This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2016 candidates for President or Governor of North Carolina stand on key energy issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools. SACE’s Chris Carnevale, Adam Reaves, Sara Barczak and Jennifer Weiss contributed research for this blog.
North Carolina has a reputation of being a leader in clean energy throughout the Southeast thanks to several forward-thinking policies, such as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) that was signed into law in 2007. North Carolina is still the only Southeastern state to have this type of policy, which requires utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from clean, renewable sources. Despite attempts by opponents to repeal the law in recent years, REPS has been a driving force behind NC’s $7 billion clean energy industry and its 26,000+ jobs without significantly affecting costs to consumers.
Leadership from a state’s governor is critical to setting the tone for energy policies, like REPS, and this blog series aims to inform voters on the policy stances regarding energy and climate issues that face North Carolina. First we evaluate current North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, who is running for re-election this November. Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 29 years and served as Charlotte’s longest-running mayor before retiring in 2008 to run for Governor of North Carolina. Prior to his 2012 gubernatorial election, Governor McCrory also served as a champion for Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded, anti-clean energy organization.
Governor Pat McCrory’s position on climate change has been difficult to nail down despite being asked for his position many, many times by reporters. In a television interview with “Face the Nation” shortly after North Carolina was hit with back-to-back snow storms, McCrory stated:
“I will say this: I feel that there’s always been climate change. The debate is, really, how much of it is man-made and how much will it cost to have any impact on climate change.”
Under McCrory’s leadership, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) joined a lawsuit challenging federal climate policy called the Clean Power Plan, which requires states to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 32 percent by 2030. DEQ is the only regulatory agency that joined as a plaintiff in the multi-state lawsuit against the federal government, all other plaintiffs were attorneys general.
Perhaps the most significant climate change-related matter that has transpired under McCrory’s leadership is the notorious 2012 banning of sea level rise science in state decision making. McCrory did not sign this bill into law but nor did he veto it. Following the bill’s enactment, McCrory appointed approximately two-thirds of the current membership of the Coastal Resource Commission, the group responsible for evaluating sea level rise science, which subsequently produced a report limiting the scope of sea level rise planning to only the next 30 years, rather than evaluating all the scientific data post mid-century which is the best practice.
McCrory and Renewable Energy
Governor McCrory has consistently touted his support for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, but once you look at the various policies that affect renewable energy in North Carolina, the Governor’s stance and that of DEQ is not quite as straightforward. An official statement from Governor Pat McCrory said:
“I am pleased to sign Senate Bill 372 to bring new renewable energy projects online in North Carolina. Renewable energy is an important part of an all-of-the-above energy policy that produces clean power, creates jobs and generates revenue in communities that need it most.”
This quote is from April 2015 when the Governor supported SB 372, which extended tax credits for renewable energy projects in advanced stages of development for one year. This tax credit is one way the Governor has supported renewables, but this incentive will unfortunately expire January 1, 2017. All other renewable energy tax credits expired on January 1, 2016.
Governor McCrory has been supportive of the Amazon Wind Farm East, the first wind farm in North Carolina, and said at the project’s groundbreaking ceremony, “This is an historic day for North Carolina […] For several reasons. The first is this: This is continued proof that North Carolina is going to continue to participate in our country’s energy independence.” On the other hand, Gov. McCrory signed into law the 2013 Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities bill, which made an additional bureaucratic barrier to wind energy development without any clear benefits to the public.
Similarly, Governor McCrory has conceptually embraced the idea of offshore wind energy development off of North Carolina’s coast, writing to federal regulators in 2013, “I believe an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan that includes wind is vital to a prosperous energy future in North Carolina. I have pledged to establish a partnership with neighboring states to develop offshore resources and recruit companies to bring a much-needed infusion of energy, jobs and investment to the state […] Development of North Carolina’s offshore wind energy resources is not just good for this state’s economy, but it will continue to fulfill work toward an ‘all of the above’ strategy to move our nation toward greater energy independence.”
However, McCrory’s cabinet-level appointee Department of Environmental Quality Secretary, Donald van der Vaart, has moved to essentially kill the possibility of an offshore wind farm by requesting the federal government not permit wind development within 24 nautical miles of shore, which serves to greatly increase the project costs, likely to uneconomic levels. van der Vaart has also attacked renewable energy by attempting to change North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) to include natural gas and nuclear power plants, and add bureaucracy to the permitting of solar farms by requiring an additional state permit on top of those already required.
McCrory on Coal Ash
Coal ash became a major issue in North Carolina after Duke Energy spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina in 2014. Governor McCrory’s DEQ credits the Governor with making North Carolina a “national leader in coal ash regulation and cleanup.” Yet, under McCrory’s leadership, according to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, DEQ has failed to protect North Carolinians from Duke’s continuing coal ash pollution:
“The Court is unable to find that DENR [now DEQ] was trying diligently or that its state enforcement action was calculated, in good faith, to require compliance with the [Clean Water] Act…”
In fact, Governor McCrory has not taken the aggressive action on coal ash that many North Carolinians have demanded. He signed the Coal Ash Management Act into law, which created a process for rating coal ash pits and determining how they would be closed. After hundreds of North Carolinians attended over a dozen public hearings across the state demanding stronger action, DEQ determined that all of Duke’s coal ash pits needed to be excavated. However, the Governor soon signed a new bill into law which could allow Duke to escape requirements to excavate many of its coal ash pits.
McCrory and Oil & Gas Drilling
Governor McCrory has worked hard to bring offshore oil drilling and onshore fracking to North Carolina. The Governor has very close ties with the oil and gas industry and has been the recipient of much criticism about being too close to the industry. Shortly after his gubernatorial election, Governor McCrory joined the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition and subsequently became the chair of the group. Through the coalition, Governor McCrory has repeatedly advocated for opening North Carolina’s coast to offshore drilling and has led other Coalition governors (notably neighboring states’ governors Niki Haley of South Carolina and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia) to press for the opening of virtually the entire east coast to offshore drilling. Last year, North Carolina-based investigative reporter Sue Sturgis reported that “despite its image of being a group of publicly-elected state officials, the Governors Coalition is largely run and managed by two groups tied to the oil and gas industry […] HBW Resources, a corporate lobbying and public relations firm representing some of the nation’s biggest energy interests, and the company’s sister group the Consumer Energy Alliance, a ‘dark money’ nonprofit organization that doesn’t have to disclose its backers.” Governor McCrory has additionally been supportive of seismic exploration for oil and gas offshore.
Governor McCrory has also been eager to bring fracking to North Carolina. He signed into law the 2014 Energy Modernization Act, which provided for fracking permitting and public funding of $500,000 for the drilling of test wells in Lee County.
McCrory and Nuclear
As mentioned already, Governor McCrory has touted his “all-of-the-above” energy policy throughout his term. Currently his re-election site states the following (note no mention of nuclear):
“Governor Pat instituted and advocated for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, including wind, solar, natural gas and safe offshore energy development.” – PatMcCrory.com
However after a little digging we found several pro-nuclear actions taken by DEQ staff, which falls under the Governor’s leadership. As reported by WRAL, DEQ Secretary van der Vaart sought to “redefine the state’s renewable energy standard (REPS) to include nuclear energy” and “allow incentives for new nuclear plants, which van der Vaart said are needed to back up less dependable sources such as solar.”
Lastly, on DEQ’s website, Secretary van der Vaart issued the following statement: “Solar and nuclear energy resources are important tools in Governor McCrory’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, which promotes all sources of clean, reliable and affordable energy… While the renewable industry continues to grow in North Carolina, new nuclear generation is needed to assure that residents and businesses have reasonably priced and reliable energy for years to come. A nuclear facility can produce around-the-clock, affordable, clean energy for more than 80 years.”
During our research, we weren’t able to find direct quotes from the Governor but it appears that DEQ, under the Governor’s leadership, and oftentimes speaking for the Governor, is supportive of nuclear power.
In summary, Governor McCrory has had a few nudges to solar and wind energy, as they relate to his “all of the above” energy policy. We could not find any mention of Governor McCrory’s stance on energy efficiency but the Governor did turn a quick eye to “fixing government” through efficiency and improved customer service. We encourage Governor McCrory to utilize energy efficiency as a cost-effective component to achieve his “all of the above” energy strategy and comply with the Clean Power Plan goals, currently being legally challenged by DEQ. Lastly, as our research shows the DEQ, under McCrory’s leadership, has been very active in driving public discourse on energy issues, most of which has been promoting risky energy choices like coal, nuclear and offshore drilling and combatting or roadblocking clean energy sources like solar and wind.
SACE is committed to evaluating both candidates on energy issues running for Governor of North Carolina. Please stay tuned as we evaluate Attorney General Roy Cooper in the final blog of this educational series.