North Carolina Symbolizes Tension of Old versus New Economy

North Carolina has become a symbol for the push-pull America is experiencing as we try to transition to a low carbon economy.

On the one hand, the Republican majority is still attempting to eliminate the state’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, and on the other hand, Google, Apple and Facebook have become major supporters of renewable energy in the state, making it hard to move ahead with cuts.

The three companies – which have invested billions in data centers that run on renewable energy there –  sent a letter to  state legislators opposing House Bill 332, which would unravel supportive policies for energy efficiency and renewables.

"As global companies providing services to consumers around the world from our operations in the state, a reliable, sustainable electricity supply is critical, and requires sourcing power from renewable energy. In fact, the right and ability to access power from renewable resources is not merely a goal, but an expectation," the letter says.

Thanks to its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RSP) – the only southeast state with this policy – solar is booming in North Carolina. In the first quarter of 2015, it became the fourth state to reach 1 gigawatt installed. But as they tried unsuccessfully before, a bill moving through the legislature would freeze the RPS at 6%, instead of requiring utilities to use 10% renewables by 2018. 

After California, North Carolina is the top state for utility-scale solar projects in the pipeline. In 2014, it joined the top 10 for clean energy venture capital, according to Clean Edge.

The wind industry is also active, with about 32 companies and nearly 50 facilities involved in the full value chain, says ABB.
Further, the Research Triangle region ranks #2 for smart grid technologies, with over 100 companies, according to a Duke University study. 

Enter Jay Faison

And while Art Pope – the state’s version of the Koch Brothers – has been flooding citizens with misinformation on clean energy, another Republican has emerged to counter that.

A new website has this mission: "We empower people with information to take action that will accelerate a clean energy future and make America stronger and more prosperous."

The website is the brainchild of Jay Faison, a Republican who plans to spend $175 million to convince the GOP to take on climate change, reports Politico. His wealth comes from selling his North Carolina business, and like the few other Republicans that are working in this direction, he believes climate change can be tackled from a free market perspective rather than government programs.

Republican Jay Faisen

His approach would stop utility monopolies from preventing widespread adoption of renewable energy, rather than controlling emissions from power plants, for example, along the lines of the Green Tea Coalition.

He’s the first to put real money beyond the effort and created the ClearPath Foundation to run the campaign. They are  planning an online ad and social media blitz across the country to convince Republicans to back the transition to clean energy. And they will give out grants and support think tanks, such as R Street. The Foundation as a seven figure investment in solar through its stock portfolio, says Politico.

He wants Republicans to engage on climate change with  market-based solutions rather than simply attacking every Democratic policy.  At the ClearPath Foundation website, there are hundreds of pages of data on the facts about climate change – "clear, and compelling information on solutions that support US innovation, economic growth, job creation, and energy independence."

While a majority of moderate Republicans accept the reality of climate change and want something done about it, the latest Gallup poll shows that 40% of conservatives believe climate change will never happen.

Faison believes the issue resonates with young voters. "Millennials especially want to see forward looking leadership that acknowledges the realities of today. How our party and our presidential candidate talks about it will have a significant impact on voter perception, and I think Democratic candidates know this," he told National Journal.

Of course, Faison’s efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to the ultimate blockade – the Koch Brothers.

Over the past three years, undisclosed conservative donors spent $125 million to spread misinformation about climate science and to block regulations that would reduce emissions, That’s about half of all anonymous donations to  rightwing groups, reports The Guardian, which shows how important it is to some conservatives.

"Conservative think tanks are really the spearhead of the conservative assault on climate change. They write books, put out briefings and open editorials, bring in contrarian scientists … They are an immense megaphone that amplifies very, very minority voices," Riley Dunlap, an Oklahoma State University professor who studies environmental politics, told The Guardian.

Read our articles, Weary Of Climate Change Deniers, Republicans Launch Their Own Initiative and Leading Conservatives Seek to Revitalize Environmental Agenda. 

Here is ClearPath Foundation’s website:

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