Over objections of Democratic lawmakers, a Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday to end the state’s 6-year-old renewable energy program.
Opponents of the bill loudly voted “No!” to show their frustration at the Republican chairman’s decision not to count individual votes. In what was clearly a razor-thin margin, both sides said they would have won if votes had been counted.
“North Carolina is not a banana republic,” Democratic Sen. Josh Stein of Wake County, one of the no votes, said after the meeting. “That was no way to run a proceeding.”
The contentious vote in the Senate finance committee was preceded by a 45-minute debate and public comment, during which farmers, the N.C. Pork Council and N.C. Farm Bureau urged Senators to keep the current policy in place because it’s encouraging investment in projects that use methane from swine waste lagoons as a fuel to generate electricity.
A similar bill was defeated 18-13 in a House committee last week, and its sponsor, Rep. Mike Hager, attended the Senate debate. Hager has vowed to keep bringing up his bill as well.
The Senate bill, which had languished for nearly six weeks, now moves to the Senate commerce committee. Supporters need to get the bill to the House side within 15 days to keep the legislation alive.
The dispute is over a 2007 law that requires electric utilities to use solar power and other forms of renewable energy, up to 12.5 percent in 2021 and thereafter. The law allows power companies to pass on extra costs to customers. As a result, Duke Energy residential customers pay 22 cents a month and Progress Energy customers pay 42 cents a month for the renewable subsidies.
The Senate version of the legislation caps the requirement at 3 percent and eliminates the mandate in 2023.
Critics said the policy subsidizes non-competitive industries, while those who favor the policy said it has created new jobs and generated economic activity during a recession and its aftereffects.
“It’s an undue burden on our companies,” Republican Sen. Andrew Brock of Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties said during the debate. “Jobs follow low-cost energy.”