Mid-term Elections in NC Look Bright for Renewable Energy

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When is the last time you heard good news about politics? If you are a voter and citizen of North Carolina and support clean energy (that would be most of you) your news may be getting better.

Conservatives for Clean Energy

Legislators at this year’s Conservatives for Clean Energy awards luncheon said they expect clean energy issues to fare well in the coming session of the N.C. General Assembly.

The CCE board, which includes Yes Solar Solutions Co-founder and President Stew Miller, held its fourth annual awards luncheon in November at the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro. It handed out its Clean Energy Champions awards, with honorees including Huntervsville’s Saertex manufacturing plant, which makes fabrics used on windmill blades.

Only a Fool Runs Against Clean Energy

After being named one of two Legislative Clean Energy Champions, Rep. Bob Steinburg observed that many of the most implacable opponents of clean energy proposals in the legislature found themselves on the losing side in this past election. Steinburg, a Republican from Edenton who will be a state senator in the coming session, noted that his primary opponent tried to use his support for renewables and energy efficiency as a cudgel against him. But he said polling by CCE that showed widespread support, even among Republicans, for clean energy issues proved true in his race and others. “You could only be a fool if you were out there running against [clean energy],” said Steinburg, who will serve as a state senator come January. “We had folks running against it, and they’re not coming back.”

Poster Child

State Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, said that as the economic case for renewable power and other clean energy issues has grown stronger, more and more conservatives are coming around. “We are having good discussions on energy,” he says. “Conservatives want the government to get out of the way (of economic decisions), and that is coming into play.”

Saine could be a poster child for the greening of conservative politics. He is finishing up a year as national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of conservative state legislators famous — and, to some, infamous — for efforts to kill or prevent government efforts to regulate carbon emissions, promote solar and wind power and encourage energy efficiency. He noted his own differences with ALEC on that score but said he is seeing progress on those issues within the group. There were open discussions about supporting clean energy at the last national conference in Nashville, Tennessee, he says, and he expects more when the group holds its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., next month.

Bipartisan Support for Clean Energy

Mark Fleming, CCE’s executive director, said the North Carolina House has long been supportive of clean energy issues. The real difference will be in the Senate, he said. That is the result of the election of more supportive candidates — such as incoming Sen. Vickie Sawyer in Iredell County — as well as smaller Republican majorities in both chambers. He expects the smaller margins will require legislators to work on more bipartisan efforts.

Rep. John Szoka, a Republican from Fayetteville who co-authored last year’s solar law, estimates at least half of his caucus now favors clean energy. Szoka faced no challenger in the primary but campaigned in November in part touting his support for clean energy. He won handily.

At the same time, polls show clean energy enjoys broad support among North Carolina voters — even those who consider themselves “very conservative.” Lawmakers challenged in the May Republican primaries for supporting wind and solar prevailed.

Democrats, meanwhile, are increasingly aggressive on the issue. Eighteen local governments in the state — many controlled by Democrats — have passed resolutions supporting a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

In any case, Dean Arp, a Republican from Union County who with Szoka authored the 2017 law, said consensus proposals on energy will continue to fair well at the General Assembly.

“I think on balance — what I tell my constituents — is there’s huge bipartisan [cooperation],” Arp said. “I have no reason to believe that won’t continue.”

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