Mixed messages on the environment
RALEIGH — Six years ago, I wrote that the state's political leaders "send a lot of mixed messages when it comes to the environment and conservation."
At the time, I was writing about the decision by the North Carolina General Assembly to eventually require the state's large electricity suppliers to generate 12.5 percent of their supply from renewable energy and efficiency savings.
Today, some legislators are talking about altering or eliminating the mandate, something conceived to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.
The more things change, the more that they remain the same, huh?
Today, I would add the state's business leaders to that same assessment regarding the environment and mixed messages.
After all, how many power company ads feature people frolicking alongside pristine-looking mountain streams or walking along beautiful beaches?
Yet, the state's big energy companies, Duke Energy Carolinas and Progress Energy Carolinas, which are in the process of merging, are not taking a position on this idea of eliminating the alternative energy portfolio. .
These companies, as public utilities, are highly-regulated monopolies, with the rates that they charge consumers overseen by the state.
When the renewable energy mandate was approved, in 2007, the companies backed the legislation. A key reason that they did so was because it included a provision that allowed more upfront financing of new plant construction by ratepayers, rather than shareholders.
At the time, a lot of debate ensued about whether the effect of the legislation would be to hurt consumers, both by the financing provision and by the requirement for higher-cost alternative energy.
A competing notion held that there would be a trade-off beneficial to consumers, as people who heat and light their homes and businesses also breath the air.
The legislation was largely a political acknowledgement of the scientific consensus that a 30-year rise in global temperatures is related to increased use of fossil fuels, that it cannot be dismissed as a naturally-occurring cycle.
As I wrote then, power company executives do not have an easy job. It has to be tough to plan for providing electricity to a growing state, with a population expected to rise by 4 million people over 20 years, amid evidence suggesting that cheaper fossil fuels are overheating the planet.
The power companies more immediate response to that reality has been to mothball older coal-fired plants in favor of gas turbine plants that run on cleaner-burning natural gas.
But they now have no opinion of the same legislation that has allowed them to make the financing of that conversion easier, and which has played into ongoing rate-increase requests?
If the companies have no opinion, the fair thing for legislators to do is to repeal the entire 2007 law.
Political and business leaders in North Carolina can go ahead and continue their mixed messages on environmental protection.
But don't play some game of three-card monte where you pass environmental laws on the backs of consumers and then gut the entire purpose of the law.