Shaping the future

Published 8:34 am Monday, October 12, 2015

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), a leading advocacy organization dedicated to shaping the state’s clean and efficient energy future, has named 5th District Representative Howard Hunter III as one of the group’s Clean Energy Emerging Leaders of 2015.

Other honorees included Randolph County Senator and House Majority Whip, Sen. Jerry Tillman as “Legislator of the Year”; Sen. Brent Jackson, Legislator of the Year; and, Sen. Jeff Tarte, Legislator of the Year.

In addition to Hunter, Representatives John Bradford, Sam Watford, and Ken Goodman were also named Clean Energy Emerging Leaders; while Rep. John Szoka was cited for “Excellence in Public Policy”.

Earlier this week, the NCSEA brought together the lawmakers, industry executives and other renewable energy experts for its annual “Making Energy Work: Power Forward” conference held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

The winning legislators were presented their awards Tuesday, Oct. 6, after the conference’s “Legislative Outlook & Tips for Advocacy” panel, while other clean energy leaders were applauded at a luncheon event on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The conference focused on the state of renewable energy in North Carolina, particularly in the solar sector, which has seen massive growth in recent years.

The group also recognized business leaders, community members, policymakers and organizations for their ongoing contributions to elevating North Carolina’s role as a clean energy leader through its annual Clean Energy Awards.

The renewable energy industry suffered a setback this year when lawmakers in the General Assembly opted not to extend the state’s renewable energy tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year. But the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association is focusing instead on some of the legislative wins the industry scored. The association is already planning ahead for next year.

NCSEA made an effort to get the lawmakers to freeze the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) at its current 6 percent level. REPS require utilities to draw a set portion of their energy from renewable resources, including solar, wind and biogas. If left unchanged, the mandate would increase to 12.5 percent by 2020.

The House approved the freeze in May, but the Senate hasn’t moved the bill forward. Lawmakers could take that legislation up again next year during the short session.

“Back in February when we had all the bad weather, Sens. Tillman and Rucho and me were trying to get incentives for a $500 million solar project in three counties,” Hunter said in an interview. “We knew this meant creating jobs and a broader tax base.  $300,000 in property taxes from solar farms means a lot to Tier-1 counties.”

Despite the loss of the tax credits, solar farms and wind farms will still be eligible for personal property tax credits that the state requires counties to offer.

Solar and wind farms receive an 80 percent tax break on their county property tax bills that include costly solar panels and wiring. The tax break set by the North Carolina General Assembly does not have a time limit.

Hunter said the SunEnergy-1 solar farm and Amazon Wind Farm will mean $400 million to the district.

Plans for another solar farm in the Newland area and the wind farm at the Pasquotank-Perquimans County line have not gotten far enough to list taxes, but both will be eligible for the 80 percent tax break in property taxes.

“Out of the top-10 (solar energy producers), North Carolina is number-two,” Hunter pointed out. “You don’t punish a thriving industry.  We should have kept those incentives.”

Hunter said landowners have a chance to earn $6,000 a year on land leases for turbines while the businesses could have earned $520,000 in tax relief.

NCSEA honored the Clean Energy Award winners at the Making Energy Work Conference at the Raleigh Convention Center where hundreds of energy stakeholders gathered to discuss the latest information, solutions and technologies impacting a secure energy future and how clean energy can continue to flourish in a globally competitive economy.

Presented annually since 2005, the NCSEA Clean Energy Awards highlight leaders who demonstrate outstanding willingness to commit time, effort and leadership to expanding North Carolina’s clean energy portfolio and advancing job growth and economic investments throughout the state.

“Since we began presenting the NCSEA Clean Energy Awards, North Carolina’s clean energy economy has witnessed monumental advances,” said Ivan Urlaub, NCSEA’s executive director. “In just the past seven years, North Carolina has invested over $2.6 billion in renewable energy projects, leading to an economic impact of over $4.7 billion. These investments are paying off. Last month, North Carolina became the first state in the southeast and the fourth state in the nation to have surpassed one giga-watt of installed solar capacity.”

That translates to one billion watts, one thousand megawatts, or 1.34 million horsepower enough to supply a medium size city.

“North Carolina’s clean energy economy has champions from every corner of the state,” Urlaub continued.  “This year’s Clean Energy Award winners have been instrumental in creating thousands of jobs, and providing longstanding infrastructure to secure a resilient, affordable electric portfolio for our future.”