, House Bill 298 essentially repeals a 2007 law requiring North Carolina energy companies to buy or generate 12.5 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2021. When lawmakers passed the law, the goal was to encourage energy companies to begin the process of weaning themselves off dependence on fossil fuels. But a secondary goal was to open up the state to opportunities in the development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind and poise the state for the coming boom in green energy jobs.
Seizing on that opportunity, Iberdrola Renewables, an Oregon-based subsidiary of a Spanish wind energy giant, proposed building an industrial-scale 300-megawatt wind farm on 20,000 acres in the “desert” area of Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. The company met with landowners, secured property leases and went through a number of local, state and federal permitting processes, receiving to date all of the required permits needed to build the wind farm save one.
The only thing holding up construction is a guaranteed purchaser for the energy it produces. And now, thanks to Hager’s bill, it won’t get one.
What’s more, without the requirement to purchase renewable energy, it’s a near certainty that Iberdrola will never build the wind farm. Without a ready market for wind energy, there’ll be no reason to.
What that means, of course, is that there’ll be no 300 construction jobs to build the wind farm; no 19 full-time jobs needed to run the facility; and no spillover effects in the local economy — officials had estimated another 120 jobs being created in industries and businesses related to wind-energy production. No wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans also means no $900,000 in lease payments to farmers for their land and no property taxes — an estimated $15 million over 20 years — for either county.
Sensing the importance of those losses to the region, Cook’s colleague in the state House, Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, says he has problems with Hager’s bill and hopes it will be modified as it moves through the committee process. Steinburg sees what Cook doesn’t: that House Bill 289 is a job-killer.
Cook, a retired electric company executive, should see this too. But apparently he’s too busy worshipping at the altar of a conservative economic philosophy that holds that renewable energy sources are just too costly to waste time and state resources on. Like most renewable energy critics, Cooks believes the 2007 law creating the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard should never have been introduced. He apparently has no faith that renewable energy sources will ever be cost-competitive with fossil fuels, so the state has no business interfering in the electricity market.
Of course Cook and other renewable energy critics are silent about government’s interference in the market when it comes to fossil fuels. Big Oil is expected to reap the benefits from $35 billion in permanent taxpayer subsidies over the next decade, subsidies that help keep the cost of oil products artificially low, but you won’t hear a peep of disagreement from renewables’ critics about those handouts.
Opposition to the 2007 law is even more puzzling given state utility companies’ support for it. Neither Duke Energy nor Progress Energy has expressed support for Hager’s bill. And one can probably see why: The energy giants see diversification into wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy as inevitable. They’ve also spent the past six years making changes in their operations to comply with the 2007 law. They can’t be too keen to suddenly hear that those efforts were a waste of time and resources.
So why then do Hager, Cook and others believe it’s critical to repeal the 2007 law? Conservative ideology is the only reason we can think of. Somehow if you’re a conservative Republican in Raleigh right now, you have to support the ridiculous notion that all regulation is bad. The exceptions to that, of course, are abortion, gay marriage and how the poor play the lottery, none of which apparently can be regulated enough.