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Editorial: Renewable energy bill doesn’t deserve Easley’s signature

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The sore throats and stinging eyes that come with bad air days, not to mention the upward creeping temperatures that mark global warming, should be a reminder of how desperately we need the state’s two largest energy providers, Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy, to begin a significant shift toward renewable sources.

We the ratepayers supply the revenue for this industry. We the people pay for the pollution spawned by irresponsible energy policies with poor health and diminished quality of life.

What a shame, then, that a laudable proposal to increase renewable sources of energy got hijacked and subverted by Duke and Progress.

The renewable energy bill requires that 12.5 percent of North Carolina’s energy portfolio be generated from renewable sources by 2021. Unfortunately, the state’s two energy giants pulled off a sleight of hand with the help of at least one friendly lawmaker by getting language written into the bill that allows the companies to shift the financial risk from private investors to ratepayers for the construction of new coal and nuclear plants.

“Sadly, the current energy bill before the legislature isn’t a renewable and efficiency portfolio bill,” wrote Reps. Susan Fisher and Paul Luebke, Democrats respectively from Buncombe and Durham counties, in an op-ed published in the Asheville Citizen-Times, adding that the proposed law “takes advantage of consumers and ironically paves the way for dirty energy development.”

Fisher and Luebke were two of only nine House members who voted against the bill, which was ratified by the Senate on Aug. 2.

Gov. Mike Easley has until Sept. 1 to decide whether to make it law. We urge him to withhold his signature, and call on the General Assembly to craft some renewable-energy legislation worthy of the name during the next go-round.

That piece of work was fatally compromised.

A story published last month by the Winston-Salem Journal revealed that the provision to allow energy companies to charge ratepayers for prospective development of new coal-burning plants was made at the behest of – don’t hold your breath – Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy “during an unusual three-month process in which an ad hoc group of lawyers and lobbyists overhauled the bill before it was formally considered by legislators.”

The story identifies Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Mecklenburg Democrat, as the lawmaker responsible for shepherding the bill through the Senate. The Journal found that Clodfelter has received $41,000 in campaign contributions from Duke and Progress since he was first elected in 1998, that the lawmaker and his wife own more than $10,000 worth of stock in Duke Energy and, perhaps most damning, that the law firm that pays Clodfelter’s salary often represents clients involved in financing energy projects.

The operative here is “conflict of interest.” It’s a brilliant setup, isn’t it? Everybody wins. Duke and Progress get easy money to build new polluting power plants. Clodfelter gets campaign cash and stock dividends, while his company collects legal fees from its energy-sector clients. Everyone wins, that is, except for those of us who pay the utility bills and breathe the air. We the people – remember us?

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