Sustainable energy conference comes as state looks at overhauling law

Just a few years ago North Carolina’s Sustainable Energy Conference events focused on the moonshot dream of developing state policies to promote the clean energy sector.

This year the conference will be held in Raleigh at a time that state legislators are trying to undo a key state policy, and the first law of its kind in the South, that promotes renewables and energy efficiency.

This week’s introduction of House Bill 298, which seeks to freeze the state’s renewables and conservation mandate, will lend a sense of timeliness to panel discussions about the status of solar energy, wind farms and other renewables in North Carolina.

In Thursday’s announcement of the conference, N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker frames the debate by extolling the clean energy sector as “vaulting North Carolina into a top-tier state for clean energy jobs and lifting the entire Southeast with it.”

Speakers at this year’s 3-day sustainability conference will include Marilyn Brown, a Georgia Tech professor who worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and shared a Nobel Prize with former vice president Al Gore.

Other speakers will include James Ellis, electric vehicle manager for Nissan North America, maker of the Nissan Leaf electric car, and Ty Mitchell, executive vice president for Cree, the Durham-based maker of LED lighting.

Panel discussions will cover microgrids, power grid security, federal and state policies, North Carolina’s energy clusters, solar farms, offshore wind farms, biofuels and others.

The discussion of solar farms and wind farms is likely to include the fallout from House legislation introduced by Republican Mike Hager, a former Duke Energy engineer who regards clean energy mandates to be boondoggles. The state’s 2007 energy law requires that investor-owned electric utilities offset 12.5 percent of retail power sales with renewables or efficiency programs by 2021.

Hager’s bill would freeze that mandate at the current 3 percent. His bill would also prohibit power companies from paying additional incremental costs to cover the costs of renewables and efficiency programs beyond the 3 percent they have attained so far.

The 2007 law spawned a surge in solar farms, including a planned 100-megawatt project that would be one of the largest in the country. It also forced Duke Energy, Progress Energy and rural and municipal utilities to develop programs to pay customers cash incentives for buying energy efficient appliances and adopting other conservation measures.


Written by: John Murawski, Raleigh News & Observer