Solar Supporters Push To Save Tax Credit Program

State House Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) says more than 23,000 jobs in the renewable energy industry could be at risk if the General Assembly doesn’t move to extend tax credits set to expire this year.

“Clean energy is an economic success story in our state,” said Harrison, speaking at a press conference Thursday. “The data and the facts prove it. It is not a political football to be spiked in the Legislative Building.”

She joined other lawmakers and representatives from Environment North Carolina to present a report detailing the impact of renewable energy tax credits and subsidies.

This comes as the General Assembly is looking to scrap both the tax credits and a standard requiring power companies to use renewably generated energy to produce 12.5 percent of the electricity they sell.

A measure to limit that mandate passed in the House and is currently stalled in the Senate. The tax credit program is wrapped up in state budget negotiations, which have already stretched months past the July deadline.

This was the second presentation in two days on the topic of renewable energy. On Wednesday the conservative-leaning American Energy Alliance sponsored an hour-long roundtable discussion decrying the tax credit program and the renewable energy portfolio standard.

North Carolina has seen a surge in solar energy investment since 2007. The Tar Heel state now ranks fourth in the nation and first in the South for solar power.

Proponents say it’s a $2 billion dollar industry that’s created thousands of jobs and brought economic development to poor, rural parts of the state

Michael Wray, a Democrat who represents Halifax and Northampton Counties, says the solar energy industry has been a boon to his region.

“’These are new tax revenues our local communities and governments desperately need to pay for vital services like schools, roads, police, water and sewer” said Wray. “We believe very strongly we need to keep our existing clean energy policies in place, otherwise, our rural communities will suffer even more.”

He says he and other pro-business Democrats are hoping to be able to support the budget plan tentatively scheduled for a vote next week, but in order to do so he’ll need a guarantee that the solar power tax credits will be extended.

A Bright Idea

Forgive me for the title.  I do love a pun but when it’s particularly apt, well, I just can’t resist.

This post is about some of the work being done by the Town of Chapel Hill to cut costs during this difficult budget time.  But, as explained by Energy Management Specialist Brian Callaway, it’s cost-cutting in a way most of us won’t necessarily notice.

Callaway works in the town’s Office of Sustainability and he’s been working on various projects where cutting costs doesn’t mean simple and overt maneuvers like turning down the thermostat; rather he searches for ways of using new technologies (or old ones in new and different ways) to stretch the town’s energy budget. 

Aside from the budgetary benefit, which I’ll outline in a moment, you may have already experienced the first large scale change in our public facilities if you park in the Wallace Deck.  The lights there are always on and in May of last year, the town switched the stairwell bulbs to LED’s, which use less energy but also give off a crisp, white light.  While the LED bulbs cost more to buy, they last longer so replacement cost is down, as is the maintenance cost because they need to be replaced less often.  Callaway says the town is on track to be paid back for this investment within seven years thanks to that savings.  And, if we do notice the difference, it will be the better quality of light.  

Not all of his work is that glamorous because some of what Callaway does is review the energy bills for the town’s various facilities and optimize the available rate structures to suit the facilities’ needs.  This is more necessary now than ever before not only because of budgetary constraints but because the price of energy is rising and the town’s consumption has been increasing also.  Those are two arrows pointing in the wrong direction and if Callaway can’t change their direction, perhaps he can slow their rate or even nudge their trajectory a bit. 

Where else can we expect sustainable, energy-efficient change?  Certainly, we’ll see more switching of outdoor lighting around town facilities and inside some as well, including the Aquatics Center.  The town is also investigating the feasibility of battery-operated electric buses.  I got instantly excited at the prospect of buses practically gliding along our streets but Callaway brought me back to reality reminding me that switching the town’s bus fleet wouldn’t just be expensive in the initial equipment cost.  The town’s transit infrastructure would have to change to provide upkeep and maintenance of vastly different vehicles.  

There’s another project being studied that might have just the right kind of trickle down effect (apologies to all economists everywhere): the town is trying to find a way to support solar investment for residents.  Stay tuned for details on that.

I’m about to sound like an old fogey (sp?) with my conclusion.  What I found to be the brightest hope out of my conversation with Brian Callaway, was his own energy and enthusiasm for his work.  He is personally invested in it and passionate about it in ways that will benefit us as taxpayers and human beings.  It’s bright lights like his that offer the hope of a luminous future. 

Do you know any bright lights working on ideas for our future?  I’d like to know about them so please share below or write to me at  Also, leave a comment with any energy-saving ideas large or small.