North Carolina renewable energy law falters

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina electric companies must keep planning to generate more power through alternative sources and other measures after an effort to freeze those requirements failed to advance Wednesday through a House committee.

The House Public Utilities Committee narrowly defeated an effort to freeze the percentage of retail sales that utilities must create using sources like solar power, wind power and animal waste and through efficiency efforts at the current 6 percent.

A 2007 law directs the percentage to grow to 10 percent for electric cooperatives and city-owned power companies later this decade and 12.5 percent for big utilities like subsidiaries of Duke Energy Corp. There is no expiration date on that law.

The law also allows utilities to pass along part of the cost of compliance to their customers. The measure would have kept the cap on residential customer riders on their bills at 2014 levels, or $12 annually. Maximum caps of $150 annually for commercial customers and $1,000 for industrial customers now in place wouldn't change.

Some Republicans and members of conservative-leaning groups don't like the law. They said it equates to a subsidy for alternate energy industries because utilities can pass along the costs of using higher-cost energy to their customers.

"This is not an anti-solar bill. It's not an anti-wind bill. This is a pro-consumer bill," Donald Bryson, state director of Americans for Prosperity, told the committee. Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, said the measure would prevent electric customers from feeling the impact of further costs. The rider can ultimately grow as high as $34 a year for residential customers.

A 2013 proposal to phase out the law also was defeated.

Representatives of growing North Carolina's solar industry said Wednesday the change would hurt small companies and farmers erecting solar panels and selling power to big utilities. A study prepared by RTI International for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association said the 2007 law will generate $287 million in annual costs savings for electric ratepayers in 2029.

The bill "is built on the false premise that renewable energy and energy efficiency are hurting ratepayers," said Betsy McCorkle, the association's government affairs director. "You can't deny the jobs and the investments that are coming into local communities."

The committee voted 14-16 against a motion to recommend the bill. Five committee Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure, including Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, who said North Carolina has been at the forefront of an "all of the above" energy strategy and the 2007 law has encouraged private investment.

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